Athena was a love child. Her parents met when they were both in College in Maryland, USA. The story she heard was that it was love at first sight. It was fast and intense between them. Their parents had fought against it, for ethnic and age reasons, whichever seemed to have more effect. No one was able to separate them.
They married in their final year and had Athena two years after. Her father David Ubah, was a journalist, her mother, Remi Coker, a psychologist. David had gotten a professional internship at CNN when Athena was 5 months old. His first posting was to Kuwait. He had died in a one of the earlier incidents of suicide bombings in the region. Remi Ubah came home to Nigeria shortly afterward with Athena. Remi Ubah never got over David’s sudden death. Athena was 8 years old when she died.
The sun looked piercing hot from where she sat. She dreaded having a reason to walk into it. She had hoped she would be attending lessons with her cousins since Grandma was around, but nothing had been said about it yet.
“Ma… I’m in the toilet!”
“Mummy shey you hear her? Is it now that it is time to go for lesson that she will run and hide in the toilet?”
“She’s a child now, please tell the driver to wait for her.”
“No way, I will not let my children be tagged as late comers because of her…”
“Ahn ahn, Labisi, is Athena not your daughter too…?”
She could hear the sadness in her grandmother’s voice as they walked away from hearing. She heard the familiar sound of the gate opening and knew and Tomide and his sisters were on their way to SAT lesson. It didn’t make any difference. She wouldn’t be writing SAT anyway…
“Look here, come out of that place and make yourself useful o! Since you have decided not to do anything meaningful for yourself!” spat Labisi. She hissed for effect and slammed the door to the room where Athena shared space and privacy with the maid. It was the 3rd biggest room in the house and that was enough excuse for her aunt. She couldn’t complain. She was glad for the comfort of a room and some privacy for the few times she had to cry.
After her mother passed, Athena stayed with her grandparents for 4 years. But everyone said she needed some discipline, so she came to Auntie Labisi’s 2 years ago. They also said that her grandparents did not need to have a constant reminder of the child they loved around them. Though she took her father’s complexion and tall lean frame, Athena was almost every inch of her mother. She had her long curly hair, slim slender limbs and tiny toes. She had begun to sound like her mother too. Grandma Coker often remarked how Athena reminded her of her days as a young girl in America.
America… that was another distant memory. She had flashes of the days before her mother died. They had gone back ‘home’ twice since they returned to Nigeria, but her mother didn’t want to go back anymore. She said the memories were too fresh, she couldn’t deal with it. That was before she died anyway, and it was a long time ago. So, Athena had ended up with Auntie Labisi. Labisi took her in without complaint. However, she made sure that Athena paid her dues. From the early morning wake up call, to the difference in type, quality and number of meals, Labisi ensured that she did all within her power to show ‘Tina’ that the American dream was over.
“Where is Athena, darling? I need to get something from the car…” asked Labisi’s husband, Jake, as he came down the stairs and made for his study.
“She’s in the kitchen… Tina! Tina!!”
“I’ll be right with you auntie!”
“I have told you never to use such language with me again! When I call you, you answer me!”
“But, Auntie Bisi, I did…”
“You did no such thing! Where do you think you are??? America? It’s been too long for you to put up this your pretense okay? My children have been to America more recently than you have and yet, they are not as disrespectful as you are!”
“I’m sorry Anutie…” she replied, curtsying.
“You see! You can not even kneel down properly! Next time, when I am talking to you, or your uncle, whoever it is in this house that is not your mate, you must kneel down while listening to the person, understood!”
“Yes, auntie… I’m sorry auntie…”
“Pocket your sorrow! And kneel when I’m talking to you!”
Athena knelt down and put her hands behind her back. Her eyes were smarting with the pain of unshed tears. She fought with all her strength to hold them back. Labisi, she knew, thrived on her crying, it seemed to give the woman some form of satisfaction she could not understand. “Auntie, you called me…”
“You uncle wants you to get something from his car for him. Go and meet him. He’s in the study”
Athena got up gingerly from her position and walked quietly to the adjoining study. Uncle Jacob, or Jake like Auntie Labisi insisted everyone call him, was a journalist like her father. He was the only one of her relatives in Nigeria, apart from Grandma Coker, that really cared about her. To the rest of her mother’s people, she was just another mouth to be fed, another burden. They did not care about themselves enough, how much more the fawn of their sister’s sacrilegious dalliance with an Igbo man. The fact that she bore the name Ubah made the matters worse for her, it was a constant reminder of the reason why they should not like her.
“Evening Uncle,” she said, going on her knees
“Yes, Athena…” He looked up from his reading and found her kneeling before him. “What is this about? Did you do something wrong?”
“No Uncle, Auntie said you wanted me to get you something.”
“Get up… my car keys are in the bag I took upstairs earlier, check the left outer pouch, you’ll find them there” he said, rising to go the living room where his wife was watching a movie.
Athena went upstairs just as Jacob walked into the living room.He could see from his wife’s disposition that she was spoilt for a fight. He knew she was expecting him to come to Athena’s defence. He always did. It was becoming a constant cause of quarrel these days. He couldn’t understand why she always took out her frustrations on the girl. It must have been that argument with Mama today… the old woman did have a soft spot for Athena… He paused and decided against the action. He would wait until she was in a better mood….
“Dear, have you seen Tina?”
He sat beside her on the couch and gave her a soft peck. “I thought her name was Athena… this one that you have renamed her Tina…”
“Is Tina not a normal human being’s name?”
“Hers is Athena, olodo!” he said, nibbling on her earlobes. He knew she liked that. He knew she liked him coming on to her surprisingly like this. It was the best way to get her to listen… afterwards…. “You want to make use of the time the kids are spending in lesson…?”
“Am I not using the time already? she laughed knowingly
He pulled her up from the chair as he turned off the TV with the remote. “let’s go somewhere cold and private so I can warm you up…”
Their laughter calmed Athena a bit. Whenever her aunt and uncle went upstairs giggling, she knew that she had gained some extra hours of peace. She went upstairs and picked the novel she got from Toke the day before. Toke was her aunt’s first daughter and they were really close. Her aunt had 3 children, Tomide, Toke and Tireni. Tireni was 3 years younger than Toke and Athena, but the girls always had plenty to do together. Tomide was a two years older 16 year old and hardly had time for their foolishness. But together, the kids managed to have fun, especially when their mother was out.
“Athena, don’t you want to go back to America? My Mum said if I pass my SAT in S.S. 2, I will go straight to L.A. Tomide is going next year anyway…”
Athena always let the girl talk as she was fond of doing. She had no answers for her. As young as she was, she was smart enough to try to avoid issues that brought up the already strained relationship with her aunt or any of her mother’s siblings. Thankfully, her blue passport was with her Grandma. Grandma Coker had told her that she had put it in safe keeping with her lawyers for her. She had also given her some other instructions that right now sounded strange to her… But America? America was way out of her reach right now.
But it was certainly not out of her dreams.