Athena stepped out of the Limousine and smiled at the elderly porter.
“Hello James! How are you today?”
“Very well ma’am. it’s a bright and sunny day!”
She smiled a response and walked briskly into the warmer reception of her apartment. She looked forward to coming home after every trip abroad. The warmth and comfort of her US$3million apartment in the heart of LA was the “result of hard work!” She smiled to herself as she remembered Grandma Coker. That was another world, another place. A place she would rather not remember.
Athena Coker, as she chose to be known, was an executive vice president, Portfolio Managers LLC in Chicago. She lived in Los Angeles and worked from home most of the time. Between a mini flat in her Chicago office and chartered private jets, PM and Athena managed just fine. At her level, you achieved more from networking and strategic lunch meetings than from being cooked up in an office with a nice picturesque aerial view. It was one of those contrasting weathers in LA, rare and uncomfortable for someone who loved the city for its usually warm weather. She hugged herself as she stared blankly at her 60 inch LCD TV for a few seconds and thought of Lagos. Ignoring the ringing phone she walked towards the terrace to let the city in. Forty five minutes and a warm bath later. she took her usual place on her shielded terrace, book in hand. She did this every time she came back home from her many trips. It helped her reconnect with what she loved about the city. Her 18th Floor apartment in high brow Brentwood made her the envy of most of her college mates. Little did they know that she envied them the most.
The phone rang again and she wondered who it could be. She got up lazily at its 3rd ring and picked the nearest extension.
“Hello…” the caller said. “Can you hear me?”
I was surprised and irritated all at once. The caller had a familiar accent. It sounded like home. No, like family. No, like… whatever it is, this had better be good!
“Yes, I can hear you loud and clear, who’s calling, please?”
“Tina! O ma ga o… Is it your voice I’m hearing?”
“Who is this? My name’s not Tina. I think you’ve dialled a wrong number…”
“What? Tina? It is me, Aunty Labisi… from Nigeria… your mother’s sister…”
The conversation could only go south from here. Aunty Labisi courtesy calling? I doubted that! I feigned my surprise and hid my irritation as much as I could. But I could not swallow the fear. Why was she calling? What did she want from me now? The last time she called me was to tell me my Grandma Coker had passed. I was to come for the funeral. I was a freshman then and had only recently left Nigeria, so out of fear of her ‘reprisal’ and love for the only person that ever tried to protect me, I returned home to pay my last respects. I couldn’t even exactly call it home anymore. Very few places could be called home. I was yet to find one.
“Ehen, are you coming home for mommy’s remembrance?” she said, finally getting to the point of her call. I immediately made a mental note to confirm from my Millicent, my PA if she had dutifully remitted the last cheques to my Grandma’s account. Aunty Labisi could do whatever she liked with the money, as long as she left me alone.
“Remembrance? It’s that time already?” I asked, lying glibly.
“Yes o, time flies… It was just like yesterday when she said she was missing your late mother. If only we knew…” she was going on and on about how time changes things. I prayed that as always, she would never mention anything about that accursed day. “So, let me know when your flight is, so I can arrange for your pick up…”
” No, Auntie Labisi, I won’t be able to make it. I’m afraid, this is a crucial year for my firm and I have made some commitments around that period….”
“Iro o… mi o nio gba! When last did you even come home to check on me? Ehn? Your sister comes home every year, your brother, at least that one calls. You, you don’t even remember to call or check on anyone… Ah ah… ko da o*… Odo to ba gbagbe orisun e**…” she trailed on again. I was sick and tired of the conversation already. I needed to stop her.
“Ok, Auntie, I’ll reschedule my appointments” I said before thinking. In the bid to get a temporary reprive, I had just set my self up for more than I could ever handle! How did that come out of my mouth? I was too shocked to think clearly, I just kept saying yes to everything else she said. My mind screamed “Get off the phone, Athena before she asks for your soul!” I smiled at my melodrama instincts and then said the final goodbye.
As soon as the receiver was back in place, I picked my office mobile and dialed Toke. A tiny voice said “hello”.
“Hello Trey, can I talk to your Mum?”
“Who is this?”
“It’s Auntie Athena from LA”
“Auntie Athena? Auntie Athena stays in Chicago, not LA…”
“Give me the phone, buster!” Toke’s voice rang out from the background and I laughed as I imagined the scene with her and her precocious 5 year old.
“Hey! Athena, where are you? What number is this? Are you out of state?”
“Hey, I’m fine thank you. How are you too?”
Toke laughed and hissed at the same time. She was the only woman that I knew that could do that at the same time. Well, the only one I knew.
“How are you? Kay (her husband) told me he saw you at some fancy do in Chicago last month. Been meaning to call you since then, but you know how it is.”
“Yeah, no worries. Howdydo?”
We caught up on old gist and shared a few laughs before I brought Nigeria. “Are you going to Nigeria for Grandma’s remembrance?”
“Yeah, haven’t been home in 18 months and I’m really worried about Mum. She doesn’t talk much on the phone these days. She asked of you last week when I called her”
“And you gave her my number, right?”
“No… Oh well, I did! It was the least I could do to get a good response from her! You know how she is when she’s sulking!”
I felt tired suddenly. Jet lag, blast from the past phone call and a nasty reminder of the madness I was trying hard to avoid. I was tired of this crazy family. Everyone lived a farce of a life. They all pretended to care so much and sold out on each other at the slightest opportunity.
“I was very clear on my house phone and Nigeria, Toke…”
“I know… I know… but it’s mommy now. What harm could there be in her having her daughter’s number?”
I wanted to scream at her. I wanted to call her a lying deceptive untrustworthy snitch. But I couldn’t For all it was worth, Toke was the one with a good heart. She never played the part. She only always got caught in-between all the scheming that went on around her. So, instead, I told her her mother had called and wriggled a promise of Nigeria out of me.
“Maybe we should all leave together, you could come down here before then or we could all go to New York and…”
“September is still far, babes. We have 3 months to plan.”
“The earlier the better! Before you change your mind.”
“Nah, I’m in for real this time. Just need to clear some pre-arranged appointments, that’s all”
“Well then, leave the planning to me! I will let you know how it will all pan out!”
Now, here I am, after one of the longest non-business conversations I’ve had in weeks, in the corner of my room, in my favorite place, crying my heart out.