The flight was as stressful as she thought it would be. Athena hadn’t flown economy class in years. But Toke didn’t see the reason why Athena would spend additional money upgrading the twins to business class. And there was no leaving them either, so it was economy for all. The best they got were seat near the emergency exits in the upper cabin. At least some leg room and less crowd. Thankfully, the flight wasn’t full, so there were only a hand full of people asides them in there. Athena was a sport and didn’t complain much, after all, Toke herself would have flown economy even if she was traveling alone.
Athena tried to sleep but the sleep won’t come. Her thoughts ran between Lagos, memories and Dele. He had opened a can of worms that she feared would destroy her. She was new to this emotions business. It was not her forte. He on the other hand was quite comfortable with feelings and expressing them. She was half glad for the short break between them. It would allow her a few days of fresh air, unhindered by Dee’s careful loving.
After the conversation in her apartment that day, they had somewhat reached a truce. She agreed they could call it dating, but they were not in a relationship. Yes, it sounded stupid to even her. At 30, you would expect her to have more sense. But it was the best she could do. She wanted poco-a-poco, Dee wanted forever… well then, he had all the time in the world, he could wait. He had wanted to travel with her but she insisted he wait. She didnt want to have him around when she dealt with the mess that waited for her in Nigeria. Because of that, she had decided that she was going to make the first move. She would go see her aunt first and hopefully get some answers. She had to do that before Dee showed up.
“Hey… you alright?”
“Yeah… I’m just restless, that’s all. Are the twins sleeping?”
“Yeah, finally! Now I can get some shut eye!”
“Go ahead. You need all the sleep you can get before they wake up.”
“You? Can’t sleep?”
“Yeah, running some plans in my head. ANd some thoughts too…”
“Don’t worry, Lagos will be fun.”
“Yeah, I hope so…”
“So, before I hibernate, you were saying something about you and Dee… are we talking wedding bells?”
“Oh no!” she said quickly. “Not there yet!” she laughed. ” “Sleep girl, and get you nose outta my troubles!’ she replied slapping Toke playfully on her arm.
“Ok o… just lemme know when I can tell you about the beautiful color ideas I have.” Toke replied with a wink.
The hotel came highly recommended. Dee said his eldest brother had hosted some friends there when he got married some years back. She didn’t know if it was safe to trust his ancient judgment. The proximity to the airport sealed the deal. She booked a luxury suit and almost purred at the sight of the inviting bed. Business had never brought her this way so she had no idea Nigerian hospitality could be so tasteful. She was about checking for her phone when it rang.
“How’s my baby doing?”
“I’m tired. Very tired.”
“How was your flight?”
“So so. Please remind me never to have kids…”
“No way, we will have kids, 5 of them!” he quipped
“Dee…” she warned
“My bad, my bad…. how are you? Ready to meet the family?”
“Warming up to it slowly. I’m here already…”
“You’ll be fine. I got your back, aite? Don’t forget that.”
“I know. And I’m happy to hear it as many times as you say it”
“You should sleep now…”
“I’ll call you later… sweet dreams, babe”
She was asleep in record time, clothes and all. True to his word, Dele’s call woke her up the next morning. By 11.00 a.m. she was having breakfast. She called for a taxi and was surprised that Lagos had organised cabs like in the States. She was even more surprised at working traffic lights and seemingly working traffic control. This was not the Lagos she heard of or remembered. It was a good distraction for her, observing the resume of the new governor. Beofre she knew it, the taxi was slowly driving through familiar territory.
“Excuse me, madam, which way do I go?”
“Turn left at the end of the road… that’s Rubble Estate on your left. Drive in at the gate…” She picked her phone to dial Toke’s number. “Yeah, this gate… you can park here.” Athena noticed the house hadn’t changed, if you overlooked the washed out paint on the walls. She tried Toke’s number and sent her a text after the second try. Her night was uneventful, she imagined Toke’s would have been the exact opposite.
As she snapped her phone shut, she stepped out of the car and walked into the slightly open gate. The new Hausa maigaurd did not flinch from his slumber as she made her way to the very familiar door.
Labisi stood at the door in near surprise. She should have known that Athena would look like this, just like her mother, splitting image. But today was not the time to revisit the past, it was time to chart the path for the future.
“My daughter… come in…”
“Good afternoon, auntie…”
“How was your flight? How are you? Come in… come in…”
“Thank you, auntie… are you home alone?”
“Yes, my dear. The little girl that stays with me has gone to the market. She forgot to buy chicken for soup.”
“The house is really quiet, nothing at like I remembered…”
“Things have really changed, Athena. And I want you to believe that. Are you hungry?” Labisi asked, heading for the kitchen. “Come, let’s see if we can whip up something familiar for brunch.”
The rest, like they always say, happened in a blur. The visit was a mix of tension, surprising fun and many good laughs. The effort seemed more from Labisi, but Athena was not as detached as she imagined she would be. Many waters had probably covered up the sludge.They didn’t discuss Labisi’s husband, neither did Athena ask about him. It was as if they both decided to silently acknowledge his absence. Athena probably wished it for good.
“Are you at least spending the night?”
“No, auntie, I have to go back to my hotel.”
“Hotel? Why waste money when you have a house in Lagos?”
“It had been booked for me by a friend… so….”
“Ahh… is your friend in Nigeria too?”
“No, he’s coming tomorrow.”
“Do I get to meet him?”
“Auntie, he’s just a friend… there’s nothing to it!” she said, half laughing
“Ok o… me I’m impatient to carry more grandchildren o…”
The gist went that way, slightly personal, till about evening when Athena took her leave amidst her aunt’s attempts at convincing her to stay. Later that evening, Dee called.
“What’s wrong? You sound subdued…? Is everything ok?”
Yeah… maybe I’m wishing you were here”
“I’ll be with you tomorrow”
“I wish you were here now…”
“Now I’m getting worried…”
“What? That this hot sexy mama’s responding to your amorous advances? Hmmphh! I thought you’d at least show gratitude!”
“Yeah, that’s more like it… I like it hot and feisty!”
“Don’t you just wish! What time’s your flight?”
“Early. I wish I could move it down to later in the day…”
“Don’t you dare! I want you in this town, ASAP!”
“Aaahhh… somebody’s missing me…”
“Nigeria’s getting under my skin…, and my aunt asking about grand kids…”
“You seen her?”
“Yeah… earlier in the day. I went to Isolo…”
“And how did it go?”
So Athena told him. She recounted the events, gave him her opinion and for the first time, she added her fears.
“Maybe I should have asked about him…”
“Your uncle? It doesn’t matter that you didn’t. What matters is that you are dealing with this. I’m proud of you, babe”
“Thanks. Do u want me to come pick you at the airport?”
“My family will be coming… You want to meet my folks?”
And so the gist went on and on. For some reason, the change in environment made it easier to embrace Dele’s loving. She found herself needing him. And she wondered if he would change too when he got here. Maybe he’ll be the typical Nigerian guy and start acting funny. She smiled at the thought but shuddered inside. Now that would be a nightmare. What about today has changed anything? She still wasn’t quite sure she had all what Dele wanted, but she hoped she was inching towards it. With that little glimmer of hope, she went to bed and hoped for more sweet dreams.
Dele came back early this morning. He came over to the hotel just before lunch. It was so good to see him, but I saved the drama. Somehow, this ‘dating’ thing has tipped the scales. I feel as if I’m losing my friend. It’s not like a boyfriend is such a fantastic bargain anyway… In a few seconds, he had me laughing already. I was still laughing when my phone rang. It was Auntie Labisi.
“My aunt… I wonder why… at this time…”
“Athena…” croaked Labisi “Athena…” And then she coughed loudly, and raggedly
“Auntie… auntie… Hello! Auntie Labisi…”. The phone went dead.
“What’s going on? What’s that about?” Dele asked.
“I don’t know… my aunt.. she’s… she sounds like… like she’s hurt…”
“Where is she? Do you know?”
“I don’t know!” I snapped at him. “I’m sorry… this is just…”
“Do you remember your way to her house?”
“Yeah, I think so… Oh my goodness, what am I going to do? I don’t know what to do… Dele, she could be dead!”
“Calm down, Athena. let me talk to my dad. We’ll go straight to her house now. Gimme a sec”
Dele walked towards the door and called his dad. I just couldn’t stop pacing. I thought of calling Toke and then decided against it. I should see what’s going on for myself before raising any alarm. In 15 minutes, we were parked in front of the house in Isolo. I ran into the house and true to my fears, Auntie Labisi was in a twisted heap at the bottom of the stairs. I froze. I had not been around people much and did my best to avoid sick or dead ones. I became confused. It was a relief to see Dele take charge of the situation, making calls and decisions. He called his dad for the ambulance service, called Toke with directions to the hospital and spoke with my aunt’s doctors. All I did was sip on ice cold water till Toke came.
“Athena! Thank God! Where is mummy? Is she conscious? WHERE IS SHE??? Dele, thank you. Thank you so much. Is my mother okay?”
“I don’t know…”
“Athena, what do you mean you don’t know? Dele, talk to me, please…!” Toke was near hysterical. I was in a confused state of unearthly detachment. And I did not know what to do.
“We need to make very major decisions about your mom tonight, Toke. She needs to be out of this country as quickly as possible. I can’t make that decision, but I can make things happen…”
“Is she going to die? Oh my God, is she dieing?”
“She’s not dieing, she’s stable now, but she needs immediate treatment, Toke. If care is not taken…”
I didn’t know I was crying. Had Toke not hugged me then, I probably would not have known I had the heart.
“I need you to talk to your brother. We need to get her out of like yesterday.”
Toke and Dele took charge, made calls and finalized plans. Auntie Labisi was to be flown out in two days. Tomide was to receive her at the airport with the medical team Dele had contacted. I remained in my blissful limbo. The memorial held as planned, though it was more low keyed, with a few friends and close knit family. Dele somehow found the time to attend his meetings and see to his family all the while never leaving my side. I woke up to find him there. if he wasn’t Toke was. For some reason, it seemed everyone thought I suffered more from Auntie Labisi’s illness. I didn’t know anything. I knew one thing though. I couldn’t wait to leave Nigeria. I wanted to go back to the safe and familiar. But I had the feeling nothing would ever be the same again for me.