That slim figure, ebony black, adorned with a pretty face, generous hips, and a graceful gait, cuts a picture of true elegance, albeit one fagged out from the day’s activities. She has advanced to a few feet from the old man, reading in the sitting room, but he still doesn’t notice.
“What is my papa doing up so late in the evening?”
You would easily miss the brief startle, and be treated only to a slow, drawn-out response. Chief Momoh’s gratty, booming voice has mellowed with age, and is mellower still tonight with the fatigue of insomnia.
Father looks up at daughter, pulls off thick-rimmed glasses.
“Sleep is so difficult to come by nowadays,” he says, setting aside the Business Week magazine.
“And you, I suppose you have been seeing town and having fun.”
“Yes, daddy. I’ve been having loads of fun getting myself reacquainted with life in Nigeria.”
Chief Momoh regards his daughter briefly, with a quizzical look that corrals pride, curiosity, and ample expectations. She was the one who took his complexion, and merged it with his late wife’s beauty and gracefulness.
“Sit here, little girl, I want to talk to you.”
Miyen curls up on the couch, beside her old man. That curious, earnest, little-girl glint has returned to her eyes. What might he have on his mind, she wondered.
“If you ask me, my dear, I would say this is a good time to start taking your place in the family business. Or at least to start thinking seriously about it. Your brother Dele, I didn’t give him much of a chance, you know, but he has surpassed my expectations. He is proving so competent on the job.”
“Dad -” she paused to fetch the right words. This is the thing she has been running from. Not that there have been any vigorous pursuit. Her father has so far made no issue of her distance from the family business. And Dele joined the company entirely of his own volition. But she knew it was coming. Since when she began to push past puberty, and began to understand the trappings of privilege, its pros and cons, she had decided to soar on her own wings, for as long as she can, to test her true abilities, and to follow her heart wherever it might lead. So far, it has led to a masters degree, which the old man applauded, to many trips around the world, which he often bankrolled, and to a budding career in interior decoration, which he grudgingly accepted, and unbeknownst to her, has been watching with keen interest.
“- it is precisely because Dele is doing so well in the company that I wouldn’t want to come in and upstage him. ”
“Hmmn. Always had a clever one up your sleeves. Do you know that?”
But the voice of contemplation quickly returns. The twinkle leaves his eyes, replaced by two or three lines across his brow. His tone grows deeper, his words more precise and measured.
“I do not see any one of you upstaging the other,” he says, his hands gesticulating, his head held at an earnest angle. “Instead, I see you working together to take the company to even greater heights. There are none better to leave something like this to than one’s own children. And you know that I will not be around forever.”
“Dad! Don’t talk like that, ” she protests.
“Why not? I have many more years in me, for certain. But we plan for eventualities, we do not wish them away.”
“OK. You will let me think it through, won’t you.”
“Certainly. And very good. One needs to be sure you are thinking about things like this. Now, Dele and I and a few other executives will be traveling to South Africa this weekend to tie up an important business relationship. You have forty-eight hours to make a wish and tell me what you want me to get for you on my way back.”
That night, after bath and in her pyjamas, nibbling at a plate of cold desserts, Miyen is not thinking about what her father will get for her on his way back. He had made allusions to his death. There is no better jolt. Now she really has to think things through.
A little over forty-eight hours later, flipping through television channels, she catches a breaking news. A Virgin Atlantic aircraft en-route from Lagos to Johannesburg has veered off its flight path and has been declared missing. A little atom bomb goes off deep in her chest, followed by billows of jangling nerves. Her father and brother left for the airport this morning.