There was a pregnant pause. Mrs. Akigbe had tears running down her cheeks. “Ordinarily I would say no outrightly, but these kids deserve much better than this. For this reason only, will I promise to look out for them.”
For the first time since being there, the corners of her mouth lifted into a smile.
“Thank you…I know it might seem otherwise, but I do care for my kids and they mean the world to me”
“Why then…” Mrs. Akigbe’s voice trailed off, shrugging her shoulders. She decided against saying anything. What use, if any, would this achieve? If nothing, her presence here today does confirm that she does care about her kids in her own way.
“I better start going before the kids get back from school” she said glancing at her watch. “Here’s my number if you ever need to contact me. And please don’t worry about the time; I will always answer. You are the only one I have given this number”
“Okay, Joke…I’ll keep in touch. Do you still have my cell number?”
She nodded affirmatively, smiling. “Bye”.
Birthdays were one period in every child’s life that they looked forward to celebrating. It was one moment they always turned to their mothers to make special for them. Michael and Sammy were no exception. Though their mother was nowhere in sight, Uka’s mum made sure it was always a memorable occasion for both of them. These were periods Michael would hope she would miraculously turn up, surprising them with her presence. She never did. It was the one thing that would usually sour Michael’s day, but luckily Uka and her mum made sure it was short lived.
Unknown to the kids or their dad, every birthday they celebrated was paid for by their mum. She always planned it ahead of time with Mrs. Akigbe’s help. After several birthdays, their dad stopped protesting about Mrs. Akigbe paying for or organizing their special day.
Sammy was about to turn four a few months after their mum left. It was during this period, that their dad went in search of her. He did eventually find her.
“S-t-o-o-o-p!” Joke giggled as Jide embraced her from behind. They were canoodling in a secluded section in the corner of the dimly lit swanky restaurant on the Island, were Samuel’s search eventually led him. For the first since he set eyes of her, this was the happiest he had seen her. She looked and sounded content, confident and fulfilled.
Neither of them noticed that they were being observed. They continued talking and laughing like high school sweethearts without a care in the world. Why couldn’t we have had this? Why couldn’t she find such happiness with me? Why? Why disturb the happiness she found? Everyone deserves to be with the one they love. In this case she was with the one she loved. It was obviously pointless wanting her back in their lives. Joke had found her one true love and I won’t stand in her way. After this discovery, he stopped hoping they would ever get back together.
Several months after Sammy’s birthday, Mrs. Akigbe called to let her know how her kids were doing.
“Hello? Joke? Is that you on the line?” joke was sniffling and trying to stifle a cry.
“Joke! What’s wrong? What happened? Are you okay?”
Joke could no longer hold back her tears. She didn’t realize when she started wailing.
“Mabel! What have I done? What have done?” she cried.
“What did you do! What have you done? Where are you? Mabel asked, alarmed.
“How could I have been so stupid to throw away all I had for nothing?”
“What do you mean, Joke? Where is Jide?”
“Mabel, I’m so ashamed of myself, I can’t believe the mess I got myself into” She said hysterically.
“Joke, please calm down and tell me what happened.”
“Well…” She sniffled, “I’m no longer with Jide…”
“Why? What happened?”
“The first three months were blissful. It was like a fairytale come true, only short lived. The Jide I knew and fell in love with is a mirage compared to this person I gave up my life for. I started noticing little things, which later made sense. He was addicted to drugs and drank too much. He had no steady source of income and started demanding large amounts of money from me. Initially I gave, but when I started asking questions; he got violent with me. No matter the situation, Samuel never raised his hands to me. I guess I deserve the beatings he has so far given me. If only I stayed where God placed me and was loved. Look at what I’ve done to myself! My kids and Samuel.”
“Where is Jide now?”
“We have gone our separate ways”
“So that means you can now come home to your family.”
“How can I after all I’ve put them through? It’s not fair on them. I can’t bring myself to look any of them in the face. They must be disgusted with me, because I am”
“Joke, I can understand you being harsh with yourself, but we are all prone to making mistakes. You made yours, but now it’s time to set things right with your family.”
“Right now I don’t think I could do that. I need time to reflect over what I allowed to happen and to also find a way to forgive myself. I don’t think I could ever stand before Michael and Sammy if I don’t first forgive myself.”
“I understand, Joke. Take your time, but don’t leave it too long. Your boys need you.”
Michael was waiting up and Sammy had not gone to bed too. At the sound of any car close by he would rush to the window and each time shrug his shoulders, pacing back and forth.
“What the hell is wrong with you? You’ve been pacing the room for close to an hour. Are you in some sort of trouble? Sammy asked unable to contain himself much longer.
“I don’t want to talk about it, just yet.” Michael replied with apprehension.
“Is this about Uka’s travelling?” Sammy blurted out, looking slightly amused.
Michael was surprised. So he knew. Taking a deep breath he sat down. “How did you find out?”
“Uka was looking for you earlier. That was when she told me, but didn’t want me to say anything to you. She wanted to be the one to tell you”
“I want to ask dad if I too can study abroad…”
“What! You want to leave me behind!” He blurted with hurt in his voice; looking shocked and confused. He didn’t wait for a reply. He stormed off to his room, slamming the door. Between flinching from Sammy’s door slam and the apprehension of broaching the subject with his dad, he didn’t hear him come in.
“Good evening dad” he said, getting up to take his briefcase.
“Good evening son, why up so late?”
“I was waiting up for you, dad…I…”
“How much will this meeting cost me?” he interrupted jokingly as he sat down.
Michael smiled nervously, shifting from one foot to the other. His throat felt dry.
“Well?” Their dad said, as Sammy reappeared.
“Have you told him then?” Sammy said, jeeringly. Michael glared at him and if looks could kill Sammy would have dropped dead.
“What is it? Tell me what?” His dad asked, looking puzzled.
“Go on, then! Tell him how you want to leave home and me behind to-to-be-b…” Sammy said, but started to stammer and the more agitated he got the worse his stammer became.
“What is Sammy talking about Michael? What does he mean you are leaving home? Samuel, go and sit down this minute and calm down”
“Uka is going to a university in New York, and I would like to go there too like her.”
“New York? What the hell for? That isn’t in this family’s budget, young man! Besides what makes you think I would ever let you go to New York for that matter! Had you said England, maybe we could have worked something out; since you are a citizen. So this is why you got Sammy all hot and bothered. My goodness! You kids want to drive me crazy.”
Sammy from the corner where he sat was looking much more relaxed. A smile was creeping up his face, and he was trying hard to conceal it. Smug satisfaction written all over him. Michael couldn’t believe his ears. His legs wobbled beneath him, so he moved closer to the dining table to steady himself.
“But dad, why can’t I go? Uka says school term doesn’t start until late August. So we still have time to seek admission.” He said, trying to sound mature about it.
“This is not a subject for discussion son! University overseas is not part of our plan; you know this. Anthony did tell me about his decision for Uka to study abroad. Now, you do realize that this was his decision, don’t you? Besides, Uka will still come home on vacations and you and Sammy can also go over on holidays. This I have no problem with.”
Michael’s eyes stung with hot tears. He cleared his throat trying to choke back tears.
“Dad…” Michael said in a shaky voice. “Have I ever asked for you anything? Have I given you any trouble since mum left? Dad I need this…don’t you understand?
“Michael! Go to your room!”
As Michael storms off, Sammy made a bee line to follow him. The look on Michael’s face tugged at his heart strings. He had never seen him this sad before. He looked like his world was over, but he couldn’t help the feeling of joy he felt that Michael would not be going anywhere. This was a good thing all round.
Sammy stopped dead in his tracks and turned to face his dad.
“Where’s Adesua?” He asked as he got up.
“Maybe next compound, dad.” he said, continuing towards the rooms.
“Is there a reason why you are in a hurry?”
“No, dad, would you like me to go get her?”
“No, but you can call her. Tell her to please come home now so that the gates can be locked.” He said, stifling a yawn. “I’m sure she has her phone. I must go get some sleep; I have a long day tomorrow.”
“Okay, sir, goodnight dad.”
Once in his room Mr. Adeyemi slumped on the bed. He felt like a deflated tire. If only Michael knew how suddenly his heart rate had increased. It felt like he would have a heart attack. God forbid! The mere mention and notion of going abroad, made an already bad day even worse. Their separation would only mean that all his struggles to keep them together by divine grace and help of Anthony and Mabel; would actually fall apart. God forbid. I say God forbid. That silly boy will not destroy all this hard work because of puppy love and impulsiveness! Maybe Mabel can find a way to talk some sense into him.
The Cube was the local hangout for all the youth in the area. It was trendy and accessible to almost everyone. The owners knew how to keep them all interested and coming back for more. So, it had all the latest and hippest arcade games, juke boxes with current songs, an internet café and a sandwich/mini restaurant bar with several booths to make the kids feel special, like grownups.
It was just after 12 noon and the place was almost packed full. Michael had gotten there a little after 11.30am and was lucky to get a booth. Uka walked in 45 minutes later. She scouted around for him and asked a friend if they had seen him. He pointed out the booth where Michael was
Michael’s booth was facing away from Uka. He had his head bowed over the table and did not seem particularly cheerful. She quietly approached him, gently tapping his shoulder. He looked up and smiled and pulled out the chair beside him and gestured for her to sit. She sat and there was a long silence between them, even though The Cube was bursting with life around them.
“So?” Uka said.
“So, what…?” Michael replied, attempting to force a grin and put up a brave face.
“Don’t start being coy with me Mike. You know exactly what I mean. Please say something, anything.”
“What is there to say? It’s not as if anything I say will change what’s been planned, will it? I told my dad about your going, but he already knew. Your dad told him. I asked if I could go too, but all I got was a definite no. Not even a maybe. What a load of crap! I hate my life. Hate that man and my stupid brother!”
“Hey…I’m sure your dad has a reason for saying no, but…”
“What reason! Have I ever asked anything of him, especially since mum left? Yet my only request he tells me no. He’s a foolish man! No! He’s a stupid man and I hate him!”
“No you don’t. You are just angry, but what has Sammy done?”
“That idiot barged in while I was trying to talk to dad! He didn’t even allow me tell dad in my own way, he just blurted everything out making a mess of things. You should have seen the smug look on the fool’s face when dad was saying no. If looks could kill he would have died yesterday.”
“Mike, come on you don’t mean that. Sammy is only afraid of being left behind. Your absence will affect him the most…”
“Right now I really don’t care!”
“Hey Mikey! We are in this together you know. And we will get through this together; which reminds me, my mum wants to see you”
“She didn’t say. Only said to tell you to come see her at some point today”