The alarm startled Adaugo awake. She didn’t want to wake up just yet so she burrowed deeper into the duvet and let it ring. When it kept ringing, she groggily opened her eyes. “I don’t know how Obiora is able to sleep through his noisy alarm even when it’s right beside him,” she muttered to herself.
The lights in the room were all off but Adaugo could see the offending phone because its screen was lit as the alarm blared. She got down from the bed and slowly made her way across the room to shut off the alarm. She always hated waking up this early but she knew that, for her, the day had begun. So, Adaugo went into the bathroom to ease herself and after she was done, she turned on the water heater. When she came back into the room, she realized that Obiora was still asleep and she decided not to wake him yet.
He really needs to rest more. He works too hard.
Last night, Obiora had come home late because he had been in a meeting that had gone on for a long time. He had declined his wife’s offer of a hot meal and had, instead, gone to bed immediately without taking a shower. Adaugo knew then that he was exhausted so she had just covered him up with the duvet and let him sleep.
She left their room now and made her way down the hallway to their children’s room. Opening their door, she took a peek at them. Julian and Joan were still sound asleep. As usual, they had kicked off their duvet so she went into the room and covered them up properly. Four-year old Julian stirred as his mother placed a kiss on his forehead. Adaugo waited to see if he would wake up and when he didn’t, she turned her attention to her seven-year old daughter.
She smiled gently. She’s such a beautiful girl and is growing very rapidly too. Looking at both of them now she was grateful for her life and the blessing of her family. She and Obiora had been trying for another baby since their son turned two but that hadn’t happened yet. That had made her sad for a long time but lately, she had accepted that they may never have another child and had made peace with that. She was very grateful for the fact that she had these two.
If we have another child, it will be God’s will, she thought now as she left their room.
She walked briskly down the stairs. As soon as she was downstairs, she heard sounds from the kitchen. Patience is such a hard-working girl. I rarely ever have to wake her up. Twenty-year old Patience had been their help for over three years. They paid her a salary but just last month, she had been enrolled in a fashion institute. So, every morning after taking the children to school, she dropped Patience off at the institute before going to her shop. That meant that besides getting breakfast ready and making sandwiches for Obiora to take to work, Adaugo had to get lunch ready before they all left so that they could all eat immediately they came home in the afternoon.
After exchanging pleasantries, Adaugo and Patience got to work. In about an hour, they were done and Adaugo quickly went upstairs. Obiora usually left the house before the rest of them so, Adaugo went in to spend some time with him before waking the children so they could get ready for school.
Adaugo was sure that he was already getting ready for work so she surprised to see that the room was still as dark as she left it. Flipping a switch, she saw him still huddled under the duvet. That’s strange. Alarmed, she quickly went to him.
Laying a hand on Obiora’s shoulder, she tapped him and spoke softly, “Wake up, sweetie. You’ll be late for work.”
There was no response from him so she tapped him harder. She noticed then that he was strangely still so with a thudding heart, she shook him instead.
“Obi, sweetie, please wake up, love. It’s not a weekend so you can’t sleep in. There’s work today, Obi.”
“Obiora, o gini? Is this your idea of a joke?” she asked frantically when all she got from him were involuntary movements as a result of her now desperate shaking of his body.
In a few minutes, it was clear to her that Obiora didn’t need to go to work. He would never be waking up again. So, with her arms around her body, she wailed.
Thirty minutes later the doorbell rang continuously, like whoever was at the door was impatient to get into the house. Patience left the children’s room in a hurry and ran downstairs to open the door. As soon as she saw the visitors, she burst into tears.
“Ewo! So, it is true, then. The worst has happened!” Ijeamaka yelled. She hadn’t wanted to believe Adaugo’s hysterical call and had prayed continuously, all through the short drive to the house. Her husband, Nnanyelugo, tried to put an arm around her but she took a side step away from him and entered the house. Shoving Patience away, she ran upstairs, to the room her brother had shared with his wife.
Ignoring Adaugo, who was sitting on the floor and crying, Ijeamaka ran to her brother’s side. She shook him very hard and cried, “Nnaa, wake up, biko. If this is some horrible joke, it is, in no way, funny. Obi, what do you want us to tell Mama? Please, wake up.”
She joined Adaugo on the floor and they both wailed together. Nnanyelugo came into the room then and taking in the scene before him, he shook his head, retrieved his mobile phone from his pocket and made a call. “Izunna, you need to come over to your brother’s house immediately. Alu eme go.”
“I hope you know where all Obiora’s important documents are.”
Adaugo was still in a daze. It had been two days since he died but she still couldn’t believe that Obiora was lying in a morgue at the moment. He had not been ill at all, she thought to herself for the umpteenth time.
“He had only been tired,” she said aloud. “People get tired all the time. Yet, they don’t die.” As she started crying again, her mother, Agnes, who was sitting beside her, pulled her into her arms.
Ijeamaka looked around the room till she settled on Izunna. Getting the barest of nods from him, she repeated her question to Adaugo who was still crying.
“Ije, this is hardly the time for such questions,” Agnes said quietly. “I’m sure that’s the last thing on Ada’s mind now.”
“Mama, there can’t be a better time than this,” Ijeamaka said tersely. “Obiora is already dead. We have to make sure his property and any other investments he may have made are in good hands,”
“Ijeamaka is right, Mama Ada,” Izunna said. “While we await the autopsy results of our brother, we have to make sure that everything else is in order.”
“Oh, I see,” Agnes said slowly. Turning to her daughter, she said, “Nne, please tell them what they want to hear.”
Drying her tears with the back of her hands, Adaugo said in a tremulous voice, “Yes, Ijeamaka. I know where all the important documents are.”
Izunna leaned forward on his chair and stared at Adaugo. “We would like to take a look at them.”
Adaugo looked from Izunna to Ijeamaka and then turned her attention to Nnanyelugo who quickly looked away. She then turned to her mother and a look of understanding passed between them.
“I see,” she replied in a stronger tone. “May I know exactly why you feel there is a need to see those documents?”
“Listen, Adaugo,” Izunna said, raising his voice a little. “We can either do this the easy way or we do it the hard way. The choice is entirely yours. We are sure that our brother made some good investments in his lifetime and we want to know what those investments are. He has children whom should be looked after with all he left behind. He has a mother whom he made sure to take care of while he was alive. He was a generous man; so, I’m sure he would like to see every member of his family taken care of. So, in one way or the other, we all have a stake in Obiora’s estate.”
Adaugo was shocked. “I can’t believe you all. My husband has been dead only two days and already, the vultures are circling…”
“Vultures, you call us?”
She ignored Ijeamaka’s high-pitched shriek. “If my husband had wanted you to know the extent of his investments, he would have disclosed them all to you while he was alive. Obiora has two young children…”
“Who are not old enough to handle their father’s estate themselves.”
“Izunna, you are right. My children are too young to take care of themselves. But, they have a mother who would do everything possible to protect them. They are yet to understand that they would never see their father again and that, to me, is the most important thing right now. Like my mother said, this is not the right time to have this discussion.”
“Like I told your mother earlier, there is no better time than this,” Ijeamaka said heatedly, shrugging off the restraining hand Nnanyelugo laid on her shoulder. “It’s not even clear how Obiora died. I spoke with my brother the day before that and he sounded hale and hearty. While we wait for the coroner’s report, his family would want to safeguard his assets.”
“Ijeamaka, you seem to forget so quickly that the children and I are Obiora’s immediate family and that we always came first with him. Why do you think that I would relinquish all that my husband and I built to your greedy hands? As for how Obi died, I am as interested as you are in finding that out. You only spoke with him the previous day while I was the last person to see him before he slept and never woke up.”
Izunna rose from his chair, coming to stand before Adaugo. “Adaugo, how dare you call us greedy?”
“Izunna, it can only be greedy hearts that would motivate this sham of a meeting. When you all asked me to meet with you in the living room, I thought we were going to sit as a family who had just lost a loved one. I thought we were going to make plans together about a burial or something similar. I wasn’t ready to start such plans yet, considering that he just died. But, I was willing to hear you out. Unfortunately, all you seem interested in right now is to lay your hands on the wealth you perceive that your brother amassed before his death. I will say this to you now and I will repeat it for as many times as I have to till you understand exactly what I mean; I will not hand over any documents to you.”
Nnanyelugo came over to Izunna and holding him by the arm, led him back to his seat. An uneasy silence fell on the group which Nnanyelugo broke by noisily clearing his throat.
“Ada, biko, calm down. My sister, it is not greed that motivates your in-laws. They are only looking out for everyone’s interest. It is not possible that we would allow Obiora’s children to suffer after his death. We are here to make sure that…”
“Make sure that what happens, Nnanyelugo? You miss my point entirely. Obiora has only been dead for two days! Could this discussion not have waited till we found out why a previously healthy thirty-nine year old died so suddenly? His mother has not even been told that he is dead and already, there’s this mad dash to lay hands on his estate. Why would any of you use the excuse that you are looking out for his children when I can see through that very easily? Am I dead too? I am their mother and would take care of my children better than any of you can. Nnanyelugo, what is your own in the matter, even? You were only my husband’s brother-in-law…”
Ijeamaka stood up and raising her voice said, “Leave my husband out of your ranting, Adaugo. He is here because Obiora was my brother. We are all crushed that Obiora died so suddenly but no amount of sentiments will bring him back.” Lowering her voice now she said, “No one wants to deprive your children of their father’s assets. God forbid that!” She looked around now and getting nods from her husband and her brother, she continued, “All we are interested in, Ada, is making sure that everyone is taken care of, the way Obiora would have wanted it. You and the children were his immediate family, alright. But, he had us too. He had an aged mother. He always was generous to us all. So, we only want to know the extent of his investments so that everyone benefits from them like he would have wanted.”
When she sat, Adaugo shifted in her seat to stare at them one after the other. Again, Nnanyelugo averted his eyes. It was almost as if he was ashamed of being a part of the unfolding drama.
“I still insist that now is not the time for this discussion. It is interesting that no one has asked if my husband made a will before he died…”
“Oh shut up, woman. You have no understanding of tradition, do you? You speak of a will. That’s so laughable. Obiora’s first son, by tradition, inherits all his father owns. Julian is only a little boy so he cannot handle the responsibility of that. Therefore, the oldest male among his father’s closest relatives has the responsibility of taking care of those assets till he becomes an adult. In this case, that would be me.”
It was a dry and mocking laughter that erupted from Adaugo as she slowly rose to her feet. “Now, the drama unfolds. I was right, after all. Izunna, asi ka i na-asi, you lie! Never will I let you get your thieving hands on our property. Where were you when Obiora and I stayed up late at night dreaming about how we wanted our lives to be? Where were you when we scrimped and saved to make the investments that built this house and to make some of our other dreams come true? Where were you when Obiora had to work long hours at the office to provide for his family? You always had it easy, Izunna. Obiora was only two years older than you. Yet, all you needed to do was come to your brother anytime you had a need and he would solve your problem for you. Almost every year, he paid your house rent. Money for your business, he supplied, no matter how many times you came to him. Your children’s school fees, he paid, more often than not. Did you ever stop to wonder how all that was possible? Your brother was a very good man. He was generous to everyone even when it meant that he had to make personal sacrifices and I never tried to stop him. You desecrate his memory by coming here, while he still is on a cold slab, to hustle me for his assets. Shame on all of you, Obiora deserved better than this.”
Izunna jumped up from his chair again and sprang to Adaugo. Drawing his hand backwards, he gave her a slap.
“Ewoo!” Agnes yelled, pulling her daughter away from Izunna.
Nnanyelugo stood and pulled Izunna away as well. “Nwoke m, hold yourself together. You shouldn’t have hit her.”
“My daughter has only been recently bereaved. Yet, you all come here with no intentions of sympathizing with her,” Agnes said, waving her finger at Izunna. “How dare you slap Adaugo for calling a spade a spade? Obiora was a very decent man. He was good to all of us. My daughter was right, he doesn’t deserve this. The only thing I will contribute to this discussion is that this is not the right time for such a conversation. It is inappropriate because, we all should still be in deep mourning.” Turning to Nnanyelugo, she said, “Nnanyelugo, I’ve always respected you so I don’t understand how you would allow yourself to be dragged into this kind of mess. You are older than Izunna and should have been able to give him good advice.”
Sitting, Agnes turned to her daughter, who was sobbing quietly on her chair, “O zugo, nwa m. Don’t cry anymore.”
Looking up, Adaugo quietly said, “Leave my house immediately or I would call the police.”
“The police, you say?” Izunna asked. “You are a joker, Adaugo and I will teach you your place. By the time I am done with you, you will beg me to take the documents, anu ofia.”
Taking her brother’s hand, Ijeamaka said, “Izuu, come let’s leave. Adaugo will learn pretty soon how things work.”