Feeling the stir, D’Onah looks down at the sleeping figure in the bed. He smiles his welcome-back-to-earth smile. Nari slowly opens her eyes. It has been thirty-seven hours since the surgeons wheeled her out of the theatre, enough to get D’Onah thinking about her and nothing else.
“Took you long enough to come awake,” he says.
Nari smiles sheepishly. “I didn’t mean to…How long have you been here?” Ever the caring daughter he never had. “You didn’t go to work.”
D’Onah reaches to touch her hair as she tries to sit up. What is work when something greater than life itself is happening? He shakes his head no. “Just relax, no fussing. The doctors said you needed the rest.” She reclines back into the bed gratefully, a sigh forming around her mouth. “I have seen him. He’s beautiful.” At her look of incomprehension he hitches his head toward a corner of the hospital room. She follows the direction to the crib. “Now I have a grandson…” D’Onah pulls the crib closer to the bed and lifts out the baby.
“Can I hold him?” Nari asks shyly.
You’re really a child, aren’t you? D’Onah thinks. Out loud he says, “Of course. He is your baby, and he’s been waiting for some feeding for a long time now.” You had no business getting knocked up in the first place. But now it’s happened, he shrugs, what can I do about it? A child is a child regardless of how it is conceived, regardless of the father. Father. The word sticks in his craw like a stone. Son. That is even worse. Both words appear as one in his mind, and he detests the thought. Styne.
He passes the baby to Nari carefully, like he’s made of porcelain. It is a little disconcerting to imagine. First time he’d witnessed a birth had been that of his son, an awesome event that had along the years become one big regret; now it is his grandson, and the feeling isn’t even close to it.
It takes him some moments to realize someone is referring to him. He weathers Nari’s questioning gaze at him with concern as he snaps back to the present. He tries to look like everything is okay. “You look like the real thing, my dear girl.”
Nari isn’t fooled. “What is wrong?”
“No,” he says forcefully. His mind conjures up an image of Styne. Heaven forbid. He’s spent too much energy putting some distance between them and the man to think about that. He shudders to think the devil he’s running from is none but his flesh-and-blood son, the nightmare of his days and Nari’s. “Nothing of the sort,” he manages with a twinge of guilt. “Don’t worry. I took care of everything.” He gauges the fear rising in the young girl’s eyes. To his relief, the baby belches faintly, giving him time to look at something else.
The door squeaks open. D’Onah’s guilt builds slightly at the sight of the man now standing in the room. The gulf between them yawns, not just in personalities and goals but also in everything else.
“Sanmi, how do you do?” D’Onah says without condescension.
“Could you excuse me? I have to speak to my daughter,” says Sanmi without regard for anything else.
D’Onah’s paternal protective instinct rises. “I don’t think she is in a good condition to speak with you right now. She just got out of a major operation, and…”
“It’s okay,” says Nari in a small voice behind him. That is enough for D’Onah. It reminds him he’s not her father after all. He wants to feel hostility toward Sanmi but he brings himself in check. They have nothing in common, not even the three-piece agbada and perfumed cap that speak so much presence for Sanmi.
Sanmi looks down at his daughter a twinge of bitter regret buried beneath some helplessness and a desire to shake some sense into her. “Are you okay?” he watches her nod wordlessly. Her cool goads him. “You can at least speak to me when I talk to you.”
“I’m sorry, papa…I don’t know what to say…the right thing to say. That last thing I want right now is to say something that would not sound right to you after everything that’s happened.”
The boldness with which she speaks startles Sanmi momentarily. He isn’t quite sure if this is the same little girl he’s known since her birth. “What has got into you, Nari? You were always a silly acting young girl, but…now…I am strongly tempted to…”
“Papa, I don’t mean to be rude to you, but at least, after everything that’s happened, I would be not be doing any good if I didn’t at least speak the truth, or speak my mind.”
Sanmi’s voice hardens perceptibly. “You sure are speaking your mind. That’s what you get living with a man like…that.” He hitches his toward where D’Onah is standing by the door. “Does he also teach you to be sassy to your father? To run away from home…?”
“I didn’t run away from home, papa.” Nari rises to defend herself. “You said I couldn’t be your daughter anymore because I got involved with Styne.”
“No one who gets involved with a scum of the earth like that is worthy of being my daughter.” He rushes on as D’Onah makes no move to defend his son’s reputation. Nor does Nari. “I warned you from the first day what would happen if you got involved with a stupid boy like that, let alone let him get you pregnant. I wouldn’t even be here in the first place if it hadn’t been for your mother and sisters. I can’t believe that despite everything I tried to do for you and your sisters, despite all of that…”
“Papa, I never said…”
“Don’t you interrupt when I am talking,” Sanmi snaps angrily, glaring at her. “Doesn’t he teach you any manners at all, since you obviously haven’t learnt any before?”
“I think it is time you left.” D’Onah’s voice cuts through the moment like a knife through butter. “She’s had a rough day already, if you don’t mind, and I need for her to get some rest.”
Sanmi looks at him with a sneer. “I sure won’t be told what to do by you.”
“It’s for your daughter’s benefit.”
“Good thing you realize she’s my daughter. Why don’t you take your misplace paternal concern and mind your scum-of-the-earth son instead of trying to tell everyone how to treat their children? Your son needs it more. If it weren’t for him coming into this stupid girl’s life I wouldn’t be having this detestable conversation.’
“True.” D’Onah feels the admission drop from him. “I am sorry but I can’t be held responsible for my son’s transgressions. It is pathetic enough. The most I can do is try to make the best out of it, not bury my head in the sand. So if you have nothing more to say other than get her upset…”
Realization sinks into Sanmi. His voice drops to a hoarse whisper. “Are you out of your mind? Do you know the implication of what you just said? I should have you arrested until you produce that son of yours. I mean it…” He turns to Nari. “Okay, I have had enough of this dysfunctional family. Nari, up. You are coming with me. He can share the baby with his son.”
“No, Papa.” Nari is resolute, forcing her father to consider her closely.
“Did you just say no?” he asks unbelievingly. “What has he done to you to turn you against your own father?”
“He did nothing but accept me the way I am. Something you never had the time or patience to do.” Nari sits up, her gaze but reverent. “I know I made a mistake, papa, a mistake I can not forgive myself. But at least I hoped you would find it in your heart to forgive me and accept me. That is too difficult for you to do. I don’t want to go through the rest of my life feeling like a stranger in your house just because of one mistake I made in my teens, or have you throw that in my face at every slight opportunity you get. And if you cannot find it in your heart to forgive me, if my baby has no place in your life then I have no place in that life either.”
“Are you giving me an ultimatum?”
“You should leave,” says D’Onah quickly, before things start getting out of hand. “It’s better now.” He holds the door open for Sanmi. Sanmi battles against his pride, but his daughter resolute features tell him she is not going back on her word. He leaves her.
“Are you okay?” D’Onah notices the tear slide down Nari’s face. Just then she wipes it on the back of her hand and looks up with a smile and says she’ll be fine. “I have to rush home for some things. I will be back in the evening.”
“No need. You need some rest yourself….” Nari’s attempt at persuasion fails. Instead she says, “I’ll be fine. I am not afraid anymore. I know he won’t be coming, not here.”
When he’s gone Nari lets the nurse take the baby from her. She asks to use the bathroom. The nurse offers to check it before leading her into the stall.
Time just marches on endlessly. An eerie calm descends in the bathroom, so calm Nari could hear the sound distinctly. She listens hard, pressing her ear against the door.
“Nurse?” she hears nothing for a while. Then suddenly a bump and thud fall on her ears, strange noises for nurse. “Who is that? Anybody there?” she drags her hospital robes around herself and steps out the stall. The nurse is sprawled out on the floor of the bathroom. Her breath catches. It is happening again, she thinks, the stalking she’s been running from.
Styne is suddenly in front of her, barring her escape out the bathroom. He looks at her like she’s a long lost treasure. “Did you miss me?” he says in a menacing voice. She is speechlessly rooted to the grounded as her nightmares unfold. It all happens in a flash: she sees Styne’s fist come straight at the bridge of her nose and her head jerks back, then forward, and she feels everything black out.