Thanks to Suab’s daredevil driving, Desola arrived in Abeokuta less than three hours after they left the grand building of the airport. Sandwiched between her mother and Mummy Fausat with Fausat at the front, she could not ask Fausat the questions that were flying around in her head.
She could not believe how strange her house looked when they finally arrived home. The changes were not in the new coat of paint that had been splashed on the walls, or in the plumpness of her father’s youngest wife’s belly. She feared the changes were all in her eyes. In the eyes that left home with her and came back, having seen different things.
Her father was away in Sagamu, attending a friend’s birthday party. So, that evening, his sitting room was livelier than one could expect, with his wives’ and children’s friends all trooping in to welcome his eldest child home.
Hours later in Fausat’s bed- the bed that the sisters had shared for years- Desola started to grill her sister. Their last phone conversation before she left London was short but it had needed to be longer.
“What exactly did Uncle do to Risi?”
Fausat gave her half-sister an intimidating look. “I told you on the phone, Desola. Why do you want me to go through it again?” Fausat hissed, when her sister’s eyes pleaded with her.She acted as if she was the older sister, darting her eyes at her when she decided to succumb to her plea.
“We all went to Ruka’s nikah. No one knew our uncle was back in Abeokuta. We came back and found Baba Risi chasing Uncle round the compound. I went to their apartment because I heard someone crying. I found Risi on the bed. She was crying. Her dress had been ripped.There was….blood on the bed.”
Desola’s hands flew to her head. “Risi is only a child. She was ten when I left the country. How could he have done that to her?”
“He is a monster.”
“What did Daddy do to him?”
“That is the most annoying part, Desola. Daddy took both Uncle and Baba Risi into his sitting room. Five minutes later Uncle came out and he went back to Lagos.”
“What? Daddy didn’t drive him to the police station?”
“I heard my mum telling Mummy Agba that our dad gave Baba Risi ten thousand naira.” Fausat made a sound with her mouth. “Baba Risi walked into his home to find a man assaulting his teenage daughter and got ten thousand naira.”
“And he is still working here?” Desola knew the answer to her own question because Baba Risi had scrambled to open the gates when she arrived home. Baba Risi, the quiet unassuming middle aged man that had worked for her father as a gateman for as long as she could remember, wrapped her in his frail body when he saw her.
Mama Risi died from a rare illness shortly after Risi’s birth. How could a relative of hers hurt him that bad?
Fausat interrupted her thoughts.“This is why I didn’t tell Daddy what Uncle did to me when I went to his house in Lagos. He would have taken his brother’s side, sister mi. If Risi,who was born in his house doesn’t mean anything to him, it means I don’t too.”
Fausat’s tears ran down her cheeks. “Risi hasn’t spoken to anyone since then. She sits infront of the gate muttering to herself sometimes.”
Desola wrapped her arms round her sister. “I am sorry about what Uncle did to you.”
“I don’t even know what he did.” Fausat’s voice softened. “He gave me a glass of Hennessy saying we had to celebrate my becoming an adult. He kept filling my glass. I woke up the next morning in his bed.”
“I think he drugged you.”
“But that wasn’t the worst thing he did to me, Desola.” Fausat wiped her tears with the back of her hand. “The worst thing was me, walking round with a swollen belly, without being able to say who put the baby there. Carrying that man’s baby, knowing what he did. Daddy hasn’t forgiven me for bringing shame into his home.”
“How did he find out?”
“My mum begged Baba Risi to tell him. He lost it and threw me and Mum out of the house. Alhaja Taofeek had to intervene before he would let us come back home.”
“Really? I didn’t know.”
“But that was nothing compared to the icy treatment I received from him when I came back. Mummy Agba was the same. She called me names and treated me like a maid.”
It pained Desola to hear that her mother had added to Fausat’s anguish.
“When Shalewa started uni and I had to stay behind, I just became so, so sad. I wasn’t eating or sleeping properly. I cried all the time. Then, my poor baby died. I blame it all on Uncle. He ruined my life and killed my baby.”
“Didn’t Daddy ask who the father was?”
“But, you didn’t tell him.” She paused before continuing,“If we don’t tell Daddy what happened to you and what that man tried to do to me…” Fausat’s eyes met hers.“He is going to go after one of our little sisters next. Think about it, Fausa. The next time Hadija and Zaynab come back from the boarding house, our Uncle might decide to visit. We have to tell Dad.”
Fausat rose from the bed. She picked up her towel and shower gel from where she had left it earlier and walked out of the room. Desola knew exactly why her sister left the room – she didn’t want to confront her own fears. She doubted that Fausat needed a shower at midnight. Desola pulled her nightdress down- past her knees- and walked to the window.She could see Baba Risi on a bench by the gate. Risi was on a mat reading from a worn notebook. Baba Risi’s eyes were on his daughter, as if trying to deduce what she was thinking by the way her fingers traced the lines on the page. It reminded her of Richard and the way his eyes sometimes followed his children in church. Thinking of Richard made her angry. It was a sort of anger that was new to her. She suddenly wanted to see her uncle to confront him.
It wasn’t until five weeks later, when she heard her father’s third wife talking to her mother, that she realised her wish was about to come true. Her Uncle had decided to come down to Abeokuta. She poked her head through the door of the kitchen where the women were. Worry knotted her stomach because her sisters were back home from school for their holidays. Fear seized her legs. She couldn’t move closer to the women.
“Uncle is coming here this weekend?” she asked her mother.
Her mother didn’t take her eyes away from the pot she was tending to. “Yes, Baba oko mi is coming home. Why do you want to know Amebo? Shouldn’t you be thinking of going back to London? Abi your university has closed their gates permanently to you?”
That evening, Desola and Fausat were in her bedroom talking about their uncle when Fausat’s phone rang. Lines appeared on Fausat’s face. “London number. I think it’s your surrogate mother, Sister Grace, ringing you again. I think that woman is missing you. Didn’t you speak to her this morning?”
Fausat accepted the call. “Hello, hold on please.” She passed the phone to a smiling Desola who sat up immediately.
“Sister Grace, twice in a day? It’s okay, I miss you too.”
“I miss you, Desola.” The voice on the other end of the phone was different. It wasn’t Grace’s. It was the man whose words chased her away from London and yet still followed her home, like a rucksack.
“Well, I don’t miss you, Richard,” she snapped.
“I am sorry…please, hear me out. I was a mess…” He wanted to continue. She didn’t want him too. Desola saw the questions on her sister’s face. They had enough on their plate.“I have to go. I can’t deal with this right now,” she told him. She was about to end the call when Grace’s voice came on the line.
“Desola my dear, he is sorry he hurt you. Please, you need to sit down with him. You two need to talk. He is fine now.”
But hearing Grace’s voice did not soothe her anger. “I told you I don’t want to speak to him. Did he threaten to fire you from the restaurant if you didn’t let him speak to me?”
Grace giggled. “He bought me twelve creamy cupcakes.”It was supposed to be a joke. Desola didn’t see the funny side. The phone went quiet for a while. She could hear whispering in the background. After a while, Grace spoke, “The twins bought you a present… for Mothers’ Day.”
A lump formed in her throat. It hurt to speak. Missing the girls was tearing her apart.
Grace continued slowly. “They wanted you to have the present. So, their dad sent it by DHL to Nigeria. Their uncle, Ife’s brother, picked it up for you. Can he meet you…say on Saturday to give you the present? The girls really want you to have it.”
Desola hesitated a bit, “Okay. Where though? It has to be somewhere close to where I live in Abeokuta.”
Grace handed the phone back to Richard after a bit of whispering.“Can you meet him at Lounge Felicia please, around Abel Street? Do you know it? Apparently, it is in the Bameke area where you live. Ola says it isn’t far from his house.”
“Yes, I will meet him there,” Desola said hurriedly, eager to get off the phone. They decided on a time before the phone call ended.
Desola knew where he meant. Lounge Felicia was where her father spent most of his Saturdays and Sundays when she was younger. Once or twice, she and Fausat had ran the few dusty streets to Lounge Felicia because their mothers were about to kill each other. The streets leading to Lounge Felicia had since been tarred and the old hangout given a makeover to make it appealing to the state and the private university students living nearby. So on Saturday, she was at Lounge Felicia before their agreed 1pm meeting. The place was almost empty with just two men chatting at the bar.She took her seat by the table at the back, wondering what she was supposed to do whilst waiting for Richard’s brother-in-law. Fausat was at home.They had agreed that she would come and check on her if she wasn’t back home by two.
A few minutes later, a tall man approached the door. Her heart leapt out of her chest when she looked up and saw that it wasn’t Richard’s brother-in-law, but Richard himself.