Tunde opened a personal account with some millions of naira in her bank and introduced her to some of his business colleagues who did well to do the same. She got promoted and her salary and commission tripled. They began an open yet discreet relationship. She did not want to meet his family and also did not want him to meet hers. She feared that her father may pressure him and that would embarrass her. She could tell that he wasn’t ready yet. Well, could he be blamed? He was thirty two years, had chains of offices around the world, had all the money men twice his age have not dreamed of getting a quarter of. Men are not usually in a hurry. She told herself. What he wanted was for her to live alone. He did not mind renting an apartment for her and a separate one for her family. He wanted to sleep at night and wake up in the morning seeing her nestled to him in his shirt, under the covers. He did not like the fact that he hurried all the time to drop her home before midnight like she was in some Cinderella story. She thought about it all and reckoned he had a point. She had earlier thought of moving into a comfortable three bedroom flat on the Island. At least she could afford it and she was sure her name would never appear on the retrenchment list because of her contributions. She thought of him. They have been a couple for some months now and she had never felt strongly about anyone like this. His lips pressed on her palms made her think about impossibilities becoming a reality. His slick hands perform pleasurable successful surgeries on her anatomy and his anesthetic kiss does not suppress her muffled moan. Oh, how she loved him. He made her think about having babies and starting a family. Something she never believed she could think of at the moment. Her thirtieth birthday was around the corner and she found her self wishing he would propose. She wanted to see Bisi now and laugh at her face and tell her that she did not need to strip for every million she brought in. Unfortunately, Bisi had been transferred to another branch on the mainland. She thought that her efforts would have amounted to nothing if not for Tunde. He did everything, arranged for the meetings and bam, no too much talk. It was Saturday morning and she did not go to the gym with him because she wanted to have a discourse with her father about renting a new apartment before he left for the garage. She stretched her legs on the floor and rested her head on the cushion. She was thinking of how to begin. In spite of her position in the bank and at home as the breadwinner she still did not know how to face him – how to express herself before him. And so she rehearsed her speech ‘daddy, no, sir, I think that now that we have money, we can move to a better place. No, it did not sound right. I think this place is now too tight and crowded.’ She debated on telling him she wants her privacy now. She could not correlate her thoughts hence decided to open her mouth and let the thoughts flow. Her father walked into the parlor and flopped into the chair opposite her. He crossed his feet on the table and asked why she did not follow her boyfriend to the gym. He grinned afterwards when she looked away. He had been happy ever since he knew she was dating an ‘Adenuga’ and often filled her with stories of how he used to peep outside his cubicle at Tunde’s father whenever he came to the bank and how the office went chaotic to serve him. He ended with that conceited smile and said, “Whoever knew that we would become in-laws one day and maybe who knows again, I might get back my old job after the wedding.” This was the reason she dissuaded Tunde from meeting with him. She could not imagine him having the impression that her father was a gold digger. Lately though, he had become unfathomable. It was surprising that he had not demanded to see Tunde after some months. He would rather watch him drive away at night and tell Papa Yemi in between sips of beer that Adenuga is his in law. He was contented knowing that soon she would get pregnant and wedding plans would be inevitable – the reason he encouraged her to spend more time with him, only she should not sleep over at his place before the neighbors start talking – that was his only concern – the neighbors. Ada cleared her throat and ran her hands through her hair as if the gesture would remind her of her memorized speech. He cleared his throat too, sensing she might have something important to say especially because she broke her Saturday routine. She drew in a long breath, sat on the chair and told him. He did not interrupt but allowed her to finish. When she was done he asked her to bring him a glass of water. She stood up surprised and asked him if he heard all she had said. He said he did and that he was thirsty and needed to quench his thirst first. She got the water and he took a sip and told her to return it. Just a sip and he made her go all the way. She thought.
“When a chicken enters a foreign territory, what does it do? It stands on one leg and looks around. When it is sure that there is no harm and that it is safe, he puts down the second leg, thereby standing on both legs.” He said.
“Sir, I don’t understand.”
“The reason you do not understand is because what your father sees as an old man while sitting you as a child cannot see it even if you climb an iroko or an airplane.”
She wondered why he would use a proverb in the first place if he knew he wouldn’t interpret. He was not known for using them so now that he did, she knew his answer had to be in the negative and she was willing to accept it.
“Yes, I have said that you are becoming too old to live with me. Yes, I have also approved of your seeing that boy. And yes, if you get pregnant now, I don’t think there will be any father prouder than me. But will it be proper for a man to marry you from your own house and not your father’s? The boy and his people are supposed to come here, tell me that they have seen a beautiful flower in my house that they want to pluck. And I will pretend as if I do not know that you have been sleeping in his house during the day, I will ask your mother to parade you before them and they will nod and I will nod. Ada this is how it is done!” He stamped his right foot.
“Sir, I know and I will not question your wisdom in matters like this. I agree that it will not be okay for me to stay alone, but how about us moving out of this compound to a conducive flat? I mean all of us.”
“Does it make sense? Even to you, does it make sense moving from one rented room to another? Whether it is a flat or a face me I face you, is it not still rented? Who are we deceiving? Won’t we still pay rent to another man?”
“I don’t understand.” She shook her head trying to make sense of all he was saying.
“I did not speak with water in my mouth. All I am saying is that I am waiting for your boyfriend to buy me a house instead. Do you think I don’t know that he is the one responsible for the silly ideas in your head? You don’t know that a man would only rent an apartment for a permanent concubine to stay alone so that he would eat for free and not pay dowry on her head. Use your tongue to count your teeth. I am going to the garage and please make sure you tell him all I have said.” He snorted and left the room.
She did not tell him all that her father had said. Instead she told him that he had promised to give it some thought and that by the end of the month he would give his decision. She kissed away any doubts and questions he had about the matter. Life is indeed beautiful when you find that only companion that the gods gave you before sending you down to earth. She remembered his words last night and smiled and then burst out laughing hard. How love sick she was to have thought that a diamond ring would follow. What else could she ask for in a man, he was a complete Adonis, perfect all round. It was always delightful to see people staring at them everywhere they went – the movies, restaurants and the tennis court when she would sit and cheer him all through the rounds. It was even more delightful in her office, when he would send bars of chocolates and bouquets of white and red roses with pink cards and a lazy scrawl that read ‘To my nymph, the mother of my unborn kids. Oops and to my love.’ She literally had ripples and butterfly sensations in her stomach. “Who says Nigerian men are not romantic?” Her male colleagues would say. “Na flower we go chop” The females would say. And the men would say, “So na recharge card you fit chop.” She laughed and touched her neck, remembering his tongue licking it like it were an ice cream cone. Their only and constant argument was on her being a poodle of her father. She laughed again and remembered when he gave her a car as birthday gift. But she could not drive it. “I will give you a driver, send you to a driving school or better still teach you myself.” He said. But after the driving school, she still could not bring herself to driving- she did not have the mind. She did not want a driver, could make do with cabs and so returned the car. She laughed again. How she wished Bisi could see this. Maybe she had heard but was ashamed to face her. Foolish girl, she thinks every girl sleeps with any random guy for money or any inexcusable reason for that matter. She wrinkled her nose and laughed again. The cab man pulled up in front of Shoprite in Ikeja. She paid him and walked in. The shops were bustling with people going in and coming out. Not as busy as it usually is on weekends. She went from shops to shops and stopped in front of a furniture store. The lemon green kitchen cabinet struck a chord in her head and she thought of cooking in a kitchen- her kitchen, with Tunde’s hands kneading her waist and their kids pulling her apron. She entered the store, slid her hands down the cabinet and told the white lady inside that she would be back. She entered another shop with men’s clothing. She had come to buy some shirts as a birthday gift for Tunde. It was in a few days time and he had promised to introduce her to his parents. She did not mind any more, maybe this time he would propose. She picked out some clothes and walked over to the counter to pay. She glanced sideways and slowly looked over her shoulders. She perceived she was been followed. When she saw no one she paid and took the bags from the counter. She walked towards the door and was about to push it when a hand grabbed her. It could not have been at a better time to see her long awaited nightmare.
“Long time no see my sharp friend.” Bisi said in sarcasm.
“Excuse me?” She pulled away her hand, looked her up and down and almost called her a bitch.
“Excuse yourself, you thought that I would never congratulate you abi?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“With your holier than thou attitude one would have thought that you could not wink at a single man. But here you are sharp girl, not ashamed to be frolicking around with a wealthy married man. Congratulations, you beat me to it this time.” She scoffed and pranced out of the store.
Ada did not take her eyes off the door. She looked till Bisi was no longer in sight, then wheezed and gripped her bags. The people in the store became indistinct to her and her bags slipped from her grip. She looked down but did not see them. Something was on the floor but it was blurry. The back of her head pounded and she tried to raise her hand to it, but could not. She was dizzy. She saw nothing, felt nothing except her back on the hard floor.
The doctors at St. Andrew’s hospital said she had suffered a Transcient Ischaemic Attack (TIA) also called a mini stroke, after conducting a Computed Tomography (CT) brain scan on her. They asked if she had a history with high blood pressure and when she replied in the negative they decided to look at her heart through a Bubble Echocardiogram. The procedure involved an ultra sound scan and the injection of a bubble of saline into her arm to make the heart functions more visible. She was afterwards diagnosed with Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO) – a hole in her heart, the size of a pound coin and unless she had a PFO closure operation she was at the risk of having a severe stroke. The hole had been there since birth but no one knew. The doctors further said that the operation was performed abroad and it cost some millions of naira. Her mother broke down in tears- tears that prayed for healing and financial assistance. Her father had the somberness in his eyes and something else- a little hope or plan. He decided not to inform her brothers because the news might disturb their exam preparations. Ada did not cry as it is expected of someone whose life is on a ledge- about to fall with any little push. What is life or death? – Simply a journey to a destination that we all must embark on. Old age before death is merely a delay- just buying time. She did not swallow hard, but the glow in her eyes dwindled and a rueful smile crept upon her mauve lips. She felt dead already. Tunde held her hands all through and gave her some words of comfort. He told her everything will be alright. It saddened him that she was hurting and could not express any part of it in tears. Every operation in itself is a risk. It is not exactly an assurance of survival. He encouraged her parents before excusing himself to see the doctors. He would have preferred to meet them in a different situation. But meeting them was all the same, in grief or joy, none of it mattered except meeting in the end. Her father tottered to the glass window and placed his hands on it. He looked down at the people jostling on the street under the raging sun. The sun was too bright for a morning like this. A family caught his attention. There was a woman with a baby strapped to her back, her right hand held a toddler and her left carried an umbrella. The man beside her pulled two scrawny children behind him. He assumed he was her husband and the father to the kids. He shook his head and bit his forefinger. Poverty is a curse. If they had money the man would have been driving them in a car not dragging malnourished children under a sun that can cook yam. He shook his head again and wondered how similar and different their situations were. He was in a better position, as long as Tunde is still in the picture. The thought of Tunde unnerved him a bit. He was exactly not sure if Tunde would be fully involved in his daughter’s life any more. But he knew he had to find a way to keep him there and maybe also pay the bills. He made a quick decision at the moment to let her live with him and in that way, he won’t leave her. He smiled at his calculated wisdom even in the face of difficulty. A man does not follow the women and children to weep when there is no harvest, he must look for a way to fill his barn and feed his family. He told his wife of his momentary decision. But he did not tell her his reasons. She was sad that her daughter would be away from her but she could not quarrel with her husband. She agreed, provided she was allowed to visit. Her consent was not been sought for, he pointed out, only men made the major decisions in the house and she knew that. Ada said nothing, her mind was far away. She could not bring herself to ask Tunde to pay her bills- it was unfair of her. But she did not have to ask for anything because when Tunde came out with the doctors, a glimpse of hope rose beneath her eyes. He had taken up the responsibility for her medical bills.