HAZE: The Prologue

PROLOGUE

1996

It was dawn again. Maria stirred lazily on her bed as the alarm clock rang repeatedly…

Annoyingly! 

She didn’t want to wake up now, she didn’t want to wake up tomorrow, she didn’t want to wake up forever. All she desired to do was stay in bed and bawl her eyes out. However, since her divorce, for many years now, she’d had to bear the burden of being the sole heir to Merchant Holdings.

God hates divorce.

A few months after the news of her divorce had spread, people from her family church preached those words to her a million times in their pious tones, coated with thick layers of criticism and disapproval. But how could she tell them that she didn’t divorce him….that Dele walked out on her. After long arguments about her keeping her father’s name and also insisting that their daughters bear the same name, he’d suddenly snapped.

Dele: Maria! Can you hear yourself? They are my children! They will bear my name!

Maria: What name? Be reasonable Dele. So they will now bear what? Ademoyi? Ademo what? Who knows you? You want to condemn my children to a life of insignificance. We both agreed that I would keep my father’s name naw!

Dele: In addition to my name! and I never agreed to you changing the children’s name

Maria: Dele, if you would just calm down, you’d see…

Mid-sentence, he’d picked up his car keys and walked out on her. She waited. Night after night, she’d waited for him to come home…

 

Maria sighed tiredly. Her temples throbbed.

This walk down memory lane always left her emotionally distraught. She had to go to work. For her, being strong was not an option, her sanity depended on it.

As she drove into the private parking lot of Merchant Holdings, Maria clutched tightly to the steering wheels of her car. Lord, please give me the strength to hold on to myself, don’t let me break down in front of these people.

With a thousand thoughts spiralling through her mind, she strolled gracefully into the building.

 The fierce veil was back on. 

She walked briskly past her staff as they all scurried in different directions, some managing to utter quick fear-filled greetings. Pemi, her new personal assistant welcomed her, collecting her bag and replacing it with a cup of tea.

“Good morning, Mrs Merchant’’

Maria spared her a glance, giving her a quick once-over. Pemi was new and Maria silently hoped she would stay longer than her 24th personal assistant had done.

Ma’am I….’’, Pemi started, her voice shook like an unstable radio channel.

Maria dismissed her with a wave of her hands, I’ll call you when I need you and Pemi or what do you call yourself, cancel all my appointments for today, but don’t cancel the lunch date I have with erm Mr Fred.’’

She pushed the cup of tea towards Pemi in exasperation “…and I don’t drink ginger tea. who told you to make me ginger tea?”

“…your ..your profile …I read that you are health conscious so I just wanted to …”, Pemi rambled on fiddling with the files in her hands.

“Shut up..Shut the door”, Maria ordered, waving her hands dismissively

Pemi immediately turned to leave, almost running.

Maria knew that her employees were terrified of her….everyone was. Her kids, her driver, even the rats in her house avoided her like the plague. She smiled bitterly; she was even starting to terrify herself…but right now, she didn’t care. All she could think of were the unforgettable images that kept tormenting her.   

*********************************************************************

Maria turned grudgingly on her bed as she heard the knock on the door. She didn’t have to guess, she knew it was Morayo. She was the stubborn one.

What is it? I’m busy!’’ Maria snapped, hoping that would be enough to discourage whoever was knocking. It can only be Morayo, Maria assured herself. There was silence for a minute, then the door creaked open and Morayo walked in. 

 Morayo:  mum I…..

Maria: Morayo, I am not in the mood for any discussions tonight, sotigbo? I

Morayo hissed impatiently, I don’t care mum! , I don’t care if you are dying of fatigue or any strange disease! We need to talk and I am not leaving until we talk!

Maria sat up and stared at daughter for a while, Oxford University, Cheltenham Ladies College, the best elementary school in Lagos and look at you…talking like a common lout! you’ve grown a lot of wings these days o! I am your mother! When you talk to me, show some respect!’’

Morayo gave her mother a knowing look, Mum will you please listen to me?’’

Maria’s fingers crackled. She wasn’t prepared for what she knew she was about to hear. “Morayo, let’s talk tomorrow. As you can see I have…”

I am pregnant mum….two months pregnant’. Morayo announced quietly, almost whispering.

She felt the room become eerily cold. She felt her mother exhale a tired breath…the breath of someone whose life was ebbing away after a long fought battle. Maria’s voice shook as she asked the next question.

who is the father?’’. Of course, she knew who the father was but she hoped it wasn’t who she thought it was.

Charles’’, Morayo replied quietly.

Moraya felt a sharp sting on her face. She felt her cheeks go hot and looked up to see her mother’s hands bearing down on her…a sharper sting.

“get out!

“mum I…’’

“Get out Morayo! Get out now!’’

“He raped me, mum! I would never do anything to hurt you!’’

Maria jumped off her bed, hot tears rushing down her cheeks. She pushed Morayo out of her room, shut the door and matched over to her drawer.

Morayo sighed. She knew her mother was going to be mad at her. It was already dark outside. Hurried footsteps and whispering voices echoed from the topmost floor of the house.

Those cleaners, its kuku amebo that will kill them.

She was still pacing the corridor, contemplating whether or not to go back to her mother’s room when she heard the gunshot. Morayo froze.

At the east wing of the Merchant Mansion, Kike heard the gunshots too. She jumped out of her bed and ran towards where the sound had echoed from…her mother’s room. She ran as fast as her feet could carry her. She could also hear other people running in the same direction, the cleaners, cook, Baba Musa…everything felt like a movie being played on fast forward.

At the entrance of her mother’s room, Morayo stood there, transfixed. While Kike shook Morayo vigorously, the cleaners and other household staff raised an alarm. Somewhere in the clouded recess of her mind, Morayo kept hearing, Call Police!  Police!… Madam don die!

Right there before her, Maria Merchant, in all her glory, laid sprawled on the floor…lifeless. Blood trickled down her favourite white nightgown.

A few hours later, the police arrived. They took pictures of the scene and questioned those living in the house. Soon press agents started filling in in droves…the news had reached everywhere. 

                                                      Breaking news!

MARIA MERCHANT, HEIR TO MERCHANT HOLDINGS, COMMITS SUICIDE!

 MORAYO MERCHANT FINDS HER MOTHER IN A POOL OF BLOOD

 DEPRESSED E-COMMERCE AND MEDIA MOGUL, COMMITS SUICIDE…



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