Richard was right, as Nene later discovered. Before they parted ways, Richard had told Nene of the various DNA samples that could be used to determine paternity. Nene had been apprehensive at first, thinking that they would need to draw the child’s blood.
But Richard had set her mind at ease.
There were less invasive, painless methods, which were just as effective, and he shared this information with her. He had learned about these other methods while visiting the lab in Aba, and they told him what he needed to bring, including the documents he had to present. There would be no need to obtain the mother’s consent because as Richard reasoned, Enitan would certainly withhold her consent, if she knew his plans.
Later that evening, while Nene was washing her clothes and deliberating on everything they had discussed, an idea occurred to her. By the time she met with Richard the following day, they came up with a formidable plan to once and for all, lay to rest this question of paternity.
Chief Alozie was turning 57 in November of that same year, and was having a fairly large birthday party to mark the special occasion. The party was ‘fairly large’ because it was going to hold in his own compound, which could comfortably sit hundreds of people. A larger crowd would have required them to rent an events hall, but Chief planned to do that when he turned 60.
Nonetheless, like he had done with every birthday celebration since he turned 50, each guest would receive an invitation card. The invitation card was just a formality; everyone knew that half of the people who would show up were uninvited. But they would not be turned away. So, provision was made for them as well.
Nene suggested to Aunty Dubem, that they should invite the school teachers at Graceville College for the birthday party. Aunty Dubem, who had no inkling of their plan, agreed wholeheartedly. It would be a way of saying “Thank you” for giving their children quality education, she told Nene. Nene also made sure that the teachers were told to bring their family members, especially their children, as there would be special games and gifts for the children. It was this part of Nene’s suggestion that piqued her aunt’s curiosity and put the older woman on her guard, unbeknownst to Nene.
“I wonder what this girl is up to,” Auntie Dubem thought to herself. “I will watch her closely. She can’t hide forever.”
From that day forward, Auntie Dubem watched Nene more closely than before. Nene who was oblivious to the attention she had drawn to herself continued with the plan that she and Richard had carefully crafted.
Nene confirmed from Godwin and also her cousins, that Enitan Ibiwoye, the Biology teacher had received an invitation to the birthday party along with all the other teachers.
“Now, all we have to do is watch and pray,” Nene thought.
Having warned Richard not to come anywhere near the house on the day of the birthday party, to avoid drawing Enitan’s suspicion, Nene continued to help her aunt prepare for the D-day.
The day finally arrived. Although Chief Alozie’s official birthday was November 14, the party was held on Saturday, November 16, because November 14 fell on a Thursday. Her aunt and uncle wore matching outfits, with Chief donning his traditional red cap, in addition to the special ceremonial beads he usually wore.
The party was scheduled to start at 1:00 pm. Most people did not arrive until two hours later. Nene got up as early as 6am to assist her aunt with the food preparations. By the time the party started, she was quite tired! She was tempted to go and lie down for a few minutes, but the fear of over-sleeping and ruining their plan kept her awake. Her aunt had put her and Chikodi in charge of the children’s entertainment. There were several rented canopies in the yard for the adults, but the children were taken indoors to the children’s parlor, which was upstairs.
Initially, they had planned to put the children under a tent in the compound, and had even hired a clown to entertain the children. But when the clown did not show up, they took the children upstairs to what was supposed to be a more controlled environment.
As at the time they moved the children upstairs, Enitan had not arrived. In fact, Nene had grown pensive and was already having second thoughts about this arrangement, when she stepped onto the balcony and looked towards the gate.
At that moment, she saw a tall, attractive dark-skinned woman, holding onto a toddler, come through the gate. From the pictures Richard had shown her, she knew this woman was Enitan, and deduced that the little child with her was Tomiwa, her son. They were accompanied by another man, who appeared to be Enitan’s guest. They sat together the entire time.
As soon as she saw the child, Nene felt guilty about what she was going to do to him. But, she stilled herself and decided that the end justified the means.
After Enitan and her guest were comfortably seated and eating, Nene sent Rita to fetch Tomiwa. That was the protocol they had adopted for the other children as well. He reluctantly left his mother and looked like he was going to cry, but after she told him that big boys don’t cry, he marched off with Rita, like a little soldier.
When Rita brought him upstairs, Nene immediately went to him. She sat with him and played with him, made sure he ate and warmed up to her. Tomiwa was not a fussy child, to Nene’s delight, and drawing on the experience she had working with children in church, she knew just what to do to gain his trust.
All this while, Auntie Dubem had been watching Nene. She noticed the special interest that Nene took in one particular little boy, and took a few minutes to join them upstairs. Nene saw her aunt in the children’s parlor, but did not suspect anything. She was waiting for her opportunity. Like clockwork, it came.
Tomiwa, who Nene ensured drank lots and lots of water, soon told her in that half-formed English, which children are known to use, that he needed to go to the bathroom. This was the opportunity Nene had waited for, and she moved quickly.
Instead of taking Tomiwa to the visitor’s bathroom close by, she led the toddler to her room and took him to the adjoining bathroom instead.
After he had emptied his little bladder, she took him to the desk beside her bed, and asked him if he wanted to eat sweets. Which child would ever turn down such an offer? Certainly not Tomiwa. His eyes lit up when he heard the word “sweet.”
Nodding his head vigorously, he started to chant in an excited voice:
“Sweet, sweet, sweet!”
Nene was struck by the child’s innocence.
“He has no idea what I am about to do. May God forgive me and Richard, and may God erase this episode from this child’s memory,” Nene prayed, as she opened a drawer beside her bed.
She pulled out three clear plastic zipper bags. Each bag had one clean cotton swab inside it, the kind people shove into their ears in the name of cleaning out ear wax. Nene opened the first bag and pulling out the first cotton swab told the child:
“Okay, before you eat any sweet, auntie has to check to make sure your mouth is clean enough, alright?”
The poor child nodded. He would do anything for that candy. Nene quickly wore a pair of latex gloves and then instructed the child:
“Oya open your mouth wide. Say ‘Ahhhh!’ ” said Nene, holding the cotton swab ready. As soon as Tomiwa opened his mouth, she looked past his milk teeth and gently used the swab to swipe the inside of his cheeks. Tomiwa almost bit her the first time.
“Auntie, tick-ying me,” he whined.
“I know it is tickling you. Don’t you want to eat sweets?”
He nodded and let her re-try. She did and retrieved the saliva-drenched end of the cotton swab from the child’s mouth. Placing it on top of the now empty zipper bag, she moved on to the second one.
She had just collected the second sample, when the door burst open and in walked Auntie Dubem. She looked very angry. Nene, in her fright, had mistakenly dropped the cotton swab she had just retrieved on the floor.
“I should’ve locked that door! Well, it looks like I won’t be using that swab,” she thought as she faced her Auntie. How would she explain what was going on? Worse still, what if Auntie Dubem put a stop to everything? What then?
The noise from the door opening suddenly had also frightened Tomiwa who began wailing loudly. Auntie Dubem picked up the child and began to pat him gently on his back to soothe him. While she was doing this, she faced her niece.
“What do you think you’re doing, Nene?” she asked. “Why do you have someone else’s child alone in your room, trying to give him sweet? What evil have you planned for this child ehn?” Auntie Dubem demanded glaring at Nene. Nene knew she had to tell the truth. So, she gave Auntie Dubem a two-minute summary of what had transpired between her and Richard, who the child was and why they needed his DNA samples.
Auntie Dubem calmed down slightly when she found out it was just a cheek swab Nene was conducting. She had feared it was something more sinister like a blood sample. But the revelation did not completely quell her anger.
“Why didn’t you tell me or your uncle all this? What if someone else had come in? You want to spoil my name in this town? It’s not your fault. Shebi you will just run back to Lagos while those of us who live here will face the music. That is your plan, isn’t it?” she said to Nene.
Then, as if there was someone else in the room, she turned her face away from Nene and said:
“What are we to expect, when their mother feeds them draw soup.”
Nene almost laughed at the conclusions her aunt was drawing, but figured it would only make her angrier.
“Auntie, it’s not like that at all. I … We just want to be sure, that is all.”
“And this is the only way to be sure?” said Auntie Dubem in disbelief.
“Auntie, this is the only way we know.”
“Do your parents know about this?”
“Not yet, Auntie. I will tell them when the time is right.”
By now, Tomiwa had stopped crying and was sucking his thumb, oblivious to the conversation that was going on.
“Assuming your plan works and you find out that Richard is the father, what then, Nene? Will you stand by a man who already has a child? Nene, you’re too young to be embroiled in this kind of drama. See what he is already putting you through at this stage. Who knows what else will follow? No man is worth all this trouble, I’m telling you.”
“Auntie, Richard is worth all this trouble,” said Nene. “Remember Paul, my ex? I can’t tell you how many times I have compared Richard to Paul to his hearing, and the many ways I have made Richard pay for Paul’s mistakes. But through it all, he has been patient. He understood just how deeply I was wounded from that past relationship and he was a crucial part of the healing process. In fact, Auntie, he still is. He stood by my side and helped me regain my confidence, made me feel wanted, loved. I can’t just discard such a man like that. Auntie, I hope you understand.”
Auntie Dubem responded in the affirmative.
“This thing you’re doing is very risky and even after everything you said, it still does not make complete sense to me. But I know that you have to make your own decisions. We, who have been on this earth longer than you have, cannot teach you everything. There are some things you will have to learn by experience. I just hope this turns out to be a good lesson, not a bitter one,” said Auntie Dubem in a grave tone, as she handed Tomiwa back to Nene and left the room.
“I hope so, too,” Nene whispered as she took two more cheek swabs. She used an extra cotton swap from the stack in another drawer. So, by the time she was done, she had three separate DNA samples from the child. She kept her promise and gave Tomiwa a whole pack of Cadbury chocolate eclairs, before taking him back to join the other children.
After that, she returned back to her room and turned on the fan, waiting for the samples to dry. This took another forty minutes. Then, she put them into the zipper bags, sealed them, dumped the gloves in the dustbin in her room and went to wash her hands.
Grabbing her cell phone, she took the bags downstairs to the kitchen. There were several people in the kitchen. Some were relatives helping with the food, and some were guests who had no business being there, but were there nonetheless.
Nene waited for a moment when no one was looking at her, and slipped the samples into a corner of the deep freezer. Then, she grabbed a small cooler, packed it with ice and texted Richard to wait outside the gate. By then, it was nearly 4:00 pm.
Nene took the samples out of the freezer, put them in the cooler and went outside to meet Richard. On her way, she saw Enitan and a shiver ran down her spine. If this woman knew who she was or what she was carrying in that cooler, she would not be sitting down so calmly.
Richard was nervously pacing in front of the gate. As soon as he saw Nene, he heaved a sigh of relief, thanked her profusely and collected the cooler from her. Aba was at least three hours away, but the lab did not close until 9:00pm, being a Saturday.
“God speed, Richard. Call me when you get there, okay?” Nene said to him as he got into the car.
“I will. Wish me luck.”
As Nene watched the car pull away, she knew that the next time she saw Richard, the document he would have in his hand would change their lives forever.
She retired indoors and tried to enjoy the rest of the party, but found it difficult. Plus, Auntie Dubem still looked like she wanted to slap Nene in spite of her explanations, so she avoided her for the rest of the day. Her mind did not rest that day until Richard called her around 8:00 pm to tell her that he had arrived safely in Aba and had successfully delivered the samples to the lab. Now, they just had to wait for one week to know the results.
That entire week felt like seven months to Nene. It seemed to drag on forever not just because of the anticipated news, but also because they had agreed not to see or talk to each other until the test results were ready.
Seven days passed, and the time came for Richard to give Nene the much-anticipated news. He walked up to her gate and as soon as she heard the loud knock on the gate that afternoon, she knew who it was.
– to be continued –