— His words are as smooth as butter, but in his heart is war. (Psalm 55:21) —
“I’m throwing you a welcome party!”
Kike jumped excitedly into Titi’s bed jostling her awake. Still very sleepy, Titi turned languidly to look at her aunt.
“Are you happy?” Kike asked flashing her thirty-two widely.
It’s been over a week since Titi arrived in Nigeria. She’d spent the most part of it indoors or shuffling between her mother’s and aunt’s house. Beyond quick good mornings and curt ‘how do yous’, Titi had never had any real bonding time with her mother since she got back. She had so many questions to ask….a party was the last thing on her mind.
“Aunt Kiks? A party? For what? No one knows me in this part of life”, still groggy from her sleep, Titi sat up.
“Exactly! No one knows you and they should! You are Morayo Merchant’s daughter! The best…”
“…female Financial Analyst in West Africa!”, They burst into laughter as they chorused in unison.
Titi rolled her eyes in sarcasm and shrugged, “..and what else aunty Kike? The only mother who won’t speak to her only daughter?”
Kike smiled sadly. She had done everything in her power to make Titi feel at home…feel loved…but deep down inside, she knew Morayo’s hostility towards Titi was bound to bring all her efforts to nought.
The poor girl was so hungry for her mother’s attention.
The idea to throw her welcome party had come to mind while she was praying that morning. At that moment, she really didn’t know why but she’d felt the holy-spirit nudge her to host a welcome celebration for Titi. It had been a fleeting moment…. almost dismissible but she’d felt a strong conviction in her heart to do it.
“Titilayo! You are full of so many questions.”, Kike sighed.
“…I sadly don’t have all the answers but I’m definitely going to do this for you…nothing too elaborate. I just want to re-introduce you to your aunts, uncles, major shareholders at the company… just people who ought to know you…please say yes?”, Kike pleaded.
Titi shrugged in indifference, “Okay whatever…suit yourself.”
Kike gave her a playful slap on the arm, “ how many times have I told you to stop telling me ‘whatever’…it’s rude”
Titi giggled.“ I’m sorry ma”, she apologized.
Kike sniggered, “Anyway, you just relax, I’ll plan everything.”
Titi: of course you are planning everything. I didn’t suggest a party…but what about mum?
Kike: Oh yes. The party will hold at one of our family houses at Living Gold or maybe the one at Chevy… I’ll decide sha .
Titi’s shoulders slumped in disappointment.
“So, in summary, Mummy doesn’t even know about this party?”
Kike rubbed her shoulders appeasingly.
“Ma worry ehn, don’t be bothered. Everything will be fine. Leave your mum alone…she’ll come around. I just stopped by to tell you about the party in person. I have to leave for work now. Will you come to my place this evening so we can talk? I’ll tell Saheed to come and pick you”. Kike scrambled off the big king-sized bed.
“That’s fine by me”, Titi answered quietly.
Kike smiled lovingly at her niece .” be good okay? I’ll order for that jollof rice we bought yesterday at Terra Kulture, Saheed will bring it for you?”. She blew Titi a kiss and hurried out of her room.
“You’re the best!” Titi hollered after her.
“I know!”, Kike replied from the corridor.
“Aunt Kiks! I thought you said you were planning a ‘small’ party? a soiree?”
The sitting area was full. Well, not necessarily full but in Titi’s eyes, all she could see were people, people, everywhere…faces she couldn’t even recognize. Titi’s heart sank. She was really grateful to have her aunt in her life but these entire planning should have been her Mother’s duty. That afternoon, while she prepared for the party, her mom had startled her.
“Where are you going to all dolled up”, Morayo stood at the entrance of Titi’s room.
She’d almost fainted from shock. The last person she’d expected to see in her room was her mother.
“You don’t speak?”, Morayo asked.
“Errm…Aunt Kike. Aunt Kiks…She organized a welcome party in my honour? I thought you knew about it”.
Morayo’s face remained expressionless while her daughter spoke nervously. Of course, she knew about the party and she’d come into Titi’s room to tell her to have fun and that she was sorry she wouldn’t be in attendance. But here she was, saying all the wrong things.
“Well, good for you. At least you all know well enough to not hold any party in my house”. With that, she’d walked out of her room.
Kike’s laugh stirred Titi out of her thoughts. ” You are unbelievable! THIS is small. If you know the things I had to do to keep the press off this party ehn! You’ll thank me forever. Anyways, settle in, I‘m about to introduce you to friends and family…frenemies?” Kike winked.
“Hello, everyone! May I please have your attention?”.
All the side talks and murmurings ceased. Kike cleared her throat.
“Good evening to you all. I hope you’re having a nice time?”. She smiled at Titi and gestured for her to stand up.
“Thank you so much for honouring my invitation at such short notice. I really love my niece and I would do anything for her”, Kike smiled at Titi again. She blushed in return.
” …and that’s why I decided to throw her a welcome party so as to reintroduce her to the family. Her name is Titilayo Rhoda Merchant. She is Morayo Merchant’s daughter, that’s my older sister. I’m sorry she can’t be here today but be rest assured that she would have loved to be here. Erm…Titi has been away for about fifteen years in London for her education. She’s a chartered accountant…graduated summa cum laude from the Imperial College, London …”, Kike smiled in satisfaction as the guest ‘wowed’ and ‘ahhed’.
“So…” she continued “She’s back in Nigeria for good and she’ll be joining us at Merchant Holdings to continue a legacy that has remained, for over five decades, solid and true to the Industrial spirit of our country. Let’s have fun and oh you can meet with Titi if you want to…After all the party is in her honour. Have fun and dinner will be served in a few minutes. Thank you.”.
A round of applause followed the end of her mini-speech. Kike excused herself to take care of dinner for the guests. Different people introduced themselves to Titi while some stood afar as if they were oblivious to the purpose of the party. They were important people and they didn’t hesitate to make Titi understand that.
They all had titles.
Suddenly, an old man in his fifties pushed past the guest standing in front of Titi.
He extended his hands for a handshake, “Hello Titi, I am Engineer Bolarinwa Francis…May I call you Rhoda?”, He suddenly burst into boisterous laughter as if he had a cracked a hidden joke — one that only he and Titi should understand.
He was one of them.
Those people that sought to attract your attention with their laughter or noisy introductions. As if to say: see o…I know this person more than you do so that’s why we are laughing so hard. Can’t you see we are close?
“Pleased to meet you, sir. I would appreciate Titi better”, albeit irritated, she replied courteously.
He burst into another round of rancorous laughter. Some guests paused to glance at him in irritation, others stared longingly, wishing it was them standing in front of Titi.
“You know…I used to know this really beautiful girl called Rhonda…you know they both mean the same thing right?” He burst into laughter again, his shoulders shook like he was about to have a seizure.
“I am quite pleased to meet you too duuurling…I’m sure your father couldn’t make it to your welcome celebration too eh?”
Titi smiled uncomfortably. She looked through the room to find her aunt but she was nowhere in sight.
“Runaway! that’s how you just disappeared !”. A tiny voice chirped animatedly from behind.
Ah! Saved by the bell!
Titi’s smile broadened into a real one. She turned to meet an equally smiling face…one she actually knew.
“Sope? Oh my God!” They both squealed in delight, embracing each other. Managing to mutter a quick ‘Excuse me, please’, Titi pulled her friend a little farther away from the man.
“How did you know I was…how did you even…”
“Aunt Kike mentioned your welcome party when she came to visit my mum’s restaurant for food and drinks…I just had to see you and I was just like…”
A young man coughed lightly, interrupting Sope’s chatter. Sope laughed.
“oops, my bad. Meet Yinka…again. He swears you won’t recognize him”.
Right before Titi stood a very good-looking man…emphasis on the ‘Very’. He was an absolute eye candy…a sight to soothe sore eyes.
Titi looked closer. He stood confidently like someone who knew himself well enough; who couldn’t be bothered by your opinions…yet, there was this serene and pleasant energy he exerted. She looked closer, trying to remember those eyes …beautiful steady eyes.
Amused by her sincere efforts and confusion, he laughed.
That did it!
The memories flooded in. Titi could remember the sound of that laughter in her dreams. The sound of that laughter annoyed her constantly for the three years she’d schooled in AISL (American International School of Lagos).
“Hyena!” Titi screamed in elated recognition.
“Oh no… she still calls me Hyena!”, He slapped his head repeatedly in mock frustration. They all laughed. Titi’s heart swelled with joy. She made a mental note to give her aunt a big fat kiss after the party. It’d been worth it after all!
Titi: How are you both doing? I’m so pleased to see both of you!
Sope: Same here girlfriend…omo you are fresh o. And I thought I was fresh!
Titi: Oh come off it! You’re making me blush.
Hyena: You disappeared. One day you were in school…the next day you weren’t! What happened?
Sope: Yes o. You just left me…your best seat partner!
Titi: I’m sincerely sorry for any hurt I must have caused you…I didn’t know I was going to leave either. It all happened so fast…
Titi’s animated voice dwindled…sadly.
Hyena watched her closely. He could sense there was more she wasn’t saying.
“Eeyah. So what happened naw?” Sope’s eyes widened, hungry for gist. Titi mumbled confusedly; her eyes darted aimlessly around the room She looked helpless.
“erm…I …My Mum…My mum. I didn’t know…I was young and …”
Hyena interrupted, “Well, it’s good to have you back still… are you here for good?”. Whatever her reasons were, he could guess she didn’t feel comfortable talking about it. Luckily for them, Kike walked in.
“Hello everyone! Dinner is served!”
“Oh great. Let’s go have some food…me I‘m hungry!” Sope announced, taking the lead.
“Shall we?” He gave a mock bow and extended his hands.
“Yes, we shall”. Giggling, she took his hands and smiled at him. As they both walked to the dining hall, she blushed secretly. A thousand thoughts ran through her mind…
I could hold his hands for days!
Amidst the animated laughter and merrymaking, a young lady walked out of the room unnoticed. She quickened her pace as she walked to the parking area of the building. Her driver was there waiting to drive out at her command.
She waited until they’d driven out of the estate before bringing out her phone.
“Hello…Pascal. Yes, it is very true. Morayo’s daughter is here live and direct!”
“Wonderful! Awesome! Brenda, I knew I could trust you…your brains are on point mehn!” Pascal jubilated over the phone.
Brenda smiled, “Stop jor. I’ve sent the pictures to your editor and a recording of a conversation between her and her friends. It’s nothing substantial but it’s buzz-worthy”
“Perfect. You’re the best Brenda. You’ll get your payment soon”
Brenda cut the call. She fiddled nervously with her phone.
Risky! Her guts screamed at her.
Brenda trembled. There was no turning back.
“There’s no way in hell I’m going to let that bastard reap where she did not sow!”