Chinedu could not get over what had happened in his room. He walked to the campus and went to the favourite spot Fadeke and he shared. As he sat on the bench, his mind drifted. He remembered the day Tochukwu had come to his room to throw herself at him and how he had struggled to put his emotions in check. She was beautiful, no doubt. He could have had his way with her that day. That was what she wanted but he had felt it was wrong. What was the point if he wasn’t going to keep her? He had noticed all her gestures and winks at him but he had been undaunted.
She hadn’t given up after her encounter in his room as she had continued to stalk him pleading for just an opportunity with him. He had wondered why she had singled him out of all his friends. When Kunle had asked to date her, she hadn’t been too eager to. She had come to inform him that his friend was asking her out and he had given her a go-ahead. He could remember the shock on her face. She couldn’t believe he was letting her to go to be with his friend. But was he bothered?
She had agreed to date Kunle after a while and he soon noticed that she looked like someone out on a revenge mission. Each time she saw him anywhere close, she would throw herself at Kunle hugging and kissing him as if it was going out of fashion. Kunle too noticed her drama and decided to play along. What she did not realize was that Kunle was a smooth talker and always had his way with ladies. He also had some cash to play around with as his parents were well- to-do.
In a matter of weeks, she had fallen for Kunle’s antics. He continually professed his undying love for her. He took her to lunch outside the school, dinners, movies and also bought her inexpensive gifts. On so many occasions, she had stayed out so late that Kunle had discouraged her from going back to her hostel. Such nights were spent in his room. At a point, she began to wonder why she hadn’t noticed Kunle all along and why she had been throwing herself at Chinedu. Kunle was like a dream come true.
Unfortunately, the dream ended too soon. The new set of jambites came in and she was dumped like an old rag. She was very hurt and then she remembered that Chinedu’s refusal was the reason why she had agreed to date Kunle in the first instance. She then decided to retrace her steps and try to win Chinedu’s love again. Unfortunately, it was too late as Chinedu already had eyes for Fadeke only. Chinedu found out that Tochukwu was Fadeke’s roommate as Fadeke had mentioned her name on one of their lunch dates. He had probed her by asking what course she studied and where she stayed and his fears were confirmed. It was the same Tochukwu they both knew.
Fadeke had asked if he knew her but he had told her he knew her just as a course mate. He couldn’t bring himself to tell her the whole story as he did not want to paint her roommate in bad light. Besides, since Fadeke hadn’t mentioned Tochukwu saying anything about him, he had felt it was better they let sleeping dogs lie; the reason why he refused to visit her in her hostel. That would be going to seek for trouble; he had told himself.
He sighed and looked around. It was getting dark and he needed to get back to the hostel. He stood up and walked briskly to avoid the cold that was beginning to settle in. He looked forward to speaking with Fadeke tonight. What had happened earlier had awoken strong feelings in him and he was beginning to feel her absence. And on a day like this, he wished she were by his side.
As the sun rose on Saturday morning, Chinedu adjusted his knapsack to rest squarely on his shoulders and set out to the bus-stop. He had called his mum the previous night to inform her that he would board the early morning bus to Lagos. She had prayed for him and asked him to be very cautious as he was leaving very early. He walked briskly down the deserted road to the bus-stop and kept looking behind to be sure he wasn’t followed. He had heard tales of students who were mugged very early in the morning outside the campus. In a few minutes, he got to the major road which was buzzing with activities. People were moving around doing their daily business. Roadside hawkers were beginning to set up their wares and the public buses had lined up in a queue with their conductors shouting their destinations at the top of their voices.
He slowed down his pace and silently thanked God that he had passed through the dangerous road without issues. He walked down to the queue of buses and located those indicating Lagos as their destination. A young girl who sat under a makeshift office which comprised of an umbrella and a plastic table and chair was also shouting at the top of her voice selling tickets. He walked to her and asked, “Are you selling Lagos tickets?”
“Yes, oga. Na Lagos ticket I dey sell. Na Ojota e go drop you oh”. She said in Pidgin English.
“I know, thank you. How much is it?”
“Na two thousand naira pere?” She said blowing on the gum she was chewing with reckless abandon.
“I say na two thousand naira. You no hear me before”. She said staring at him.
“But it was one thousand five just three months ago”.
“Oga, abeg, if u no wan go, make u comot from my front. Na early mo mo we dey. Na beta customer I dey find”. She said gesticulating.
He did not have a choice. He dipped his hand into his pocket, brought out two one thousand naira notes and offered the young girl.
She hissed and tore a ticket for him. “So you get am before and you com dey talk oyinbo for hia”.
Chinedu collected his ticket, found the bus next in line and took a comfortable seat knowing that it was going to be a long journey home.
Chinedu arrived home about three hours later exhausted. He was beginning to feel hunger pangs since he had left without eating. He checked his wrist watch and saw that it was already a quarter to ten. His mother would have gone to her shop which was a few minutes’ walk from their house. As he got to the compound where they lived with six flats within, their gateman stood by the gate.
“Ahh, Oga Chinedu, welcome oh”. Ibrahim, the gateman greeted trying to collect the knapsack from him.
“Ibrahim, how body?” He answered removing the knapsack from his back.
“Body dey inside cloth oh”.
“My mama leave key for me?”
He started rummaging through his pockets for the keys. “Yes oh, Oga Chinedu. She leave am. She tell me say you dey come this morning. She say make I tell you say she don make food wey you go chop”.
He collected the keys from him. “Okay. Thank you”.
As they walked towards his flat, Ibrahim asked, “How school, Oga?”
He collected his knapsack from Ibrahim, entered into his flat and walked straight to the kitchen. He smiled as he opened the cooler his mother had put on the kitchen table. She had prepared a large wrap of fufu (boiled cocoyam paste). He opened the pot on the stove and the aroma of banga (palm nut) soup assaulted his senses. His mum knew how to spoil him, he thought. He scooped some soup into a bowl, sat right there in the kitchen on a stool and devoured the meal.
After downing a cold cup of water, he carried his knapsack which he had placed on the little fridge in the kitchen and headed for his room. He was very tired and could do with a little sleep but this wasn’t the time to sleep. He had missed his mum and had to see her. He therefore, changed into another shirt, locked up the house and headed for his mum’s shop.
“You dey go out again, Oga Chinedu?” Ibrahim asked when he saw him walking out of the gate.
“Yes, I wan reach my mama shop”.
“Okay oh. Go well”.
At 11p.m, Chinedu sat up on his bed with his phone to call Fadeke. She picked up on the first ring. “Hi dearie”.
“My love, how are you?” He asked his voice soothing.
“I’m good. How was your trip?”
“Tiring”. He sighed.
“She’s good. She had gone to her shop as usual”.
“She goes that early on a Saturday as well?”
“Yes, she has one assistant so she needs to go early to supervise”.
“What does she sell?”
“Clothing materials. Ankara, woodin, adire and hollandis”. Basically African prints”.
“Wow, that’s nice. My mum wears prints a lot. She loves them”.
“Yep”. She hesitated before continuing, “Can I ask you a question?”
“I’m all ears”.
“You have never spoken about your dad before. Is he late?”
Chinedu sighed heavily before answering. “No, he’s not late. He’s alive and well”.
“So, how come you never talk about him? Don’t you live together?”
“No, we don’t. It’s a long story”.
“Well, thanks to midnight calls. The call is free”.
Chinedu laughed. “You sure you won’t doze off on me?”
“Not at all. I want to hear this today”.
“Okay. My mum and dad attended the same secondary school. They fell in love in their final year in school and according to my mum; the relationship lasted for four years before they fell apart. She kept waiting for my dad to do the right thing by coming to see her parents. His answer was always that the time wasn’t right. According to him, he needed to make money to be able to take care of her when they eventually got married”.
Within the four years she waited, suitors came to her home with their kinsmen to meet her parents and ask for her hand in marriage. Each time her parents asked, she told them she did not find them suitable. Most of her friends were getting married and her parents were becoming apprehensive. When my dad wasn’t forthcoming on visiting her parents, she asked if he would take her to see his own parents. But he also refused that as well.
Her parents became so worried and asked that she bring home the man she wanted to marry since she had rejected all others. But my dad was never ready. She almost became an outcast as her married friends had started having kids. One fateful day, she went to my dad’s house to beg him to save her from shame. If he wasn’t going to get married to her, she wanted to know, so she could move on. He kept on assuring her that he would visit her parents when the time was right. She couldn’t take it any longer and she burst out in tears. She told him that he had made her an object of ridicule as she had refused other suitors just because she loved him and wanted to be his wife. She said some of the suitors had even gone as far as bringing the requirements for a wine carrying ceremony thinking that if they were more serious about their request, she would change her mind. But she had refused them.
She told him that as a result of her continuous refusal of all suitors and his own refusal to visit her parents, they were on the verge of marrying her off against her will. I guess that statement must have caught his attention, as he had a rethink and fixed a date for his kinsmen’s visit. She was overjoyed and I guess their emotions took over and I was conceived that day. My dad actually made my mum a woman as she had met no man before him”.
He paused for a while and sighed.
“But if they were so much in love, what made them fall apart?”
“It still beats my imagination. My mum said the date fixed for the meeting was three months away because my dad felt he would be better equipped financially. Unfortunately, he developed cold feet when he found out my mum was pregnant. He told my mum that even though they were meant to be getting married, he wasn’t ready to be a father yet. He did not deny the paternity but he just couldn’t deal with it. He couldn’t be a father and he also did not want the pregnancy terminated”.
“Did she ever think of that option?” Fadeke asked.
“No. She said she was too scared to think about it. She had heard gory tales of those who attempted it and died in the process, so it was the last thing on her mind. However, the shame was too much for her to bear. She told her parents and her father almost disowned her. No suitor was going to get married to a woman who had known another man. It was an abomination. My father did not help matters because he absolutely refused to marry her in her condition. My mum had to be in solitary confinement throughout the period she carried me in her womb. She said my father never came to visit her throughout her solitary confinement. I don’t know if it was the shame or if it was because he never wanted me; but he kept away all the same. She heard later from one of her friends that he had left the village and moved to Lagos in search of a better life”.
“Your mum must be a very strong woman”.
“Yeah, and I love her so much. She has done well for herself by picking up the pieces of her life”.
“So what has become of your father?”
“He is the chairman of Johnson’s Group of Companies”.
“What? Chief Johnson is your father?” Fadeke said shocked.
“Yes, he is”.
“Wow! Have you ever made an attempt to see him? Does he know you?”
“No, why should I? I have never needed him and will never do”.
“My love, don’t take it too hard. He probably felt he was doing the right thing at the time”. Fadeke begged.
“By abandoning my mum during her time of need? Oh, please, don’t go there. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t have a father”.
“Don’t you think you should at least see him first and introduce yourself to him?”
“And get rejected a second time?”
“But you can’t be sure that would happen when you haven’t even made an attempt”. She said trying to persuade him.
“Can we drop this topic?” Chinedu asked getting upset.
“I just feel that you haven’t given him an opportunity to…..” Fadeke was saying before Chinedu stopped her mid-sentence.
“Drop it!” He growled.
Fadeke was dumbfounded. She kept quiet for what seemed like hours but was actually some seconds and Chinedu regretted shutting her up.
“I’m sorry, baby. I didn’t mean to shout at you. I’m very sorry. I just don’t like talking about my father”. He said sounding miserable.
“I understand. I’m sorry for trying to push it”.
“It’s okay, darling. I have always had my mum and that’s enough for me. Both of you mean the world to me”.
“Thanks. I hope her meet her soon”.
“Definitely”. Chinedu shifted his position on the bed and looked at his bedside clock. It was 2 a.m. “What? We have been talking for the past 3 hours”. He said astonished.
“Wo-hoo. 3 hours? You need to catch some sleep. I did not realize I had kept you up so late”.
“Anything for you, my love”.
“Have a good night rest. I love you”.
“I love you too”.
As Chinedu placed his mobile phone on the little stool beside his bed, he lay on his bed and closed his eyes. He wondered if his father ever thought about him twenty-one years after. Had it ever crossed his mind that he had a son? – Chinedu Ugo.
As he drifted into deep sleep, he slept reassuring himself that he would never need his father’s love.
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