For the first few minutes after I opened my eyes, it didn’t quite register where I was. I looked around the strange living room, from the equally strange couch I lay on, and my confusion was even more profound…until slowly, the conversation with Duke played and replayed in my head…and then I knew.
I sat up with a start, realising I was on the other side of the wall…inside the mysterious Duke’s living room. Looking around, I couldn’t help but think how it was nothing I would have imagined it to be. If anyone had asked me to guess, I would have imagined a dark, dusty, dingy abode…and not this tastefully furnished living room, with the plush leather furnishing, colourful accents and modern sound system. The walls were bare, except for 2 or 3 pieces of exquisite art, one of which I recognised as a Gerhard Richter original.
But not even the most fascinating piece of art could detract me from the reality on ground. Anuli was my mother!
“This might do you good.” came Duke’s voice, and I looked up to see him approaching me with a cup of hot liquid. “Hot chocolate always makes things better.”
As tempting as that sounded, I knew I had to face the issue on ground.
“Thanks so much…but I really have to go…” I said, rising to my feet.
“Golibe, rest a little while.” Duke pleaded. “You actually blacked out. Take some time to regroup at least.”
I shook my head. “No. I need to catch her before she goes…”
He looked confused, and was about to say something, when a frail voice rang from afar.
I looked at him. “Your mom?” I asked.
He nodded. “I have to take her breakfast upstairs.”
If it was another day, I would have used the opportunity to ask him all about his mother, and if it was true he had sacrificed his own life in the UK just to care for her. But it wasn’t another day. It was the day I had made the most earth shattering discovery of my life!
“I’ll see you later, Duke. Thank you.” and with that, I walked out through the front door, and pushed my way out through the gate.
Walking home, I couldn’t understand how my house that ordinarily seemed so near, suddenly felt like it was kilometres away. Maybe it was the intensity of the mid-morning sun. Maybe it was the fact that I was drained of all my strength…physical, mental and emotional. Or maybe it was because I was stunned out of my mind.
Getting to the house, I made my way upstairs, and found Anuli back in our bedroom. She turned when I walked in, and shook her head.
“Goli, I saw your letter.” she said. “I won’t lie, yesterday you really, really upset me. But I understand why you did it. We need to talk, but we can’t allow anyone, lest of all a man, to come between…”
“Are you my mother?” I cut in, my voice hoarse.
She looked at me like I was crazy. “Am I your what?” she exclaimed. “Have you been drinking this early morning? Or did you have a dream last night that twisted your head?!”
“I know you’ve been lying about everything!” I retorted, my anger rising. “I know you lied about your age. And I know you lied about…I know you got pregnant the same year I was born.”
Anuli’s face clouded over, as she sat on the bed. “It’s that Duke, abi? Nwoke na-ekwu ka nwanyi! A man that will be running his mouth like a woman!”
“Answer me!” I screamed, hitting my fist on the table with such force, the plastic bowls Anuli had been stacking on it came crashing to the floor.
She looked at me, startled, before bowing her head.
“Yes, Golibe. I lied to you about my age. I lied that there are many years between Awele and I…when in actual fact, there are only 2,” then looking at me, she shook her head. “But I’m not your mother.”
“But you got pregnant. You were pregnant the year after Duke left the country. He said his friend Tagbo wrote him and told him you were expelled because of it…”
Her nostrils flared in anger, and I saw that it was, perhaps, because of the mention of the name, Tagbo.
“I wasn’t expelled because I was pregnant! I was expelled because I was caught soliciting an abortion!” she snarled. “When we found out I was pregnant, Tagbo insisted on taking me somewhere in Asaba for an abortion immediately, not caring that I was still in my school uniform. Someone in the clinic called my school, and as it was only my name they had in their register, I was the only one the school could reprimand. I was expelled, and Tagbo got away scot free!”
“So…you had an abortion?” I asked, feeling a mix of relief and disappointment.
She nodded. “A lot of people didn’t know the details. The rumour that went around was that I’d been caught in town during the school hours. But my parents knew. They were so disappointed, because it was only a little over a year after Awele’s bloody mess in our bathroom, and barely a few months since she’d left home. So…so they decided to send me away.” she smiled sadly. “When my parents were mysteriously away around the same time Proff and Aunty Awele showed up with you, they had actually taken me all the way to a Catholic school in Uyo, to try to register me there. We were in S.S.2 already, but because of how far along the school year had already progressed, I could only get into the lower class.” she shrugged, “So, I guess that’s another thing I lied to you about.”
I sat on the bed beside her, what she had said sinking in slowly.
“So…you and Duke were truly in the same class?” I more stated than asked.
“Yes, but he left after S.S.1. The brainiac just wanted to ‘try’ WAEC, and he went ahead to clear it better than anyone in the State!” she answered, smiling wistfully.
“He also said James was your classmate as well…” I said, noticing that her smile faded at the very mention of his name. “What happened with that guy? Why does he scare you so?”
She turned away to face the window. “I don’t want to talk about it…”
“Oh, but you will!” I said firmly, my anger rising again. “After all the lies and deceit, you need to start levelling with me!”
She was quiet for a long time, so long that I thought she wasn’t going to answer at all.
“Even though I finished school in Uyo, Tagbo and I were still very much in love. We wrote each other every week, and pretty much lived for the holidays, when we would see each other again.” she answered, her eyes still staring out the window. “He and James finished school the following year, and enrolled in FUTO in ’92. I joined them in ’94. Tagbo and I pretty much picked up from where we left off…” her voice trailed, and I could see that she was lost in that reverie, and had teleported back in time, some twenty one years.
“In my 2nd year there, I got pregnant again. He tried to convince me to terminate it, but I refused. In the end, we agreed we would tell our parents and become engaged. We were 21, and thought we were old enough. His family had moved from Ogwashi to Asaba, and his parents seemed fine with the whole thing. His mom kept on singing that it was better for us to have opened up to them, rather than go for another abortion. But my parents were the exact opposite. They were gravely disappointed, and said that if I chose to be foolish and throw my life away, they wouldn’t be a part of it! As Tagbo’s parents had already accepted me, I called my parents’ bluff, and moved to stay with his family instead.” she smiled and shook. “Gosh, what a stupid girl I was!”
“So…you had the baby?”
“Yes. Yes, I had the baby.” she answered sadly. “His name was Chigozie…because I felt that God had blessed us with another. But right from his birth, everything went wrong. I had a long and protracted labour that almost took my life. And a few months after he was born, we just knew something wasn’t right. He had poor muscle coordination, couldn’t sit, couldn’t crawl, couldn’t walk. We were in and out of hospital. That was when he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.” there was another lengthy pause, after which she sighed deeply. “The pressure became too much for my in-laws, at that point. From being the most wonderful, they became edgy and hostile. Gozie and I were considered a burden. Day in day out, all I got were insults hurled at me. Insults for bringing them bad luck, in the form of a sick child.”
“Where was Tagbo in all of this?” I asked, my heart broken for her.
She laughed bitterly. “He was doing his NYSC at that point…serving in Makurdi. He came home less and less frequently, and the few times he came, he was also full of anger and resentment towards us. If it wasn’t for James…if it wasn’t for James, I don’t know how we would have managed.”
“He was serving close-by, in Benin actually. Every month, he came to visit us, and he always gave me money, because by this time…” and then she started crying, “By this time, I didn’t have the money to care for my son. Tagbo wasn’t giving us any, and his family was barely even feeding us. If it wasn’t for James, I don’t know what would have become of Gozie and I.”
“When Gozie was 3, he developed a lung infection.” Anuli continued sadly. “By this time, James had left the country to school in America…and Tagbo had gotten a job in Port Harcourt. Nothing was being said about any marriage, and Gozie and I were still languishing with his parents. With James gone, life became a living hell for us…” she bit her lip, as more tears rolled down. “He didn’t survive it. My little boy died. Because of them, my son died.”
I put my arm around her and rocked her as she wept, wiping away tears of my own.
“With Gozie gone, Tagbo and his family asked me to leave. They said I was bad luck, and wouldn’t marry their son.” she continued. “I moved back home in 1999, and it was to immense hostility. My parents were angry that I’d thrown away so many years of my life, and didn’t even care that I’d lost my own child. I became like a piece of furniture to them.”
“Why didn’t you go back to school?” I asked.
“I was too broken…” she answered. “For 3 years, Gozie had been my only reason for existing, my only purpose. Losing him shattered me. It killed me. So instead, I spent all my time and energy trying to win Tagbo back!”
“What?!” I exclaimed. “The same person who abandoned you and his child?”
“I convinced myself that getting him back was all I needed to heal, so rather than try to work my way back to FUTO…or even try to re-take my JAMB, I was constantly hitting the highway, going to Port Harcourt to beg him.” she answered. “If only he had just turned me down, or rejected me outright, that would have been better. Instead, he kept me on a permanent leash…making me feel like we still had a chance, whilst at the same time taunting me with his very many relationships with other women.” she shrugged. “But I was too stupid to realise what he was doing. I held on for the next 5 years, until I found out, through friends, that he was set to marry another woman whom he’d already impregnated. This was in 2005. Exactly 10 years ago.”
I shook my head, heartbroken for my cousin who had given over 15 years of her life to a man who had only succeeding in breaking her.
“What did you do?” I asked her.
“I went to confront him, and he laughed in my face, asking how I could have thought he would marry me, after the bad luck I’d brought his family the last time.” she answered, smiling sadly. “And to make matters worse, as I was dealing with that, my father died. Then not long after dad died, my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. This was about the same time Chuka was preparing to leave for the UK, and he stayed in our house for some time. He was the one who got me through that rough patch. He was the big brother my own brothers had failed to be to me, and he was the one who helped me regain my self confidence. We spent so much time together, that I found myself falling for him…”
“Did he feel the same way?” I asked.
She laughed. “Of course not. He was just being supportive…and I realised later that it was just rebound attraction on my own part.” she pursed her lips and shrugged. “But after Chuka left, something inside of me snapped. I was angry with the world…Tagbo…his family…my family…myself. I had been a good person all my life. Tagbo had been the only man who’d ever touched me, but yet, look at the hand life chose to deal me. So, when mom died the following year, I packed my things and moved to Lagos…and the rest is history!”
“I still don’t understand why you are so angry with James.” I said, puzzled.
“Two years ago, I came home for Christmas…and ran into him.” she answered. “It was at Sunsine, and it was so good seeing him again. He had returned to Nigeria a few years before, and worked in Escravos with one of the big oil companies.” she shrugged. “We got talking…about the whole Tagbo thing. It felt good to have a listening ear, and he seemed genuinely angry about how Tagbo and his family had treated me. Then as we got talking into the night, he started saying how he had loved me since we were teenagers, and how Tagbo was a fool to have let me go…and somehow, I lost my head…and I slept with him.”
I looked at her, still waiting for the punchline. Still waiting to hear the awful thing James had done, because so far, I hadn’t heard it.
“When I woke up the next morning, I felt sick to my stomach.” Anuli continued tearfully. “I couldn’t believe what I had just done. I couldn’t believe I had slept with the best friend of the man whom I had loved for more than half my life!”
“And James? What was his own reaction?” I asked.
“He was still professing love for me, saying how I was the love of his life and how he wanted to marry me, but I knew it was a bunch of lies!” Anuli exclaimed. “He wanted to sleep with me, so he and Tagbo could go and laugh about it, and I had foolishly allowed him! Since then, he has been literally stalking me. Anytime he hears I’m in Ogwashi, he lands here like a spirit, chasing me all over the place, just so he can sleep with me again, and go laugh about me with his good-for-nothing friend!”
“But Anuli, what if you’re wrong? What if he truly does love you?” I said, exasperated. “The guy that came to the house that time, didn’t look like someone out for a cheap thrill.”
“I don’t want to hear anymore of it, Golibe!” Anuli said firmly. “I don’t want to hear anymore talk about that James! Please!”
As we sat in the ensuing silence, I pondered over everything she had said, and felt saddened anew over the loss of her child. I also pondered the James angle, and realised that the only reason she would be so worked up about him…was if she had strong feelings for him as well.
Catch up on Golibe’s story here:
- Golibe 1: The Journey
- Golibe 2: Brave
- Golibe 3: Blood Relative
- Golibe 4: Strangers
- Golibe 5: Fill the Gaps
- Golibe 6: Awele
- Golibe 7: Frolicking
- Golibe 8: The Trunk
- Golibe 9: Retrace my steps
- Golibe 10: The Exchange
- Golibe 11: Quoting Shakespeare
- Golibe 12: Dead End
- Golibe 13: Something in the Water
- Golibe 14: Intoxicated Butterflies
- Golibe 15: The Boyfriend
Catch up on our other series here: