I half staggered, half ran out of the house, wanting to get as far away from that picture as I could. It’s ironic how I had spent weeks trying to find out the mystery woman’s identity…but now, I couldn’t get away from her fast enough.
“Golibe!” Duke shouted, as he ran after me. “Please, wait!”
Instead, I ran faster, desperately trying to widen the gap between myself and the man I loved…the man I had discovered could be my brother!
I ran into my compound, with him still hot on my trail. Running straight to my bedroom, I grabbed my handbag and emptied its contents on the bed. Thankfully, Anuli wasn’t there. Duke, by this time, was standing by the door.
“Golibe. I’m sure you’re mistaken. If my mother had another child at any time, I’m sure I’d know!” he said, walking into the room and standing behind me.
I snatched the picture from where it had landed on the bed, and looked at it. Sure enough, it was her. It was the same woman. Without saying a word, I handed the picture to Duke, and watched his face fall as he recognized the woman as the very same woman whom he called mother.
“I don’t understand this.” he said, his hand trembling as he looked at the picture. “It’s her….but I don’t understand…”
A wave of hope swept through me. “Or maybe it’s an old picture? Forget the date written at the back, maybe…maybe it was taken when she was expecting you?”
He shook his head. “She wore her hair low as a younger woman. And from what she’s wearing in this picture, it wasn’t taken in the ‘70s…” he looked up at me. “I know that dress.”
Without warning, he took me by the hand and led me out of the room. I followed without protest, knowing that he, like I, wanted to get to the bottom of things. We made our way back to his house in silence, neither of us knowing what to say…but neither of us wanting to break our handhold. Neither of us wanting to believe the implication of what the facts on ground were pointing to…
Upon getting to his house, this time, he led me upstairs…to what I realized was his mother’s private quarters. Walking into the large bedroom, I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful and becoming it looked. With the walls, curtains and upholstery in varying tones of yellow and white, it was evident Duke had gone to great extremes to make it a happy place for his mother.
A nurse sat up from her cane chair, as we walked in, and a Nigerian movie was silently playing on the wall-mounted TV.
“Mom!” Duke bellowed, much to the nurse’s dismay.
“Sssssh! She just slept…” the woman complained.
But it was too late. Mama Duke was already awake.
“Nduka?” she moaned, sitting up. “Nduka, is that you?”
I looked at the woman on the bed, and I could see why neither Anuli nor Aunty Ekwi matched the woman in the picture with the frail woman lying on the bed. Though it was evident it was her, time had not been kind to her. Her hitherto glowing and radiant light skin had lost its sheen, and with her nightgown hanging on her body like a sack, she was less than half the size she was in the picture. The woman on the bed was a shadow of the woman whose image had been captured in the picture for eternity.
But seeing her son, her face lit up. “Nwa’m, you have shaved!” she exclaimed, her eyes dancing gayly. Turning to look at her nurse, she exclaimed. “Have you seen my son? Nwa’m nwoke mara ajo mma ooooo!”
The nurse smiled. “Yes, indeed. Very handsome!”
But Duke didn’t even crack a smile. “Can you excuse us, Alice?”
The nurse rose to her feet. “Of course, Sir. But please, don’t keep her up too long. She needs to rest.” then hesitating by the door, she smiled again. “I haven’t seen her this happy in a long time. It’s good to see you looking more like yourself.”
“Nduka…who is your friend?” the older woman asked, looking at me with a smile.
“This is Golibe…” Duke began.
“Golibe!” his mom interjected, sitting up again and smiling broadly. “Golibe! Agbomma’s daughter!”
Duke and I exchanged a perplexed glance, wondering how she could have drawn that inference just from hearing a name that my parents hadn’t even given me at birth.
“How do you know that, Mom?” Duke asked, moving closer to her. “How do you know she is Agbomma’s daughter?”
Something shifted in her eyes, and her smile waned a bit. Not allowing her recoil, Duke sat on her bed, looking her in the eye. “Mom. Did you have another child after me?”
“Am I your daughter?!” I heard myself exclaim, tired of all the song and dance. “Are you my mother?!”
Her eyes widened in what I couldn’t tell was surprise…or fear. She turned to look at her son for support, but his own steely look matched the question I had verbalized. Both of us were eager…desperate…for her answer.
“Is this you, mom?” he asked, placing the picture in her hand.
Looking at it, she sighed deeply and squeezed her son’s hand and nodded. “Yes, Nduka. It’s me. I did have another child.”
I felt my knees begin to buckle, and I slowly sat on the chair Nurse Alice had vacated. Tears streamed down my face with the realization that the nightmare was actually a reality. That the man I had fallen deeply in love with was indeed my blood brother.
“You had left for London…and I was so lonely…” she said, her eyes downcast. “Then I got close to…to a man. One thing led to another, and I soon found myself pregnant.” she smiled at the memory. “When I found out about it, at first I panicked. I was so scared…worried about what people would think about me. But as the baby took form in my womb, I became overjoyed at the prospect of having a companion again…after losing my husband to death…and my son to academics…”
Duke covered his face with his hands, and I could feel tears stream down mine, as we listened to the story that was bound to change our lives!
“But when the pregnancy started to show, it was a totally different story. I found my joy slowly turning into shame. I became something of an outcast here. I was regarded as promiscuous; the young widow who had found another man to warm her bed and leave behind his seed. Everywhere I went, there was gossip; church, the market, even in front of my own house…”
“Where was the man in all of this?” Duke asked. “Who was he anyway?”
She bit her lip. “It was a man who came to town for a wedding. We met in the motor park. He was arriving from Lagos, and I was returning from Asaba. We got chatting. He invited me for the wedding the next day…after which, I invited him here to stay…” she shrugged. “He left the next day, and I never saw him again after. I don’t even remember his name.”
I stole a glance at Duke, wondering how hearing this was making him feel. But his face remained stoic and expressionless as he listened.
“When I found out I was pregnant, it didn’t even bother me that the man responsible was out of the picture. I was just so happy to be blessed with another child. But when all the shaming and shunning started, I found myself feeling isolated all over again. Even those I thought were my friends turned their backs on me. Nobody wanted to be associated with a woman carrying a bastard child.” she smiled and shook her head. “The only person who remained a friend to me was Agbomma…”
I sat back in my chair, upon hearing my mother’s name, and braced myself to hear the story of how all the dots connected.
“Agbomma was like a mother-figure to me. When your father died, she took care of me like I was her own blood sister. Even when my…when my illness started that time, and I couldn’t even get out of bed, she’s the one who used to cook food for us back then…you might not remember. We remained close, even though she and her husband moved to Onicha-Ugbo.” she twisted her fingers. “One day, we ran into each other in the market. She had come to Ogwashi to buy a few things, and she seemed genuinely happy for me and my pregnancy. As she greeted me, I just burst into tears, overwhelmed by the show of love. When she heard about what I was going through, she stayed back in Ogwashi for the rest of the week, not only taking care of me, but also scolding people around for treating me so badly. It was while she was here that she took this picture.” she picked up the picture and smiled. “I remember the day so vividly. It was the day she was to return home, and we were preparing to go to church. I had just entered my 7th month, and she was teasing me about how I looked so beautiful and rosy, and that I should consider remaining pregnant forever.” her eyes pooled with tears. “Before she stepped in, I was so unhappy. But that week she was with me, I laughed every single day! Oh, Agbomma!”
“What happened, Mom?” Duke prodded impatiently.
By this time, she was crying freely. “Agbomma asked me to come with her to Onicha-Ugbo, but I refused. I insisted on staying here alone. I should have gone with her! I should have gone! My boy would have been alive if I had gone!”
“Boy?!” Duke exclaimed, echoing my own confusion. “You had a son?”
She nodded sadly, sobbing loudly and looking at her hands. “I went into premature labour a few weeks after. It was in the middle of the night, and I was here all by myself. By the time it was morning and help finally came, we were already in distress…the baby and I. I almost lost my life…but my baby…my baby didn’t make it. He didn’t make it…”
Then for the first time since she started talking, she looked at me. “When Agbomma heard what happened, she came to see me. But this time, she couldn’t spend a long time, because you had just come into their lives.” she smiled at me. “Golibe. She said that was the name your mother gave you. But that she had renamed you Chidinma. I remember telling her I preferred the name Golibe…”
I covered my mouth with my hands, as tears spilled down my face, torn between the overwhelming relief that she wasn’t my mother…to being emotional that she had more information about my mother than anyone I had met so far.
“Did she tell you anything else about her?” I asked…prodding…hoping.
“Ginika…” was all the woman said, before she crumbled again. “My son! My son died because of my pride…because of my carelessness. Chukwudumebi…my son…my son…”
Nurse Alice rushed into the room to pacify the now frantic woman.
“What did you do to her? I told you not to excite her!” she admonished, when she had put her to sleep.
“That must have been what triggered her breakdown the year after I left…” Duke mused, ignoring the nurse. “The death of her child.”
I nodded, but as our eyes met, Duke’s and mine, the realization dawned on us both, and a big grin broke on his face.
“Alice, I’d like you to meet my girlfriend, Golibe.” he declared proudly, reaching for my hand. “You’ll be seeing a lot of her.”
Alice smiled, first at me, and then a bigger one at Duke. “I am very, very happy to hear that, Sir.”
Leading me out of the room, he had barely shut the door when he enveloped me in a deep kiss, and I responded just as emphatically. Barely an hour ago, our newfound romance was hanging on the balance, threatened by possible incest. But now, we were free to love each other as we wanted to.
“Golibe, that was the scariest hour of my life!” he remarked, as we sat in his bedroom later that evening, my head nestled in his chest. “My heart literally stopped when you showed me that picture in your house.”
“I probably died a million times, seeing the one in your living room.” I said.
After a brief pause, Duke looked at me. “Mom mentioned the name Ginika…”
I nodded, also remembering the name she’d mentioned, before relapsing into her world. “Do you think that was my birth mother’s name?”
“If your adoptive mother told my mom the name your birth mother gave you…then it’s possible she also told her the name of your birth mother herself.” Duke remarked.
“But what am I supposed to do with just the name?” I lamented. “There must be hundreds of Ginikas in this town alone!”
“A few hours ago, you didn’t even have a name.” Duke remarked. “This is progress, Golibe. A step in the right direction.”
And I knew he was correct. At least, I now had a name. And by the time I co-opted Anuli and, possibly, Aunty Ekwi, someone was bound to know something at least!
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
- Golibe 16: Anuli
- Golibe 17: Masters of their fate
- Golibe 18: Ex-Wife
- Golibe 19: Falling
- Golibe 20: Nervous Breakdown
- Golibe 21: Much ado about nothing
Catch up on our other series here: