When my eyes opened the next morning, for a minute I thought it had all been a dream. But then I caught sight of her wedding gown hanging over us, and I realised it had been no dream. It was cold reality. Obiora was indeed dead.
Peering at Voke, I was happy to see she was still fast asleep…obviously still feeling the effects of being sedated the day before. Rising to my feet gently, in order not to rouse her, I tiptoed out of the room to see what I could rustle up for breakfast. The sight I met in my living room made me stop in my tracks. My mother, three of her sisters, our neighbours Kunbi and Ifeoma, and Voke’s friend, Lolade, were all bustling around the living room. Pere was already dressed for the day and seated at the dining table, eating a hearty meal of boiled yam and egg sauce.
“Ah, Isio. You don wake?” my Aunty Felicia remarked. “Voke nko? She still dey sleep?”
I nodded, still trying to get my bearing. It was so unusual to see our small apartment chocker-chock full of people.
“What time are we going to see Obiora’s parents?” I asked nobody in particular.
“I don’t want to rush Voke into waking up. Anytime she wakes up, we will go. It doesn’t matter if she sleeps till evening.” my mom muttered. “Your dad went to buy newspapers. I think he was just looking for an excuse to leave this place.”
And can you blame him, I muttered to myself. I looked across the room at Pere, and he mouthed a ‘How are you?’ to me, to which I nodded in response. I was definitely better than the previous day, but a long way off from feeling great.
“We need to get rid of the gown, her magazines and all the other things for the wedding.” I said, also to nobody in particular.
“Why did you think I wanted you girls to move home for a little while?!” my mother retorted. “When I suggested it, you joined your sister to make me feel like I was being unreasonable, but I knew what I was saying.”
“Sis, no worry. When una go greet the boy mama, I go stay here pack everything.” Aunty Felicia offered.
But my mother shook her head vehemently. “No, no. I need you there with us. That boy’s mother is somehow. I need all the fortification we can get!”
“Don’t worry, Ma. We’ll help you take care of everything while you’re away.” Kunbi offered. “Just let us know what you need to move, and where you want it to go.”
I smiled my thank you’s at our wonderful neighbours, before being ferried off to eat breakfast by force. Soon, more and more people started streaming into the house, and Voke soon emerged from her room. She’d already showered and appeared calmer…much calmer than I would have expected. A part of me was glad, but another part was scared…worried that this calm was masquerading the kind of devastation that could be catastrophic.
Eventually, we could put it off no longer, and a little after noon, we headed to Obiora’s mother’s house in Lekki Phase 1. Voke rode with my parents and Aunty Felicia in their car, while Lolade and I rode with Pere in his. When we turned into the street, the line of cars parked outside Obiora’s mother’s house further confirmed that this was no bad joke. And when we walked into the compound and saw Obiora’s picture on a small table by the door, with a condolence register beside it, I just couldn’t believe it. Obiora was the one people were signing a condolence register for?! Obiora??!! I didn’t know when a loud sob escaped from my mouth.
I covered my mouth with my hand, and tried to stop the sobs that were coming through uncontrollably. Pere put his arm around me, and held me back as the rest filed into the house.
“Just breathe, Isio. Breathe.” he said, rubbing my shoulder comfortingly.
“How can Obiora be dead, Pere?!” I wailed. “How can he go just like that?!”
Pere didn’t answer, but kept on rubbing my shoulder. What could he have said, really? There were no answers to why Obiora’s life had ended so abruptly and unexpectedly. No answers whatsoever.
“Let’s go inside.” I said, after having stood outside for about 10 minutes. “I came here to give my sister moral support, and not to stand here blubbering like an idiot.”
Pere nodded, and still holding my hand, walked me into the house. Getting to the living room, the sight I met there wasn’t what I’d been expecting. I’d thought I would see Obiora’s mother and Voke in each other’s arms, crying together over the loss of the man they both loved dearly. But instead, I saw his mother sitting stone faced on one end of the living room, flanked by a few of her equally stone faced friends. Voke was perched precariously on a small chair next to the woman, looking completely lost.
“What happened?” I whispered to Lolade, who looked so angry, her light skinned face was almost beetroot red.
I looked at my parents’ faces and they didn’t look any more pleased. Something had definitely happened in the 10 minutes I’d been outside.
The house soon started filling with more people, and soon, Obiora’s mother rose to her feet…apparently having decided to retreat to her private living room.
“Can I come with you, Mommy?” Voke asked, also standing.
But the woman gave her a condescending dismissive wave, without even bothering to look my sister in the face. I looked at Voke, and she looked crestfallen.
No wonder everyone was angry.
Apparently, from the moment Voke attempted to embrace her when they got into the house, the woman had rebuffed her, and had refused to speak more than a few words to her. And when my sister had taken a seat beside her, she’d been promptly asked to give it up to one of the woman’s friends, prompting her to awkwardly perch on a small stool nearby.
“That woman is a beast!” Lolade muttered, to the hearing of myself and my parents. “What is wrong with her? Does she think Voke killed her son or what?!”
“She is just grieving. That’s her way of expressing her pain.” my father said. “I’m sure she means no harm.”
I glanced at my mother, who pursed her lips from preventing her from saying or doing anything we would all regret. Aunty Felicia’s persistently wagging foot was also an indicator that she wasn’t entertained by what was going on either. But we had no choice but to stomach it. Leaving early was not an option for Voke, and as such, not an option for us.
A little over an hour after we’d been there, Pere’s father arrived from Owerri. The man who walked into that living room looked 20 years older than the jovial man who’d been all jokes at the Introduction Ceremony, only a few months before. He was accompanied by his older son, Bart, and Apache, and upon sighting Voke, the old man burst into tears. His tears prompted more tears from Voke, and she and the old man were soon in each other’s arms, weeping. This was the reaction I’d expected from Obiora’s mother.
More and more sympathisers streamed into the house, and I was soon roped into helping with the refreshments. Whilst in the kitchen getting drinks out of the fridge, I heard some women mumbling something about ‘the girl being bad luck.’ My blood boiled, as I realised that ‘the girl’ was probably Voke. Before I could even formulate a response to them, an equally angered woman did it for me.
“Why must it be the girl with bad luck?!” she shouted at them. “Maybe it’s the Obiora that has bad luck, abi you haven’t thought about that one?!”
I smiled when I saw that it was Bart’s wife, Ebele, rebel extraordinaire. She didn’t give a damn about the fact that her mother-in-law detested her, and went about her business without a care in the world.
“Illiterates!” she mumbled, smiling at me.
“Thanks Ebele.” I smiled back, grateful she’d been there to handle the gossips. “But is that really what people are saying?”
“Forget what people are saying. Who cares?! They can only talk! Was it Voke that placed him on the road at 2am in the morning?! We all know where he was coming from and what he was doing.” she retorted.
“So everyone knew about Belinda.” I half stated, half sighed.
“Isio, Belinda was just one of many!” she looked around before pulling me closer, whispering, “You guys should just thank God, because Voke would have seen colour red in that marriage!”
I stared at her, shocked she’d been brave enough to voice what I’m sure a few people, myself inclusive, were thinking.
“Don’t get me wrong. Obiora was my baby brother, and I am heartbroken that he is gone. But…dispassionately…God must really love your sister too much to allow her get into a bad marriage!”
I sighed. “It’s just all so messy! Our neighbours are helping to clear all the wedding paraphernalia from the apartment, as we speak. And then his mother practically treated Voke like a piece of garbage when we got here!”
Ebele laughed. “My darling mother-in-law will never change. I’ve been married to her son for over 10 years, and she still hasn’t forgiven us for getting married without her blessing. The woman still can’t stand the sight of me after all these years, so is it Voke’s own that would be different. Please don’t pay her any attention.” She paused, and was deep in thought for a few seconds, before shaking her head. “This was the wedding she was really preparing for. After Bart and I eloped, and Ndidi ran away to Ireland with Kolade, Obiora’s wedding would have been her only chance to shine! And she was so excited about it. What a pity!”
Yes. It was truly a big pity.
At about 5pm, my parents decided Voke’d had enough for one day, so we all returned back to our apartment. Just as she’d been in the morning, she was eerily calm and quiet, and when we returned home, she went straight to her room, but charged back to the living room immediately after.
“Who took away all my things? Who took away my wedding gown? My magazines? Where is all my stuff?!” she demanded angrily.
I exchanged a nervous glance with my mother and Aunty Felicia, but they both were as tongue tied as I was.
“We moved them, Voke. They’re safe. We just didn’t think you needed to be around all those reminders right now.” Lolade answered on our behalf.
“I want them back. I want my dress right back where you moved it from. And I want my magazines…my magazines with the pictures of the centrepieces I like. I finally found inspiration for centrepieces that will match our vintage theme…” her voice quivered as tears rolled down her face. “And honeymoon ideas. One of the magazines has an article about what to do in Santorini and Mykonos…and you know Obiora and I are meant to go to Greece for our honeymoon…”
And then the tears finally caught up with her, and she fell to the floor, weeping. Our mother and I joined her on the floor, where we both held her, also weeping.
If grief could induce labour, I would have had my babies 100 times over!
A service of songs was held the following day, Thursday, and it was the most heart wrenching thing I had ever experienced in my life. Say what you wanted about Obiora, but he was a well liked person, and the hall at the Divine Mercy Catholic Church was filled to over flowing, with the crowd spilling even to the car park. It was all shades of depressing…and distressing…and heart breaking. And even though I’d spent the entire day psyching myself into being strong for Voke, I was an absolute mess! I bless God for Pere, who was my rock as I don’t know how I could have gotten through that service without him by my side. Instead, it was Voke who was the strong one, even having the composure to read one of the Bible passages. At the end of the service, as well wishers came to pay her respects, she was the one who ended up consoling more than half of them…myself inclusive.
“Get a hold of yourself, Isio!” Lolade snapped, when my tears just wouldn’t stop. But I couldn’t. I simply couldn’t. My heart was broken for my sister!
But through my tears, I did notice several suspect girls, about 5 of them, in varying levels of distress. They were each accompanied by a few other girls, probably their friends, and from the way their companions were consoling them, I just knew that they had all been involved with Obiora at some point or the other…and if one were to measure their grief, very recently, I would say.
But there was one of them that stood out.
This one was accompanied by a slightly older girl, whom, from the resemblance, was very likely her sister. They sat quietly at the back of the hall, and there was no unnecessary crying or blubbering from her. But even with half her face hidden behind large sunglasses, it was obvious that she was devastated…broken. And when the service was over, her sister held her hand, and they were ushered into their waiting vehicle by their Police Escorts.
I cursed her under my breath, and prayed she would have the brain not to show up at the funeral the following day, because that was honestly the last thing Voke needed.
And oh gosh. That funeral.
After the breakdown following the move of her wedding items, Voke had remained calm and peaceful. And the morning of the funeral, she was the one who had the composure to ensure our apartment was well locked up, and our electrical appliances were all switched off. I stared at my sister like she had a horn on her head. Who cared if the lights in the bathroom were still on, on a day like this?! But I realised that was the way she knew how to hold herself together.
We got to the Church, and were ushered to the front row, to sit beside Obiora’s family members. Their parents weren’t in attendance. When the casket was wheeled into the Church, I couldn’t help the sob that escaped my mouth again. All through the Mass, my eyes kept going to the casket. So Obiora was in that box?! Obiora, full of life, was lying in that box. Many a time, I had to bury my face in Pere’s chest, to muffle the sound of my crying, because it was just too much for me.
The drive to Victoria Court Cemetary was the longest ever. Walking to the grave spot, my father and I flanked a still peaceful Voke, while our mother walked behind us, with Pere and Aunty Felicia closing the ranks. Even though nothing had been spoken, we were all determined to protect Voke from anyone who tried to do anything foolish. I held my sister’s hand so tight, I feared I would crush her delicate bones, but instead she squeezed back just as tight, indicating she was just as anxious and distressed about this final goodbye.
As Obiora’s casket was being lowered into the ground, she finally gave in to her tears and wailed…completely shattered…completely broken. Her friends and I huddled all around her…all of us in tears…none of us able to effectively console the other.
And then I saw her again. Belinda.
She was standing about a feet away, and had her eyes on us, and not the casket. I realised she was actually sizing Voke up. The man she supposedly loved was being lowered into the ground, but she was more interested in scrutinising her rival. In my anger, I almost rushed over to give her a slap and push her into the hole Obiora’s casket had entered. After all, if it weren’t for her, he would still be alive!
The crowd soon started to dissipate, but Voke sat by the grave, talking to the man she had loved for more than half her life. Her friends and I stood a distance away, to give her privacy, and I was incensed to see that the Belinda was still standing there!
I couldn’t take it anymore.
“Hey, you!” I called out to her. “What do you want? Show is over. What are you still doing here?!”
Her sister emerged from beside her and glared at me. “Isio, right?!”
I put my hands on my hips, realizing she was my colleague, Ifeanyi’s fiancée. “Bianca, right?!” I retorted.
“My sister is here to pay her last respects. I think she has every right to!” Bianca said, her voice steady but her eyes flashing anger.
“The time for the public paying of respects is over. It’s family time now. My sister, his fiancée, is trying to have some alone time with him.” I retorted. “Thank you for coming. We appreciate your support in this trying time!”
“Madam, you have a fiancé yourself. How would you feel if another woman did this to you?!” Lolade interjected, just as angry as I was.
Bianca’s eyes flickered, and I could see we’d gotten through to her. But Belinda was adamant.
“I’m not going anywhere until I have my own time with him!” she said petulantly.
I glared at her. So this was the childish brat Obiora chose to rubbish Voke with?! I was tempted to give her the beat down I’d been itching to for months, pregnancy or nah, graveyard or nah. Who the heck did she think she was?!
“It’s okay, Isio.” came Voke’s voice. “Obiora and I are done talking. Belinda can speak to him if she wants.”
We all stared at Voke like she was the ghost, as she approached us.
“Hello Belinda.” she nodded a greeting at her rival, and then nodded a similar greeting at the sister standing beside her, before walking calmly away.
The rest of us stood there like prize fools, before I regained my composure and started walking after Voke, closely followed by Lolade. As we walked to join the rest of our family and friends in the car park, and as we rode back home, not a word was mentioned of the encounter with Belinda. I guess there was no need really. Obiora had been the reason they were even entwined, and now that he was gone, well…they were entwined no more.
Voke decided against attending the reception at Obiora’s mother’s house, and nobody could blame her…not especially after what happened the last time she was there. No, they’d just have to do it without us.
When we got home, she retreated to her room, and it was the unanimous decision to just let the poor girl be. I had another shower, changed into a more comfortable outfit, and proceeded to eat my first meal of the day. As I ate, I glanced at Pere.
“Hasn’t Ogechi looked for you? You’ve been here for 4 days!” I teased.
He smiled at me. “Ogechi trusts me.”
“Ogechi. Is that the name of your fiancée?” my father asked.
Yikes! We hadn’t known he was within ear shot.
Pere looked like he wanted to enter the ground. “She’s not yet my fiancée, Sir. Just my girlfriend.”
My father nodded. “Yet. Not yet your fiancée. But soon perhaps.” he shook his head. “You young people of nowadays are just too complicated. Just make sure your family shows up before these babies get here, or else, it will be another story oh!”
“Don’t worry, Sir. My mother will be back before then. I just don’t want to come without her.” Pere answered nervously.
“Maybe you could even bring your fiancée along with you. With how long all this is taking, I’m sure she’ll be your fiancée by then…if not already your wife!” my father said with a sly smile, as he walked away.
“I see where you got your shade throwing expertise!” Pere retorted.
I giggled. “Allow the old man catch his fun where he can. After the day we’ve all had, I think he deserves it!”
Pere snorted and picked up a newspaper. “Indeed.”
He’d been thumbing through for a few minutes, when he exclaimed. “Oh, here it is! Obiora’s obituary. His friends asked me for a donation only yesterday, and I didn’t think it would be out so soon.”
“I guess they wanted it to be on the same day as the funeral.” I said, taking the newspaper from him. I looked at the full sized ad his friends had taken, and smiled sadly at the picture staring back at me. Obiora. Fine boy, no pimples Obiora. The picture was taken at a wedding he and Voke had attended only a few months before, and I remembered admiring his exquisitely made kaftan. Who would have ever thought that would end up his obituary picture?
I glanced at the long list of names listed as his friends, and wondered how come nobody had bothered to ask me for any contribution. I’d known him for over a decade, and surely deserved to be on his list of friends as well. The list began with Voke, and I as I skimmed through, I saw all the other usual names; Apache, Hakeem, Diji, Ndubuisi…even Pere. But I was not only rankled by the fact that my name wasn’t there…but by the fact that Belinda’s name was.
The list began with Voke and ended with Belinda.
Enraged, I crumpled the newspaper and flung it to the floor. Blood was going to be shed, or my name wasn’t Isio!
Catch up on Isio’s story here:
- Iya Beji 1: A Series of Unfortunate Events
- Iya Beji 2: Destiny Blocker
- Iya Beji 3: Daisy
- Iya Beji 4: Upgrade
- Iya Beji 5: Bleeding Love
- Iya Beji 6: The Beast
- Iya Beji 7: The Standby Guy
- Iya Beji 8: The Boss
- Iya Beji 9: The Deal Breaker
- Iya Beji 10: The Convert
- Iya Beji 11: Hiatus
- Iya Beji 12: Never Stopped
- Iya Beji 13: Jealousy
- Iya Beji 14: Pure Magic
- Iya Beji 15: Congratulations, Mrs. Clarke!
- Iya Beji 16: Blast from the Past
- Iya Beji 17: The Offer
- Iya Beji 18: Co-Parenting
- Iya Beji 19: The Baby Mama
- Iya Beji 20: Carried Away
- Iya Beji 21: The Return of Belinda
- Iya Beji 22: Gender Reveal
- Iya Beji 23: Bargaining Tool
- Iya Beji 24: The Wedding That Would Never Be
Catch up on our other series here: