“I’m not ready to do it, Molly.” Marshall says to me, his voice breaking the midnight silence.
My back is turned to him, but I know he can tell I’m still awake. I say nothing as I ponder his words, knowing exactly what he is talking about.
“I don’t think it’s right to let the whole world know our family problem. This is something we can sort out privately as a family.” He continues.
“So how are we going to explain the sudden additions to our home? Or do you want us to lie that the girls are not your daughters? You want us to lie that they are distant relatives? This isn’t a short-term thing, Marshall. The girls are here to stay, I hope you know that.” I snap, my back still turned to him.
“We can figure it out, Molly.” he says, placing his hand on my shoulder. “I know we can.”
“We’ll talk about this in the morning, Marshall.” I mumble, not in the mood to discuss this further. I am no more excited about the prospect than he is, but this is something we have to do…for a number of reasons.
“I also don’t think it’s a good idea to make a public confession when our sons are still in the state of mind they’re in.” Marshall says. “If Nathan is mad now, can you imagine how he’ll feel when it’s all his friends are talking about?”
Now that point gets to me. I absolutely had not taken that into consideration. I realize that even our older son, Henry, might not take too kindly to his family business being aired in the open…at least not immediately.
I turn around to look at Marshall. “You’re right about that. But don’t forget this isn’t entirely in our hands. The primary reason a public confession came up was so that we could control the narrative before Bidemi leaks the information.”
“Surely you can talk to your cousin, Molly.” Marshall says. “Try to find a way to make her reason. Offer her an incentive, if it comes to that.”
Those words linger with me, long after Marshall has finally drifted off to sleep. He is correct about that fact that a public confession right now could be premature. It would make more sense for us to get our home in order, before letting the information out. Dejectedly, I realize that it all lies in Bidemi’s hands. Whatever she decides will determine our fate.
The next morning, Marshall is up early and sets off for work. I am not surprised as I know that 3 weeks is a long time to allow his hustle slip. I, on the other hand, still have the luxury of a few more days before I resume work next Monday. I lie in bed after he is gone, listening to the sounds of my household; birds chirping in the trees, the bantering of our outdoor staff, children singing the National Anthem from a school a few houses from ours. I realize that, despite all these distractions, despite the time Marshall and I spent away, my heart is still heavy. I am no longer haunted by thoughts of Eniye, but my heart is burdened…burdened by the current situation with our boys…burdened by how to handle Phoebe and her delicate situation…burdened by how to quietly integrate the girls into our family without leaking any information publicly…and burdened by how to handle the fallout of Marshall’s confession whenever it does happens. How on earth will I face the world?
“Omolara, so early in the morning?” she answers after a few rings, her voice indicating she is stretching herself awake.
“We need to talk.” I say, diving straight to the point. No need to waste any time with needless small talk.
She chuckles. “I’ve actually been expecting your call. How far with Henry and Nathan? Especially Nathan. Has he calmed down now?”
“The boys will be fine, Bidemi. We, as a family, will be fine.” I answer tersely.
“Oh, I do hope so!” she replies sarcastically. “So…what do you want to talk about?”
“I called to ask you to please kill this topic.” I say. “We are working through this as a family, and I’d really appreciate it if you don’t mention this to anyone else.”
“By anyone else, I’m guessing you mean the blogs. You know I’m friendly with a number of them, and you also know how they would kill for an exclusive like this one!” she says coyly.
“But what would you gain from that, Bidemi?!” I retort. “What would exposing your own family do for you? How much could they possibly pay you? A few hundred thousand? You’re more than that!”
“A few hundred thousand is still a lot of money to me.” she answers, her voice annoyingly calm. “And let’s not forget it would be doing my part to restore sanity into your skull. How you can be choosing to play happy families after being made a fool of is a mystery to me!”
I inhale deeply, trying to control myself. “What do you want, Bidemi?”
“Ehen! Now you’re talking!” she answers gleefully. “If you insist on living in denial with your cheat of a husband, who am I to stop you? Especially if you make it worth my while.”
“What do you want?” I repeat, struggling to keep my voice controlled.
“For starters, a holiday like the one you and Marshall just had wouldn’t be a bad idea. I have a young ‘friend’ here, and it would be so nice for us to also be able to go on a romantic trip.” she answers. “An all-expense paid trip for two to Monaco and the Maldives would be wonderful. Exactly what you and Marshall had; business class tickets, five star hotels, everything.”
I grit my teeth in anger and disgust. I am tempted to hurl at her every colourful insult I can think of, but all it takes to silence me is a reminder of what is at stake. “Done.” I answer reluctantly.
“Fantastic!” she squeals. “And of course, you know I’ll need some money in my account for when I get back to Nigeria.”
“How much?” I ask tersely.
“A seven digit number would be great. I won’t be greedy, so anything in the early range would be fine.” she answers.
“What?!” I exclaim. “Are you out of your mind?”
“Don’t make me go higher and insist on a later range seven digit number…or even better yet, an eight digit one!” she snaps, her voice suddenly devoid of all humour.
That is when I realize this is not a joke. She is as serious as a heart attack…and it is in my best interest to comply.
“Done.” I mumble.
“Gooooood!” she answers happily. “You have my account details! As for the holiday, just make all the necessary plans with your Agent, and e-mail me the details when you’re done. Ciao!”
As she hangs up, I find myself angry, repulsed…and disappointed. Never would I have ever imagined my own cousin would one day resort to cheap blackmail. But here we are. And the most painful part is that she is armed with a weapon I gave her myself.
I make a quick call to Marshall, who agrees to her demands without objection. By the time it is noon, her holiday has been arranged and her Nigerian account has been credited. The nightmare is finally over.
When I eventually emerge from the bedroom early afternoon, I find Leah helping Odion with her shopping list. I am gladdened by the way she has effortlessly blended into our household.
“Since when did you need someone to tell you what to put in your list, Odion?” I tease my housekeeper.
“Ah Madam, Leah has a much better way of itemizing things. It makes it so much easier when I go shopping!” she laughs good naturedly.
“Does you go with her to the market?” I ask Leah.
The smiles fade from both their faces.
“No, Ma. They haven’t been allowed to leave the compound, per your instructions.” Odion answers.
With a sinking feeling in my stomach, my worry from the previous day resurfaces. We can’t keep the girls holed up here forever.
“Leah, you can go with her next time, if you want to.” I say, patting the younger girl’s arm. “And if you want to see your friends, the driver can take you. They can also come visit you, if you’d prefer that.”
Leah’s face brightens. “That would be wonderful, Aunty Molly! Thank you” and with that, she throws her arms around me in an ecstatic embrace.
As she hugs me, I see the disapproval in Odion’s eyes. It is obvious she doesn’t think it is a good idea. But we just can’t keep the girls trapped in the house like prisoners.
After a bit of small talk and a light lunch, I go upstairs to Phoebe’s room. I have been informed that the girls no longer share the same bedroom, as Leah opted to move to another guestroom. I tap on the door lightly and wait for a response. None comes, so I tap lightly again. When no response is still forthcoming, I open the door gently. Phoebe is lying on the bed, her new earphones plugged to her phone, as she busies herself with the device. When she sees me walk in, she sits up abruptly and yanks the earphones out of her ears. I realize that the fear she had for me before our trip is still very much present.
“How are you, Phoebe?” I ask, sitting on her bed.
“I’m fine, thank you Ma.” she answers, unable to make eye contact with me.
“You must be bored staying here all day long.” I say. “If you want to see your friends, the driver can take you. Or you can invite them here to see you…whichever you prefer.”
“I don’t have any friends.” she answers, her eyes still averted.
“Oh.” Is all I can manage to say in response. Considering what a loner she is, that shouldn’t have come to me as a surprise. “It doesn’t matter. Maybe I can take you and Leah out with me sometimes…maybe to to the mall, the cinema, or anywhere you want to go.” I say, trying to sound perky. “Would you like that?”
She shrugs indifferently, still not looking at me. Deflated, I realize I have gotten out of her all I will for that day.
“Try to come down once in a while.” I say, rising to my feet. “It would be nice for us to be able to spend more time together…as a family.”
She nods non-commitally and slips her earphones back on, effectively putting an end to our brief conversation.
As I make my way down the hallway, trying to decide whether to return downstairs to watch TV with Leah, or go back to my bedroom for a nap, my phone rings. My spirits lift when I see that it is Abi calling, Bidemi’s estranged daughter. After my own children, she and her brother, Olumide, have a special place in my heart. Over the years, even though I have tried in vain to reconcile them with their mother, our own relationship has grown stronger. To me, Abi is like the daughter I never had.
“Abi!” I exclaim happily. “It’s so wonderful to hear from you.”
“I can’t believe you were in town and didn’t call me!” she teases. “I’m heartbroken.”
“I’m sorry, hun! It was a really short trip. We were only in London for two nights…” I start to apologise.
“It’s okay, Aunty. I was just teasing.” she cuts in, before her voice trails off for a few moments. “I spoke with Henry…”
I nod sadly. “He told you everything?”
“He told me it was my Mom who broke the news over dinner…” she sighs sadly. “I am so sorry, Aunty. I’m so sorry and embarrassed that she would do something like that!”
If only she knew how much further her mother has gone with all this. I am tempted to tell her about her mother’s blackmail, but realize there is no point in doing that. It would only serve to fray their already frayed relationship the more.
“How did Henry sound when you spoke with him?” I ask, hungry for information about my sons. “And Nathan? Do you know if he’s made any progress with Nathan?”
“Henry is still trying to process everything. It’s such a shock. Even I am struggling to comprehend it.” Abi answers. “As for Nathan, Henry wants to give him a bit more time. This must come as an ever ruder shock for him, because you know how much he idolizes his dad.”
I am comforted that she still speaks in the present tense about Nathan’s feelings for his father. I can only hope this hasn’t been tainted forever.
“You’re a very strong woman, Aunty.” Abi continues. “I don’t know what I would have done in your shoes. For you to still be with Uncle Marshall, and even defending him, my respect for you has grown a thousand-fold!”
I smile sadly. If only she knows how much I am still struggling. If only she knows how much of an effort it is taking me not to just curl up under my sheets and stay there forever.
“I definitely have a lot to learn from you, especially with my wedding fast approaching!” Abi goes on.
“It’s not until December, so still a while away.” I say, happy to be able to change the topic. “How is Callum anyway? Have you told your mother yet?”
“Callum is fine, and he sends his love.” Abi answers. “As for Mom, she’ll know when everyone else does, meaning when the invitations are ready. If she can transport herself to Ireland for the wedding, great. If not, well then!”
“She’s still in London, Abi. Why don’t you call her? Tell her about your engagement. She deserves to know.” I plead on Bidemi’s behalf.
“If it were left to Dad, Aunty Njeri or Olumide, she wouldn’t even be invited at all. I think I’ve even gone far and beyond by agreeing to let her attend in the first place.” Abi answers tersely.
I decide to let things be. Bidemi is the architect of the kind of relationship she has with her children. Besides, after her recent behavior, she doesn’t deserve any further intervention on my part.
“How are the girls? I hear they are with you in the house?” Abi asks tentatively. “Has it been awkward having them around?”
“It was at first…but it’s gotten better.” I answer, not wanting to go into any details about Phoebe remaining withdrawn. “Grandma has warned me not to ‘form any attachments’” I add, laughing drily.
“Oh please!” Abi scoffs. “Can you imagine what would have happened if Aunty Njeri had also decided not to ‘form any attachments’?” she asks, referring to the wonderful Kenyan woman her father remarried thirteen ago, and who has perfectly stepped into the role of a mother for both Abi and her brother. “Maybe she was also advised the same thing by her family, who knows. I can only thank God she didn’t listen. Please love those girls, Aunty. As long as they are with you, please love them!”
I nod, agreeing with her. I have always been a black or white person…never grey. As long as they are in my home, it’s either I shower them with love…or I ignore them completely. I am unable to do anything in between.
Getting off the phone, I decide to stop being passive and get serious about my intention to get closer to the girls, and to make them feel more at home. I pull out my notebook and write down a plan of activities for us, for the remaining days I have off work. After that, I will focus on doing everything I can to heal the relationship between the boys and their father.
We are going to heal as a family. We are going to get through this. We must.
Catch up on Molly’s story here:
- You, Me…Them! 1: My Beloved Husband
- You, Me…Them! 2: Struck
- You, Me…Them! 3: Hanging in the balance
- You, Me…Them! 4: Heavy Cross
- You, Me…Them! 5: Back where they belong
- You, Me…Them! 6: Vivid Imagination
- You, Me…Them! 7: No Excuse
- You, Me…Them! 8: The Confession
- You, Me…Them! 9: The Assailant
- You, Me…Them! 10: A Mother’s Love
- You, Me…Them! 11: Pain & Rejection
- You, Me…Them! 12: The Getaway
- You, Me…Them! 13: Battle
- You, Me…Them! 14: Joy…and Pain