I drive home with a heavy heart. I haven’t gotten the comfort or reassurance I’d hoped speaking with Bidemi would give me. Before I went to her, my major dilemmas had been how we would manage the mess with the girls…and how I would rebuild my trust in Marshall. But now she has planted a seed in my heart. A seed to walk away from it all…from Marshall, our marriage, and everything the relationship stands for. So what if we have had 21 blissful years of marriage?! If the age of his illegitimate children is anything to go by, I have been a fool for at least 16 of those.
But as I approach our home, I uproot the evil weeds that have sprouted from that seed. No way. I will not leave my husband. We will do everything we can to get through this. We will find a way to rebuild our relationship. But for that to happen, the girls have to go.
Getting into the house, I see Odion and the rest of the staff still jumpy and nervous. I am tempted to yell at them…to scold them for being overly dramatic. What has happened to us happens on a daily basis to families across the country, so there is absolutely nothing novel about it. But I choose not to feed their curiosity any further and acknowledge their greetings as normally as I possibly can. But as I approach the living room, the sound of the television reminds to me that things are not normal. Not anymore.
The girls are seated in the living room. Leah is staring idly at the Telemundo TV series playing, while Phoebe is, as usual, on her phone. Upon sighting me, Leah springs to her feet.
“Good morning, Ma. Welcome, Ma!” she stutters, a ball of nerves.
“Good morning.” is all Phoebe mumbles, without even looking up from her phone.
On a good day, I would have called her out for her disrespectful behavior. Ever the disciplinarian, I am always that person who is sure to scold people, old or young, for bad behavior. But instead, I choose to ignore her. All things being equal, she should be out of my house in the next few hours.
Speaking of which!
I turn to Leah. “Leah, can I have your Aunty Oprey’s phone number please?”
“Ghen ghen!” Phoebe chuckles to herself.
Leah looks deflated. “Okay Ma. Let me go upstairs to get my phone.”
She walks away and I am left in the living room with the recalcitrant Phoebe, who is still chuckling to herself.
“Did I say something funny?!” I ask her, my voice firm enough for her to finally look up from her phone.
“No Ma.” she answers, and I find satisfaction in hearing the fear in her voice.
Yes, she might think me a laughing stock and a fool for being unaware of my husband’s indiscretion all this while, but I’ll be damned if she thinks me a pushover. Definitely not in my home.
Leah soon returns, and reels off the phone number to me. I smile in gratitude, and make my way to our inner living room, where we do most of our high-profile entertaining, to make the call in private. My heart thumps in my anxiety as I dial the number. Unfortunately, this is what I have to do…for everyone’s sake!
“Hello?” comes the familiar husky voice of the woman who was a stranger to me only 24 hours ago.
“Hello…Mrs. Amadi?” I say. “This is Mrs. Ogbebor speaking.”
“Ah…Marshall’s fine wife! How are you? How are the girls? I hope all of you are doing fine now!” came her cheery voice.
I find myself getting irritated. Doing fine indeed! As if she would be ‘doing fine’ 12 hours after finding out her husband had fathered children outside her matrimonial home.
“We need to talk, Ma. I need to see you urgently.” I say. “Please give me your address and I’ll come to you.”
She sighs deeply, clearly understanding my reason why. She reels off her address somewhere in the Ijesha area, and I am relieved it is not too deep in the Lagos hinterland. Having grown up in Yaba, I am familiar with the area.
I grab my car keys, but immediately think the better of it. Driving my flashy BMW there doesn’t strike me as the best of ideas. I call an Uber instead.
I make my way out of the house without a glance to anyone. I can feel their curious glances…all of them…including Leah and Phoebe…especially Leah and Phoebe. But I am too far gone in my determination to have them out of our lives quicker rather than later.
As the car journeys to the mainland, I terminate what is probably the 100thcall from Marshall that morning. Speaking with him is the very last thing I want to do. But deep in my heart, I can’t quite shake the growing guilt that comes from me making moves to eject his children from the house, without seeking his permission first. But then again, he didn’t seek mine when he chose to father children outside of our marriage.
The car soon pulls into the busy Lawanson area, and I am thrown down memory lane as I remember the many times I visited the area as a young girl, to see an elderly aunt and also a few of my friends from high school. The place is unchanged and still looks exactly the same as it did decades back.
But as the car traffics down Itire road and then turns off into Ijesha Road, the knots in my stomach start to form again. This is not a social trip or something to aid my nostalgia. It is a trip that could make or mar my family.
The Uber drops me in front of a large compound. I walk in through the open gates, and am taken aback by the crowd of people milling around. It is communal living in its most explicit form. I ask for directions and am directed to Mrs. Amadi’s apartment…which turns out to actually be a tiny room.
“Welcome. I’ve been waiting for you!” she greets cheerily. I look at her and see that she is not as enthused as she sounds, as I recognize fear and apprehension in her eyes. “Sorry oh. Please manage this my small house!”
I force a smile as I sit on the worn sofa, which from the smell of it might also be someone’s bed. I look across the room and see a proper bed… but one that has seen better days. Over it hang several clothes…male and female. She obviously shares the small room with several other people.
My stomach starts to plummet.
“What is the problem, Ma?” she asks. “Are the girls already misbehaving?”
I shake my head. “They are behaving perfectly well. Leah especially. She is a very well mannered young lady.”
Aunty Oprey smiles broadly. “She is! Very well behaved, right from time. She has never given her mother any problem at all…not like that Phoebe!”
I nod in understanding. Even from the very little interaction I have had with the girls, it is not a surprise to me that Phoebe is the problem child.
“They are lovely girls…but they can’t stay with us.” I say, getting straight to the point. “It is just going to be too complicated! I’m sorry, but you just have to come back to get them.”
Aunty Oprey says nothing, but instead just stares ahead sadly. After what seems like an eternity, she sighs deeply. “If that is what you and Marshall have decided, then I have no choice. I will come for them tomorrow.”
I’m surprised she gives in so easily, and almost start to feel guilty. I look around at the small room, and wonder if this is where the girls will stay when they return. I immediately quash the rising guilt and remind myself that their lot in life is no fault of mine.
“Where does…did…their mother stay? They can return to the apartment, if there is no space here?” I suggest. “I could…we…Marshall and I could pay for a housekeeper to stay with them, so they are not alone.”
“Eniye got ejected from her place in January. They have been here with us since that time.” Aunty Oprey answers, her voice sad.
“In this one room?” I ask, bewildered.
She nods. “Yes. In this one room. Including my two younger sons.” She shrugs. “Eniye really made a mess of her life. The girls have been out of school for months, as she hasn’t paid their fees since the beginning of the school year. Their school was lenient with them, and even allowed them write their 1st term exams, but by middle of the 2nd term, they were both sent home. Eniye made so many promises to pay their fees and get them another house after her trip abroad. If only we knew she was planning something as foolish as carrying drugs! Do you know they used to kill people like that by firing squad years ago? She is very lucky that was not what she got! Foolish girl!”
I am silent as I take in the information. I feel immense pity for the girls who have been forced to miss a whole school year, and for how much really? I can bet my bottom dollar that their school fees will not be a fraction of what our boys’ education costs us.
“We used to have the whole house to ourselves.” Aunty Oprey says, smiling over her memories. “My husband was a very wealthy man, and I married him as a young teenager, so happy to escape poverty. This house, this 8-bedroom house, was all ours. In fact, Eniye, Alali and their late sister, God rest her soul, Lanye, all lived here with us.”
“And that was how you knew she was involved with Marshall.” I stated, rather than asked.
She nodded. “She was about 19 or 20 then. He used to bring her home from Church. At first, I think that is all it was…him giving her a ride. But from the way Eniye talked about him non-stop, we all knew she had her eye on him.” she shrugged. “And I suppose it was only a matter of time before he too fell into her trap….like many men before him…and many men after. I don’t know how she does it, but she has this way of making good, responsible men become total fools for her. She casts a kind of spell that nobody can understand!”
I feel my resentment begin to rise again. “So was that what Marshall was? A fool for her?”
She makes eye contact with me. “My dear, I don’t know what was happening in your marriage at that time. All I know is that the man who used to frequent here was a very broken and sad man. Anytime he came here, it was almost like he was trying escape from something.”
Escape from something?! Escape from me? The fact that his son and I were almost dying? Escape from what exactly?
“Do you have her picture?” I hear myself ask.
She nods and walks over to a small drawer by the bed. She pulls out a stack of pictures and sifts through until she finds two.
“That’s Eniye and the girls at Silverbird Galleria. I think that was taken 2 or 3 Christmases ago!” she says, handing me one of them.
I look at the woman standing between Leah and Phoebe. They all stand at equal height, even though the girls were much younger then. I realize she is not anything like I had envisioned at all. In my mind’s eye, she’s been this voluptuous seductress…big bottomed and big breasted. Isn’t that how she would look, especially if she was capable of making my husband a ‘fool for her’?! But no. The lady looking back at me is petite and child-like. Aunty Oprey hands me the second picture, a more recent one from all indication, and apart from the fact that Eniye’s skin looks over bleached and her eyes look a bit hardened, she could still pass for a woman just out of her teens. I stare at her face long and hard. She is not as pretty as I imagined, but she isn’t plain looking either. She just has a pleasant and likeable face. One you would never associate with a home wrecker.
Aunty Oprey hisses. “I didn’t even know she got that kind of money. All I know is that she suddenly started spending recklessly. She was buying clothes and jewellery as if it was going out of fashion. She bought one foolish Golf car that was in the Mechanic’s workshop more than it was with her, until she eventually had to sell it for peanuts. Somehow, she managed to just blow all that money, with nothing tangible to show for it.”
“She didn’t rent a place for herself and her kids?” I ask, shocked.
Aunty Oprey shakes her head. “She was comfortable and happy to remain here. But after my husband died, things changed. Life became so hard and we were living from hand to mouth. Before my two older sons left the country for Europe, they came up with the idea to break up the house into room-apartments, which we could let out and make money from. It was only then that she moved out…but to a room even smaller than this one you are sitting in.” her eyes begin to water. “After what just happened to Phoebe, I knew the girls couldn’t stay here anymore. That was the reason I brought them to you.”
“What happened to Phoebe?” I ask.
“One of my tenants raped her.” she answers, sending shock waves down my body. “Foolish man of over 40 years. He claims she was seducing him! Can you imagine? A 15 year old child seducing a grown man like that?! Yes, the girl has a sharp mouth and can be rude at times, but she would never do that!” she wipes her eyes. “I knew then that I couldn’t keep them here…not when their father…”
She didn’t have to complete her sentence. She didn’t have to.
Not when their father could afford to give them a better life.
I sink back in the chair, odour or not, heartbroken over the fact that Phoebe has already been assaulted at such a young age. And I am struck by a sick realization.
“Was that the first time?” I ask.
She sniffs and shakes her head. “Leah and Phoebe were raped by armed robbers a few years ago. Their mother’s place was invaded late one night, and all the women in their block were sexually assaulted. Mothers and children alike. Phoebe was only 13.”
My own eyes fill with tears. “What did Eniye do?”
“What could she do? She too was raped. What could she do, except try to get them the best medical care she could afford?” Aunty Oprey answers in tears.
And then, sitting in that living room, I have never felt more selfish than I do now. I see clearly that having them return here would have far graver consequences than whatever scandal that will erupt when the world gets to find out about them being Marshall Ogbebor’s illegitimate children.
I realize sending them back to this life is not an option.
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