“The wooden floor panels in my room are well acquainted with my knees.
I spend much time there, shutting out all but the cool evening breeze.
Speaking in esoteric language that goes past even my own brain,
If anyone heard me, they’d think I was insane.
But who says I’m there to make human sense
When the issues surrounding me do not?
I’m stooped before the Father with whom there’s no pretense,
Navigating the rocky pathways and drawing freshness for every rot.
I rise to my feet when I sense much has been tamed.
To the casual observer, nothing about me has changed.
Yet when the storm rises and, with fervor, rants and raves,
Those precious private moments make me master over its waves.”
If the first ceremony was small, this one was much more private, with only a select few called upon to grace the occasion. In her younger days, Stella would have raised strong objections to this arrangement, preferring a massive turnout and a somewhat colorful showing. But this time, she could not agree more when Edwin suggested they keep their nuptials simple. The presence of those who had come to be pillars for the couple, made the sparse gathering seem like a room full of people. Moreover, the event was filled enough with expectation as the two families met together a second time to unite their son and daughter. In his toast to the newly re-weds, Mr. Aigbe rendered a prayer that struck a chord with the matriarchs in the room.
‘Some things haven’t changed since the days of old,’ he said. ‘Godly men still take beautiful women as wives just as it happened in scripture, eons ago. If we know anything about the outcome of those unions, it is that they produced mighty offspring. So Edwin and Stella, may your re-union likewise birth a generation of renowned men and women who would carry out the Lord’s purpose on the earth; as they did in biblical times.’
While the groom’s mother raised her voice and shouted the loudest ‘amen’ in the room, vigorously rubbing her upraised palms together as a sign of total agreement, Edwin’s heart swelled in appreciation. He had stopped trying to figure out why Mr. Aigbe took to him so much but instead, had wittingly placed himself under his mentorship. After the older man had finished praying for his protégé, Edwin turned to his bride and said a prayer of his own, for the offspring of a woman he never got to meet.
‘May God bless the memory of Edede,’ he whispered in Stella’s ear. ‘And God bless her seed after her.’
They moved house twice over the next three years, during which time Stella became pregnant once and again; and had two sons. They came in quick succession, putting to rest Edwin’s mother’s fears and making Stella an A-list daughter-in-law in the woman’s books. The boys were just toddlers when their father, after twenty years in the fashion designing profession, delved into a new line of business with some old friends. For the growing family, it meant relocation to another part of the country, though not all at once. Edwin moved first, while the rest of them remained behind as he tried to achieve some stability in his new ventures. It happened in the fifth year of their marriage. Irabor and Ovie were in pre-school and Stella had her hands full. She operated her business on a skeletal fashion, since it had become clear that their permanent home was not yet to be restricted to that particular location.
They were together on weekends, with Edwin making it home every Friday evening and, when Sunday was suddenly upon them, he headed back after church service and a huge lunch. As short as his stay seemed, it was a cherished time for the family. They shared hot meals, occasional outings and endless babbles. Stella would bring him up to speed concerning their sons, telling him of their idiosyncrasies that either left Edwin amused or called for a scolding. At times, there was nothing to report as the boys had remained placid all week. At other times, Edwin was so tired that he spent the entire Saturday afternoon sleeping and Stella was on high alert, doing all she could to keep their sons from tearing round the house, slamming doors, knocking things down and disturbing his siesta. It took a lot of scolding to keep them quiet. Daddy’s presence at home, whether he was asleep or awake, always raised their energy levels to astounding heights.
Sometime during the course of Edwin’s coming and going, Stella became pregnant again. As soon as she discovered, she informed Irabor and Ovie that they would be moving to join their father. While her sons returned clueless stares, she packed the bags. Call it an irrational behavior brought about by her condition, but the week had just begun when she bundled up the boys and headed off on a local flight to the city where her husband was based, without saying goodbye to the neighbors. Not even Edwin was informed that they were coming, apart from the simple message Stella sent just before they were airborne that read: We are on our way.
On your way to where?
He received his response three hours later, when Stella called to say they had arrived and were at his door. Breaking off from work, Edwin hurried home to see his family outside, waiting for him to come and let them into the house. He could not have been more puzzled if he had encountered three ghosts. Reaching out, he touched the boys to be sure they were really there. What was Stella thinking? It was the first of many questions that escaped his lips.
‘What’s going on?’ ‘What are you doing here?’ ‘Are the boys okay?’ ‘How did you come?’
Stella only managed to answer the last question. ‘We flew,’ she said simply. ‘And then took a taxi from the airport. Thank God for our last Christmas visit, it was quite easy finding the way.’
Edwin shook his head. ‘You don’t just show up like this, without letting me know.’
‘But I’m your wife,’ she protested as they bundled children and luggage indoors.
He shot her a look that said he knew that already and did not need to be reminded. Stella responded with a surprised frown. ‘You seem angry,’ she noted.
Of course he was angry. ‘The children are in the middle of preschool,’ he argued. ‘We just paid the term fees. Why pull them out?’
‘It makes no difference to the kids whether they are at the beginning, middle or end of pre-school.’ Her sarcasm was high. ‘Ovie is not even aware that he attends school. They are babies and won’t miss anything.’
Edwin voiced his displeasure, insisting the trip was a waste of resources and she would have to return the boys where he expected them to be. Stella refused, equally insisting that she wanted to stay on. She declared that she loved her kids, but anyone would agree they were a handful and she did not expect, for the most part, to be single handedly raising them while other aspects of who she was hung in limbo. Edwin, who was doing his best to provide for her and their boys, was slighted to think that she saw his absence as some kind of abandonment. She had her reasons why she had come and he had his reasons why she should not have. In their different ways, they both had the family’s interest at heart and neither could see the other’s side from where each one stood. Frustration arose and courtesy was thrown to the wind, as a high pitched voice and a conflictingly deep one rent the air.
‘You don’t listen,’ she accused.
‘And you don’t think,’ he alleged.
Amid strong expressions of opinions, Ovie fled and ducked for cover behind the curtains. His braver older brother stayed put in the center of the living room, his little legs trembling just slightly, as he drank in the acrimonious exchange, which hitherto had been foreign to him. For a while, it seemed like neither parent would back down, as they expressed their views with great annoyance, until finally Edwin took a step back. The argument was getting overheated and the flames needed to be doused. Some things did not fit anywhere in his three-point marriage agenda: to nurture, cherish and protect this woman. It was a huge task, certainly not one he could perform without divine help. Stella was not making the job easy, with all the strong words that she had thrown his way in the last hour. She could be so annoying at times; very headstrong and all. But Edwin knew he was the stronger one – and in a brilliant display of strength, he turned and walked away.
Standing rooted to the spot, Irabor was still watching their spat. With his little mouth wide open, he suddenly looked a lot wiser than his age. Both parents could only feel sorry that he had witnessed their flared tempers, as he now stood staring quizzically at them both. His large, round piercing eyes seemed to be asking what exactly was going on. As Edwin paused and gave the boy a head rub to assure him that all was well, Stella brushed past them and stormed into the bedroom. When Edwin came in a few moments later, he found her penning away furiously in her journal. She did not look up when he entered.
‘Keeping record of wrongs?’ he asked dryly.
Slowly, she paused and put down her pen, her hand dropping slowly to her side. If only he knew that it was quite the contrary. At the peak of their disagreement, she had an unpleasant flashback of her experience with Orobosa years ago, when they had a similar argument. She remembered how she had raised her arm in a reflexive, self-protective motion as Orobosa came at her, overpowering her. The reflection made her flinch. It was a stark reminder of how she never ought to be treated. In spite of how she felt right now, she was glad that Edwin belonged to a higher breed of men.
He still looked angry though, as from his side of the room, he shot her a sharp look which she returned with equal intensity before picking up her journal once more. Neither one had the energy to pursue the argument any further nor the desire to create any intimacy. Right now, there seemed no sense in trying to do either. Stella had resumed scribbling away again. What on earth was she writing? Edwin wondered. She wouldn’t tell him – and it was just as well that she didn’t. He would be more indignant that she would even think he would stoop so low, than he was by their quarrel. Feeling his annoyance rising again, he left the bedroom. Over the next two days, he gave his wife the cold shoulder. Coming home from work, he played with the boys and acted like she was not there. Even her zealousness at keeping the house rubbed off the wrong way.
‘Don’t leave your things lying around,’ she told him, the second evening when he arrived home. ‘I thought by now you would have overcome this habit.’
‘They are not lying around,’ he shot back defensively. ‘I left them there on purpose, because that’s where I want them to be. So leave them alone.’
Stella did not need to readjust her emotional antennae to pick the icy signals. Perceiving that she was being ignored, she felt hurt and asked herself: What manner of man is this? Of course, she did not mean that in a good way. Day three, when she would not be ignored any longer, she burst into tears.
‘You act like I’m intruding,’ she sobbed.
She cried so loud, that she startled little Ovie who cried too. Edwin was forced to relent, comforting her and the wailing baby in turn. He took her out the next day. Stella liked that. She loved it when he spoilt her silly. Left to her, she would have shopped till she dropped as they toured the malls; but after picking out the third pair of high-heeled shoes from the store, Edwin halted her intended spending spree with a stern: ‘That will do.’
The family dined out that evening, with the boys splurging on the many sweet treats which they were usually denied on normal days. Deep into the night - long after the boys were asleep - when Edwin’s strong arms reached out for Stella in the privacy of their bedroom, she felt safe and nestled in his embrace. This felt right; so right in fact, that she was certain she had gotten her way. So one could hardly imagine her disappointment, when the weekend drew to a close and Edwin once again told her to return home and put the children back in their pre-school while he, as usual, would come home for the weekend.
‘And next time you plan to come,’ he added. ‘Do us both a favor and discuss it with me first.’
Ray stood meekly with his hands behind his back, as his mother held a discussion with the company’s boss. He observed the office space ahead of him. It bustled with people working studiously for their pay. By his assessment, this was a modest organization and not the kind of place he would have chosen to work, if at all he wanted to. His mum could have wielded her influence at more prestigious places. Why here, he wondered. He fidgeted restlessly as he noticed several people from the open office, straining to catch a glimpse of him and his mother. The last thing he wanted was for them to get the impression he was a mama’s boy. He would have moved to hide behind the door, if the boss’ commanding voice had not stopped him.
‘Come over here, Raymond!’
Ray did as he was told, almost tripping over the carpet from nervousness. The boss’ eyes bore into him.
‘Your mother says you are eager to learn.’
Well yes, Ray nodded, though that was only partially true. This job placement was his mother’s idea, not his. Left to him, he would take his inherited fortune and launch out on his own. But his mum insisted that only through applying himself to service, would he learn not to squander the wealth which his father had bequeathed to him. He had listened to her - he had to. She was his mother, but she was also a trustee of his father’s estate. According to the stipulations, he was not entitled to receive anything for the next three years. He hoped, by that time, he would be able to wield the same kind of influence that his mother did. It was not even hiring season but here she was, creating a vacancy for him at a place which had a bold sign that read: ‘No Vacancy’.
The matter settled, his mother left, leaving Ray to prepare for his first real taste of hard work. But she seemed to have taken all cordiality with her. No sooner had she disappeared from sight, than the boss turned distant, even a little hostile.
‘Well young man,’ he said gruffly. ‘You are a privileged one, aren’t you? Pampered all your life. Everything has been handed to you on a platter of gold.’ He said it as though it was the guy’s fault. ‘As for me, no one ever gave me anything. Everything I have today was built from scratch.’ Almost sounding bitter, he leaned forward and stuck out a forefinger at his new hire. ‘Well, let me tell you this. I’ve made it clear to your mother and I want to also make it clear to you: I don’t care whose son you are. You are not going to get any favors around here, not from me. No way! If you want a pat on the back, you have to earn it. If you mess up, I’ll discipline you real good.’
He was practically spitting fire and it was all Ray could do to keep from turning round and running for dear life.
‘Are you ready to learn?’ The boss asked him.
Ray was not so sure anymore, but he said yes anyway.
’Don’t you mean, yes sir?’
‘Yes sir, I meant yes sir.’
‘Ok, keep your manners about you, young man. Starting Monday, work resumes at eight. You’ll get lunch and an allowance for your transport. Mind you, it’s just a stipend. I don’t intend to further enrich your already loaded coffers. You are here for the experience and I intend to make it one you’ll not forget.’
Ray could barely remember the last time he cried; not since he was in school when his mum gave away his dad’s things to the security men at the estate. But as he left his new employer - or should he say taskmaster - he was so shaken by the man’s attitude that he was sure the tears would fall. Mama Ray was already back at home, waiting for her son to return. When he walked through the door, with a crestfallen look on his face, her heart melted.
‘Aww my baby,’ she smiled encouragingly, like she understood what he had just been through. ‘It couldn’t have been that bad.’
Ray was not consoled. ‘Mum, who is that man?’
‘He was a direct report of mine, almost twenty years ago. He came in newly and worked his way up the ranks before leaving to take up this big job. Why do you ask?’
‘He is a monster!’ Ray blurted out. ‘His disposition changed as soon as you left. I’m certain he does not like me but I’m not sure why. You really want me to work for him for the next few years?’
‘He has always been rugged in his manner,’ his mother replied. ‘He believes that’s what has gotten him to where he is. I asked him to treat you the way he treats every other person, but I guess he overdid it. You don’t have to agree with his style but yes, I do expect you to work for him. It’s a training ground for you, now that you are becoming a man.’ Her eyes softened lovingly. ‘But cheer up. I doubt if you’ll encounter him often. There’s a lot of hierarchy between the two of you, since you’ll be starting at entry level.’ She paused. ‘Monday is your first day, right?’
When Ray nodded grimly, Mama Ray hurried inside and came out a minute later. The white shirt - with an accompanying pair of gold cufflinks - which she presented to him was not new, but it smelt clean and fresh following a trip to the cleaners. It had been laundered, well starched and finely pressed.
‘I kept this one for you,’ she remarked.
Ray looked at it in surprise. ‘Dad’s shirt?’
His mother nodded. ‘I thought you would like to wear something special for your first day on the job.’
‘But you said you got rid of everything,’ her son remarked in bemusement.
‘All but two of them. It’s always wise to preserve a remnant. I guessed it would come in handy for a day such as this. I’ve kept one for Rex as well.’
Ray carefully unfolded the shirt and tried it on. Grown to full stature, he was slightly taller than his father had been - except for the latter’s pot belly - and the shirt fit reasonably well. But he still had a grievance with it.
‘I don’t like this shirt mum,’ he said. ‘It’s no longer in fashion and the designers don’t make their logo this way anymore.’
His mother shrugged. ‘Wear it anyway,’ she said. ‘It would mean a lot to me - and I’m sure it would mean much to your father too, if he were here.’
So he wore it; just to make her happy. The impression he created on his first day, spread rapidly across the office and for many weeks his colleagues teased him about his high yet outdated fashion style. Ray wore a straight face through it all but having no further use for the shirt, he offered it to Rex - like a peace offering to their long standing feud. He would have given him the gold cufflinks too, but he lost one of them during his first working week, thus rendering the second one useless. His brother accepted the gift, only after pointing out that it was rather too formal for his tastes. But he took it anyway and stuffed it - unfolded - way back in his cupboard and before long, completely forgot it was there.