The morning that followed brought with it much turbulence in the skies, as though the weather elements were competing with one another for dominance. Dawn broke with the threat of a thunderstorm. As the city braced itself for a downpour, the heavy rain clouds were quickly blown away by steady gusts of wind, giving way to a clear sunny sky. The day appeared to brighten a bit, only to be overtaken by drizzles that came suddenly and watered earth and humans together. Yet even the light shower lasted only for a few moments, stopping as suddenly as it started. It was as though the clouds were reserving their intended downpour for a more opportune time to catch commuters unawares.
While it was good enough reason for many to remain sheltered away indoors, Stella defied the unpredictable weather and stepped out for the first time in many days as Edwin took her to seek legal redress. Their first stop was at the senior Mr. Aigbe’s place. They arrived there early, hoping to catch him before he left the house. The older man was eager enough to help out with a referral. Shaking his head at what he described as a pathetic situation, he placed a call to his lawyer son and briefed him about Stella, asking if he could give her special attention. When the conversation between father and son was over, the older man gave the assurance that his son’s firm would take a strong interest in the case.
Crossing this first hurdle brought much relief to everyone, each for their own peculiar reasons. No one remembered to bring up the pending attire or the whereabouts of the journal, not even when the matriarch of the house emerged from indoors, finely dressed and looking set to go out. Mrs. Aigbe was used to having Edwin over, but was less familiar with the woman who accompanied him today. As the introduction began, a mischievous twinkle crept into her eyes. Edwin caught the expression and recognized it instantly. He had seen that same look on the faces at the old people’s home and knew immediately that the big question was coming. He winced when, unaware of his past with Stella, Mrs. Aigbe turned to the latter and asked innocently.
‘Are you the intended wife?’
Stella was not one to be easily embarrassed, but she could not help being taken aback by the question. Nerve wracking jitters ran down her spine. Edwin felt her awkwardness since he too had been subjected to the same, when Pa Ralph threw a similar question at Omore some weeks ago. Did all senior citizens think the same way, he wondered.
‘Mmm?’ Mrs. Aigbe prompted, still oblivious of the tight spot she was putting the two visitors and of the growing discomfort between them.
‘Just say a simple yes,’ Edwin whispered. The situation was too complicated to begin to explain.
‘Yes,’ Stella echoed with an affirmative nod.
Mrs. Aigbe clapped her hands together, looking pleased. ‘Well you two look good together,’ she said. ‘Almost as good as Mr. Aigbe and myself.’
‘Oh we are not there yet,’ Edwin replied, getting carried away by the moment. ‘We don’t nearly look as alike as the two of you.’
Again his client was quick to respond. ‘People say that a lot but I tend to disagree. Mrs. Aigbe is so much better looking than I am.’
There was general laughter around the room and this time, his wife did not bother to argue. ‘It has not always been that way,’ she noted. ‘We only started getting comments about this resemblance thing after about two decades; and forty something years after we wed, they haven’t stopped.’
Stella’s eyes widened. ‘Forty years,’ she remarked. ‘That’s a mountain of time.’
She had not even been alive for that long, to say nothing of sharing that length of time with someone else. She was still grappling with the thought when Mrs. Aigbe insisted on a light breakfast for the four of them. This time, she would not take no for an answer and before long toast, scrambled eggs and hot tea had been laid out on the table. With progress made on the fundamental matter, Stella relaxed and enjoyed their hosts’ extension of hospitality. The intensity of the sun’s rays had gone down when they finally said goodbye to the elderly couple.
‘I’m glad that went well,’ Edwin commented as they exited the house and shut the door behind them.
‘So am I’ Stella replied, ‘except for that embarrassing moment. Thanks for bailing me out, by the way.’
‘Oh it’s nothing.’
She bit her lip. ‘They are a lovely family, aren’t they?’
‘Hmm hmm,’ he nodded.
‘Forty years,’ she continued, almost in a whisper. ‘I wonder how they did it.’
‘It’s forty four, actually.’ Edwin corrected her.
He looked thoughtful. The last two people he would have expected to be sitting down and having breakfast with were his top client and his ex-wife. He and Mr. Aigbe had always shared a good working relationship and over the years, the older man had freely lavished the term ‘son’ on him. Yet there was something different about their interaction that morning. Not only was the older man glad that Edwin had taken his advice and gone to see Stella, he was even more pleased that he had brought her over to see him. That was probably what contributed to his extremely jovial mood. Edwin had never seen him that way before.
Then there was his ex-wife. He finally got the chance to observe her well as they sat at breakfast. Though her dressing was different from what he would have expected, there was no denying that she still looked good. Her beauty had somewhat matured in its expression and she had added a little weight. Funny enough, he could not remember ever seeing her natural hair before; it was always either permed or hidden beneath long exotic weaves. Now, she seemed to be making a daring statement with her virgin hair: long, kinky and neatly parted. It was different - beautifully different.
But right now, Edwin could hardly appreciate all that. He was already well intimated with Stella’s stunning looks. The picture of her standing on that stage years ago, being crowned queen of the pageant was not one that could easily be erased from the memory. He too had been a finely built young man then. But coming together, it was a surprise to discover that a perfect figure and stature did not translate to perfect characters, and the flaws exposed during their union had dashed their heightened expectations of each other to the ground.
‘We too had something worthwhile back then,’ he reminisced. ‘But guess who threw it all away.’
Stella winced. His outburst was oddly appropriate for today’s weather: sunshine one minute, dampness the next. However unprepared she was for this moment, she knew it had to come sooner or later.
‘It was the workings of a juvenile mind,’ she admitted quickly. ‘I know better now. If we could go back in time...’
‘Stella, we can’t go back. You know we can’t.’ Pausing Edwin looked over his shoulder. ‘And I won’t have this conversation here, not right outside my client’s house.’
Stella agreed. ‘I’m sure they can hear us.’ She exhaled as he unlocked the car and they got in. ‘Listen, you have every right to still feel pained by our past. As much as I appreciate what you are trying to do for me now, given how easily those issues are prone to come up again I would understand if you choose not to help. I can do this on my own.’
Edwin started the car and put it in reverse. ‘I can at least help you secure an attorney,’ he replied. ‘Not just because I promised but also because I would like to. But don’t ask me why because I’m not sure either.’
Neither one said anything more until they arrived at the law firm where the junior Mr. Aigbe worked.
Edwin and Omore did not get to talk for the next two weeks. Whenever she called, he always seemed to be busy with one thing or the other. One could not say for sure if it was deliberate, particularly since for some unknown reason he would not call her back afterwards. Eventually she sent him a message asking:
‘Did I do anything to upset you?’
It was only after she posed the question that he reached out to her and attempted to explain his negligence.
‘You’ve done nothing wrong,’ he assured her. ‘Nothing whatsoever; I have just been very busy, that’s all.’
It was a flimsy excuse and she was not impressed. ‘Aren’t we all?’
He had no reply to that one. Otas did say that people made out time for what was important to them.
‘Um about that journal,’ Omore continued. ‘Have you read any part of it yet?’
He inhaled slowly. If he lied now, there would always be a reason to continue telling untruths. Yet he was not about to admit that he had no idea where the book was and only hoped its current custodians were still searching diligently for it.
‘The little I’ve read so far has made a great impression.’ He replied. ‘But the parts with the other language remain elusive.’
When Omore spoke again, something in her voice told him she was upset. It was either because he had neglected her or she sensed that he had misplaced her book.
‘Edede was very dear to the community,’ she reminded him. ‘The journal is probably the only memory they have of her, since her portrait is now officially state property. You would recall I was reluctant to take it out of the library. I trust you will take good care of it and return it when I see you again, hopefully soon?’
Edwin breathed guiltily. ‘I’ll endeavor to do just that,’ he replied.
The legal battle between the aggrieved parties began with a preliminary hearing over the disputed property. It would not be fun, as Stella was soon to realize. Many issues would be dug up at the court sessions and those summoned to give testimonies included those with whom she would have preferred not to cross paths. As if that was not enough, the opposing side addressed her in many unnerving ways. They attempted to hang name tags around her neck, like product labels on the shelves of a supermarket store: the former beauty queen, the minister’s estranged wife and the past occupant of the property in question - all pointers to the relics of some lost glory. Gina’s lawyer was forming a habit of referring to her by these designations, until the junior Mr. Aigbe firmly pointed out that his client had a name and it was Stella.
‘Miss or Mrs.?’ they probed.
Surely there had to be a title preceding the given name. Stella wondered what this had to do with the case and even the presiding judge had to ask the same thing. A lot, the opposing side replied. They had heard she had been in and out of the marriage institution, switching between the two statuses such that no one was sure where she stood now. Of course they would have preferred her to be ‘Mrs.’ rather than ‘Miss’. At her age, the former was a more responsible title for any woman to hold. Yet they wondered: following two failed attempts, if Stella had not forfeited her claim to this most noble calling along with the benefits that came with it. It soon became obvious that the opposing lawyer meant to build a case around how unstable Stella was. Twice, the judge had to call him to order as he launched an assault on her character. For the most part, Stella was not allowed to speak. Yet by the time the court adjourned for the day, she felt tired and overwhelmed. Sighing herself to sleep, she braced herself for what would be a long and tedious battle.
But perhaps what was more unsettling was Edwin’s approach as he lent his support. She would have loved the way he helped her navigate the legal process, had his manner not been so offhanded. He was committed to her cause while totally detached from her person. When he suggested they convey the power of attorney on the junior Mr. Aigbe in order to spare her further embarrassment during the proceedings, Stella was less than receptive to the idea.
‘He doesn’t need to do that,’ she replied. ‘And neither do you.’
‘I don’t get you.’
‘Listen Edwin,’ Stella said with displeasure. ‘I’m not your charity case. If you are feeling philanthropic, then find another worthy cause to pour yourself into. Don’t treat me like a hapless widow who you have to rescue to fulfill your Christian duties.’
Edwin was taken aback. ‘You might need to calm down. I’m doing this because I want to,’ he insisted. ‘Yes initially I came to see you on the advice of others, but right now there is nothing else I would rather be doing than helping you fight this injustice.’
‘Then do it with a bit more tenderness,’ she pleaded. ‘Or don’t do it at all. There’s enough hostility coming from those who want to take my home from me, I don’t need any more of it from the people who are supposed to be lending their support. ’ She shook her head. ‘I meant what I said when I told you that I’m capable of handling this myself. For the last six years, I’ve lived quietly, minding my business and working with my own hands. Even now, I’m not chasing after any shadows nor am I trying to appropriate any of Orobosa’s wealth. All I want is to get my home back and God helping me,’ her eyes filled with determination as she declared, more to herself than to Edwin. ‘I will get it back.’
The Aigbes enlisted the help of the agile youngsters in their house to search every nook and cranny until no hiding place remained for the journal. When the little book was finally pulled out from beneath the bed frame in the guest room, everyone heaved sighs of relief even if no one could explain how it got there. Mr. Aigbe was in no hurry to give it back though. After reading it, he had a feeling that some of the contents would rattle the young man and raise a matter that needed to be dealt with delicately. So he waited. When Edwin finally returned the amended clothes with flawlessly embroidered neckline and sleeves, he was greeted by the older man waving the little book triumphantly at him.
‘We found it! We promised you we would,’ he declared before plunging into the details of their roller coaster search.
Edwin was just as relieved to have the journal back in his possession as his client was to have his attire. He thanked the older man profusely - and Mrs. Aigbe too - for being true to their word.
‘Did you read it?’ he asked rather excitedly as though he had recovered a treasure.
‘All the way to the end,’ the older man replied. ‘And I think you should too. You especially might want to go through that final page before you leave.’
Not that Edwin needed prompting since he had been eager to finish the closing note from the first day he started with it. Mr. Aigbe encouraged him to take his time.
The jittery feelings returned as he picked up from where he stopped. Placing Stella’s experiences against what he was reading, Edwin was certain there was a correlation somewhere. The description of the beauty queen who visited the old woman’s home, fitted too closely with Stella’s account to be merely coincidental.
Edwin looked up. ‘What do you make of the writer, sir?’ he asked and without waiting for an answer, added: ‘It’s very likely it was my ex-wife she wrote about here. I think they met before the old woman’s death.’
‘My thoughts exactly,’ Mr. Aigbe agreed. ‘I had the same suspicions, given everything you’ve told me. But I did not want to presuppose anything till you were certain it was her.’
Edwin was certain and also eager to know what had happened at the house that day. But he found, to his utter dismay that Edede had written the rest of the note in her native language. That only fueled his curiosity. If Omore’s inference was anything to go by, the old woman must have felt very passionately about her brief interaction with Stella, to switch to writing in her mother tongue. Unfortunately that switch was not helping Edwin at all. Looking lost, he wondered aloud.
‘What on earth do these last lines mean?’
Mr. Aigbe smiled. ‘You seem to have forgotten that I’m from those parts,’ he said. ‘I could translate for you if you are prepared to listen.’
Taking the journal, he fluently recited the last part of the note, translating each paragraph as he read.
There is much love welling up in my heart for this young woman and as much as I share in her pain, I wish also to share in her triumph. I have not stopped praying that some good would come out of all this. If ever she visits this place again, I expect that she would have a sweet story to tell. It would be music to my ears if only I were around to hear it. But by the time the storm is over, I know I will be long gone. So I settle for the next best glimpse into her future - I will dream it up.
I am old and entitled to my dreams. I think the Lord gave us elderly ones that special privilege to dream dreams. Mine is not the kind of dream that happens when deep sleep falls in the still of the night. No, I’m wide awake and yet I dream. Neither is it the idle daydream that is quickly shattered by surrounding realities. Rather, my dream reflects a strong persuasion inside me of a favorable outcome.
I have a dream for this young woman’s nightmare. A fresh match would have been the easier way. Of a truth, someone else is probably waiting just up ahead. But I can’t write them off - she and this husband of hers, for I feel there is still much ground to cover between them. If there is a willingness of the two hearts, it would be a rematch made in heaven.
Edwin’s bemusement changed from surprise to disbelief and then indignation. He felt infuriated by what he was hearing. The old woman was actually expressing strong convictions that Stella would reconcile with the minister. The words seemed to jump out at him and sting like a swarm of bees that had been disturbed from their hive. He was hurt by Edede’s assertions and what he felt was her insensitivity.
‘I can’t believe her,’ he interrupted, shaking his head. It was all he could do to keep from snatching the journal and tearing it up. ‘How could she even write that? Did she really expect Stella to return to that brute?’
Mr. Aigbe peered at him over the rim of his glasses. He could not help grinning at Edwin’s vehement protest. ‘It seems to me that you care about the young woman more than you would like to admit,’ he noted.
Edwin frowned. That was not the issue. ‘I care about the way his people are treating her.’ he pointed out. ‘I’m doing what I can for Stella purely out of a sense of duty. Of course, I don’t expect anyone to understand that.’
He paced up and down while Mr. Aigbe continued:
One may wonder why I imagine things this way. Some may even argue that I’m losing grip with this world and no longer able to think rationally. Indeed my dream seems so out of touch with reality. Suffice to say, it is the intuition of an old woman who is closer to her Maker now than ever before.
I would have orchestrated it myself if I could. Had I the strength and the time, I would have arranged their rematch. But I have neither - and thankfully so. I admit my inadequacy in making my own dream come true. Yet my conviction is so deep seated, that I only need to shut my eyes and it comes rushing to me. Much would have happened before he comes for her but by then, they would both be better for the experience. What started as a tumultuous journey will doubtless have a happy end.
‘It’s preposterous,’ Edwin decided. ‘She herself suggested that she might not have been thinking properly. I put it to you sir, that she was hallucinating when she wrote this.’ He paused and looked thoughtful. ‘By the way, I understand that Orobosa did indeed go back to find Stella and ask her to return to him, but she refused. Besides he is dead now, so the possibility of reconciliation cannot arise anymore.’ He pointed emphatically at the journal. ‘That only proves one thing: that being old does not make you a sage.’
Mr. Aigbe’s eyes ran up and down the page. ‘I see nothing here to suggest that she expected Stella to return to her minister husband.’
‘Sir, if I heard you correctly, then it is right there in black and white. You just translated what she wrote about her hopes that he would come for her and about their being happy together again.’
‘But she did not mention Orobosa’s name,’ the older man argued.
‘She did not have to mention his name.’ Edwin was almost shaking in exasperation. ‘I heard you make a clear reference to “that husband of hers”?’
Mr. Aigbe mused over the note for a while, before turning to Edwin with all seriousness. ‘I think she meant you.’