“That new thing was so flashy we all had to get one.
We handled it a couple of times and then it was gone.
Stolen, spoilt, misplaced - it was not meant to last,
Our options were to replace it or get the spare parts.
The thing that came afterwards was purchased abroad,
It proved to be so durable, we simply grew bored.
It’s lying unused down in the garage wing,
We moved it there to make space for the next amazing thing.
Now the house is full of clutter, there’s a trunk load for each person.
Yet our lives would be empty if we did not grasp this lesson:
Be it title deeds, gadgets, shoes or dresses,
Life consists not in the many things one possesses.”
The property would remain sealed up for much longer than the two warring parties had anticipated. The case dragged on through the rigmarole of appearing and reappearing before the court, as dates were set and reset. Though it proved wearisome for both sides, the delay gave Gina a smug sense of satisfaction - if she couldn’t have access to the house, neither could her rival. Yet beyond that, she knew she had to win. In her testimony, she claimed to know a great many things that nobody else did, including why her late brother’s marriage to Stella was a sham. The presiding judge had described her extreme arguments as the desperate flails of a drowning woman. Still, she refused to give up.
In rallying support, Gina enlisted help from various sources. Mama Ray was top on her list. Surely, her late brother’s first wife would jump at the opportunity to side with her. Together, they would crush Stella and win back the property. Gina had not been back to the high-brow area where Mama Ray lived since the latter moved back there with her sons. Her sister in law was surprised to see her.
‘Are we safe?’ Mama Ray asked with an unsure smile when Gina arrived. ‘For you to show up here must mean the world is about to end.’
‘Our mummy!’ Gina hailed her, laughing stiffly. ‘Is that how to welcome one of your own?’ She pointed outside. ‘I noticed a lot of the security guards from the estate, crowding round your gate. What are they doing there?’
‘Oh, just ignore them,’ Mama Ray replied. ‘They are waiting for more handouts. When they get tired, they will return to their duty posts.’
‘Come in and sit down first,’ her host urged, ignoring the query. She stepped into the kitchen for a few minutes while Gina made herself comfortable and soon came out again. ‘Seriously now, it’s been a long time since you visited us.’
‘Forgive me.’ Gina replied. ‘You know how it is. Life has kept us so busy. But what can we do?’ She opened her palms wide to emphasize her point. ‘I’ve always had you and the children in mind, just as I know you have me and mine. After all, we are family. You remember how long I lived with you? Nothing can replace what we shared all those years. Many times I felt closer to you than even my own brother.’
Mama Ray nodded agreeably. ‘Absolutely,’ she said.
‘You are our mummy,’ Gina continued. ‘Your people are my people. Your friends are my friends and those who trouble you are the same ones who are also troubling me.’
‘Ok! Stop there please.’ Mama Ray exclaimed in amusement. ‘Gina! You have come again. Who is troubling you this time?’
Gina adjusted herself in the armchair. ‘You are still asking?’ she said, surprised that her host would object to this smooth talk. ‘As if you don’t already know.’
A young girl entered with a tray that held a cold bottle of stout and a glass. Gina nodded in approval as it was set before her. She expected to be entertained and was glad to see that Mama Ray had not forgotten her usual. The two women watched silently as the girl opened the bottle and filled the glass with its contents. As she curtseyed and left, Gina took the refreshment and downed it thirstily.
‘I never liked her.’ she said, ‘that one who calls herself Stella, especially after what she did to you.’ She smacked her lips and refilled the half empty glass with the remaining liquid from the bottle. ‘You got the summons?’
‘I did,’ her host replied curtly.
‘Your deposition is scheduled for next month,’ Gina reminded her. ‘I trust you will give a favorable testimony. You know my brother would have wanted me to have that place.’ When there was no response, she raised a questioning eyebrow. ‘Or don’t you think so?’
‘Maybe he intentionally chose to forget about the property. Have you considered that?’
‘That’s impossible.’ Gina shook her head. ‘My brother never forgot anything. It was the illness that caused this lapse. It affected his mind terribly in those last few months.’
Mama Ray reflected. ‘Speaking of your brother,’ she said. ’He came to see us often. He would talk endlessly about how much he missed his family. One day, he said to me:
“Honey,” he called me honey,’ she recalled, letting out a soft laugh. ’He said, “Honey, do you remember when we were young and very much in love, how I boasted that I would be three times the minister my predecessors were. I vowed to accomplish what many had not been able to do throughout their tenures.”
‘I nodded and replied: “You did it, didn’t you?” I wasn’t flattering him. It was true. If ever there was a determined man in those days, it was Orobosa.’
“Indeed,” he agreed. “You were there as I clawed my way through the system, leaving no room for setbacks and taking every possible short cut. Now, I have seen and done it all. I’ve had the wealth, the power and the women.” There was a bit of guilt in his eyes as he mentioned that last one. Then he said to me: “Now I feel there’s nothing left for me to achieve.” ’
‘I had no words to reply him,’ Mama Ray concluded with a shrug. ‘So he left. It was the last time we spoke.’
Gina sipped the rest of her drink slowly as she listened. Then turning to her host with a strange look in her eyes, she said. ‘Our mummy, if we work together we can show that my brother never really abandoned you and the boys. He only moved you to a safe residence, away from the public glare while attending to state affairs during which time that wench stepped in and seduced him.’
Mama Ray let out a long loud sigh. She folded her hands over her midsection and stared out through the window. ‘When I received the summons to testify in court, I just had to drive over to the property to see it for myself. Now I have to ask; is that really the place you are hurting yourself over?’
Gina frowned. ‘It’s not just about the building...’ she began.
‘Ah!’ Her host interrupted her. ‘Where have I heard similar words before?’ She paused for a while in thought and then her eyes lit up. ‘Yes, I remember now. It was from my sons. They said to me: “Mum, it’s not about the shoes. It’s not about the wristwatch.” So I asked them: “What then is it about?” But they would not tell me.’
Gina stared at her, totally confused. ‘You’ve lost me,’ she said. ‘I have no idea what you are talking about.’
Her host forced a smile. ‘There was nothing specifically for me in the will, only that he named me as a co-administrator of his estate. He left it all to our children and wrote that he expected them to look after me.’
‘You don’t seem too happy with that decision.’ Gina observed.
‘Oh not at all,’ Mama Ray assured her. ‘Believe me that’s not what is causing the pain. I do well enough from my personal business and I have no doubt that my children will indeed take care of me - that is if they don’t kill each other first.’ She snapped her fingers over her head. ‘God forbid that such a thing should happen.’
The puzzled look returned to Gina’s face. ‘What do you mean?’
Mama Ray leaned back in her chair. ‘The bickering has not stopped. Those boys have gone berserk, fighting with each other over what their father owned.’
‘I thought everything was clearly spelt out in the will.’
‘Oh, it’s not the big things that caused the fights. It was the smallest items - their father’s gold wristwatches, his smart phones and designer perfumes - things which he never bothered to mention because he obviously felt were too insignificant.’ She laughed bitterly. ‘Imagine this: Ray, as the first son, is to inherit this house where they were raised. He came up with this notion that everything in the house is his as well, including the clothes in his father’s wardrobe. But Rex says no, that Ray is only entitled to the house and not what is in it.’ She beat her hands together. ’For three months they were not on speaking terms because Rex said Ray took his favorite of their father’s mobile phones. We had barely resolved that quarrel when another dispute arose over a pair of designer shoes. The funny thing is that their father had the biggest feet anyone has ever seen, so none of the boys could fit into his shoes. Yet, when I pointed this out, my sons said to me: “Mum, it’s not about the shoes.” She raised her eyebrow knowingly at Gina. ‘Does that sound familiar?’
“So what is it about” I asked.
“Mum, you wouldn’t understand,” was all they said.
“Understand what? Explain to me.” I pleaded with them. “Help me to understand.” But they couldn’t explain anything, so the drama continued.’
Mama Ray hissed. ‘I understand perfectly well. There was a will, but no legacy.’ She wiped the tear that slid down her cheek with the edge of her wrapper. ’Our family life had all but ended. Those two who came out of this same womb were now at each other’s throats. I tried to remind my sons that they are blood brothers. Then Rex did the unthinkable. He pointed at Ray and said. “He is no brother of mine.”
Ray responded that over his dead body would Rex lay a hand on any of the items in his house. When my sons started swearing and making those dangerous statements, I knew I had to step in and make a judgment call.’
Mama Ray tearfully related what she did the morning that followed. The boys had gone out, she was not sure where. Standing on the balcony, she called out to the mai-guard who sat leisurely on his bench with his radio close to one ear, and asked if he would like some new clothes. Barely waiting for his enthusiastic reply in the affirmative, she hurried back indoors. Inside the master bedroom, she opened what used to be her husband’s wardrobe. With its assortment of native and corporate attires, as well as a breathtaking range of accessories, the enclosed space could easily be valued at several millions of naira. She yanked a handful of clothes off their hangers, rushed back to the balcony and hurled them down. The mai-guard was still sorting through the first batch by the time she went in and returned to dispose of the second. He appeared stunned by this unexpected gift splash as he handpicked the clothes one after the other. He wasn’t moving fast enough for Mama Ray and she scolded him for being too slow. The wardrobe needed to be emptied before her sons returned. If they came home to find her doing this, they would try to stop her and she did not want to be stopped.
‘Call your friends to join you,’ she urged the mai-guard. ‘Get those things out of my sight before I come down there and burn them!’
Mama Ray swallowed hard as she related the story to Gina. ‘You should have seen me. I was like a crazed woman. Not until the last possible contentious item had gone over the balcony, did my sanity return. So you wanted to know why all the security men from the estate are loitering at the entrance of my house. Now you know.’
‘Ha! You gave those illiterates all those expensive things? How are they supposed to appreciate their value?’ Gina put both hands on her head and began to lament. ‘Why didn’t you call me? I would have come and helped you pack them away. Oh gosh! What a waste!’
‘I will throw you over the balcony as well, if I thought you came here to disturb my peace,’ her host declared, the craze returning to her eyes. ‘You don’t seem to understand. My sons used to be like this.’ She locked her two index fingers together to indicate their closeness. ‘But now they’ve turned into cat and mouse. They barely talk except if it is to fight. There’s not a moment’s peace in this house - and over what?’ She shook her head vigorously. ‘No, I had to do something.’
‘But did it end the bickering?’
‘For now,’ she replied with a shrug. ‘There’s nothing left to bicker over, is there? The idea was to redirect their anger away from each other, to me. I figured they would find it easier to forgive me for what I had done than to forgive each other. And I dared them, that if they really wanted the things back, they could go and fight those thuggish mai-guards for them rather than these wimpy fights with each other, then we would know how tough they really were. Guess what? That was the last we heard of it.’ She shrugged. ‘It was a poor remedy though. After all, they did say it was not about the clothes so my radical action has left me ill at ease.’ She wagged a warning finger at Gina. ‘The discord that crept into my family took me unawares. Now you want to bring your own. I advise you to drop this meaningless court scuffle. It’s an ill wind that blows no good. Besides I have a feeling - and you know this to be true - that if your brother had remembered that property, he would have willed it to my sons as well and you wouldn’t even have a case to battle in court. As for me, I’m not interested in tearing Stella down. She can have the house if she so desires. I just want my peace.’
‘And what about me?’ Gina persisted. ‘Where does that leave me?’ She reached for her glass and gulped down the last of its contents. ‘I can’t stop now. I’m neck deep already and must fight this battle to the finish. I was trying to sell the property before Stella came back and I got myself into a financial situation. If I lose the case, it would put me in dire straits.’
Mama Ray was unsympathetic. ‘Well leave me out of it,’ she said. ‘Or do you people want to kill me before my time like they did my husband?’
Gina did not reply. She stayed for five more minutes then got up, gave Mama Ray a perfunctory hug and left to try her luck elsewhere.
They were strong words indeed. Edwin was having a tough time dealing with the contents of the journal. He would be the last person to ever conform to another’s ideals of what his future should look like. Edede, with all her smooth poetry and proverbial expressions, ought to have realized that the early post colonial era was over. Pre-arranged marriages - or remarriages as the case may be - were almost a thing of the past. She had expressed a strong desire to orchestrate it all. But this was not an opera, it was real life - Edwin’s life - and he hated to think he was playing out a script or dancing to an old woman’s tune.
Mr. Aigbe, on the other hand, maintained that it was not such a bad thing since life itself was a divinely orchestrated script with some of the best performances marked by twists, turns and a measure of spontaneity. He argued that while many misunderstand their parts in the great saga, everyone was involved in some sort of role-play.
‘The truth is,’ the older man said. ‘Many people who know or hear about you have their own scripted version of your life, which may or may not align with the grand design. They decide what steps you must take in any given situation. It is usually an unwritten manual that exists in their heads - let’s call it an opinion. They may voice their mental script to others in the course of gossip or they may convey it directly to you as advice. If solicited and from the right heart, the latter can be invaluable after all, there is safety in godly counsel.’ He tugged at his grey beard. ‘From my youth I have, by examining the scriptures, been able to separate the gold from the dross.’
Edwin reflected. No doubt, since getting involved in Stella’s case, the two of them had been seeing each other more frequently. There was always a reason for her to call him up or for him to check in on her. Unfortunately, the last time that happened, they had not parted on a good note. Stella had reprimanded him for what she described as his aloof involvement in her legal battle and they had not spoken since then. Somehow he was glad for the space. Now that he had fulfilled his promise to secure her a lawyer, this was a good opportunity to pull away once and for all.
That annoying journal was still with him. It was out of sheer respect for the writer, and of course for Omore, that he did not rip out that last page and toss it into the trash bin. The safest thing now would be to return it as quickly as possible, to where it came from. Still brooding, he picked up a blank sheet of paper and wrote a note of his own - an English translation of those final paragraphs. He penned, as best as he could remember, all what Mr. Aigbe had related to him. He attached it to the back of the journal like an appendix, sealed the little book in a brown envelope and sent it to Omore immediately. As the dispatch boy left to run the errand, Edwin called her to say he was returning something of hers and explained that he hadn’t waited to deliver it in person since it was already long overdue. Needless to say, Omore was glad to be getting the journal back.
‘Have you been able to crack those lines?’ she asked. ‘I’m still itching to know.’
‘Well,’ Edwin replied ‘To make up for the delay, I’ve included a little added value which you’ll find at the back of the book.’
‘Can’t wait,’ she commented.
She wanted to know when next they would spend time together. Edwin thought for a while. It would be nice to see her again so he could determine how he really felt about her. He suggested they meet up before the start of a fresh week.