Avery ran a hectic schedule with long working hours. But Imade loved her job, demanding as it was. She barely found time for social activities anymore, ever since her relationship with Dapo spiraled downhill, with only a baby boy to show for it.
As she sat at her mahogany desk, in her crisp dark colored skirt suit, her mind travelled back to that bizarre day when she initially arrived in the United Kingdom. She was walking down the crowded streets, feasting her eyes on the fine items displayed through the shop windows. As she rounded a bend, a strange old man with unkempt hair stopped to ask her for some spare change. She shook her head briefly and looked away. The man stood close by, studying her intensely as he puffed on his cigarette until Imade shifted uncomfortably and hurried off.
‘Does your beau know you’re pregnant?’ he called after her.
She stopped in her tracks. What on earth did he mean? Was he a prophet in disguise or what? She touched her belly and looked at him questioningly. The man smiled, revealing a stained set of teeth.
‘I can see it in your walk,’ he explained.
Flushed with embarrassment, she turned round quickly and walked away. She had been on her way to the clothing store, but headed to a pharmacy instead. The test confirmed the old man’s words. A sinking feeling crept over her as her mind went back to her last visit to Port-Harcourt, where so much had transpired between herself and Dapo. She left the pharmacy and hurried home. Placing a long distance call, she broke the news to him. Dapo was silent.
‘Say something!’ she urged, on the verge of tears.
‘You’re not going to keep it, are you?’
Imade bit her lip. He could have said anything but that. ‘What are you suggesting?’ she quizzed.
‘You know what I mean,’ he replied decisively. ‘We’re both not ready for a baby.’
She tried to reason with him, but he wouldn’t listen. The more she talked, the more distant he became. She didn’t hear from him over the next couple of weeks. Feeling neglected, she ran up her phone bills trying to reach out to him.
‘What’s happening to us?’ she asked him, one afternoon.
‘What happened to you?’ He demanded in response. ‘How could you let it happen? You should have been more careful about the baby.’
‘You had something to do with it, you know,’ she argued. ‘You make it sound like it’s all my fault.’
But he was cranky and kept snapping at her. Imade wasn’t in the best of moods either. With her family and friends thousands of miles away, she felt alone and confused. She needed someone to hug her and assure her that everything would be fine. The hostility she was receiving from Dapo was not what she had bargained for. They quarreled.
Imade took it all in her stride, pouring all her energy into her program. She was six months gone, when he returned her call for the first time since she broke the news to him. It was the phone call she had been dreading; he was ending what was left of their relationship. They hadn’t spoken since that day. Dapo never bothered to get in touch with her, since her return to Nigeria to ask about his son. Imade heard later from Aisha that he met someone else and got married.
‘I am sorry it had to end this way,’ her former boss told her. ‘I have seen Dapo break quite a few hearts. I was hoping that with you, it would be different.’
‘In all fairness, you did try to warn me.’ Imade responded, hoping the quiver in her voice did not betray how upset she really felt.
She sat in her office at Avery and mused for a while longer. Recalling Dapo’s rejection reopened an old wound for her, but the hope of seeing Taye again was like a balm on the cut. They were both extremely busy, with Taye working in a private hospital and she occupied with settling into her banking duties, so time flew by before he eventually blocked a date on his calendar to pay her a visit.
Taye came on a Saturday afternoon, his face lighting up when he saw her, as it had done so many times before. Iye was out shopping for a customer. She had taken Ehis with her and Imade had the house to herself. As he stepped into her home, she observed how much he had changed. He had added some weight and his lanky frame had given way to a sturdier build. His skin was fresher and even the large round glasses that irked her so much in the past had been replaced with smaller oval-shaped frames. He looked good.
‘See your rosy cheeks,’ she commented. ‘Being a doctor must be good business.’
He laughed, his deep short gasps echoing round the living room. ‘Being a banker must be even better. How’s your job?’
‘I’m fully settled now,’ she replied. ‘Avery seemed the best fit for me among the larger multinational companies that came recruiting at the career fair. Looking back, I’m glad I took their offer; it’s been great so far.’
‘I’m sure you’ll make an excellent banker,’ he told her.
She blushed shyly at his compliment, as a burst of admiration welled up in her. It was not just Taye’s physical appearance that thrilled her; there was something about the way he spoke. He seemed more mature and his voice carried a calmness that was different from the boyish exuberance she had always known him for.
‘So, when are you and Dapo getting married?’ he asked suddenly.
She shook her head ‘We’re not. We broke up.’
He was visibly shocked. ‘Why? You both seemed so happy.’
‘We couldn’t make it work. He has moved on, and so have I.’
She wanted to make it clear that she was available again and hoped he caught her drift. Wittingly, she veered the conversation away to a more pleasant topic and he took the cue. As they reminisced on old times, neither one noticed as the afternoon flew by. Imade was serving him a second round of chilled fruit juice when the door bell rang.
‘Mummy is back,’ she announced, placing the tray by his side.
Her heart fluttered lightly as it dawned on her that Taye was about to meet her son. For all their catching up, she had forgotten to mention Ehis. Well, she now had a son, so what? She was still the same sweet young girl he had always loved. She began rehearsing her introduction as she unlocked the door, but stopped midway. Her knees almost buckled when she swung the door open to find Dapo standing there.
‘Hello Imade,’ he said with a smile.
A lump formed in her throat and she swallowed hard. ‘What on earth are you doing here?’
‘May I come in?’
When she didn’t reply, he stepped across her and entered the living room. He paused when he saw Taye, a look of recognition crossing his face. Both men attempted a friendly handshake.
‘Where’s my son?’ Dapo demanded, turning back to her.
‘Could we talk outside?’ she said, feeling embarrassed. ‘I’m sure you’ve noticed that I have company.’
Dapo didn’t move. ‘Why didn’t you call me when you got back to Nigeria? You know I would want to see him. I flew in all the way from Port Harcourt when I heard you were in the country.’
Taye rose from his seat. ‘Umm, Maybe I should go.’ He picked his keys and stepped out of the living room. Imade watched tongue-tied, as he left.
‘Rekindling an old flame?’ Dapo asked as Taye exited through the front door. ‘I see you haven’t lost your charm on that guy.’
‘Dapo, you can’t just show up at my house unannounced like this!’
‘I tried your old number, but it didn’t go through. It was Aisha who told me you were back.’ He looked around the room. ‘Where’s my son?’ he asked again.
‘He’s not here.’
‘Then I’ll wait till he gets here.’
He looked ready to make himself comfortable on the couch that Taye had just vacated but Imade stopped him quickly. She needed to clear her head. But Dapo insisted on remaining there until he saw Ehis.
‘Maybe you should come back tomorrow. You’ll get to see him then.’
Anything to get rid of him. After much persuasion, Dapo agreed to come back the following morning. Imade stood motionless as he walked out, her hand still resting on the door knob as she tried to regain her composure.
The night passed slowly. Imade lay awake, rolling the events of the previous evening over in her mind. How dare Dapo barge in on her like that? What right did he have to come here, asking for Ehis? She knew she should have given him a tongue lashing, but she had been so shocked by his sudden appearance and something within her held back. She got up long before daybreak and began cleaning the house, working away her agitation. She was still watering the plants when Dapo arrived. It was Iye who brought Ehis out to meet him, neglecting to mention who Dapo was. The boy was too young to understand anyway. Ehis rested comfortably as Dapo balanced him on his lap.
‘He takes to people easily,’ Iye explained.
‘Of course he should take to me,’ Dapo said proudly. ‘I’m his father.’
Imade stood aside, arms akimbo and willing herself to remain calm as she watched father and son play with each other. Dapo drew Ehis closer to him.
‘I want him to come and visit me in Port Harcourt,’ he told her. ‘It would take the burden off you for a while.’
Ehis’ mother bit her lip and stepped forward. ‘I never told you he’s a burden.’
‘Yeah, but it must be difficult pursuing a career while tied down with extra baggage.’
She winced, as his words stung her. ‘Extra baggage?’ she repeated. ‘Is that how you see your son?’
‘Of course not; I’m just trying to make a point. Or don’t you sometimes feel like you could have achieved more if you hadn’t had him?’
Frowning at his careless utterances, Imade let out a short breath. ‘I have no regrets,’ she replied. ‘And no, Ehis can’t come to see you. He’s too young to make the trip.’
Dapo glared at her and she stared back defiantly. Ehis chortled loudly, cutting through the tension. He slid off his father’s lap and scurried towards his mother with arms outstretched, forcing both of them to turn their gaze towards him. Eventually Dapo left, promising to visit him again soon. He offered Imade money for Ehis’ upkeep but she declined. For the past two years, she had handled the responsibilities alone. She didn’t need any favors now.
The storm clouds gathered over the city of Port Harcourt and the sky grew dark and gloomy. Inside the Kolade’s home, Dapo called his wife into their living room and sat her down.
‘There’s something you need to know.’ Letting out a deep breath, he announced to her that he had a son.
She grimaced, trying to make sure she heard him correctly. Dapo explained to her that he had been estranged from his son’s mother since the birth, but now, he decided it was time to find them.
She was enraged. ‘Why did you keep it a secret all this while?’ she fumed. ‘We receive some unpleasant news from the doctor and then suddenly you remember you have a son?’
‘I never forgot,’ he corrected. ‘I’m just trying to bring some hope into this hopeless situation.’
Bolts of lightning flashed through the sky accompanied a few seconds later by loud crashes of thunder. A steady rush of rain began to pour. Tara felt tired. It wasn’t physical tiredness, it was an emotional fatigue. When the doctor told her some months ago, that she wouldn’t be able to conceive, she was shattered and had looked to her husband for solace. But now, he seemed to be referring to her when he called their situation hopeless.
‘He’s my son,’ he said. ‘And he could be our future.’
Tara sank into a nearby chair and folded her arms in her laps, her eyes fixated on the ground.
‘Dapo, are you planning to leave me?’ she asked.
He was jolted by her question. ‘No! Why on earth would you think such a thing?’
‘Is there hope for this marriage?’ she continued. ‘I mean if I can’t give you a child, then...’ her voice trailed off and she sat there, staring blankly at the floor.
Dapo went to her. He tried to hug her but she pushed him away, her anger resurfacing despite her fears.
‘Don’t expect me to accept this boy of yours with open arms,’ she snapped at him.
‘All I want is for you to meet him and get to know him,’ Dapo continued. ‘I’m arranging with his mother to bring him over.’ He paused and bent down beside her. ‘He’s adorable, Tara. You will love him.’
He said the last statement like an order rather than an intuition. Tara sprang up from the chair and pushed past him. She wanted to get out of the house. He called to her to wait, but she dashed across the living room, through the front door and into the pouring rain.
Taye deserved an explanation, maybe even an apology. Anyone would have been embarrassed to find themselves caught in the middle of a clash between two exes. Imade only hoped she could find the right words to say to him. She dialed his number and waited anxiously. Taye seemed cheerful enough when he answered the call.
‘I’m really sorry about yesterday,’ Imade began. ‘Dapo’s visit was so unexpected. I didn’t mean to cause you any embarrassment.’
‘It’s you I’m concerned about,’ he replied softly. ‘Are you alright?’
He had always been so caring. She assured him that she was fine.
‘Dapo asked for his son?’ he continued.
‘Yes, we had a child together. I wanted to tell you earlier, but the timing wasn’t right.’ She paused. ‘I would love for you to meet him.’
‘Meet who? Your ex?’
‘No Taye, I meant my son.’
‘So, are you guys planning to get back together?’ he asked, as though he hadn’t heard her last statement. ‘He mentioned that he came all the way from Port Harcourt to see you.’
‘To see his son,’ Imade corrected him. ‘Dapo is married now and I have moved on with my life. The only thing that could make our paths cross is Ehis.’
The line was quiet for a while, with only the sound of Taye’s breathing. She waited for his response.
‘Imade,’ he said finally. ‘Things are different now. We’ve both changed so much. There’s a lady I met at the hospital, her mother was a patient of mine. We’ve grown quite close and she means a lot to me.’
It was Imade’s turn to be shocked. ‘Why didn’t you mention her before?’ she asked with a frown.
‘The same reason you didn’t mention Ehis. The timing wasn’t right. Besides, nothing is settled yet, I’m just about to pop the big question.’
Taye joked that since he and Imade were sworn best friends, they should break tradition and make her his best man when he and the young lady were ready to tie the knot. The joke fell flat as a stab of jealousy pierced her heart. It seemed unimaginable that Taye could be interested in anyone but her. He had loved her for as long as she could remember. Was he backing out now because she had a son? Had her life become too complicated for him to handle?
‘I am not sure how to react to this,’ she told him frankly.
‘You could start by congratulating me,’ he replied. ‘I am about to marry the woman of my dreams.’
She thought she was the woman of his dreams.
‘Congratulations Taye,’ she said without enthusiasm.
‘Listen,’ he concluded, his voice serious again. ‘You’re a wonderful woman. I may not be the right man for you, but I’m sure you’ll meet that special someone soon.’
Taye had meant to comfort her, but his words didn’t produce the desired effect. Imade felt broken and left in the cold.