I’m not even going to say much, other than get your tear buckets ready.
The entire living room was decorated with colourful banners, ribbons and balloons. The sofas were pushed to the wall and little chairs were arranged in fours around small circular tables, leaving a little space ahead as a dance floor. Every table and chair was covered with fancy lilac table and chair covers.
A larger table that held assorted snacks was placed at one side of the room, gift packs with Zozo’s face printed on them were placed beside the table on the floor. Medium-sized speakers were placed at strategic points in and outside the house, playing both children and Nigerian hit songs.
You guessed it, today was Chizolum aka Zozo’s birthday. I decided to go all out on her birthday party despite Ijeoma’s protests. The first two birthdays Zozo had- to put it nicely- were not it and I wanted this one to be a very memorable one, to make up for the other birthdays.
Children from Zozo’s class loitered around the premises, parents of the children stood at corners discussing amongst their selves. We had a face painter outside creating different beautiful designs on the face of some of the children, a large bouncing castle on the lawn with kids lined up to go in and an MC hosting a dance competition between two little girls.
The party was in full blast and Zozo was having the time of her life, dressed in an adorable light purple princess gown with big flower patterns and a little tiara balanced on her head. It was almost time to cut the cakes and I was searching for Ijeoma around the house.
I walked into the kitchen to find Ijeoma mindlessly staring outside the window. She was spotting an unexplainable sad look on her face and for someone who was hosting a birthday party for her daughter, she didn’t quite look elated.
As I approached her, I look outside the window to see if I could find what seemed to be upsetting her but I was met with a view of the pool.
“Hey” I said gently placing a hand on her shoulder
She slightly jerked at my touch. “Oh hey”
“Are you okay? You don’t look particularly happy” I inquired worriedly.
She immediately faked a smile. “No, I’m fine”
“Are you sure?” I said not convinced
“Yeah” she widened her fake smile.
I lowered my voice and moved closer to her. “Is this about our conversation the other day?”
“What?” Her eyebrows furrowed in genuine confusion before relaxing with realization. “Oh, no. I’m good”
She tapped my shoulder as some form of assurance that I didn’t buy at all. She walked over to one of the drawers and picked up a cake knife.
“I’ll just take this out” she raised the knife to me before walking out of the kitchen.
My eyes turned to slits as I watched her walk out of the kitchen.
Why would she lie about what was making her upset?
Was I missing something here?
It was definitely not the discussion we had the other day because she clearly didn’t have it on her mind. I could still remember every bit of the conversation and I was completely sure it wasn’t it.
I had just walked into the house after long, tiring hours of work at the hospital. It was a couple of minutes after 10 pm and all I wanted to do was have a little dinner that would keep me from getting up at early hours in the morning hungry and head off to bed.
I found Ijeoma sitting on the edge of the three-seater sofa with her head hung low, tapping her feet nervously against the tiles.
“Hey babe” I said
She looked up and gave me a wry smile. “Hi”
“Is everything okay? Is Zozo okay?” I asked worriedly
“Zozo’s fine” she stood to her feet. “I need you to sit down, please”
I gave her a quizzical look. “What’s going on?”
“Just... come and seat down, please” she gestured to the sofa.
“Okay...” I drawled out as I walked over to the sofa.
I placed my briefcase gently on the floor by the foot of the sofa before taking a seat. I looked up at Ijeoma expectantly and she released a deep sigh.
“I know you’re going to say you told me so but just try to hear me out” she started out.
“Okay” I nodded
“My boss tried to kiss me” she blurted out.
“Your boss tried to do what?” I said not believing my ears right now.
She gave me a wary look. “He tried to kiss me... but I promise I didn’t let it happen”
I remained quiet as I tried to process what she had just said. I didn’t want to shout ‘I told you so’ because that would just be rubbing it in and from the look on her face, she was feeling really bad. I had to be really careful about what I said next but before I could even utter a word, Ijeoma went on a full rant.
“I’m so sorry that I was being really difficult the other time you pointed it out. I shouldn’t have even doubted you... I mean you’re a guy, you should know when things like this would happen and I was being really unreasonable—”
I held her by both of her arms. “Babe, stop”
She looked into my eyes. “I’m sorry”
“There’s nothing to be sorry about. You don’t control how other people feel” I said calmly
She released a sigh of relief. “What are we going to do?”
“What do you want to do? It’s your decision to make. Whatever you decide, I’ll support you” I told her
She walked over to the sofa and dropped herself into the seat.
“I really like working there and to be honest, I don’t want to leave. On my way back home, I thought really hard about the whole thing and I thought I should talk to him about keeping our work relationship completely work-related” she looked up to me for a sign of support.
“That’s completely fine with me. As long as he doesn’t try anything funny with you, I’m good” I said firmly.
She let out an excited squeal and gave me a big hug. “I thought you would stop me from working there”
“I would never. It was always your decision to make” I gave her a genuine smile.
“God... how did I get so lucky?” she looked deep into my eyes.
“I’m the lucky one” I said earnestly.
“I love you” she puckered her lips at me
“I know” I said jokingly
She lightly hit my chest and chuckled. She tried to pull away but I pulled her back and wrapped my arms around her waist.
“I love you too” I bent down and claimed her lips with mine.
I walked out of the kitchen and found everyone was gathered around Zozo. She was standing in front of her three medium-sized cakes, smiling excitedly. She looked up from her cakes and her eyes met with mine. The next words that proceeded out of her mouth, no one could’ve prepared me for them.
“Daddy come!!” she waved me over to them.
I literally froze in my steps and my mouth hung slightly agape. The look of surprise on Ijeoma’s face indicated that she didn’t put Zozo up to it.
Was it a slip of tongue? Or did she really mean it?
People like Fisola, Ijeoma and a couple of my work colleagues like Dr. Tiwa and Dr. Hafsat who understood what was going on looked to me with looks of surprise and elation. I had basically talked their ears off about how much I loved Zozo like my own daughter and how I longed for her to call me that five-letter word.
Now that it was actually happening, I didn’t even know how to feel. A lot of emotions were going through me all at once.
Was this even real? I would be really bummed out if it wasn’t.
Zozo got impatient, waiting for me to make my way to them. She walked around the table and made her way to me like a little boss lady.
“Daddy come on. We wanto cut the cake” she took my hands and pulled me along.
She just called me daddy twice. This was definitely not a slip of tongue.
I excitedly picked her up and raised her in the air. “Yes!!!!!”
A whooping sound was heard among the crowd and a couple of clap sounds followed. Before we knew it, everyone was clapping in the living room, those who knew what was going on and those who had no idea what just transpired. They all just clapped.
Zozo let out a giggle before giving the most beautiful smile I had ever seen. She had no idea what she had just made me the happiest man in the world right now.
Ijeoma walked over to us with tears of joys streaming down her face. I pulled Ijeoma over to us and we had a very warm, happy and tearful family hug.
I didn’t even know I had tears streaming down my face until Zozo used her little, soft palms to wipe my face.
“Don’t cry” Zozo said
Ijeoma chuckled as she wiped the tears stains away from her eyes as did I.
Nothing could take away the feeling of accomplishment and fulfilment that filled my chest at this moment. I was in the presence of the two girls I loved most in the whole world, nothing could ever compare to this.
I felt all kinds of giddy and emotional writing this chapter.
Your thoughts, please.
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