Debra was a hard working person full of valour and filled with joie de vivre. She had been a good wife to her husband and a good mother to her children. She was one woman who believed in procedures and principles and that was why she had been heartbroken when her daughter had eloped with her boyfriend after she and her husband had refused them wedding. She cried for so many days after her disappearance, she knew what it was not to get parents’ blessings, besides she was too young for marriage.
When Debra was young, she did not get much attention from her mother as she was giving her own children, because her mother had too many of them and she was always busy at work. Debra vowed never to be like her mother, she decided to have few children, which she did, and to be everything to them. Fortune smiled on her when she married her husband, he had reasoned with her because he experienced almost the same as her.
Her daughter had come back begging for forgiveness seven months after she ran away from home, but it had been too late because her father had passed, He had died of high blood pressure. Ever since she and her daughter had been talking excessively on phone to recover the lost times.
From where she stood on the upper tier, she was able to see beyond her gate, she stood there in anticipation of her daughter. Just when she was about slipping into the living room, she sighted a coming vehicle; she paused only to discover that it was a yellow and black lined taxi, she was certain it could not be her daughter so she went inside. Few minutes after she got in, from where she sat inside, she heard her gate open.
“How are you, Musa?” Lillian asked their old time concierge. From the quick scan she made, she discovered that he had really aged and was limping on a leg.
Musa, however did a quick scrutiny on his small madam as he always called her, he did not fail to notice that she was looking ravishing but also paled and pained. “I dey fine small madam” he helped her with the handbag Mary had carried earlier.
Lillian knew Musa to be a bit nosy, if she gave him room, he would start asking her silly questions. Like he had once asked her if she knew why John did not like him. Therefore, before he could get the chance, she engaged him in a talk she knew would last until they got inside. “What happened to your leg? The last time I saw you, you were as fit as a fiddle,” Lillian asked as she led the way.
“Small madam, na accident o.” As he followed her inside the house, he narrated the story of the event that made him one and half legged. Musa dropped the bag on the couch in the visitors’ waiting room as Debra and Lillian hugged. He went back to keep the gate.
Debra hugged tighter. She had really missed her daughter; she released Lillian from her firm grasp and gave her a critical assessment as if she was looking for the facts in Mary’s report. “Oh my God” She held Lillian’s face in her hand. “What is this blotch on your face,” she sighed. Lillian remained silent. I’m sure you will not lie about it this time,” she said.
The last time she had seen her, she had a similar patch only that this time, if she had not looked closely, she would not have noticed, but she did. She looked closely, like a mother would and when she asked her what happened to her, she had told her she fell and hit her face to the wall. “Lillian,” she startled.
Lillian knew the words she was going to say. She yanked her bag from where it was lying, on the couch. “Not here, Mum. Let us go inside at least. She did not think her mother or anyone else would notice, at least not that soon. Before she left home, she took her time to use all the makeover she would not use normally. She made sure she sealed her face with foundation, concealer and powder; she even added a little blush on the blotch but still her mother still knew.
Everything had changed from what it was the last time she came, the change was sweeping. There had been a new set of chairs, electronics and appliances. Lillian noticed that the paintings on the walls were new. She sized up the whole living room with just a glance until her eyes rested on the painting she had bought for her father on his fiftieth birthday. A curve found its way to her face; she became aware that it was the first time she was actually smiling that day and the smile broadened. She knew she had stayed away too long from home. Next to the old painting was a new one, a woman breast-feeding her baby. She only gave it a glance without giving an interpretation to it.
Debra had only managed to get inside the living room as she flooded her daughter with a river of questions. “Did he beat you again?” she asked impatiently. She did not wait to be replied before asking another question. “Why did you come in a taxi, ehn?”
Debra did not see Lillian drop from the taxi, but from where she had stood on the tier the only car she saw on the unfilled street was the taxi, and obviously, no car was driven in.
“Mummy?” she cut her short. “You are choking me.” she sounded as if she was going to throw up.
“I am sorry, but why did...” she continued with another questions as Lillian interrupted her.
“I came to see how you are faring and not to be choked with questions I cannot give answers to...” She responded with her voice pitched.
Debra knew that whenever she sounded like that, she was pissed, but she was not ready to let go. She would not let go, not until she got answers to her questions. “You will be choked. ”She flared as she stood from where she had sat beside her “And you will give answers to those questions and more. ”There had been a sudden swing in her disposition; her eyes grew wild as she gazed at her daughter, but she was only being disturbed and defending not hard-hitting.
Lillian knew she was wedged, and the only thing she thought she could do was to warn her to stop.
“Or else what?” Debra asked more incensed.
“I would leave, at once. ”She stood up, fumbled with the handle of her bag; she noticed that her mother had been silenced and thought her plan had work.
Debra was unable to stop herself from getting angrier as memories from the past ran quickly through her. “Leave.” She started with a very low but livid voice. “Go back to the beatings,” she nodded in pity. “At least, you left before, got yourself into this mess and got your father killed. Ah! Oma se o, ikubolaje” she lamented; clasping her hands to her chest with her legs shaking incessantly.
The handbag she had managed to carry fell from her hand, her eyes and mouth gaped. She was thunderstruck, speechless, stock-still, sentiment distended in her, tears dropped from her eyes. She had never given it a thought until now that she actually killed her father with her absconding. She fell to the floor and started snivelling. The words had caught her off guard.
Debra became calm. She felt sorry at the sight of her sobbing daughter, but she knew the only thing she could have done at that moment was to let out her bottled up anger for her erstwhile misdeed. For a while, she allowed her cry before she raised her from the floor where she had fallen to the settee. “Am sorry Lillian” she pleaded. “you will understand this when you become a mother someday”
Lillian busted into fresh tears. Debra was taken aback; she knew she had said something that intensified the crying. “Honey, is it something I said?”
“No.” she managed to say with a sniff. It was then she gave a critical look at the painting of the mother and child she had ignored at first. She wanted so badly to carry her own baby. She wiped her tears, she knew it was time she spoke, since she had no friend or confidante, she had to spill everything to her mother, she had to tell her inconveniences.
“Mummy” Just when she was about to start, there was a shaking force which shook her bag before it gave a sound. Lillian opened her bag, rummaged around for her phone; she found it after the second ring and picked it.
“Hello.” She managed to call out with a clarified voice.
With the look on Lillian’s face, Debra could tell that not all was well. “What is wrong,” she interrupted.
“But I just got here,” Lillian replied, more as a plea than a fact. “Traffic, you know how bad the roads are.” Before she could continue, the call ended. She saw the inquisitive stare her mother gave her; she started to give her answers before she asked.
“It was my husband.”
“I know.” The stare and shrug told Lillian that she needed more than she already knew.
“He wants me home soon.” Lillian shrugged and scoffed as if to say even if she flew a jet she would not make it in the time he gave her.
“No way” Debra sprang up and paced her living room pedantically. “No way,” she repeated. “You just got here not more than thirty minutes ago. Does he even allow you to go out?”
Lillian shook her head.
“Does he take you out?
“On the odd occasion.”
Debra came close to her. “Lillian, what exactly is your problem?”
Lillian stared into the space as if her answers lied there. “Mummy, I don’t know. He beats me.” She finally pushed the words out.
Debra sat beside her and held her hands. “Why?” she knew getting angry will not get them anywhere.
“I think he is pressured” she knew she was lying it was more than that.
Debra smiled. She knew her daughter too well, she had just done a covering up, any woman would do that for her husband, she thought. “I think he wants a baby”
“I need a baby too” she was beginning to open up.” but I don’t make them, God does” she raised her voice to make the last two words sound like a question.
“I want a grandchild too, but as it is, we have to depend on God.” Lillian’s phone rang again. “Is that your husband again?”
“Yes.” She was in trouble, if she told him she had not left her mother’s house, she would have it again, that night.
“Give me the phone “Debra yanked the phone from her daughter’s clutch and answered the call. “Hello” she listened to the voice on the other end of the receiver. “You will do no such thing to my daughter you brute.”
Lillian gasped at her mother’s response.
“Maybe you should not have allowed her come if you wouldn’t let her stay. Listen, and carefully” she paused so that her instructions would sink in his head. “You will not send your driver, but you will come and pick her up yourself tomorrow after we come back from church.” She paused again for his reply. “That is good, because I need to talk to you. Goodbye” she ended the call before he could add to the few words he already said.
Lillian was wordless. She could only gaze uncomprehendingly at her mother who was doing the same to her.
“You are sleeping over; we have a lot to discuss. Go inside, take a shower and I will set the table. Your brother will be back soon” she rose up, just as she did; the electricity power supply went off. “Oh NEPA” she lamented. “I had better give my vote to Elebe this coming election, he has promised to give us good light, I just hope he will not fail us as the others did. “Musa!” she shouted as she left Lillian.
For all the taking she did, Lillian did not utter a word, and it was not as if she was expecting her opinion, because she just said her mind. As if that was an answer to her unasked request. She watched her mother evaporate into the kitchen. She had ably diverted from the issue on ground and dived into another, entirely opposite. She knew she could not call her back now or reversed anything she had said, she knew her mother too well, even if you ask her for reconsideration, it must be after you have carried out her instructions. Her principle was ‘obey before complains’ she was sleeping there and that was final.
She knew when her mother was bluffing and when she was serious. She had mentioned her brother, was he not supposed to be in school, or had she called him? She knew that things would not go easy when her brother comes.
Just when she wanted to scream Musa’s name, the lights came on, she could hear the racket coming from where the lights had generated. She stood up after what seemed to be ages; to do unerringly what her mother asked her. She got to the painting and could not pass it by without touching it; her eyes became damp, she looked the painting to the one she bought her daddy and memories from the past overflowed her.
Lillian had wanted to surprise her daddy by giving him something he cherished so much but never got as a gift. She knew her father liked works of art, but she had a hard time trying to figure out the one he would really appreciate. She could not ask anybody in the family for their opinion because it was meant to be a surprise, but as her luck would have it, she found just one out of the paintings where she had wanted to buy captivating, and she decided to buy it.
The painting had been of a little child giving something that she herself could not make out to the elderly man. Now that she was staring, she was seeing the reversed side of it, the painting was suggesting just one meaning to her; that the lad was taking rather than giving. Although she did not want to admit it, she thought herself to be the lad, and the man her father.
But could she have taken his life? She pondered as her mother’s indictments ran back to her mind. She moved back to give the painting enough scrutiny, hoping she would see what she saw when she bought it. But she knew she could not have bought the wrong gift because she went with Richard.