Richard Badmus was twenty and six years old when he got married to his wife. He was the only child of his parents. He had grown up with the silver spoon in his mouth. Richard was a fine-looking young man, lankily built, a little bit lighter than his wife was. He had finished with his education when he was twenty-two. His mother had wanted him to get married on time so he could produce her children she could not herself.
Richard didn’t come into the family on time, his mother waited for ten years before she had him, even after he came, there was none other. before she had him, she was already forty years. She got married late because she was building her own fortune.
Richard had taken over his father’s company when he retired, then he was just twenty and three, a year after he finished from school. His father was only waiting for him to graduate in order to let him into the business world. He had managed the company well ever since. His mother had been on his neck and he finally got married.
He could swear marriage was sweet; it was everything he ever dreamt it to be until recently that they were having hiccups which even became evident to outsiders.
Richard had known exactly what he would face in his in- laws’ house. He regretted calling Lillian’s phone the second time, now that he did, he knew he had to bear the penalty. He was already feeling shameful of the fact that he had not gone to visit in a long while, and now that he was going, it had to be to settle scores.
Debra’s call was not something he could refuse. He still did not know why he respected and feared her so much, even more than his own mother. If there was one thing, he could be very obdurate, but he knew he could not defy some people, like his mother and obviously Debra; she just would not tolerate such.
“Oga welcome, Madam don dey wait for you,” Musa said, robbing his palms together as if he was cleaning them.
“I know thank you.” Richard knew what Musa was looking for even though he did not ask; he gave him a slim wad of hundred naira note. Richard got down from his car and went inside, prepared. To his relief, Lillian was the only one in the living room and that gave him a moment to get himself together.
“My Lily” he said. Lillian who was sitting when he came in stood up immediately at the sound of her name, making it look like she just got the primary school command, up stand, greet! “How are you?” they hugged.
“I’m fine.” she managed to smile at him.
Debra left the kitchen when she heard Richard come in; she had seen him drive in from the kitchen pane“ I hope this hugging and smiles are not sham, because you can bet that am not the least fooled’’ Debra could hardly wait for them to finish the greetings before she started. “Richard, the reason why I called you here is to advise you.” Richard was still upstanding; Debra knew she was supposed to offer him a seat at least. “Sit down” she ordered.
Richard sat down adjacent Lillian and his mother, his gaze fixed on his shoes, he did not know whom to look, he certainly could not compete with Debra’s gaze and he did not want Lillian to fidget so he concentrated on his shoes, for a while.
Lillian’s brother who had been inside his room came out when he heard Richard was in the house; he did not sit down because he was angered. He leaned on the wall, by so doing facing Richard directly. He rested his gaze on him, observing every of his actions and reactions to what his mother was saying.
Richard could read the vexation on his face even on his mother’s, he felt uncomfortable and was just adjusting and taking different positions. He was caught in a web, He felt like a little child who was just been caught stealing. When he noticed that his mother –in -- law had opened her mouth to speak, he composed himself and sat transfixed.
Where she sat, she could not speak a word. All Lillian could do was to plead with Richard with her eyes. She knew that he would listen to whatever they wanted to say, but she had a feeling that he would spell it out on her. She began to brood over on what she would do when they got home, would she beg him or just keep mute as if nothing happened, she did not know. She had begun to live in fear again; the last twenty-four hours had been restorative and fortifying.
“Richard” Mrs Ola-Wright started. “If you want to fight, go meet Bash Ali and not turn my daughter into a punching bag. You have disfigured her face and now turn her beauty to something else.” As her mouth was talking, so also was her eyes and her hands, but Lillian kept pleading with her eyes. “Please” Debra continued.” I beg you; she’s the only daughter I have”
At this point, john who kept silent all the while spoke with such ease that Richard had not expected. “Or do you not want her again?” He knew they did not like the way he had asked, unadulterated. However, someone had to ask before he got her killed, he mused.
Richard who had been overcast looked at him with surprise not only because of how calm he had spoken, but also because of how candid he had questioned him. He knew what he wanted to say but did not know how, would they even believe him if he told them? He asked himself.
He looked from john to his wife, he noticed that she had changed her sitting position and was waiting anxiously for his reply. He shifted his gaze to Debra who was eyeing him spitefully. He discovered that john had become angry; he needed to give him an answer, an honest one, before he let loose his temper. He rested his eyes on Lillian. “I love her”. He proclaimed finally. He saw her heave a sigh, he knew she was under tension and was relieved by his declaration, which he actually meant.
John heard what Richard said but he was not convinced, he was a man and he knew what they could do. He sized up Richard with a glance and told him he wanted to see him briefly. He waited for Richard to stand up before he led the way outside. John had travelled two hours from school just to see his sister and her husband. He was not a man of many words, but whatever few he said were always meaningful and weighty.
Richard had known john not to be an easy-going person even though he was not a man of many words, he wondered how he would handle a case in court, and he knew he would not be satisfied with the three-word answer he gave him. However, before he left home, he had promised himself to be on his best behaviour, so he was trying hard, very hard not to lose his temper.
“Do you love my sister?” this time he laid emphasis on the word love and sister, he had asked him as mildly as he did the first time.
“I do, I sincerely do” he knew exactly the next question he was going to ask him, he had not even finished his thought when he heard it.
“So why do you beat her?”
He sighed heavily, now he could not look him in the eyes has he had done at first, but he felt his gaze lying heavily on him. It was now that he needed to answer to somebody that it dawned on him that he did not even know why he beat her. “I don’t know” He did not know when the word slipped out of his mouth, he had been carried away in his small thought and he had replied him insentience.
John was taken aback by the response he received; he had given him a lame answer because he knew people did things for reasons, how come Richard didn’t know why he beat his wife. “ do you derive pleasure in it?” even though it sounded absurd, he heard of cases like that, of people who beat because they derive pleasure in doing so.
“No” what pleasure could be in beating someone, he asked himself.
“Because if you do, the next time you touch her, you would be fighting behind bars.” John paused for the words to sink before he continued. “Need I remind you that in few months to come, I would have a wig, so be careful”
Richard understood perfectly what he was telling him, he wanted to tell him that he was sorry, but he knew he should be telling his wife. He wanted to tell him as a man to a man that he did not know what was wrong with him, but he knew he needed to tell a friend not his in- law. He wanted to tell him he would not beat her again, but he knew the promise could be lame.
The ride back home was a silent one. After Richard and john had their talk, Lillian's mother had told her to go and pack her bag. Debra had asked Richard to eat lunch which he refused politely. Who would go through such scenario and eat whatever he was offered, she mused.
The first word he said to her since they started back home was to remind her to use the seat belt, and it had been the last so far. She could recall that they had been stopped at a particular time because she didn't use the seat belt and it had cost them ten thousand naira. She wanted to tell him she needed something at the mart, but she didn’t know if he would listen or not. She had not been able to read him to decipher his mood, he has been unreadable that evening.
“Richard, I want to get something at the shopping mall.” Her voice was calm.
Richard knew he was driving, but he was lost in thought, he did not hear her speak.
She kept mute when he did not reply her, after some few minutes she took liberty to tell him again, now louder and clearer. She noticed that he had been out of space and her words had actually brought him back.
At first, he did not hear her and now that he did, he was not sure of what he heard, so he asked her what she said. She told him again and even called him 'dear'. If he was surprised that she called him that, he did not show it, it had been long since she called him so.
He stopped at the next supermarket he saw.
Lillian had not been comfortable with his silence so she decided to bring up the issue before she got out of the car.
“Richie, are you all right?” when she saw the look her question brought to his face, she knew she had started on a wrong foot, she could not take back the words but waited for his response.
Richard was not surprised or offended when she asked him the question; he had simply been confused. She had started calling him dear that day and all of a sudden, she had called his name, now he knew that he preferred her calling him other names than his own. When they were courting, she used to call him Ade mi that means my crown, when they got married, she would call him that and more but she had stopped all of a sudden and called him by his name when he had started to beat her. When she called him pet names he knew she was getting back her grooves, and he actually liked it, because before marriage she was not a boring soul, she had always been fun to be with.
“Am... am fine” he cluttered. There was a silence operating after he replied her, he knew what she was thinking but didn’t want her to, so he offered to follow her in to purchase whatever it is she wanted.
“Okay, thanks” she replied with a smile.
Richard discovered that the smile was the first true smile he was seeing on her that day. He wanted her to wear it through out that day, even forever, because she was always an angel when she did. Pictures of her smiling and laughing fluttered through his head, her smile had been one of the things that had bewitched him. Apart from the first time they had met, every other time he saw her, she was always smiling, and he knew that he had robbed her of it. He got out of the car as fast as he could, he rushed to the other side and opened the door for her, he saw the look on her face, and he knew she was stunned; he used to do that a long time ago, a very long time.
Lillian had not been able to understand him ever since the journey started; she asked herself if he had truly changed.
As Lillian was stepping out of the car, he was asking himself if he had really changed.
Had he really changed? They both marveled in their heads as they went into the store.
Inside the store, Lillian was picking all the things they needed in the house, Richard was right behind her not really concentrating, he was gazing at the goods on the shelf, not until when Lillian told him she was through did he remember that he had run out of shaving powder and needed one.
“Sorry Lilly, am out of shaving powder.” He perceived the look on her face but he knew she would not ask him questions, and he didn’t like it at times when she kept to herself. It was one of the things that had kept them away from each other.
“I will get it” she offered half-heartedly as she was familiar with the product he uses.
“We will get it” he said with a forced smile which he wished was true. He had not been his self lately, and as much has he tried to, he had not been able to decipher what was plaguing him. He knew he was not getting much pressure from his workers; neither was he getting any from his father and mother who were not even in the country.
However, he knew for sure that whatever problems his wife was giving him cannot be compared to that he was giving her and as far as he could tell, he was the one plaguing her. It was her voice that brought him back from his short cogitation.
“How many should I pick?” she asked softly.
“Two“ He noticed she was struggling with the basket because of its weight, he offered to help her and she let him without resistance. Just as they turned to go to the cashier, they saw a tiny beautiful creature staring at them; the both of them were puzzled. From Richard’s little observation, the baby couldn’t be more than eighteen months, unconsciously, he smiled at her.
“Moma” the baby called out
“Wow” came another voice from behind them. “It’s a lovely kid you have here” the man who had seen the baby walk up to them told Richard in particular. “She looks just like your wife, they are lovely” he said as he strolled passed them.
Richard wanted to tell him that he was actually seeing the baby for the first time just like the man was, but he knew it was lame to say so; he opened his mouth and didn’t know what to say, before he could think of any other thing he heard Lillian say thanks and immediately he repeated the word.
Richard looked, from his wife to the baby and just like the man had commented they share almost the same face, or he wished they did.
The baby was still calling Moma, Lillian could not point out if she was calling her moma or she wanted her Moma, just when she lunched forward to carry her, the mother who did not possess half of her daughter’s beauty emerged.
“Bibi, I have been looking for you” the baby turned to her mother when she heard her voice.
“She was actually looking for you too” she said with a smile after locating her voice. Lillian wished the mother could go back for a minute so she could feel the baby in her hands.
“Good afternoon please, am sorry” Bibi’s mother greeted.
“Good afternoon” What is her name? She inquired.
“Lewa. Omolewa” the proud mother replied.
Richard who had not said anything but was studying the mother’s contrast beauty replied. “Indeed, she is exactly what her name implies, beauty. “
“Thanks. We have to leave now” her teeth flashed in happiness as if she was the beautiful one. She carried her baby and left them.
Lillian watched them leave, she wanted to feel the baby in her arms; she wanted to feel her own baby in her arms.
Richard who was doing more of thinking and observing than talking knew what his wife was thinking; she liked the baby. Omolewa was fairly dark and very much pretty, and for the while she was with them, she wore her own smile.
He wanted to make her smile, again. “You are beautiful” he said almost bashfully, he knew she would not believe he was telling her that after a long time. She was surprised and didn’t give him an answer.
“You are beautiful” he repeated with utmost sincerity and poise.
“I have known that since I was seven” she started laughing, the first true laugh she had had that day. Richard who was happy not only to have made her smile but also to laugh joined the laughter as they walked to the cashier.