“Bia, Nkechi, which 16-year-old girl still writes things in her diary? One day, I will take that silly thing from you and go through it, if I find anything that is close to my name in it, you will smell pepper!”
I was back home; back to walking on egg shells. I and my dad had spent the Christmas holiday in our village in Awka, last year while my mum stayed with my sister, Chinwe, in Lagos. The yuletide season always ended with a rather unexplainable misunderstanding between my mum and dad. Daddy was always eager to spend it in the village, while my mum had countless social events to attend inLagos during the season, hence the clash.
The only times she went to the village were: daddy’s chieftaincy coronation and the burial of my grandma. Both visits did not take more than six days of her presence in all. Visiting the village was just not my mum’s thing and sadly, that was a fact my dad never seemed to get.
You see, my mum and dad met in the States during their Master’s Programme. Daddy had told me sweet stories of their love life there:
He met her on his first day at school. That day, he had been destabilized from resuming two weeks later than the resumption date because his parents had to rally around to meet up with his fees.
He stepped out of the cab not exactly sure of which way to go. He had always been a shy person and spent the last 72 hours, before this day, prepping himself on how to abandon that side of him in Nigeria and enter into the United States of America a brand new man.
That wish never came through.
When he turned to find out who had tapped him on the shoulder, he was faced with the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her smile radiated all over the place that he smiled back, sheepishly.
“The look on your face tells it all; you are not only Nigerian but you are also new to this place.”
“Please add to it that I am two weeks late and do not know where to start.”
“And that was the beginning of something powerful!” Dad always said this with a smile each time he recounted the story.
He had told me this story a thousand time over, with each tale the perfect picture of the former. It was too heart-breaking to see my dad struggle so hard to hold on to a part of them that brought him so much joy - that I would have been wicked if I ever reminded him that he had told me the same tale countless times. A fact I was sure he was aware of. So I would just nod and try to find new angles to the story each time. If I were being truthful myself, the story was all I held on to a lot of times when my mum acted cruel toward me.
“Two days after and he knew more about this lady than he knew about any other person in his life. She had a beautiful soul, a native of Anambra state, could prepare Bitter leaf soup (which was his favourite meal at the time), had lived the most part of her life in America and was a fun loving individual. Oh she made life easy and bearable for him in the States. The first time they visited her family home in Western US, California, was the day he knew that if he wanted to keep this lady, he had to work hard.
She was from a totally different world than he and still accorded him the respect he deserved, never acted like she was anything other than a good Igbo lady who was in touch with her roots. She was a beautiful soul.”
He was from a decent home, nothing out of the ordinary, just a father who lectured at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and a mother who was more a house wife than she was a trader. At age 14, he had developed interest in politics and was sure that getting a degree outside the country would give him better chances of fulfilling this dream. So he pressured his parents into sending him for a Master’s Degree in the US.
When he found out that my mum had no plans of relocating to Nigeria, he was forced to reconsider their relationship as a fling that would have to end once they were done with their Masters because he had his whole life planned out for him in Nigeria. Strangely though, each day they spent together brought them closer.
Finally, the time came for them to make what seemed to be the hardest decision of their lives - to break up and go their separate ways or to forfeit one person’s dream and build that of the other.
He had fallen deeply in love with her that he could not imagine letting her go to be married to another man. So he decided to play a trick on her, a trick he admits he regrets till date; he asked her to go back to Nigeria with him - with a promise that they would only be there for five years, after which they would move back to the states.
Well, this was way over sixteen years and we are still in Nigeria.
“Nkechi, did something go wrong with you and your Aunt? I called her yesterday, to thank her for taking care of you and she was the coldest. Well, I know I should have called her all the while you were there but I was sure your Dad was in close contact with her so I didn’t see the need to. Even at that, that is not enough reason for her to sound the way she did.” My mum had asked, one faithful afternoon as we had lunch.
“Aunty Chika probably responded that way because I no longer stay at her place.”
“You no longer do what? What do you mean, you no longer stay at her place?”
“I moved out of Aunty’s house some months back.” I said in the lowest tone possible, not sure what reaction my statement will cause.
“With whose consent?” She replied in that very familiar tone, the tone she always gave me, that said that whatever I had to say was not welcomed. I looked up to meet her gaze and what I saw in her face had me wishing I could conjure my Dad there at that very moment.
“D…a…d’s.” I replied.
The expression on my mum’s faced changed to something I had never seen before. When she placed her fork on her plate, I quickly looked down to my own and focused all parts of me on eating the jollof rice and chicken sauce Vicky had prepared.
“Wait, you mean to tell me that you left Chika’s place to live with your boyfriend, some months back and did not think it wise to inform me?”
“No, mummy, I am not staying in…” The slap that landed on my right chick pushed back the remaining words that were set to proceed out of my mouth.
My mother had never laid a finger on me before, so I was not sure what to do at this point.
“You were about to say something; why did you stop?” She asked me in a strangely calm manner.
“I… I was… I do no stay… I only left Aunt’s house because…” Then the second slap landed on the same right cheek.
“Why do you start with this your disgusting stutter when you are about to lie. So you deceived me into sending you far away from me because you could not wait to live out your fantasies right?”
I was crying now but it was a very soundless one. I just had tears running down my eyes profusely.
“Hmm, I have always said it; one day you will surely disgrace me in the presence of my friends. Kai! I just pray Chinwe never picks up any trait of yours. In fact, once she gets back from the boarding house, I will instruct her never to talk to you again. You can finish up the food, you have succeeded in snatching my appetite.” She said then hissed and left the dining table.
I picked up my phone and dialed my Dad’s number. I wanted to speak to him; to hear him call me, ‘My Ada, Omalicha Nwa. Do not mind your mother, she will see what she lost when you become great’ but the phone rang and rang and no one answered. I called him back four times after, but I was faced with the same result. So I placed my head on the table and let out the wail that had been lurking around my throat for about three uncomfortably long minutes.
I felt a pat on my shoulder, I flinched and instantly covered both my cheeks with my palms, in the bid to prevent the slap from landing on them again.
“Don’t worry, it’s me, Vicky.” The help said, “Come and stay with me in the kitchen, while I do the dishes. I will tell you sweet stories that would make you laugh.”
From that point on, I spent more time with Vicky than I normally would.