She hadn’t returned on Sunday as she’d planned to. She’d had to stay two more days after the funeral – just meeting with family members, from both sides of the family. People she hasn’t seen or spoken with in years.
On Wednesday morning, she and Aunty Maryanne had rejoined the God is Good Motors back to Lagos. The five and half hours on the road had been spent like that early hours of the morning, in companionable chat and laughter. They’d parted ways at Berger when she’d gotten down from the bus, with promises of calls and visits.
Right now, she was sprawled out on her bed, eating the chicken and chips Kike had brought along. Mama Bee had given her one more the day off, had told her over the phone, to relax and rest before getting back to work tomorrow.
And Kike had dunked out of the office to spend that day of rest and relaxation with her. And of course to get the upfront gist of all that had transpired during her first visit home after more than a decade and half.
“Totally like something out of some Nollywood home-video – girl abandoned after parents and brother’s untimely demise, goes home after more than fifteen years, all grown up and rich.” Kike winked dramatically making Valerie laugh. “Rich here of course is relative… since you are not doing badly at all.”
“Of course not.” Valerie played along, amused.
“Meet the family all poverty stricken and begging …”
Valerie laughed at the exaggeration.
“Of course in this case, they were not poverty stricken …
“Or even poor at all for that matter.”
Kike waved off her rejoinder. “So they were not poor but there was definitely some begging. So like always the proverbial rejected stone became the corner stone.”
“And like all Nollywood home-videos it begs for a romantic end – girl returns to her true love, who had been by her side all through the dark days, and they get married and live happily ever-after. The end.”
“Ha, so you are my true love who was by my side all through the dark days, huh?’
“Good heavens, no.” Kike laid down her glass of juice. “We are Nigerians for Christ’s sakes and still go for the traditional man/woman TV love affair. So, though I consider myself the best friend who was there, is always there, will always be there …”
Valerie laughed at her dramatic head twists.
“Me thinks Nathaniel Abayomi-Phillips is your true love, though had not always been there, but since he came on the scene, he has been a constant, strong fixture.”
“He hasn’t called since last week Tuesday.” Valerie said in a small voice, eyes clouding. “Not even a single text message.”
“Well, it’s kind of expected, since you so expressly tossed his love back in his face and walked him out of your apartment.” Kike responded dryly.
“I was angry, hurt and feeling bitchy.” Valerie excused, stung that her best friend was apparently taking Nathan’s side. “And it’s been a week for Christ’s sakes. And I didn’t toss his love back in his face …” At Kike’s arched brows, she capitulated. “Okay, maybe I did… but still, not a word for one week?” She pouted.
Kike watched as Valerie’s eyes clouded and filmed with tears. She sighed, why do we always make love so hard, when it really is so simple, huh?
“Girl, you did the crime, so do the time.” She told her in a candid voice. “You love this man.” When Valerie’s head shot up, she laughed.
“Valerie, you are head over-heels in love with Nathan, you and I know it. Yes, he hasn’t called in a week, so? You hurt him, so maybe he’s still licking his wounds, in private. You go to him, apologise and tell him, finally, that you love him and let’s get that happily-ever-after ending.”
“You mean go beg him?”
“I mean good old ass-kissing grovelling.”
Valerie considered for a moment, lips pursed, eyes narrowed, she could do that. She should do that. “Of course this does require the right dress, no?” She said aloud, winking.
“Naturally.” Kike’s lips curved
“The right underwear, maybe?”
Her eyes twinkled. “But of course.”
“The right make-up, surely?”
Her teeth showed as she grinned. “And the right Modus Operandi. Get into the bathroom, girl, wash yourself thoroughly and use that sweet-smelling bathe gel generously. I will be here, laying out your air-tight plan.”
Valerie tossed off her clothes, dashed into the bathroom. Ah Nate Phillips doesn’t have a prayer, he’d be the one grovelling by the time she’d been rightly primped, preened and touched up by Kike.
Nathan was bent over the flower bed, irritably separating the wheat from the tares. You plant one thing, something else comes along with total disregard for your hard work and fills the whole place with their unwanted selves.
“Goddamn weeds.” He muttered under his breath. “I bet you just think I should forgo all my efforts and hard work and get out of here leaving you to take over and ruin the beautiful garden I’d planted, right?”
“And don’t you dare tell me you had no choice, that someone else planted you in my garden.” He glared at the green plant whatever-its-name-was that he’d just viciously pulled out. “You had a choice, mister, a choice between destroying something so beautiful and just… dying.” He tossed the rather unfortunate weed to the ground.
He went determinedly for the next weed, muttering and cursing it as he violently dragged and pulled.
“Daddy? Were you just talking to that… grass?”
Nathan jerked backward, knocking over the watering can.
Toinette shoulders shook as she laughed. “Oh God, dad are you alright?”
He brushed off the leaves and sand that stuck to the bum of his Khaki shorts. But he could do nothing about the wetness. “Yeah, I’m alright. Just nearly had a heart attack, that’s all.”
Toinette bit her lips to stop further laughter, her father didn’t look or sound amused at all. She’d laugh later when she narrated the story to Aunty Sochi. “Sorry. Let me help you dust those off.” She walked around to help dust off his wet and now dirty Khaki bottom.
Nathan brushed off her hand. “Absolutely unnecessary.” He dropped down to his knees again. “Did you want something?”
“Ah, nothing really.” Toinette watched silently for a moment as her father pulled out weed after weed with so much energy and violence. “Em, dad, should I like… maybe get you the trowel to help dig out the grasses?”
“No. My hands are doing just fine.”
She nodded. Oh they were doing very well alright, yanking out the grasses. And boy, were they in trouble, she felt almost sorry for the unfortunate grasses as she watched her father tug out and toss off.
“So how may I help you, young lady?” Nathan asked a little too brusquely, not really happy with the interruption.
“Ha, nothing o.” Toinette shrugged her slim shoulders. “I just wanted to know if I should get you a glass of water. Though the sun has receded, but still you are sweating profusely and I guess you must be thirsty.”
Nathan wasn’t in the least fooled by the concerned placating tone. “No. Thank you.”
“Or better still a glass of pineapple juice?”
“Antoinette, you don’t need a new pair of shoes for your trip to Accra with your grandmother.”
She sighed. She should have known better. When you see your father talking like a loony to a lifeless grass, that should simply tell you to change all plans of placating and persuading. She blamed herself for forgetting that unwritten rule.
“What? Dad, who was talking about new shoes for the trip?” And she wouldn’t be Toinette if she gave up so easily.
“No. I was just being a loving daughter looking out for her father, sha.”
Nathan shook his head. Women, irrespective of their age, they were forever seeking to twist a man round their little fingers.
“Oh well, I should leave you now and go help Aunty Sochi with dinner.” And definitely re-strategize, she thought as turned back towards the side back door. “Should you need anything, anything at all, just holler and I’ll be right here.”
Nathan held the weed he’d just dug out as he listened to his daughter walk back to the house.
God, what does a thirteen year old need a brand new sandals for, just for an holiday trip to Accra? He tossed down the weed, wondering if fifteen years from now, Toinette would be tugging and twisting the insides of an innocent man just the way Valerie was doing to him? Well, he sure hoped so.
He missed her. So much. Too much.
She’d been cruel and insensitive. But still, he missed her.
She’d practically tossed his love in his face. Yet, he loved her.
She hadn’t called or even texted since her trip to Asaba. He’d only heard of the trip from Kike. She hadn’t bothered to tell him she’d decided to go. He guessed she was waiting for him to call first, as ladies are wont to do after a fight with their man.
Well, he hadn’t called or texted too. But he’d longed to. Desperately wanted to. It had been a hard, tough, torture. But he’d managed to stand his ground – a man needed some kind of pride, at times.
But it wasn’t just pride that had kept him from calling, he thought as he dug out some weed less violently. It wasn’t just winning the who-calls-first-war – he liked to think he was too much of a man to fall into such nonsense, most times.
But he’d wanted to give her time alone to face her demons. Confront her anger and bitterness. Face her family – as the woman she was – beautiful, independent, gentle and generous. To face them, to confront them. To forgive them.
He’d wanted her to do it on her own. Achieve this on her own. Without any pressure or persuasions from him. And from Kike’s call yesterday evening, she’d obviously done that and maybe much more, as she’d travelled back to Lagos in the company of her Aunt Maryanne.
She’d arrived Lagos. Refreshed and rested enough. But still, she hadn’t called.
Twenty-four hours after her return, she was still obviously waiting for him to be the one to call first. Women! How they love to tug and twist the inside of a man’s head, he shook his head.
Deciding to first finish up with this separating-the-wheat-from-the-tares task and then he’d storm her house and shake some sense into her.
Yeah, it would be for his own satisfaction… and yeah, it would also erase this yearning hunger deep within his heart.
To be continued…