“Mummy, stop sending people to daddy. Stop begging to come back into his life. I hear all the pleas and he’s not yielding. If it does anything at all, it only hardens his heart even more. He is, after all, legally married to another woman now. I doubt Aunt Adebola’s parents or even she would let daddy take you back. Let it go. Let him go. Focus on yourself. Go back to school if you can. I can send you some money if you need it. Better yourself. Get a job and focus on creating the life you have always wanted for yourself. Let no one deceive you. Grandma means well by looking out for a good man for you but at this stage of your life, you must know that no one has anything to offer you except what you can use your hands to make for yourself. Be the best you can be. If it was ever meant to be, daddy himself will look for you”.
These words echoed in Mrs. Nifemi Soromidayo’s ears vividly as though her daughter was sitting next to her, whispering these words again to remind her how her journey to a new life started.
“I will be staying at Eko Hotels and Suits. I have a six-week reservation there”, Mrs. Soromidayo confirmed to her daughter over the phone.
“Why can’t you stay with Uncle Babatunde or any of your other relatives? That is a long stay at a hotel, you know?” Fareedah worried.
“I doubt they will have the space to accommodate me for that long period either. It’s going to be a busy time, you know, with visitors and well-wishers coming and going. Besides, my husband would rather I don’t inconvenience anyone. I also want some space to myself. You know how Nigerians can be once they know you just arrived from overseas – very expectant”, Mrs. Soromidayo laughed a little and Fareedah joined in.
“OK. I guess I’ll see you at the airport then. I’m anxious to see you”, Fareedah said with much excitement.
“I know”, she said with a heartfelt smile. “I will be seeing you in a couple of hours”.
Mrs. Soromidayo still had the smile on her face when she placed the receiver in the phone box. Then she heaved a sigh as she sank into herself. The gentle touch that came on her shoulder was as ever assuaging.
“If it’s any comfort, you do know I would have come with you, right?” Mr. Soromidayo sought to ease his wife’s anxiety.
“We can’t both leave work and be away for such a long period of time. The business would suffer for it”. She appreciated his concern to always be by her side. She stood to face him. She gave him a beatific smile as she gently ran her palm over his custom-fitted blazer before she slowly laid her head on his broad chest.
The eighteen-year age difference between Mr. and Mrs. Soromidayo was not apparent. Though sixty years old, George Soromidayo was young-looking, fresh and very well dressed at all times thanks to his English-style dress sense. Except for the suave dust of grey hair in front of his thick locks, how else will his affluence would be noticed. Even when he had told her of his age on their second date, she didn’t believe him, yet she wasn’t quick to show her disbelief. It was not until she saw his grown-up children at their intended marriage introduction that she believed him. Except for Mrs. Soromidayo’s beauty and innocence that exude her youth, her modesty was similar to a much older woman with much maturity and experience. She spoke little and acted more. As blessed as he felt at having such a young and hardworking wife, Mr. Soromidayo often wished his wife would forget the past and live in the blissful moment of their marriage.
Boarding the Qatar Airways flight JK 277 to Lagos, Nigeria was not as daunting as actually sitting in its first class cabin. The nostalgic feeling of going home agitated her. She looked around frantically. Not even the serenity of the first class cabin or the spaciousness of it kept her from feeling claustrophobic. She suddenly felt the need to get some air. Just as she fumbled to unbuckle her seat-belt, her phone rang. She searched her purse for it in a hurry instead.
“Hello?” she sounded troubled.
“Darling, are you alright?” Is something the matter? Did you forget something?”
“Eh …no…I just feel the need to get some air”, she stuttered.
“Darling, we talked about this. You will be fine. Just breathe in and out. Come on, try it. Breathe deep”. She took in deep breathes and heaved them out loudly. She concentrated on keeping her emotions and thoughts under control as she let her husband’s love soothe her. “You will be fine, my darling. If you ever need to talk, you can call me on the phone”, Mr. Soromidayo assured her again.
“I love you”, she whispered.
“I love you too . . . always and forever”, Mr. Soromidayo promised her.
Mrs. Soromidayo smiled. She loved to hear it. He says it in a way that could not be refuted.
The six-hour non-stop flight hardly felt as long upon arrival to Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos. That probably wouldn’t have been the case if Mrs. Soromidayo didn’t spend all that time roaming her mind from the shocking news of her mother’s death to the dreadful possibility of seeing Olusegun Gbadebo again.
It has been twelve years since she laid eyes on him. She wasn’t sure what effect seeing him might have on her. She has not actually reached a place in her heart to decide whether she still felt emotionally attached to him or attached in another kind of way that would only unleash hatred toward him for all he put her through. Even more than that is the fact that he kept her children away from her for all that time. Mr. Soromidayo had advised and even volunteered to help get a solicitor to fight her case in a Nigerian court of law, if only to get custody of her children. “A child’s place is with his mother”, Mr. Soromidayo said. But Mrs. Soromidayo did not want to put everyone through the scandalous yet traumatising ordeal. Especially after the last time she saw Fauziah. That episode still haunts Mrs. Soromidayo. If not that Fareedah assured her that will not happen this time, owing to the fact that she carefully explained what transpired between their parents that left them living with their father and stepmother, Mrs. Soromidayo would not have been comfortable seeing Fauziah again. Just as much as traumatizing as it might have been for Fauziah, Mrs. Soromidayo feared it may be all that and worse if something of the sort should repeat itself. If only her darling George could be there to hold her hand through it all.
Fareedah waited anxiously outside the Murtala Mohammed Airport. The sun had turned orange, affecting the colours of the surrounding clouds. It was beginning to drizzle but the people waiting on their families and friends outside the Arrival didn’t seem to mind the light showers of rain. Fareedah wondered if she would easily recognize her mother as from the photos she had e-mailed to her a few months ago. When Fareedah finally saw her mother emerge, she had not changed a bit in those photos from what Fareedah remembered, save for a smile. It was warm yet innocent. Fareedah liked the smile. The smile of a strong woman – a woman the world hath dealt yet refused to be beat.
“MUMMY!” Fareedah cried out unconscious of her excitement. She ran towards her mother and they held each other in tight embrace that lingered for what seemed to be more than a minute. The trolley-man who helped Mrs. Soromidayo carry her luggage watched them intensely. It was only white people who prided in showy emotions. Black people, naturally, do not lavish such public display of affection.
They said little after that. They only grinned as they looked into each other eyes the rest of the walk to the car park. Since it was already late into the night, Fareedah spent it with her mother at her hotel room.
The morning turned out to be an emotional reunion for mother and children. There was much to tell, explain, hugging and kissing, smiling and shedding tears of joys. There was much catching up to do. Mrs. Soromidayo felt proud and emotional as tears welled up in her eyes, listening to Fareedah gush intelligently about her relationship. She only wished her children had been in touch with their grandmother before she passed away. If only for the purpose of seeing how well her children were doing and what bright and confident young lady Fareedah turned out to be against the odds.
“Mummy, are you OK?” Fareedah asked when she saw the tears roll down her mother’s cheek.
“I am fine”, she smiled as she looked at her delightedly. “I couldn’t be better my darling. I am proud of you. Grandma would have been proud of you too”, her voice faded. She swallowed what seemed to be a gulp of tear.
Given that her mother, Mrs. Gbemisola Adeniji, was buried on the day she gave up the ghost, Mrs. Soromidayo planned on staying back in Nigeria for the remaining thirty-six days for the burial rights and ceremonies to follow to mourn the death of her much appreciated mother. Gbemisola Anike Adeniji, before her death, lawfully became the only Mrs. Tiwalade Alade Adeniji. All other women in Mr. Adeniji’s life remained concubines until his death four years ago. Mrs. Soromidayo was happy and felt at peace when her parents announced that they finally decided to legally get married. It made her proud and confident that it would mark the beginning of greater things to come for her. It was after her parents’ wedding that Mrs. Soromidayo met and married Mr. George Soromidayo. Her parents were proud and happy to finally have the opportunity to rightfully give their daughter’s hand out in marriage to someone who not only knew but appreciated and decided to ignore the faults in their past. He was determined to love her for whom he discovered her to be and nothing less.
Mr. and Mrs. Soromidayo talk on the phone every day. He even insisted on speaking with Fareedah and her siblings whenever his wife told him they were with her. Mrs. Soromidayo liked the rapport that was brewing between her husband and her children. It began to make her see the sweetness life has in stock for her. Fareedah, her husband and her late mother have been an integral part of her reformed life and she appreciated the incredible chance she had to find true and selfless love yet.
When the final burial rites were read and celebrations were concluded in honour of her late mother, Mrs. Soromidayo returned to her hotel room. Fareedah and Fauziah spent the last night with their mother. Her flight back to London was scheduled for the following evening. While Fauziah slept on the bed, Fareedah and her mother sat outside on the balcony, enjoying the cool of the evening sea breeze. Fareedah quietly placed an envelope on the small coffee table that was between them.
“What is that?” Mrs. Soromidayo asked as she automatically reaches out for it.
“Dad sent it for you”, Fareedah said casually.
Mrs. Soromidayo looked at her daughter and folded her hands to abstain from the coffee table.
“I have to go to bed now. It’s been a long day”, Fareedah got up to give her mother a tight hug. “May Grandma’s soul rest in peace”, Fareedah ignored her mother’s sudden change of mood. She opened and closed the sliding door behind her when her mother didn’t say a word.
Mrs. Soromidayo closed her eyes and held them tightly together. Her stomach rumbled in anxiety of what is in the envelope. Maybe she had been glad that she didn’t run into Olusegun Gbadebo these past few weeks. Yet, she had been empowered by not meeting him. She looked to the skies. The stars twinkled brightly over the sea; the sky was dark, really dark. There were no grey clouds in it. Mrs. Soromidayo thought, if only life could stay so devoid of anxiety, everything would be as clear as those skies – uncomplicated and beautiful. Then she looked at the envelope on the coffee-table.
It was an emotional goodbye at the airport. Fareedah had been tough since her mother’s arrival yet she dreaded her return to the United Kingdom. Perhaps, she hoped that when her mother saw her siblings and her, she would be tempted to stay longer or better still, relocated back to Nigeria. Nonetheless, they all had a difficult goodbye. Mrs. Soromidayo worked out a mental consideration about spending more time with her children but even in the words of Fareedah, ‘Life is not for the emotionally impaired. It’s not what you were yesterday that matters but who you worked yourself to be today’. And today, she is Mrs. George Soromidayo. Her first and primary assignment is being Mrs. Soromidayo. As much as her husband needed her back at the United Kingdom, she needed to be with him too. All of the strength and composure she had exhibited these past few weeks had come from the bank of confidence he had given her. She needed to return to him for emotional support and well-being. Not even her children could really fathom what she went through in becoming this respectable woman whom they are now proud to call mother.
Cecelia, Uncle Dave and Mr. George Soromidayo lined up anxiously, waiting for the emergence of Mrs. Soromidayo, at the announcement of flight AK 247 from Lagos. Mr. Soromidayo stood there, waiting while he felt like a good man, like he had done something wonderful.
Later that night, when Mrs. Soromidayo was in bed with her husband, recounting the joys and the highlights of her trip to Lagos, when they had had their laughs and hugs for a good journey on the overall, Mrs. Soromidayo rolled over to her bedside drawer and reached for an envelope. She handed it to her husband.
“What is it?” he asked in his husky baritone voice.
“Just open it”, she said nervously.
He opened it, looking curiously at her. It was a letter addressed to Nifemi.
I hope this letter meets you well. It has been a while. I hear you live in the UK with your husband these days. I hear you are in town for your mother’s burial. Pardon me, I didn’t write to give you an account of the things I heard about you. I write to seek your forgiveness.
If I could change the past, I will. You didn’t deserve the torture and misery I put you through, I am truly sorry for every moment I made you waste your time with me. The children are doing well as you have seen. I can no longer deny the fact that they belong to both of us. I will not hold them back from communicating or having a relationship with their mother. They should not suffer for our my sins. I take full responsibility. Forgive me, if you can.
I wish you happiness.
Hon. Olusegun Gbadebo
Mr. Soromidayo read the letter out loud. With raised eyebrow, gazing into thin air, Mrs. Soromidayo listened as he read it. She was just learning of the content of the envelope since Fareedah dropped it on the coffee-table at the hotel in Lagos.
“Are you alright?” George asked his wife after watching her for a while. She still gazed into thin air.
Nifemi said nothing. She only nodded slightly. George drew closer to her and held her gently. He always tread on broken glasses around her because of this pathetic lowlife. As far as George was concerned, Olusegun is still as selfish and self-cantered as he heard.
“I am happy”, Nifemi spoke finally. George waited for more. “He heard of me, I am happy”, she spoke softly with a smirk at the corner of her lips. “He heard I am married and living in the UK, I am happy. He heard of my mother’s death, I am happy. He didn’t hear of how miserably scandalous I became neither did he hear that I ended my life because he rejected me. He didn’t hear that my father died of a heart failure from his ill-manners or that my mother didn’t live to see me become fulfilled and happy”, Nifemi paused and looked at her husband. She smiled and with a rising tear in her eyes, she continued, “I am alright. I am happy”.
“I am happy that you are happy”, George said, smiling back at her.
“I love you”, she said in a hush tone. She drew her body closer to his embrace.
“I love you too . . . always and forever”.