The afternoon was cold and windy. The rains poured heavily outside, the streets were deserted from the fierceness of it. It was as though the world was aware that the heavens were falling. The weather told the story of what was going on in Mr. Adeniji’s house. Though it was midday, it was drearily dark and desolate, as though the masquerades of the spirits of the dead have indeed come to haunt the so-called notable families. The floors were pulsating from the thundering rain with fearful thunder claps, and lightning crowning the air with tension.
It was one of those family affairs Mr. Martins wished to stay out of but for the sake of Nifemi, who until that ugly incident had been more to him than an object of family ridicule. Pa Jide, Mama Savage, Nifemi’s parents, Mr. Martins and Nifemi were all silent in the long and wide living room. On her knees, in the middle of them all, Nifemi lowered her head to the grey rug. But for the dark brown centre table which she readily found companion, Nifemi felt as though the walls were closing in on her. Mr. Martins was disappointed, but not half as much as the disappointment and emotional rush that Nifemi’s mother felt. Yet she struggled to keep her cool, if not for the elders that were also in the sitting. Nifemi’s mother determinably faced the opposite direction from her daughter to refrain from pouncing on her. Nevertheless, she kept shaking her head slowly and continually as though convincing herself that this wasn’t happening.
As far as Nifemi’s father was concerned, he still struggled to accept that he couldn’t take financial responsibility to excuse his daughter out of an early, let alone ‘untimely’ marital resort. As he sat there, waiting for the words to find their way out from his mouth, he couldn’t help but blame himself for allowing the situation to worsen to that extent. Little wonder Nifemi’s mother deemed it fit to give her daughter to a rich eligible man who would take her off their responsibility. However Nifemi found herself pregnant with another’s baby is beyond comprehension.
Pa Jide and Mama Savage sat quietly on the three-sitter cushion. They came as a favour to Nifemi – to help break the news to her parents. As elders in the family too, they stayed to make sure that while scolding and chastising Nifemi, the best decision on the matter was taken. Mr. Martins, with a blank expression, sat separate from everyone. Mr. Adeniji rose suddenly and entered the inner room. He emerged seconds later, holding ‘a finely-skinned long bamboo stick’ in the grip of his hand.
“Daddy, please!” Nifemi yelped out loud with a swift movement in self-defense immediately she sighted the cane. Mama Savage was also quick to shield her granddaughter from the whip. She shrieked slightly in fright that the stick would land on her body before Mr. Adeniji could stop himself.
Mr. Martins hastened to his feet to plead on Nifemi’s behalf. With the elderly woman pleading for her, Mr. Adeniji felt handicapped to satiate his anger. It angered him even more. His body shook in his state of fury. Even if he had not been a hundred percent involved in his children’s developments, it was common sense for a child of her age to know what her priorities should be.
Nifemi shamefully burst in tears and utter remorse. She did not imagine it would start with such scare and chaos. She assumed her grandmother would convince her mother and make her see reasons why the student, Olusegun, was a better alternative for her. However, following the ‘unfolding’ of events, Nifemi regretted giving in to Olusegun. Now, she would gladly do anything her parents decided, to right her wrongs. While her father stood there, contemplating whether to walk away or settle for something else that would leave scars on his daughter’s fair light skin, he struggled with his anger. Mr. Martins saw the fury in his eyes, and slowly attempted to ease his temper.
“Please sir. Please – calm down. Please”. He managed to refrain from touching him so as not to be misconstrued.
Mr. Adeniji shifted his gaze to Mr. Martins reluctantly, still in fury. If it was not for his age and the respect he had for Mr. Martin, he would not have yielded to his appeal. Mr. Adeniji sat in Mr. Martins’ seat, while the latter raised Nifemi from her knees and place her closer to Pa Jide.
“Can you see how easily you have disgraced yourself? Yes, yourself, because you have definitely not disgraced me”, Nifemi’s mother snapped, as she burst out suddenly. “God knows I have tried for you as a mother. I provided for you benefits I myself didn’t enjoy. Yet, you have chosen to live like a child who wasn’t taught any morals”. Her words were unsteady as she spoke. Before anyone could stop and plead with her, as they did her husband, she got to Nifemi and hit her across the face. Nifemi fell straight to the ground instantly. It happened so fast, even she didn’t expect the sharp pain that shot through her head, pounding like hammer blows.
“I’m sorry, mummy. Please, I am sorry”, Nifemi begged frantically before sobbing uncontrollably. Nifemi cried out so loud, her face immediately became flushed. Never had her mother been that upset with her, let alone lay hands on her. Nifemi held her head to the ground as she feared for another slap. Nifemi was surprised that no one did or said anything in resistance to her mother’s sudden outburst. Then it dawned on her that she had deserved it or even worse. Mama Savage would have interceded but she understood her daughter’s pain. She had to allow her let it out.
“You should be”, Nifemi’s mother burst out. “You ungrateful child! Because you knew that your father could not help you to further with your education, you decided to pay him back by being the laughing stock of the family. You could have at least thought of Mr. Martins who has been nothing but good to you and this family but no, you just had to …”. Before her palm could land another resounding slap on Nifemi’s back, Pa Jide caught it. The loud sound of thunder reverberating throughout the house told Nifemi what the slap would have felt like if it had landed on her.
“Calm down Gbemisola”, Pa Jide said. Nifemi’s mother looked at him with anger mixed with the tears in her eyes and Pa Jide let go of her hand. For a moment, there was silence in the room, save for Nifemi’s quiet sobs. She was so terrified that she did not dare to let out the sobs as heavy as her heart felt heavy.
“Now that the situation has become the way it is, Tiwalade, what is the next thing to do?” Pa Jide broke the silence with his delicate wobbly voice. Nifemi’s mother looked at her husband in angry anticipation for his words.
Mr. Adeniji looked at everyone in the room, all eyes and ears were glued to him. He recalled the moment when his late father-in-law decided that due to his tryst with his young daughter, she would go to live with him and he would thenceforth take responsibility for her. The disappointment slowly lead the old man to his grave. The thought of being haunted by one wrong decision for the rest of his life sent shivers down his spine; but then, he truly wished Nifemi had not put him in such an unpleasant situation. Mr. Adeniji cleared his throat.
“She will deliver the baby to its father and return home to continue her education”.
Nifemi’s mother lowered her face. It was difficult to tell if she pleased or disappointed by her husband’s decision. One thing was sure though, it was upsetting that it took such a shameful situation to get him to consider his daughter’s university education.
“With due respect to you, Mr. Martins, we did not call you here to witness this in order to belittle you, because we are indeed well aware of the kindness you have shown Nifemi and this family. We invited you here to let you know of Nifemi’s shameful predicament. We would understand should you decide not to marry Nifemi at this point. I will personally keep an extra eye on her from now on. I assure you this will be the last time this act of shame will occur in my family”. Mr. Adeniji said, feeling the strong need to convince Mr. Martins.
Despite all that happened before him, Mr. Martins wanted Nifemi for a second wife still. Perhaps it had to do with the fear that if left to live with and have Olusegun’s baby, it might foster a deeper relationship between them, destroying whatever chance he might still have with her. He could not fathom the consequences of losing his fair beauty to a younger inconsequential boy. Regardless of the age difference between himself and Nifemi, Mr. Martins was convinced he was the right man for her. He spoke the language of love, of responsibility and pride too. On a deeper thought, there was the impending fear of having a second wife who was perhaps in love with another person. Even after considering these odds, he was determined to love Nifemi. He would have even paid all expenses to send her overseas to have the baby.
“Mr. Martins”, Mr. Adeniji called out to him, after waiting for his response. “I understand how overwhelming this must be for you but do you have anything to say?”
“Thank you sir . . . for the opportunity to have a say in all of this”. He finally found his voice. It was smooth and humble. “I appreciate your openness with me on this matter. The fact that you made me a part of this convinces me that you regard me as a son, as I do wish to remain to you. However”, he paused, cleared his throat to give it some volume before he continued. “I have truly fallen in love with your daughter these past few days and I am convinced the feeling is mutual until this Olusegun boy came to brainwash her, I’m sure. Regardless of the situation however, if she would accept me, I still want to marry your daughter with your permission and blessing, sir. I have no doubt of your capacity to handle your home but once again, I ask for your permission to take full responsibility for her and the baby. After the baby is born, depending on what she chooses to do, I will sponsor her further education or secure a decent job for her in a reputable organization. I believe entrusting her safe delivery and wellbeing during this time in another child’s care, literally speaking, might not be a good idea. However, if the boy wishes to have his child after delivery…”.
“The boy is unaware of the present situation”, Nifemi’s mother was quick and elated to point out.
“Very well then. I propose to take total responsibility if that is alright by you, sir. I will also like to have a talk with Nifemi about this in private. After all, it’s her future that is at stake here”.
As Nifemi’s mother would rather keep her daughter uninvolved in this decision making, if her betrothed still very much wants her, giving them some privacy seems very little of a gesture to honour.
“Only few men would accept the responsibility which you so gracefully want to impose on yourself. I am grateful to you”. Mr. Adeniji spoke after a quick glance at his wife. His expression was somewhat of confusion. He didn’t know whether to be altogether as eager as she was or embrace the creeping irritation of her desperation. “However”, he continued, keeping a polite appearance to Mr. Martins. “I believe the misconception that my daughter is ready for marriage has lingered long enough. With due respect to you and everything you have done for this household, I implore you to exercise some patience, if you can. I want her to be with me for now. Apparently, a lot more still needs to be done to make her into a responsible . . . wife material”. He struggled to find the appropriate word for his fifteen year old daughter.
“I maintain that the baby will be born and given to its biological father. What lesson will Nifemi learn if after making such a grave mistake, she finds a knight in shining armor to clean up her mess? Though we may get pardoned for our wrongs, there are always consequences for our actions. Let her bear her cross. Nifemi will deliver the baby to its father and return home to us as a daughter”.
“Well said, sir. I agree. With your permission and due respect to your honour, I will very much like to continue to be a part of this family, regardless of your eventual decision. After all, this has gone beyond acquaintance”.
“If you insist”, Mr. Adeniji smiled, giving a slight nod of acceptance.
As the tension eased, so did the weather outside. The dark clouds had suddenly given way to the afternoon rays of the sun, beaming steadily through the windows shut behind Pa Jide and Mama Savage and right into Nifemi’s flushed face. It was almost as if she had been forgotten in the room until the rays of the sun revealed her presence.
“Can we have some refreshments for our guests? You can take your daughter in to help”, Mr. Adeniji said to Nifemi’s mother who reluctantly obeyed. She called out to her daughter just as she left the living room.
* * * * * * *
Unlike the other day, it is a much brighter and calm day today. The morning was quiet. The sun shone bright in the sky and let out its hotness onto the earth. Nifemi invited Olusegun and his mother to the house without prior information as to what they were invited for. Naturally, his mother was pleased. She looked forward to making arrangements for the union of her son with the most beautiful girl she had ever seen. After all, her son will soon be rounding off his Bachelors’ degree the University of Nigeria. It is a huge achievement as far as she is concerned. Despite being her last child, Olusegun will be the first graduate in the household and one of the few privileged in his town to acquire formal education at that level. With the help of one of his maternal uncles, Olusegun was looking forward to a teaching career at one of the local polytechnics in his home town. The future certainly looks bright for him. His mother holds him in high regard, and Nifemi will be perfect for him. Nifemi’s parents received their guests in the living room, while their daughter, sat timidly on a small wooden bench at a corner.
“Welcome once again”, Mr. Adeniji started after they had been served light refreshments. “I hope your journey was not too stressful”.
“No sir. It was quite relaxing. Thank you for inviting us into your home”, Olusegun’s mother answered pleasantly. “You have a lovely home Mama Nifemi”, she added.
“Thank you”, Nifemi’s mother murmured as she rested her gaze on the older woman, indifferently. Mama felt slightly uneasy by the woman’s piercing gaze. She looked at her son suspiciously.
“Have you met my daughter, Nifemi?” Mr. Adeniji asked, gesturing to his daughter seated at the corner of the light blue walled room.
“I have sir, and I must confess she is well cultured and beautiful too”, she teased Nifemi who didn’t respond to the warmth, but kept her head lowered. Although Mama was older than Nifemi’s parents, she revered them for being her impending in-laws.
“I see”, Mr. Adeniji simply said, robbing his fists together while looking at his daughter. “I see you have been well acquainted with my daughter, very involved I dare to add” with his gaze resting on Olusegun.
Olusegun lowered his head in embarrassment at the man’s tense gaze at him at the mention of the word “involved”.
“Are you aware that she is pregnant?”
Olusegun looks immediately in the direction of Nifemi who in turn looks away in denial. Besides the fact that her parents are not happy with the news, Mama did not seem to be saddened by it. However, it will be out of context for her to shout for joy. Back where she came from, girls Nifemi’s age were already married. Mama kept quiet judging from the atmosphere of the room. She let them do all the talking. Speaking too soon might worsen the situation.
“No sir”, Olusegun answered sharply.
“Now that you have been informed, this is what will happen. She will go right away and live with you till the baby is born. Bear it in mind that, I do not want to be informed of any accident whatsoever with my daughter during this time. I am placing my daughter in a healthy condition in your care, even as I expect that after the delivery of the baby in four months time, she will come back here. My daughter will hand your child over to you and, in turn, you will hand mine back to me. I hope I made myself clear enough?”
Mama let out a big sigh. Olusegun looked at his mother, confused about the arrangement. He got up from his seat and prostrated himself before Nifemi’s parents. He had no doubt that they were disappointed in his affair with their daughter, especially her father, his teacher.
“Thank you for your consideration, sir. We are indeed very grateful for it” Mama spoke. “I realize how shameful this foolish act between your daughter and my son is, and I am truly sorry for all the embarrassment it has caused your family. I beg your forgiveness kindly sir”, she bowed her head slightly in plea. “I appreciate how you have chosen to resolve this matter sir.” Nifemi’s mother looked at Olusegun as he lay on the ground in remorse. “With your permission sir”, Mama spoke humbly, “I would like to seize the opportunity to ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage. Separation between mother and child is less desirable in this situation, given that it may lead to serious complications for either of them”.
“Hmm”, Nifemi’s mother scoffed. She detested the means through which Olusegun’s mother was now beginning to make some sense.
“Thank you so much for the generous offer”. Mr. Adeniji spoke abruptly. “You must know that my daughter only just wrote her final Advance Level examinations when your son decided to abuse her innocence by impregnating her. But I will not allow your son to bring shame to my family any further, and alter the cause of her hopeful future”. Mr. Adeniji’s anger rose deeper with every word he spoke. “My decision stands. I will have my daughter back after the delivery of the baby. Good day”. Mr. Adeniji got up and left but not before he had looked at his daughter with irritation. No matter how often he looked at her in like manner these days, Nifemi could not get used to the disdain in his eyes.
“Once again, please extend my sincere apology to your husband. The intention was not to destroy your daughter’s ambition and bright future. I really appreciate that you decided to keep the baby. For that, I will forever be indebted to you. However, I understand and respect your husband’s decision. We will take care of your daughter and bring her back in good health, Insha Allah”. Mama spoke calmly which even irritated Nifemi’s mother even more.
Olusegun was angered by the decision Nifemi’s father took. He felt he was treated like an insignificant boy in the matter. He could not understand what the fuss was all about. Nifemi had been betrothed to another man anyway. Sooner or later, she was bound to get pregnant and truncate her so-called ambition. He was sure that her parents’ grief was not entirely about the pregnancy, but that she had been taken away by another, beside the wealthy one chosen for her. The thought angered him and the sudden rush of emotions showed in the squeezed lines on his forehead while he looked at Nifemi’s mother. Nevertheless, he was tongue-tied at this point.
“Do you have anything to say to me, boy?”
“Return my daughter to me. Nifemi will be out to go with you in a minute. You may see yourselves out”. Nifemi’s mother said to them, but not after she had looked at Olusegun with deep scorn and detestation. She got to her feet and gestured towards the door.
Mama reluctantly got to her feet. She looked about her to make sure nothing had dropped from her. Seeing how her first visit to Nifemi’s parents was, she wasn’t sure there would ever be a second visit to reclaim any forgotten item. Before she could pull her son along, Olusegun was already outside the apartment, waiting for Nifemi to join them so they can be on their way.
“I wished things had happened differently but please, try to accept my apology”.
Nifemi’s mother turned her back to the older woman, now facing her daughter, who had her head buried in her hands in confusion. Mama looked at the unfortunate girl and made her way out of the house. She shut the door behind her which her angry son had left ajar.
“Nifemi! Nifemi! You have outdone yourself. Of all men, you chose this wretched boy over Mr. Martins? Hei”, her mother reprimanded. “I wish you safe delivery, shogbọ? And a quick recovery so you can return to civilization in time”, Nifemi’s mother burst out. She shook her head in sympathy for her daughter’s misfortune.
Nifemi had no words to exonerate herself. She had already bowed herself to shame and regret.
“May Allah go with you. Write down the address and directions to Olusegun’s house. If you are not back here in time after you deliver the baby, I will come over there to drag you back home myself”. Nifemi’s mother told her. “Get your bag and be on your way”.
The thought of leaving her family, a man with all the fineries and adoration who truly loves her, and a wonderful grandmother, hurt Nifemi. Having now disappointed her mother and lost her fine life, she would need fervent prayers to once again claim her place of honour as that priceless pearl and hope for a better life. When she thought of these, tears rolled down Nifemi’s bare cheeks. As she cried helplessly, she gazed fixedly on the ceiling, as if begging it to come to her help. At this time too, Nifemi had become weak and sickly due to lack of sleep on the one hand, and the disappointment she has given her family on the other. She fell before her mother and bowed her face while grabbing her by the leg as she cried.
“I am sorry mummy. Please forgive me. I will do anything you ask me to but please, do not send me away from you”. Nifemi continues to bawl. Please help me beg daddy. Please let me stay”.
However moved Nifemi’s mother was to her daughter’s tears, she was helpless in this situation. There was nothing she could do save her daughter. Even she felt the tears beginning to gather in her eyes but she quickly wiped them away.
“Everything will be alright by God’s grace but you have to leave now”, was all she could say in a painful and faint voice.