She allowed the tears to flow freely as she chopped the onions. It didn’t matter anymore if the tears were the remnants of her pain or from cutting the onions—white onions. Nifemi would be four in August, she would start asking questions. Questions Ireti wished she wasn’t obligated to answer. She had anticipated that period and she had done everything possible to be ready for it. She no longer felt the heaviness of the need to give her daughter the right answers, but she would. The time was short and the past happenings made it seem as though the whole universe had ganged up against her to make sure she failed.
It all started three years ago. She had met this good looking gentleman named Fred at a friend’s party and from the moment she saw him, she knew he was the one—the next one. They got talking that night and one thing led to another, so they kissed. It was that that kind of passionate kiss that gives you an assurance that this means something, the kind of kiss that spelt hope. And Fred lived up to her expectations. They became intimate, like twin souls, like two coats spun from the same wool—another self in a different body. They dined at the Ocean Basket Restaurant; they saw movies at Ozone and the galleria. They vacationed in London and lodged at The Ritz. It was the most wonderful experience.
After Six months had passed her expectations became increasingly high. She had been taking pills to prevent history repeating itself, but she believed it was time to stop. She believed the time was ripe for Fred and her to take their relationship to the next level. She felt like she owed him for all the love and care and she felt guilty for preventing his seed from taking root in her. She decided to put an end to the guilt, so she told him—everything; About Ladi and how she bore him a daughter, where she was and with whom. When she finished, the questions had started pouring in. Fred had discovered he was six years younger than she was, and that she was a baby mama to a thug.
They were dinning at The Oriental hotel in Victoria Island when the discussion had begun, and they continued in Fred’s car in the parking lot. At 8pm they were still there talking of what could have been. Fred had told her he couldn’t do it. That he couldn’t father another man’s child. At that moment she thought she had heard someone else—maybe from the radio. It couldn’t have been Fred who said that. The shock reverberated through her being and it shook her like an earthquake. When she looked at his eyes, they were still those soft, brown deep-set eye balls she had always known and they reminded her of those moments of wild passion when her body will shake and those same brown eyes will bore into hers, at the peak of pleasure. She knew from that instant that there will be none of those days anymore.
The only thing she could think of, was if she could get as much of those days as she could. At that moment, she wanted all of it—as much as she could get. She kissed him and he responded. He took her right there in the car four times and neither of them thought it right to wait till they get to his apartment. There was this unexplained urgency in the both of them, as though to save what was failing. In the end, she could only ask for one reason why he couldn’t continue with their passionate love. Fred was speechless, he could only shake his head in disapproval and the look in his eyes told her it was over for real. He dropped her at her chevron drive apartment. It was 3 am.
It took Ireti only a month to get on with her life, after all, she was still beautiful—very beautiful. She didn’t have the tell-tale signs of childbirth and her face was as young as that of a teenager. Marcel came by at a friend’s exhibition at Oculus, an art gallery on the Island. He was charming, young and successful. He was an On-Air Personnel at one of the radio stations on the Island. He was the host of a relationship talk show on radio, so he seemed as the perfect lover. She could remember the way he advised callers on the show, about the importance of transparency of the past life of every partner in a relationship, the importance of understanding and accepting people as they really are. So she thought marcel would understand—he was a passionate lover and he had promised time and time again, that nothing would ever separate them. Finally, she thought, the universe has agreed to smile on me and grant my wishes.
Three months into their relationship, she was listening to an edition of his show and the topic of discussion was if it is ideal for a lady to date a younger man. Different people called in, some in support and others against the motion. Majority of the guys who called in were of the opinion that they wouldn’t like to date an older lady. Marcel in turn emphasised on the fact that he could date and get married to an older lady as long as the understanding was present. “All we need to survive is love and understanding,” he had said. Ireti smiled to herself as she lay on the bed in the dimly lit room of his apartment, proud that she could call him hers.
The following day she asked for them to have a conversation, and she told him about the fact that she was older than he was, and the fact that she had a daughter. Instantly, what seemed to have been the beginning of a romantic night turned out to be the longest and loneliest night she ever had. She felt so alone in the world, so open, bare, insecure and defenceless. She had envisaged a Marcel who would cuddle her and tell her everything was going to be just fine, that she wasn’t alone and that they were a team—both of them against the world. But her Marcel proved himself to be a hypocritical brat. What made her more furious was his refusal to talk about it.
In the morning, she packed her things and went back to her apartment. It was a Sunday morning. She waited for two full weeks for Marcel to call her, but his call never came. “If that immature fool thinks I would call to beg, he has something else coming,” she thought, and that was the end of that.
The following months were a blur. She just lived through them like she never existed. She thought of her mum and how she had married her father at 30, while he was 25. She remembered her mum’s sister who had married a 30 year old man when she was 37. She remembered how every female member of her extended family had married men below their age. They were also single mothers before they got married. The only consolation she had from that was that they all got married. She was not interested in the age of the man she was going to marry, as long as he was mature enough to shoulder the responsibility of being a loving father to her child. That was the most important thing to her. She wanted a family—a complete family—with that assurance that they were all responsible for each other. She didn’t have the privilege of that. Her mother had her when she was 19 and the man she called father, adopted her when she was 11 so, she knew how it felt to know that the person you call father is not your biological father. She never had the privilege of knowing her father, and she didn’t want that for her daughter.
It was one year before she opened her heart once more to love, for what she needed to do. It was at a church dinner she met Dan, the sweetest soul she had ever met. Dan was an artist; he was tall, dark and handsome. He always had that smile that said ‘I know and it’s going to be fine.’ She felt secure and comfortable around him, as though her fears had melted into oblivion, as though they never even existed, so she decided not to speak of the past. Dan was not only a successful young doctor he was also an heir to a large estate, being a son of one of the richest businessmen in Africa. Their relationship was a model for all. She was the perfect young lady and he was the perfect gentleman. They vacationed in Vegas and Rio and Dubai, Venice, Rome and Paris.
One year into their relationship, Dan took her to Florida to meet his mother. The family had a beach house there where his mother was vacationing. The moment Ireti set her eyes on the woman, she knew. She knew the kind of woman she was, and she saw that disapproving look on her face. Perhaps she wanted her son to wed a young heiress. Despite this, Ireti stood her ground and the old woman was surprised to see the level of confidence she exhibited. But there was a smirk that lingered on her face, as though she knew something about Ireti. As though they both had a secret they shared. It shattered her confidence. The questions poured in and Ireti tried her best to answer them as truthfully and diplomatically as she could. The old woman’s tone was condescending and when she spoke to her son, she gave him that look that said ‘you could have done better.’ Dan didn’t seem to notice—he was in love—and it surprised his mother more than it infuriated her.
They spent 2 weeks in Florida, yet his mother maintained that condescending tone all through. After Florida, Ireti knew something would go wrong. She loved Dan so much that she wanted to protect him from her past. She wanted to keep him in the lovely grey present. But at the same time her daughter was there, she wanted to protect her innocence she wanted to give her a sense of belonging to whoever she was going to end up with, because she knew her father would never show up for her. “Dan would understand when i finally tell him,” she said and strengthened her resolve to keep her past away from him until they get married.
Six months later, they were in Barcelona when a package arrived. It was addressed to both of them. She was quite curious and excited. She knew it was something that had to do with a proposal. She was so excited that she didn’t notice the surprise on his face. The package was quite flat so she wondered what could be in it, a card perhaps, or documents. Maybe marriage forms, yes! She thought he wants us to be married in Barcelona. Finally, they opened the package together and were surprised to see pictures. They were pictures of Ireti and her daughter. The resemblance couldn’t be mistaken.
On the pictures, was a question in bold clear prints ‘HOPE WHO IS THE BABY GIRL?’ She was speechless. She held the pictures in her hands as they shook, her eyes staring at something beyond the pictures, they were like twin dams of tears about to break. Dan had just sat there staring at her trembling hands and her face. Finally, he took her face in his hands and let her tears mix with the sweat that was already forming on his palm. He looked deep into her eyes and told her to tell him everything about it. She told him everything; from the time she was raped to all the men she had met and had dumped her. Their vacation in Spain was over. It took Dan a full month to summon the courage to tell her that he didn’t wish to continue with their relationship. His excuse was that it took her too long to tell him which meant that she was trying to hide it from him. She tried all she could to explain why she had decided not to talk about it, but Dan was too furious to listen. “It is over,” he had said, “my mother was right.” So the old witch spoke to him about me and he didn’t tell me, she thought, so she confronted him with that.
“I was trying to protect you,” he said. “And so was I” she fired back. “I was trying to protect you from my past. I kept you in the grey to shield you from the dark.”
“Maybe I wanted to know about the dark,” he snorted, “maybe love could shine its light and scare the dark away, but you’ve allowed the monster from the dark to drag me there unaware. I’m saving myself.”
“Save me too,” she was wailing now, “I love you Dan,” was all she could manage to say.
“Maybe love is not enough” he said and stormed out of her apartment. That was the last she would hear from him. She was certain that she was cursed. She wanted to die.
Two weeks after that incident, Ireti began to have a fever almost every morning. At work, she would fall asleep often and it seemed as though she couldn’t get enough of sleep. The nausea came almost immediately, and then she knew. She knew that Daniel’s seed was living and growing stronger on her inside and for a split second a splinter of hope glowed in her heart. Maybe this would change the way things are she said to herself. I would name him Mayowa—or her—because he has brought joy to my heart. That evening she called Dan, but he refused to pick up the phone. She redialled his number some hours later, and there was still no response. She sent him a text message: Dan I’m carrying your baby. I love you and I’m sorry.
The reply had come almost immediately: I have nothing to do with that. I have nothing to do with you and your baby.
Then her heart broke. She thought of a million possibilities of how her life would end up. I can’t afford to keep another illegitimate child. I can’t possibly live with the guilt. And all her lamentations were full of the ‘Cants’ and the ‘Hows’ and ‘Whys’. She sobbed daily for weeks, until she got the courage to take a firm decision.
The hospital was along the Lekki-Epe Expressway, and it was quite reputable. The interview with the doctor was a blur; all she wanted to do was get the child out of her before it was too late. They scheduled her for a Friday—the longest Friday of her life. She left the office at four o’clock, an hour before the closing hour. She drove from Adeola Odeku Street in Victoria Island to Agungi where the hospital was located. The rendezvous took about one hour and thirty minutes and she was admitted for another one hour, thirty minutes to rest, before she was finally discharged. She drove herself home to have the coldest, loneliest and longest night ever. A night so void of hope, it was as though the world will end, as though tomorrow would not come. But if tomorrow comes, she thought, if only tomorrow would come, I would rise above my fears and forget the past. I would selfheal my sores and cover up their scars with hope, like a new blossoming skin, after all, my name Ireti means hope. I would stand tall and independent, and I would keep standing. I would stay on my feet and rise up again even if I hit rock-bottom; because rock-bottom—I know—is a good place to start afresh. I would teach my daughter everything my mother failed to teach me. I would teach her to be independent, to walk with her shoulders high and her head up. I would teach her that she needs nobody’s approval to feel important. If tomorrow comes, I would teach her of the values that come with womanhood—of self-esteem and confidence, of humility and of pride—pride in her godly virtues. I would let her know, that no one can make her feel a certain way, without her consent. And if tomorrow comes, we’ll stand together, holding hands and never letting go of each other. Together, we’ll achieve our goals.
The first streak of light announced the arrival of dawn. “At last,” she sighed, “tomorrow has come and has become today, and the world did not end.” She stood by her window and watched the first ray of sunlight filter in. A ray of hope, that the day held better things in store. She was tired and exhausted and was supposed to stay in bed resting, according to the doctor. But she wanted to keep herself busy, so she went about cleaning up her apartment. There was a knock on the door and she took a quick glance at the wall clock she was surprised to see that a lot of time had passed—it was 5 pm. Yet she wasn’t tired, which surprised her. When she went for the door, she was curious about who it would be because she wasn’t expecting anybody. She peeped through the hole and saw the outline of a male figure standing with his face down on her veranda. But she couldn’t make out the face of the visitor.
She opened the door and was surprised to see Dan standing there. For a split second, she thought she was hallucinating and it took her all the strength in the world to restrain herself from making a scene. She stood in the door way preventing him from coming in, as she managed to ask what he wanted. He went ahead to apologise for everything he has and hasn’t done, for being a coward at the time of adversity. He apologised for what could have been and for what is—and only she, could know the difference. His sombre figure stood there appearing as a silhouette in the mixture of the rays of the setting sun and the tears that filled her eyes, and she couldn’t see him until they started flowing—they didn’t start flowing until she stopped knowing him, until he became a stranger. Heavy drops of tears, each one trying hard it tell the tales of her pain—her indescribable pain.
“I want us to keep the baby,” he dared to mutter. “I want us to keep our babies, both of them. I love you Ireti.”
Ireti stood there listening to him, shaking her head in pity for him. She pitied him for the emptiness he would feel for a very long while, she pitied him because he deprived himself of the privilege to be part of her life and her daughter’s, she pitied him because he would never know what it feels like to hold a son he could call theirs, that he would never know what his child would have looked like, whether it was a she or he. She smiled to herself as the tears flowed in increased torrents, because she could see the pain and the fear in his eyes—the fear of losing her. He had known when he saw her expression. She was glad because he too could feel a different kind of pain—the pain of regret—and it was enough for her. “Your child is dead Dan, go home.” she whispered, her voice cold and harsh, she slammed the door shut in his face.
She heard the screech of his tires as he left, she was in the bathroom huddled at a corner as the water poured down on her head drenching her clothes and she revelled in the moment feeling the water wash away the last ebbs of pain. Time for dinner she thought as she stared at herself in the mirror, her towel clinging to her wet skin and another wrapped round her head like a turban. She headed to the kitchen to prepare herself a nice meal. She put some oil into a frying pan and turned on the gas. She took some onions and started to chop them—they were white onions. Then her phone rang she glanced at the screen. It was Dan and she ignored, no, she thought. The sun was setting and she could see it merging with the ocean, from her kitchen window. A beautiful sight it was and it reminded her of the rising sun and of hope. It gave her an assurance that the sun will rise again on the morrow. She was lost in thought again and felt a distant pain, but the pain was bodily this time, it jolted her back to reality. She looked down and saw that she had cut herself as she chopped—her white onions had turned blood red.