The front door flung open as I pulled Tiwa with me, out of the Lagos City Hall. Tiwa struggled helplessly with me, but I didn’t loosen my firm grip on her hand. “Would you behave yourself?” I charged as I pushed Tiwa forward.
“I want my father!” she retorted angrily.
I eyed her coldly. “Look here, you heard the Judge.” I shouted as I pressed the remote control to my latest acquisition, a black Toyota Camry 2014.
Tiwa scoffed. “I don’t like you, and you better not forget that.” She said as she kicked the car’s tyre furiously.
I raised my hand to slap her but I restrained myself knowing that we were standing right in front of the Lagos City Hall and it could instantly jeopardize my chances of having her.
“Oh…you scared?” she asked, with a subtle but evil grin. I could see the hatred burning in her eyes. My own daughter despised me.
I turned around to see Omololu as he ran in our direction panting heavily. “You don’t have to do this, Ijeoma.” He said as he bit his lower lip lightly. That was the first thing that attracted me to Omololu, his lips! And whenever he bit the lower one, I always felt excited all the way to my toes.
“You don’t have to do this.” He replied with a squint. “I know what the Judge said and all, but you don’t have to do this to us.” He continued, raising his voice slightly.
Omololu was tall with tanned brown skin colour, his mom had fallen in love with a Canadian expatriate, who had left for his country in the event of a pregnancy. Lolu was the product of their little fling. Lolu had thick eyebrows, and a baby dimple that danced around his mouth every time he smiled. He wasn’t smiling now. He was my textbook definition of first love, good looking, athletic and muscular. He simply looked like something right out of a magazine, and I was his perfect fit. I had the right features in the right places. But our love wasn’t just about the looks, it was way stronger than that.
We were poor, young and in love.
Omololu stared at me as he stood quite a distance from me. It had to be at least 10metres between us, at least till the judge said otherwise. “Please, Ijeoma.” He begged softly. I could read his lips.
I held Tiwa’s hand tightly. “Forget it, Omololu.”
I swallowed as he said ‘us’ . Yes, there was an ‘us’ , an ‘ us’ stronger than the current of deep waters. Before we got married, every time I attended wedding ceremonies in our local church and heard the cliché ‘…for richer or poorer, till death do us part…’, I would laugh inwardly at the impossibility of me ever saying and meaning those words. However, with Omololu, I felt happy and fulfilled saying them as they came from the deepest recesses of my heart.
He swallowed and blinked. “Alright you can leave! But please, don’t take Tiwa with you. You know she’ll never be as happy with you.” he shouted.
I blinked hard and hissed at the bitter truth. “Into the car, now!” I shouted at Tiwa as I opened the car door. I turned in front of the car and stared at Omololu as I made for the driver’s seat. He had in his hand in his pants pockets, his demeanor calm as ever. I hated him for that. I stepped into my car and sped off.
I watched her sleek car drive off and walked down the steps. She was mine. I blinked as the dusts went up and settled in my face. Ijeoma had changed. She used to be tender, soft and easy-to-talk-to, before it all went wrong.
I took a deep breath and turned. Only my mom and Ijeoma called me ‘Omololu’, I preferred it to the ‘Lolu’ everyone else called me, it held more meaning that way. Well, it could only be my mom calling since Ijeoma only just drove off.
“It’s okay, son.” She said as she placed her hand on my shoulder.
“She took Tiwa from me.” I replied.
She nodded “I know, but in truth, Tiwa is hers too.”
“Mom!” I yelled. “Don’t say that!” I shouted and walked away from her. Mom always supported Ijeoma. Sometimes I wondered if she really was my mother or Ijeoma’s.
I had taken Ijeoma home when we were just thirteen and my mother had taken an instant liking to her.
I threw a stone at our kitchen window and waited for ten seconds. I didn’t hear my mom shout the usual ‘ Omololu, break it o’ , so I could bet she wasn’t home. I held Ijeoma’s hand and took her into the house.
“What if your mom is inside?”
I shook my head. “Never! She would have shouted when that stone hit the window.” I replied as I winked at her. “That’s my trick.”
“Omololu, I actually don’t want your mom to hate me. I’ll come back tomorrow, its Saturday after all.”
I hissed. “Ij, why are you scared? My mom isn’t in. All we have to do is clean the house before she gets back, and you promised to help me.” I replied as I sulked.
“I know…” she stressed.
“Now I know you want my mom to beat me up when she returns, she said if I didn’t wash the plates before she gets back, she would beat me up.” I replied as I stared at her. “Please…stay.”
She took a deep breath. “Then we have to be very fast.”
“WONDERFUL! Omololu! So this is what you do when I am not at home?” Mom asked as she came out of hiding. I gasped in shock and surprise while Ijeoma dashed behind me holding my shirt in fear.
Mom grinned and took her seat. “My dear…” she called. She couldn’t have been referring to me, I couldn’t be dear to her at this moment. Ijeoma peeped gently behind me and then came forward slowly with her head fully bowed expecting the worst. “What is your name, sweetheart?” she asked.
“Ij!” I replied protectively. It was time to show Ijeoma I could stand up to anybody, even my mother for her sake. Mom eyed me coldly from head to toe and I kept quiet. She then smiled in Ijeoma’s direction.
With Ijeoma’s best smile, she replied in a shaky voice, “Ij…Ijeoma, ma.” That was the beginning of her friendship with my mother.
I pulled up on the order of the traffic light and stole a glance at my daughter who had her ears firmly plugged in with music from her iPod. “Tiwa.” I called. No answer! She kept looking outside through the car window. This attitude was so unlike her, she was always a bubbly chatterbox while growing up. At least, she was a lively baby. But now? She was so cold towards me. “Tiwa!” I shouted and yanked the ear phones from her ear.
“What?!” she shouted and eyed me in a repulsive manner.
I slammed the steering. “I am your mother! Stop this nonsense!”
“Mother?” she laughed sarcastically. “I don’t have a mother. Oh well…there is actually a woman, but guess what, she is not you! I don’t know you!”
I took a deep breath and cleared my throat. “Who is she?” I asked softly.
“Wow! You really do have a soft tone. How surprising!” She replied sarcastically.
Sudden heat flushed across my face. My heart raced fast. Tiwa didn’t seem like my baby anymore. Of course, I know growing up is necessary, but not like this? I wiped some perspiration off my forehead. Yes, I felt hot in my fully air-conditioned car.
Everything was beautiful…back then. Ijeoma was my life, and even though circumstances are a lot different now, she still seems like my life. Mom hummed softly to ‘It is well’ as I drove. What could be well? Nothing was well for me. I had just lost custody of my sixteen year old daughter to Ijeoma.
“I’m going to take Tiwa back!”
Mom smiled faintly as she stared at me. “I will miss Tiwa, but Ijeoma is her mother too, and she deserves to be with her.”
“Deserves?” I shouted as I honked heavily scaring off the cyclist in my way. “Ijeoma deserves nothing! She is a cold-hearted woman! A brutal soul!” I chanted.
She shook her head. “She’s nothing of the sort and you know it.”
“Really? What sort of a woman would do what she did? For goodness’ sake, she had a daughter!”
“She loved you, Son.”
I hissed. “Love? I was a fool back then to have believed that. She never loved me. She only used me.”
“Used? Don’t be an ingrate, son.” She replied. “Ijeoma loved you truly.”
Mom would defend Ijeoma with her life! Mom had rushed into the hospital the day Ijeoma’s parents had been involved in a car crash which eventually claimed both their lives.
I was too scared to go near her. She yelled like a rabid dog (The term might be harsh; but I had never seen anyone yell so violently). We had just finished writing our Joint Admissions Matriculation Board (JAMB) examinations in preparation for University when Ijeoma got a call to come over to the University College Hospital, Ibadan from her Uncle. I accompanied her there and we walked into the ever busy lounge.
Her Uncle approached us quickly. “How was your exam?” he asked, staring at her. He then stared at me. “Who is he?”
“My name is Omololu.” I said, stretching out my hand.
He ignored it and held her hand. “Ijeoma, my dear…life is hard, but you are harder.”
“Uncle, what’s all this? What are you talking about?” she asked, getting unsettled but still managing to maintain her usual composure.
He took a deep breath. “Walk with me.” he said and she followed.
I walked slowly behind them. My heart skipped as I watched Ijeoma punch her Uncle hard and then throw herself on the floor. I ran after them. “Ijeoma!” I shouted as I held her hand. “What is it?”
“See how she…she is shouting.” Her Uncle stuttered. “Is she the first to lose both parents?”
I stared at him and didn’t even know when my fists pummeled his face. How could anyone be so harsh! By the time we were separated, Ijeoma was out of sight. I ran through the hospital wards searching for her. “Ij! Ijeoma!” I yelled.
“Be quiet! This is a hospital.” A nurse shouted back.
“You shut up!” I replied and ran across the wards. “Ijeoma!!!”, I screamed.
I stopped as I saw her seating peacefully and drinking a glass of water. I walked to her and sat beside her. “Ijeoma, I am so sorry.” I said.
She smiled and then laughed. “Why? Aren’t you happy? I won’t be going to Lagos anymore. I will stay here with you.”
“Ijeoma, stop.” I said and tried to hug her. She leapt from my grip sending me crashing into the floor. She pushed tables, grabbed chairs and hurled them around. She approached me and kicked me so hard that I cried. I wasn’t hurting from the pain, I was hurting because she was hurting. I picked myself up and ran out. I immediately dialed my mother. I knew Mom would come.
Mom rushed in. “Where is she?” she shouted.
“The doctors took her away.”
Mom made for the ward, but just as she was going in, Ijeoma rushed out and ran into my mother’s hand and cried. I watched them from a distance nursing my wounds.
I pulled up in front of my office. “This is my office, let’s go in.”
“I am not interested.” She replied.
I took a deep breath. “Tiwa, I just need to pick up a few things from the office, let’s go in.”
“I don’t wanna go in! You go ahead.”
I rubbed my forehead. “I will be right back.” I said, and stepped out of the car.
I smiled as I saw Austin approach me. Austin is my colleague and friend, yeah, friend. “Hi…”
“Heyy…you look so tired.” He said.
I nodded. “Dude, Tiwa is such a handful.”
“Wow…seems your bundle of joy comes with extra packages.” He said as he punched the elevator’s button. “I didn’t think you would return to work today, shouldn’t you be showing Tiwa your house? That’s her name, right? Like Tiwa Savage?”
I nodded as the door closed. “Yep! She’s Tiwa…like Tiwa Savage.” I grinned.“Good thing it’s almost August, I’ll try to catch up with her before I getfull custody.”
He held my hand. “Are you sure you are ready to do this?”
“I want my daughter back.”
He blinked. “And Lolu?”
I took a deep breath. “Omololu…” I called softly. “I don’t know.” I said as I wiped off the tear drop that rolled down my cheeks. Austin kissed my forehead and hugged me. “Come on, Ijeoma.” He said and walked me to my office. “What are you here to pick up?”
“Just my laptop. I think I’ll be working from home tomorrow.” I said as I drew my handkerchief from my jacket.
He grabbed my laptop and placed it carefully in the bag. “Come on, let’s go. I will walk you to your car.”
“I don’t know. Tiwa doesn’t like me, I am not so excited to go there.”
He took a deep breath. “What did you expect, babe? Look Ij, you gonna have to win her heart. Love comes slowly…just give it some time okay?”
I nodded and I sniffled. “But why won’t she just understand?”
“Understand?…” he took a deep breath. “Ijeoma, stop it. Let’s go downstairs.” He said and walked out carrying my laptop bag with him.
I sank into the sofa as I threw my car keys on the table.
“What would you like to have for lunch?” Mom asked, as she dropped her handbag.
“I am not hungry.”
She hissed. “Omololu, not now!” she said. “What are you eating?” she shouted.
I scoffed. “Anything you cook.”
“Better.” She said and left for the kitchen.
I brought out my wallet and stared at Ijeoma’s passport photographs. I chuckled as I stared at the one she had taken while still in high school. She had always been beautiful. She had taken over my room since her parents’ death and my mom took her in and I would stare through the window as I watched her sleep. Even in her sleep, she was beautiful, and she was mine.
“What are you doing there?” Mom shouted as she caught me staring at Ijeoma.
I smiled faintly. “Isn’t she beautiful?” I asked.
Mom nodded. “She is…” I grinned. “Now get back to studying else you won’t make that scholarship.”
I grumbled and walked away from her.
Our lives had changed when Ijeoma came to live with us after her parents’ death. We became poorer but happier, she brought joy to our home, especially my life. Shame everything had to change. I took a deep breath and replaced the passport in the wallet.
“I’m going to miss you tomorrow.” Austin said as we stepped into the elevator.
“Yeah right” I wore a wry smile as I rolled my eyes at him
He nodded. “But really, I will.” He replied.
The elevator doors opened on the ground floor and Imustered up the brightest smile I could. The subordinates and junior employees could not see my pale eyes, even though it was pretty hard to hide. I would gladly put on the tough woman exterior. I wasn’t weak anymore, Omololu used to be my strength, but not anymore. I was an independent woman with no reason to feel vulnerable. I was my own strength.
I hugged Austin and collected the laptop bag from him as we approached the gate. “I wouldn’t want her to see us together.”
“Why?” he asked. “I want to say hi to her.”
I took a deep breath. “You know I don’t want her to hate me more than she already does.”
He scoffed. “Then why lie to her, let her know about everything that’s been going on in your life.”
“Austin…” I said.
He hissed and walked on to the car. I had no choice but to follow him. He walked over to the passenger’s seat with a smile and pulled the door open. I blinked as he wore a worrying look.
“She ’ s gone!” he said.