Two leaves, followed by three more, and then others in quick succession fell from the Pawpaw tree under which she sat, seeking shade. She remembered about three or four years ago when they had first moved to Trans Ekulu from Emene and she had grafted the tree in their compound. There had also been a Pawpaw tree in her father’s compound where she had grown up. Her mother used to plait the hair of many neighbours’ children in the compound and they usually used to gather and sit under the tree for her interesting evening time stories despite the buzzing and annoying sounds and bites from the mosquitoes. In fact, they had made it a game amongst themselves of who could kill the mosquitoes the fastest. They had not been the richest family, but Mama and her siblings had enjoyed all the fun that poverty could offer.
Her father had come home early one of those evenings when her mother was getting ready to weave one of the children’s hair and declared that he had good news. Father Aloysius, the town church priest had agreed to take Mama to live with the Reverend Sisters in the Convent at Onitsha. The church would sponsor her education up till University level.
“Onyeka! Chineke! My daughter will get to University?” Mama’s mother had exclaimed, dancing something that looked like atilogu.
“Onyeka are you not happy?” Her father had asked, wondering why Mama had not been as cheerful as he had expected.
Mama had been afraid. She had been frightened. She did not want to leave her family for greener pastures. Yes, it seemed she was ungrateful, but she dreaded the unknown seemingly beautiful future.
The sound of her ringtone jolted her from her thoughts. The phone was charging in the kitchen which wasn’t far from where she was seated. There was no one in the house so she had to go get it herself. She missed those children. Now that they had all grown up, there was usually no one in the house to send on errands.
“Nne, how are you?” Mama said, answering the call.
The call was from Muna.
“I am dead.” Muna replied. Her voice was cold as though she were indeed dead.
“God forbid. You are not dead. I reject it in the name of Jesus…”
“I am pregnant.”
Mama was quiet for a little bit.
“What? Is it…Ayo?” Mama asked, trying to deny the truth that threatened her in the face with all the boldness there was.
“What are you saying?” Muna said, irritated.
“I…I…Are you sure? Have you gone to the hospital? It can’t be from…err…when last did you see your period?” Mama stuttered.
“I missed it last month. I just was so consumed with work I did not notice. And it was also supposed to come last three weeks. I am usually regular.” Muna said.
Mama heard the fear that hid under her daughter’s voice, finding solace in the nightmare that embraced her.
“It may just be your hormones…” Mama found another excuse.
“It is not my hormones! I have done a test. I am pregnant. I am five weeks…pre…g…nant!” Muna said, before she broke into tears.
Mama wished she was there with her to give her comfort.
“But we went to the hospital that day…” Mama interjected.
“Mummy I don’t know stop asking me all these questions please! I just told you I am pregnant. I don’t know what to do.”
“I hope you have not told Ayo.” She said.
“Okay. I will come to Lagos first thing tomorrow. Please just be calm.”
“What will you tell daddy?”
Mama realized she had not thought about that. She couldn’t tell him the good news. He was yet to recover from the lingering incident.
Papa looked at her as she knelt beside their bed. He had just taken a bath and was preparing to sleep. She had deliberately prepared fresh fish stew for him when he returned from church.
“I don’t see why you have to go to Lagos, Onyeka.” Papa said.
Mama noticed for the first time the grey on his hairline and his goatee. She had never noticed the discoloration despite sleeping beside him every single night save for vigils.
“She is not feeling well and I had a bad dream. I really need to be with her.” Mama said the untruth.
“She doesn’t need you there. I don’t want anything to remind her of…of that night. Seeing you again will bring those memories.” Papa said.
“I am her mother. If I don’t comfort her, who will?” Mama pleaded.
“She has not called me since she returned to Lagos. She picks my calls and then tells me she will call me back but she never calls back. She rarely responds to my daily devotionals and prayer texts.” Papa said.
“She is just confused.” Mama said.
“She blames me.”
“Haa…why would you say a thing like that?” Mama said, surprised.
He was silent.
“It’s okay. You can go. Send my love to her. When will you be back?” He spoke.
NEPA interrupted the power and the standing fan reduced in speed and the benevolence of the air it gave.
“Maybe two weeks.” Mama replied.
She reached for her phone to tell Obinna to switch on the generator.
“Let him be. There is no need wasting fuel. It is night already and it is breezy.” Papa said.
That night, for the first time in a while, Papa held on close to his wife. He didn’t want anything more intimate. They were now old, but he missed the intimacy of just holding her without saying a word like those days when they were younger. Mama wiped a tear from her face even though her body was rigid at first.
Then she held his hands which he had placed on her stomach that had stretched out with fat from serial motherhood.
“Onyeka please forgive me.” He whispered.
“Forgive you for what? It wasn’t your fault what happened to Munachi.” Mama whispered back.
“I am not only talking about Muna. I am talking about that other night.” He said.
Mama sighed. She did not want to talk about it again.
“It’s past. Let it go.” She said.
“Okay.” He responded.
Her heart thumped as she tried to block the memories he had aroused in her mind.
The traffic getting to Badore was something definitely. He had just closed from work and was stuck in the Ozumba Mbadiwe grid lock. The traffic lights continued to change colors but the cars were moving slower than usual. Perhaps another truck had broken down along the way. Despite the traffic situation though, Ayotunde was happy. Perhaps it was because he had been able to fill the tank of his car with fuel despite the horrible scarcity situation. It was one thing to have the cash, yet it was another to have access to the product.
In about twenty five minutes, he was at the junction between turning into Oniru or heading to the Lekki toll. He wanted to surprise Muna but she was fast getting so used to his surprises that they were no longer surprising. Her office was at Oniru. He had cleared his table early so they could hang out or see a movie together. He was craving Hans and Rene ice cream at Palms and wanted to get there first before going to pick her at the office. She complained that his sugar consumption was excessive but how could he say no to Hans and Rene?
His phone rang. It was Muna. He smiled to himself almost in shock.
“Nawa o! Baby, na your Papa born you, I swear.” He laughed.
“What’s up?” Muna said at the other end of the line.
“Like seriously, bae, do you have a tracking device on me or something?”
“Ayo what are you talking about?”
“I was just going to…” He paused. “Hey, are you through at work? I’m around your side and I was thinking we could hang out a little to pass time. We’ve both been so busy of late, you know.”
Muna said something he didn’t hear.
“I didn’t hear you Love.” He said.
“I’m not at the office. I took the week off.” Muna said.
“A whole week? Casual leave? Why?”
“I guess I just need some rest. Besides Mum is lonely in the house with me gone so early and getting home late every day.” Muna said.
“What’s wrong? You don’t feel well?”
“Err…yeah Malaria.” She lied.
But she really did not feel well. And it was worse than Malaria.
“Okay have you taken medication? I’m coming to your place right away. Do you need anything I’m still around Oniru.”
“I am good, baby. I just miss you.”
“I’m blushing now.” He teased.
“I feel like going out tonight though. Let’s do the hang out. I don’t wanna see a movie though.”
“What do you wanna do then?”
“Let’s do Karaoke or something fun. Let’s go to Quillox.”
“What?” Muna said.
“It’s just…you never do these things. I hope you are not planning to die or something and are now fulfilling all your last wishes.”
“I’ll take a cab and meet you up at Shaunz, okay?” She said.
“Munachi! Are you sure this is just malaria?”
“Gerrarahere.” Muna laughed.
“Say hi to Mum for me okay. Tell her I love her more than I love you.”
Muna ended the call.
Their dates usually involved more people than just them both and this was because of Ayo’s social status. There always seemed to be one celebrity artiste or actress or socialite who knew him. Since he proposed, he was always quick to introduce her as his fiancé. She knew he was happy. She was happy too. He was the best thing that ever happened to her since Red Oak plantain chips.
He tried to force her to sing at least one song but she was too shy. He went ahead and thrilled the audience with songs from Sam Smith and John Legend and dedicated them to her. Obviously, he let the entire Shaunz bar know that Muna Eze was his fiancé.
“Are you sure you want to stay? Do you need to rest? We could leave if you’d want.” He said.
Muna shook her head.
“It’s fine, honey.” She said.
He held her hand in his and rubbed his thumb against the back of hers.
“You are beautiful.” He said. “Two guys are checking you out behind there. Don’t look.”
“That’s because they are gossiping about us. You announced that I am your fiancé.” She smiled.
He sipped on his drink and nodded.
“Ayotunde I’ve been thinking…” She started.
“What’s up?” He answered.
“My guy! How far now!” Someone approached their table, shook Ayo’s hand and patted his back. She didn’t know who this one was. Perhaps an upcoming artiste. Ayo introduced him as the popular musician Lil Brick’s manager. Muna nodded, smiling.
“Guy abeg, no forget that thing wey we talk. We need the Ferrari for Lil Brick’s Haters gon’ hate video. The yellow Ferrari.” Lil Brick’s manager said.
Ayo nodded and said some other things that she couldn’t hear because of the person that was on stage singing over the mic to a Timi Dakolo song. The person literally murdered the song and shredded it to waste.
“Babe, you know what let’s go to the car. I’m getting tired of the distractions.” Ayo said.
Muna nodded and followed as they walked to the car park. As soon as they got into the Mercedes, he pulled her closer and kissed her spontaneously. She pulled away almost immediately. There was something repulsive and she felt the nausea rise within her gut.
“Are you upset?” Ayo asked.
“No…no baby.” She said. “Something just smells funny around here.”
“Oh I got a new fragrance for my car today. It’s got this minty smell.” He said.
“So what did you want to tell me?” He asked.
She cleared her throat and looked at him. He turned off the radio.
“I think I have changed my mind.” She said.
“Err…about marrying me?”
“I mean, I think I’m ready for us to get married. There is no point wasting any time.” She said.
“Wha..what?!” He opened his mouth wide. He was thrilled and giddy.
“Yeah. I was thinking about it and there is no need waiting. My mum thinks we should get everything done fast too.”
Ayo was still trying to find his expression. He hugged her and kissed her forehead.
“So when are we looking at?” He said, smiling.
As Ayo drove past the Lekki toll and headed into the Lekki-Epe express to drop her home, Muna looked out the window. Flashes from the headlamps of different cars reflected in the side view mirror where she sat. She looked up and the stars were out already. As a child, she used to try to count the stars with Ugochi every night. Now, she was counting days.
Mama had told her that abortion was not an option. No matter what happened, the baby had to be kept. She had been shocked when Muna had told her that she had made up her mind to abort the pregnancy because the child was a bastard.
“And bastards do not deserve to live?” Mama had argued with her.
“You can’t understand, Mum. You don’t know what this feels like. I am the one carrying the child of a man whose face I did not even see!” Muna had yelled.
“You…you are being unreasonable, Munachi.”
“Mum please just let me be. I have made up my mind. I can’t stand this. I mean, just when I thought I was starting to get over the rape, then I get to find out I am carrying a criminal’s child. God must really love me.” She snapped.
“Munachi listen to me. I bore you and you have to listen to me when I speak.” Mama had yelled.
“And you are starting to bore me!” Muna had yelled back.
“I won’t have you be rude to me.”
“I’m sorry…I guess I’m just all over the place. Mummy I’m afraid. Ayo thinks I am his precious little virgin untouched. And I was…I didn’t lie to him. Even if I didn’t tell him about the rape, how would I hide this pregnancy?” Muna cried.
Mama had hugged her and after the round of tears and weeping between both women, Mama finally dished the advice that had come from the abundance of her heart. She was a pastor’s wife but she couldn’t take the shame if Muna did not marry Ayo because of the pregnancy from a robber.
“Tell him you want a quick wedding. Tell him I had a vision that the wedding should be held this July or else there would be consequences. Divine consequences. The pregnancy would be easier to believe as his. And on your wedding night you just have to find something to say to him when he asks questions. The Lord is our strength.”
*HEATINTHERAINDROPS Episode 3
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