“No, no. You can’t do that, Sola” Festus replied shaking his head.
Her patience was wearing off fast. She heard the distant howl of a dog and the air was cool that night, thanks to the rain that just abated “Do you have a better plan, Festus?”
“You are suggesting I give my daughter’s hand in marriage to save my marriage?” he repeated uncertainly.
“I believe I spoke English” she shifted impatiently to look at him on the king size bed; his face was shadowed as he backed the moonlight that flooded lazily in to the room. “That is the only way out of this. If you sell it without that condition, how do we fend for ourselves after the money is spent, or would you like to work under someone with how far you’ve come in life?”
He shook his head grudgingly in agreement “I just don’t think Tayo would agree to that, his family too.”
“Leave that alone and set your mind at ease, I’m sure he would.”
He eyed her suspiciously, “You sound so confident. Have you done anything?”
“Anything like what?” she turned away from him feigning anger “Are you accusing me of…”
“I’m sorry”, Festus replied hastily
“Just try, there’s no harm in trying … after all, both of you are childhood friends and this kind of marriage is very well common in these parts. It’s not a death sentence.”
“Priscilla has her life; I don’t think we should be making such decisions for her”
Sola paused and looked at her husband very irritated “Why do you act weak? Do you want Imabong who is just 22?”
“No, no. I didn’t say that but…” he paused unsure of whether to speak, Festus looked away from her in shame. “Are you using this to punish me?”
Sola said nothing for a moment as her eyes flashed in recognition “What do you mean?”, she asked tongue in cheek.
“All those years …” Festus replied with a shaky breath. There was silence and a low ruffle of the bedspread; sola slowly turned to look at her husband as he knelt by the bedpost and as he faced her. She said nothing looking at him full of undisguised bitterness.
Festus looked at her, the moonlight framed his silhouette and her thin lips twisted ruefully; this was a man she had fallen love with those years ago. Now, she could not even bear to look into his haunted eyes. He did not look like Festus, he looked different. Like a desperate looking failure.
He reached out to touch her heavy hand, cold and yet soft. He knew her anger and felt her pain: a pain she had never voiced. Even with all she had done, he still loved this woman. With all the lies and betrayal, he still loved her. He placed her hand on the side of his cheek and wept into her palm like a child. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”
Sola’s hand stiffened. She did not want to feel sorry for this man. She wanted to punish him for everything; for the jealousy and the pain of living everyday with blasts from the past. She dragged her wet hand from his grasp and slid off the bed in silence.
“Would we ever talk about it?” Festus said weakly, “For 25 years, not a word Sola, not a word”, he repeated. “The guilt is killing me.”
She walked towards the window overlooking the midnight sky and leaned on it with her body casting a shadow across the bed. She looked at him speechless.
“I know you are doing this to punish me. But I can never understand why you didn’t give the child back.”
“Why would I?” Sola heard herself say in a dangerously low tone, “I would have run crazy pretending my husband was a saint. How do you think I feel staring at the face of your betrayal?”
Festus sighed in remorse and he got up to walk to her placing a hand tenderly on her arm, the moonlight poured on them both “I’m sorry Sola, if there was a way that I could go back and change these things I would” he let out a ragged breath. “I love you, Sola and I thank you for sticking with me after all these years.”
She looked at him as her mind was in rage: she wanted to scream and sob but her lips did not move. She thought she would feel gratified knowing she gave his daughter to a man she did not love. She wanted his daughter to suffer and gnash her teeth the same way she had when he brought the bastard into their home.
Finally she found the voice to speak looking straight into his eyes unweathering “Yes Festus, I’m doing this to punish you. To make you cry and wish she was never born. I’m doing this because I feel entitled to use something you shoved in my face after investing in her.” Her tone was flat and as dead as the night. “After everything, look at where we are now, we are still together even though what we have between us is sick.”
His hand reached out and struck her hard across the mouth. Sola flinched and her eyes watered in pain but she did not gratify him the pleasure of hearing her squeal in pain. This was how this marriage was; they hurt each other but they refused to give up. It was like a game where both of them were determined to outdo the other. It was a destructive feeling they shared and they knew that they feared each other: a twisted pair. A spurt of blood burst out of her bottom lip and they stared at each other.
Slowly he moved closer and brought his lips down to hers. She gave back what he asked her, Sola thought as she found herself on the bed as they tore at each other’s clothes: in the end she won, he would suffer for his daughter and the girl would suffer the way she had.
For the first time she wished the girl knew she was not her daughter. Her revenge would be complete.
Tayo knocked on the large brass door leading to Karen’s home on the first floor in the 6-block service flats and looked at the leather watch strapped round his wrist; it was barely 10 in the morning. She would be shocked seeing him looking to find his son. He knocked again determined to shake off his cold feet. The door opened, Karen wore loose slacks and an oversized t-shirt.
Shock registered on her bare face when she saw him.
“Chief” Karen’s voice was low in shock.
“Good morning”, he tried a reassuring smile that did not seem to work “Is Tunde home?” he added quickly.
Karen looked back and nodded at him stepping aside for him to come in. Tayo stepped for the first time inside her flat. The white walls contrasted with the colorful paintings in the spacious parlor. The morning sun brightened up the room as the windows and sliding door leading to the balcony was open with only a transparent curtain loosely drawn across each one.
Tunde stood by the balcony door just staring at his father full of disgust. He wore the same loose slacks with Karen without a shirt exposing his fine spanned chest. “What are you doing here?”
Tayo turned half way to look at Karen; he smiled reassuringly. “Could you please excuse us?”
She nodded moving out of the room and mumbling something inaudibly. Tayo turned back to look at Tunde “I came to see you. Can we sit? I have something important we need to discuss.” He sat down on the nearby dinning chair.
Tunde moved to the other side of the parlor, avoiding any close contact with his father. He kept his gaze leveled, not willing to show how much his father’s presence affected him. “What did you come here for?”
The older man cleared his throat and paused before he began. “It’s about 2 weeks ago.”
“What about it?”
“Please Tunde don’t play the ostrich. You know what happened” , Tayo rasped impatiently, but his son kept his gaze. “I came to apologize.”
“To me or to your wife?”
Tayo sighed, “Please don’t make this hard for me Tunde. I know it was wrong and you have every right to be disappointed.”
“I’m not disappointed dad, I’m disgusted.” Tunde folded his arms across his broad chest not taking his eyes off his father. He let of a scoff. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Come on dad, you didn’t come for just that. If you’re really sorry, you should be apologizing to mum and not me. Besides, I’m not the one you cheated on.”
Tayo hung his almost grey head for the moment, letting Tunde’s words sink in. “I’m sorry, it was a moment of weakness Tunde. Can’t we just forge ahead and not dwell on it?”
“I’m disappointed in you, dad. If anyone had ever said you would do that, I would have disagreed. This is something I can’t even understand because there’s nothing in that woman that you would cheat on your wife for”, Tunde said trying to calm his anger. “What brought you here dad? Let’s make this quick for both of us”, he said with his tone withdrawn.
“I need your help Tunde”, Tayo shifted on the chair in desperation. He closed his eyes for a second. “What I’m about to say is for the good of everyone. I know it’s my mistake but it’s the only way peace can rein in our family.”
“Cut to the chase dad”, Tunde interrupted impatiently. His father got up and walked to where he stood as if stoic; they stood eye to eye in the parlor.
“Sola is threatening to expose everything”, Tayo replied cautiously watching his son and Tunde carefully moved a safe distance from him his heart slowly increasing its pace
“That’s your problem; it has nothing to do with us.”
“If she talks it’s our problem. I love my family,” He saw his son’s expression falter at his statement but he continued. “Believe me I do, even though I have made mistakes I’m not proud of Tunde and I’m sure we don’t want this family separated.”
“You still haven’t said what this has to do with me” Tunde replied tongue in cheek.
“She wants us to buy her husband’s company and send 20% of the profits from whatever the company yields to us in future each month to her.”
In spite of himself, Tunde laughed for the first time.”That’s outrageous! Does she know what she is saying at all? Geez dad, this is what you get for being unfaithful to a loving wife. Mrs Irumogbe is clearly not ready to accept that her husband’s business is in the loop and you have given her a reason to believe there’s hope because of your greed.”
“Please leave, this has nothing to do with me, but because I love my mother, I’ll choose to keep this between us but that’s the best I can do so go and sort out your mess and leave me alone.”
Tayo said nothing for a moment; he slid his hands in his pocket as he did whenever his pride faltered. He had thought of it clearly, played and replayed it in his mind of how his son would react and he knew in the end, he would win. He was Tunde’s father, Chief Ariyo. He would rather settle for that devil of a woman’s scores than to hang his head in shame because of the mistakes he made.
“Tunde she isn’t settling for just that, that’s why I need your help desperately.”
“What is this?” Tunde asked getting frustrated whilst ignoring the panic that seemed to begin rearing its ugly head for no reason yet. “Is this some kind of mind game? Tell me what it is you came for, I have to enjoy the rest of my morning!”
“Sola has requested for a union between you and her first daughter, she says the union will make the contract more enforceable ” Tayo’s voice was grim.
“Union?” Tunde repeated slowly letting the full import of his father’s words dawn on him. He began to shake his head in disagreement. “No, are you suggesting I marry her daughter?”, he looked at his father in shock
“She’s suggesting that. I suggest you look out for the family’s interest.”
“Your interest you mean?!”, he stared at his father in ice burning hatred “Your selfish interest you mean?!” Tunde said again, “I should bear the brunt of your foolishness because you are too much of a coward to tell the truth!”
“Don’t speak that way to me Tunde. No matter how ugly things get I’m still your father!” Tayo remarked in a thinly controlled voice, he looked at his son with his face stoic.
“You are despicable, really you are. I should marry someone I have never met to cover up your mistakes,” he laughed in disbelief “I can’t believe this is happening. Please leave” he walked unsteadily to the door opening it for the stranger that was his father.
“Tunde, I came to tell you this because I needed your help. You know I bend for no one,” he said walking towards the door cautiously.
“I am almost thirty”, Tunde replied unsteadily. “Almost 30 and you come in here casually telling me to marry someone: the daughter of someone you’ve been having sex with, don’t let me disrespect you.”
Tayo stopped by the door, his hands still in his pockets though he felt more in control. “It’s not a request, Tunde.” He looked into the brown pools of his son’s eyes with his tone flat. “This is for our family, not for me or you but for our family.”
“If you really cared about the family, we wouldn’t be this kind of a discussion in the first place,” Tunde replied through clenched teeth as his body shook in anger. “I placed you in high esteem and I decided to keep this between us. Don’t tempt me to tell on you.”
“Don’t dare me, dad”, Tunde replied with his voice cold. “I can’t believe you would agree to cheap blackmail because of your cowardice.”
He clenched his hands in his pockets, his lips thinned at what Tunde said. “Don’t tempt me also, if you value your position as the next president of Ariyo Enterprises. ” His son’s expression changed at the silent threat.
“Is that a threat, dad?”
“It depends on the way you choose to see it. I’m trying to do this for us and I wanted you to be cooperative but if it means changing my will, I will. I won’t have my son betray me.” He stepped out of the flat into the cold exterior hearing the door slam shut with more force than required.
He hadn’t even realized it rained. Tayo picked up his phone scrolling down the contact list to Sola’s number. He paused for a daring second and slipped the phone down into his pocket walking down the narrow stairway.
Tunde entered the dingy bar. The place was already half filled with tables for four and a long L-shaped chair, he scanned the fair crowd for Mrs Irumogbe and he sighted her immediately. Tayo walked further inside the bar, the smell of liquor and smoke filled his nostrils as he walked to where she sat smiling.
He would have loved to wipe the smile off her face, the woman was crazy. “Good morning Mrs Irumogbe.”
“Please call me Sola”, she replied coolly “I see you left the office?”
He nodded not willing to speak much; he sat down on the hard wooden chair opposite the small round table.
“You want a drink? I’ve had mine while I waited.”
She was pathetic at being courteous; the atmosphere suddenly grew tense as they sat without. Tunde stood still for a moment, he sat down again his mind was in a frenzy. He would hear screaming in his head, the paranoia of reality crept slowly behind him. He thought of Karen: the woman he loved, his mother, his sister. What exactly was the right decision? He wondered to himself, not saying anything for a moment with only the sound of slow music playing from the jukebox far across the large room.
“I assume you know why I called you”, Tunde began unbuttoning his jacket; he stared directly into her eyes leaving no room for intimidation.
“I can only imagine”, Sola replied vehemently. She set the ball rolling as she eyed the young man under her heavy eyelashes. He could smell the scent of her strong perfume, which seemed to fuel her arrogant confidence. Sola smiled inwardly to herself.
“Tayo must have told you the good news”, she rested heavily on the word.
“We can hardly call it that”, he replied through tight lips. “Mrs Irumogbe, perhaps my father was not clear on your message.”
“He was very clear my dear and I suggest we quickly find a solution to our problem.”
He raised his eyebrows at the statement. “I cannot marry your daughter and I don’t know whatever hold you have on my father, but I suggest you sever all ties to me or any other member of the family.”
“You have no respect”, she replied slowly looking at him icily.
“Do you, neither for yourself or anyone else for that matter?”, he asked as he met her stare.
“I came here to appeal to you…no, tell you that I intend to meet you squarely if you decide on harming anyone from our family. How do we know that this is only among the three of us?”
Sola said nothing for a minute swallowing his threat, “Are you sure of that? You are playing with fire. Don’t get involved in things ahead of you”, she paused. “This is between your father and I, it’s a pity you were dragged in too. I assure you that no one else knows of this except you decide to do just that.” He read her meaning as she smiled a bit. “I’m not afraid of scandals my dear boy. I have lived over half of my life in a scandal or two from my husband and we have not been separated at any time.”
“I’m already involved!”, he cried in frustration. “The moment my name was mentioned, I was involved.” He paused for a moment fighting for control. “I have a girl I want to marry; we live together, set your sights on someone else.”
Sola sat still watching him as an eagle watches its prey, he reminded her of her own youthful days. Her energy and her hopes, perhaps: she mused to herself; she would like him in future when things worked out her way. “You think I would stand by and watch while my husband’s business crumbles in your father’s hands? You are smart and you are energetic but you fail to see what is right under your nose.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
Sola gathered her leather handbag and brought out a flash drive and slid it across the table. “Give this to your father; he knows what needs to be done.” With that, she got up and he followed as they stared coldly at each other. “Play your part and everyone will win; it rests on you now, Tunde.”
“Mrs Irumogbe, I suggest you look elsewhere for an easy prey. I thought we could get something out of this meeting but you’re not ready to be civil” Tunde retorted as he buttoned his jacket.
“I’m not a woman known to make idle threats; your father knows that very well.” Sola slid the chair back and walked outside the confines of the small table. “I gave your father till today to make a choice, choose wisely. I hope you do.” With that, she walked away from him towards the entrance door, leaving his anger to bounce off her back.