He gritted his teeth trying to calm the sudden burst of anger within him as he saw his father sitting expectantly on one of the long benches in the room. Tunde walked there, fighting to maintain his calm as he walked through other prisoners and their visitors. Finally, he got to his destination and sat opposite the father he had grown to dislike immensely. There were no handshakes or family relations, just a cold silence between them.
Tunde spoke first, wanting to be done with the meeting as quickly as possible “Dad”
“I’m glad you came”, Chief Ariyo spoke, beaming expectantly. He looked older than his 67 years of age and he had only been there a week ago. “So what’s happening Tunde?”
“What’s happening? A lot of things”, he was surprisingly calmer than he had expected.
His father sighed and looked around then shifted to look closer on his seat “I can’t be here, Tunde. This place is not for me, there are all manners of people here and the living conditions are disgraceful.”
Tunde stared at his father in full disgust; his jaw was clinched in the anger which now replaced his calm façade. “Are you even thinking at all dad?” his voiced was trimmed with fury. “You stole millions of naira from powerful people, even your friend for crying out loud!”
His father grimaced. “Are we really going over that?”
“We will always go over that!”, he replied with his voice raised in anger. It took him a few minutes to calm himself and he continued with controlled effort. “I can’t even begin to describe what our family is going through right now” Tunde hit the table “Your wife in the hospital because of you, my marriage is nowhere and your business has gone down and…”
“The business?” Chief Ariyo repeated in shock. “The business? What happened to the business?” he asked with anxiety.
Tunde looked at his father in disbelief. “You are more concerned about your business than your family?”
“I built that place from scratch”, the older man replied defensively “Without it, would you have had this life you are living? Best schools, best cars, best clothes!” he shifted in self-justification, his father’s voice had grown low with anger “I did what I had to do to survive and give my family the best.”
“You did what you had to do for yourself, dad”, Tunde responded, looking back at his father full of scorn and shook his head. “I feel so sorry for you,” he continued in a low voice, visibly calmer now. “You will rot here; you will be alone and die alone.”
His father stared back at him full of hate “You wouldn’t leave your father out here will you?” he said in a manipulative tone.
“Figure out how to pay for the millions you stole, dad. Our cars you claim to have gotten for us even your mansion would soon be confiscated; your family you claim to have fought for would have been living from hand to mouth if not for me!” He slumped back in his chair realizing he had moved forward “Do us a favor and see yourself out of this mess.”
“Your ‘second’ son is handling the lawyer’s bills. I have my own life to live.” Tunde got up and his father watched him in scornful silence.
“I regret the day you were born” Chief Ariyo looked into the black pools of his son’s eyes.
Tunde looked at him and shook his head. “I forgive you dad” with that he walked away from his father towards the stale corridor with a heavy heart.
Richard opened the door of his apartment as soon as he heard the knock on the door; Karen stared at him for a minute and walked in. She wore a short blue boubou dress with her signature killer heels and turned around to face him as soon as he shut the door.
“You look shabby,” Karen stated drily as she looked at him.
He shrugged; he had not been himself since the great revelation at the dinner. He nearly ran crazy thinking, repeatedly calling Priscilla’s phone and it was obvious she was ignoring his calls. Richard drew from the second cigarette he lit that morning still dangling from between his fingers.
“You want anything to drink?” he asked in a detached note.
“No, I’m making this as quickly as possible seeing you are a mess”, Karen replied with her voice trimmed with irritation. She stood at the centre of the familiar scattered parlor staring at him.
Richard stubbed out the cigarette on the high wooden table he had gone to stand besides overlooking the windows. “Shoot”
“Have you spoken to Priscilla?” she asked defiantly.
He shook his head “Why? What storm have you brought now, Karen?”
Her lips smirked at his question “Did I ever bring up a storm?” Karen replied innocently and Richard shook his head.
“I know you took me there purposely to insult her and ‘claim your prize.'”
“Claim my prize?” Karen echoed and chuckled a little “I have heard that one too many times” she replied, thinking of Tunde.
“Did it pay off?”
“Did what pay off?”
“Destroying her marriage because I’m sure you were intent on that”, Richard went on ignoring her lips thinned into a line “What Karen wants Karen gets,” he stated more to himself than her.
“Did you not want her also?”
“Not this way” Richard replied and looked squarely at his ex-lover “I knew she loved that man even though it pains me to admit it. I knew she did. What happened between us on her part was out of loneliness then.”
Karen stared at him with an unreadable expression on her pretty face “I didn’t come here for sentiments, Richard.” Her tone was staccato.
“Then why are you here?”
“To ask if you are going to talk to her. He’s going to give her a divorce,” Karen stated icily.
“You are happy about that aren’t you?” Richard asked staring dead into her eyes giving her a chilling shiver.
“Don’t you want that too?”
“No” he shook his head looking distantly out of the window, “Not anymore. I just want to know if I’m the father of her child or not”
Karen pursed her lips as though stopping herself from giving a biting remark, she walked towards the door. “What happened to you Richard?” she asked softly “You used to be like me.”
He said nothing and walked to the door, the answer lay between them.
“Call me when you speak to her will you?” Karen opened the door and walked herself out.
She could not sleep; her evening siesta was interrupted with the troubling words she heard over the phone. Imabong sat up in her little bedroom looking around hopelessly, her heart was heavy with grief for her half-sister following the conversation she had with Seyi in the morning.
Imabong closed her eyes letting happy memories of her childhood flood it; memories she had discounted and pushed to the back of her mind softened her heart at the hazy remembrance of Priscilla. She pushed back tears opening her eyes again but they stubbornly streamed down her smooth fair cheeks, Ima hastily dabbed them with the corner of her duvet sniffing as she did so.
She got up, straightening her petite figure and walked towards the stout chest of drawers besides her wardrobe, she knelt beside it and opened the top drawer rummaging beneath her clothes to find an old diary. With a great effort, she flipped its pages to the page where she wrote her sister’s number, her heart wretched in her chest.
Ima closed her eyes again trying to imagine what Priscilla was going through. Her mind was thrown back to a few years back before she left for Port Harcourt; her guilt trip began when she found out about her parents plans to marry her off. She had been so against it but more so when her mother revealed to her Priscilla was not her daughter. In her words, it was ‘leading a calf to the slaughterhouse’.
Maybe she ought to have told Priscilla about it, maybe it would have saved her from her predicament, so much drama in her life. She, Ima had come to Port Harcourt in hopes of finding herself, in hopes of running from her guilt. She could not even understand how Priscilla felt, she had gotten a moderate job; become her own woman yet she pushed her sister from side to side because of her over ambitious mother.
Imabong stared bleakly at the number. Was it going to ring? Had Priscilla changed her number? What would she say? Would she forgive her? A teardrop on the page blurred a little of the ink. Ima sucked in a deep breath, that was four years ago and she still had a role to play in her half sister’s sorrow.
Ima slowly got up with the diary and walked to her bed where her phone lay, it was time to lay old ghosts to rest.
Priscilla lay on her bed staring impersonally at the white POP ceiling; her mind was lost in her troubles. She so desperately wanted to hear the church organs the tune she had grown to love so much, she longed to hear it play from her home… with Tunde, wrapped up in his strong arms.
Her eyes had grown so puffy from crying and she kept having these dizzy spells and cramps. She had lost so much weight, which was not good for the baby, but she had no strength or inclination to eat. All she wanted, was to hear from Tunde whether he was angry or sad or whatever. Just to see him and anything to be around him, she turned to the left side of her bed. How had she come to love that man so much that it hurt this way to be away from him?
Almost a year ago, if they had told her she would be here feeling this way, she would have been disgusted. How could she love him this much? This time a tear came from the corner of her eye soaking the pillow. If only she could wipe away this Richard saga! The thought of the other man made her heart sink even more, ignoring his calls and messages yet he persisted unlike her husband who did not attempt to call once.
She knew she would soon have to face Richard and put an end to his chapter in her life but was that the end of Tunde’s chapter for her? She did not want it to end, in her heart she knew she was ready to go back to a loveless marriage if it meant being with him in hopes that he would forgive her someday. More tears flowed; the more she thought of him hoping he would take her back the more she was convinced he would not. He had waited for so long before he loved her, if he ever loved her for this chance. A chance to be with Karen.
Priscilla felt sick in her stomach thinking of them together, in bed, Karen’s ear pressed to his chest listening to his heartbeat as she always did. Priscilla swallowed down an anguished moan. This was the chance her husband had wanted and now he found it; she could not imagine letting him go. How could he leave with everything they had felt for each other, all the promises and the soft kisses… talking about everything and nothing? How could he look away from all that?
Could he not imagine she was hurting too? She was sorry!
This time she burst into tears, rolling on the pillow to stifle her sobs, her weak body gave way to her emotions until she lay spent after a while. Her heart felt so heavy, like a nagging painful feel. She wanted to rip out of her body. She wondered why she had not died already from the heartache but then she had died a million deaths both in body and in mind.
The distinct sound of her phone brought her out of oblivion; she stretched towards the offensive sound and clicked to receive the call. It was a distinctively familiar feminine voice.
“Hello” her voice croaked in her ears.
“Hello” the caller replied “Am I speaking with Priscilla, Priscilla Irumogbe?”
“Who is this?”
There was a pause at the other end then a slow answer “Its Imabong”
Shock registered on Priscilla’s face at the vivid image of her sister came up “Ima?”
“Yes Ima.” Her voice sounded more confident.
“Oh my goodness, Ima” , her voice shook carrying the weight of her emotions “It’s been forever”
“I know sister,” she laughed a little obviously feeling more relaxed “How are you?”
Priscilla was not sure how to answer that “Ima it’s been forever, you never called or returned any of my calls or mails”, Priscilla replied in a shaky tone. “How are you Imabong?”
“I’m okay, living each day as it comes” Imabong replied slowly. The line fell quiet for a few minutes.
“Why did you call out of the blues? We used to be very close and you couldn’t even talk to me or tell me what was wrong.”
There was silence again for a few minutes “That’s the reason why I called Priscilla. I’m so sorry, it’s a long story.”
“Let me call you back then.” She hung up and called her younger sister back immediately. “I’m all ears”
“I heard everything, Priscilla” Imabong took a deep breath “From the affair mum had to the marriage and now your present…” she paused looking for the appropriate word… “Situation”, she finally found the word.
“Who told you?” Priscilla asked with surprise.
“It’s Seyi”, Ima replied and gushed on “He’s just really worried for you and we both think you need all the support you can get right now.”
Priscilla said nothing, a bit irritated.
“Priscilla? Are you there?”
“Yes, yes I am” she replied tongue in cheek. “After all this time you just call me out of the blues to tell me I need all the support I can get?…” she let her words hang to increase its meaning.
“I admit it’s a laughable attempt from my end to be a good sister”, she sighed loudly. “Priscilla, I had my issues I battled with for the four years I’ve been here. I know it’s no excuse and I’m really sorry, you don’t know how sorry I am. It’s no excuse but I really hope to fix what I left unfinished four years ago” she paused letting her words sink in “I’m so sorry for everything what mother did, I’m ashamed.”
“There’s nothing to be ashamed of”, she replied, not even believing what she said and she knew Ima did not believe her too.
“How is she? Mum?”
“I haven’t spoken to her in a while. I thought it was best to give her some space.”
She could tell Ima agreed with her choice. “You know nothing would ever change between us even though we are half-sisters. I still will not stop loving you any less”, Priscilla stated that with a surge of emotion, she had lost one too many people to lose her sister now.
“I love you too sis but I also had my part to place Priscilla. I failed you when I should have stood up for you,” her voice sounded so small from shame.
“What do you mean?” Priscilla asked looking puzzled.
“Your maternity” Imabong let out a big sigh before continuing, “I knew about it”
There was an awkward silence “Priscilla?” Ima called her name in alarm.
“I’ve heard you” Priscilla replied slowly. “Did you know about mother’s plans?” her voice shook a bit.
“Yes”, Ima replied sounding distressed. “I was too weak; I should have stood up to her.”
“There’s nothing you could have done” her tone was distant. “She can be a scary person to double cross.”
Imabong laughed full of resentment directed herself “Wouldn’t you get angry? Shout at something or me? I could have prevented this, I could have told you and…”
“Yeah I’m hurt, Ima but that was four years ago. I don’t need to look back now; I need to look forward for the future of my child and me.”
“Priscilla, I have felt so guilty about it. I have carried this burden since then and you telling me it is okay doesn’t even make it any easier for me…”
“I can’t dwell on this, Ima. Yes, I’m hurt and I’m a bit angry”, Priscilla responded in a controlled calm voice. “I doubt that screaming and shouting would rewrite history.”
“I’m glad you’re here now Ima. Things may not be as they should be but it is comforting to hear your voice again”. For the first time in a while, Priscilla smiled, genuinely.