Mama Eli suddenly found herself the custodian of Comfort’s siblings. With her sister still in a coma, she had no choice but to take in the remaining five children. She knew her husband wouldn’t support it but she saw no other way out. Her mother-in-law had returned that morning, leaving her when her support was most needed.
She had fed and settled them in front of the TV when Mama Deji came in, followed by the security guard who was carrying her bags.
The children greeted her. “Welcome ma!”
“Thank you…” she replied distractedly, looking at the strange children who stared transfixed at the large screen.
“What’s going on here?”
Mama Eli explained herself and her senior wife pursed her lips.
“Have you told Chief?”
“No. I thought I shouldn’t disturb him with that.”
“Hmm…” she replied.
Mama Deji already felt sorry that she returned home. She could hear chief yelling at Mama Eli. The woman never ceased to amaze her. What did she expect, bringing her whole extended family into the house? She glanced at the fliers she had set on the bed and smiled. She needed to decide where to go, Paris, London or Italy. Money was not an issue at all.
“You will leave this house!”
“Chief please listen to me…”
“Listen to what? Are you the only person in the family that can help them? Don’t you have a mother you can take them to? Or is it my fault that your sister married a wretched man? And are you the one who will breastfeed the baby? Or buy diapers? And what about their schooling? Am I going to add that to my current expenses?”
“Chief please, I know I’m asking for a huge favor but…”
“But nothing! Look, get those children out of my house by tomorrow morning. That’s final!”
Mama Eli sighed. She couldn’t take Comfort’s children back to their grandmother’s, their father’s people would take them away and heaven only knew what kind of future they would have. Besides, the old woman was dependent on her, how would she take care of five children? She knew Chief could afford to have them under his roof but was simply unwillingly to. The case would have been different if it was Mama Ayo.
She sat on her bed and wondered where she would take the children to.
Niniola suspected what the situation with her siblings might be, so when her aunt came into the ward looking morose the next morning she knew what the problem was.
“Chief won’t allow me to keep you all.” She said simply. “I don’t know what to do. Your mother isn’t awake yet so I can’t even say how long I have to cater for you all. That’s what annoys Chief the most. He’s wondering what will happen if your mother never wakes up.” She said more to herself than to the girl who lay still on the bed.
“I’ll take care of them.”
“And how do you intend to do that?” Mama Eli scoffed. “Your mother has put me in this mess! Chief can barely stand me and then I go to him with this extra baggage? I wish I had never taken you in!” She hissed, thoroughly overwhelmed by the situation.
Niniola was ashamed of her life and sad at her hopelessness. She knew she had to take care of her siblings, no one else would. She considered calling Mrs Thompson but remembered that she had travelled early the previous morning. She didn’t even have her recharge cards with her so she had nothing to trade with.
“I have no choice but to take your siblings to an orphanage until your mother is awake.” Mama Eli concluded. “I hope that step-father of yours rots in jail. Get up. You’ll all follow me to the shop. Until I find an orphanage that’s willing to take your siblings.”
Segun was wiping the tears from his face.
“So we have to go?”
“Yes you do, until I can find something better.” Niniola replied morosely.
“Sister Nini will you come with us?” Bisi, the third born asked.
“No I can’t. I have to make money for us. Aunty Rhoda will pay my salary and I’ll try to start my business again. It’s the only way we can survive.”
The siblings held hands and tried to be brave. Getting rescued from their violent father had been one thing, moving on with life was another thing.
“What will we call the baby?” Olayemi the fourth born asked.
“Let’s call her Adura, our mother’s prayers have been answered.”
The siblings agreed.
“We have to stick together and work together.” Niniola said, “We need to do it for Maami.”
Biola was tired of her marriage to chief. Her brief relationship with Gbenga had showed her that there was more to being married to a wealthy man. She needed love, commitment and romance and she knew that she couldn’t get this from her husband. Not because he wouldn’t try but because it wasn’t in his nature to be all those things. She needed someone young and sophisticated. Chief would do anything to please her, she had become his god and even though it was sometimes flattering, she wanted a man who would disagree with her every once in a while, a man who would argue with her and make her blood hot. A man who would surprise her with his charm.
Hard as it was to admit, she realized that she wanted a man like Gbenga.
Segun and his siblings ate their rice gratefully. It wasn’t the best food they’d eaten but at least they were grateful to have something to eat. The orphanage was full of so many children but at least there was peace. They didn’t fear the moment when their father would get home drunk and beat their mother mercilessly. They didn’t fear being beaten for not greeting him properly or for not recognizing his work instruments. They were safe at Mercy Orphanage.
“You’re going where?” Chief asked surprised.
“I’m going to Paris.”
“By yourself? An old woman? What will people say?”
“That’s not my concern. I’m going and people can say or think whatever they like.”
“What are you trying to prove? That you have money?”
“I’m not proving anything. I feel I need a break and I’ve found the place where I can…”
“Aren’t you just coming from your son’s house?””
“I am and I am going to Paris again.”
“You’re overdoing it.”
“And you’re being unreasonable! You don’t need me in this house. You just want me here so you can feel good about yourself.”
Chief Afonja was dumbfounded. His first wife had really changed.
“You’ve changed. You never used to talk back at me.”
“And you haven’t changed? I’m not the one who brought two strange women into our marriage. We’ve been married for almost twenty-five years and I have done nothing but sacrifice myself. No more! I want to be happy and I will be happy the way I choose.”
“Maybe we should live in separate houses if you think you can do things the way you want.”
Mama Deji hadn’t expected him to say this. “You want me out of the house after twenty-five years? Because I don’t want to remain unhappy?”
The chief stared at her blankly. She smiled.
“I’ll move out when I get back.”
Chief Afonja was glad. He had gotten his first wife out of the way, heart wrenching as it had been. Now it was time to get the other woman out of the way. He believed that Biola would be happier if the other women were no longer in the picture. She needed to know that he loved her immensely.
Mama Eli came into his room.
“Good evening Chief.”
“Hmmn. What do you want?”
“I came to… I’ve not received the monthly alert.”
“The upkeep and allowance…”
“I’ll send it later. I forgot.”
“Actually Chief I need the money urgently. The children and I have nothing to eat.”
“I didn’t ask you to spend all your money taking care of motherless children.”
Mama Eli was surprised at her husband’s behaviour. She knew he despised her but she had always been taken care of. If she didn’t know better she would have said that he was deliberately looking for trouble. He reached for his wallet, brought out a wad of notes and counted them slowly.
“Take this. I’ll hold on to the rest.”
Mama Eli couldn’t believe her eyes. “Chief, this is ten thousand.”
“Yes, I know. Isn’t it enough? I said I would send the rest later!”
Mama Eli nodded her head and left. Chief usually gave her three hundred thousand naira monthly, why would he tell her to manage a measly ten thousand naira? Was this a message?
Niniola felt the heat of her aunt’s frustrations. Apart from the fact that her salary was delayed, she was constantly being snapped at and occasionally smacked. She had managed to start her business again but it wasn’t enough to cater for all her expenses. She had been counting on her salary.
She walked home thinking of what she would do about her situation when Dele walked up to her side. She looked around.
“Dele what are you doing here?”
“I saw you from afar.”
“What is it? You look worried.”
Feeling defeated Niniola told him she needed money but not what she needed it for. She still wanted to keep up appearances.
“So you need money.”
“Yes I do.”
Dele saw his opportunity. “I don’t have much on me…” he stuck his hands in his pockets. “This is one thousand five hundred naira. I have more money at home. If you come by, I can give you about five thousand. Is that okay?”
Niniola was beyond relieved. “Yes it will help!”
“So you’ll come tomorrow?”
“Yes, I will.”
He gave her his address and they parted ways.
The next day as Niniola prepared to go to Dele’s house, her phone rang. It was her aunt.
“Aunty Rhoda, I’m coming!”
“Your mother is awake! Come to the hospital now!”
All thoughts of Dele gone, she made her way to the hospital.