Hope and Jumoke were in the sitting room, the latter was weaving her hair into cornrows. Jumoke sighed, she was suddenly feeling nostalgic, her mother used to make her hair the way she was doing for her daughter. They had shared many things and she had learnt a lot from their conversations. It was on one of those occasions that her mother had told her the story of the snail who would come out of its shell because it was afraid of crabs.
“If it hadn’t come out of its shell eventually, it would have died, not knowing that in life we have to learn when to retreat into our shells and when to come out!”
Jumoke had never quite forgotten the story or the day it was told, and as she weaved her daughter’s hair, she hoped that nothing would ever separate them. Thinking about her mother made her sad, it reminded her of so many sleepless nights and tears, and how painful it had been for her not to receive her mother’s love or hear her heartwarming stories after the pregnancy.
Gloria came into the house carrying several plastic bags.
“Hope come and help me please!” she said panting from exertion.
As Hope got up to help her, Jumoke shook her head in confusion. “Ah ah, what is all this?”
“I’ll explain.” Gloria managed to say, hurrying into the kitchen.
Jumoke followed her, helping her as much as she could. Hope began peeking into the bags and sniffing the vegetables.
“This is all my church member’s doing! You remember Josephine? The one who gave birth to twins after five years of trying to conceive? She called me this afternoon and begged me to help her out with the catering for her house party. She said she had heard of my famous jollof rice! Her caterer bailed out on her at the last minute and I just had to say yes. She was really desperate.”
“This is a lot!” Jumoke replied. “Are you sure you’ll be able to handle it? How are you going to serve it out? Is she going to hire servers?”
“It’s not a big party. You guys can help me right? Please…”
Jumoke shook her head amused. “Alright madam caterer, let me finish making her hair. Hope? Why are you sniffing the meat?”
“It smells bad!” the girl replied sniffing in disgust.
“No it doesn’t. That’s the way it smells and you’re going to help us clean it.”
”What? No way mum! Please…”
“I hear you, go out first!”
As they walked out of the kitchen, it crossed Gloria’s mind that they could see Derick at the party. Would Jumoke mind?
Lanre was restless. He needed to talk to Jumoke, he couldn’t get her out of his mind as much as he tried. Toyin watched him from the corner of her eyes and wondered what was going on with him.
“Are you okay?” she asked as she spread some butter on her bread.
“Yeah… I’m fine.”
“You’re not eating.”
“I’m not really hungry.” He replied, reaching for his coffee and sipping it lightly.
Toyin put down her food and looked intently at him. “Something’s wrong with you Lanre, it’s very obvious. Why don’t you want to talk about it?”
“It’s just some office stuff. I’ll be fine.” he said as reassuringly as possible and squeezed her hand.
Toyin wasn’t convinced, something was wrong and she intended to get to the bottom of it.
“Is something going on at the office?” Toyin asked Gbemi casually as they dangled their legs in the pool.
“No. Well, there’s a lot of restructuring going on right now…” She noticed Toyin’s close observation of her. “Why’d you ask?”
“There’s something wrong with Lanre. And my gut tells me that he’s in some kind of trouble.”
“Trouble? Apart from what’s going on at the office I can’t think of anything else that might upset him. I don’t even see why that should bother him, he approved all the plans. He should be happy about it actually.”
“So why is he worried? Why won’t he eat? Why’s he tense?”
“Why do you think it’s an office-related problem?”
“Because that’s what he said when I asked him.”
“Maybe there’s something going on that I’m unaware of… have you asked Remi?”
“No, I thought I’d ask you first. I’ll ask her about it.” she replied seriously, staring at the pool.
“So is there something going on at the office that I’m unaware of?” Gbemi asked her twin later that day as they shared salted potato chips.
“Why’d you ask?” Remi said cautiously.
“Toyin said that Lanre was worried about an office-related problem and she wanted to know what it was.”
“Why’re you smiling?”
“She came to ask me that earlier today as well.”
“Yeah, I told her to ask you…. what’s going on?”
“Don’t tell me that! You have that look on your face.”
“The “I know something you don’t” look.”
“Gbemi there’s no…”
“I’m not a fool, don’t try to patronize me.”
Remi sighed, not sure she could avoid telling her sister the truth. “I should probably not tell you…”
“Tell me what?” Gbemi sat up alarmed.
“Gbemi let it go, it’s not that important…”
“I’ll decide that myself, thank you. Now start talking.”
“I saw Jumoke.”
“Jumoke?” she asked frowning in confusion. “Jumoke…! Oludare?”
Gbemi was alert. “Where? What did she say? Did she have the baby?”
“So you know Brighton Consulting?”
“She’s the team lead.”
Gbemi’s mouth was agape. “Has Lanre seen her?”
“Did she have the baby?”
“I don’t know… we don’t know. She won’t say, she’s very bitter.”
“Why is she still working for us?”
“Because she’s good at her job.” Remi shook her head in amazement. “It’s almost as if she doesn’t know us. She’s such a professional! But as soon as our meeting is over, she disappears. She’s just doing her job.”
Gbemi laughed nervously. “Yeah, something is wrong with Lanre.” She said more to herself.
“Don’t tell Toyin about this.”
“I won’t but I’m going to talk to Lanre.”
“He has to know whether or not she had the child! If there’s no child in the picture, then he can concentrate on Toyin.”
“Gbemi, don’t cause trouble!”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m asking you to mind your own business, if he wants to find out, let him. Don’t interfere in his relationship!”
“Remi, we have to know! Are we just going to pretend as if there was no pregnancy?”
“Really Gbemi? You can sit there and wonder out loud about a pregnancy you had no problem scorning?”
“How dare you say that? Weren’t you the one who set it all up? Why should I have cared about the outcome of your action?”
Remi shook her head sadly. “I should have kept my mouth shut. I shouldn’t have told you anything. I should have known you would make trouble.”
“Time has passed, she will come around if there’s a child involved. We have a right to know the child.”
“If there is a child, we have no right! We abandoned them twelve years ago! How can you be so unfeeling?”
“Oh we do have a right! I didn’t study law to let some trash girl deprive my brother of his rights. I’ll see to it that he gets access to his child if there’s one.”
“How are we even sisters?”
Gbemi snorted and crunched on a chip.
Jumoke was serving out barbequed meat on a wide tray when she heard a familiar voice.
“I hope you cooked this?”
“Hi Derick.” She said calmly, turning to face him.
“It’s always a pleasure to see you.”
“Hmm.” She replied, not sure what to say.
“You look lovely.”
“Thank you.” she replied, looking away from him and continuing to serve the meat.
“Can I help you?”
“Yeah… you can serve this out to the guests.”
He took the tray and walked away and Jumoke exhaled. Why hadn’t Gloria told her that he would be here? She had spent a lot of time trying to forget about Derick. Casting thoughts of him aside, she continued her work and the party progressed.
As they cleaned up after the party however, Derick returned to the food table and chatted with Hope and Gloria. Jumoke pretended not to be interested in the conversation and busied herself with the packing.
“I‘d like to see the paintings.” She heard Hope say and looked up from her work.
“Of course, if your mum will let you.”
“Oh she’ll bring me!”
“Hope, we’ll talk about it…” Jumoke said.
“C’mon mum, we never go and see other people! I really want to see the paintings! Aunty Gloria will come with us and we’ll have a nice time. Will you come Aunty Gloria?”
“Hmm hmm.” Gloria replied, not daring to look at Jumoke who was staring daggers at her.
“So mum what do you say?”
“Okay.” Jumoke replied dully and continued packing. Gloria smiled at Derick who tried not to look too happy about Jumoke’s answer.