“Just a few more weeks and she will deliver.. twins!”, the doctor said joyfully.
When Tyo asked for their sex, she pressed her palms against her ears quickly. She did not want to know. Upon reflection, she thought she might have still heard him say they would be girls, but she wasn’t sure. It doesn’t really make much of a difference, she though, as long as they are both healthy. A very typical thing for mothers to say. What were the chances of this happening.. her giving birth to twins? She smiled at that; the thought of being the mother of twins.
“Mother”, she said.. and again, “mother”.
Turning around, Tyo looked at her. He too smiled. They had come a long way.
Her question was followed by an awkward silence.
They had thought it a joke at first.. had called it an infatuation that would soon pass. But seeing him stand at the entrance to their house- hands locked in their daughter’s- they understood it wasn’t some immature fantasy afterall.
The day Tinuke brought home her boyfriend, her parents’ world crumbled. She saw it in their eyes.
Her mother’s look was busy, her bright smile nervous. Her unusually slow movements could easily deceived one into believing she was at ease- at peace, but she knew better. The formal and impersonal questions she asked him -about work and family- gave her away. She was not one to be shallow, superficial; she was detail-oriented, inquisitive, a chatterbox. She was the life of every party, the centre of attention, the witty host, the cheerful wife. But not tonight. Tonight, her free and quirky spirit was sober, quiet, calm, collected. She was not herself.
Her father’s displeasure was even more apparent. What was he going to do?
The thought of this both scared and excited her. They had postponed this moment for too long a time. There was no going back now.
However, her parents were way too civilised and courteous to verbalize their annoyance. They bid them to dinner and discussed politics. There was even a bit of unrestrained laughter.
The evening did not turn out half as bad she had anticipated, and she was grateful.
Seeing them back off to the door, Temi bid her sister goodnight.
“Temi, please come here!”, it came from the parlour. Walking briskly, she sighed deeply. It was going to be a long night after all.
“What exactly is wrong with her? Why does she behave this way? I mean, what was that all about?”
Temi sat down silently, looking around the spacious living room she hadn’t sat in for a while. She realized just how long it has been since she relaxed on the chaiselongue her father had bought her many years ago. It was still situated at the far right corner.. away from everything and everyone else. Emotionally and psychologically, nothing much had changed, she realized. She had always been a loner and preferred her solitude. Although quite independent and much of a rebel, she had never gone as far as displeasing her parents’ to the point of utter disrespect. She sighed heavily. Why me now?
“I’m afraid, I do not understand.” Temi replied calmly. She felt uncomfortable.
“What do you mean you don’t understand? What was she thinking? Bringing that man into this house?”, it came. This time from her father who had laid all calmness aside. He was clearly highly irritated.
“I really do not understand what you both mean. She announced their coming weeks ago.”
Her mother gave her a long look, a spiteful one. A look that scared Temi. She had seen it but a handful of times. Goose-bumps overcame her, and a rush of fear followed. Was it really that bad?
“See, we have always been very liberal, you know that. We have given you both freedom to choose both your academic and personal paths. We have allowed you to travel around the world, have sponsored you throughout the years; yes, have always taken pain to ensure you have the very best in and of life. We have never caged you in, but rather allowed- no, encouraged- you to roam as freely and widely as possible. Now, seeing as you are both getting carried away, it might be time to clip your wings!”
She felt the man’s eyes heavily upon her. It unnerved her. Fair enough, he took it very much to heart, but how was she getting carried away? It irritated her, them- once again- addressing them as one. This time, she decided not to defend herself though; they had troubles of their own. His usually soft voice had spoken fiercer than ever.
Both girls had known their parents’ preferences and had respected them to precision. Why were they now so repulsed by him? Surely, as long as the man was decent, hard-working, caring and God-fearing, there should be no issue? Was there something she had missed?
“What exactly is it you do not approve of?”, she inquired after a while. Surely, they had to have very good and valid reasons for their dislike of Tinuke’s choice of partner.
“He is absolutely un-fit!”
“How so?”, she wondered. Her question followed by an awkward silence.
“Are you seriously asking what we do not like about him? For heaven’s sake.. He’s Nigerian!”
Another moment of silent confusion followed..
Temi didn’t know whether to break down laughing.. or crying. “He’s Nigerian? Excuse me for stating the obvious, but so are you!”
A slap. A second one. A third.
It all happened within a few seconds. Unexpectedly. Out of nowhere. However, it was not the first time he- who wasn’t her real father- had raised his hand against her.
“How dare you?”, he yelled.
Her mother jumped up. The slaps had taken her by surprise too. But what could she do? There was no way she would disrespect him in front of her. Not here, not now. The atmosphere was tense.
“How dare I what? Speak my mind?” Temi’s eyes shifted between her mother’s small frame and that of the man who had raised her.
“How dare you talk back at your mother like that? Have you no sense? Rather than setting your sister straight, you’re asking silly questions. Do you think this a joke?”
The 23-year old had had enough. Smiling defiantly, she got up, and walked away collectedly.
It was clear nothing would remain the same after tonight..
She did not wait for her parents to go to their bedroom and asleep, did not bother closing the door to her room or even whispering; no, she spoke freely.
“I’m telling you!”
“I’m finding it hard to believe though. I can’t imagine him doing such a thing. He’s such a quiet and gentle man..”
“Are you serious?” it came abruptly, “Tinu, you’ve been out of the house for way too long. You obviously have no idea.”
“What exactly happened, Temi?”
Upon dropping the receiver, Temi regretted having told her sister the truth. She was not half as strong, half as enduring, half as confident and determined as she was. Oh, no. What did I do? I just hope she doesn’t leave him to please them.
A knock at the door.
It’s way too early for visitors, they thought, especially so for unannounced ones. She stood at the door, waiting nervously. Would they let her in? It had been almost two years since she had seen and spoken to them last. So much time had passed, so many things had happened. Maybe it was time to move on.. close old, and open new chapters. She was ready.
The door opened. A long moment of silence followed. Neither of them moved or spoke at first, but the mood suddenly changed. Eyes were instantly filling up, bodies moving closer, their arms embracing.
“It’s been an awfully long time. Come in, mom!”
“I never explained. I never did much explaining, I know. I’ve always been good with instructing, monitoring and controlling, but I’ve come to see there are many things I failed at. I have come to say a few things. I am sorry it took me so long.”
And so it was, that their mother finally narrated the story of her life to them:
You see, I was just 16 when it all happened. I loved Tayo dearly, I loved him with all my heart, and he said he loved me too. We were young, innocent, full of life and hope for our future. I believed him. We spent every free moment together, our love was known in my home.. it was no secret love affair. But then, one day, he told me he was leaving. The news came out of nowhere, without a warning, without time to discuss it, see what we could do about it. He said his uncle had found him employment in Lagos and that he had been waiting for this news for many months now. He said he could not let this opportunity pass him by and that I should come with him. I naturally wanted to. When I told my parents all about this, however, I was severely beaten. “What kind of rubbish is this!? Does he not know how things are done? Is he not from this town? Has he no home-training?” They felt bitterly insulted. You see, it was not customary for a young girl to walk up to her parents to say such. A suitor was to come and make known his interest officially by bringing his closest of kin, discussing directly with the head of the home. Surely, Tayo knew that! I was heartbroken but went back to speak to him anyway. He didn’t say much but assured me that all would be well. He promised to come within a fortnight to do the customary thing. To pay my bride-price. I was full of joy. Oh, how excited I was..
He convinced me we needed to “seal” our love, lest anything or anyone would come in-between to separate us. It was that night we slept together for the first and only time. That night we took a covenant of love for life.
I didn’t see him the following days, so went to check on him at his home. His family seemed sincerely surprised when I asked whether he had gone to Lagos already. “Lagos? Not at all. Tayo has gone to America.”, they exclaimed proudly. When I introduced myself as his girlfriend, I was shocked at how unaware they had been. They remained friendly all the same, told me to sit down, offered me a drink, consoled me. But they had really not known about me at all.
It was impossible for me to tell my parents all that had happened, since my father constantly reminded me of the importance of the bride-price.
When my pregnancy began to show, my father threw me out of the house and Tayo’s family took me in. However, upon finding out I was carrying twins, my father sent for me. “Twins are a blessing from the Lord, even when they are bastards!”, he used to say. And he did so for many years. Making sure I’d never forget the shame I had brought upon his name.
Over the following years, there were many who came to ask for my hand, but more often than not, wanted to examine me first, since I was ‘damaged goods’. Needless to say; they sampled me.. and left.
Tim was the first one who saw me and loved me. He was an expat working for a Swiss branch of Taolex at the time, and got me a job as secretary. He sponsored my higher education, encouraged me to believe in myself, supported me.. us. He was so different from all the others. It was the most natural and easiest thing to fall in love with him.
My social elevation seemed to happen over-night. “From grass to grace”, as they say. The love and respect I had been denied from my family and closest friends for so many years, society now bestowed upon me freely. I had reached ‘status’, had earned respect… for simply being with a white man.
When we moved to Europe things got better and better, and I was determined to give you the best in life. He too promised to treat you as his own, which I believe he did to the best of his ability. We made sure to raise you as European as possible, so that you could make wise and informed decisions, not being deceived and eventually found suffering the consequences of immature and irrational actions.
The thought of either of my daughters ever marrying a Nigerian never crossed our minds. We had taken caution to separate ourselves from them.. Africans as a whole, that is.. making sure all influence was purely Western. That was, until you told us of your relationship with Tyo. It brought back too many painful memories, memories I had blocked out for well over a decade. I was petrified. I hoped your passion for him would die a natural death.
You know, the relationship between Tim and I was founded on many things. Many things but these three: honesty, loyalty and commitment. I never checked on him when he was out till late, because I thought it normal for him to be with other women. I never worried about it much, because all that was important for me was financial stability, recognition and social status. The ring I am wearing, I bought myself. Tim never believed in the institution of marriage and we never spoke much about it. Your last visit to the house, however, brought up quite a few issues.. and we have since separated.
The girls listened patiently, wishing their mother had not only told them all this earlier, but had actually given Tyo a chance to show how beautiful a man he was.
“Mom, Tyo and I still love each other very much. Yes, he is Nigerian.. but what exactly does that mean? I am so sorry you had to go through all you went through, and I really pray you find perfect peace. What happened was terrible. What our father did to you, was horrible. But Tyo is not him! Tyo is a very respectful and hard-working, honest and immensely cultured man. When we started courting, he promised to wait, and he has since kept his promise. Not once has he touched me. Tyo is a man of his word. He is a man of principles and strong convictions too. He also taught me love and respect, especially toward you. He constantly prays for us to reconcile. Mom, he has a beautifully pure heart. The purest of hearts I have come across. Mom, he is the most wonderful and patient man I have ever met. Of course he is not perfect, but then again.. who is? I am certainly not. The fact that he is still here.. waiting for you to accept him, and allow him pay my bride-price, does it not show just how sincere he is about me? I have often tried to convince him, ‘Let’s go ahead with it anyway.’ But he has refused, saying it was not the right thing to do. He is decent. He is more than I ever wished for. Is not the desire of every mother to see her children happy and fulfilled? Mom, Tyo makes me happy. He completes me. He loves me. I feel honoured, yes, often even unworthy being the object of his affection and attention. But he has chosen me, and I have chosen him. I want to be his wife, and I want him to be the father of my children. Mom, I am begging you to accept this.”
All this was now history.
Having looked at him from her hospital bed for a while, she fell to her knees and started kissing his bare feet; soaking them in a flow of unrestrained tears. He stood surprised.. shocked. It took him a moment to react. What a beautiful picture of a wife, he thought.
He needed to find her another nickname. He had done her wrong. The “Coconut” he had been teasing her with over the years had now proven a highly inappropriate term. He finally noticed she too was as African, traditional and cultured as they came..