Laura woke up feeling refreshed in a way only a fellow married woman could understand. She pushed up gently, the duvet slipping away from her nude body. It was already late morning, she realized as she looked out the window. It was definitely a good thing both she and Deolu owned their own companies, if not, they would have either a query or a sack letter lying in wait for them. She glanced at Deolu sleeping peacefully beside her. She sensed he had also been skipping sleep for the past few days. His bare chest called to her the way it always had. She remembered herself talking to Deolu before she dozed off immediately after they made love. She told him about last night, told him about her new discoveries, and for the life of her, she had no idea of just how much she had told him. She swallowed, needing to get out. Careful not to awaken him – she got out of bed. Deolu was easily roused and if she was to leave, she needed him asleep not otherwise.
Promising to take a long bath at Tito’s place, she hastily dressed, picked her phone and with one long look at Deolu, exited the house. The thought of Tito made her heart ache. She had no idea how her cousin must be doing now. She really needed to have a long talk with the one person who to her remained her best friend. Come to think of it, last night’s revelation made Tito her sister and relegated her two sisters to the cousin position. Releasing an exhausted sigh, she moved to the road, flagging down the first Napep that pulled across. She got in and murmured her destination.
She powered her phone and as if on cue, the phone rang.
“Oh, thank God. I thought you had died without telling me first.”
Laura smiled. Trust Jane to bring a smile to your face. “That would be sacrilege”
“Of the worst kind” Jane seconded, a smile in her voice. Her voice softened as she asked. “How are you, sis?”
Laura gripped her phone tighter as the Napep fell into a pot-hole. “Still breathing” she murmured. “I have missed you baby, when are you paying me a visit?”
“When you return to your house”
Laura frowned. “Really Jane?”
“Really sis. Your place is so beautiful and really, I have missed that fantastic guests’ bathroom.” Laura sighed. “But really… the sight of you and Deolu together is what keeps the sky blue. You two are couple goals. Now, if you want to see me, go to your husband’s house”
If only she knew where Laura had just been minutes ago. “That’s emotional blackmail”
“That’s better. Email is so boring”
Laura chuckled. She truly had missed her baby sister.
“I am going to see Sis Maggy” she announced. “I’ve missed my niece”
Laura swallowed. The face of the precious little girl Margaret had brought to her office stabbed into her head. Whatever the differences she had with her immediate sister, she sure as hell wanted to get to know her niece. And then, as she thought of this, she remembered that Margaret wasn’t her sister afterall. How could she tell Jane that she wasn’t actually her sister but her cousin? She shook her head and sighed into the phone. “Give her a kiss for me”
“Come and do it yourself” Jane retorted. “Honestly, you people say I’m the kid, yet I am not the one keeping malice for years and behaving like a bunch of primary 5 pupils. You guys need to sort out your differences, and sis…” she paused slightly and Laura could almost see her grinning. “I have an excellent news for you”
Laura pushed away three quarter of what she said and held the last statement. “Finally! Heaven knows I could use some good news in my life. What is it?”
“Not so fast sis, it’s not something we can discuss on phone. Get back with prince charming and then I can tell you”
Laura groaned. She could understand why Jane was talking so slightly, she was still too young to understand the enormity of what happened to Laura. “It is not as easy as that”
“it is as easy as you make it to be. Life is a four letter word, it is not further maths” Laura rolled her eyes. “Okay, got to go, big sis. Love you… muah” Jane blew Laura a kiss and hung up.
Laura took her dead phone from her ear and sighed into the keke napep. Jane sounded so free and happy. It was a relief to know that someone she cared about was as happy as she should. With Jane’s words swimming around her head, she waited to arrive at her destination.
Frank returned his plates to the kitchen sink and walked back to the sitting room, sipping a glass of fruit juice. He occasionally picked his teeth removing the meat residues stuck between his teeth. Gloria hadn’t even spoken a word to him before leaving the house. She had slept and apparently woke up in anger as she went around the house, tight lipped. He wasn’t so happy that he had upset her with the entire situation but he knew she would come off it sooner or later. She had bathed, dressed and prepared his breakfast in stoned silence before storming out of the house – she never could leave without preparing his meals no matter how angry she was. It was a trait that never ceased to amaze him. Knowing her, he hadn’t forced any conversation but his curiosity was pricked. He had the weirdest thought that she wasn’t going to her shop. Following their intense argument the previous night, he doubted Gloria would be able to sit calm, comfortable in her state of sheer ignorance.
Discarding the thought, he smiled to himself. He had no doubt that things would have gone sour for his dearest twin brother last night. It was all he had been waiting for for almost all his life. Just a few years short of three decades, yet, he still felt his brother’s savage betrayal in his bones. He had sworn to destroy Mark’s happiness as surely as he had destroyed his and now, he was having exactly what he had always craved. Revenge could be better served cold but it is definitely best served hot. Though this in no way changed the past, being able to inflict pain on Mark was more than enough for Frank.
Mark had destroyed his life in a way he couldn’t forgive, or worse, forget. He had loved Sandra so much, in a way he had never ever loved anyone. She was the light in his life. The very essense of his existence. Frank had never known he was capable of so much emotional attachment till he met Sandra. The very sight of her made everything alright with his world, and then Mark came in and the very sight of her turned him from a prince to a beast. Mark had shattered his very essence and though he knew Sandra was in no way at fault, nothing remained the same again. How could he sleep on the same bed with her on the same bed knowing she had been deflowered by his own twin brother? It was more than his ego could carry. He couldn’t stop himself from venting his anger and bitterness on her. All he had ever wanted was to love her and make her happy but what he had ended up doing was making her completely miserable. Then she lost her spark. The free spirit Frank had loved about her faded away, leaving a blank woman who despite all tried to show him love. But Frank had no love for her. Without the attributes he loved about her, there was nothing left to love. The woman he loved was suddenly nowhere to be found and all that was left was a complete stranger.
It became completely worse when she had given birth to Laura and all he could see in the innocent little girl was a combination of his wife and Mark. It had almost been more than he could bear. But he had always loved female children and small as she was, he just couldn’t transfer his aggression on her. But Mark had visited often, intent on seeing his daughter though her paternity was only known to the three of them. Laura had grown up, and each passing day made it obvious that she loved Mark more than she loved him. She sought his counsel on everything that that riled him more than anything. Sandra died and Frank hated Mark more than he ever had. No matter how much he tried to love Laura, Mark still remained the perfect twin in Laura’s eyes. Though she never said it verbally. He saw it in her eyes… in her every action. Frank blamed Mark for everything… everything that was wrong with his world. Mark had stolen Sandra from him and had gone ahead to steal Laura too, though she was technically his. Now, Frank smiled. Now, he would enjoy seeing Mark lose not only Laura’s love but also Tito’s love as well.
Teju stared at the weird woman before her. Atinuke? She knew no one by that name, and it certainly was not one of her middle names. “Sorry, I am not Atin-”
She wasn’t given the grace to finish her statement when Gloria snatched her hand, bringing it up to her face. Teju’s heart skipped several beats as the woman gazed at her hand with an almost feverish look on her face. “It’s you… it’s really you” she raised her teary eyes to Teju, gazing at her with mystified wonder.
Teju swallowed. Who on earth was this woman? She definitely had to be mad, maybe escaped an asylum or a mental ward, she thought with a deep frown as she took one cautious step back. The only problem was that her weird guest didn’t look mad. A mad person would certainly not look so neat and pretty, but then, madness comes in all forms and shades.
“Sorry ma, I am Teju not Atinuke” Teju finally said at length but then, she doubted the woman actually heard her as she held her hand tightly. She had water in her eyes, staring at her like she had just come face to face with the living dead. Teju stared intently at the woman before her. She certainly couldn’t remember ever seeing such a woman, but there was this weird feeling she could not place. Definitely had to be baby jitters. “Can I have my hand back, please?”
Gloria shook her head with vigor as tears rolled down her cheeks. “I… I thought I… that I would never” she shook her head again, giving Teju a head to toe scrutiny. “You’ve grown so big and beautiful” she gasped out in awe, more to herself than to Teju.
Teju had never been more confused in her life and really, she couldn’t stand any more confusion. “I’m sorry, do I know you?”
Gloria gazed right back at her, seeing her through her tears. “You’ve known me all your life”
Teju chuckled without the trace of a smile. “Certainly haven’t”
“Oh, Atinuke…” she finally let go of Teju’s hand but took a step forward, cupping Teju’s face with her two hands. This had to be the most awkward encounter Teju has had in a while, she thought, gazing in confusion into the teary eyes of Gloria. “Oh, Atinuke, I am your-”
Gloria and Teju turned sharply to see Laura standing just a few paces from them. Gloria pulled back instantly, as if she was caught in an abominable act. Laura’s eyes rotated from her step mother to Teju, her mind full of questions. Her step mother seemed too pale and Teju was a mirage of emotions. What on earth was her step mother doing in Teju’s place, holding her face so affectionately with tears in her eyes? Her life was fast becoming a soap opera; she was having trouble keeping up with the wind of change blowing from all angles. She was here to clear her head; she certainly didn’t need another complication.
Laura took a cautious step towards her stepmother and Teju, frowning at them. “What is going on here?”
Gloria rubbing her hands on her face to dry her errant tears. She seemed nervous and shaken, almost like she was seeking a means of escape; from what, Laura could not tell and she was scared as hell, thinking of what it might be.
Teju looked from one woman to the other, her face showing utter confusion. “You know her?” she asked Laura.
Laura glanced at Teju briefly then returned her gaze back to Gloria. “She is my stepmother” she announced, staring oddly at Gloria.
“Oh” Teju gazed at Gloria, still looking puzzled.
“Yes, oh” Laura snapped taking several steps closer, frowning. “Now, the question is, ‘what are you both doing together?’” she placed her hands akimbo, raising a brow at Gloria.
Gloria shifted. “Laura…”
“I don’t actually know” Teju bottted in. “All I did was open to her knock and the next thing I knew, she started calling me Atinuke”
Laura’s head snapped to Teju instantly. She might have seemed surprised before but now, she was shocked. “What?” she paled slightly.
Teju looked at the two pale faces before her and she actually started getting scared. “Okay, you two are scaring the life out of me. Who is Atinuke?”
Ignoring her, Laura shot forward, seizing Teju’s left hand and raising it to her face for a thorough inspection. She gazed at the hand for a prolonged moment until Teju angrily snatched it away.
“The dot is not microscopic, it is a birth mark” she snapped. “Would you tell me what’s going on?”
Laura shook her head in wonder. Several years back, she had walked in on Gloria as she held a bottle of water with tears in her eyes. She had hastily tried to hide the bottle but then, Laura had already seen it. She had found it weird and almost thought the bottle held something diabolical. But, after much pressure, Gloria had finally confided in her, told her of the rigors of her past… told her of that little baby girl she had to let go of… and the mark in her left wrist… “It cant be” Laura gasped. Wow… Teju surely did know how to encroach into other people’s lives unannounced. She gazed at Teju like she was just seeing her for the first time. “She can’t be her”
Gloria took a step forward, touching Laura’s shoulder gently as she also gazed teary eyed at Teju. “I… I cant believe it myself”
“I can’t be who?” Teju almost screamed at the two pairs of eyes staring at her.
“Her daughter…” Laura announced. “My stepmother is your mother”
Deolu woke to find the mattress empty. His body lay naked under the duvet, satiated and relaxed. Deolu pulled to a half sitting position, glancing around the room. He needed no one to tell him, he was sure Laura had left. He swallowed and ran his hand over his hair. His body reminded him of things he did with Laura but his brain was still stuck on the things he had heard from Laura’s mouth as she dozed off. When she had refused to confide in him, Deolu had known whatever it was must be pretty serious, and knew the one way of getting words out of her. Now that he had the words out of her, he didn’t know what to make of it.
How could Tito’s father be her father? How possible was that? She had mentioned something about a rape and then she had mentioned Teju but hadn’t finished it before she dozed off. He couldn’t get the puzzle out of his head. Who was raped? And by who?
Pushing out of bed, he marched to the bathroom. He needed answers and he wont be getting them in bed.
***** Teju stared at the women for a precious minute and bursted into laughter. “You both are hilarious” she turned, walking into the apartment.
Gloria followed. “it is the truth” Gloria said gently. “I am your birth mother”
Teju whirled round. “Of course, you are. Listen, I know my mother, okay? And she certainly doesn’t look like you”
“I understand you. But please, let me explain”
“There’s no need. I understand perfectly. Everything that’s happening is making us all crazy, I know. But don’t try to tell me that I don’t know my mother, okay? That’s the height of it”
“There must be a thousand ladies with similar birth marks. I certainly am not your daughter, ma’am” Teju seemed horrified at the very thought of it.
Laura could only stare, perplexed, watching Gloria battle with her emotions as Teju pulled closer to anger.
“It is not a birthmark” Gloria’s voice was barely above a whisper.
The room fell a bit silent. “What is it then?”
Gloria blinked but as she opened her mouth to explain, her phone shattered the silence as it rang, making her jump. She took her phone out to hang up until she saw the caller. Margaret hadn’t called her in a very long time. It was odd that she would now. “Margaret?” she said as she picked, looking at Laura.
The voice she heard was not Margaret’s. “Mother?”
“Jane?” What’s going on? Where is Margaret?”
“Please, you have to come, right now. I am rushing Mag to the hospital”
“What? What happened?” Gloria yelled.