Did you miss Chapter 2? Read here: Wings of Healing (Chapter 2)
I tried to stifle a yawn as Sophie modelled yet another dress for me. She stood on her toes, mimicking her height as if she wore heels, and used a hand to hold back the long tresses of her weave from her face.
“Honey, what do you think?” she asked as she struck a pose. “Does it look good on me?”
My eyes were drawn to her shapely figure ensconced in the indigo blue, one-shouldered evening gown.
“You look gorgeous,” I said, giving her a thumbs up. “That dress looks like it was made on you.”
“Thanks.” She flashed me a smile before turning to the full-length mirror. She admired herself from different angles before turning towards me again.
“Do you think this is nicer than the previous one I tried on? I’m not quite sure about that particular fit,” she added as she worried her lower lip with her teeth. “Maybe I should return it to the store.”
“It suited you just fine.” I knew this routine and wanted to keep it as short as possible. Otherwise, she was going to use up a good part of my evening. “The dresses have different styles, so of course they’ll have a different fit, too. But they both look great on you.”
“Thanks, honey.” She blew me a kiss. “Now I’m just going to try on the others.”
I looked at the bags of shopping on the floor and the dresses strewn across the king-size bed. This girl sure liked to shop.
“Cool,” I replied, turning back to my laptop. “I’ll just get on with my work then. I’ve still got quite a bit to cover in preparation for my meeting tomorrow morning.”
She made a face. “I wish you wouldn’t bring work home,” she grumbled.
I could not help being amused. “This isn’t home, Sophie,” I said, casting a deliberate glance around the suite we were staying in. “This is a hotel, and remember, I’m in England for an official purpose.”
She pouted. “But you do just the same thing even when we are back home.”
“I’m going to try to cut back on that,” I assured her. “Not to worry, sweetheart. You’re going to see a brand new Banji very soon.”
“That will be great. Just keep work at work, and let’s have a good time when you get back home.”
“Aye, boss.” I made a mock salute with my hand before turning back to my laptop.
I deliberately tuned off as I went through the reports that would be discussed the next day at the meeting with some potential business partners. My company had acquired a small struggling company about a year ago and had managed to turn it to a profit-yielding venture. A Chinese firm had then approached us to partner with us, and I was in London to discuss with them about how that merger would work to both our advantage.
My phone beeped about an hour later, and the caller ID showed that it was Denola. I connected the call immediately.
“Hello, Banji.” Her voice sounded cool as usual. “Zara wanted to say hello to you.”
That was typical Denola. Straight to the point, as if she wanted me to be in no doubt that the reason she was calling was because of our daughter.
“Thanks, Denola. Hope you are fine?” I asked deliberately to needle her and keep her on the line. “It’s good to hear your voice,” I added mischievously.
“I’m good. Thank you,” she said shortly. “Hold on for Zara.”
I smiled. Denola would not be Denola if she wasn’t being ‘Ms. Icy’ towards me.
My daughter’s voice came on, and I cradled the handset closer to my ear. Now that was one gal who loved me.
“Hello, Princess. How are you doing?”
“All good, Daddy. I’m missing you lots.”
“I’m missing you, too,” I replied, noticing from my peripheral view that Sophie had stopped going through her shopping and was sitting down and unashamedly listening in on my conversation. “You know what, though?” I asked as I tried to lighten her mood. “I’ve got you lots of stuff.”
“Yayy!” Zara squealed in excitement. “Thanks a lot, Daddy. Can’t wait to see them.”
“You’re welcome, baby girl.” I’d have bought your mum some stuff, too. I thought to myself as I remembered the lovely dress I had seen in Phase Eight, one of the departmental stores in House of Fraser where Sophie had persuaded me to go shopping with her. I had just known the dress would look good on Denola and had toyed with the idea of buying it for her, but knew she would not accept it. That girl didn’t want any favors from me and made no bones about it.
But maybe I could buy it and give it to her later in the year as Zara’s Mother’s Day present to her. Yep, that sounded like a good idea.
“Do you know what happened today in my school?”
Zara’s question interrupted my thoughts.
“No, darling, but why don’t you tell me…” I paused as I realized that the call was going to be expensive, so I ended it after telling her I’ll call her back. I smirked, recalling how cross Denola used to be in the past when I did that.
“I can afford a phone call, Banji,” she had told me, her voice fairly bristling over the phone. “I make allowance for that before I call you.”
I hadn’t bothered trying to argue with her, but had kept on doing the same thing, and she had eventually chosen to ignore me.
I smiled again as I thought of Denola. She was so fiercely independent, and it grated on my nerves that she was constantly trying to prove she didn’t need my help. But at the same time, I admired the sheer determination with which she went about her life.
I glanced at Sophie who was still watching me. I winked at her, and she smiled.
Denola and her were so different. Sophie had asked for my debit card when we arrived the UK and had been happily spending away without any care in the world.
Zara picked up the phone when I called back. I guess she must have told Denola that I’d be the one.
My daughter and I chatted about our day. She regaled me with her activities at school, and I told her some bits about my business meetings. I ended the call about twenty minutes later so she could go to bed early, but I promised to call her the next day.
“I was actually thinking we could have Zara over for some time during her holidays,” Sophie said after I’d disconnected the call. “I believe it will give both of us some time to bond.”
I nodded at her suggestion. I was always happy to have my daughter over, anyway, but Sophie’s next statement sent off alarm signals in my brain.
“It will be nice to play mum to her,” she said, maintaining eye contact with me. “That will be good practice for me, and I’m sure we’ll have lots of fun together.”
“Hmmmm…” I replied noncommittally. I didn’t want her getting any ideas. I liked her, but our relationship wasn’t heading in that direction, and I’d given her more than enough hints about it.
“Have you tried on all your dresses now?” I asked, deliberately changing the topic.
“Yep.” She smiled happily. “I think I’ll keep them all. But I’m not sure if I haven’t already exceeded my baggage allowance.” A frown worked its way around her brows. “I’ve still got some more shopping to do tomorrow, too.”
“No worries. We can always pay for an extra bag.”
Her cheeks dimpled prettily in a smile. “Thanks, honey. That’s very thoughtful of you.”
Paying for extra luggage was easy. It was her talk about playing happy families that made me uncomfortable.
“Zara’s so well-behaved,” Sophie said as she began to put away her shopping. “And I wouldn’t mind having her around all the time.”
But you are not around in my home all the time. I sighed inwardly realizing she was determined to continue that line of conversation. Sophie had stayed over a few times since we started dating six months ago, and maybe she was beginning to get ideas about making my home her permanent abode.
“I could even give up work to look after her,” she continued as she flashed me a knowing smile. “But that’s when we’ve taken things further, of course. A girl needs these things to be more defined before she can do stuff like that.”
A stay-at-home Sophie was definitely not going to be easy to have around. She already complained so much about my schedule even though she also had a nine-to-five job to keep her occupied. It would certainly be worse if she had a lot of free time on her hands. Zara went to school and also had a couple of after-school clubs she attended, so looking after her was not the whole-day-affair Sophie was imagining. Moreover, I had a live-in house manager.
“Denola would never allow Zara live away from her,” I said in a firm tone. “Now where did you say you wanted us to go tonight?”
Her eyes widened in delight, reminding me again of the reason I had been attracted to her when I first met her.
Tall, slim, caramel-complexioned, with a figure that would compete any day with Kendall Jenner’s, Sophie was a beautiful woman any man would be happy to be with, and she knew how to dress that beauty up. She was fun to be with, too, when she was not nagging me about my work schedule.
“I’ve got a couple of places I’ve penciled down.” She named a few highbrow nightclubs in Central London. “We could do dinner and then just hang out in one of them for a bit.”
“No worries,” I replied. “Just give me half an hour to tidy my work up, and then I’m all yours.”
“Thanks, honey,” she replied happily.
“Ekasan, Mummy.” I curtseyed the Yoruba traditional way as I walked into my parents’ sitting room the following Saturday.
My mother rose from her chair and enveloped me in a warm hug.
“How are you, my dear?” A slight frown creased her brows. “Are you okay? It seems you’ve lost some weight.”
“I’m very fine, Mum.” I smiled. “I’m just working on my weight and trying to keep healthy.”
“There was nothing wrong with your weight,” she said, still eyeing me critically. “Hope you’re not taking all those pills they are marketing about?”
“Oh, no, Mum. I wouldn’t do that.” I told her about my new gym regime and my improved eating habits.
“Hmmmm…” She snorted, looking unimpressed. “Hope you’re not starving Zara, as well?”
“No way, and I’m not starving myself, either.” I smiled reassuringly.
She told me she had made my favorite vegetable soup along with pounded yam for lunch and laughed when she heard me groan.
“Now, how can I resist that, Mum?” I smiled wryly. The temptation was too great. I could just imagine Alex’s face, though. My man wasn’t into those kinds of dishes, and he classified them all as ‘fatty and unhealthy.’ Well, this girl was going to be treating herself this afternoon. My mum’s food was just too good to waste.
I heard the familiar sound of someone clearing his throat and turned around to see my father. Somehow, the light, cheery mood that had been between my mother and me seemed to shift as I met his eyes. His lips stretched out into his own version of a smile which never really got to his eyes.
“Ah, Denola, you are here today?” he asked by way of greeting.
“Ekasan, sir.” I curtseyed again, this time going down fully on my knees. My father expected me and my sisters to do so, and not just bend our knees as we did with our mum.
“Kasan,” he replied, looking me over as my mother had done. If he noticed my weight loss, he said nothing about it. “I thought we had to go obtain an American visa before we could see you.”
“Ah, Daddy, not that bad,” I said, trying to sound lighthearted. “Work has been really busy, and time gets by so quickly.”
“You should not be too busy to visit your parents,” he said in the disgruntled voice I was so used to. “A good child is supposed to see her parents at least once a week.” His frown deepened as he regarded me with baleful eyes. “Especially a child who has supportive parents like you do.”
“I’m sorry, sir,” I said quickly. It was better to apologize to him than attempt to argue with him. I would not win the argument, anyway. My father fought with all the weapons in his arsenal and had never cared who got hurt in the process.
“It’s not enough to say sorry,” he continued, unappeased. “You have to change.”
“I will, sir,” I replied in a suitably meek voice as I caught the anxious expression in my mother’s eyes. She had known from experience never to take my father’s temper for granted. What may start out as a mild disagreement could become a full-scale war if one was not careful.
The situation would have been funny, though, if not that my dad never evoked laughter from me. I hadn’t visited for just two weeks, and here he was making a fuss over it. I shrugged inwardly. Not arguing, and apologizing to him immediately, were the best ways to deal with my dad’s belligerent moods.
“Lunch will be served soon,” my mother said, ladling some soup into her big serving dish.
My father barely glanced in her direction. “By the way, where’s Zara?”
“Em…She has swimming lessons today, and her friend’s mum took her and her friend out to the park. I’ll pick them later.”
“She’s too young for all this friend-friend business,” my father said. “I hope you’re keeping an eye on her? Remember, she’s a girl, and you have to be very careful.”
“I am, Dad. Reni’s parents are very responsible, and I know Zara is safe with them.”
My father just muttered something about a child still behaving badly despite the parents’ input, and I bit my lip. I knew that was a direct reference to me. He had never let me hear the end of my getting pregnant in my final year at university. Not even now when I was making something out of my life, something he had said would never happen.
My father walked out towards the dining area, and I saw the relief on my mother’s face. She had always lived in fear of him and seemed to become a shadow of her otherwise cheerful self whenever he was around.
I helped her carry the serving dishes to the dining table, and I served my parents their food before taking my seat. My father said prayers, and we all tucked in.
“How is Alex doing?” my father asked, then took a sip of his water. “Have you agreed on a date now?”
“We’re still working on it,” I replied. “We’re trying to work out a time when it will not be too busy at either of our offices.”
“Hope you’ll not waste time and let this one slip away,” he said, biting into his Kpomo, a local delicacy he favored and which my mother always made sure was in all his dishes. “You should be grateful that a nice, responsible man like him is willing to take you and your daughter on.” His teeth crunched on the Kpomo, and he took his time to chew it before continuing. “If I were you, I’ll forget about all the hullabaloo of a church wedding and just have a simple registry wedding.”
He eyed me as he picked up another piece of Kpomo.
My father’s words washed over me, and I tried to hide the pain they brought. “I’m not the one insisting on a church wedding. It’s actually Alex who wants it.”
“Then I’ll need to talk with him. We’re not fussy over the wedding issue at all, and anyway, I think the time for that is passed, too.” His eyes roved over me almost disdainfully. “He could even just do the traditional marriage and that would suffice. We’ll be happy once he pays your bride price.” He picked up his glass of water again and looked towards my mother. “Abi, Ronke?”
My mother glanced at me, and she must have known how I was feeling because I could see the same sadness reflected in her eyes.
“Em, I think you should let Alex do what’s in his heart,” she replied in a quiet tone. “They are both adults, and I’m sure they know what they’re doing.”
My father put his glass of water down rather loudly, his eyes flashing in the familiar way that signaled his rising temper.
“Aha! Now I can see you’ve been the one advising them on what to do,” he accused my mother as he glared at her. “I finally get a chance to redeem my good name concerning Denola, and you’re standing in the way.” He continued his tirade at my mother. “But I’m warning you both, if this Alex man walks away, it will be your fault and your daughter’s.”
“We’ll be fine, Dad,” I said quickly, not wanting to be the one to cause another fight between them. They had enough of that without me adding to it. “I’ll let Alex know your thoughts about the matter.”
My father continued to glare at me and my mother for a moment before he resumed eating. I looked towards my mum, but her face was studiously on her plate as she continued to eat.
I slowly resumed eating. I had lost my appetite, anyway, and the food tasted like sawdust in my mouth. This was one of the reasons why I found it difficult visiting my parents. No matter how good I was feeling when I arrived, I always left feeling deflated because of my dad.
Small wonder I was always grateful for any reason not to bring Zara into that atmosphere. The child already had enough to deal with by living with a single parent. I would not allow her to deal with a grandfather who didn’t care how unkind his words could be. He had done that to me all my life, and I would not let him do it to my daughter.
As I did the dishes later on, my lips tightened as I thought about how my father had heckled my mother. That had been the pattern ever since I could remember, but it still made me sad. My father had always blamed her for giving birth to three daughters and for not having a son. He had made it plain he resented my sisters and me, and that had made me the rebellious child and young adult I had been. I had been defiant and uncaring about my actions, as I craved acceptance and love from the wild crowd I moved with. I had enjoyed the attention from my friends and hadn’t even realized I was on a self-destruct mission until I had fallen pregnant with Zara.
My thoughts went to my father again. In his hey days, he had cheated on my mum severally and would beat her black and blue anytime she confronted him about it. He had finally managed to have a son with one of his concubines some ten years earlier, and had almost lost his marbles when the boy had died at the age of two. After that, his business had taken a turn for the worse, and he had lost a lot of money which had put an end to his philandering. But his anger and acerbic tongue towards my mother had never ceased but had rather seemed to worsen over the years.
As I drove home later that day, I found myself resolving within me to do all I could to ensure that Alex and I got married. It would be worth it just to see my father’s face on that day. It would be yet another blow on his grim prophesies about my life. I had surprised him by still graduating with a second-class upper division despite the fact that I already had Zara. Getting my job and obviously doing so well at Ka-Tell had been another surprise to him.
I sincerely prayed that all went smoothly between Alex and me because it would be worth all the gold in the world to disappoint my father’s expectations.Wings of Healing (Chapter 4)