I turned my head away from Temi. It took two days of deep reflection to reach this acceptance stage.
But here they were, Temi and Tayo, exhausted from their day at school, yet with eyes alert from the questions that have remained unanswered for two days.
“When is Daddy coming back?”
This time the question came from Tayo. His voice was shaky; absent of the confidence my seven year old boy usually speaks with.
I passed them their spoons and asked them to eat their jolof rice, avoiding Tayo’s face.
He and his father are the type who can walk into a room and no explanation is needed as to their relationship.
Without looking at him, I knew he would be frowning. The same way Femi frowned when I told him I knew about his pregnant mistress. His secretary, Efe – who happened to live on our street and shared people’s news with the same energy most people dedicate to breathing – told me. The girl was rushing off to the toilet every hour.
My shoulders dropped when she told me. I knew she was one of those gossips who could spread stories with the creativity of artistes but she was also the sort that verified her stories. Garnishing the telling, not the stories. “Liars will go to hell,” she would say.
The water’s tepidness mixed with the fragrant soap in the sink made washing-up less of a chore, but all I could see in front of me was Femi’s face when I told him to leave. He left without much in his bag, taking with him, instead, the zeal and strength that once made me a good mother and doctor.
I watched him walk out because I didn’t believe he would leave me for his office girl.
Was that what made it worse?
The fact that my husband of nine years left me for the office assistant or the fact that he said he didn’t feel the same anymore.
“Maybe it happened because I got tired of coming home to a woman that brings work home, Gbemisola. My patients this, my patients that,” he said as he threw his things in a weekend bag. “I am tired of sharing you with that hospital and competing for your affection. I used to love your independence… now, I’m just tired of living with an iron lady. Tired of feeling like you don’t love me.”
I didn’t realise my top was wet until I felt its dampness against my skin. It reminded me of how Femi and I used to play fight with water before the routine of work and the responsibilities that come with marriage turned us into cohabiting adults that barely talked about important things. Reduced instead to sharing the small things: Tayo’s football skills, Temi’s love for words on pages.
“Gbemi…” Father’s voice forced me to the present. “Let the housekeeper do that.”
My eyes filled up when I turned to Father. The tears fell when he arrived from Ota this morning. Fearing that I would turn into a weak woman, the sort that goes to pieces when their husbands catch a cold, I ran upstairs.
After reading to the children that evening, I still couldn’t tell them. Something solid that wouldn’t shift forced itself in my throat. I kissed them goodnight, praying they wouldn’t ask the dreaded question.
Later on, I called their father from what was once our bedroom.
“You will have to come and tell them yourself,” I forced myself to breathe, even though pain racked my ribcage every time I pushed air in. “I tried to tell them Femi…”
“I’m sorry I put you in this position. I will come on Saturday.”
He went quiet after that and I wondered if his mistress was beside him. Kemi told me this morning that I would have to make all the arrangements now. That as soon as Esther gives birth to her child, things would get worse.
How could they get worse? The love of my life had embarked on a journey to delete my part in the dreams we shared. Dreams he will now share with a woman that couldn’t possibly love him like I do. And I do love him, although I am good at protecting my heart. This is what he said a few times. I disagreed. It wasn’t my fault that I didn’t need him. That my life, our home could survive without him.
“Did you get the envelope I dropped off this morning? I called to see if you got it. Listen, I am sorry but…”
“I have been too busy to check anything,” I said and disconnected the call.
I saw the envelope when I went to drop the children off at school. Thinking about it turned my stomach into knots.
Wasn’t it too soon for him to be discussing divorce?
How could this happen?
My husband never seemed the type to cheat. Nor did he seem the type that women clapped eyes on and wanted to seduce away from home. With an average height, a stomach that made him look as if he was four months pregnant and the habit of spending on just necessities, Kemi said he was no sugar daddy material.
“Gbemi,” Father’s voice called from the other side of my door.
I waited until I heard his footsteps moving from the door before I let myself breathe.
I was that girl again. The girl that waited in school for her father to surprise her and pick her up. The girl that had to babysit her little sister whilst her mother sold nails, locks and latches to carpenters and labourers.
Mother cried for days when Father married his second wife. The tears turned to songs that sounded more like mourning dirges when he stopped coming home. His new wife’s flat became his new home.
Mother still walked about with empty eyes and a mouth that churned out songs of sorrow years later. That was why when a car ran her down on Orile Road and the witnesses said Mother didn’t see the car coming, we believed them.
I found the envelope on the table downstairs. I clutched it to my chest, ready to be strong for my children. I heard Father’s shuffling feet before I saw him and forced my face to smile. He made mistakes but he didn’t cause this.
“My daughter, you need to know, enh… I came to see your Aunty all those years ago,” Father began. “I wanted to take you and Kemi home with me. She told me to let you two stay with her. She blames me, you know.”
“That was a long time ago. Everything is fine now, Dad.” I didn’t want to talk about the cold vacuum that was fashioned in me when he didn’t fight to have us.The coldness, I thought, had been whipped warm when life got easier.
“Your aunty really did well,” Father said. “I hope it is not too late for me to help.”
I pushed the envelope towards him, tired of pretending to be strong. “Divorce papers.”
We moved to the sofa after fetching Father’s glasses. I curved my neck away as he ripped open the envelope.
He was staring at me as if I had just changed skin colour when I turned to him.
“What does it say, Daddy?”
Father’s face curved.
Was it because I hadn’t called him Daddy for almost twenty five years? He passed me the handwritten letter in the envelope. It was my husband’s scrawny scrawls.
My soul mate,
I know you will probably never forgive me. I have to ask anyway. Not because my hotel room doesn’t have your laughter to bring it alive but because I have wronged you. We drifted apart and I wonder why I let that happen. Would I have let my soul drift away without a fight?
Please, forgive me. I will cherish you and your strengths for the rest of my life if I get one more chance.
PS. – Esther is not pregnant.
Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Danie Nel