Violet blew at the cup of hot green tea as she stared at her phone, chuckling at a picture. She was sitting in the parlor with Nma resting her head on her lap as she snored quietly. She vaguely heard someone knocking at the gate. The sound of Sochi’s footsteps running out of the house followed some minutes after.

“Aunty Stella!” Sochi’s scream was loud enough to wake the sleeping Nma, who shot up from her laps immediately. 

“Aunty Stella!” Nma squealed and rushed out of the parlor. 

Violet smiled and placed the cup on the table in front of her. The number of times she could see this friend of hers. She stood up and went to the kitchen. A watermelon was sitting on the counter. She went straight to it, washing it and then reaching for the knife.

By the time Stella surrounded by Sochi, Nma, and Chike reached the parlor, she had cut it into smaller pieces and placed them in a tray.

“Allow auntie to sit down o. These children.” She laughed as she placed the tray on the table.

“My dear, leave them o.” Stella was enjoying the attention. A nagging Nma was clutching the bottom of her chiffon top, while Chike was privileged to be carried, wrapping his hands tightly around her neck. Sochi hovered around, in her hands were Stella’s black handbag and another nylon bag.

“Nne, look at how you are glowing,” Violet said when she finally had a chance to properly look at her friend. The children were now sitting quietly around her, fiddling with either her jewelry or her bag. Stella happily indulged them, giving Sochi her phone to play with.

“I should say the same about you, eh? People like us are getting fat day by day but look at you. Wow!” Stella shook her head in amazement. “It’s like you even went back to how you were in uni o.”

Violet burst out laughing. “Keep on exaggerating. You are good at that. I was complaining the other day that I added extra weight. But don’t worry about me. Really, you’re just glowing. Look at you.” Violet was genuinely happy. She couldn’t stop looking at her friend. And that scent. She had breathed in deeply several times since she sat down. The scent had filled the whole parlor—breezy, yet sweet and delicate. She’d have to ask her the name of the perfume she was using.

Stella shook her head. “What else did you expect? You know me. I like to enjoy life. Of course, I have to maintain my glow.” Stella puffed up her shoulders and pulled at her top.

Violet laughed. “You will not kill me, this woman. But seriously, just look at you. When did you come back?”

“Last week. I came in from France on Thursday. Then I went to Owerri to see Ikenna’s grandparents. I just returned to Awka last night.”

Violet widened her eyes. “Ikenna’s grandparents kwa? What happened? I hope Ken is not giving you headache again?”

Stella hissed and reached for a slice of watermelon. “Headache? He has been disturbing my phone since last month. If I didn’t go to see them, he would have pulled down the walls of my house like he almost did the other time.”

Ahn-ahn? What is his problem kwanu? He should leave you alone.” Violet reached over to slap away Nma’s hand that was going into Stella’s bag. Stella collected the bag with a small smile and kept it out of reach.

“You know his wife gave birth two months ago.”

“Yes, you told me she was pregnant.”

Stella nodded. “She gave birth to another girl o.”

Ehen? Another girl? How many now? Three abi four?” Violet’s lips twitched.

Stella laughed. “Three my dear. Three girls. Very beautiful girls o. So, this man is now wanting to come back into Ikenna’s life. Just imagine the drama he is always acting. Anytime the woman is pregnant, he will just disappear from Ikenna’s life. Even a short call, we will not hear pim from him. Then when she gives birth and it is a girl, he will come back and start saying that I am not allowing him to get to know his son. Ah! See this life ehn, it can bring someone down to his knees.”

Violet couldn’t help but agree with her. Stella had gotten married to Ken when they were in their second year at the university. She could remember the event vividly as Stella was the first girl in their class that got married. The department had contributed money to buy a wedding present—a set of pots and plates—and booked a bus to take members of the class for the wedding in Stella’s village. Violet had been one of the bridesmaids, dressed in elegant purple and cream gown. Stella got married when she was two months pregnant and gave birth to Ikenna seven months later. Unfortunately, having to repeat a school semester due to the pregnancy. 

After giving birth to Ikenna, she got an infection that ruined her womb and any other chances of her giving birth. Four years later, after she finished her one year service, Ken got another woman pregnant and decided to divorce her.

Violet could remember the day he announced both decisions to Stella. That evening, she had hurried to Enugu where Stella and her ex-husband stayed. That night, she had comforted to no avail a broken Stella who was not just dealing with the loss of her marriage, but also her chance to have more children and heartbreak. It took six months for Stella to recover from the divorce, to pick up the shards of her heart, and take up caring for her son. Slowly, she focused on her cosmetics business that was falling to the ground and strove to make a comfortable life for herself and her son.

Ken married the other woman because she could mother his children. But alas, while she had a fruitful womb, she had no luck with a male child, something Ken’s family held very important and another reason why he divorced her—so he could have more sons. As Stella said, he disappeared once his wife got pregnant and only reappeared when she gave birth to another girl.

“It is karma,” Stella said. “What did I say? My God will fight for me. The God I serve,” She looked up at the ceiling, “Will surely fight for me. You see ehn, Ikenna is ken’s son. The last thing I want to do is to deprive Ike of his father, but if Ken continues to play hide and seek with my son, I swear I won’t take it lying down.”

Violet spat out some melon seeds into the plate she held up to her jaw. “True. But what about his parents, what did he say?”

“What else, Violet? That I should allow Ikenna to travel to the village during holidays, Christmas, Easter, and even the Summer holiday.”

“Hmm?” Violet snapped. “That’s not possible.”

“They don’t even know who they are dealing with. The last time I allowed Ikenna to go there and stay for just two weeks, he came home and was complaining that he never wants to go there again. I keep on asking this boy from now till tomorrow what happened, but he won’t say anything. That alone is enough for me. Only God knows what he experienced. After that, if I am not there, I am not giving my son to anybody. That boy is my life. If anything happens to him, I don’t know what else I would do. Fortunately, Ikenna himself said he doesn’t want to go anywhere. Will they force him? After all, the boy is old enough to decide for himself.”

“And he is stubborn,” Violet put in, fondly recalling the sixteen-year-old.

Stella laughed. “Exactly. If he doesn’t want to do something, nobody will force him. Not to talk more of people that are not even active in his life. Talk about the impossible.”

“At least, it’s all settled now, eh?”

Stella nodded. “Yes. Ken said he would come to Enugu next week. That remains to be seen. The other time he said he was coming, we didn’t see him until two months later. Anytime he comes, it is just to warm soup and make eba for him. If he is lucky, he will meet my vegetable soup. You know how he liked it. That is the only courtesy I owe him since he is my son’s father.”

“You even make eba for him,” Violet laughed. “You’re softhearted in a way sha.”

Stella shrugged. “I can’t help myself.” She collected her phone from Sochi to reply to a message. “By the way, how is it with your husband.”

“We thank God, we thank God. Everything is going well.” Violet reached for another slice of watermelon.

Stella studied her expression. She handed the phone back to Sochi cautioning her not to go through her chats. “Really? Are you serious?”

“Of course.” Violet spat out some seeds. “Or what did you want to hear? We settled the problem of before. I thought I told you.”

“That is why I am concerned, Vee. Are you sure he did as he promised? Because…” she trailed off deliberately.

Violet frowned at her. “I don’t understand, Stella. Is there something you want to say? As I told you, he promised he wouldn’t see any other girl again.”

Stella bit her lips slowly. “And if I told you I saw him with another girl yesterday?”

Violet choked on a seed. She coughed hard then reached for the now lukewarm tea, downing it quickly. Her eyes watered. “Stella, stop that.” Her voice was hard when she dropped the empty cup on the table along with the plate of melon seeds and a half-eaten watermelon.

Stella sighed deeply. “Sochi, take your siblings upstairs. There are chocolates inside the nylon. Share it among yourselves.”

The parlor was quiet after the children left. 

“Tell me, you’re joking.” Violet’s voice was breaking, reflecting the state of her heart.

“I never want to be the bearer of bad news. If it wasn’t true, I will not come to your house and start spouting nonsense. Yesterday, I slept in a hotel. I already decided that I will come and see you before I go back to Enugu but it was so late and I couldn’t as well come and start knocking on your gate by that time. I saw Oyim and another girl leaving the hotel. I looked well to make sure.”

Violet was shaking her head, muttering, “It’s a lie.”

“I do hope it is, Violet. But I had to tell you myself before you hear it from one of those women’s mouths. You know how they talk.”

Hearing it from her didn’t soften the blow. How could it? Violet blindly reached for her plate of melon seeds and continued eating her watermelon. She remained that way until Oyim came back. She blindly went about preparing supper for the family.

That night, when Oyim ran his hands through her body, she remained stiff, shutting herself from the pleasure he was giving. If he noticed, he didn’t say anything, rolling off when he was done and switching off the lights. 

That night, Violet stared wide-eyed at the ceiling in the dark room, listening to the snores coming from Oyim. When it was almost two in the morning, she stood up and left the room, heading towards the twins’ room. The smell of the pears baby oil her children rubbed that evening, were the calming balm that lulled her to sleep towards the early hours of the morning.