Ijeoma had met Apham’s father some weeks to their wedding. He was a bubble of excitement with his rounded stomach and receding hairline. His beards gave him a youthful yet staid look. A burst of laughter followed him as he came out of the car. Musa who had had a grimace on his face while the ruckus between the couple and Angela was going had a wide, toothy smile.
“Oga, good morning sir,” he greeted loudly. His voice was filled with pure excitement.
“Ah, Musa, this one you’re looking thin? Are you not eating well? Is your salary not enough?” Thomas winked at him. “Or is that your new wife not allowing you to sleep well at night?”
Musa smiled shyly. “Oga!”
Thomas let out a belly laugh. “Musa, Musa.” He patted the man on the back. “Take my things into the house.” It was after he dismissed Musa that he turned to the rest of his family that had already gathered around the car.
“Daddy good morning,” they greeted.
He smiled, pulling Angela into a half-hug. “My angel.” He smiled at her, stroking her cheeks. Ijeoma felt like throwing up when she saw the coquettish smile on the woman’s face. Apham looked away uncomfortably. Thomas looked at the two of them.
“My daughter, how are you? This one you’re looking fresh, like tomato Jos, my son must be taking good care of you,” Thomas tugged at her cheeks.
She smiled. “Yes daddy. How was your trip?”
He shook his head waved his hand. “No talk about business at home. I want to hear about your honeymoon? Apham, hope you treated your woman well, eh?”
“Yes daddy. Let’s go inside so that you can rest.” Apham cleared his throat.
They made to go into the house, but Thomas’ quick eyes caught the two bags in front of the house. He stopped. “Who is travelling?” He looked from the bags to the three of them.
Apham opened his mouth to say something but Angela beat him to it. “Don’t worry, love. Musa forgot to take their bags into the house last night. I’ve already talked to him about it.” Musa who was coming out of the house at this had a dumbfounded look on his face. He stood still unable to refute Angela’s claims. Luckily, Thomas was quite forgiving. He patted Musa firmly on the back. “Musa, my friend,” he said and then continued into the house.
Ijeoma released a sigh of relief. Even though Thomas was a good-hearted man, it was impolite of her to make his son leave the house. But as she entered the house, a sense of uneasiness dawned on her. She tightened her hand on Apham’s arms.
He noticed her unease and patted her hand lightly. “Don’t worry we would leave the house as soon as possible.”
Ijeoma knew it was a false promise. With Thomas in the house, they would have to stay longer especially since Thomas was bent on making it up to them for not attending their wedding.
Once again, they were back in the room, unpacking their clothes. They worked in silence. Ijeoma arranging her creams and make-up products on the dresser, Apham hanging the clothes in the wardrobe.
“I’m not comfortable staying here,” Ijeoma said suddenly. She tightened her hand around the small bottle of perfume, before she placed it beside her face cream.
Apham’s tightened chest relaxed. Finally, he thought. He hung the hanger he had in his hand and walked towards her. “We can leave if you want. I can talk to dad. He would be sad, but-”
“No,” she cut in. “There is no need to.” She sat down in front of the dresser and looked at him in the mirror. “We can get through this, but first I want to know what happened between the both of you.”
Apham drew in a breath. “Are you sure?” he rasped.
“Yes. I know it will hurt, but I need to hear the details, know what we are up against.”
We. Apham thought, he repeated the word in his mind. He was no longer alone, he had someone now. They were now a ‘we’. He reached down beside her and engulfed her in a tight hug, breathing in the scent of her cream.
Recalling it now, Apham’s hand tightened around Ijeoma on the hospital bed. She had slept off sometime while he was still in the past. Her soft breath wheezed against his chest. He buried his nose into her hair, her thick natural hair that she had been so proud of, now lay in a tangled and untidy heap on her head. He would make it tomorrow, he thought absentmindedly, suddenly grateful for the annoying lessons Ijeoma had put him through with the hair. His mind went back to the days before he met Ijeoma, when his father had gotten married to Angela.
He had returned from London and was still bursting with the enthusiasm of youth. When he met home to the figure of a woman dressed in shorts and bra-top doing jumping jacks in front of the compound, he had stood still watching as her breasts threatened to pop out of the top with each movement she made. It was when she finished that he got himself, but she had already seen him.
“Luke?” she called out, recognizing him from the pictures that hung around the house.
He nodded. His backpack slid from his shoulders as he moved to shake her hand. Her sweaty palm lingered on his. “You’re even more handsome in person,” she winked at him.
“I take it that you are my new step-mother?” he asked. When he had heard that his father took another wife, he had been expecting to see someone older, maybe the same age-group as his mother would have been if she was still alive. His father was closed off from the media making it even impossible to know about his wife from media sources. So when he saw her, he was surprised. Though she had been married before, she was at least fourteen years younger than his father. Aside from that, her figure placed her as someone in her late twenties.
“You seem disappointed,” Angela had laughed huskily when she saw the look on Apham’s face.
Apham shook the thoughts away from his head. This was his father’s wife, he told himself. He smiled at her light. “Nice to meet you, ma’am.” Then without waiting for a reply, he picked up his bag and hurried into the house. But when he entered the house, he stood by the window, looking at her as she did squats. His eyes following her up-down movement like a robot. It had been the sound of his phone ringing that jarred him this time, and when he saw that it was his father, he breathed with guilt. My father’s wife, he thought to himself as he picked the call.