It took a while before she stopped crying. When she did, she became conscious of her weight on her mother’s slim legs. She made to stand up, but her mother held her back. “No, stay here.”
She shifted her weight so that half of her buttocks lay uncomfortably on the hand of the sofa, while the other rested comfortably on her mother. She remained leaning on her mother, inhaling the familiar scent until she was drunk on it.
Her father cleared his throat.
Ijeoma shot up with a small and shy smile. She had almost forgotten his presence. She wondered if she should go and hug him as well. Her mother’s hand tightened around her waist. Stay here, you can go to him later.
“It is good that you returned.” His words were slow and dragged out. “But why didn’t you come the first time it happened? Or the second time? You could have told someone to whisper it to us eh? We are angry, but that doesn’t mean that we would leave you to die. No, mba. You are still our daughter.”
“I’m sorry, daddy.” She felt comforted by the warmth of her mother on her back. She didn’t feel as anxious as she did at first, though tinges of guilt still clawed at her mind. “I was so scared. I thought you would refuse to see me.”
“Don’t say that,” her mother rebuked. “No matter what, Ijem, don’t ever think like that in your life. Yes, we are angry. But who talks about anger when their child is in danger. Just look at you.” She rubbed her hands down Ijeoma’s hands. “You’re so skinny. When last did you eat? The way you were eating in the dining, one would think that your husband is starving you.” Her mother squinted at her. “Or is he?”
“No, mummy. No, he is not. He is treating me well. Too well sometimes.” Ijeoma patted her mother slowly.
“Then why didn’t he come with you, eh?” her father asked. “I am still angry at him for marrying you without our consent. He should come and do the right thing.”
“He wanted to come,” Ijeoma hurried to say. “I was the one that told him not to. I didn’t know how you will respond.”
“He has to be here, Ijeoma. He has to be here.” He sat forward, placing his elbows on his knees. “In fact, you are not leaving this house until he comes and settles the score he has with us.”
“Your father is right,” her mother said. “You will go upstairs and stay with your sister. She has so many things to tell you. Call your husband and tell him to come here. When he comes, we will settle this matter as a family.”
Ijeoma stood up as her mother nudged her on the buttocks, immediately missing the warmth. She looked dubiously at her parents. “You won’t make things hard on him, right?”
Her father eyed her. “Let him come here first. He has to make atonement for causing us pain two times before he leaves with you.”
“Daddy!” She humphed.
“Ngwa, go and meet Yora. You’re a married woman now, stop behaving like a child.” Her mother stood up and went to join her father on the longer couch where he sat.
“But mummy…” Ijeoma said with a smile. She pecked her parents on the cheek, lingering a little on her father before she left the parlor, taking the stairs two by two to go to Iyora’s room.
Iyora was on her bed, working on her laptop when Ijeoma walked in. She had found the door slightly opened. Iyora had been expecting her.
“Hey,” she said softly, sitting on the edge of the bed, keeping a little distance between the both of them.
“Hey yourself.” Iyora hissed but closed the lid of her laptop. She sat up on the bed, crossing her legs and sitting on them.
“What were you doing? I hope I didn’t disturb you.” Ijeoma made a lame attempt at smiling. The courage she had gotten from making up with her parents was slowly slipping out. She could feel the nerves starting to loose out from their tightly knitted bundle. She didn’t blame her nerves. Her sister was not the best person to talk to when she was angry.
“Disturb ke? You should have thought about it when you came this afternoon. I’m supposed to be going out with my fiance on a date, but…”
Ijeoma gasped and cupped her mouth. “It’s a lie.’
Iyora reached out and slapped her on the head. “You’re mad. Do you think I’m joking?” She sat back and gave Ijeoma a wide smile. “Look.” She stretched out her hand.
Ijeoma took it, examining the diamond ring on her middle finger. “Wow!” She caressed her sister’s long fingers, her touch lingering on the ringer. It was small, but well-designed, fitting her chocolate skin so well. Ijeoma smiled to herself when she noticed that the dark knuckles that her sister had so often complained about had lightened to a color almost the same with the rest of her skin. “It’s beautiful.”
“Of course it is.” Iyora took her hand away and looked at the ring, wiggling her fingers and placing it in different positions. “I never get tired of looking at it.” She laughed, reluctantly putting her hand down.
“When did it happen?” Ijeoma sat way further into the bed, imitating her sister’s position.
“Last month. We’ve been dating for like a year now. I almost thought he wouldn’t propose.” She rolled her eyes and clucked her tongue.
“Stop wowing,” Iyora snapped, but she had a pleasant look on her face. “He’s so nice. Mum and Dad like him so much.”
“I can’t wait to meet him.”
“No you won’t,” Iyora stressed.
Ijeoma gaped at her. “What?”
“I’m still angry with you. Very, very angry with you. And don’t think I’m going to forgive you so soon as our parents did. I’m not your mother, so don’t expect me to just welcome you with loving arms.”
“Yora.” Ijeoma pleaded. “Please… at least, just listen to me.” Ijeoma was saying.
“I’m listening. If you like, talk heaven and earth, you will not change my mind. I know you had a miscarriage, so that is… wait, you said?”
“Not a miscarriage, three miscarriages,” Ijeoma said.
“Blood of God,” Iyora whispered. “Tell me you’re joking.”
Ijeoma shook her head slowly. “I won’t joke like this. I wish it was a joke. But-”
“Oh, honey…” Iyora immediately gathered her into her arms. “I’m so sorry. Ijem, what have you gone through? Why didn’t you say anything? You know I unblocked your number ages ago. I only blocked it in anger. I just kept on waiting for a call from you but nothing. I didn’t want to call you first.”
Ijeoma continued shaking her head. Her eyes were quivering, a tear slid down her cheeks. She sniffed. “I wanted to. I wanted to so badly. I remember picking up my phone, trying to dial your number, but I couldn’t go on. The guilt was always too much.”
“Forget about feeling guilty. I felt guilty too a number of times, making you leave that way. When mum tries to find out something about you, I always shut her down. Oh God! Imagine what I caused. What if…what if…shit!” She shook her head.
“It’s okay, Yora. It really is now. I feel so bad for marrying someone against all your wishes, but I don’t feel sorry at all.”
“Yes baby, I understand what you mean. That feeling, it is just now that I am beginning to understand it. I don’t blame you. I stopped blaming you a long time ago. How have you been?”
For the second time that day, Ijeoma recounted the events of the past four years. Anita was not as quiet as her parents had been. She cut in, asking question, hugging her, seeking explanations. She was sniffing by the time Ijeoma finished her story.
“All these things happened while you were in Lagos? In this same Lagos that we are living in?” she had asked the question three time in the last ten minutes.
Ijeoma nodded mutely. “I know I should have told you guys, but… I really didn’t know how to. I left to get married to the love of my life. I’m supposed to come back with tales of happiness, beautiful children to say- I made the right decision. But take a look at me now. It’s like saying, you guys were right. You think I want to say that.”
“But still, Ijeoma. We are your family no matter what. If anything happens, we are the first people that you should come to. Look at me, I came back a drug addict. So hooked on drugs that when I should have greeted my parents, the only thing I wanted was drugs. But did they say anything? No. You were the ones that helped me pick the pieces. That is what family is for. People that stand by you even if you were making the worst decisions. Why did you think Daddy and mummy did not come and drag you from your husband’s house, because trust me, I’m sure daddy wanted to do that a number of times. They believed in your decision, they believed that you were happy that is why even though they were not happy, they tried to stay out of it.” She took a deep breath.
“I should have known that,” Ijeoma admitted. “But…” She shrugged.
“At least you had the sense to come now.” Anita put an arm around her. “So now, tell me about your husband. How is he treating you? I don’t want lies, just tell me the truth.”