Lilian felt her breath catch as the older man sat down. Was he that oblivious to the tension between the two women? She looked at him as he turned the contents of his plate and scooped a spoonful.
“Good morning honey.”
“Good morning daddy.”
“Good morning sir.”
He nodded enthusiastically to their greetings. “How did you all sleep?”
Mumbles of “Fine” filled the room. Lilian had already cleared her bowl of oats but she was unsure of whether to remain in the dining or to politely leave. It was evident that there were serious family issues and she didn’t want to involve herself with them. She already had enough to worry about.
“Daddy, I have to go upstairs with Lilian to so that she can check if everything is okay.” Ijeoma was already standing up, pushing the chair back with her legs.
“Alright,” he said. “My friend would be arriving in the afternoon, so-” He gave her a stern look. It was the first time Lilian was seeing anything but the wide smile and eyes that were filled with mirth on his face.
“Yes, daddy. I understand.” Ijeoma gestured at Lilian.
“Oh, thank you, sir, thank you ma,” she said to the couple still at the table. She picked up her plate and rushed to follow behind Ijeoma who was already out of the dining room. As she neared the door, she heard Mr. Thomas say, “You have really succeeded in ruining my family, huh?”
She wanted to slow down her steps to hear what the reply would be, but it would be so obvious. She continued into the kitchen, rinsing her plate and returning it to its original position. So he knew, she thought as she rushed after Ijeoma as she climbed the stairs. Then why he pretend? She knew she shouldn’t be overly curious about the affairs of her host, yet she found herself ruminating through them, sifting through possible reasons for what happened to the family.
Ijeoma watched silently as Lilian set her box of medical supplies on the bed. The hospital had given it to them at Apham’s request. She could tell the young girl was curious about what was going on. She badly wanted to talk to her. It had been long since she had anyone to talk to, not since she and her family had gotten estranged. And her friends were all so ‘busy’ with their lives that they couldn’t spare at least three minutes with her on the phone. They were always so eager to hang up the call to return to stubborn children or food still on the stove. She had gotten so many excuses from them that it became better to lick her wounds in private, on her own. Even her elder sister…No, I won’t go there today. She shook her head firmly.
“Any problem, ma?” Lilian was looking at her, confusion written all over her face.
“No, nothing.” She breathed deeply. She allowed the nurse to flash her light into her eyes and peer into them. She checked her pulse and heart-rate as well. When she was done, she nodded at Ijeoma.
“Everything is normal this morning. You can continue taking the vitamins and supplements. Try not to stress yourself out too much,” Lilian said.
“Thank you.” Ijeoma stood up and rolled her head over her neck. It made a loud crick.
“Did the doctor say anything about going for a professional massage? You need it at this point.” Lilian frowned.
“Yes.” Ijeoma rubbed her neck. “But we want to wait till we go back to Lagos. We found a massage therapist and he is quite good.”
“Okay, that is much better.” Lilian started packing up her box.
“The driver will be here by 12pm. And then I booked a room for you in a hotel at that time in case you don’t feel like going out.” She smiled apologetically. “I am really sorry for the inconvenience, just for today. Hopefully, everything will go back to normal by tomorrow.”
“No problem, ma. I can take the opportunity to visit a lot of places. I’ve always wanted to come to Abuja.” Lilian grinned.
“It may extend till the night,” Ijeoma warned.
Lilian shrugged. “It’s okay ma, really. There is no need to be concerned about me. I understand what you mean.”
“Thank you so mu…” her voice trailed off as a sob racked through her body. She couldn’t hold it back and soon the tears started streaming down her cheeks. “I’m so sorry,” she blubbered, trying to wipe the tears.
Lilian walked towards her and put her arms round the woman. She was shorter than Ijeoma, but it didn’t matter. She rubbed her back comfortingly. “It’s okay, ma. There is nothing wrong with letting out your pain.”
She led Ijeoma back to the bed she had just vacated and sat her down, still rubbing her back. It took a while for Ijeoma to finally stop crying. When she did, her lips tipped up in a shaky but grateful smile. “Thank you. It’s just…” She sighed. “Everything, this house, that woman… they make me feel anxious.”
“It’s alright ma. Everything will be okay.” Lilian comforted. By now, her curiosity had peaked. She wanted to hear what happened, what pushed a beautiful couple like her hosts to a sad and grief-filled situation like this. But Ijeoma was already standing up. She flattened her skirt and arranged the light shawl that she had over the silk singlet top that she had on.
“Yes, I pray so.” Ijeoma looked at her. “Enjoy yourself. When everything is okay, I will give you a call and let you come back. By then, we would be ready to go back to Lagos.”
Ijeoma ignored the disappointment in Lilian’s voice and went out of the room, closing the door shut behind her. She took a deep breath and rubbed away the traces of tears on her cheeks and eyes before she resumed walking. She didn’t want Apham to know that she had cried again. He would be worried. The last night, he had hovered around her, often interrupting the nurse as she did her work before she had slept off. When she woke in the morning, the headache was gone and she was wrapped in his arms. It had been difficult to come out from his hold without waking him, but her stomach kept on rumbling that she was sure that if her movement didn’t wake him up, the sound of her stomach would undoubtedly do that.
Their room was a few feet away from the nurse’s room and even farther from Apham’s father’s room on the other end of the house. She opened the door and slide inside, smiling when she saw that Apham was still sleeping, his body spread across the bed. She pecked him lightly, before dropping her shawl on the handle of her dresser chair and went into the toilet.