BERNADINE FELT LIKE she was lying on clouds. It was a feeling unlike any other. She couldn’t see the clouds. She looked around but couldn’t make out any distinct shape or color. Everything looked hazy. She only felt like she was safe. She was on something soft and comfy. Only that…her head ached like someone was hitting it with a mallet. She groaned and felt a comforting hand on her arm. She smiled briefly and fell back into a coma.

Ejuaye looked down at her with no little concern in his eyes. He went back to sit on the seat the nurse had thoughtfully offered and sighed. Receiving a call that his daughter had been hospitalized at the Lagoon Hospital, Ikeja had nearly given him a heart attack. He’d dropped everything he had been doing and drove like crazy for almost 2 hours to get to her. He lived for his kids. They were the only ones who made him happy. The only ones he used to justify all that he did years ago. He didn’t know what he’d do without them.

 

INKOOM WAS FEEDING the kids when Lydia walked in. He spared her a glance and focused on the kids. Alma smiled when he saw his mother.

“Ma, ma,” he called out waiting for her kiss. She kissed him gently on the cheek, trying to avoid looking at her husband. He turned his gaze back to her, shocked at what his first glance had seen. She looked dirty. That was a mild word. She looked filthy, disheveled, unkempt with eyes which had sunk into their sockets. She looked like a madwoman.

Lydia saw him staring as if he’d seen an apparition and didn’t care. She smiled at her son and squeezed his cheeks making him giggle. There was so much she wanted to do. She wanted to see Bernadine and explain to the girl that she’d meant what she’d said earlier on that she’d made a promise to Eju and it was one she couldn’t break. Yet, at the same time too, she knew she had to tell Inkoom the whole truth. A truth she’d hoped somehow that she wouldn’t have to tell. For years, she’d wondered how best to tell him but had stuck with the promise she’d made hoping that it would take years more before she spilled everything out.

She turned away from her kids and walked towards the bathroom. She needed to go badly. She felt his angry gaze on her knowing the threat he’d given her if she’d returned without Bernadine. She knew that he was a man of his word. The fact that he’d been quiet ever since she’d returned didn’t offer any comfort. He could throw her out at any moment. She currently didn’t care if he did throw her out. She didn’t care. Well, she did care. She didn’t know where she would go. She had money and could afford a hotel but for how long? She couldn’t live without him, without her kids. Minus a couple of them in Nigeria. She felt a twinge of guilt by thinking that. She’d tried everything she’d done over the years to push aside all memories of her older kids.

There were nights she had screamed out in pain, angry with herself for leaving them. Furious with herself for giving up her life just to make Inkoom happy and to make amends for a lie she hadn’t known she’d been living in. Slowly and gradually, she’d learned to let the pain of leaving her kids behind. She’d resigned herself and accepted the decision she’d made, quick to remind herself though feebly that it was for the greater good. A sacrifice she’d needed to make for the man she’d always loved.

She exhaled loudly as she finished and flushed. She stood up to find Inkoom standing in the doorway holding a sleepy Alma. He gave her a once over and walked away towards the kids’ bedroom. Eni was already fast asleep. He put the boy onto the top of the bunk bed and gave him a kiss on the cheek. He smiled down at his sleepy child and said a quick word of prayer. He turned and she was standing at the doorway, looking like death warmed over. He felt a stirring in his heart. Damn, he loved this woman. He’d loved her for 27 years of his life and had never stopped. They’d been separated by events but he’d always loved her. She was his first and last woman. Other women paled in comparison to her and he had never even tried. She was his woman, his pearl, his jewel, his beautiful Lydia.

A Lydia who could be this secretive and cruel towards her own kid? A kid she’d hidden from him all this while? Who was the father? Where was the father? How had she kept this a secret all this while? Was there anything she hadn’t told him? He felt like he had woken up in an alternative universe with no idea how he’d gotten there.

Lydia saw the play of emotions on his face and sighed sadly when the love in his eyes dimmed to one of simmering anger. She watched quietly as without a word he brushed past her on his way out of the room. She turned to watch him go, unable to device a way to talk to him. She saw herself in the mirror opposite the door and with a cry of distress ran into the adjoining bathroom with a short cry.

 

15 MINUTES LATER and scrubbed to a painfully cleaned state, she walked into the room she’d shared with him for the past 4 years and stopped short. He was seated on their bed weeping. He was hunched on the bed weeping without making a sound. His face was in his palms and shaking from the emotions. She ran to kneel down in front of him but hesitated to touch him. She didn’t know if she would be welcomed. She didn’t know if she deserved to be welcomed. She’d been selfish for a long time and excused her behavior forgetting that somehow someway, she had contributed to this.

She stood up and walked to the window. She looked out of the window but her mind was somewhere, far away in the past.

“Do you remember the first time you told me you wanted to travel?”

He froze for a second and raised his head to look at her, tears streaming down his face but her face was turned away.

“Yes, why?”

“You were so focused on traveling that all my pleas to wait fell on deaf ears. We were both in school but all you wanted to do was to travel. You didn’t care about anything else. All you wanted to do was to travel to Europe. To see the world,” that came out with much bitterness. He blinked and stood up. He walked towards her and saw the tears glistening on her cheeks.

He didn’t utter a word as he waited for her to tell him what she’d kept hidden for 2 decades.

He’d been born into a family of idiots. That’s how he’d described them to friends who wondered why though he came from such a rich family, he had sometimes begged before he could eat. His dad had given birth to 11 kids with 5 women. His mother had been one of his baby mamas as marrying was his least interest. When he suddenly suffered a heart attack, he’d married the one who was ready, his mother. His mother had had someone she’d been in love with but chosen his dad because he’d been ready to do right by her. Having married without love, both his parents had ignored each other and him. This had fed into a fantasy of traveling from as young as 8 years to places where he could live freely.

His decision to enter the university was not necessarily to further his education but, to get the chance to travel since student visas were easier to acquire than working visas. His sweetheart, Lydia had refused to understand him especially when even after agent upon agent duped him, he’d still gathered money any legit way he could to pay new agents to help him travel.

When he ran out of legit ways to make money, he’d turned to sell his items. He’d been unable to raise enough and had gone back to zero when the little he got, one of his friends robbed him of it. Lydia had been the one feeding and clothing him without complaints except one. That he should ditch his traveling plans and concentrate on schooling.

When got to level 300, Ejuaye became his roommate and helped connect him to a Nigerian agent. He’d been advised to ditch all the efforts to travel by air and rather focus on land and sea. He was shown the route through Libya to Italy and he’d grabbed hold of it. Eju promised him that he was in the right hands and even showed him photos of those of his friends who had made it through Italy safely and through that flown to the states. Inkoom immediately asked Lydia for a loan. He owed her loans of various amounts but this one was more than she’d ever given him.

She’d been selling beaded necklaces and anklets for years to augment the little her single mother sent her. To give him that amount meant cleaning out her account plus that semester’s student loan. It would mean she would have nothing to fall on to even feed herself with. She told him but he begged her to do him this favor as he asked others for various sums. He would give some of what he got to her so that she could breathe easily.

She’d reluctantly gone to her bank and withdrawn the cash and handed it over to him. He’d promised to get her some money within 2 days. They’d at that time been preparing towards their end of semester exams so had had little time for each other. 2 days stretched into 3. Her roommate had been helping her with feeding and Ceci her former neighbor sorted her out with some foodstuff anytime she went to pay her a visit at the market. On the fourth day, she went to pay Inkoom a visit to ask him why he’d refused to pick her calls for the past few days and on that morning switched off his phone. That’s when Eju told her that Inkoom had left for Libya.

She’d been left devastated at the revelation that he could wickedly leave without telling her and also with all the money she’d had on her without thinking of how she was going to feed herself after that.

“You left without telling me,” Lydia stated without any emotion as she still gazed out of the window, the tears had stopped flowing but were glistening like pearls on her ebony skin. “I was broke, I had to buy some handouts and pay my group leader for tips towards some of the difficult courses but you had left without a word. One day, you were kissing me on the lips, excited that I had cleaned out my bank account and pockets for you to realize your dream of traveling, and four days later, you were gone far away.”

“I had nothing. My roommate started giving me attitude when I told her you’d left. I’m sure she didn’t like the idea of being forced to feed me for the rest of the semester. I had few beads left and selling them would be enough for my fare home but that was it. How was I going to survive? I didn’t have the sort of friends you had who could easily cough out amounts for you to pay for visas and passports etc. I had no one and you knew it. You were my family and my only family abandoned me.”

Inkoom stared at her in silence and felt a pang of guilt he hadn’t felt in a long time. Something told him he wasn’t going to like what had happened between his disappearance and reappearance into her life.

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