Teni drove into her estate and noticed a moving van parked right in front of one of the houses. It was the flat occupied by Austin and his mum. She got down from her car and walked towards the house. She didn’t know they were moving. Austin walked out of the front door wheeling his bicycle.
“Good evening aunty.” He looked somewhat reserved. Teni’s instincts told her all was not well.
“Evening sweetie. How are you?”
The child did not even smile
“I’m fine thank you.”
Something wasn’t right.
“Where’s your mummy? Where are you going to?”
His mother appeared as if on cue and yelled at him to place the bicycle in the van and go back inside. The kid did as he was told and went back into the house. Teni was confused.
“You’re moving. Is everything alright?”
“Mind your own business!”
Teni was taken aback. Sasha fierce?
“Uh, you’re my neighbour. I’m just concerned. Are you in some kind of trouble?”
“I’m not in any trouble. Please leave me alone.”
Teni wasn’t convinced. She looked the lady pointedly in the eyes and the woman averted her eyes. Yes. Something was definitely wrong.
“Look, if you’re in some kind of trouble, you’ll just have to talk to me. I don’t want the police coming here and asking questions after you’re gone. You’re leaving so suddenly and that’s worrisome. You’re obviously tense. See the way you snapped at your kid. You have to tell me what’s going on.”
The lady ignored Teni and walked back into her house. Teni watched her leave but remained rooted to the ground.
This woman was here when she moved in six months ago and she lived with her son. She always kept to herself and no one seemed to know much about her. Teni didn’t know much about her neighbours actually. She went to work early in the morning and came home late in the evenings, always minding her business, never paying courtesy visits. If she met them outside, she would greet politely but she was not close friends with anyone in the estate. Not until Austin came banging on her door the night of his mother’s labour.
The woman seemed nice to Teni after she gave birth, well, at least until Teni mentioned her husband. She shrugged. Something wasn’t right. Teni walked up the doorstep and knocked once before she opened it. The door wasn’t locked. The couches were gone. They had been replaced by two white plastic chairs. Most of the furniture was gone too. Teni took in the entire scenario and the lady appeared again with more items in tow and Austin behind her.
“Please you need to leave. You’re distracting us.”
Teni stood her ground with the firmest look on her face.
“Can you see your son’s face? Look how scared the kid is! What is wrong with you?!”
The woman turned to Austin and said.
“Take those things and go back inside your room. Stay with your sister and don’t come out except I call you.”
The child nodded and retreated. The lady dropped the items she held on the floor and took a seat as she gestured to Teni to do same.
“Please sit. My name is Tejiri. Well, you know Austin is my son. He told you his father was dead that day you asked when you were taking us to the hospital. Truth is, he isn’t.”
Teni was surprised but she didn’t show it.
Tejiri rubbed both palms together and went on.
“I married Austin’s father within four months of meeting him. Stupid, I know but I thought I was in love. He was stinkingly rich and we had a crazy romance for a short time. We got married and he changed immediately. He became a brute. He would keep late nights and beat me all the time. I lost a pregnancy once but I couldn’t leave. Each time I tried to complain, everyone said I was lying. In their eyes, he was the perfect man who could do no wrong. Somehow, I survived Austin’s pregnancy and as soon as I had the baby, I ran away. He did not bother to find me or anything. Then he remarried one of his mistresses and she couldn’t bear children for him. That was when he started looking for me. He wants to take my son from me and I can’t allow that.
I could not tell Austin the type of man his father was. Why make a kid loathe someone he never met? I figured the best thing to do was to tell him his father had gone to heaven. In other words, he was dead. But he is still alive and he hasn’t stopped looking for us. It’s why we’re constantly on the move. A friend of mine called me last night to say he’s found us and is coming for us. I’ve booked a flight out of Abuja tonight. I’ve asked the movers to take these stuff to a secure location. Maybe when the dust settles, we can return.”
Teni could not believe her ears. The woman’s story sounded like a Nollywood script.
“You can’t keep running forever you know. You’re gonna have to face him sometime soon. And you should not have lied to your child. If his father is all you say he is, you should tell him the truth so when he’s old enough, he can decide for himself what he wants. Have you tried reporting to the police?”
Tejiri rolled her eyes as though Teni’s statement was utterly ridiculous
“It’s like you didn’t hear me abi? He’s stinkingly rich. How do you think he never got arrested all this time? He’s always bribing his way out of trouble.”
Teni was angry. She clenched and unclenched her fists as she looked helplessly at Tejiri.
“I’m really sorry. What can I do to help? Do you need some money?”
“Actually, I can do with all the help I can get right now.”
Teni thought for a bit before she spoke.
“Alright. Are you done packing? How do you intend to get to the airport? What time is your flight?”
“We’re almost done. My flight is in two hours. It’s the last flight to Lagos. I was gonna take a cab.”
“Not to worry. I’ll drop you. Let me just go change quickly. Get the rest of your stuff into the van and I’ll be back to pick you in a bit.”
She got up to leave and Tejiri held her arm.
“Thank you so much. You’re very kind. I’m sorry I didn’t open up sooner. It’s just, this whole thing has made me paranoid. I don’t know who to trust.” Teni smiled and pulled her in for a hug.
“You’re welcome. I totally understand. I’ll be back in a bit.”
She walked out briskly and headed to her own house. Truly everyone had a cross to carry but some heavier than others. The story just reinforced her desire to never want to marry. Marriage was a crazy institution. People outside were desperate to get in and those who were in were desperate to get out.
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Bobby sat in front of his laptop, looking but not really seeing. He was working late again this Friday. Or at least that’s what he told himself. But he knew the truth. He wasn’t working. He was just thinking. Thinking too much and he was tired. So maybe he was attracted to Ese. He didn’t mean for it to happen but she was just so vulnerable! Each time he thought of her, he was overcome by very strong emotions. Emotions he could not even define. He just knew he wanted to protect her. To be there for her. To hold her. To make everything alright.
She was a strong woman. The kind of woman that could handle herself. The kind of woman that didn’t need a man yet the kind of woman that would love her man and treat him with respect. It had been almost a month since she broke down in her house and she was doing a whole lot better.
She had gone back to her business. She had a fish farm somewhere in Gudu district and it was doing really well. He envied the way she seemed to pick her life and piece it back together. She was a woman of substance. How could Gabe have hurt her so much? Why did he not treasure her for all she was worth?
They had spoken every day after the incident at first and then slowly she began to withdraw. From several calls in the day to a call or two and sometimes just texts. He would call and she would say she was busy then ask to call later but most times she never returned his calls. He tried to visit her at home but she was nearly always out. He had his suspicions for why she was suddenly distant and it bugged him a lot. She was older. And ever since they made that discovery, she had begun to depend on him less and less. And she had begun addressing him like a younger brother. It upset him and made him very irritable but he could not protest it.
She was 34 and he was 28. He could not believe it at first until she produced her driver’s license. She had such a small physique, it was almost impossible to believe. And he looked bigger than his age. They were in her living room that day talking about a lot of random things when the conversation managed to get to her marriage to Gabe. She said she married him because everyone was complaining about her biological clock and she was tired of being single. He asked how old she was when they got married and she said 30. He didn’t believe her. He wouldn’t even have thought she was up to 30, let alone older than that.
When she asked him his age, he was reluctant to tell at first and when he told her, she wouldn’t believe him as well. He also had to produce his license to convince her.
He sighed. She had eaten into his mind in such a short time and the fact that she was withdrawing upset him greatly. At first he had thought it was all in his head but now he was more than certain and it had to be because of the age difference between them.
He picked up his phone and stared at it as he contemplated calling her. He checked his call logs. He had called her twice that day and she didn’t pick up. He checked the time. It was almost 7:00pm. He sighed again and pocketed the phone instead. He got up, shut down his laptop and carried the keys to his car. He needed to go home and sleep.
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To be continued