Edua and Chuka made a bowl of honey-coated popcorn and four glasses of drinks from a sachet of Foster Clark juice powder. They set it on a tray and carried it into the sitting room. Chidi and Chuks were already seated in front of the flat screen television, watching an action movie on Sony Max channel.
“Has the movie started?” Chuka set the tray on the table in front of the settee and sat beside her younger brother.
“Yes, about six-eight minutes ago,” Chuks responded.
“Why didn’t you call us?” Edua settled beside Chidi.
“Don’t worry, you didn’t miss anything,” Chidi winked at her. Edua reached out for a glass of drink and sipped the cool, sweet liquid. She felt the vibration of her phone against her thigh. She placed the glass on the table and dipped her hand into her jeans pocket. She pulled out the iPhone and picked the call without noticing the caller’s identity.
“Beauty…” Her heart skipped a beat. It had been a while since anyone called her that name. “Beauty where have you been?” She recognized her mother’s voice,
“My name is Edua Imasogie.” There was a long hiss.
“I have been trying to reach you for the past two weeks. Why have you decided to ignore my messages?” Edua got up and went straight to the kitchen.
“Mum, what can I do for you?”
“I want to celebrate my fiftieth birthday on Saturday. I am expecting very important guests. I want you to be there.” “
Happy birthday in advance.”
“Thank you dear.”
“Mum, I am not coming.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Mum, have fun at your party. My absence will not be noticed.”
“Beauty for heaven’s sake must I go on my knees every time I need your assistance?” She leaned against the refrigerator,
“My name is Edua.”
“Beauty what’s with the change of name?”
“My name has always been Edua.”
“Fine, but, everyone in our business circle know you as Beauty.” She closed her eyes and breathed out loudly.
“I am done with that life.”
“What are you blabbing about?”
“I have to go mum.”
“Don’t you dare hang up on me!” She opened her eyes and groaned inwardly. “What’s wrong with you? Why do you like disrupting well laid out plans?”
“I am no longer part of your plans mum. I am done.”
“Beauty, okay, Edua. Look, my clients, em… our clients are going to be at the party. Your presence is actually the icing on the cake. Think of the kind of money we will make.”
“You are not listening to me,” she was beginning to get upset. “I said I am no longer interested.”
“Are you ill? Are you sick or something? When was the last time you were at the hospital for a checkup?” She looked towards the ceiling.
“I am perfectly fine,” she said through gritted teeth.
“I don’t think so!” The shrill pierced through her ear drum. She gave a shake of head, mentally ready for the verbal assault. “I think you are sick in the head. A screw or two must have loosened from your medulla oblongata. You have definitely lost your marbles!” Her eyes turned red.
“I said I am done. Pronto, Finito, QED, simple!”
“It is not that simple! You are messing with the wrong woman little girl. Do you know who I am in this town? Do you know the kind of money I control? Do you know the kind of people I know?” Edua closed her eyes, suddenly feeling tired. It had been a while since she had argued with her mother.
“Mum, listen to me…”
“No! you listen to me. Come Saturday, I want you right here beside me receiving our guests and attending to their every need.”
“I have re-dedicated my life to Jesus.” There was silence at the other end of the line, then laughter. “I am starting afresh with God.”
“Wow! You are really, really sick in the head.”
“I don’t… I don’t get involve sexually with married or single men anymore. That part of my life is over.”
“What are you saying? How… how are you going to survive?” She sighed and shrugged. “You have never worked a day in your life. Why do you want to waste away like this?”
“You are going to suffer. When your eyes are cleared, I will be right here waiting.” She cut the call and hit the back of her head on the refrigerator continuously. No one was going to force her into doing what she doesn’t want to do. The woman could fry and eat excreta for all she cared. Her phone began to vibrate again. She checked the phone screen and saw an unknown number. She sighed and picked the call.
“My name is Edua. Who is this please?”
“Beauty, don’t tell me you have deleted my number from your contact list?” She recognized Alhaji Bature’s voice. She hissed and decided to cut the call. She was in no mood to speak with him.
“I am at your place. I believe you must have come to your senses by now. Come and collect the key to the house.”
“You can keep the house.”
“Don’t be such a baby. Come, let’s make up and celebrate our reunion. I will take you shopping tomorrow morning.”
“Alhaji, it’s being over between us for weeks. Nothing has changed.”
“What’s wrong with you?” She heard the anger in his voice.
“My name is Edua.”
“Since when? I know you as Beauty. We have come a long way. Why are you treating me like this?”
“Everything that has a beginning has an end.”
“But, not us.”
“My name is Edua. That is the name my father gave me.”
“Oh… okay, fine. Please, I have missed you so much. Come, let’s talk. We can iron things out.”
“Beauty wait!” She hung up and sighed with relief. There was no going back for her. It was either God or nothing.
On his way back to his house, after a long stroll, Pastor Victory met Chidi. It was a cool evening, the moon was at its fullest and it illuminated the Estate with its bright light.
“Good evening sir.”
“Evening, how are you doing?”
“How is business?” he stood at the side of the road.
“It is picking up sir.”
“Good, good. Have a goodnight.”
“Em… sir, I was actually going to your place.”
“Em…” he scratched his bald head, “It is about Edua.” He raised an eyebrow,
“Hope there is no problem.”
“No problem sir.” He sighed with relief,
“Sir, I like her and I will like to marry her.” Pastor Victory broke into a smile. “I wanted to ask for your blessings before I propose to her.”
“Do you know her well enough to commit to her for the rest of your life?” Chidi shrugged,
“I like what I see and I accept what I know.”
“My brother, you need to be ready to accept who a person is one hundred percent before committing to a lifetime relationship. This is why you must ask questions.”
“Okay sir,” he wasn’t quite convinced.
“What do you know about her past? What’s her goals? Does it fit into your own plans? Marriage is more than a pretty face and the desires you feel in your balls.” He started to laugh at the pastor’s analogy. “I am very serious,” he gave a straight face. Chidi smiled,
“I know sir. Point taken.”
“Have a goodnight.”
“And you too sir.” They parted ways. Chidi smiled to himself. He knew enough about her to make his decisions. He knew that she was from a wealthy home, but, she didn’t have a good relationship with her mother. Presently, she had started job hunting with his younger sister. Living with her over the past few weeks had shown him the kind of person she was and he was ready to tie the knot with her. They had gone on a few dates and he was aware that she liked him too. What else was he looking for? Her twenty-fourth birthday was around the corner and they were planning to surprise her with a parlour party. He had also decided to take her to see his parents that weekend. He hoped that they would like her as much as he did.
Once he had proposed, he would convince her to take him to see her mother. Any woman worth her salt would like to have him as her son-in-law. He might not be rich, but, he was comfortable. He managed his own business, he had a car and his rented home was conducive. He believed that everything was going to work out for their good.
During the weekend, Chidi convinced Edua to follow him to his parents’ place in Maryland. They arranged some foodstuff, fruits and provisions in the boot of his car and headed out. They arrived at Mr. and Mrs. Chukwuka’s place about thirteen minutes after twelve noon. They were very happy to see them. They complained that Chidi rarely frequent their place, unlike his younger siblings and he promised to change.
Edua caught his parents stealing glances at her every five minutes. She was sure that they were curious about who she was. She remained quiet and smiled as they talked about different family issues. She believed that her boyfriend would introduce her when he was ready.
“Who is your friend?” Mrs. Chukwuka smiled at her and returned her attention to her son. Chidi smiled back at her and glanced at Edua. He reached out for her hand and held it. His parents noticed the gesture. Their eyes lit up with joy.
“She is Edua Imasogie, the lady I am planning to marry,” he informed them. His father nodded in approval,
“She is very beautiful.” Edua blushed and dropped her gaze.
“You are welcome my daughter,” Mrs. Chukwuka addressed her. She raised her head and met the woman’s happy stare.
“Thank you ma.” A young girl in her early twenties came into the sitting room and informed them that the dinning was set.
“Come, let’s go and eat. I asked the cook to prepare your favourite,” she patted her son on the back.
“Mama thank you,” Chidi helped Edua to her feet. They both followed the elderly couple to the dinning. While they ate, Chidi’s father asked him if he had gone to Edua’s people officially. Chidi explained that he was planning to do so the following weekend. While father and son discussed the best way to approach her mother and ask for her hand in marriage, a man in his mid-fifties came in.
“Ah! I meet you all well,” the man joined them at the dinning.
“Kalu, it is good that you are here, we were just discussing very important matters,” Mr. Chukwuka looked up at the man.
“Chidi, you are here,” he glanced at the young man, then back at his elder brother.
“Uncle good afternoon,” Chidi greeted his uncle and sipped at his drink.
“He has finally found a flower and we are discussing the best method to approach her family.” Kalu picked an empty plate and served himself,
“We thank God. We have been waiting for this day and it has come.”
“Yes, we thank God,” Mr. Chukwuka repeated. Kalu directed his gaze at the fair looking girl beside his nephew. He was impressed.
“Chidi, I am happy that you did not fall my hand.”
“Haba uncle…” Everyone at the table began to laugh.
“She is a very pretty girl,” Mrs. Chukwuka glanced at her son’s fiancée. Kalu began to eat and took another look at the girl. There was something about her. It seemed that he has seen her before, somewhere. Maybe on the cover of a magazine or on the television. He wasn’t sure. He ate his food and searched his memories. Then it came to him. He knew exactly where he had seen her. He began to cough.
“Kalu eat in bits, you are always swallowing large lumps of food. Don’t choke in my house,” his elder brother berated him. He drained his glass of fruit juice and refilled it. He drained it and cleared his throat thrice. Mrs. Chukwuka laughed quietly and gave a shake of head. Her brother-in-law never ceased to amuse her.
Edua stared at the man with concern. She hoped he was all right. Kalu looked straight at her and caught her staring at him. She dropped her gaze and went on eating. He glanced at his nephew and beckoned at him. He excused himself and got up.
“I will be right back,” Chidi got up and followed his uncle out of the dining room. They went into the sitting room and sat down on the long three settee facing the television.
“Is that the girl you want to marry?” Chidi nodded and looked back at his uncle. The man sighed heavily, “That girl is not your wife. You need to look elsewhere.” He eyed his uncle. What rubbish was the man spitting? “I attended the birthday of a friend some time ago. Your so called fiancée was given to the celebrant as a birthday gift. When he was done with her, myself and other close friends had carnal knowledge of her too.” His eyes turned red.
“Uncle, uncle, I respect you a lot.”
“I know,” Kalu sensed the boy’s anger.
“You are like a father to me.”
“I know, I know.”
“Please, please, Edua is not the girl you and your so called friends were with. She is not that kind of girl.” The man swallowed hard,
“I know what I saw.” Chidi got to his feet.
“Do me a favour. Ask her. I hope she will tell you the truth. Try and find out the truth before you make the biggest mistake of your life,” he advised the younger man. The boy hissed and marched out of the room. Kalu folded his arms against his chest. He was sure beyond all reasonable doubt that Edua was the girl at the party. He had a photographic memory and hardly forgot things. About an hour and half later, Chidi and Edua thanked the Chukwukas and took their leave.
Their drive home was kind of quiet and Edua felt that something was wrong. She was sure that his parents liked her. She wondered what he was worried about. Maybe it had nothing to do with the visit. Was he thinking about her mother? She wasn’t an issue. Her opinion didn’t count when it came to her happiness. She made a mental note to assure him that her mother and her father’s family had little say in her life. None of them had the power to stand in the way of whatever she wanted. Chidi parked the car in the compound whilst his younger brother locked the gate and went into the house. He left the engine running and turned to her. She stared back at him, waiting for him to open up to her about what was bothering him since they left his parents’ place.
“My parents are ready to meet your mother and your father’s family so that we can ask for your hand in marriage.” She nodded with understanding.
“My uncle said some very nasty things and, I have not been able to erase it from my mind.” She narrowed her gaze. The man seemed to be happy the first time he saw her, but, he began to behave weird before he took his leave.
“What exactly did he say?” Chidi met her curious stare.
“He said something about a party he attended. He talked about a girl they slept with. The celebrant’s gift or something.” Blood drained from her face. Several thoughts and images ran past her fragile mind. She was reminded of the period her mother sold her out to Alhaji Musa and his pedophile friends. Tears blurred her vision. He noticed the change in her countenance. “Edua, baby, are you all right? I am so sorry about what my uncle was insinuating. I don’t know what’s wrong with all these old men.” Hot tears began to stream down her broken fair face. “Baby,” he reached out for her hands,
“I am so sorry.” Edua began to weep. Her past had caught up with her when she was beginning to hope and live again.
“I apologize on his behalf. I will not take such rubbish from anyone ever again. Please stop crying.” She raised her head and looked directly into his eyes.
“It… it’s true.” He became still.
“What is true?” She swallowed hard.
“There was a time in my life when I had no control of things…” Her acknowledgment of what his uncle said made his heart to bleed. He killed the engine of the car and jumped out.
“Chidi…” she climbed out of the car. “You slept with my uncle and his friends. And you… and you… and you sat there, with my parents,” he was screaming now, “Pretending!” She gaped at him, shocked.
“Chidi. It wasn’t like that.”
“How was it? Tell me? When were you going to tell me that you were nothing but a common prostitute?” Tears blurred her vision. She stood by the car, unable to move.
Chidi marched into the house. The fact that his uncle and only God knew how many of his friends had slept with her, tore his heart to shreds. Edua slow-walked into the house, tears streaming down her face. Chuka walked up to her immediately, thinking that the love-birds had a quarrel.
“Hey… you are crying. What happened?” Chuks came out of his brother’s bedroom and headed to the sitting room.
“I said it. I knew it. I told you all, but, no one listened to me,” he stood in the middle of the room glaring at Edua. Chuka raised her head. What was her brother gloating over now? “I told you that she wasn’t normal. Her beauty is too much. She is too fair. I knew something was off about her,” he continued, still glowering at his sister’s friend. Chuka looked him up and down, she was beginning to feel irritated by his melodrama,
“What are you talking about?”
“Imagine, Chidi introduced her to papa and mama today. The poor guy was thinking of taking her to the altar, but, right there in Papa’s house, he found out that she had slept with Uncle Martins, Papa’s younger brother,” Chuks lamented. Shock beclouded her face. She stared at her brother open-mouthed, then threw a questioning glance at her new friend. “Chidi said Uncle Martins claimed that he isn’t the only one she has slept with.”
“Tufiakwa!” Chuka jumped to her feet and frowned at Edua in disgust. She looked up at them. The same people she had lived with for the past five months had turned against her the moment they found out about an iota of her past. They didn’t even know the whole story. Was there anyone in the whole wide world who would be able to handle her past? Was it possible to find true love, even after living a life filled with lust, passion, ill-gotten wealth and sin? Was there hope for her at all? She bowed her head and began to cry.
“I can’t believe this. Where is Chidi?” Chuka glanced at her younger brother.
“He is in his room. He is feeling so devastated.” Chuka headed for her elder brother’s room and Chuks hurried after her. Edua pulled her weight up, found her way to the room she shared with her new friend, packed her things and dragged the suitcases out of the house. She managed to hurl it into her vehicle, got into the car and drove out of the compound. She drove straight to Pastor Victory’s home. She parked the car outside his gate, got down and began to knock at the iron metal. The Pastor’s wife opened the gate and let her into the compound. When she asked how she was faring, Edua began to cry again. The woman led her into the house and made her sit on one of the settees. Her husband joined them in the sitting room and asked Edua what was going on. She explained what had transpired between her, Chidi and his family. The pastor and his wife encouraged and prayed with her. They assured her that it didn’t matter the kind of past she had lived. There was a man out there who would accept her, hook, line and sinker. She felt a bit optimistic and prayed to God to help her to heal, get over her heartbreak and move on with her life.