“Oh my God!” Fatihat whispered under her breath but Tunde heard her and glanced briefly at her.
“Are you alright?”He asked quietly.
“I’m fine.” She smiled woodenly as she drew the girl to a sitting position but she knew by the searching look he gave her that he didn’t believe her. “You need to see a doctor but it is late already and your place is quite far. Who do you stay with?” She asked curiously.
“I stay with my mum.” Gift rattled off her house address and direction to get there as she rested her head against her chest. Fatihat brushed the ugly scarf away from her head. The little girl’s dark silky hair was parted in the middle and braided into two. It was the same texture as hers and her heart beats increased immediately.
“Where do you guys come from? I mean are you Nigeria citizens or from our neighborhood country?” Fatihat asked in a playful tone, ignoring Tunde’s searching gaze again.
“Mummy is a Canadian but I’m not sure how we got here.” Gift shrugged and then, yawned aloud, snuggling closer to the young woman.
Fatihat fell silent after that and stared unseeingly out of the car into the darkening night.
It was 9 pm by the time they pulled up in front of Gift’s house. The area was quiet as the residents have gone indoor but they peeped through their windows when they heard the sound of a car in front of the house. It was quite unusual in the neighborhood and they wondered who the visitors were looking for.
Fatihat swept Gift into her arms after getting out of the car while Tunde took her box of Gala sausages, locked up the car and followed them into the face-to-face building.
“Mummy, I’m home.” Gift announced loudly as they walked into the long corridor that was lit with a yellow bulb. A door opened on the left at the far end of the building and a woman looked out with a smile which froze when she saw Gift in the arms of a strange young woman.
She was a white woman in her late thirties or early forties and was clad in the traditional Iro and Buba. “Your daughter had a minor accident and I brought her home.”Fatihat put her on her feet and put her money in her hands.
“Oh, my baby girl!” The woman said as she came out to hug the little girl, then she proceeded to check her thoroughly from her head to her toes in an open motherly affection.
“I’m okay, mum except for my back.” Gift grinned up at her and the woman gave her an impulsive kiss on the lips.
Fatihat suddenly felt lonely again in her life at the sight of the obvious bond between mother and child which she never had. She took involuntary steps backward and Tunde’s arms came round her waist in a protective gesture.
“Please thank Aunty on my behalf, she was the one I told you about the other day. She even collected the money for all my galas from the man who hit me.” Gift opened her palm for her mother to see the money.
“Thank you very much, young lady. I’m Chenille Thomas by the way. It is nice meeting you guys.” The woman held out her palm and Tunde shook it.
“I’m Tunde Abeeb and she is Delilah Smith. We would start going now. It is late.” Tunde spoke for both of them but fatihat was staring at the woman now.
“You said you are Chenille Thomas, is that right?”Fatihat asked in a voice barely louder than a whisper and the woman nodded firmly.
“I see. I’m out of here.” She turned on her heel and walked out. Tunde smiled at them and followed slowly while the woman and her child stared at the young lady, puzzled beyond words.
“Why did aunty behave so strangely? It was almost as if she doesn’t like you and she has never met you before, has she?” Gift asked later in the evening after her dinner and a brief visit to the nurse down the road.
“I don’t know. Do you know her name? Oh, her friend said she is Delilah Smith.”Chenille said with a slight shrug and they retired to bed after then.
Fatiha’s house was in darkness when Tunde pulled up in front of her house and turned towards her.
“Will you please tell me what is going on, fatihat?”He asked quietly. She has been staring out of the window ever since they left the little girl’s house and refused to say a single word to him.
“I’m fine. You can take the car home for easier transportation; I will have it back whenever we see again. Goodnight.”She said quietly and made to get out of the car but he put a restraining hand on her arm.
“The house is in complete darkness which means nobody is at home. Can you actually stay alone in that big house?” He asked with open concern.
“Come off it, Tunde, I’ve been alone all my life.” She gave a short humorless laugh and got out of the car. He watched her open the gate and walked in before driving away with a heavy sigh.
Fatihat woke up with a start to the consistent ringing of the doorbell and groaned as a nagging headache hit her. She pulled on a long blue robe over her crumpled undies and dragged herself downstairs. Her headache worsened with every step she took and she cursed her early morning visitor under her breath. She glanced at the wall clock. It was eight ’o clock. She grabbed a can of beer from the refrigerator before heading to the door. She took a long swing from it before opening the door.
It was Tunde and she stepped back as he comes in. He looked good in a pair of blue jean and white t-shirt.
“No work today?”Fatihat asked wearily as she moved to sink into the nearest sofa and down the rest of her beer in one swallow.
“Why are you drinking so early in the morning, fatihat? You have a hangover, right?” He said with sudden clarity and a hint of annoyance.
“I’m having a nasty headache but I think it is better now.” She curled into the sofa and looked at him with such a forlorn expression his heart turned over.
“Have you taken any other thing apart from alcohol since last night?” He got to his feet and she shook her head like a little girl.
He went into the kitchen and made her a hot cup of beverage with toast. She was already dozing when he came back into the sitting room with the tray of breakfast and she opened her eyes with a lazy grin. Aroma of hot cocoa tickled her nostril and her stomach rumbled in protest as she sat up. He placed the tray on her lap on towels and watched her eat like a starved kid.
“Are you okay or should I make more for you?” He got to his feet in concern.
“I’m fine now. Thank you, Tunde. God bless you.” She lifted the cup of tea while he took the tray away. She was stretched out on the longest sofa when he came in and he sat opposite her.
“I hope you are in a better mood now, isn’t it?” He turned to face her and she nodded mutely. “I know you were pretty upset last night and you dealt with it by taking to the bottles. Who is Chenille Thomas?” He asked bluntly.
“That is my mum’s name.” She answered in a whisper and he looked surprised.
“What happened to her? Where is she?” He asked in amazement.
“I don’t know her. I came across her international passport one day when I was cleaning my father’s room and I asked my step-mum about her. She was delighted to tell me she ran mentally ill and walked away to God knows where. I didn’t believe her of course but what else can I do?” she said with a sigh.
“Is she a Nigerian?” He asked puzzled.
“No. She is a Canadian from what I saw on the passport. I’m a half-caste I guess.” She said with an embarrassed little laugh.
“I see. That means she is still in Nigeria if she is still alive, right?”He looked at her and she nodded.
“Where is your dad? He should know where she is; after all, she had a daughter for him.” He asked curiously.
“He is dead. He died about nine or ten years ago just before I leave Kaduna. He never talked about my mother. It was as if she never exists in his life except for me. He barely acknowledged my presence in his house either.” She said in a resigned voice, tinted with heavy bitterness.
“You had a tough childhood and an even tougher adulthood. You are a brave soul, Fatihat.” He said quietly.
“Thank you.” Her voice was husky with tears and she coughed to clear it. She hasn’t cried in years!
“It is obvious that Gift’s mother is white from all appearances and she is old enough to be your mother. It could be just a coincidence but it doesn’t hurt to check her out. What do you say to that, fatihat?”He said casually and her pulse rate increased instantly.
“I don’t know. I’m having mixed feeling about it.” Her big brown eyes widened in anticipation.
“Nothing is stopping us from finding out. Go up and get dressed, lazy bone.”He pulled her to her feet and she laughed nervously.
“Thank you for everything.” she gave him a brief hug and bounded up the staircase like an excited kid.
Chenille Thomas was about to leave her house for the market when her august visitors arrived but they were not totally unexpected and her instinct had been right. “You are welcome.”Chenille grinned at both of them as she let them into her sparsely furnished one-room apartment.
“Where is Gift?”Fatihat asked promptly as she sat on the only furniture inside the room where she was joined immediately by Tunde who then stretched out his long legs and made the room looked smaller than it actually was.
“She has gone to school. She insisted she is okay, so I let her go before she turned restless which will not be too good for both of us. What can I offer you?” Chenille asked eagerly. “We are fine. We’ve taken our breakfast.”Fatihat looked at him for confirmation and he nodded solemnly.
“You, guys seem to be quite close. Do you stay together?” Chenille asked curiously as she pulled a low stool and sat opposite them.
“No!!” They both exclaimed simultaneously, a look of horror on their faces and chenille laughed heartily.
“Such a denial. We will talk about that later. So what brought both of you back here this morning?” She asked after a moment and fatihat took a deep breath.Tunde drew a hand down her narrow back briefly in assurance and she sat up straighter with a new determination.
“My birth name is Fatihat Ali and my father’s name is Usman Ali. Does that name made any sense to you?”Fatihat asked quietly and watched the woman grew very pale. “That was the name of my husband if he is still alive” Chenille laughed nervously but her voice was hostile and Fatihat felt her limbs trembling.
“Why did you leave him or let me say how come you guys are no longer together?” The question was from Tunde. The woman practically glared at him.
“Why will I leave him when I came to Nigeria because of him? We came back together after he completed his course over there but his family hated me on sight and wanted me out of their son’s life. Well, they got their wish at long last.” she ended bitterly.
“How?” Her voice was barely above a whisper.
“I was pregnant before we came to Nigeria. I was a full house-wife and was always alone at home with my baby once my husband left for work. On this fateful day, my baby was feverish and didn’t sleep throughout the night. By the time she fell asleep in the morning, I was tired and feeling sleepy myself. When I woke up, my room was in darkness because the curtains were down. I saw four men by the side of my bed. Three of them were my husband’s family but I don’t know the fourth guy. He must have been a doctor or health officer or at least know something about the human body because he was holding an injecting needle and discussing something with them in Hausa. I was terrified and tried to scream. Three of them held me down while the man injected the content of the injection needle into the back of my leg. I guess I blacked out immediately because the next time I opened my eyes, we were moving on the road.”Chenille paused and swallowed hard. “How did they get into the house? Don’t you lock your doors back then?” Fatihat asked with a whirling mind, trying to take it all in.
“I locked the door always whenever Usman left for work because I have had an issue of sexual abuse with an uncle when I was young. I am also a light sleeper but until today, I never stopped wondering how they got into the bedroom.” She turned to look at Fatihat blankly.
“Where did all this took place? In Lagos?”Tunde asked in a curious tone.
“No. Usman is a Hausa man. We lived in Kaduna but they brought me all the way to Lagos to drop me, unconscious and disoriented and told me I was lucky they didn’t want to kill me. Isn’t it funny?” She finally grinned at them but Fatiha’s heart was beating so hard she thought it would be heard by the others and she exchanged a glance with Tunde. “I still have the scares of the needle at the back of my leg.” Chenille said as she pulled up her wrapper and showed them the scar.
“They are wicked. I don’t think they need to go to such extent to show their hatred.”Horror filled Fatihat’s voice.
“Well, I thank God they didn’t kill me. It took a turn on my mental and psychological health. I roamed aimlessly in this town for years. I always wonder what happens to my baby and my husband and what went on in his head when he came home to realize I have disappeared without a trace. I grieved the loss for a long time.” Her voice was low.
“He died almost ten years ago in a fatal motor accident and he never really discusses you with anyone.” Fatihat told her solemnly.
“I see.”Chenille was silent for a while, obviously trying to come to terms with the fact she would never see the only man she ever loved in her life again before she finally looked at fatihat and their eyes held for a moment.
“What did you call your name again?” Chenille asked abruptly.
“Fatihat Ali.”She swallowed hard.
“Fatihat Elizabeth Ali!”Chenille pronounced her name fully with a smile, even as her eyes filled with tears.
“Yes mama” Fatihat tried to return the smile but a sob came out instead. The next moment, she was in her mother’s arms, both of them were crying and laughing at the same time while Tunde silently slipped out of the room to give them some privacy.
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