En-Route To The Philips’ Residence.
The car sped through the night like an owl, its headlights piercing the darkness as it drove into Victoria island. The matriarch of the Phillips family sat alone in the back seat, imprisoned by her thoughts.
Her hands trembled as she dialled Gbenga’s number for the fifth time. It was still switched off.
“Ehnn,” Mama sighed deeply.
The driver turned around, took a quick look at her and returned to his driving.
“Is everything okay ma?” he asked.
“Kabiru, I am okay. Keep your eyes on the road.”
She looked out aimlessly into the night observing the few stray cars on the road and the houses of the rich which lined the streets.
If Gbenga had listened to her and left Shade alone when she advised him to, he wouldn’t be in his present predicament. But he was deceived and fell easily into her trap. If he had looked beyond Shade’s beauty like she advised him to, if he had taken more time to explore her character and discover the kind of woman she was, he would have seen her for what she really was, a gold digger! If he had obeyed her, she wouldn’t be out at this time of the night, she would be in bed at home, enjoying her sleep.
“Dear Lord, watch over my son wherever he is,” she prayed silently.
As the car sped towards the Phillips’ residence, she remembered the very day she warned Gbenga not to marry Shade.
“Mom, this is Shade Babalore,” Gbenga began. “She was at uncle Dare’s 60th birthday celebration last month.”
“Good morning ma,” Shade knelt down with both knees like a well brought up Yoruba girl.
Mama wasn’t impressed by her effort to please her. “How are you?” mama asked.
“Fine ma.” Shade said.
“Would you like to have some breakfast?” mama asked the couple.
“Thank you ma,” Shade said and they sat down on the dinning table opposite the matriarch of the Phillips’ family and ate breakfast in silence.
The silence was broken by mama. She regarded Shade for a few seconds processing her thoughts before she spoke. “Gbenga has told me a lot about you. How long have you known each other?” She inquired.
“We’ve been dating for six months. But we met much earlier than that,” Shade looked at Gbenga for some support.
“We met about a year ago,” Gbenga chipped into the conversation.
“Almost two years,” Shade corrected him.
Mama saw the way Shade tried to dominate the conversation. A frown creased her face but the couple were too busy eating to notice. If this was how she wanted to control her son, it wouldn’t work, mama thought.
“I see,” she said and sipped some tea. The way she spoke made the couple stop eating.
“He says you plan to get married,” mama set the cup down gently on the table.
Shade looked at Gbenga. “We have carefully thought about it and feel this is the right step for us to take,” Shade explained.
“It seems as if you are rushing into this. Why the rush?” Mama turned to Gbenga.
While Gbenga took a moment to think about his answer Shade jumped in, enthusiastic about the subject of marriage, perhaps a little too enthusiastic. “We think the timing is right,” Shade said.
“I wasn’t asking you. I was asking my son,” mama snapped like an angry alligator.
Mama’s words was like a slap on her face. Shade’s face turned red with embarrassment and she withdrew like a turtle into its shell.
Mama ignored her and repeated the question. “Why are you in such a rush to get married? You barely know each other. Don’t you think you should spend more time getting to know each other before you make such a decision?” She asked her son.
Gbenga held Shade’s hand under the table. “Mom, we have been together for the past six months and we love each other very much. We think it is time to take our relationship to the next…”
“Six months is too short to know each other well enough,” mama interjected. “A marriage is for the rest of your life, therefore you should be sure that you really know the person you want to get married to,” she paused and looked at Shade in the eye. “Some people are good at hiding things and it takes some time and proper searching to uncover their secrets.”
Shade felt Gbenga’s body tense. She gently squeezed his hand, a sign for him not to aggravate the situation by fighting with his mom.
“Mom, I understand. But this is something we feel very strongly about and have thought it through,” Gbenga said.
“When it comes to marriage, feelings count for very little,” mama said.
Gbenga snatched his hand away from Shade. “Mom are you saying we don’t know what we are doing?” Gbenga raised his voice.
Mama ignored him and turned her attention to the strange woman her son had brought into her home. “Why are you in so much of a hurry to marry my son?” she asked Shade.
Shade was at a loss for words. She looked at Gbenga before she answered his mother. “Doesn’t it count that we love each other?” She wondered.
“You love each other?” Mama chuckled. “You call this thing I see before me love? You children should realise that some of us have lived longer than you and know better than you. What I see before me is not love,” mama said with certainty.
Gbenga leaned forward. “Mom, if you get to know Shade, I am sure you will like her.”
Mama’s unsmiling eyes were set on Shade. “I have seen her kind before. They pretend to be in love with you so that they can gain access into your family. I know why she’s here.”
Gbenga stood up angrily from his chair. “This has gone far enough! I brought my fiancée to meet you and this is how you treat her? You should accord me some respect and treat her nice!”
Mama frowned. “Get this woman out of my house. She will never be your wife!”
Shade wiped the tears from her face. Gbenga put his arms around her. “Honey, it’s okay,” he comforted her.
“We should be leaving,” Gbenga said and the couple stood up to leave.
Mama regarded him for a few seconds.”Gbenga, I want to talk to you alone.” She continued eating her breakfast. Gbenga walked Shade to the car and returned some minutes later.
“Sit down,” she motioned with the tea cup. Gbenga remained standing.
“Suit yourself.” She waited for the cook to replace her pot of tea and leave.
“I can understand your obsession with this woman because she is beautiful but marriage is not about a woman’s beauty. There are many good women out there and if you are patient enough you will find a good wife. I don’t want you to marry that woman. I can see through her. She’s not good for you.”
“Is this because I told you that she has a daughter out of wedlock?” Gbenga asked.
Mama shook her head from side to side. “No, that’s not the reason. I just don’t like her. Something about her is not right. She doesn’t fit into our family. She seems to be hiding something. She’s uncomfortable and her eyes are shifty.”
“Has it occurred to you that she’s uncomfortable because of the way you treat her? Mom you talk to her as if she’s a criminal or something!”
Mama drank some more tea. “She’s probably worse than that,” she said quietly. “If you want a peaceful life, don’t marry that woman,” mama warned.
Gbenga clenched his right hand into a fist. “Are you saying that I can’t make my own decisions?”
“Yes, you can. But in this case you are making a big mistake.” Mama stood up. “She’s beautiful, but that is not what makes a good wife.”
“What makes a good wife?” Gbenga asked impatiently.
Mama bowed her head. “If my husband…your father were alive today, he wouldn’t allow you make this horrendous mistake,” she said in a teary voice and wiped her eyes. “If death hadn’t snatched him from us at the prime of his life, this would never happen. He wouldn’t let you get married to this sort of woman.”
“Mom, please don’t bring dad into this!” Gbenga said.
Mama lectured her son like a child. “A good wife is more than her beauty. You must be sure about her character. It takes time to discover a woman’s character. A woman can be very good at hiding things from you and if you are hypnotised by her beauty it will be virtually impossible to discover the truth about her.”
“Mom, I am not deceived by Shade. I love her.”
Mama shook her head with sadness. “My son, I am scared for you. You can no longer see reason with me. You have brought this woman to destroy the harmony in our family.”
Gbenga stood there seething in anger. “So Shade hasn’t got the qualities to be a wife? Is it Omolara, General Bello’s daughter who has those qualities?” he asked. “You’ve been trying to force that woman on me but I don’t want her! She is always talking about Jesus, the bible and all that spiritual stuff, like I am an atheist or something. She thinks she is better than everybody else. I don’t want that kind of woman in my life.”
“But Omolara genuinely cares about you. She would make you an excellent wife. She is a good girl who embraces our cultural values,” mama explained to her son. “I love you and I want the best for you.”
“Is that why you embarrassed my fiancée like that? I don’t like Omolara, so don’t bring her up again.”
“I wish you wouldn’t rush into marriage with Shade. It could bring you great pain,” mama said.
She didn’t realise how prescient she was.
Yemi sat beside Gbenga as he lay sleeping on the bed in her parent’s bedroom. She watched the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest, a sign that he was still alive.
“How is he doing?” her dad asked from the doorway as if he was scared of entering his own room.
Yemi looked at Gbenga, smiled and looked at her father.”He is doing fine,” she said.
“Let me know if you need anything,” her dad said and turned away.
Yemi paused before she spoke. “Thank you for what you did tonight. Thank you for taking us in.”
Kola regarded his daughter. There were so many questions on his mind. He hoped she hadn’t done something stupid like kidnap the rich man she brought into his home. “That was the least I could do.” He wanted to say more but changed his mind and walked away.
Gbenga muttered incoherently in his sleep like a man drunk on palm wine.
Yemi cupped his face gently in her hands. “Gbenga, you must live for the sake of your baby…our baby,” she whispered. “We will have a great future together, I promise.” She leaned forward and kissed him on the lips. When their lips touched, he stirred in his sleep.
She prayed the cold water had not given him hypothermia. She got under the blanket and pressed her body against him to keep him warm. She would do all in her power to make sure Gbenga stays alive.
She looked around her parent’s room and a cold shiver went up her spine. She hated this place: the smell, the furniture, everything about it. When she left for university seven years ago she vowed never to return to the ghetto. She had escaped the poverty and the violence in the streets and nothing was going to bring her back to this hell. She looked at the figure sleeping by her side and she caressed his face with her fingers. She cradled his head like a mother nursing her only child because right then, Gbenga was her only hope of escaping from the poverty which had imprisoned her for so many years.
To be continued.