It was this incident that knocked the wind out of Michael’s sail. He wasn’t the same again for a long time. He withdrew to himself. Outside of his family, he would only communicate with Uka. He stopped participating in class activities and his school work suffered. Both his class teacher and headmistress knew something was wrong. They eventually invited his dad to school.
“Good afternoon sir” Mrs. Ajayi, the headmistress and Ms. Falomo, Michael’s teacher greeted him. Mr. Adeyemi shook both their hands with a nervous smile. This was the first time he had been invited to the school without it being a general invitation to all parents.
“Thank you for taking the time to come see us. I know you’ll be wondering why we requested this meeting. Going straight to the point, for some time now, we have been observing Michael and it seems like something is going on with him and…”
“Has he gotten himself into trouble?” Mr. Adeyemi cut in, somewhat alarmed.
“Not exactly I would say. Mrs. Ajayi continued. “His mid-term grades have slipped drastically and quite unlike him, now he hardly ever participates in class activities and his homework lacks the usual depth and thoroughness I have come to expect of him.”
“Is everything okay at home? Is there anything going on with him that we should know of?” Ms. Falomo asked with concern.
Mr Adeyemi looked downcast and avoided looking directly at either of them.
“His mum left…I’m alone with the kids…Michael has been withdrawn ever since”
“Now I understand…this explains everything. I am so sorry to hear this, Mr. Adeyemi” Ms. Falomo said with empathy and sympathy.
“Thank you” he whispered trying to smile but all he could muster was a grimace.
“Well…since we now know what we are dealing with here, I believe Ms. Falomo and myself will keep an extra eye on Michael and try to help him through this tough period he’s experiencing”
Mr. Adeyemi was still trying to manage a smile. “Thank you very much, Ma, I truly appreciate your help. Please don’t hesitate to call if there is anything I can do to help. I know I can’t do this by myself”
“Don’t worry sir, we will all work together to help Michael out. Thank you for responding to our call. We know you have your hands full.”
It took a while, but with the intervention of Mrs. Ajayi and Ms. Falomo, Michael began to blossom once again and his grades picked up.
Looking outside of her bedroom window, Uka took in the view of the compound filled with old abandoned tractors and Caterpillars. This view reinforced Michael’s plight with her intended move to America. The look on his face as he hurried to get away from her was all too familiar. It was the same look he had curled up in that corner the day his mother left home.
There was no deliberate slowness to his steps this time. He was almost running; his feet couldn’t have gotten him home any sooner, muttering a prayer as fast as he could, hoping for an instant response. Uka’s words played on a loop. “My parents are sending me to the US this long vacation”, he could see her lips move but her voice sounded distant and faint as he got closer home. Her words ignited painful memories. All he could see was himself cowered in a corner rocking back and forth. This was not fair! Why should this keep happening? What have I done to deserve this? Why is God punishing me this way?
As he got to the front door, looking at the window to his dad’s bedroom, he could see the lights were still off, he exhaled with relief. His prayer had been answered. Walking past the living room, he could see Sammy at the dining table busy with his homework. Thankfully too, aunty Adesua was nowhere in sight. She was only 4 years older but had become like a big sister and a member of their family. She must have gone on some errand or the other and he wouldn’t have to respond to her questioning.
Safe behind his closed door, he crawled into bed and plugged in his earphones. Most people like music, but Michael…he loved music with a passion and had an eclectic taste. The husky voice of Janis Joplin came alive and resonated deep within his lobes singing ‘Maybe’. This was one song that soothed him and helped him escape from the harsh realities of this world.
This time Janis did not work; he switched to The Eagles, Hotel California, but still he could not drown out the thoughts he was trying so hard to avoid. This failed too, so he turned to Baba himself, Fela. By the time the instrumental for ‘Everything Scatter’ kicked in he had found nirvana.
His heart rate had slowed down some and the ache in his heart began to dull a bit. His childhood and its reality had initially made him cynical. His mind became the devil’s playground. Uka used to tease him about being a rebel without a clue which led to much of the trouble he had gotten himself into at school. All the punishment dished out seemed not to faze him. This was highly frustrating, initially for Ms. Falomo, which escalated to numerous visits to Mrs. Ajayi’s office and which finally led to inviting his dad to school.
Many months had gone by before he could actually verbalize what he was feeling or talk about his mum. The meeting with his dad had proved to be the help he needed. The teachers who had previously started labeling him, now got to understand his change. They all became endearing and much more tolerant. This coupled with the new daily talk sessions with Mrs. Ajayi and Ms. Falomo finally helped him exhale.
At the home front, Uka’s mum and dad were heaven sent. Their families were acquainted with each other but became much closer. How would they have fared if Mrs. Akigbe hadn’t made herself their second mum and her home became their second home. This helped dad who buried himself in his work.
Sammy had benefitted the most from Mrs. Akigbe’s presence. It took him a while, but eventually he clung to her for dear life whenever the opportunity presented itself; which became frequent. Adesua was a big help, but no mother figure. All these people helped cope with a somewhat bleak period of existence.
Primary turned into secondary school and with each passing of time, held on to hope of her returning. As time passed by, hoping became more of a chore. A chore he no longer wanted to engage in. He looked at the time and he figured his dad would be home soon. He would tell him about Uka, and ask if he too could go study abroad.
Mrs. Akigbe was definitely kindhearted and did care for Michael and Sammy, but the extent to which she threw herself into caring for them was because of a promise. Their mother came by a week after she left home to see her.
“It’s open” she said to the knock on the door.
She looked like she had just seen a ghost when Mrs. Adeyemi walked through the door.
“I know, I know you are shocked to see me…good afternoon.”
Still tongue tied, there was a brief silence between them. She had many questions to ask but did not know where to begin. Mrs. Adeyemi herself looked forlorn and even though she wanted to speak the right words refused to come.
“I…” Mrs. Adeyemi began but stopped. “I…” she started again but her voice sounded hoarse and she tried clearing her throat but it felt dry. Her mouth was open but the words still would not come.
“Would you like some water” Mrs. Akigbe offered.
“Yes thank you, please”
“Here you are”
“Thank you” She took a sip and cleared her throat once more.
“I know you are wondering why I abandoned my family, my kids…I don’t know where to begin, but I will try to explain my situation to you.”
“Please do, because I’ve been trying to make sense of this mess you put yourself and your kids in and I can’t find any”
“Samuel is a good man and I know he loves me with all his heart, but I had unresolved feelings before we got married. I was in love with Jide, my secondary school sweetheart. We both got into UniIfe together and planned to get married after graduating. We both came from struggling families, but during our final year he got a call from his dad. Who wanted him to marry his boss’s daughter, Yemi. He and Yemi were acquainted with each other but only because his dad was so indebted to Chief Johnson his boss; who had helped with paying much of his uni fees. Yemi was a party girl and lived a carefree life. You would usually find her pictures in one tabloid or the other…”
“What has any of this got to do with your kids?” Mrs. Akigbe cut in.
“I’m sorry, but you’ll see eventually. I’m not saying it will excuse me, but maybe you’ll understand. Yemi’s pictures were always in the tabloids. She was quite outrageous you know. She had quite a reputation. Anyway, her dad Chief Johnson wanted her married and since he already liked Jide, he offered Jide’s family financial security in return for marrying Yemi. Jide had to oblige his dad because his dad told him they were in so much debt they couldn’t afford to pay it back; neither did they have the funds for his final year. To cut a long story short, they got married. Jide and I didn’t stop loving each other, but he had to save his family…”
“Does this mean you were still in love with this Jide when you married your husband?” She asked, surprised.
“Yes, I still was” she replied sadly.
“Why have you come to see me? Is it this just so that I understand your point of view, because so far I don’t”
“I need your help Mrs. Akigbe, so please be patient with me for a little”
“Jide and Yemi got married before we completed our final year. We stopped seeing each other but I never stopped loving him. Samuel came along and we started dating. At some point he asked me to marry him, which I did. I hoped I would grow into loving him, which I did, at some point but I wasn’t in love with him. Samuel loves me dearly and he deserves the best. I hope he finds a woman who deserves his love. After several years and giving birth, I believed I was in love with him. But along came Jide a few months ago. We met accidentally and he told me he never stopped loving me. He reawakened old feelings I thought had died.”
“What of his wife? Doesn’t he have kids of his own?
“They are divorced, but had no kids. Jide said they tried but much later he discovered she had had several abortions and could no longer conceive. Worse still he said, is that he tried so hard to make it work, but Yemi never stopped being the party girl. She still had numerous affairs or should I say one night stands. Jide says all a man has to do is show the slightest interest in her and her pants would come off. After our first meeting, Jide and I started meeting in secret. It was as if time had stood still and we were back in uni. Before long we ended up being intimate with each other… leaving Samuel and the kids is the most difficult and most painful decision I ever had to make, so you see, I know that I have caused them so much pain that trying to see them again will only be cruel, since I believe its fate giving Jide and I a second chance to fulfil our love…”
“But at the expense of three wonderful lives?” She scoffed, “What kind of fate is that? Do you really think you can find any happiness when you have succeeded in bring misery to others? ” she looked at her inquisitively.
“I can only follow my gut. Every fiber of my being tells me this is my chance for true happiness. Wouldn’t I be a fool to throw away such a precious once in a lifetime opportunity?” she asked, with her brows creased.
“Are you trying to convince yourself or me? I know I can’t dissuade you since you already made up your mind, so how is it that I can help you? ”
“I know you have your own life, but I need you to help my boys. I would like you to be there for them for as long as they need you. I know it’s a lot to ask, but I am asking. I know Samuel cannot cope with them by himself. So please, help me look out for my boys. I will check in with you frequently to know how they are doing but I don’t want them to know I’m somehow still around. I don’t want to raise any false hope. Can you please do this?”