That fateful afternoon in June, I was making a presentation to my boss, Casidi Jacob, who was a really hard nut to crack. As a young and rising business developer, I had learnt to take every disparagement in my stride and just keep giving my best, and that was what my boss loved most about me. I gave no attitude, I made no complaints, and I just delivered when I was given a chance to. This moment was one of those chances. I had recently worked on a new research on how a merger with our sister company would help optimize value from our existing customers by a two hundred percent increase while adding fresh customers for months and had given my boss hints about it. Busy as he was, he had fixed today as the day to hear me out and I was grateful. I even told Tutu about it and she wished me luck, carefully picking out the shirt and tie for the day for me. If things worked out properly today, I thought, I might actually get a referral for a promotion by my boss. The thought alone was blissful.
Few minutes into my presentation, my phone vibrated in my pocket. I totally ignored it and went on with my work, whoever it was had to call much later. The caller was relentless, however. He called again and again and I ignored again and again. Then a call came in on my bosses’ phone. He picked it briefly and then told me to give him few minutes to go see the CEO. It was then I checked my phone’s display and saw that it was Tutu. I called her back.
‘Hunnay, what’s the matter. I was making my presentation’
‘Toluwani!’ she said with tangible panic in her voice. ‘She fell off the stairs’ she continued.
I froze in my seat.
‘How did this happen?’ she kept sobbing at the other end. I decided against questioning. ‘Calm down darling. I’m on my way home.’
‘We’re at the hospital. Bisola and her husband brought us here.’
‘Okay. Will meet you there soon. She’s going to be okay’ I assured her without even knowing the situation. Really, how bad could it be?
When I finally reached the hospital, after quickly ending things with my boss, I realized how bad it had been. Dr. Lawal, my friend and family doctor, called me into his office to share the ‘situation report’ with me. It was devastating.
‘Wale, I’m afraid the fall was a serious one. She landed on her head and her skull is fractured resulting in a grade III concussion that might leave her unconscious for a while. It is very likely that she has a hematoma judging from the results we’ve seen.’ I gave him a questioning look, and he got me already. ‘This just means that a vessel in her head might have been injured and is now bleeding close to her dura, the outermost covering of her brain. She also sustained a minor injury on her left shoulder and that will take a while to heal. Toluwani might require surgery, but it’s too early to tell. For now, she’d be admitted and closely monitored.’
He stood up and walked up to my side of the table, and then he placed a hand on my shoulder.
‘You have to be strong, my friend, for yourself and your wife. And let’s keep hope alive that everything is going to be okay.’
I bit my upper lip hard to wade off the tears that were already forming in my eyes. It was times like this that made me grateful for being stuck on recommended glasses. The only questions that were left for to be answered were how my daughter had managed to fall off the stairs and where her mother was when it had happened. I took my wife and son home, thanking Bisola and her husband for being there for us. That night, no one said anything. I had asked my wife again at the hospital how our baby had fallen and she had cried even more. I decide it wasn’t necessary to know yet, especially since all it did was made my wife bitterer. After telling Maami over the phone, she opted to come over and help out in any way she can. I consented, though my wife was unhappy about it. The last time my mum had come was when the twins were born, and they didn’t get along so well. But I couldn’t deprive the concerned grandmother a chance to care for her granddaughter, especially now when my wife was withdrawn into her shell and giving me the silent treatment.
Maami and Tutu visited Toluwani every day until the day of her death. I managed to come on weekends. We all hoped that one day she would come out of her unconsciousness and give us the luxury of hearing her laugh again, but that didn’t happen- she died a month after the incident. After her death, things just grew worse. I had demanded to know how my daughter had fallen and no one was saying anything still. Just before my mother left, however, we had our chitchat which led to an unraveling of the truth.
‘Adewale, you should start making plans of moving into another flat to avoid such unfortunate occurrences’ she said, folding her clothes into a big leather box I had just bought for her.
‘Really? But it’s just one step inside the house; the one demarcating the living room from the dining room. How many houses don’t have at least a step? I don’t think it’s the house, I just think it was time for Tolu to leave us.’
‘Don’t say that again!’ Maami retorted as if she was reprimanding a school boy. ‘How about the stairs outside? Isn’t that where your daughter fell from? All these storeybuildings aren’t safe at all.’ She rolled her eyes. ‘One will put his life at risk because of modernization’ she said, more to herself than to me. I sat there processing the information I just heard. Was it the main stairs she had fallen from? How did she get there? Why didn’t anyone tell me? I couldn’t take it anymore; I dashed for the kitchen where Tutu was washing dirty dishes, after I returned from dropping Maami at the bus park.
‘Tutu, how did my daughter die?’ I asked in sheer ire.
Tutu’s heart sank, and she turned away from me. I reached for her face with a finger and turned it back to me.
‘Answer me, Tutu! Answer me now!’ I shouted at her.
She let out a shrill cry that reverberated through the building.
‘She fell, okay. I forgot to close the door, she went outside and fell.’ She said and broke down in wild tears.
I held myself from throwing her a punch in the face. It took all the strength I had to remain composed. It was absurd, what she just said.
‘How could you forget to close the door? What were you thinking about? Where did you go?’
‘I was taking my bath. Philip I’m sorry’ she said amidst hot tears. Did she just call me Philip? Was she just out to infuriate me this afternoon?
I stormed out of the kitchen in the same strides with which I had gone in, got in the car and zoomed off to nowhere in particular. Usually, I spent my Saturdays with my wife and kids, took them out to some cool place or just stayed at home and ordered pizza. All that had changed since the incident. No one was interested in hanging out anymore.
Soon enough, staying away from home became a habit. I was disinterested in everything that required me being around Tutu. Maybe if she had warmed up to me a little, I’d have felt better, but she too had grown cold. She was usually grumpy and starting to get very unattractive. Worse still was that our son was the grass that bore the corollary of the elephant tussle between my wife and I. he was no longer showered all the love and attention he was used to, and soon, he himself got easily cranky, crying at the slightest aggravation. I bet he missed his sister too, but wasn’t articulate enough to express it.
Sometime in March earlier in the year, a new business developer had been employed into my unit. She was the only female in the unit, and she just returned from studying business development at the Manchester Business School in Abu Dhabi. We seemed to have hit it off well because she was equally very smart and an out-of-the-box thinker. When the crisis with my little girl began, I had confided in her about it and she was really supportive, it seemed to me like the incident drew us closer.
Franca was a sweet girl. She had this air of confidence around her that made her very attractive, and her dressing usually gave it a nice boost. She always stood out in colorful gowns with heels to match, swaying from side to side as she bounced smartly across the work area. She had a slim figure with wide hips that accentuated the eight-shape every woman craved for. She was hilarious when she needed to be and was very diplomatic as well. Once, she came over to the house to visit my wife and me when Toluwani was still unconscious.
My incessant absence from home gave us more room to be closer- Franca and I. Lucille, who was a friend of hers in the finance department, always worked late and hung out with us most times. From our numerous conversations, I had discovered that both Franca and Lucille were single ladies in their late twenties, and the latter was frantic in her search for a man.
‘My mother has told me to bring a man home by Christmas for my younger sister’s wedding. Wale, where are all your single friends now?’ she always chimed in jokingly every time we discussed the marriage subject. I would laugh and tell her that all my friends were married. Sometimes, I playfully suggested handsome single guys who worked at the company.
Franca on the other hand wouldn’t be bothered. She went on dates once in almost every week and still didn’t settle for any of the many suitors. Sometimes, she made the excuse of the men being insecure around her, other times she just simply said she wasn’t into them. Her previous love story, as far as I was concerned, was the clog in her wheel of marital progress.
‘Francesca, you really have to let go of this guy and stop using him as the yardstick of comparison for the others. Every man is unique specie. Even though you guys dated for six years, you can’t let that blind your eyes to love forever’ I said to her. She simply gaped at me like Horton hearing a who.
Week after week, I got closer to Franca and Lucille at the expense of my family. Unconsciously, I began to compare Tutu with Franca. Tutu was always grumpy, Franca was always bubbly. While Tutu nagged me all the time, Franca had a word of encouragement at the tip of her lips. I would get home tired after several extra hours and all I met was a complaint or the other. Tutu was handling her own small scale catering business, but she packed it up when Toluwani died and won’t return to it. Once I brought the matter up, but all I got was a silent response. My marriage was becoming torturous for me, with Tutu always playing the victim. These days, she seemed like a complete stranger.
Three months later, I got the long anticipated promotion. I was ecstatic as I ordered small chops and soft drinks for everyone in the unit. I was tempted to call Tutu and share the joyful news with her, but when I remembered how gloomy she had become these days, I decided against it. I leaped up to Franca’s workspace with my best smile ever.
‘Franca, I’m taking you out this evening. Let’s go celebrating- you, me and Lucille.’ Franca smiled back.
‘My oga is taking me out huh?’ she teased. I hushed her with a wave of hand, laughing as I made to return to my seat. Then it dawned on me I hadn’t seen Lucille all day. ‘By the way, where is Lucille?’
‘Oh, I didn’t tell you? She’s a bit under the weather today, she didn’t come to work.’
‘Awww…eeya! Abi she don carry?’ I said with a smug look on my face.
‘Hahaha…’ Franca jested along. ‘Na you give am wetin she carry?’ I chortled and raised both hands up in innocence. ‘Looks like she’d have to miss our little outing then.’
That night, Franca and I had so much fun. We had visited a posh bar where we had drinks and lots of assorted meats and did karaoke. I didn’t realize Franca had a beautiful voice and I taunted her about it, calling her Osanyin, a native name for nightingale. It was getting late and we decided it was time to go. I decided to drop her off at her place before heading home. It felt like the night would never end.
‘I had a really good time tonight, Wale.’ Franca said to me as soon as I had parked in front of her house.
‘Me too.’ I said, with emotion laden in my throat. I cleared it, and looked straight into Franca’s eyes. I bet she saw my eyes glitter in the darkness. I scrambled for her hand and squeezed it. She grinned. I held on to it and would not let it go.
‘Adewale..’ she was starting to say. I shushed her with my index finger.
‘Don’t say anything, Franca.’ I just needed the moment. Not words. I needed no words. I had enough of them from my wife already. I just wanted the feeling instead.
Franca breathed heavily. Our faces were so close I could feel the warmth on my cheeks. I wanted to cup her face in my hands and kiss her passionately till she gasped for air. I wanted to pull her slender body close to mine and cuddle her till the break of the dawn. I wanted to show her how intensely I was feeling for her right now with the entirety of my being. Just one match was all it needed to strike the fire of endless passion that was welling up inside me. Strangely though, my wife’s face kept flashing in my head as I held on to Franca’s hands in silence.
‘Wale, how is Tutu?’ those words were more like water to the fire I had almost lit. I released Franca’s hands and turned away in shame.
‘Goodnight Wale. Thanks again for the outing.’ she finally said as she opened the door and stepped out of my car. I covered my face with both hands and rested my head on the steering. I had almost lost myself there, what was wrong with me?
When I got home that night, Tutu was waiting up for me as usual, with our boy fast asleep on the couch. She had nagged again that night, and I had rejected her food. While she lay there sleeping, my eyes were wide open I thought about what happened with Franca, and thought about what was happening in my marriage. I admitted to the fact that I needed help. We needed help. I looked over at Tutu’s face and recalled the innocence I always saw in that face all through our many years of dating. Why had we grown so apart? When had we grown so distant?
For the rest of that week, I avoided Franca. I didn’t like the way I was feeling around her and I didn’t want to ruin a good friendship. She noticed my deliberate distance and kept hers as well, giving me my space, though managing to be civil about it. How mature!
After much thought, I called my counselor cum pastor friend, TJ. He was really happy to hear from me, after several months of aloofness from both parties. He was the bestman at my wedding, and had travelled to the UK shortly after that for his masters. He had just returned to town and was working as a drilling engineer for Halliburton, while still passionately pursuing his dream as a counselor. After the usual exchange of pleasantries, I cut to the chase.
‘TJ, I need help.’
‘Really? Whatever for?’
‘My marriage with Tutu is tearing apart. I need your help, urgently.’
‘Okay. Calm down. When can we see to discuss?’
‘This weekend would be convenient for me. How about you?’
‘Alright then. See you there.’
After pouring out my heart to TJ, I realized how my unforgiveness and lack of communication had sabotaged our relationship. Yes, Tutu wasn’t without her faults, but I was faulty as well and two wrongs never made a right. Never did, never will. Tutu and I needed to talk it out and return to the place from where we came.
On Sunday evening, I presented Tutu a gift I had bought on my way back from TJ’s place. Her face lit up as she took it and grunted an appreciation back at me.
‘Tutu, I think we need to talk.’
‘I’m sorry about my unwillingness to talk all the while. Talking isn’t exactly my strength.’ I sat at the edge of the bed. She followed my cue and sat few inches away. Our son was asleep in his room.
‘Baby, I was deeply hurt by the fact that you were careless with Toluwani. I blamed you for her death. I was bitter that, despite that, you still had the gut to keep me in the dark about what had happened. ‘
She had begun to sob.
‘I’m sorry Philip. I couldn’t face you about it either. I feel very guilty and ashamed. The guilt has eaten me up so much that I don’t think of anything else these days.’
I felt sorry for her as she spoke.
‘I hoped that you’d be more understanding and comforting, but you just kept your distance. At times, I wondered if you were the same man I married; I always knew you to be caring.’
‘I was giving you your space because I thought you needed it. You were always grumpy and cold towards me; I just assumed you wanted me to leave you alone. And every time I came home, you would always nag. You didn’t take care of yourself anymore, the way you used to. You lost your enthusiasm towards everything, halted your business and let me go. I didn’t want to be let go of, but I think you let me go.’ I recounted bitterly. My mind flashed back to how far I had gone away into the company of Franca and Lucille, instead of my wife’s.
Tutu looked at me with tear-filled eyes.
‘I never for one moment stopped loving you, Philip. I’m sorry if this is how you feel.’ It took all the strength inside me to hold me from crying like a baby. I moved close to her and put my hand around her neck.
‘And I will never stop loving you, Adetutu. Not until my dying day.’ I said. She threw herself at me in a tight embrace as she shook and wailed some more. Teardrops betrayed me as they eased themselves out from the corners of my eyes. ‘We can make this work, Tutu, we can do this.’ I said, still in her embrace.
‘We can, darling.’ She responded in a voice that scared me. She was crying her eyes out. I released myself from her grip, cupped her face in my palms and kissed her fiercely. I had missed her so much I wanted to make up for the lost months in split seconds. After a quality two-hours of making up and making out, I had one last assignment to carry out.
‘Hmmm?’ she responded lazily.
‘Can you stop calling me Philip?’
She started laughing hysterically. I joined her.
The words in italics are from the Nigerian Yoruba language whose translations are written below.
Emu funfun: palm wine.
Omo mi ti de: my child is back.
E ku ile sa: a greeting made by those coming home from a journey.
S’ogbo?: have you heard?
Amala and gbegiri are a kind of food and soup eaten together in Yoruba land.
Omo mi: my child.