“The girl with no Mummy”
The taunts have started again this afternoon. I just want to go to the storybook room and sit there till lunch time is over. I hate being on the play ground. Everybody pushes and the rough play is too much. I get cuts and bruises all over my body and daddy gets really sad whenever he has to take care of me. I would rather remain in the safety of the storybook room. The books don’t push me around or call me names. They are kind and quiet and take me to a place where fairies sprinkle gold dust on good little girls. They don’t say mean things like “Tammy No Mummy”.
The first time Folake Sawyerr had called me that I bit my lip so hard it bled. Daddy said big girls don’t cry and I am a big girl. I will be 10 in a few months and big girls don’t cry. When they made a song out of it and started singing it at lunch time I cried.
I asked Daddy why Mummy wouldn’t just visit to show them that I did have a Mummy. Just a visit. Daddy said Mummy was a precious angel who had been called to heaven to be with Jesus. He said she was really beautiful and her smile was as bright as a star and she liked making other people smile and Jesus wanted his special star with him. I understand all this, I really do. Sometimes I practice my smiling when I am in the bathroom in front of a mirror; I want my smile to be bright, but not too bright though. I don’t want Jesus to take me to live with him. I don’t want to leave Daddy. I don’t want him to feel lonely.
I ask my teacher for permission to go to the library. She looks at me with sad eyes and waves me away. I don’t understand why she looks sad, she can at least put Folake and those other mean girls in detention so they can stop hurting me. She waves me away and I skip happily into the safety of the library. The walls are painted with different colours; blue, pink, yellow and green. Every colour has meaning to me, it reminds me of places I visit in my books. I am off to secondary school soon where I’ll experience new things. Daddy says he wants me to go to the boarding house. He says I will learn to be more responsible. He wants me to “be strong and independent” like my mummy. For now, I will work on my sums to ensure I get into the best school we apply to.
“Tamilore Arinola Ethel Oduwole”
I can hear Daddy shouting my name all the way in my room. He only calls out my full name like that when he wants to fight. The last time he complained that I was always in my room and I wasn’t spending enough time with him and the family. I really don’t understand why I have to. I love Daddy and I get why he had to remarry. I was away in boarding house anyway so he was lonely. The first time he brought Aunty Bola to school during on visiting day I had felt betrayed, but those were the emotions of a 13 year old that had lived alone with her father for so long. Aunty Bola was always smiling, trying to stroke and adjust my hair at all times. Her every touch made me cringe. She was plain and wore long loose skirts and her thin whispery voice made me want to grind my teeth. Every holiday was worse than the last one, because she kept trying to show me she was a mother. I didn’t want a mother at least not her. My own mummy was really pretty and wore gorgeous looking frocks.I didn’t need a mother anymore. I had my friends in school to teach me so many things and some of my friends had really cool mummies. I did not need her to mother me; besides she had kids of her own now. Three of them came in quick succession. My father was pleased but he was always trying to involve me in the whole thing, trying to prove to me that Aunty Bola wanted only the best for me. I knew this was not true. I had overheard her telling Daddy, after I aced the SATs, that sending me to America for school was not in my best interest. When Daddy didn’t seem to budge she started throwing tantrums and saying things like Daddy should not start what he could not finish.
“What can I not finish? Are you afraid that her fees will bankrupt us? It will not. Tamilore is an American citizen. She will not be paying international students tuition. Please calm down”
Daddy was angry. He did not tell her that my maternal grandparents lived abroad and all they wanted was to be able to spend some time with me, to know me better.
I walk down the stairs slowly, the noise from the television in the small living room is enough to deafen normal humans but my siblings were clearly cyborgs because they never turned down the volume.
“Yes Daddy?” I don’t move away from the door immediately I notice Aunty Bola sitting at the far corner of the dining table. He pulls out the chair beside him and motions for me to sit beside him.
“You’ve been home for three weeks this summer, and I haven’t spent any time with you” He tugs playfully at my hair, I smile because I know what he’s about to say
“No Daddy I don’t want to make my hair, I like it like this. This is how everybody does their hair now”
“Ok oh! So what did you want to tell me?”
I don’t know why we cannot talk in his room. I look in the direction of where Aunty Bola is sitting and in that instant I notice she had looked up from the book she was reading to hear whatever it is I want to talk to Daddy about. I am irritated by her inability to even pretend not to be nosy.
I remain silent. The house phone rings and my precocious younger sister comes in to the dining room
“Sister Tami, the phone call is for you. The person says his name is Akinlolu”
I slide off the chair and run off to take my phone call. I need some time alone with my father to tell him about my boyfriend. I’m graduating in a few months and Akinlolu and I think it would be best for me to stay back and do my masters. The less time I have to spend in this house, where I don’t feel like I belong, the better.
I love him. I love him. I love him.
Memories of how he took care of me when Daddy died flood my senses. How can I not love such a man? a man who put everything on hold for me when I was hurting more than I could ever imagine.
Armed robbers. They came to the house on Adeniyi Jones. They took everything. Aunty Bola said Daddy gave them everything they asked for. They asked if there was anything else “we have given you everything” but they kept trashing the house. One of them removed a painting of me that Daddy had commissioned when I was 18 and right there on the wall was the hidden safe. The robbers were enraged. They said he was trying to deceive them. He told them he was not, immediately he gave them the combination to the safe one of the trigger happy robbers with a shot, sent my daddy spiralling into an orbit of eternal darkness.
Akinlolu was my rock. He is my rock. He helps me believe in myself.
I love him.
I am standing in front of the mirror in my house, holding one of Akinlolu’s shirts. It’s a silk grey shirt that I bought for him on our last holiday to Europe. The fragrance that assaults my nasal senses is not any of the scents that I have. It is the scent of another woman. I hold the shirt really tightly because I cannot afford to breakdown, I have to be strong. A few weeks ago it was lipstick stains on his collar. I was not snooping, he just wasn’t careful enough. I don’t want to fight; besides everybody says their husbands are like that. I really should not complain.
He is a good man, he provides for us. Chloe is 5 now and I have another child on the way. I should not worry about such things. I should not fixate on the fact that my husband is having an affair, or two. At this point I cannot tell for sure.
“I love him. He is my best friend. He chose me above all others. I love him”
I can feel a lone tear falling down my face. Tears betray weakness.
“I am not weak” I speak to the Tamilore in the mirror, I urge her to be strong.
Tell him you know what he is doing and he should stop it. Tell him he is breaking your heart. Ask him if he doesn’t love you anymore. If he does, then he should stop whatever he is doing
I am not as brave as Evelyn. She is the only one I have told what I have found out and her words keep ringing in my head. Ask him if he does not love me? Am I ready for that answer? He is a hard worker and a provider. He loves Chloe with all of his heart; even a blind man can see that. But I am afraid to ask the question.
Do you love me?
He loves me. I love him. It cannot be any other way.
The phone in the room rings jarring me out of my reverie.
“Hey Tami, I have made a reservation for a weekend at the Four Seasons. Can you arrange for someone to baby sit Chloe while we’re gone?”
I can’t think of anybody who will take our daughter on such short notice but I don’t want to seem ungrateful. I don’t know why we can’t talk about this properly and plan it well.
“Akin, I can’t think of someone to take Chloe on this kind of notice oh. Can we plan it for the weekend of the 14th? I know Amanda and Chris will be around then”
I get off the phone and tell myself that he is making an effort to get us back to the way we used to be, real life is just happening to us in a tough way.
I lie back on the bed reaching for the paper back on my bedside table. It is a story of a woman who finds her one true love and never let’s him go.
I love him. I love him. I love him.
Everywhere is deathly silent. I can hear the clock ticking. Every movement of the minute hand strikes a chord in my head. I am sitting in the dark waiting for him to come back home. There is no light, and I don’t know how to turn on the power generating set. Since we moved back to Nigeria I have been struggling to maintain my sanity. At least back in the US I had my job, and my friends and people from church, here I have nobody but my husband who I hardly ever see. He is working. He is ALWAYS working. I am the diligent home maker and mother. I strive to be a good wife too, but what use is my effort to attain that when the husband I have is not interested.
He is not even hiding it any more; he makes no attempt to pretend any more. It feels like I am an obligation to him, like there are duties he needs to perform with me and once he has done them he owes me nothing more. No love, no respect, nothing.
“Don’t wait up for me. I am not coming home early”
I have lost the fight in me. I have gone through the phase of crazy jealous wife, of screaming and throwing things. I have gone through the motions of seizing his phone, going through his computer and it has failed me. He does not love me. I don’t think so. Infact, I know so.
Why else would we be on holiday in Milan and Akinlolu books his girlfriend a room in the floor just below ours. It was in the peak of my James Bond/Investigator phase. We were on holiday and he was still coming to bed at 1am. When I asked him he said he had met some friends in the bar and the business conversations got really long and interesting and they lost track of time. But we are on holiday… I remember the cold look that crosseed his face. “If I don’t work hard, how can you afford your expensive hand bags and this holiday”. He had stormed out of the suite leaving me to explain to the kids that their daddy was just stressed.
He doesn’t love me. It is foolishness for me to tell myself otherwise.
I am here because I want Chloe and Alex to have a sense of stability at home. They are my all. I know Akinlolu loves them more than life itself, and for that I am eternally grateful.
I need a plan. I need to work so I do not go crazy. I remember the way my friend from secondary school, laughed when I told her I need to work.
“Tami, I don’t understand you. You are weird. You have always been weird. Why do you need to work? Your husband is the head of operations of Fusco Oil and Gas. You live in a big beautiful house. You have children to take care of! Honestly you rich people don’t know how it is doing you”
There was an insult there somewhere. It made me wonder if I was being unreasonable. Akinlolu has never been averse to my getting a job, but since we moved back it has been really hard. I am over 40 and having a mid-life crisis.
I hear the creak of the gate and the full beam of car lights brightens up the room. I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror above the mantle piece.
“Tamilore, what do you want to do with your life”
Life begins whenever you say it does. Life begins when you pick yourself up and decide not to remain in the doldrums of self-pity or marinate in the murky waters of overwhelming sadness. It is easy to fall into the temptation to feel sorry for yourself because you didn’t grow up with a parent or because your marriage doesn’t work out. It’s about what you make of it. Lemons and lemonade.
D’ziree Homes and D’zigns
I am sitting at the executive lounge of the Muritala Mohammed International Airport Lagos. It is not my first time here but it is the first time I am seeing the banner of my business draped across the wall. It is big and impressive with images that depict the total essence of what we do at D’ziree Homes and D’zigns… Real Estate and Interior Decoration. We sell you the houses and help you make a home in it.
Over the years I have found that I enjoy the interior decor part of the business and left the essential real estate to my people. I have 2 degrees in Real Estate Management and over a decade of work experience in the US but it is the interior that speaks to me. You tell me about yourself, I look at your house and I can tell almost immediately the kind of rug that should adorn your living room, or the kind of fabric you should have on the sofa in your bedroom. I have that knack for colours and symmetry and apparently people would pay a premium for Tamilore Oluwole to come and do up their houses.
I guess Daddy would be proud now; I have actually grown up to be strong and independent like my mother. I don’t know if I have her bright smile though. The years have not been too kind to me but I have managed to pull myself up. It has taken a lot of guts, guts I didn’t even know I possessed. I reached deep within to find it. It was Alex, one day in a hissy fit, who made me realise that I had to find myself. He wanted to go and spend the weekend with a friend, I said no. He was my baby. I was suffocating my 11 year old. I did not want him in boarding house. I wanted him with me. I was staying with their father because of them, why did they want to leave me here in a loveless marriage.
“Mum, it’s unfair. You are wicked. I am not your toy. I have my own life”
I cried that day. Tears that had been buried deep within me. Tears of unfulfillment, of loss and of self realisation.
It was time for me to live for me. I started by reupholstering my chairs and redecorating my home. Akinlolu was not bothered, I was engaged in activity that was keeping my prying eyes away from his. I found black lace panties in our guest room the day I took the workmen to strengthen the bedposts. I felt nothing. I just kept working. Friends and business partners of his came to the house for dinners and complimented what I had done with the house. They were my first clients.
I celebrated my 50th birthday in my own house. I don’t think my children were surprised. Chloe and I had talked for months about it.
“Mummy I love you and I support you.”
Her words meant a lot to me. My daughter and my friend. My number one fan.
I can hear them calling my flight. I’m off to La Guardia. Alex’s graduation. It’s also my long overdue holiday. A little pat on the back, “well done Mummy” from my children.
I have them. They are the pride of my life.
This story was written in 2012, and was shortlisted for the Farafina Ebook Anthology.