Nigeria is too hot!
It was at least 94 degrees at the airport, George had said to pack light clothes and expect the worst of Nigeria, yet I felt ill-prepared. Our flight from New York taught me that Nigerians regarded their home as a chance to re-adopt their true African-ness. A woman seated closely had hit her teenager and displayed her satisfaction at the freedom to do that each time he disrespected her in Nigeria. I found it ridiculous that no one raised an eyebrow amidst the chaos and I had to confirm from George that he got us business class tickets. These people were somewhat different from what I was used to, my Nigerian friends were sophisticated, classy and recognised abuse. But even they had attributes which seemed to generally cut across Nigerians: their love for their traditional attires, special jollof rice, family parties called ‘owambe’, religion and money.
My mind drifted across the seas to the events of the past week. Five days ago, I discovered my period was six weeks late.I don’t love kids but seeing my husband ecstatic about his biggest desire through our fourteen months of marriage made me excited about my decision to have this baby. Some of my friends thoughtI shouldn’t put his wants ahead of mine, George’s philandering and exuberance were not secret and they believed the baby put me in a vulnerable position with him. I, however, was raised by devout Baptist parents to be virtuous, submissive and true, a shining example of young, excellent, black American women. Two days before that, we received a mail from Papa Johnson inviting us to Nigeria for the holidays. We had not seen him since our wedding, we also couldn’t say no to him, he was an intimidating and imposing man whose summons his children hated but they would rather avoid altercations with him. I was excited to see my husband’s origin for the first time.I wished I could take a stroll into his thirty years of life before we met so I could understand some of his values and choices better but two weeks was too short.
The sudden dimness jolted me back to the present, we were welcomed at the airport by Nigeria’s famous epileptic electricity supply. George tipped the immigration officials and after a few calls, we were headed to Papa Johnson’s retirement abode.We passed through the bare browns and dull greens of Lagos, corporate buildings littered along the roadside amidst sheltered private houses and its tarred roads graced by shiny cars and multitudes of beggars. It looked like a worse version of New York, a city struggling to decide if to be elite or poor. We crossed over to the duller outskirts and as we entered the gates of Papa Johnson’s mansion, we were met by people in uniforms excited by our arrival.
‘Ayobami, it’s been so long’, the elderly woman among them said, drawing George into a warm embrace while directing the younger maids to offload our bags. ‘How are you?’
‘Miss Sarah! I’m very well and glad to see you. This is my wife. Catherine, meet our housekeeper. She has been with us for over 20 years.’
George always spoke highly of their housekeeper, she played a strong motherly role in their lives and with her cheerful but cautious countenance, she seemed hard to dislike.
‘Good evening, ma’am’, I smiled at her.
‘Hello, Mrs. Catherine. You are welcome to Nigeria. I hope you like it here and I will ensure you lack nothing.’ She started to lead us into the house. ‘She’s a damsel, Bami. You always had an eye for the most beautiful things in life.’
I certainly liked her.
The loud sound of laughter informed us that people were gathered in the dining room and as we approached, two people walked out hand-in hand towards us. Miss Sarah excused herself and went to the kitchen.
‘Look who finally made it to Naija. I almost thought you’d skip this one’, the taller one said.
‘Is that how you greet your big brother?’, George frowned.
‘Ah you never drop this big brother wahala, only three years o. Brother Bami, sir.’
They burst into laughter and hugged themselves.
I recognized George’s younger half-brother from his pictures, tall and fair unlike his half-siblings, with a bright smile and dimples. I hadn’t met him earlier because he had been unable to attend our wedding, Tayo was a doctor who dedicated his practice to homeless people around Africa and according to George, his itinerary was unpredictable. His presence at the house during this period reiterated how important it was to Papa Johnson that we were all here. The other dark and very handsome man whom I didn’t know was…
‘Laurent Kader, my partner’, I was surprised. I knew Tayo was gay but George said he was hiding it from their father.
‘I was looking forward to meeting the most handsome member of Tayo’s family’, Laurent said with a big smile, he and George shook hands.
‘Wow, does the old man know he’s here?’, George asked.
‘Yes bruv. I told him it was both Laurent and I here or nothing and he conceded.’
‘What?! Pops must be really old and frail to let you threaten him like that. It’s unbelievable.’
‘Well, news in the vineyard is that he’s desperate to have us all here because he wants to re-marry.’
‘To who? You guys are really keeping in the dark, man.’
‘The woman’s details are not mine to share, sorry.’
In a bid to change the topic, he turned to me ‘Catherine, your pictures do you no justice. From what I’ve heard, my brother finally did one thing right in his life. Nothing makes me happier.’
His partner nudged him and cleared his throat.
‘Nothing but you, love.’ Tayo rolled his eyes jokingly and kissed him lightly. ‘This one is a jealous freak.’
They all laughed and I followed suit, not that I thought it was funny, truth is the entire show was too much for me. As common as homosexuality is, I didn’t understand why people didn’t stick to the original plan God had for humans. There was nothing good about people of the same sex liking each other.
‘I promised Tayo I’d stay out of your family’s way if they are not comfortable with me being here’, Laurent seemed to like eyes on him so I wondered how he would keep himself unnoticed.
‘Oh, I’m sure you won’t be a bother.’
‘I’m not so sure about that. Tayo told me you take your workouts very serious,’ Laurent eyed George’s torso with something that seemed a little more than admiration. ‘We could go on runs together, your brother here is a lazy bone except it has to do with saving lives. It wouldn’t hurt to have one more friend in the house.’
‘I’m ready when you are, Cat doesn’t like sweat either’, George grinned and put his arm around me.
‘We’ll start tomorrow then. We have to go to the store now, do you want anything?’, Laurent said. I smiled at him and shook my head.
George led me to the dining room to meet the others.
‘Baby, can you please be nice to Laurent this holiday? I really don’t want any drama.’
‘You know what I think of homosexuals but I will try.’ I replied. ‘By the way, you two seemed really chummy for people meeting for the first time. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he saw something more than a run or two.’
‘What? Come on, he was just being nice.’
Seated at the table, laughing at old pictures were my favorite members of George’s family, Ayo, his eldest brother and his wife, Shade. Next to them was my least favorite, George’s only sister, Dee. Beautiful and agile, she picked up her phone to receive a call, walking towards the door behind us.
‘Hey, favorite sis.’
‘How about ‘hey, only sis’?’ she kissed him on the cheek and moved past me without even a wink.
‘You know she will come around, yea?’
‘I don’t think so anymore’, I said.
My husband and his sister had been so close growing up that she seemed to be in a competition with the women he became romantically involved with. She never gave me a chance since we met and I was tired of trying to win her affection. She thought I was too young to marry at twenty one. The fact that I wasn’t Nigerian also didn’t help, she seemed to think it stopped me from understanding her brother well enough.
‘Wow,Cathy, you are glowing.’
‘Hi, Shade. I’ve missed you so much. You never come to see us in New York, unlike Ayo.’
‘That’s because my job in London doesn’t let me go anywhere. Madam Cathy, when will you stop murdering our names?’ Shade laughed. She was always bubbly. ‘Say Ah-yor. Not A-yoe. Sha-de, not Shar-deh.’
‘Please leave my baby’s tongue, she will call you whatever and you will answer.’
We all laughed wholeheartedly and exchanged hugs. Shade always made me see humor in being unable to pronounce their native names, even my husband’s. She joked that it was a good thing our surname wasn’t native too.
‘How are your kids? Are they here too?’ I asked.
‘Of course. They are playing in the garden. They were so excited to see everyone again.’
‘Talking about kids, we have great news’, George said.
Shade squealed before he could go further, ‘oh my days! No wonder you are glowing! How many months?’
‘We’re 6 weeks along.’ I beamed.
‘Wow, that’s close. Congratulations guys!’ Ayo said. ‘Oh I was in New York about that time, wasn’t I?’
Dee walked in before we could carry on and Shade filled her in.
“Aww that’s cute. Congratulations to you both’, she smiled at me.
‘Thank you, Dee.’ I exchanged surprised looks with the others.
‘Dee, where’s that husband of yours these days?’
‘Bami, he’s in Canada now, he’ll be here tomorrow.’
Dee’s family lived in uptown Lagos.Her husband, Tunde, was always hoping around countries for business but even he revered Papa Johnson enough to make himself available.
‘Bami, you both should go see dad, let him know you are around.
‘And rest well tonight. We have activities lined up for tomorrow!’
We were ushered into Papa Johnson’s room by the house chef whom George introduced as Akpan, he cleared Papa Johnson’s dishes and promised to introduce me to Nigeria’s delicacies. As Ayobami prostrated near his father’s bed, I knelt as Shade had taught me elders in the family were greeted.
‘Ayobami mi, Catherine, God bless you for honoring my invitation. Come, sit.’ He stretched one arm out to us and patted his bed with the other, ‘How was your flight?’
We discussed family and work, Papa Johnson expressed his pride in George’s recent promotion and how he has become a good, responsible man. There was something unusually cheerful about him. Although he had a stern reputation among his children, it was no secret that George was his favorite. Despite Dee being his only daughter, it was George who took most of their mother’s features and reminded him of the great love he and his wife shared during her lifetime, therefore George had a special place in his heart. But even George noticed that he was more relaxed and open in his conversation with us.
‘I’ve been looking forward to seeing all my children and grandchildren. This is the happiest year I’ve had since your mother’s demise and I wanted to share the end of it with all of you.’
‘We are so glad to be here too. We have really missed you’, I replied.
Our reunion was interrupted when Miss Sarah called in to take Papa Johnson for his evening walk through the gardens. We left for our room but not before noticing the extra beam her entry put on his face.
The following days were filled with sight-seeing, parties and trips to different parts of Lagos. People were nice to me everywhere I went, Shade pointed out that it was because my accent and naïveté gave me off as a foreigner.We bonded and traded family stories and secrets. Within days, we all knew Papa Johnson’s plan to reveal at the Christmas dinner that his intended was unsurprisingly Miss Sarah and that Tayo and Laurent were in fact, engaged, with plans to move to Florida. Dee had slightly warmed towards me and George confided in me about cracks in her marriage, despite her show of perfection. Tunde had decided to expand his company outside Nigeria, intensifying her fears that he would leave her and their kids would have a poor relationship with him like she did with her father. We both seemed to be the only ones everyone trusted. During one of our trips, Shade shared with me her suspicions that Ayo was cheating. His frequent trips to the states bothered her and she made me promise to watch him each time he came to New York. Tayo had to leave the house for an emergency medical mission but he was due to return on Christmas morning. I particularly kept my distance from Laurent although George went out with him a lot and they never missed their morning runs. He said they always had fun but I never bothered to ask about their activities as I was too busy with Dee and Shade and I noticed George didn’t agree with my disapproval of Laurent.
Dee had a girls’ day out planned for Christmas Eve. We visited Dee’s favorite spa and restaurant but while heading to her stylist’s, I felt uneasy and very sick. Dee suggested we returned home despite my protests that I was fine and assured me that it was not a problem. Immediately we arrived at the house, I ran to the room to relieve myself.There, on the bed, to my absolute dismay, was my husband squatting behind someone, fully naked and moaning. They remained oblivious till I slammed the door and staring back in shock at me was Laurent!
Although I couldn’t remember for how long, I knew I had been unconscious. I was laid flat on the couch in the room I share with my sodomite husband. His lover had left and he stared back at me, apprehension written all over his face which suddenly seemed like the only thing I recognised about him. I couldn’t stay married to this stranger.
‘I’m so sorry, Cat. I will do anything to correct this.’
‘I want a divorce, George.’
‘I swear it will never-‘
‘A divorce is the only way to correct this.
‘But I love you, Cat.’
‘DON’T YOU DARE SAY THAT TO ME!’ my roar surprised us both. ‘I did everything right. You have cheated on me with every woman around you, humiliated me, I’m having this goddamn baby for you! I thought it would change you and now you are into men too? For how long have you been gay?!’
He confessed that Laurent was his first. That man-whore, son of the devil had introduced my husband to his evil ways and he couldn’t even look me in the eye to promise me that it wouldn’t happen again.
‘I’m done, George.’
‘I’m sorry, Cat but please, don’t let my family know.’
‘I will leave Nigeria tomorrow morning, we’ll tell your family I have a grave family emergency. We will seal the divorce when you return to America. Don’t fight me on this divorce or you won’t get the rights to see my child even on weekends.’
Reminiscing mid-air has become my pastime. It’s 7am in New York on Christmas day and the plane is peaceful, a distant variant of my previous flight. Leaving George turned out easier than expected, happy coincidence that he couldn’t keep his cheating restricted to women. I now realise that having tolerated his bullshit for so long, I have become less affected by it than I thought.It appears my measures to make myself happy away from that emotional hell of a marriage worked, now I get to walk away with my heavy alimony and child support. Yes, I took measures. I have been involved with a colleague and the solace I find in that affair has carried me through the fatigue of my marriage for the past three months. Our marriage has been under a strain for a while but amidst his bevy of women, wild ambition and drunken nights, George had failed to notice my life with him was a façade. My decision to have a baby with George was my last attempt at keeping our marriage together. We agreed to have joint custody of my baby and not prolong the divorce proceedings. I thought about breaking the news to my parents, they loathe divorce but I had strong reasons even they wouldn’t counter.I looked out the window and stared into the dark, deciding to let the days unravel without overthinking things, today is not the day to think about broken Christmas lights and damaged trees. Santa brought me great gifts this Christmas and I intend to enjoy them instead.