“It’s just a weekend with the family” I stopped for a second from trying to make my hair perfect in the mirror and looked back at Laurent who was already elegantly dressed and just waiting for me. I exhaled exasperated.
“You don’t get it Lo, it’s my family, they are weird and besides it’s easy for you to talk, you always look good.” Laurent smiled cheekily “Comes with the territory.”
Laurent was a model, so naturally he looked good, I wasn’t blessed with the same looks. I had deep set eyes that always looked tired due to my line of work, a wide nose and thin lips that always made me look tense even when I wasn’t. Right now I was desperately trying to make my normally unruly hair look straight and combed. My hands felt clammy as I thought and rethought everything that could go wrong this weekend.
My name is Akintayo…Akintayo Johnson and I was going to be seeing my siblings for the first time in my life. My father, Chief Johnson was having all of us in his house for the first time ever. He was in his mid-80s and was long retired. He lived alone in his retirement home with his househelp and cook.
I had no idea why he wanted us all there.
“You reckon your old man wants to like divide his wealth or something?” Tayo laughed at this.
“Really? That’s a Nollywood plot if I ever saw one and a bad one at that.”
“You never know” pressed Laurent
“Oh, I do know. Dad is weird, you know I had to request for my pocket money from his secretary who would then make me list everything I wanted and then dad would go through it with the secretary before approving to which I then had to sign before I actually got the money”
Laurent laughed hard at this. I was miffed because it was a bit painful for me, but Laurent was guffawing at this point—hand over belly, legs in the air, moving like he was riding an invisible bike.
“Really? Your dad did that?”
I ignored him and turned back to the mirror. I always had that reaction whenever I told people about my dad. He had been the Managing Director of a large oil firm before retiring, he had always taken care of me, but I’d always had to work for it.
It didn’t help that I was an illegitimate child had with a woman that no one knew. She had been a secretary at the time and the two had had a whirlwind romance. My mom got pregnant, my dad wanted me aborted, she refused and tada! Here I am.
“Okay, I’m ready!” I declared. Laurent rolled his eyes.
“Finally. Let’s go princess.” I bristled at that, I hated when he called me Princess.
We left then and got into the car.
We got to the house.
It was—HUGE! It was a majestic house with sprawling grounds done with some very fancy architecture. Dad had always liked his comforts. We seemed to be the last ones here as I counted 3 other cars which I assumed belonged to Ayoade, Ayodele and Ayobami…those were my siblings and yes I noticed that they are all called ‘Ayo’ while I’m the only one called ‘Akin’. This increased my feeling of isolation, maybe I wans’t good enough to be an Ayo. I chuckled to myself.
“Ready for this?” Laurent asked. My hands shook slightly, my heart was beating a little too fast, I was sweating a little too much—I wasn’t ready.
“Yes, I’m ready”
And we walked inside.
The first thing I noticed was the white woman. I know I sound racist, it just wasn’t the first thing I expected to see. Apparently that was Ayobami’s wife and the way he held her it was clear she was supposed to intimidate somewhat. When I walked in with Laurent the talk in the room died down as they all turned their attention to me. I recognised Ayoade immediately. He was the closest to dad and looked like he owned the place. I assumed that the woman serving a glass of water to a large giant of a man was Ayodele and Ayobami was positioning his trophy wife in such a way that everyone could see her and she was the centre of attention. I caught all this in less than 2 seconds and mentally gulped…this was not going to be easy.
“Tayo my boy” my father’s voice boomed across the room. Hearing his voice call my name in such a genial manner calmed me a bit and it seemed to send a silent message to the rest; ‘don’t be hostile, dad likes this one’. I walked towards dad and walked into his embrace. He then went on to introduce me to everyone. I met Catherine who was Ayobami’s wife, Babatunde Williams who was married to Ayodele and Folasade who was the haughty looking woman who was married to Ayoade. I also got to meet Sarah and Akpan, they were the housekeeper and chef respectively. They were also Dad’s only companions. He was at an age where most of his friends were either dead or bedridden, so it made sense that these were the only people around him. I felt a pang of guilt, maybe I should have visited more. Dad and I spoke occasionally on the phone but they were just 3 minute conversations of me telling him I was fine and he saying the same thing.
“So Tayo” It was the highly nasal voice of Folasade “What do you do?”… and so it began. I sighed internally, but I smiled as I answered “I’m a Youtuber” I could tell from the puzzled look on Ayoade that he had no idea what the hell that was. He wasn’t alone, the only person that seemed to have an idea of what I was saying was Ayobami and his wife Catherine, his eyes widened then his face split into a smile.
“No way! You do that for a living?”
“Yeah” I answered smiling a bit myself, I made decent money off it…very, very decent money.
“What kind of videos do you do?” It was Catherine asking
“Let’s play videos” she didn’t look like she understood “Essentially I help people with walkthrough for games and I basically test out new games so people make an informed decision before buying a game.”
“So…” Ayodele started sounding more incredulous with every word “…you play games for a living?”
That wouldn’t be how I would put it but hey, whatever.
My Youtube channel had over a million subscribers and I raked in an average of 500,000 to 700,000, add that to sponsorships and a Twitch channel, I was doing quite well.
Folasade wasn’t so impressed “What did you read while in school?”
“And this is what you opted for?” I’m sure in her mind that sounded like mild curiousity, but it came out as derision.
“I’m not complaining” my dad said. I was grateful, we’d had this discussion months ago and it seemed he had finally realised that it was a perfectly legitimate way to make money and one that I could be proud of.
“I’m more curious about your friend here, you didn’t introduce us.”
Laurent! I had forgotten all about him. He tended to be the centre of attention in most rooms, but with the white woman and the illegitimate gamer kid he was being overshadowed which is something Laurent normally doesn’t really do well with.
“Err…this is my friend Laurent”
Ayodele smiled politely “And Laurent…”
“We’re a couple and we’ve been dating for 9 months”
My stomach dropped and turned icy. The room fell into pin drop silence. Laurent stood smiling; the attention was certainly on him now.
I looked around the room; Ayoade was slack jawed, Folasade looked like she’d just swallowed a frog, Ayodele’s eye was twitching…and Dad? Well, Dad’s face was a mask of indifference.
Catherine was the first to break the silence, “That’s so sweet, how did you guys meet?”
Oh this was going to be fun.
The next day was a haze of averted eyes, terse conversation and eggshell walking. Laurent and I had had a huge fight the night before. I was so pissed. How could he? I wanted to not look like a weirdo or come across as any different. My job already made that difficult as I was basically a professional geek, but now I was a gay professional geek. Dad had walked away and everyone had tried to be polite but I’d heard Folasade whisper to her husband ‘so he’s illegitimate and a queer?’ I was tempted to tell her that her makeup looked like it had been done by a 4-year-old with feet for hands and sawdust for brains, but we were being nice here so I held my tongue.
Laurent and I had a frank conversation about what happened the night before, I understood him, I was too self-conscious about what we were and that made me somewhat unable to be proud of what we have and mind you I am proud of what we had. We were both successful, so much so that dad who only recognised success had had to give me some form of respect. That had felt good. Dad knew I was gay, I had hinted it, I guess it just hadn’t sunk in for him yet.
I didn’t have to deal with the siblings for the rest of Saturday and I looked forward to the next day when I would go back home, back to the life I knew and understood, back to nasty comments on YouTube and supportive messages on social media. I could deal with those, they were strangers, but this was my family, I really had no one else. My mum had died 2 years ago, so I had felt rather lonely.
Right, I told myself, just survive the large breakfast that we were all supposed to have the following morning and that would be that.
I awoke the next morning feeling Bittersweet. On the one hand it had been really nice to get to meet my siblings. I had lived with dad for a short period when they were all abroad and it had been difficult hearing about how great they were and how I should aspire to be better on the other hand, I felt relief that I’d leave all the judgmental eyes that I felt were on me all weekend. Laurent had said he’d join us a little later and I made my way to the dining room where we’d all be having breakfast. I hoped I could snag myself a cup of tea before the main breakfast.
Getting to the door I heard voices on the other side—angry voices. Dad was in a shouting match with Ayoade from the sounds of it.
“Not even once! You are all ungrateful, after everything I did for you” That was dad
“For Us? Don’t you know we lost a mother too? Or do you think you were the only one in pain?” That was Ayoade.
“You left us. It’s like you died with her, suddenly we were horrible children, suddenly we didn’t do well enough for you.”
“Shut Up!” Dad roared. I almost jumped. I didn’t even notice when I opened the door and stepped inside. The entire group stopped. Ayodele was weeping into her husband’s shoulder, Ayoade was on his feet his face inches from dad, Ayobami sat in a chair with a smile—the smile was worrying.
“Good morning Tayo” Said Catherine who looked pleased that someone would step in. Dad stormed off in a huff leaving me standing in the middle of a dining room that seemed charged with electricity, I wasn’t really sure what to do with myself.
“Err… hope I didn’t walk into something bad” I said rather stupidly
“You think?” retorted Ayoade in a voice positively dripping with sarcasm.
“Leave him alone Ade” said Ayobami suddenly “It’s not like he made dad the way he is”
I felt a rush of gratitude towards Ayobami then
“Well, he can’t understand what it was like for us” Ayoade said bitterly
I laughed which surprised everyone including me.
“Something funny?” asked Ayodele
I shook my head.
“Just leave him okay? Dad has always been like this. Remember the time he stopped sending money while you were in England and you had to start working just to pay your fees?”
Ayoade gave a rueful laugh. “Yeah, that toughened me… or when you got a 218 in JAMB?” Ayobami laughed heartily
“Oh my, I stupidly ran into his office thinking that by at least passing cut off mark on my first try he’d at least have some encouraging words.”
“He screamed at you in front of his entire staff about what a hopeless waste of space you were” chimed in Ayodele
“And he was so stingy with money ehn!” Ayobami added
“Yeah!” exalted Ayodele “Remember that time he travelled abroad and left us alone in the house with no money apart from N2000 which we were to manage for an entire month”
Ayoade was laughing hard now “I had to beg my friends for money”
“And then when he came back we were asked to list our expenses…we couldn’t really remember so we were never refunded” Ayobami put in as Catherine looked on shocked at the tales.
“Or when he’d ask you to request for money for books from the office which the office will first have to approve and then you’ll have to sign for it complete with invoice and everything before you got any money”
There was silence
I was the one who spoke.
Ayoade was looking at me weirdly. Ayobami was actually grinning. Finally Ayodele spoke very quietly
“He did that to you too?”
I nodded. No one said anything for a while
“Want some tea?” It was Ayoade. I was shocked. I just nodded dumbly. He poured me a cup and handed it to me.
We spent the rest of the morning talking about dad and his antics. There was still some stiffness in the way everyone interacted with me, but something was new—they had started to look at me as their father’s son. I would never in my dreams have thought that something so seemingly inconsequential could change perceptions so profoundly.
By the time Laurent and I headed out towards home, I was smiling.
“Was it just me or did your step sister hug you before we left”
“What in the world happened this morning?”
I smiled cryptically