Good morning, Story Tellers!
You loved the first Portrait of Ameli (read HERE). Today, we meet her sugar Daddy, Baba Raji, for a brief glimpse into his world. Enjoy.
I drop Ameli off at the bus stop. I would have preferred to drive her to the mouth of her street but Ameli always insists on this same spot. Sigh.
I manoeuvre through the dense traffic, letting Wizkid’s screaming blare through the radio. I take a few sharp turns and I finally arrive at Mama Ndukwu’s decrepit shrine. I kill the engine of my car and walk to the main entrance. I take off my shoes and avert my eyes as I walk into the dark room. It feels so routine now but I still remember the first time I came here. I remember how I was constantly on the verge of running out from fear, but the thin, ashen face of Raji, my son kept my feet firmly rooted to the ground. I had to do this for him.
I stand still in the blackness, certain that she is somewhere in the belly of it, watching me. She knew when I entered, she is always watching. I take this as another sign of her authenticity.
“Do you have the girl?” A voice croaks out of nowhere.
Startled, I struggle to find speech. “N-no, I don’t. That’s why I’m here. I have come to ask her benevolence for m-more time.”
“More time, you say?” The words come at me slurred, like an accusation.
“Y-yes, your benevolence.” I stutter.
“Mm. You have one week to bring the girl or your son will suffer the same fate as your father.”
I bow, in the direction I suspect she speaks from. “I understand.”
One week. The words keep ringing in my ears as I drive my Benz to the hospital. The road is free now, traffic seems to have disappeared in the face of my sorrow. I buy apples for Jemima.
When we were in university they were all she ever ate. I remember the way she would bite into the fruit, taking little pieces and fondling it with her tongue. She was lovely and I fell headlong in love with her. Our life together was supposed to be idyllic but my father’s sudden death and Raji’s illness put a strong hand on our happiness. And now I have to do the unspeakable. I try not to think of what will happen if Jemima ever finds out about the lengths I am willing to go to save Raji, and our marriage.
Mama Ndukwu asked that I find her a light skinned girl with ‘modest’ features. Ameli entered my life a few months ago, like the ram in the story of Abraham, with the body of a child and eyes older than mine. She is going to take Raji’s place, and why not? All she does is spread her legs for old men and take their money. A child that corrupt is better off dead. Raji’s life has barely begun.
I wave at the gateman of the private hospital in Gbagada. By now he knows I’m the one in the black Mercedes. He smiles when he sees me. The nurses are even friendlier; they swarm around me with cries of ‘Baba Raji’. I circumvent them and head up the stairs to the ICU ward and make my way towards the private rooms at the back. Room 25. Mr Akinola, the doctor, is inside with a nurse. The grimness on their faces disappears faster than a blink when they notice me. The doctor’s grin threatens to tear his face in two as we talk for a few minutes about the weather and the president’s latest stunt. He tells me he plans to travel to America in a few weeks, he has heard of a new prospect we could try. Jemima is nowhere to be found. I try not to dwell on that.
My attention travels to the husk lain on the hospital bed. He looks dead but the machines attached to his body tell me he’s not. I sigh, memories of his birth flooding my consciousness. He was so healthy, so full. We called him Babatunde, The father reincarnated in the son’s son. Though there were dissenting murmurs, whispers about how my father’s death was undignified, an abomination, I didn’t listen. I was young, rich and in love. I didn’t know how names doggedly names follow people.
I think of Ameli and how I didn’t argue when she asked that I drop her at the usual spot, how my foot hovered over the accelerator, jiggling in anticipation. She’d already reached for the door, found it locked. I was ready, so ready to just press down, drive down to Mama Ndukwu’s shrine. She would have clawed and scratched; maybe even hurt me but she wouldn’t have escaped. But the way she looked at me, through the rear-view mirror, with such trust as she said, “I think you forgot to open the door.”
I’d forgotten how young she was, how naïve. My fingers were slick with sweat as I undid the central lock. I watched her in her high heels, strutting down the street, running towards the old cathedral, and the youth meeting she was supposed to be attending instead of pooling her dress at my feet. I felt like a benevolent god, I let her live another day.
I hear the door click shut and look up. Mr Akinola has left the room with the nurse. I am alone with my son. Finally free to let up my mask of sufficiency, I walk over to Raji and take his hand. It’s warm and supple, as though it hasn’t lain immobile for months.
“Soon,” I croon, “Soon.”