By Martins Tachio
Jelil! Jelil! Come to the sitting room, I want to talk to you now! These were the words of dad that echoed from the parlour into my bedroom upstairs- they hit me as just after I have picked up my pack of cigarettes and was preparing to go for a long drive to our farm near Keffi. Well! I pocketed the pack and sauntered downstairs where dad was seated and waiting.
I already knew what he wants to talk about…we have just had another argument with Alice, my father’s wife of the past 6 months. Now I and dad had lived alone for 28 years since my mom died when I was only 11, dad was a very busy father who had served and retired from the army as a three star General.
All the years we have lived together, he brought me up as a friend, a son and a Man. We play together, sometimes watch TV together and even visit our farm together except when he has guests, who most times were his former colleagues in the military or service men. I and dad were simply the best pals as we enjoyed each other’s company greatly.
Ever since the day dad told me he wanted me to meet with his friend, a Lady, whom he said would soon be my ‘mother’, I began to notice him keeping some sort of distance from me.
We eventually met with this woman called Alice, whom I have never heard of before throughout our bonding with dad.
Despite me being 41 years now and still a daddy’s boy, I have never been able to predict his next move; a complete army General.
Back then when mom died I was too young to be left alone, and dad was always moving from one station to the other, so when the opportunity came for him to go for a course in the US, he took me along to Pennsylvania and handed me over to his cousin where I was enrolled in high school there and was left to live with that family.
Dad often visited and called almost daily to speak with me all through even as I graduated and got admitted to the university of Pittsburgh which was not far from where we lived.
After college I returned to Nigeria to begin work in the foreign affairs ministry as a career diplomat but continued to live with dad in a 5-bedroom mansion he owned.
But ever since he married Alice, my exciting dad turned pitch black like the night sky in Autumn!
“Jelil, why I called you is to talk with you man to man”, he started. “You are 41 years now, my only son. Alice is 35, she is my wife and now your mother! She has been telling me about all your encounters but I decided to keep quiet all the while because I trusted your judgement and intellect hoping you would correct yourself” … the words my father rendered sank in like a pebble hurled into a pond.
He continued, “I don’t want you and I to have problems because we have come along longer than myself and her…but then she is now my wife and my fundamental duty is to preserve her happiness and also ensure I wean you… So, from today, you will move to my other house in Gwarimpa, from there we will see how you could get married soon and start a family. You cannot remain daddy’s boy forever, now that daddy has a wife for the first time in almost 30 years”.
A clear and unambiguous message has just been communicated to me by my dad.
He wasn’t ready to be settling disputes or heaping blames and extracting apologies from any party, it was all in the sub-text. Hmmm! I groaned.
When he was done, he asked if I had anything to say, I shook my head indicating I had none. He said okay and went straight to say I should go look up the apartment in Gwarimpa and see what needs to be fixed so that I can move in next week, meanwhile I ‘must’ move my personal belongings and everything I need to the hotel, which was owned by him anyway… from there every other thing will be worked out.
“Ah! ah! Just like that? I opened my mouth to speak at this point but I couldn’t utter a word. “Ok dad”, I finally muttered with total submission. I have already decided on visiting the farm and I’m proceeding with it.
I called on the hotel manager, Mr Andy to send one of the laundry boys to come over to dad’s mansion and clear up my wardrobe to the suite I will be staying that night when I return from the farm.
I left the house that afternoon without a word to anyone as I thought through the situation on my long drive to the farm.
It all started just a few days after the brief wedding ceremony at the registry… Alice and three of her friends practically moved into our mansion, then I started hearing things I wasn’t used to – loud laughers, noisy kitchen and constant car honking at the gate. At first, I did not see this as a problem because early every week day I go to work and only return after gym by 8pm…by then I would have eaten at the hotel and was just ready to sleep.
The kitchen was always untidy with plates and used tea cups. At first, I tried to always clean it up then I realized that even when I return from work in the evenings the plates used the day before will still be there unattended to. Adding to the problem was when our cook who doubled as housekeeper had reported sick a few days after dad and Alice became Mr. & Mrs. and took a sick leave just for him to call back a week later to say he has found another job and was heading to Lagos. Since then, dad hadn’t employed anyone, leaving the entire mansion at the mercy of Alice and her boisterous friends!
Again, since dad got married, he started keeping late nights as against the 7pm he usually retired home. Now he stays out up to 11pm.
I observed this and wondered how a newly married retiree would not be eager to spend time with his new wife! A young woman for that matter.
I remembered also, that shortly after dad introduced me to Alice, he never spoke about her again to me except a week or so before the wedding ceremony when he told me he was set to marry her because she is a good girl! Well, as for Alice she was pretty and looked conserved.
There was this day I and Major Bulus, one of my dad’s boys were having a drink and I playfully asked him what he knows about Alice, he told me in confidence that she has been dad’s longtime acquaintance as she was always around while I schooled in Pittsburgh. And he has known her with dad for over 10 years. With this information I knew they have had it going on for years and there wasn’t a need to be curious or start probing dad then. So, I calmed down until now that their marriage was separating my father from me.
All these thoughts clouded my reverie as I drove to and from the farm.
A week after I checked into the hotel, my apartment was fixed. And on the day, I was moving out, for the first time I heard my dad’s unmistakable voice call me out while loading my bags into the trunk of my truck, “Jelil! Why haven’t you come around the house all these days? I hope you are fine”, he added. I forced a smile and feigned an excuse that I have been busy with the house renovation. “I see”,’ he responded and then asked, “When are you moving in? I quietly told him “now”. Then he said, “fine, I will come and see your place this weekend”.
I drove away just thinking how a strange woman could just come into our life and separate father and son.
I began to think of my relationship with dad more seriously, then suddenly I realized that at 41 years of age and he, 65 years, a Retired General with various companies and businesses has never called on me to sign any documents on his behalf, also despite the fact that we spent a lot of time together I was not a Director in any of his companies and never represented him anywhere.
Even when his business associates came and went, he never bordered me with anything. He just allowed me continue my government work with no distractions…the thoughts kept pouring in, in torrents. By the time I got to my new abode, I unpacked to relax but my mind kept telling me to do more research about the affair between my dad and Alice. There’s is something strange and my father is not saying it or willfully hiding it, I concluded.
Mr. Andy, the hotel manager, a dark burly man has worked as a senior manager with dad’s hotel from inception, right before I returned to Nigeria. On my arrival, he was the first person my dad introduced me to as his son who has been schooling in the states. I had a mutual relationship with him… something tells me he should know more and better about the affair.
The evening of the next day, I invited him to a bar not far from the hotel for a drink, maybe I could be privileged to hear the truth. As they say in Latin: in vino veritas (in wine there is truth). My intention was for us to drink sufficient amounts of alcohol and then I launch an inquest on who Alice was…then I see what comes out.
Andy arrived the bar not too long after I told him where to meet me.
He met me already drinking a soda, so as he sat, we got talking about the day’s work, weather and his family… suddenly his eyes brightened, and I asked what was happening, without hesitation he announced that his wife just gave birth to a baby boy the day before! Wow! I exclaimed and congratulated him. At that point I saw an opportunity, then I declared that ‘ this calls for celebrating’ I immediately called out the bar tender to bring us our choice drinks. He settled down quickly and started feeling at home with the scotch whiskey we’d started gulping. While at it, I didn’t know how to start the conversation about Alice and my dad… so I suggested we play a session of snooker on the table at the corner of the expansive bar. Perhaps it could bond us better for the mission I was out for, he obliged and off we went. As usual, by playing the game, we drank more.
When we were done playing the game, I saw how relaxed Andy had become and decided to go straight to the point as we got back to our table to conclude our chat.
Over the years while growing up, I have observed how a little alcohol in the blood streams makes even an introvert speak more than he should, and Andy wasn’t an exception.
Once we were seated, I threw it at him. “Who is this Alice my dad is married to? The question seemed to have jolted him, but for a man in his 50s, he had this cold cow face composure in his reaction, because he was aware of the spat between myself and dad that prompted me to stay a week in the hotel.
He heaved, and answered, “my Oga, madam Alice is my MD”. he spoke frankly not caring if I was knowing that for the first time. As I tried to digest what he just uttered, he continued… “it is madam Alice and General (referencing dad) that built this hotel. General and madam Alice are partners in business and they have many businesses together… in fact, it is the two of them that interviewed and employed me that year”. Hmm! I exclaimed. What an information I thought to myself. ‘All of General’s businesses from water bottling to textiles he imports for the army, and catering services the hotel offers, it is madam Alice that has been fronting and running them for many years now since I first met them”. Hmm! another grunt escaped my throat. He told me how big each and every of dad’s businesses are, at least the ones he knows.
The shock of the information I got from Andy was so overwhelming that I left my truck at the bar’s parking lot since I could not get myself together to drive home. I took a taxi instead.
That night, I tossed and turned in bed without sleep. I was almost thinking what dad did was disenchanting and unthinkable, but then, why are my feeling so entitled to dad’s wealth and attention, I asked myself, after all dad enrolled me in the best of schools, I grew up in the US and I now have a good and promising job. So why should I be bothered by my father’s wife? Why shouldn’t I just start my family and build from there…I thought. No, no, another thought prompted me; Alice must not just come and take my dad away just like that.
I struggled to sleep, the next day I woke up to the conclusion, that I will live my life and be happy with dad and his new wife…’my mom’.
I got everything off my mind and my life became stable in my new home, I even started dating a girl called Chioma whom I met in a yoga class. We became fond of each other that we referred to ourselves jokingly as ‘my Mula bandha’.
Several Weeks went by, then one Saturday morning, I was getting dressed for the gym when my phone beeped to a call from Alice! On seeing her number my eyes flew open with excitement for reasons I still can’t comprehend. We hadn’t talked to each other since that day I packed out of dad’s mansion to the hotel.
She sounded bright and lively on the other end, and she sort to know if I would be home in the afternoon. Though I have an appointment with Chioma at her place, but I called it off to confirm to her that I will be home. Then she told me that ‘they’ will be visiting me later on.
Well, now that my father and his wife will be coming, on my way back from the gym I will shop some groceries and buy dad’s favorite vinho verd wine I thought.
At about 1.30pm Dad and Alice arrived my residence.
On entrance at my apartment, the first thing dad complimented on my wall, was the painting of Uche Okeke’s ‘works on paper’. Dad bought and collected paintings but was impressed and surprised by not having acquired this master piece. Somehow, I also observed that Alice was excited about most of the art work that adorned the walls of my sitting room. Not surprised, dad didn’t sit down for a minute! The wine I offered him was even drunk while working round the house admiring the paintings in the flat.
Somehow, my instincts told me he had something he wanted to talk about but I was sure it wasn’t Alice. I stayed calm and waited for him to do so. Eventually, I caught some kind eye contact between him and Alice that appear to be some communication. Shortly afterwards, he yelled. “Jelil, you know you are a man now, and thankfully there’s nothing you lack in this life. I and your mom Alice will be going on a short holiday to Seychelles this coming week. So, I came to see how you are doing and assure you that I love you so much and everything is fine with us. When we return in a few weeks, you will come to the house for dinner. I need you to take care of yourself very well and I promise to call you from time to time while we are away… but I must add that from the way you decorated your living space you will need to ‘settle’ down pretty soon”. Dad spoke all this in one breath, drained his glass of wine and beckoned on Alice to rise for their departure.
The whole visit lasted barely 20 minutes. No mention of any other thing was made by him…he just kept a straight ‘middle -of- the road’ expression on his face. Just simple and clear ‘we are traveling for holidays’.
The following day was Sunday, the days I love visiting the farm, I now went to dad’s mansion to retrieve my hunting rifle on my way to farm, just to be told that dad and Alice travelled that morning out of the country and the house was locked. The Lance corporal that has been on duty when I approached the gate of the deserted house recognized me, then offered to open the house for me to retrieve the rifle, I did. But still wondered why dad said they would travel within the following week but left the very next day!
It is almost a year now since my father and his wife went for a ‘short holiday’ I have not heard from him directly, but Andy the hotel manager told me he sends him daily reports of the business in the hotel and that ‘General and madam Alice’ have been in the US for the past eight months according to Andy! I really don’t know why this should not bother me…but I know, I’m fine and dad knows what he is doing or maybe not.
Then, it hit me, dad was supposed to be away for a couple of days, a week, two maybe. But now it is eight months. Was that like dad? My answer was no.
Something just wasn’t right. Something just didn’t add up. I couldn’t sleep that night as all sorts of thoughts came to my mind. Is history replete with cases of men who had lost their passion? Did it chronicle men who suddenly surrender everything? Yes! And usually, there is a woman involved. Could Alice, be that woman? Has she cast a spell on my father? She may be thirty-five, but she is a woman. And as subtle as a woman is, there is the power behind her touch. Power in her voice. Could my father be under the spell of Alice?
The next morning, I got into my vehicle and drove around town. I just drove aimlessly thinking about my life, thinking about my father. About my late mother. I thought about Alice and a volcano erupted.
Is she stealing my father away from me? Is she stealing my inheritance? Because, come to think of it, she runs everything. She runs the Hotel; she virtually runs all the businesses.
I have never been part of it, father never made me a part of it. The only thing I can say that I have been part of is the farm. So, I am virtually in the dark about the other business concerns of my father.
I drove around town and suddenly I got to the chamber of ‘ Obed Waziri Esquire ‘. Yes, Waziri, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, is my father’s lawyer, I needed answers, who else could give me answers than my father’s lawyer?
Barrister Obed Waziri is a thin, quiet legal luminary respected across the country. Always in a suit and a bow tie. He had pitch-black dyed hair and a grey mustache and beard. I always wondered why he didn’t dye the hair and the mustache? But that was Barrister Obed Waziri’s style. Everyone knew him like that for years now.
“welcome”, he said and “thank you Sir”, I answered.
His eyes bored into mine. I sat there silent for a few uncomfortable seconds. What was I to say?
“can I offer you something?’
“I am okay sir”, I responded. The seat suddenly became painful. We sat there…….
“Have you heard from your father? He asked. I took a deep breath, “no. He has been away, eight months now”, I continued. “I know, I know” Barrister’s voice now sounded sympathetic.
We still sat painfully…
“your father and his wife are a new couple -newly wedded”, he almost whispered, “They need to enjoy the new status, I er, hope you appreciate that? “yes, yes, I do Sir” I said, “Barrister you are my father’s lawyer”, the courage came from nowhere and I could see the expectancy in his eyes. “yes, Jelil that is true”, he nodded. “My father didn’t tell me that he will be away for this long, eight months?
“Young man’”, he started, looking very officious now, “your father hasn’t been married since your mother passed. I think we need to allow the man to…”
“I understand all that Sir, but I think eight months…”
“If that is what it will take, if that is what it takes Jelil’ he answered.
“Barrister, is there anything I should be worried about?’ the words flew through my lips and caught me by surprise.
“I am worried about my inheritance, my future, I am in the dark about so many things Sir”, There, I have said it. I felt lighter.
“No, Jelil no”. Barrister sounded a little baffled. “Jelil. You are the only son your father has. You are his only child. You have nothing to be worried about”, he sounded reassuring.
“It’s just that at 41, I hardly know my father’s business, everything seems under the control of his new wife. I have never been asked to represent him. I am not a Director in any of his companies”, “Jelil” barrister blurted, “you have nothing to be worried about” as he slowly got up, walked up to my seat and placed a thin, avuncular hand on my shoulder.
“As your father’s lawyer and a friend of the family for all these wonderful years, Let me assure you that you have nothing to worry about”, He concluded.
“Thank you, Sir,”, I answered.
I drove to the hotel wondering if I did the right thing or not. Thirty minutes later I had my lunch and decided to grab a beer or two. I was on the second bottle when my phone rang. It was the barrister. “Good afternoon Sir”, I answered, “Yes, Jelil, where are you?” Barrister asked? “At the hotel”.
“Young man” the barrister started, “I think a trip to Alice’s village will allay your fears and maybe offer some answers to you”. My beer suddenly tasted somewhat stale. “Where is the village, what is the name of the village? I managed to ask. “It’s a three-hour drive northeast of the city center” barrister answered. “It’s very close to Kafanchan. It’s called Bawna. A ginger-producing village”.
“Okay sir’ I answered.
“I am not supposed to do this Jelil ‘ Barrister Waziri went on, “but you are like a son to me”, he added. “Yes Sir, thank you Sir”. “Hide your identity, present yourself as a potential ginger buyer looking for a supplier. I trust you can do that? “Yes, sure, I can do it”, I answered. “Bawna village”, he stressed, then hung up.
The next morning, I hit the road asking for directions as the need arose. I arrived at Kafanchan at ten-thirty in the morning. I looked for a decent hotel and paid for two nights, took a shower, and drove around the suburban railway station town.
After a bit of sightseeing, I returned to the hotel and started a chat with yohanna the young man that took my luggage in.
“I am going to Bawna village tomorrow” I told him. “Are you a ginger dealer Sir”, yohanna asked, innocence written on his face. “I am trying to be one. What I must first do is establish contact with the sellers. That is my mission tomorrow”, I answered. “Then you are in luck Sir”, said yohanna chuckling, “the chairman of the ginger sellers’ association is our regular guest”. “really? I asked feigning excitement, “yes, I will give you his number”, yohanna assured me.
Three minutes later, I had spoken to the chairman of the Bawna ginger sellers’ association, we fixed an appointment for 10. a.m. in his office at the market in Bawna the next day. Everything was falling into place.
The next day, I set off for Bawna village. The journey was brief but bumpy from Kafanchan until I got to the welcome sign indicating that I have arrived.
The first shocker I got was an impossible-to-miss billboard placed by Bawna youth council by the side of the road stating, ‘We are proud of our illustrious In-law, General Nafiu Sodangi retired and our illustrious Sister Alice Sodangi. May Almighty God keep and bless you’. And on the billboard was a picture of Father and Alice smiling.
Why were the youth thanking father and Alice I thought? As I drove into Bawna village. I noticed that the streets were tarred, with concrete drainages on both sides of the street and the streets had solar-powered street lights. Then I saw a modern town hall, a hospital, and several solar-powered boreholes and overhead tanks. Bawna had everything a village didn’t have in this part of the globe.
‘How come, is it the ginger?’ I wondered.
Bawna market was not hard to find. A street sign pointed out the way. I met Mallam Iliya Sarki, the chairman of the ginger sellers’ association, and introduced myself as Saidu the potential buyer.
“I will help you”, the short burly man said. “Our ginger is sought after all over the world thanks to General Sodangi”, He said proudly. “See that store? He said pointing to a large golden-brown warehouse-like structure, “The store has a dryer and a packaging unit all automated, the General, our in-law, built it for us so we can package our ginger in line with international standards. So, I can assure you Saidu, that you will not regret doing business with me”, he stated with an air of arrogance.
“Thank you mallam Iliya” I said after we exchanged contacts.
The Sodangi mansion is an imposing architectural masterpiece even looking posher than our home in the city. I felt the volcano erupting again. ‘What kind of stranglehold has Alice leashed my father with?’
Some meters from the mansion, I saw ‘ Bawna Jubilee hotel ‘. I drove inside the building and parked in the spacious garden bar where a few men and women sat drinking and eating bush meat pepper soup. “Welcome Sir”, a friendly pot-bellied man cladded in soiled white singlet and black trousers said. “You are new here, are you here on business or pleasure?’ He asked.
‘ Ginger’, I answered. “Ah! Business”, he laughed. “my name is Chukwudi, Chucks for short”, he added, “I own this place, what can I offer you? Chukwudi or Chucks asked? I then realized that I can get some information about father and Alice from Chucks.
“A chilled beer” I answered.
Five minutes later I was chatting with Chucks like old buddies. “Who is this General Sodangi and why has he done so much for this village anyway? I asked. “Ha! That man is one in a million”.
“What do you mean? I asked.
“How many friends will remember their friends after they are dead?’ Chucks asked”. He continued, “The General and the father of his wife were close friends in the army. The father of madam Alice was a Colonel and the hope of this village”.
“How did he die?’ I asked
“He took part in a failed coup in those days, of the military and the punishment was death”.
“I see”, was all I could manage.
Continuing chucks said, “He covered his friend, the General, with a perfect alibi”.
“You see, the two men, knew that they were embarking on a dangerous mission and planned a great alibi.’ Chucks said, animated by the story. “General Sodangi and his friend were all Colonels then. What they did was to stage a big fight and break up of their friendship right inside the Officers mess a month before the ill-fated coup”.
The glass I was holding slipped from my hand and broke! Father never told me about this. Chucks narrated how father then took his friend’s family as his after what happened and how the late Colonel’s wife died of heartbreak and how he funded Alice’s Education to the MBA level and put her in charge of his companies.
It was all for his late friend. The roads, the street lights, the hospital, the ginger processing, and the packaging facility, and the mansion were all in honor of a friend.
Back home after the trip. I went to Barrister Obed Waziri and thanked him.
“I now see my father in a new light” was all that I can say’ I told the barrister. I then went to all the companies and spoke to the staff myself. Then for the first time since he traveled, I called my father and Alice my new mother and wished them a happy honeymoon.