Mum had married Baba when she was still a teenager, a fresh faced 19 year-old with full hips and big round eyes. Baba was almost 60 then, widowed from his first marriage. He must have seen her as a child and married her to play with her, just like he played with us. But Mum never wanted to play. With him. I saw her playing more than a few times with other men. The men who wore sagging jeans and big gold chains. They came into our house when Baba travelled and after Mum locked us in our room, I would hear strange groans from their bedroom. When they left, Mum would have that glow on her face.
That glow always disappeared as soon as Baba came back. But Baba did not complain. He would smile at her and call her ‘Iyawo mi’.
The day two of Baba’s sisters came to the house with big frowns on their faces, I knew there was trouble. They spoke in Yoruba which I didn’t understand then, but sometimes, words like ‘small boys’ and ‘disgrace’ and ‘prostitute’ would tumble out of their sentences and I knew they were talking about Mum’s friends.
Mum cursed them in Igbo and they replied with strings of expletives in Yoruba. They went on and on, but I didn’t hear Baba’s voice. After some time, he went out and left the women cursing at each other.
That day, Baba did not return home.
Things began to change quickly after that day. His smiles reduced, his laughter almost disappeared. I knew something had changed when he forgot my seventh birthday. He got me a gift two days later, after he noticed the half eaten birthday cake in the fridge.
“Maybe, he has started losing his memory,” Mum mumbled under her breath when I showed her the set of toys that he gave me.
“What did you say, Mum?” my curious eyes went wider.
But I had heard her. To me, she meant that Baba was getting old.
The day Baba took us to have our DNA tests, we bobbled up and down with him in the back seat of his Toyota Land Cruiser. We went to different places before getting to the clinic. Shopping in the mall was excessive. He bought almost everything we asked for. It was as if he wanted to show us as much love as possible in case the results came out negative.
They were. Not only were we not Baba’s biological children, we were fathered by two different men.
The doctors started coming soon after. They came upstairs to Baba’s bedroom and would puncture needle after needle into his veins. But he did not get better. He only got weaker and weaker until he could no longer get off the bed by himself. They came for two years, until one day Baba was gone.
That’s how Mum said it. “He is gone”.
“Gone? Gone to where?” she said it like it was final. Like he wasn’t coming back from where he went.
“He is not coming back,” she echoed my thoughts.
After Baba left, Mum fought everyday with members of his family. Some relatives held endless meetings in the big sitting room downstairs that ended with fights. They fought with Mum. They fought among themselves. Aunties and cousins came to fill up all the empty rooms in the house. The older aunties would curse Mum while mixing native herbs in the kitchen and say it was because Mum could not prepare such for Baba that he died.
Eventually, the will was read to a stunned audience. Baba left nothing for Mum, but gave millions of naira in cash and investments to us. He wanted the house sold and the proceeds donated to charity. He gave his businesses to his family members but left the management in competent hands. Everyone who was present at the reading of the will got something. Except Mum.
Some of the aunties thought it was their unending visits to the herbalists in their village that turned the will around to exclude Mum. They believed that, even in death, Baba had rewritten his will.
The uncles were upset that they didn’t get the house. One in particular, the eldest, had already started redecorating Baba’s room for his use. He once told Mum while flashing tobacco stained teeth at her that “You can stay here with me if you like after the funeral. We can share the room.” Mum would have slapped him but she feared that his two wives and six daughters who were all in the house would redecorate her face with their hands so she hissed so long that if I were to write it down, it would fill the entire length of a foolscap sheet.