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Sunday, February 25, 2024

Burnt, A Story By Tunde Leye (Episode 2)

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Hajara ran one of the prime makeup studios on the island. With her enterprise and her husband’s backing, she had grown it into one of the biggest brands around. Just recently, she had launched her own line of beauty products and it was an instant sellout. Owning her own business which was flexible was a compromise, one she had come to with Donald. He had been opposed to her doing any sort of work, insisting that he made more than enough to provide for his family. But she would have none of it and almost took up a job. They had gone back and forth on the issue until they eventually agreed that she would work, but it would be her own business and it would not be a boutique, events management, consulting or all the high stress, plenty traveling type of work. Makeup had been a perfect fit and it was one of her passions. It was one of her greatest sources of pride that she had been able to build the business herself and it was uber-successful.

That evening as she returned home from the studio, Hajara was surprised by her daughters. First, Oyiza was the one who greeted her at the door. Even before she sat down, her daughter was regaling with tales of how great school had been that day, uncharacteristically talkative of her. Normally, Inya would be the one who met her at the door, while Oyiza was curled up on the sofa watching TV or reading some of her beloved storybooks. When she was able to get a word out in, between Oyiza’s stories, she asked

“Where is Inya? Is she well?”

Oyiza snickered as she responded “she’s being a cry baby who wants to see you her mummy in the room. She’s been there the since we came back from school.”

“What happened to her?” Hajara asked as she hurried towards the girls’ room.

Oyiza went after her, recounting the episode involving Brian as she did. Hajara was relieved that it wasn’t some physical ailment that had brought her daughter down. But thinking about it again, she knew this would probably hit her more than any sickness could. If the tables had been turned and Oyiza was the one who had experienced what Inya did, she would not have been this worried. But with Inya, it was a different matter. She had learnt long ago that things affected them differently.

She got to the room and quickly opened the door, with Oyiza right behind her. Inya was curled up in one corner of the bed with her back to the door. If she was awake, she did not show any signs of being so. Hajara looked sternly at Oyiza and waved a finger in warning so that she would behave herself and not gloat.

She sat down on the bed and touched her daughter, waiting for her to stir if she was awake. When nothing happened, she guessed Inya was asleep and shook her a little.

Inya had hoped that they would leave her alone when they came in and she pretended to be asleep. She really did not want to talk to anybody. She felt dirty and disgusted with what Uncle Idris had made her do hours earlier. She had thought it was going to be some nice lessons like things she watched on Barney and Friends, but it hadn’t been anything like that. She shut the memory away, trying to pretend that it hadn’t happened. He had made her touch him and touch him until her hands ached, yet he didn’t let her stop.

Then suddenly, his eyes had looked funny and he shook as if something was wrong with him. She was about to scream when he hushed her up and then looked at her in a way she would never forget and told her “if you do this to Brian and he shakes like this, he will be your friend alone.”

Then he had taken her to the bathroom, given her a warm bath and taken her back into the room. Before he left, he had warned her sternly “if you tell anyone about this, you will never have any friends again because of this secret.”

She could never look at Uncle Idris the same way again after that, but she would not tell anybody. She didn’t want to be alone.

She turned and stretched like she was just waking up. “Good evening mummy!” she said putting on a fake smile. When Hajara saw her daughter smile, she let out a sigh of relief. She touched Inya’s neck to feel her temperature and it was normal

“How are you? Were you so tired from school that you slept so much?” she asked.

“I was sad when I came back from school, but Uncle Idris came to cheer me up and I’m happy again.” Inya said sweetly.

The honking of a car horn cut into their conversation. The two girls screeched in unison “Daddy!” and raced out of the room. Hajara let them go and meet their father, while she went into the kitchen to fix dinner. She met Idris there, taking a drink from the two-door refrigerator. She wondered what she would do without him now as per the girls; he was so good with them. She was glad he had helped handle Inya’s tantrums and cheered her up this afternoon. A house-help would definitely have ignored the girl.

“Good evening aunty,” he said.

“Idris how are you. I hear you had to stop a civil war between the girls today and cheer one of the parties up. Thank you o.” she laughed as she said this.

Idris looked like he was embarrassed for being thanked for helping with the girls. Hajara placed a hand on his shoulder and said seriously “seriously, thanks for being so great with the girls.” Then she turned and opened the chest freezer and said, “Now, what to warm for dinner…”

Idris quickly escaped from the kitchen. He wondered if Inya had blurted out anything. His sister had never thanked him about the girls and it was suspicious that she suddenly did so today. When he got to the living room, their daddy was already back with one of his friends that came to the house a lot, Mr. Udoh. He knew he would not have the chance to be alone with Inya till morning. He bit his fingers.

“Chief Idris,” the loud Udoh was saying, slapping him on the back. “Shay we will not find you wife like this, with this everlasting ASUU strike that is not ending.” Udoh and Donald roared with laughter and Idris quickly joined in. As Udoh sat down, he called Inya to come and sit on his laps. “Inyus Inyus peperempe, come and sit on uncle’s laps now,” he said in his rambunctious way. Normally, Inya would have raced to go and sit there, but today, she seemed to be hesitant, looking to Idris. Inside her, Inya trembled. The laps were so close to where she had touched Uncle Idris today. She didn’t want to be anywhere near anyone’s laps. Idris tried to avoid her gaze, so that it would not be obvious. He broke out in sweat inside the air-conditioned room.

“Inya, what is it?” Donald asked, noticing the way his daughter tensed up at Udoh’s request.

Idris quickly jumped in “Inya, go and answer Uncle Udoh now,” he said tersely with a sideways nod of his head in Udoh’s direction.

Inya walked gingerly to Udoh and sat on his laps. “Now, that’s a good girl,” Udoh said, bringing out some chocolates and giving them to Inya. All the while, Oyiza sat curled up on the Sofa, uninterested in what was going on, glad that Mr. Udoh wasn’t paying any attention to her.

At that moment, Hajara walked into the living room to announce that dinner was served. She nearly had a fit when she saw Inya on Udoh’s laps. She had taken this up with Donald severally but he still allowed and encouraged it.

“Inya, come and help mummy finish setting dinner up,” she said, eyeing Donald.

Even though she was not called, Oyiza went with her mum to the dining area. Donald knew what that look meant. He was too tired for a quarrel tonight, but he could see it brewing, only waiting for two of them to be alone in the room before it exploded. As a rule, Hajara made sure that everyone in the house had dinner together. All the members of the Wadada family ate quietly save for an occasional comment or request to pass something, each silent for their own different reasons.

Udoh was oblivious to the tension at the dining table though. He just rambled on and on, sharing one story after the other and laughing loudly. Even when little Oyiza sarcastically asked him about table manners, he merely brushed it aside saying “food is the engine of life” and then laughed again.

They were glad when dinner was over and he left immediately after. It was the girls’ bedtime and Hajara went to tuck them in. The moment they fell asleep, she crossed the gym area and flung the door to the master bedroom open. The lights were out.

“Donald, I know you are not asleep, so stop pretending!” she said as she turned the lights on.

Donald didn’t stir. If there was one thing that wasn’t perfect about his wife, it was her temper. She was like a grown up Inya throwing tantrums when she was riled up. The good part was that it took a lot to get her worked up, and he apparently had done the “a lot” required this night.

“Donald Wadada, you better sit up and listen to me now, since you refused to listen all the many times I said this calmly!” Inya said louder. She struggled to keep her voice down since the kids were just across.

Donald knew he could not go on pretending, so he sat up. “Hajara, what is it now? You know I’ve had a very long day and I’m tired. So let’s sleep and you cuddle and comfort me like you should now,” he said, his attempt at a joke coming out lame.

“Donald I’m not joking. I have said severally that our kids are girls and we need to be careful! I am not comfortable with any of your friends carrying any of my daughters on their laps and all those kinds of physical things. Must the girl be on his laps before he gives her chocolates? I’ve heard all sorts of stories of things happening to girls of all ages and I don’t want my daughters to be victims!”

“Haba, we have known Udoh for how long? He has always been like that now, it’s just him. Forget the stories you’ve heard, Udoh cannot…” Donald was saying when she cut in.

“In every story, it’s always someone who has been known for long and who they are comfortable having physical contact with. I’m not saying Udoh specifically, I’m talking generally. Our girls are becoming women right before our very eyes!”

Donald laughed a little “Women? Hajara, don’t be dramatic. They’re just eight. That’s a long way from being a woman. You my dear, are a woman” he said, attempting to reach her.

Hajara slapped his hand away and hissed “look at you. Do you know that they are liking boys already? Inya came home crying today because a boy she liked wasn’t being her friend and was being Oyiza’s friend. Wake up o, and smell the coffee. Children grow up faster these days. Your daughters already know what it is to like boys. SO PLEASE, I DON’T WANT THEM SITTING ON ANY FRIEND’S LAPS EN, PLEASE, BIKO, JO, DAN ALLAH, ABEG.” She dramatically went on her knees as she said this.

That explained it, thought Donald. Out aloud, he said. “Hmm. I noticed Inya hesitated before going to sit on Udoh’s laps today so this might be true.”

“Of course it is. They are growing up fast. That’s what I’ve been trying to say since”.

This was news to Donald. He would definitely take his wife seriously now. His daughters were becoming aware of things. A thought occurred to him.

“Since the girls are getting more matured, I think Idris should stop bathing them now. He can still take them to school and help them get ready and all that, but if what you say is true, he should stop.”

“No issues. That means you’re taking this real serious now.” She stood up and sighed, visibly relieved.

Sensing that the fight had blown over, Donald quickly got up and went to hold his wife. She allowed herself relax into his arms. He smiled as he hugged her tight, all the tiredness fleeing from his body and the Black Eyed Peas song “I got a feeling, tonight’s gonna be a good night” ringing in his head.

***************+++++++++

The next morning, Hajara got up a little earlier than she normally did, cutting Donald’s “look at Hajara in her sleep” time by fifteen minutes in order to get to the girls’ room before Idris would. “By showing I’m serious about this thing, Donald will take it seriously too,” she said to herself.

*************+++++++++++

Idris got up a little earlier than usual. He wanted to get Inya alone so that he could find out if she had said anything to anyone. The only time he could think of doing this was when he would bathe the girls. Normally, he would bathe them together but today he planned on separating them and bathing Inya first. He needed to get there before their mum came to check on them before she then went to fix breakfast. He walked briskly towards the girls’ room.

He got there just as his sister was ushering the twins out of their room in their towels. Only Oyiza greeted him boisterously as the girls would normally do. Hajara thought maybe Inya was tired from getting up a little earlier than usual and waived this fact.

“Good morning aunty,” Idris said, deliberately choosing not to notice that Inya didn’t greet him.

“Idris, good morning. How was your night?” Hajara asked.

“Very well o, I slept well.” Then addressing the girls, he said as cheerily as he could “oya, let’s go and get some little girls clean. Bathing time!”

Hajara laughed at the way Idris had put having a bath in a fun way. Then remembering why she had gotten up earlier than normal, she said “ah Idris, mummy will bath the girls from now on. We need to have our girl time away from all you men.”

It was as if Idris had been punched full in the face. He wanted to protest then he caught himself. What reason would he give for wanting to bathe the girls so bad? But the question rushed into his mind “why had his sister suddenly decided to take over bathing the girls?” His eyes shot to Inya, but she wasn’t looking at him. Had the girl said anything and his sister was merely waiting to get them out of the house before acting? Was his brother in law already out and returning with police to get him now? The man had the means to get the police to do anything to him if he wanted to, of that Idris was sure. Instead of giving voice to the thoughts racing through his head, he smiled and said “ah, even though I’ll miss the girls, I’m glad I’ll get some more minutes of sleep.”

“Ah, Uncle Idris, not so fast, you still get to drop the girls in school.” Hajara said

Idris made a face that was meant to mean he was sad about that. Inside, his mind began working out how to get Inya alone on that ride to school. He turned and returned to his room to get dressed for the drive to their school while Hajara led her twins to the bathroom.

Author Tunde Leke (Photo Credit: Tunde Leke)
Author Tunde Leke (Photo Credit: Tunde Leke)

Tunde Leye is an accomplished author, musician and creative mind. He blogs at TLSPlace. Follow him on Twitter @tundeleye.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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