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Image Source:   “You are my best friend Ndukaku . I hope you know that?” Fumilayo asked. “I don’t need to...

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“You are my best friend Ndukaku. I hope you know that?” Fumilayo asked. “I don’t need to be reminded that. You are the best friend I could have ever asked for,” Ndukaku replied. They stared intently at each other. It did not take much to see that they felt more than friendship for each other but, they would not dare declare their feelings for each other beyond friendship. It was the unspoken topic between them; a taboo. They were standing outside the main house in Fumilayo’s father’s compound. Ndukaku and his family had lived on the same premises for as long as he could remember. They lived in the small staff quarters, east of the main building, masked by a beautiful hedge of flowers. Fumilayo’s father, a real estate mogul was a multi-millionaire. “Are you home throughout the holidays or are you travelling?” Ndukaku asked her. “I am staying home. I had thought of travelling to London, but I decided against it. I want to stay in Lagos and catch up with friends and family…and see you a bit more of you too, before I return to school at the end of the holidays.” Fumilayo was a final year student of law at Unilag, while Ndukaku was studying Mass Communication at LASU. They had known each other all their lives. Ndukaku’s parents were seated on their verandah relishing the beautiful evening. A quiet breeze caressed the trees and flowers on the compound, causing them to sway in sync. They could see Fumilayo and Ndukaku from where they were seated. They were aware of the chemistry between them.

After secondary school, just before leaving for university, Ndukaku had asked Fumilayo out and she delightfully accepted. He was thrilled…so thrilled that he told his mother about it. “Fumi agreed to go out with me mom,” he had said gleefully to his mother.  A scowl quickly jumped onto her face. She tried to smile in a futile attempt to disguise her shock and dissatisfaction with the news, at least for the time being, but her face told a different story. “You are not happy for me mom? Fumi’s family and ours have been close for years. Her dad may be rich but he treats us very well. What is the problem?” “There is no problem my son. I am happy for you,” she said managing to summon a feeble smile to her face. Ndukaku could see through her plastic effort to hide something that he was yet to put his finger to. Later that night, his parents, Chidubem and Ngozika Emenike summoned him to their small living room. There was a tiny bedroom attached to the living room and a small kitchen on the front. They shared toilet and bathroom with two other families, also staffers of Fumi’s father. Chidubem worked as a gatekeeper, gardener, driver and general staff to Fumi’s rich father. His mother was a cleaner at one of the banks on the Island. Fumi’s father’s mansion was a stone’s throw from Bar beach.  All his staff lived on site and took turns to keep the gate, tend the garden and carry out other chores in the big house. Fumi’s mother had died years back.

“Is this something to do with me and Fumi?” Ndukaku asked apprehensively. He could sense his parents had something really serious to say. He had the most respect for his parents and he got along very well with them. He had thought they would be happy for him with regards to his relationship with Fumi. “My son, I have to tell you something you must not mention to another person. I mean not a soul at all. I really hope you understand. It is a very difficult thing for me to talk about. I had hoped that your mom and I would not have to go through this, but we would be making a grave mistake by not telling you now.” “What is it papa?” Ndukaku could no longer stand the trepidation that was rampaging in his mind. Chidubem regarded his son for a moment. Ngozika was staring straight to the ground. She had not uttered a word thus far. She seemed mortified. “Fumilayo is your half-sister!” Chidubem announced abruptly. He sat back after dropping the bomb shell. A wave of relief and anxiety went through him. He looked closely at Ndukaku wondering what he was thinking. Ngozika could not raise her face. A drop of tear left her eye and descended to the ground. A massive shock swept through Ndukaku. For a moment, he was not sure what he had heard. “I don’t understand what you just said papa?” Ndukaku asked. A bemused look stood tall on his face. “You are joking right?” He persisted.

“You must not mention this outside,” Chidubem warned him. “What is it that I don’t have to mention outside? I am no longer a child papa. Please spell the whole thing out to me. You are getting me more confused. Please explain what you said earlier to me.” “My son, twenty five years ago your mother and I had been married for about three years with no issues. I went to see a doctor on my own and after a battery of tests; I was told that I would never conceive a child. Broken and ashamed as a man, I kept that to myself. I could not tell your mother that I was incapable of giving her children. I was ravaged by pain and disappointment. Then, one day I returned from work some years later and your mother announced happily to me that she was carrying our baby. A test at the local clinic confirmed that she was pregnant. Of course I tried to look happy and elated, but I was torn deep within, to say the least. I smiled and hugged your mom and we thanked God effusively, but by the next morning, I went back to see the same doctor. He told me that there was not a chance of me conceiving. He ran further tests and reiterated the same diagnosis. He was so sure about it, that he said it was only by God’s miracle that I could father a child. I wanted to believe that it was indeed God’s miracle but doubt ravaged me mentally.” Ngozika managed to look up momentarily. Her eyes were tear-covered. She looked at Ndukaku for a moment and averted his eyes when he returned her stare.

“Well, one morning I confronted your mom with the doctor’s diagnosis,” Chidubem continued. “I pressed her hard enough until she finally told me that…” Chidubem stalled for a moment. Emotions were creeping into his voice with each passing minute. He composed himself and continued. “Your mother said she was in here one evening on a weekend and Fumi’s father, Bola walked in. I was away on a trip to the East, and Fumi’s mother had travelled to Ilesha. Well, something happened that night and you are the product of that. I cannot say any more than that. Fumi’s mother must have conceived about the same time, because she was born only days after you were born. As you know, she died at child birth. She never heard of this. She never really got to hold her beautiful daughter, Fumi. I have watched you two grow up like brother and sister and something warned me that you may fall in love with each other. I tried to convince myself though that somehow, this day would never come, but I was wrong. You are very much in love with Fumi, aren’t you? Have you…? You know what I mean.” He probed, leaving the question open-ended. He could not spell out the terms down to the specifics, but Ndukaku understood what his father was driving at. “No dad,” he answered, blushing slightly. “Good.” “So, does Mr. Bola Okewole know that I am his son?” “Yes, I confronted him politely some years after you were born. He apologized frantically. He offered me a job for life and he has been very supportive financially, which is the reason we can afford to send you to university. He looks at you as his son. He has atoned for his sins, and he reminds me every now and again that he would do anything possible to support us.” “I don’t get it papa. He could have bought you and mom a decent home rather than keep you on his staff for life.” “He wanted to have you near himself my son. These things are complicated. He would do it if I asked him anyway.”

Ndukaku took a deep breathe. He looked at his parents with both shock and pity. It felt weird not to be his father’s biological son. A deep pain stabbed at him at the realization that he and the love of his life, Fumi would never really date, let alone get married. He had fallen deeply in love with her and she with him, but it was all over before it started. “I would like to have a word with Mr. Bola,” Ndukaku concluded. “No. I will let him know that I told you first. Afterwards, we can all meet and talk,” his father suggested. “Okay papa.” Ndukaku acquiesced. He stared at his mother. Now he understood the sudden change in her mood earlier in the day. He felt sorry for her. “I still have the greatest respect for your mother. We all make mistakes. I forgave her and God has been working in our lives ever since. If you forgive something that is easy to forgive, then you have not really felt pain. When you get over a difficult one like this, you get to understand what God feels for us; how He views us. I love your mother and I will always do. You must always respect her no matter what.” Ndukaku moved over and took his mother in his arms. “It is okay mom. Nothing will change with regards to how I feel about you as my mother,” he said calmly as he wrapped his arms around her. She still could not look him in the eye. She sobbed without ceasing, while clutching tightly onto her son.

The two families met to Ndukaku and Fumi’s disappointment. After that, they both remained friends, but the attraction between did not go away. Neither of them had been able to keep a serious relationship at university, as their parents had encouraged. They still looked forward to being around each other and spending time together. “Look at them. I feel sorry for them,” Chidubem said as he and Ngozika stared at Ndukaku and Fumi from their porch. Ngozika said nothing in return. She felt guilty each time the mater came up. Fumi and Ndukaku looked at each other with intense passion, yet, they abstained from saying what they felt. They smiled and walked in opposite directions. “Have a good evening Fumi.” “You too, Nduka. I hope to see you tomorrow.” “Same here.”

One evening during the holiday Ndukaku sat on the beach by himself. He watched as ships slowly strolled by, and waves crashed on the shores. The more he wanted to forget Fumi, the more he wanted her in his life. He could not deny to himself that he felt some resentment towards his mother and Fumi’s father. He wished his parents had told him earlier. He wished his mother had not yielded to Bola’s pressure in that single moment. He hated his biological father, Bola, who had become friendlier towards him. He could not express his feelings towards him for fear of bringing his wrath on his parents. Each time he met with him, Bola would go on and on about how he wanted the best for him. Ndukaku would smile and thank him, but deep inside, an inferno of rage spread brutally. Because of that single mistake, I cannot be with the girl I love, he thought to himself. It was not the first time he had been in this kind of mood. Each time, he would brush his anger aside and carry on. Fumilayo was equally mad at her father, but she tried to conceal it too.

“Why don’t you tell Ndukaku that you fancy him if he has no eyes to see it,” Fumi’s best friend, Ayo had said to her one evening. They were hanging out in Fumi’s room at home. “What makes you think I fancy him?” Fumi snapped at her. “It is obvious Fumi. How long do you think you can hide it? You may hide it from him, but not from me. I am your best friend. I see the way you look at him. When he is around you, you are literally dying to feel his arm around you. Even the fragrance of his perfume sends you into a ‘dizzying frenzy’, although you try to mask it. Come on my friend, sometimes you have to be brave. Let him know. The guy is smart and good looking. Your father likes him a lot too. Go for it. Let him know…that is what I’d do,” Ayo advised. If only you knew the truth, Fumi thought to herself. A piercing pain viciously shot through her as she pondered the situation. “You are imagining things Ayo. I like Nduka, but I am not sure it has reached the level you just described. When it gets to that, I will act. Thanks for the encouragement though,” she said trying to make light of her intense love for Nduka, but Ayo did not buy her speech. “I just think you are not being fair to yourself. And mind you, he is not going to be waiting for you forever!” Ayo added matter-of-factly. Those words were like a heap of salt poured onto an open wound in Fumi’s heart, yet she managed a plastic smile. She was not far from tears, but she managed to carry herself with grace. 

This story was written by:

Victor Chinoo

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