By the time Iphey finished her call and begged off from lunch with Jane, she had developed a headache. She knew the cause of the headache was the coming showdown with her mother. Coming on the heels of her face-off with Bisi, it was a bit too much to know that her Mother was in town and spoiling for a fight. Still numb from the things she heard from the conversation between Bisi and Funmi, she grumpily set about getting ready to leave the office. She was further taken aback to realize that the dark-blue pencil jacket which the dry cleaner had dropped off now sported a very visible stain at the collar. And he had left with his full payment. Terribly frustrated because she had so set her mind on wearing the dark-blue jacket the next day, she felt like cursing him for ruining one of her best jackets.
About thirty minutes afterwards, she was at Ngozi's place. As Iphey rolled down the driveway and parked, she saw her mother outside, pacing the length of the small compound. She had to pause for a minute when she noticed Mama’s eyes boring into hers with hurt and disappointment. Immediately Iphey knew this was one of those days one wished to go back to bed and wake up with all the past events being a bad dream. Not that her dreams had been very peaceful at the moment. Iphey sighed and got out of the car.
As she walked towards her mother, it was obvious Mama was angry. She was as tense as a cat on a spring and ready to pounce. Instantly, Iphey began to dread the days ahead. She didn’t totally welcome her mother's temporary visit under any guise because she knew how much Mama loved planning other people’s lives. As she guessed, Mama was too angry to notice Iphey’s discomfort and began to barrage her with questions even before they were inside.
“So that was why you ignored all my calls to your mobile phone these past few weeks and just sent me text messages? If the information had not now slipped out of Ngozi, you had no intention of telling me that you found my missing son-in-law?"
Iphey continued on her way into the house. "Mama, I'm sorry but..."
"How long did you think you could keep such vital information from me, Iphey? Or do you think I have no right to ask?"
"I didn't want to be the one to tell you. I hoped Ngozi would do that. James is her husband..."
Her mother cut her off again. "Or as you believe and have never minced words to let me know, it is not my business? You don't want to get married and now you want to put your sister's marriage in jeopardy?" Mama poured out more questions.
They were now inside and Iphey spied Ngozi on the sofa. She sat with legs crossed and her jaw resting on her flexed fist.
"Ngozi, you better tell your sister that life is not all about work, work work!"
At that point, all Iphey could see was Funmi’s smiling face as she handed over a query or termination letter if she returned a minute late to the office. She turned to Ngozi for help, finding none there, she turned back to her mother.
“Mama, I’m sorry for everything, but could we do this quickly? I have to get back to work.”
Giving her a smothering look, her mother retorted, “Not this time around, Ifeoma, you will stay here and answer all these questions I’m asking you!”
Being fully acquainted with her moods, Iphey knew her mother could be highly irrational when she got like this. In a reconciliatory voice, she quickly gave a short version of the whole story.
“I bumped into James about two weeks ago in a taxi. That evening he came over to my house to explain why he abandoned his family. He said he lost his job but kept going to work for months, borrowing money from banks to cater for his family and also to take care of Obi’s high medical bills. Soon the bank began to mount pressure on him to pay back or forfeit his house which he had used as collateral. He resorted to gambling and loan sharks whom he now owes millions of naira. He said he had to abscond when he realized the loan sharks were getting ready to draw blood since he was not forthcoming with their money.”
Looking at Mama when she was done, Iphey saw that her mother looked skeptical. Ngozi had the same raw look she wore two weeks ago when Iphey was in her house.
"Is that all? Ngozi said the same and I was hoping you could add something more."
"There's really nothing else."
There was silence in the room. Finally, Mama in a small voice quite unlike hers said, ”I think that was a very brave thing James did.”
Both Iphey and Ngozi looked at their mother in horror. How could Mama approve what James did?
Mama faced Ngozi, arms on her hips, "It is fine for you to feel that what he did was unfair, making you go through so much agony all alone and turning you into a single mother overnight. But believe me, at that point, I think he was left with no choice. I've told you this and I'll say it again, James had to make the painful decision of abandoning you and Obi thereby guaranteeing your safety or staying and bringing about your death. He made the right choice.”
"You say he did right? Abandoning us for three years and refusing to see me even now?" There were tears in Ngozi's voice.
The doorbell rang. When their mother rushed to answer it, Iphey shook her head. One would think Mama owned the house. It was Otunba, Ngozi's benefactor and the quick way their mother returned to her seat left Iphey wondering if she was expecting someone else.
Ngozi got to her feet. "Otunba, are you back already?"
"Yes I did," he replied. "You sounded so worried when you called earlier I had to take the next flight back and come here immediately."
"Thank you so much." Otunba folded Ngozi into the thick folds of his Agbada and stroked her hair.
The long hug was Iphey's first clue that the couple's relationship was more than business as she had thought. Her raised eyebrows to her mother got a nod with pursed lips.
"He called me and asked to marry her." Mama whispered. "No way!" She folded her arms and sat back in her seat.
"Good evening Mama," Otunba greeted. Mama sniffed and Iphey almost choked on the laughter bubbling up her throat. "Iphey, how are you?"
Iphey got to her feet and walked towards him and they shook hands. "I'm fine, thanks Otunba." She turned to the others. "I have to return to the office now." There was obviously a lot of gist but she could wait.
"No, Iphey wait. There's..."
"Mama please, not now. My boss will have my head on a platter..." Iphey opened the door and the words flew out of her head.
Someone stood at the door, hand upraised to knock.
And that's it folks. Do you think Mama is right? Are you with their mother on team James or have you moved on to team Otunba? Most importantly, who is at the door? You just know you have to come back for the next chapter, vote on the left as usual.
This was a collabo I did with Basola Afolake. Folake is an aspiring writer who saw the series on Facebook and became hooked. I enjoyed the challenge of working with an upcoming talent and maybe I'll be doing more of that. You can read more of her write-ups HERE.
PS, we are looking for contributors. If you've written before and want to do so again, please shoot me an email.