Cupid’s Assistant II

A cool breeze swept through the grounds and Kendara shivered. Her eyes narrowed and she felt a muscle twitching in her thigh. In her mind a voice kept saying:

No, I didn’t hear him right, no…

She remembered the first time they met. She was an intern at the government hospital pharmacy. She had been rounding off her shift when he walked in with his security detail. He waved them off and came over to her.

“Hello pretty lady, do you happen to have anything for a sore throat?” He rasped. She smiled at him.

“Yes sir, I do.” She replied. Darting across the pharmacy she had helped to get him losenges and a pain reliever. “Take one each thrice a day.”

“I will…. What is your name?”

“Kendara, sir.”

“So, are you ‘always rejoicing’? He asked with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

“I do my best.” She has responded, wondering where the exchange was going.

“Good. Then you must be at my birthday party next saturday. Here, this is my card. Write your phone number on my receipt so I can send you a formal IV,” he said.

“Oh no sir. I couldn’t.” She gushed, painfully aware that her supervisor was glaring at her.

“I insist.”

She scribbled something on the receipt as fast as she could. He won’t even remember this she thought. What were old men turning into these days.

“Thank you,” he whispered as he breezed out with two mobile police men behind him.

She had forgotten all about it when a young man walked up to her three days later.

“Are you Kendara?” He asked.

“Yes, I am, how may I help you?” She replied.

“I am Etiebet. My father sent me. Chief Essien. We couldn’t decipher what you wrote. I came to get your number and to give you an invitation to his birthday.”

“Oh. I couldn’t … ” She didn’t know what to say.

” You must.” Etiebet said. “Here’s your IV. Now say your telephone number slowly so I can dial it and be sure it is real.”

She gave him the number. He picked her up for the party. He liked her and wanted to marry her. Things were happening too fast. Eight months they were married. It was a good marriage. Etiebet was all the things she had ever hoped for in a husband. They disgreed sometimes and rubbed each other the wrong way. But it was always brief. And making-up was a passionate renewal of love. Everyday she thanked God for her marriage, her man. Now, that thankfulness was on trial.

Pa Essien seemed oblivious of this as he sat back and folded his arms behind his head.

“I am an old man. 75, most of my mates have gone. Etiebet is my favourite son. My Benjamin. Son of my delight. I wish you would reconsider your ‘trendy’ decision to have two children but I can see your minds are made up.” He smiled and took a sip of wine. “How rude of me, what would you like to drink? Juice, tea, wine or water?”

“I am fine Papa.” Kendara said. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Was the man senile? Who asked his daughter-in-law to go wife hunting for his son? Irritation grated on her nerves like sandpaper on glass. This wasn’t what she had in mind when she drove the twenty odd kilometres to this place. Coming here was a mistake.

She could hear he mother’s voice in her head. “Be careful with your in-laws.” She had said, “they might laugh and smile but no one knows the heart. Remember, you are not form their tribe. Ibibio men don’t treat Annang wives the way Annang men treat their women. Laugh and smile but be careful.”

At the beginning she had been careful. She had avoided visiting her father-in-law and stayed silent gazing at her toes when he visited. Pa Essien would have none of that. He doted on her openly: sending the driver over with the largest , juciest fruits in season, planting herbs around her house by himself, climbing a coconut tree to get her coconut water when she couldn’t keep food down in her first pregnancy. She found herself responding to his affection. Now many people thought he was her father, not Etiebet’s. He called her Akemi. My own. The daughter he never had. Now, this…

“Very funny,” Pa Essien said as he walked over to the mini bar and fetched a bottle of wine from the fridge. At zero percent alcohol, it was grape juice, but everyone called it wine. He got a glass from the rack and came back to sit opposite her.

“I can’t watch my progeny dwindle. If you and Etiebet won’t have anymore children then at least I should have grandchildren from my other sons. I want you to find a wife for Ime.”

Kendara dropped her glass and some of the wine sloshed on the table.

“Ime? Papa tell me you are kidding.”
She said.

“No .” Pa Essien said. “I am dead serious.”

“Ime? The same one that hasn’t been able to keep a job? The one that sold off your Benz? ” Kendara asked her eyes wide with disbelief.

“I am sorry Papa. I can’t do that.” Kendara said. With that she got up and said. “I have to go now. The kids are through with their class.”

“Wait. Hear me out.” Pa Essien replied. “I am going to make it worth your while.”

To be continued.

Cupid’s Assistant I

She drove to her father-in-law’s house deep in thought. Why had he sent for her? Her heart-shaped, beniseed brown face twisted into a scowl. Ugly thoughts assailed her from every direction. Did he want another grandchild? Had she done something wrong? Had his blood pressure soared again?

She eased the sturdy Toyota RAV4 SUV past the gate with a perfunctory nod at Sebastian the gate-man. If her father-in-law, Chief Essien, wanted another grandchild, then he would have to adopt. There was no way she was ever getting pregnant again. Not after the near death experience she had the last time. The memory brought a sad smile to her face. The agony of developing every ailment in the book: hyper emesis, bloating, insomnia and finally gestational diabetes. Through it all she had prayed desperately for a girl; a replica of herself to dress up, make up and confide in. She refused to ask the baby’s sex at ultrasound visits. She was having a baby girl and that was it. Instead she had Duke, another son.

The moments she saw the boy, she felt resentment flip up her chest and chill her heart. Why? Why did she have another boy? Who would wear all the dresses and ribbons she had bought for her daughter? Over the next few days, the feelings of resentment receded. Duke was such a beautiful child. It was as though he knew that he hadn’t been wanted and made up for it by being so cute and well-mannered.

Before marrying, they agreed to have two kids. Her husband, Etiebet, had been particularly sad when he heard they’d had another son. Coming from a family of four boys, he wanted more than anything to have a girl. Sometimes she still saw a faraway look in his eyes when they talked about people having large families they couldn’t care for. He still wanted a baby girl and so did she, but another pregnancy was out of the question. Adoption in Nigeria was such a travesty. Everyday, there were stories in the papers– Baby Factory Busted, Private Clinic Caught In Baby Selling Scam, Teenager Sell Baby For Iphone. The legal government owned facilities were corrupt and inefficient. Thinking of the adoption quagmire gave her shivers.

She got out of the car and Joy, Pa Essien’s cook ran over to embrace her. It was hard to tell how old Joy was but Kendara guessed she was in her mid forties. She felt embarrassed to have an older woman treat her this way. She liked the way a friend put it: in Nigeria, behind every successful young lady there are women older than her calling her aunty. There was no use, best to play along.

“Aunty Welcome!” she said curtseying and smiling.

“Thank you, Joy. Is Papa in? Is he well?” Kendara asked, searching Joy’s face for clues.

“He is fine, Aunty. He said you should meet him at the backyard, by the fish pond.” Joy answered still looking very pleased.

“Thanks, dear. Here, have this for a little treat. I was in such a hurry. I didn’t remember to get you any bread or meat pie.” Kendara said

“Oh, Aunty, God bless you! You are too kind! ” With that she curtseyed again took the money and disappeared into the house.

Kendara strode to the backyard still trying to guess why she was summoned. She passed the main building, a large cream duplex that spoke of old wealth and good taste. Behind the house was a large garden, a playground and a fish farm.

Chief Essien was a retired civil servant and one time commissioner of Agriculture. He had reinvested the money he made while in office and was quite wealthy. He was a widower. His wife had passed on before Kendara and Etiebet were married five years ago. Now he spent his time overseeing his vast farms, resting at home and travelling to the village to settle petty disputes. Anyone could see that he loved nature. His spacious grounds were a buzz of flora and fauna. To her right lay large mango trees spotting swings from their lower branches. Ahead there was a large lawn; it’s grass so well cut it was like a giant green carpet. Flower bushes punctuated the lawn giving it an air of intrigue. During parties, anyone who went policing was bound to catch a young couple or two in various states of misdemeanour.

Chief Essien’s favourite part of the grounds were the fish ponds. They were dug in the ground designed to look as natural as possible. Pa Essien was beside one of the ponds, his ubiquitous glass of red wine in hand. He looked up when he heard her coming and smiled.

“Papa, good afternoon.” Kendara said as she gave him a loose embrace.

He held her to himself. Then let go to study her with obvious interest. “You look lovelier than the last time. How are my grandkids? I hope Etiebet isn’t giving you any trouble. Has he changed that old Rav4 of yours yet?”

Kendara laughed. “Oh Papa! It is a good car. Maybe next year. You know he has his hands full with the company. He is still awaiting payment on the consulting jobs he did for government last month. Also his oil servicing firm is just taking off so we need to stay as liquid as possible.” She kept her voice as gentle as possible, Chief Essien didn’t like being opposed.

Chief made a face. “Nonsense! That’s your husband’s problem. He is always planning and plotting and arranging. Life is to be lived! Anyway enough about him. How are you?”

” I am fine. We are all fine. I would have brought the boys but they had music lessons. Etiebet travelled to Port Harcourt yesterday.”

“Well, come then, let’s find some where to sit.” He led her to a large bamboo hut near the ponds. It was an Efe. Every chief had one. It was a hall outside his home where he received strangers and held meetings.
Chief had improved on the older functional design adding a minibar by the side, tables and fold-able seats, and an over head television. Clearly, he was a man that liked the finer things of life.

They sat down and he dropped his glass. Without preamble he looked up and said

“I want you to find a wife for my son.”