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?”
“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.
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.”
“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.