She opened her eyes and Malik was still here. After last night, she had half expected he would have snuck off her bed and returned to Abuja in the wee hours of the morning. Isn’t that what they all do? Bed the girl and board the train! Mother of surprises, he was still here. What does he really want? Are we friends or is this something more than being ‘just friends?’ she asked herself again for the hundredth time since last night when he had told his mother she was just a friend.
She glanced across at him as he lay peacefully with an arm flung above his head, resting on the flowered pillowcase. He looked so adorable in his sleep. She wondered if he was dreaming of their night together as a brief smile played across his features teasing his lips into a half-smile. Should she wake him up? It was a Saturday and she could choose not to go to work today. It would only get deducted from her paycheck. She was used to taking a cut at the cost of having a social life besides working six days a week.
She would stay if he wakes up and act right. She would leave by 9am if he wakes up and acts like a pig. That decided, she crawls over to him, placing a kiss on his upturned nose, his eyes flutter open. Those clear dreamy eyes that always seek to drown her. Presently, they appeared to be deep pools of darkness trying to drown her soul.
“Good morning Ife mi. Slept well?”
“I should be the one asking if you slept well. Hope the bed bugs didn’t bite?” she teased
“Ah! My back!” on an octave
“Oh dear! Are you alright? Did something prick you?” she asked before catching the gleam in his eyes and realizing he was only pulling her legs considering he wasn’t even lying on his back anymore
“Stop teasing!” she said batting one of the pillows at him
“I couldn’t help it. You were the one worried I didn’t sleep well. I wanted to give you something to fuss about. Too bad you found me out” he laughed pulling her into his embrace and rolling her underneath himself on the big bed before kissing her properly.
“Good morning my love. I did sleep well. Did you too?” he repeated
“Yes Malik. I did sleep just fine.” eyeing his face suspiciously, she continued “I noticed you were snoring loud enough to wake the neighbors so I decided to wake you up first before they come to break my doors down” it was her turn to tease him
“I do not snore!” he announced indignantly “However, I heard you snore a bit”
“That is so untrue! Ladies do not snore”
“Oh really! But do they breathe? Do they have noses? Do they use their noses or does the air just pass through their pores and go out someplace else?” sarcastically
“You are incorrigible” she said laughing hard “Yes, we use our nose but we do not snore” she maintained
“Well, you at least, do not. I can’t say about the many others that do” he conceded
“I have to leave today and I want you to come with me. I want my mother to meet you properly”
“I met her already. Was that improper?” snidely
“You know what I’m talking about Lara. I want to go and introduce you to her as my fiancee. I am sure this is what I want to do” he said to forestall her asking that question just as her lips parted
“I know what you are thinking but contrary to your belief, I am not taking you to her just because of what happened last night…” at her raised brow “Alright. What happened several times last night and which I thoroughly enjoyed” he stopped to poke her so she giggled
Seeing her giggle, he pushed the question again “Do we have an agreement?”
“What?” she said on a drawn out breath “You just informed me now. Allow me think about it for a bit” she added when he made a sad face
“Please…………..” he was making puppy faces now “Please……”
“You are not even going to allow me think!” she accused
“Alright. Think. I will be in the bathroom. By the time I am out of the bath……” he allowed it to hang threateningly
She poked out her tongue in response.
Retreating into her thoughts,she was playing a few unpleasant scenarios in her head containing Malik’s mother.
Arriving Nnamdi Azikwe Int’l Airport, Malik’s driver is already waiting.
“Is this a new guy?” she inquires
“Not really. He was on leave the last time you were in town. So, yes he is new to you”
“What is his name?”
“Isa” came the response
“Nice. So long as he drives you safely” with a side hug as he smiled at her
On approaching the house, Malik begins a strange ritual – checked his face in the mirror, wiped it down with a gray handkerchief, folded it neatly, placing it into his jacket pocket before bringing out a little vial of oil, dabbed some on his fingers, rubbing in between his fingers. Next, he takes out a narrow toothed comb made of bone and ran it through his full hair. It was like watching someone preen for an audition and she was curious what the performance was about. Still watching him curiously, she was finally about to say something.
“I do this little ritual when I visit my mother. It is something of a habit left over from when we used to live together in my high school days and my mother was always particular about my grooming.” seeing the questioning look on her face, he decided to elaborate “She wanted me to appear well taken care of. You see, after my father’s death, his relatives wanted to take me away from my mother but she held on to me and refused to let me go. Their condition to leave me with her was that she would not re-marry. An utterly harsh condition but she readily agreed to it instead of giving me up.”
Lara looked utterly surprised at this new piece of information.
“That is a really huge sacrifice she made”
“I realized that in the last year of my senior high school. Initially, when she made such requests about my grooming, I would rebel and she would cry for hours. After a while, I sat, thought about her life, how she always did her best to give me every single thing I wanted and how I never saw her with any man.”
“wow!” was all she could say
“Yes. She is a pretty amazing woman and she is all I have. She fought for me and she was there through all the hard times. That is why I am always scared to lose her or offend her. I am used to pleasing her and find it difficult to disagree with her sometimes” he seemed to be forewarning her
“I can understand how that can be like” she soothed him patting his hand as it lay in between them on the seat. “I totally understand how that can be”
She could imagine the hard times, social pressure and financial struggle his mother must have been through to train a young boy all by herself. She also imagined how terrible in-laws would be to impose such a life sentence on a young woman because they wanted to take the last thing her husband left her away from her.
Such heartlessness in this country! North, South, West, East, she was sure she could not bequeath the award to just any of the demographics in the four zones in Nigeria. They all had their excesses but all could be hard on a woman who just lost her husband and had no kid for him, or just one child. Even those that had three or four kids were not treated any better. A deep sigh a minute later, she absently rubbed the back of his hand again as it lay limply in the same spot.
He was glad she could empathize with his story unlike that brash Igbira girl he had tried telling and who had immediately let him know that was ‘past tense and should not be relevant to their present or future plans’. That one had not even made it to his mother’s house for any introductions. He quickly discarded her like she was hot potatoes. What she had failed to realize was that his mother was his present and he intended for her to be part of his future. He was not ready to compromise that. This one seemed to get that unspoken truth already and he believed everything would sail smoothly from here on.
They finally pull into a huge driveway, the house is up in front with an open space to house just one car. Isa pulled in there and the huge double doors flew open in welcome. His mother was standing in the doorway with her maid hovering a few feet behind to help collect their luggage.
Malik Immediately stepped out of the car to fold his mother in a warm embrace. Lara took her sweet time getting out of the vehicle unsure of what reception she would get. Mothers seemed to pick an instant dislike for her. It was like instant coffee – commensurate with the degree of affection their son show her. She sighed again in trepidation as Malik called out to her and his mother looked curiously towards where she appeared to be struggling to put her shoes on.
“Lara come over let mother see you properly” Malik urged
Not so much as a peep from Lara until she walked up to the huge double doors with his mother counting her every step appraisingly. She seemed to be weighing in the girl her son brought home, jewelry, cut of her dress, shoe and hair. She finally brought her appraising eyes back to Lara’s face and affected a smile. Immediately Lara saw that smile, followed by a superficial “Aah! How are you my daughter? Welcome. How was your trip?” a question she had not even bothered to ask her son, she knew there was trouble.
This meet-the-mother was not going to be any different from the rest of the other meets. She sighed again
“Thank you ma. How are you doing now? I hope you health has improved greatly since the last time I saw you?” trying for civility and also to remind the bitch ‘Yes, we have met. Yes, I brought you flowers when you laid in that hospital bed looking on the verge of becoming a ghost and yes, you didn’t look so judgy then either. You were glad for the company and for the flowers. Bitch!’
Smiling again as the woman seemed to recognize something about her before turning aside to allow the maid finally step out.
“Come! Come! Come in please. Lara watch your step. There is a slippery tile just somewhere inside the door as I can see you are wearing heels. I have been meaning to ask Isa to bring in the tiler to change that” she kept up a monologue as she walked towards the sitting room, past it, into a huge kitchen that almost made Lara gape. She quickly caught herself as his mother turned again as if on cue to see what her reaction to the kitchen would be. Malik seemed oblivious to the undercurrents. In his opinion, everything was sailing smoothly.
“Your kitchen is very lovely ma. I like what you have done with the space and instead of clumsy cupboards all over the place, I like how you fitted everything into the wall including the stove. Your stove is big and shiny. I envy this space” she allowed herself say thinking ‘Now, if that doesn’t do it, I might as well just leave right now’.
“Hmm Thank you. I designed this place over the years after my husband passed away. This project and my baby….” pausing to smile fondly at Malik “kept me going. The house distracted me while Malik always brought me back to reality with his willful nature. Looking at him now, you wouldn’t believe if I told you some stories”
“Really?” she turned a considering look at Malik “Please you have to tell me some of those stories because as an adult, he appears to have always been so well-behaved, it is hard to imagine anything else. You did a wonderful job on him” buttering her up won’t hurt one tiny bit Lara told herself
“Thank you Lara. You are so sensitive and kind”
Alarm bells were going off in different directions “baby! did she really call a grown- ass man ‘her baby’? Dang! There will definitely be some trouble here” What was it with women that couldn’t let go of their grown kids? It wasn’t like they could marry each other no matter the amount of I-can-die-for-you love between the both. These mothers are ridiculous sometimes! Baby! Snort*
“Did you say something?” his mother asked
“oh! Not at all. I was simply taking in the colors you combined here appreciating all the work and attention you put into creating this lovely space” she embellished neatly
“Thank you my dear. I am glad my son finally found a woman with similar taste as me” came the reply
All the while, Malik merely stood watching both faces trying to figure out if something was wrong or if he could leave them together and go do something else. He was sure Lara would be civil but knowing his mother with being overbearingly protective of her relationship with him, he wasn’t entirely sure yet if he could leave them together so he decided to stay for a bit to watch some more.
He had not even told his mother to Lara’s hearing that she was his affianced but that was taken for granted already. He had never seen his mother interact for any interval longer than two minutes with any of the women he brought home which usually signaled her disapproval. She would merely say ‘hello’, appraise the lady as she had done Lara earlier, hear the first two sentences out of the girl’s mouth and decide she did not approve. He was always so in tune with her that no words needed to be exchanged between them. The said lady would simply find that they had to leave almost immediately as something usually came up at the office.
“Is there something I can help with?” politely
“Oh no! Nothing at all. Seyi already fixed dinner. She set the place too. I will just go freshen up and meet you both back downstairs in thirty minutes. Malik show Lara to the guest room. Seyi prepared the one to the right of my room” with that, she walked out of the kitchen.
‘his mother doesn’t approve of me’ Lara thought to herself ‘even with all the banter and thank-you-Lara, I can feel her disapproval’. Deciding not to say anything to Malik about her doubts, she smiled at his questioning look.
“Your mother is an amazing woman. Strong and a lady too.” watching as her words took effect on him. He was distracted enough to forget what he wanted to ask her. “Come show me to the guest room” she said tugging on his arms.
They stayed up late that night but she was up by 6.30am to help with some house chores. Going into the siting room, everywhere was dark, drapes were drawn shut, electric bulbs still switched off. With no idea where anything was and not knowing where the maid’s room is, Lara returned to wait in her room until she heard some movement. She fell back into a light sleep. Suddenly, something startled her into wakefulness. Opening the door, she found Malik’s mother sitting in a cross-legged position.
“Good morning ma.” Lara greeted kneeling down
“Hmm Is this how you wake up late in your father’s house?” came the reply “Is this the time you wake up at home young woman? Don’t you do anything in your house in the morning?”
“I’m sorry ma. I woke up earlier but nobody was up and I didn’t know where Seyi’s room is so I can ask her what to do” shakily
Quickly getting off the floor, Lara stepped into the kitchen where Seyi was making breakfast. Asking after Malik, she was told he was still asleep and there was nothing or her to do in the kitchen so she should go take a rest.
“Ha! You want mommy to have my head for breakfast!” Lara exclaimed
Seyi simply smiled. A door opens, footsteps are heard approaching.
“Good morning my son. Hope you slept well? Breakfast is almost ready. Lara is in the kitchen too”
Soon, arms snake around her waist to pull her into a sleep warmed body. She didn’t realize she was so tense until he held her that way. She was grateful someone was on her team. Letting him hold her for a bit, she tried to disentangle herself before his mother walked in and saw them. He refused to let go.
“Come to my room. I want to show you something” he said loudly enough for his mother to hear from the sitting room then he dragged Lara right past his mother where she still sat. Lara carefully averted her eyes to avoid the disapproving glare she was sure was directed at her.
Back in his room, she was struck at the simplicity of the huge room. The only concession to beauty and luxury was his huge bed which he subsequently told her was his mother’s choice. Beyond that, everything in the room was functional. The room she had slept in boasted of more luxury that his. A slight shift of perspective for her about Malik as a spoilt, pampered child.
“What do you want to show me?” she asked a little out of breath
“Nothing. I just missed you and wanted you to myself so I can hold and kiss you without mother looking at us” he confessed
“What? Do you want to put me in trouble? I have to get back to the kitchen right away to help with the plates and breakfast”
“That is Seyi’s job not yours”
“But, I’m here now. Do you want your mother to say I lack home training?” protesting
“She would say no such thing. Before you came to visit, it was Seyi’s duty. After you leave, it will still be her duty so let her do her job” he argued as he pulled her into his embrace to kiss her throughly
“I missed you all through the night” he announced after kissing her to his satisfaction “You will sleep here with me tonight. I cant bear to be separated from you for another night”
“ha! I can’t. This is your mother’s house. She already prepared the guest room for me. She will be furious and would think I’m a slut” more protests
“I do not care what she thinks. I want you here in the same bed as me and I will tell her if that will make you feel better”
“Malik I don’t want trouble o. Already this morning she complained I didn’t wake up early enough to help clean the house. I don’t want to give her more to complain about.”
“She complained? Did she say anything to you specifically?
“well, she only asked if this was how I wake up late in my father’s house” she informed him
“The more reason for you to sleep in the same room with me. I will see if anyone will come wake you in the morning if you are here with me. Stop arguing with me. I want you here in my bed so I can hold you at night then I can sleep well”
Sigh“Alright” sagging against him in relief, she let him hold her quietly while she drew some much needed strength.
“Are we cool now? Hope your first night wasn’t so bad? Don’t say anything to her. Just leave it to me” he told her
“Okay” nodding in affirmation
Opening the door, Seyi was just raising her hand to knock.
“Mama says to tell you breakfast is ready”
“Thank you Seyi” Malik replied
It was the second night. Malik bade his mother goodnight holding his hand out to Lara.
“let’s go to sleep”
Lara looked askance, hesitating before placing her hands in his and saying ‘good night’ to his mother. A grudging ‘sleep well’ was the response she received.
True to his words, Malik held her close all night, kissing her half the night and nuzzling her warm breasts. He kept saying ‘I missed you….so bad”. She was only too glad she was in his arms getting some comfort. This whole meet-the-family thing wasn’t really her forte. She just hoped it all goes well and she could return to her awesome regular life devoid of preying mother-hawks watching her every move.
They soon drifted to sleep spooning and the first she knew of daybreak was Malik nudging her folds apart from behind her. She smiled parting her thighs slightly to allow him in. Short, sweet and silent, It was soon over. She got up to leave the room quickly donning a t-shirt over the skirt she was wearing.
“Where are you going?”
“To the kitchen to see what needs to be done”
“Come back here to bed. No kitchen for you today. You are a guest not a maid”
She reluctantly grumbled back to bed but was secretly glad he had stopped her. She wasn’t really the early morning house chore person. She preferred to cook and clean at her own hours. Crawling back into bed with him, she planted a kiss on his lips before he folded her back into his embrace with a husky ‘go back to sleep. It is still very early’.
Finally leaving the bed at a quarter to 8am. Lara was sure Malik’s mother would be furious already. Cracking open the door, the coast seem clear so she tiptoed past the living room relieved his mother was not in her usual spot. Unknown to her, she was seated on the other side of the room and as Lara made to sneak by, she cleared her throat. Lara stopped in her tracks.
Turning towards the sound, she went on her knees to appease her.
“You woke up late again today. Is this how you behave in your father’s house? I ask you again.”
“I’m sorry ma. Malik said there was no need for me to come to the kitchen so early that there was nothing for me to do”
“So, because he said that, you too stayed in the room eh?Tell me, is it Malik you will listen to or me?”
“I’m sorry ma” appealing
“Look, if you want to my approval, you will do as I say. Malik is my son, but you and I know men do not always think straight in the morning and you can’t always listen to what they say in such situations. It will be better for you if you listen to me and do as I say. Hmm” She ended abruptly
Properly confused by now, Lara fled back into Malik’s bedroom. The fact that his mother had not even mentioned her sleeping in the same room with Malik was enough to terrify Lara. She knew it was only a matter of time before his mother finally told them both to their faces that she did not approve but before that happened, she was going to leave their big house for them.
“what happened? Where did you go?” Malik asked
“Never mind. I think I will go back to Lagos tomorrow”
“No. you are not”
“What do you mean ‘No’ you can’t keep me here against my will” beginning to tremble and raise her voice “What is this? A hostage situation? I’m returning to Lagos and that is the end of it” she informed him
“I said No because we didn’t discuss this earlier and I am not ready to let you leave like this.” trying to be reasonable
“But I have to go back. I did not plan to stay beyond two nights.” she pleaded
“If it is clothes you are worried about, we will get some for you”
“No. I have to go to work” trying another tact
“Call your team lead, I will speak to him myself and get you three more days off”
“No. I have to leave” she insisted
“What is it ife mi? Don’t you want to stay with me anymore?”
Sigh. “I want to but this is not your house and your mother doesn’t approve of me” there! it was out
He laughed. “Of course she approves of you else she won’t have let you stay or let you sleep in my room. She approves but she just doesn’t show it”
“She doesn’t Malik. I’m a woman and I can tell when another woman doesn’t like me” she replied
“I won’t argue with you. Just stay two more days so we can work this out. Let us call your team lead first” he said passing her phone to her
Stepping back into the sitting room where Lara reclined deep in thought, Malik stood there for a full five minutes watching her think and wondering what was preying so heavily on her mind that she failed to hear him approach. After waiting a few more seconds for her to notice him, he tapped her on the shoulder. His luggage sat by the door.
“I am ready to leave when you are”
“Malik, I can’t go to Abuja with you” close to tears, she fled the sitting room
“Ife mi what is wrong? I thought we agreed to this before I went to take a bath. What is the problem?”
“I have to get to work. My team leader just called me that most of my team are absent today and he needs me to come in to make up the numbers. I’m sorry Malik. You go ahead before me. I’ll come next weekend” She called from the bathroom.
“Lara please don’t change the plan. Just come with me. Everything will be fine. I promise”
“I’m sorry Malik. I can’t go with you.”
“Could you at least drop me at the airport then?” he tried another tact to bring her out of the room
“No. I’m sorry. I’m running late. Just take a taxi. This is still Ikeja” she replied
After another ten minutes, the front door opens then closes shut. She sagged with relief then gingerly steps out of the bedroom to find that Malik had really left without her. At first, she thought he simply opened the door and closed it so she would think he had left and come out but she realized his little luggage was really gone and he with it. Then she collapsed on the sofa and bawled her eyes out.
This could really have turned out into something more than ‘staying-with-Malik’ but her phobia for his mother, made her drive him away before it actually had a chance to start. How could she have explained to him that the only reason she would not go to Abuja with him was because she painted some deep scenarios in her head about his mother while he was in the bathroom.