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Ijeoma stared at me as she stood behind her ‘lover’ and stuttered over some inaudible words.
“Err…Tiwa! Ah…” She struggled with words as she approached Tiwa. Tiwa dashed behind me and Ijeoma stepped back. “I…I…I…am really…err…”
I saved her the drama. “Is my daughter safe here, Ijeoma?” I asked, staring at her ‘lover’.
She nodded as she blinked. “Au…Austin is…is”
“Spare me the story.” I replied as I placed a phone in Tiwa’s hand. “You can always call me.” I said and pecked her forehead.
Tiwa smiled faintly. “When would you come back for me?” she asked.
“Soon. I’ll end all these soon.” I promised as we hugged. “Take care of my daughter, she is still your daughter if you still remember.” I said sternly and turned to walk away.
I froze in my track as Ijeoma called my name like the first time. I could feel my heart beat racing fast as her footsteps drew closer. I blinked not knowing if I should turn in her direction. My heart still did beat for her. I closed my eyes as I felt her hand run through my chest.
“Omololu, please.” She said quietly.
I blinked and took her hands away carefully and turned towards her. Her eyes were weary and tired. They were sadder than mine, much sadder than mine on the night everything changed between us. I folded her hand and dropped it slowly. “Never, Ijeoma. Never.”
She tried to talk and her voice broke. I walked away quickly as I couldn’t watch her cry.
I watched Omololu drive off as tears streamed down my cheeks. His eyes were cold and brutal as he said ‘Never, Ijeoma. Never’ I had never seen them like that.
“Let’s go inside.” Austin said as he took my hand. “Tiwa is inside.” I nodded and followed him into the house. Austin closed the door after me as I walked into the living room.
Tiwa stared at the both of us and Austin cleared his throat.
“Hi, I am Austin.” He said, stretching out his hand.
She stared at the hand and then at Austin and then took the hand. “Tiwa.”
I heaved a sigh of relief as this happened. I had never expected her to take his hand.“Tiwa, I am so sorry about everything that happened. I…I really didn’t…err…I” I started.
Austin placed his hand on my shoulder. “We would show you to your room.”
I nodded. “Yes…yes, your room. Let’s go.”
Austin pulled her bag and led the way. Tiwa followed him and I walked slowly behind them.
“This is your room, I hope you like it.” He announced as we walked into the room I had set up for Tiwa.
She walked round the room. “I hate pink.” She said coldly.
“What?! Pink is a cool colour.” Austin replied as I watched from the doorway.
She folded her arms. “I hate Barbie…and I am girl.” She added as she folded her arms.
Austin shot a glance at me and then smiled at her. “What color do you like?”
She didn’t reply.
Austin nodded. “Okay, I’ll excuse you. Your breakfast should be ready in five minutes.”
“I have had breakfast.” She replied as started to unpack her bag.
Austin nodded. “Alright then, excuse me.” he said and joined me in the doorway. “What are you doing, Ijeoma?” he asked.
“I…I don’t understand.” I replied, dumbly.
He pulled my hand and dragged me downstairs. “That is your daughter in there.” He said throwing my hand carelessly. “You have to make an effort.”
“Austin, she doesn’t even like me. Did you see her eyes? It was as if she should kill me.”
He scoffed. “Forget about the eyes. She didn’t smile at me either, but we have to at least help her settle down here and you are going to do just that.”
I clasped my face in my palm. “I am scared.”
“I’ll have the maid fix her breakfast, you are going to go in there and talk to her.” He said. “When you are back, I’ll be gone. I’ll call to know when to come around again.” He said and left for the kitchen.
I rubbed my head and left for Tiwa’s room.
I turned off the car engine as I contemplated my decision to go into Olivia’s house. I stared at her Black BMW jeep so I knew she hadn’t gone to work. I won the battle in my heart and knocked on the front door.
“Lolu!” she said excitedly as she opened the door but her smile faded as soon as she saw my countenance. “What happened to Tiwa?”
“Tiwa is fine. She is with her mother.” I said as I walked into the house.
Olivia followed me with her toothbrush in her hand. “I’ll be in bathroom. I need to rinse off.”
I nodded as I took my seat. “Do you have any food?”
“Yeah, help yourself.” She replied and left for her room.
I strolled into the kitchen and poured myself a drink. I couldn’t take my mind off Ijeoma. For the brief moment I was with her I wished everything that had happened oddly between us could go away. I wished I could just say ‘I forgive you, do you forgive me?’ but I couldn’t bring myself to forgiving her. I would heal completely and be fine, Olivia had assured me of that.
Olivia took her seat beside me outside her office. “How are you?”
I stared at her. “Look, I know you are doing everything for me to be fine, but, I don’t think I can continue these therapies.”
“And why is that?”
I swallowed. “I was uncomfortable in there. I…I don’t know if it’s right to say this, but were you trying to seduce me?”
She laughed subtly. “Lolu, you are going through a trauma, I am Doctor, I know my work, and it’s good to see this sort of reaction from you.”
“Are you saying seducing me is part of the plan?”
She smiled. “It is not, but if you were feeling attracted to me in there, it is of your own volition, you probably need to ease into it.”
“I can’t cheat on my wife.”
She nodded. “I never requested you to, but, you need to speak with your wife.” She replied and rose to her feet. “You will have an active session starting tomorrow. You should go home and rest.”
“I have to return to Ibadan.”
“And why is that?” she asked taking her seat.
I cleared my throat. “My rent at the motel expires tomorrow, and my mom is worried about me.”
“Haven’t you told her that you are seeing a doctor?”
I nodded. “I did, and she is thrilled, but I can’t be here, I don’t have any money and I lost what I came for, I still have my little daughter back home with my mom.”
“What if I provide you with accommodation?”
I shook my head in disagreement. “You have done too much for mealready; I’ll need to take care of my child.”
“What did you study in the university?”
I swallowed. “I didn’t go.”
“Ijeoma had to go. It was too expensive for both of us.”
She nodded. “This is not the right time for you to return to Ibadan, and you know why? You are already defeated but you can’t afford to have your back against the wall. Let’s strike a deal, I don’t want you to be indebted to me, so, I am going to refer you to some friends, see if you can do any job for them, might be menial, but I want you to make some money before you go back home.”
I smiled. “That’s very considerate of you, but, I’ll pass.”
She scribbled on a paper and handed it to me. “If you change your mind before tomorrow, go to him. I’ll call him anyways.” She said and returned to her office.
I flipped the pages of my magazine as I sipped my drink. Tiwa had been in her room since Omololu dropped her. I was clueless on what to say to her and how to say it. I heard footsteps approaching. I turned my head over my shoulder as Tiwa jogged downstairs.
“Do you want something? Juice? Snacks?”
She shook her head in disagreement. “I want to walk, am I allowed to?”
I swallowed. “This is not a prison, why would you ask me that?”
“Good!” she replied and scribbled into a paper and stuck it on the table. “That’s my phone number if you want to call.”
I blinked. “Why don’t we go together?” I asked.
“Together? Why?” she asked as she adjusted her bag.
I cleared my throat. “Tiwa, you are new here and I want to show you around. I care about you and I want to protect you, you are my daughter.”
“Thank you, but if you think am not safe, I’ll stay in.”
I took a deep breath. “Tiwa, don’t make it look as if I am keeping you in, I am trying tobe here for you.”
“I have my father. You may have given birth to me but you weren’t there, so don’t start doing what you should have done now, I don’t need it.” She replied.
I nodded and took my seat.
“I’ll be in my room.” She said and returned upstairs.
I pulled up after Olivia in front of her office. “Welcome, Mr. Martins.” The attendant said as he collected my car key and drove the car into the garage. “I still don’t know why I have to come here with you, Liv.” I said as I joined her.
“I thought we were going to see the guy from the Real Estate after work today.”
I nodded. “I could just join you there.”
“Lolu, it is not as if you are really doing anything at the apartment. Tiwa is with her mother, you would be bored, and why don’t you just hang around and meet people here. You’ll love it, I promise.”
I stared at her. “My Mom is home alone, she’ll be bored.”
“Your mom would be worse if you go home sulking.” She replied as she pressed the elevator button. “Why don’t you request for a transfer from your branch at Ibadan?”
I swallowed. “I don’t intend to live in Lagos.” She stared at me. “I know you don’t like Ibadan either, but, you know…let’s talk about this later.”
“Your daughter is staying Lagos with her mother.”
“On temporary custody.” I replied. “I’ll get Tiwa back.”
She nodded. “I know you would.” She replied and we stepped out of the elevator into the top floor. “Lolu, do you want to be a joint partner in the sessions today?”
“How does that operate?” I asked.
“I will be doing CBT for a group from an office, so you may just have to sit and observe.”
I shrugged. “How long would it take?”
“Barely an hour and then the Questions and Answer sessions, it would be therapeutic for you too.”
I nodded. “Okay.”
I tapped on Tiwa’s door lightly. I blinked as I banged on the door. I stepped back as the door opened and she stood before me. “I…I want to take you out.”
I took a deep breath. “I…We could just drive round town, then maybe eat out or something, please.”
She ran her fingers through her hair. “I…I don’t know.”
“Please, Tiwa. I just want to try to build something for us, I know I haven’t been there so I am not going to ask you for much, but, I just want your company.”
She nodded. “It’s not as if I have anything doing here, I’ll get changed.”
“Thank you.” I replied.
I flung my wardrobe open in delight as I picked out a dress for my first outing with my daughter. My phone vibrated on the table. Austin’s name beamed on the Caller ID.
“Hello Austin, guess what? I am taking Tiwa out.”
“Ij, I don’t know…” he replied. “The Director came in and he has been asking of you.”
“Just tell him I can’t make it.”
“Ijeoma, this is important. The guys from Syria are around.”
I scoffed. “Why couldn’t they pick another day? I want to take my daughter out today, this might be my chance with her.”
“I know how important it is for you, but you know you do the deals for us and right now, we need you to close it for us.”
I shook my head sadly. “Tiwa would be sad. And even if she doesn’t show it, it’s unreasonable.” I replied as I took my seat. “Tell the director that I have family matters to attend to.”
I dropped the call and picked my dress from the bed. A message popped on my phone from Austin. “Your commission is 5 million from this deal. Commission, Ijeoma”
I stared hard at the message and grabbed my suit from my jacket and started to change.
I watched as the session dragged on. Olivia’s patients were all smiles around her, she knew how to work her magic around patients. It didn’t take long for me to adjust with her when I resumed my treatment.
She smiled as I walked in. “I thought you were back in Ibadan. Why are you still here?” She asked.
“I can’t sleep. I think about Ijeoma every night, I want to get her out of my mind.” I said as I took my seat.
She nodded with a smile. “Do you want to talk about what happened that night when you called me to pick you?”
I shook my head in disagreement. “No. I can only have that discussion with Ijeoma.”
“She must have hurt you really bad.” She said as she passed me a glass of water.
I nodded. “She did.”
She took her seat opposite me. “I can have my secretary draw up schedules for you.”
“When do I start?”
She smiled. “You do know that you would have to tell me everything when you start your sessions?”
“Are there no exceptions to the rule?” I asked.
“Not in this case.” She replied. “I want you to get over this and to get over everything, you have to let it out and you will let it out.”
I smiled. “Can you help me get everything out of my system?”
“If you tell me.” she replied.
I nodded. “Can we talk about you?”
She chuckled. “I won’t do that during sessions, if you want to talk, you can ask me out.”
“Ask you out?” I asked. “Like on a date?”
She shrugged. “Your call.”
I smiled faintly. “Okay, tonight?”
She smiled. “Tonight is good.”
I watched as the last patient hugged her and walked out of the hall. Olivia approached me with a smile. “How did I do?” she asked as she kissed me.
“Brilliant! Your patients are in for speedy recovery.” I said.
“Like how yours went?”
“Should I be worried? I don’t want someone else taking you from me.” I said as I released her from my grip.
She placed her hand around my neck. “I got an email from the Real estate guy, he is waiting for us.”
“I got the mail too.”
She smiled. “So, when do we go and buy the house?”
“Could we check it with Tiwa?”
She nodded. “Of course, we could get Tiwa and then go together.”
Tiwa was waiting downstairs. She had a puzzled look and quite rightly so as she saw me dressed officially. “You can’t wear this to a casual outing.”
“Yeah…I know, but the thing is I…I…I really have to………God, I don’t know how to say it.”
She smiled faintly. “You got a call from work and you have to go.”
I nodded. “Yeah, but…we can do something else. I can take you with me to work, and then, we could have dinner together after the meeting. What do you say?”
She scoffed. “No, go do your work. It’s more important to you.” she said and returned upstairs.
I grabbed my car keys and hurried out.
Olivia stepped out of her bedroom in a red gown. “Do you like this gown?” she asked.
“Tiwa loves you in whatever.”
She rolled her eyes. “It’s not about Tiwa.”
I swallowed as the thought of Ijeoma flashed through my mind. Ijeoma had the sort of beauty one could refer to as intimidating. Olivia had not met with her but she had seen a picture I had of Ijeoma which I later got rid of.
“Olivia, you are in my life now. You don’t have to compete with Ijeoma.” I assured.
She nodded. “I am not competing with her. I just want to look good.”
“The gown looks good on you.” I replied.
She smiled as she returned into the room. I immediately dialed Ijeoma. “Ijeoma, I want to pick my daughter.”
“There is a restraining order, what are you saying?” she replied.
I cleared my throat. “You can come with us, I want to pick a house here and I want Tiwa to see it.”
“I am sorry that won’t be possible, you can’t just show up and have Tiwa, I own custody.”
I sighed. “Don’t get ahead of yourself, Ijeoma. It’s temporary.” I replied and the line went dead. Olivia walked out of the room and joined me. “Shall we?”
“Ijeoma doesn’t want Tiwa to go with us.”
She shrugged. “That’s fine, we would just go together, when we win custody, she would have no choice but to let Tiwa go.”
I stopped the car as the Red light from the traffic sign came up. Austin’s name came up on my phone. I tapped the speaker to avoid putting the phone in my ear. “What is it, Austin? I am on my way.”
“They are getting impatient.”
I stared at the traffic light. “I can’t just skip traffic signs, Can I? I’ll be there in roughly twenty minutes.” I replied.
“Okay.” He replied and the line went dead.
I watched the traffic lights and then stared out of my window as I saw a mother yelling at her daughter. I didn’t even have that luxury when Tiwa was a baby. Things were too hard and I knew that we had to save the situation.
“Ijeoma you can’t go. Who is gonna play with the baby?” Omololu asked as I drew the zippers of my box.
I stared at him. “If I don’t take this job, Tiwa won’t have anything. Please Omololu, understand.”
“But they have promised to give me extra money at the construction site.”
I nodded. “I know, but we are not getting anywhere with this. Omololu, I have a chance to save us, let me go.”
“Omololu, please, let her go.” His mother said as she walked in. I walked over to my mother-in-law and hugged her. “Take care of my babies for me, the big one and the small one.” I said.
“Ijeoma, when would you come back?” he asked.
I smiled as I held his face. “As soon as I can.”
He nodded and took his neck chain off. “Have it.”
“Oh, it’s yours. You love it.”
He smiled. “I know it is crude and made of rope, but I love it and I love you and I want you to have it, for me and for us.” He said as he tied it around my neck.
I ran my hand across my chest and I started the car and drove off. I wasn’t wearing Omololu’s neck chain anymore, I had stopped wearing it. I drove slowly and then turnedback abruptly to my right incurring the wrath of other road users.
“You no fit drive!” A man hurled at me.
I heard him but I had no response, right now I was on my way to make things right.