Not every woman loved shopping. She was proof to that. But every mother would grump through anything to make her boy happy. She was after all at a children’s clothing store shopping the perfect wear for Asher’s Christmas Party, wasn’t she?

“Mum, what do you think of this one?”

“Oh my goodness, I do believe this is the right one.”

“You think so? Uhhhh… maybe I should try the Senator-styled one in black colour. Big boys like wearing black, don’t they?”

“Ah… I guess they do.”

And there they go again, Lena sighed, and lifted off the couch, deciding a stroll around might ease off her impatience.

It was a large store and she often brought Asher there to get his good clothes. Prices weren’t bad and they piled up on really nice boys wears. Girls too, she figured, given the number of mothers with daughters that usually milled about the place.

Today was no exception. Definitely, women who loved shopping started out as girls who loved shopping.

“Lena.”

That voice. That deep husky voice.

Lena froze for a minute, before she made herself turn. And it was him. Joshua.

With his daughters.

“Um, hello, Josh.”

“Hello.”

“Good evening, ma.”

Lena looked at the girls. They’d greeted in unison and were now watching her with curious friendly eyes. They were both very pretty. Maybe there was two years between them, one was taller and looking older than the other. The younger one gripped on Joshua’s left hand. She probably was five. Or six.

“Hello. How are you?” She offered them wide smiles.

Theirs were a little shy.

“Fine, thank you, ma.”

Their response still came in unison.

“I didn’t think I would see you.”

Lena returned her gaze on Joshua. His were unreadable.

“I didn’t know you were back in Lagos.” I hoped you would come back, she added silently. “When did you return?”

“I didn’t return. We came for a visit.”

“Oh. For Christmas then.” Too short. Not enough time. “That is good.”

“It is.”

“Mum, how about this one?” Asher burst out of the changing room. “I think this is the one. I like it. What do you think?”

He looked at her, and then at Joshua. Then at the girls. Then back at Joshua. “Good evening, sir.”

“How are you?”

Joshua smiled at Asher. It was a friendly smile and it changed his expression. Made it less austere.

“I am fine, thank you, sir.” After a pause, Asher turned back to her. “So, what do you think, mum?”

“If you like it, then this must be the one.” Lena smiled. “Go ahead and take it off, so we can go pay for it.”

Once he scrambled off, her smile faltered. “Uh, Josh…”

“We have to head to the counter ourselves. The girls are done shopping.” He cut her off. “Season’s greetings, Lena.”

“Joshua.”

He stopped and turned. The girls turned too. Their eyes were even more curious now. How so much like him they look, Lena thought and felt the pull of wistfulness.

“I hoped you would come back. I… uh, prayed for it.”

“Why?”

His baffled frown made her moisten her bottom lip. “I want… No, I need to talk to you. I… we need to talk. It is important.” She glanced at the girls, and then looked at him. “It’s about Asher. There’s something you need to know.”

“About your son?”

“Uh… yes. About my son.”

There was a pause.

Then he gave his head a shake. “I don’t understand, Lena. I don’t know what you can want to tell me about your son, so…”

“Please, Josh. It’s really very important.”

Another pause.

“Fine.” He reached into his pocket, drew out a wallet and slid out a business card. “My mobile numbers are there. Call me and we’ll arrange a meeting. I have to get my daughters home now. Bye… for now.”

Lena clutched the card. “Thank you, Josh.”

He nodded and turned with his girls.

“Who is that man, mum?”

Lena startled and spun around. “Ah… that man? Uh… he’s… he’s an old friend.” This wasn’t the place to tell him. “Are you done?”

Asher was frowning slightly. “Yes, mum.”

She smiled, took his hand. “Then let’s go pay for your Christmas Party wear.”

“Are you all right, mum?”

Her heart squeezed. “Yes. Of course, I am all right.” She beamed her smile and squeezed his hand in reassurance.

But he didn’t look quite reassured. And Lena didn’t blame him.

*-*

 

She has to tell Asher before she told Joshua. Lena realised that now.

She tucked in his cover and then lowered on his bed. “Asher.”

“Yes, mum.”

He was looking at her expectantly. He’d been watching her all evening. Looking at her with eyes that said they knew something wasn’t quite right.

He’d always been a sensitive spirit, Lena thought and inhaled to draw courage into herself.

“There’s something I have to tell you.”

“Okay, mum.”

“I… I want to first say I am sorry.”

“You are sorry? But why, mum?”

“Because… because I have been lying to you.”

“Oh.”

He stared at her. His eyes were confused. Troubled. And questioning.

Lena answered the question. “I’ve been lying to you all your life. I didn’t mean to. It… it just got out of hand and I didn’t know what to do.”

“Lying is wrong.”

“Yes, lying is very wrong, Asher.” Lena blinked back the tears. “It was very wrong of me to have lied. I should not have done so.”

“Why did you?”

When she blinked, the tears slipped this time. “Because I wanted to punish someone for hurting me.”

“Who? Me?”

“Oh no.” She gave her head a swift shake. “Not you. Never you. It was… it was Joshua. Uh… the man we met at the store.”

“Oh.”

“Yes.” Lena raised her hand and wiped off the tears on one cheek. “I used to know him. We used to be… friends.”

“Like boyfriend and girlfriend?”

Of course he knew about that. They’d talked about it. A little.

“Yes, like that. We… he wanted to marry me.”

“But you married daddy.”

The light of understanding in his eyes broke her heart. “Yes, I married daddy.”

“So, what did he do wrong that made you lie to me?”

Lena dropped her hand. Clutched it around the bed cover. “I lied to him too. I started lying to him first before lying to you.”

“What is the lie, mum?”

His eyes seemed a little scared, a little confused, a little curious.

“Daddy… daddy who went to heaven, well, uh… he’s, uh, not your daddy.” She took his hand. It was immobile in hers. “I… I lied that he is your daddy. I lied to you that he is your daddy.”

“But why, mum?”

Tears were filling his eyes.

And Lena’s were blurring. “Because I didn’t know how to tell anyone I was pregnant after Joshua was gone and daddy and I were getting married.”

“I don’t understand, mum.” Asher whispered.

“Let me explain.”

She wiped off his tears and she told him everything.

“So, Joshua… he is your daddy. Your real daddy.”

“Oh, mum… what have you done?”

His eyes were shocked as they stared at her.

*-*

 

There was utter shock on his face as he gaped at her.

“Asher… the boy at the store is my son?”

Lena nodded.

“You were pregnant with my child and still you went ahead and married him?”

“My parents wanted me to marry him. They demanded I marry him. I had no choice.”

“You had the choice of telling me that you were pregnant with my child and not handing my child over to another man!” Joshua flung at her.

“Yes, I did. But you were gone by the time I knew and the wedding plans were well underway.”

“The wedding plans had always been there. I was the fool who didn’t know of it.” Joshua hissed. “You knew your parents were planning a marriage for you and you didn’t tell me. You pretended and lied to me, and then you took my son from me. My God! What kind of a heartless woman, are you, Lena?”

“I didn’t want to take your son away from you!” Lena yelled as the tears tumbled out. “I didn’t want to lie to you about anything. I wanted to tell you about the marriage they were planning for me. I wanted to tell you, but I fell in love with you and I was afraid I would lose you. I didn’t want to lose you.”

“You should have told me about my son. I deserved to know that, Lena.”

“I didn’t know before you left. I didn’t know then. I was hurt. You were having an affair with Bethany…”

“I wasn’t having an affair with her. She came up to me. She was the one kissing me, not the other way round when you saw us.” Joshua looked at her. His eyes were contemptuous. “I am not a cheat or a liar. I wasn’t cheating on you. I never lied to you. I loved you and I truly wanted to marry you. But you… you saw us and you started screaming how happy you were that you hadn’t made the mistake of putting all your eggs in one basket. You were perversely overjoyed to tell me that you were marrying someone else all along.”

“I wasn’t overjoyed. I was hurt. I was wounded. Heartbroken.” Lena was crying. “I saw you two… you and Bethany, and my world just ripped apart. I’d been fighting with my parents that I wouldn’t marry him and there you were kissing another woman.”

“I wasn’t kissing her. She was kissing me.”

“Oh well, I didn’t know that. All I saw were you two clasped in each other’s arms, lips smacked together. What else was I to think?” Lena swiped off her tears. “I said all I did that minute because I was so hurt. I didn’t mean any of it. Then you left Lagos and I found out I was pregnant. I was still hurt and angry and I didn’t know, not then, where you’d gone or how to reach you. So, I did the only thing I could think to do. The one thing I couldn’t avoid to do. I married him.”

Joshua stared at her.

More than a minute passed.

“Did you ever tell him the truth?”

Lena nodded. “Yes. After the first year. I told him and it broke his heart. But he loved Asher. He really did. He loved children. But we couldn’t have any together. Then the accident happened and he died when Asher was seven and… and I started to make inquiries about where you’d gone. I found out that you were in Minna and that you were married with children of your own. Then your wife died the next year and I started hoping… started praying that you would come back here.”

“But why didn’t you come to me? Why didn’t you contact me?”

“I was afraid that when I told you… you might not forgive me.”

A minute passed.

“Well, you are right. I don’t see how I can forgive you. You took eleven years of my son’s life from me. I don’t know if I can ever forgive you for that, Lena.”

Lena nodded, blinked and the tears slipped. She had been afraid of that.

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Read Previous Episodes: HERE

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Substance In Her Corpse and The Last Sacrifice by Esther Ugbaja coming on Christmas day. Let’s get prepared.