“Questions beget answers; answers we might not be prepared for.”
* * *
TUESDAY 13 DECEMBER, 2016.
KUFRE’S APARTMENT, UYO. LATE NIGHT.
* * *
“Stefan! My God, what are you doing here so late?” Kufre stepped back from her door to let him in. “I thought I was the one coming to PH on Thursday? And I’ve been calling you the last hour or so. You were going to call me after you were done with your dinner, remember?” She abruptly stopped talking and peered at him closely.
Stefan wondered what she saw—confusion, fatigue… fear?
He certainly felt all three, and worse. He could barely see her himself. He could barely make out her full curvy frame in the cotton purplish pink nightwear with its rows of centre-lined buttons.
“Darling, are you all right?” She reached for his right hand and pressed it with her own. “Did something happen? Is that why you drove down this night?”
“Kufre…” Stefan swallowed. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to say.
Why had he come here? When he’d stalked out of the restaurant, he hadn’t been thinking of— He hadn’t been thinking. Period. He had just gotten in his car and without thought, had started driving. Then he’d ended up in front of the house she lived… at Uyo.
“Stefan, what happened?” Her fingers curled around his and squeezed.
“I… I don’t know. I mean, nothing happened.”
Not thinking, Stefan drew her against him and pressed his arms around her, drawing in her warmth, breathing in her scent and leaning on her strength. He needed her—her strength, her warmth, her scent. Her, just her.
“Darling, you’re trembling.” She pushed her hands around him and rubbed his back. “It’s all right. Whatever it is, it’s going to be all right. We’ll deal with it together.”
Stefan breathed. He needed, wanted, to hear that. That was why he loved her. Why he had come to her. She was a giving person. She didn’t just take; she gave, and gave more than she took. She considered them a unit and so, whatever it was life presented, they faced together. He’d never once needed her and she wasn’t there for him.
“Kufre…” He breathed in her scent once more, held on to the soothing strength of it before pushing back from her. “I think I might not be who I think I am, Kufre.”
And standing right there, at the middle of her small living room, he told her everything.
“Oh my God!” Kufre gasped when he was done.
Then she pulled him to her couch and sat them down on it. Her hand still held his.
“Who is he?” She was staring at him in shock and confusion.
“I don’t know!” Stefan blurted. “He looked like me.” He inhaled and amended. “I looked like him. Completely like him. It was like staring into a mirror where an image of me in the future was reflected. I… he asked of mum.”
“But… why would he do that, ask after your mother?”
“Why do you think?”
She stared at him. Then her eyes widened and she gasped and began to shake her head. “No! That cannot be! You must not think that, Stefan. Mum… your mother, she’s not that kind of a woman. She’d never do… something like that. Not ever.”
His eyes blurred and Stefan blinked. “Then what is the explanation, Kufre? Why is there a man that I am his exact replica out there in Port Harcourt? Why?”
“I don’t know!” Kufre sprang off the couch. Then sat back on it as if she couldn’t bear to be away from his side. “I don’t know why you two look like. I don’t know, Stefan. But…” She pressed her hand back into his and looked deep in his eyes. “Mum, the woman I know, she wouldn’t do something like that. She would never betray your father. They are too devoted to one another. They have the best marriage I know.”
“They’ve been married forty-three years, Kufre. I am just thirty. She probably couldn’t take the waiting and so…” He blinked again. This time, a tear slipped. “I don’t want to believe this, Kufie. I don’t want this to be what happened. God, I wish I never knew! I wish I never met him. I wish he never contacted me.”
His voice broke and Kufre wrapped her arms about him, crying with him.
“Maybe he’s not your… he’s not who we are thinking he is. He doesn’t have to be. These kind of unearthly coincidences happen sometimes.” Kufre babbled as she rubbed her hands up and down his back. “Don’t they say that we all got a twin somewhere in the world. He, this man, he’s probably your twin in that way. Someone you just share an uncanny resemblance to. That’s all. That’s got to be all.”
“He contacted me, Kufie.” He was stronger, had better grip on his emotions to pull back from her. “He sent me same message twice—hidden truth are unspoken lies. He probably had an attack of conscience after thirty years. He said he is dying.”
“I wish he was dead already!” Kufre snapped.
Stefan didn’t rebuke her. Maybe because he wished the same, somewhere in his confused, distorted emotions.
“I want answers, Kufie.”
“No.” She shook her head.
“There are questions no. There will always be from now on.” Stefan knew there was no turning back now. “I need answers. I need to know the truth.”
“You know the truth, Stefan. Mum and dad are your parents. There’s no other truth.”
Stefan stared into her compassionate, beseeching eyes and wished that truth he once knew, he once believed in, was still the truth.
But he knew differently now.
WEDNESDAY 14 DECEMBER, 2016.
PARENTS’ HOME, UYO. MORNING.
* * *
“Stefan, but what a pleasant surprise!” Uduak Dikko-Jack gave him a quick warm hug before pulling him through the door. “Oh, you darling boy, you’re a crafty one with surprises, aren’t you?” She chuckled and patted the seat beside her on the couch she’d sat on. “I was just telling your father this morning after prayers that it would be nice if you came home for the weekend. He thought I shouldn’t start nagging you about that. Like I nag.” She clucked her tongue and rolled her eyes. “Anyway, looks like God is agreeing with me on this.”
“Is dad home?”
Stefan knew he wouldn’t be. He would be at his electronics repair store. He liked to still go in most mornings on weekdays, even though he’d stopped doing most of the work.
“He’s at the store, I should think.” His mother waved her hand and pushed to her feet. “I bet you’ve not had breakfast. It’s barely ten. I’ll go prepare you something. Effiong went to the market. We had potato fries and I could fry you up some.”
“I met him.”
“Hmm?” She stopped at the doorway and turned. “Met who, dear?”
Stefan stared at her.
She was a pretty woman. Even at sixty-five, she was still so pretty. Ample, curvy body, barely wrinkled dark bronze skin, dark brown eyes, long sloped-down nose and lower-lip-full mouth. Pretty. But he looked nothing like her.
She stumbled. Took a step back and just bumped against the door jamb. “What?”
Stefan’s heart sank.
It shocked him, that feeling of his heart slumping to… he didn’t know where it slumped to. Felt like it was to the pit of his stomach. He had woken up… well, he’d barely slept all through the night. He and Kufre. But this morning, while he waited for when his father would be out of the house before coming over, he’d started to hope that she wouldn’t know the name. That she would hear it and be… puzzled.
But she wasn’t puzzled. She was shocked.
“He contacted me.” His vision was becoming blurry, so he blinked. “He asked after you.”
“Oh my God!” She breathed the words and staggered forward. “Stefan…” her hands clutched his. Her soft palms were damp, and gripping. “He… I…”
Oh God, now his heart was breaking… shattering to pieces!
“Why, mum?” Her tears forced out his own. “Why?”
“I…” She blinked, shook her head. “What did he tell you?”
“-‘Hidden truths are unspoken lies’-”
“What?” She looked puzzled now, confused. “He said that?”
“He texted it to me.” He couldn’t bear her fingers gripping his, so he extricated his hand and stepped back. Two steps backward. “How could you do this, mum? He’s a priest.”
“Oh, he indeed ended up as one.” His mother grabbed the arm of a chair and sank into it. “He wasn’t when I met him.”
“Does that make it better?” Stefan was staring at her and reminding himself, repeatedly, that she was his mother… no matter what.
“No, it doesn’t make it better.” She lifted her eyes to his. They were watery with tears. “How did he find you? How did he know it was you?”
“We’re like two peas in a pod. I expect my face was his thirty years ago.” His throat felt parched, and it hurt. His heart, and other parts, hurt too. “I don’t know how he found me. It slipped my mind to ask.”
His dry sarcasm made her gasp.
There was so much pain in her eyes. So much confusion. Stefan wanted to drop beside her and gather her into his arms. He wanted to back away and be back at Port Harcourt, waiting for Kufre to come. He wanted to wipe out most of yesterday off the events that happened in his life.
But he couldn’t. He couldn’t change anything, and he needed to understand.
“Who is he, mum?” He knew. He wanted her to say it. And he wanted it to be a lie.
“He didn’t tell you?”
“I am asking you!” His voice rose and was sharp. “Who is Father Sixtus Ugochukwu.”
“Your biological father.”
A small cry leapt out of his mother as they both spun around.
Ken Dikko-Jack walked in. He looked a hundred years old, Stefan thought and his heart broke afresh.
He knew. They both knew. No one told him.
His father nodded. “I knew. I know. I too met him.”
“You… met him?” Stefan pressed his hand against his stomach. It was heaving, roiling, pushing nausea towards his throat. “You knew about him? You knew about him… and her?”
“Ken, he doesn’t have to know.” His mother was on her feet and hustling towards his father. “He doesn’t need all of this confusion and pain. He shouldn’t have gotten in touch with him.”
“But he did. I am guessing he did.” His father held her and comforted her. “He needs to know now, Uduak. I think he already knows. At least, he knows the most important fact, what is left is for us to tell him why we did what we did.”
“You were both in on it?” Stefan stared with horrified eyes at them. “You knew… and you let her do it?”
“It wasn’t a matter of letting her, son.” His father’s gruff voice was wrought with sorrow. And pain, Stefan realised. Deep-seated pain that was only for him. “It was the only thing we could do. There wasn’t another choice. If there was, I am not sure we would have taken it if that meant not having you.”
“So, you did this for me?” A tear slipped. Another followed. “Not for you. But for me.”
“No, it was for us too.” A shadow of a smile crossed his father’s face. “Once we saw you, we knew we had to have you. One look at you and you were ours. If millions had to be spent in making you ours, we were prepared to spend it.”
“Spend… what…” Stefan started trembling. He felt himself trembling, everywhere. “What do you mean spend it?”
“He wanted money and we wanted you.” His father said simply.
“Oh God! Oh God! She’s not my mother too?”
Stefan staggered forward. The couch caught his fall.