“First, revelations; then come resolutions.”
* * *
FRIDAY 16 DECEMBER, 2016.
KUFRE’S APARTMENT, UYO. MORNING.
* * *
“Senator Cornelia Pius-Mbata is your…” Kufre struggled for the right word and finally, sputtered. “’She’s the woman who gave birth to you?”
Stefan gave a nod. “She is. At least, so says the Priest.”
“I don’t believe this!” Kufre gaped in shock. “He… the Priest, he actually said she was?”
“Oh my God, this is unbelievable! It’s just unbelievable!” Kufre shook her head, like she was trying to grasp the veracity of what she was being told. “She is… But she is the chairperson, or whatever they are called, of the Senate Committee on Women Affairs! She’s beautiful, amazing—a conscientious woman. I… she’s always talking about the rights of women in the society and the rights of children—of every child. She doesn’t talk of the one without the other.”
She turned up her palms in a gesture of bewilderment. “She’s such an admirable personality; everyone admires her. I follow her on Twitter. She’s so active there—a voice of the African woman and of the African child. She’s got at least two hundred thousand plus followers.” A gleam, akin to disappointment, snuck beneath the shocked disbelief that widened her eyes. “She’s married to Oke Pius-Mbata, the multinational businessman. They have four children—two of both sexes. The perfect family.”
Now bitterness, or was it anger, Stefan wondered, creamed her low husky voice.
“Every now and again, she talks about the beautiful family,” Kufre crooked her fingers in quote sign, “God has blessed her with. Beautiful family. Heaven-blessed children, but no mention of the child… of the son she dumped with her lover more than thirty years ago before starting a whole new life. She’s a fraud!” Tears glistened in her eyes.
Tears of disappointment in a woman she’d once admired, Stefan suspected.
“She’s a hypocritical, lying-tongued politician fraud! She’s just like the rest of them in their band-wagon of dubious Nigerian Politicians—no integrity. No iota of honesty. Deceptive and… and despicable!”
“She can’t be all that bad if she inspired you enough to follow her Twitter account.” Stefan mildly countered.
“She’s is worse than bad and I am un-following her on Twitter!” Kufre snapped.
“Pity.” Stefan shrugged indifferently. “I want to meet her though.”
Kufre’s eyes popped. “What! Why?”
Stefan repeated the indifferent motion with his shoulders. “Because I want to.”
“Why?” Kufre demanded again.
Her expression was astonished and baffled. Stefan understood her. For Kufre, he had a mother, and a father, so he needed no other. And nothing else.
“I need to hear her story, Kufie. I need to hear her reason.”
“There can never be any justifiable reason for abandoning one’s child and never ever caring what happened to him… or her, Stefan.”
Stefan nodded in agreement. “I’m not looking to justify her actions. That is not for me to do. If there’s any justifications for what she, and Sixtus Ugochukwu, did, that is for God to decide, Kufie.”
“If you know that, then why do you want to meet her?” Kufre asked. “How about mum, huh? How do you think she would feel if she knows you’re going after the woman who tossed you out of her life like a piece of trash when she is right here? Right here for you, Stefan.”
“Mum is not going to know.” Stefan said quietly, not surprised at her quick scoff of derision. “I’m not going to tell her, Kufre. Ever. She is my mother. She’s all the mother I have and I need. Cornelia Pius-Mbata is not my mother.”
“Then you have no need to meet her!”
“Maybe I don’t have a need to. But I want to.” Stefan grasped her hand. “Kufie, what if this was you? What if you woke up one morning and found out you have a different mother and father from the ones you knew, won’t you at least want to meet them?”
“No, I wouldn’t! Not if they both gave me up and went on with their lives like I never existed.” Kufre stated, her chin poised defiantly.
“I won’t want to, Stefan.” She insisted. “I can never go after anyone who turned their back on me. And that is what they did, Stefan, turned their backs on you. I’m sorry, but that is who I am and you know me. Loyalty and love count before anything.”
Stefan nodded. She was right, he knew her. And indeed, if this was her story, she’d probably never spare the time of day for Sixtus Ugochukwu and for Cornelia Pius-Mbata.
“That is you, Kufie. But this is me.” He said. “This is not about questioning who my real mother is. I know who she is. No one can ever take the place of Uduak Dikko-Jack in my life. No one.” He squeezed her hand. “I need you with me on this. I need you by my side. You’re not just my wife-to-be, you’re my best friend and my backbone. Do this with me, Kufie.”
“Stefan…” Kufre stopped and sighed. “I don’t want mum hurt, Stefan, not in any way at all. She doesn’t deserve you hurting her. How do you think her mother’s heart would be feeling at this moment, hmm? She’d be worried sick and… and scared.”
Kufre and his mother were close; they’ve always been. Even while Kufre’s mother, who’d been his mother’s closest friend had been alive, they’d been close. It was their closeness that had rubbed off on him and drew him closer to her. So Stefan understood her reluctance to offer him her support in this matter as she usually readily did.
“This won’t hurt her, Kufie. I won’t allow it to.” Stefan promised. “I just need to do this and to put it behind me once and for all.”
“But Stefan, can’t you see that you can put it behind you even now?” Kufre asked, and then sighed. “I don’t understand why you think it’s important to meet her, but I want only one promise.”
“What is it?”
“Mum will never hear of this meeting.” Kufre steadily held his gaze. “We don’t ever get to tell her or worry her with it. She’s your mother and she doesn’t need to have the fear that you might be wishing for another mother someplace else, okay?”
Stefan nodded. “I already made you that promise, Kufie. Mum won’t know. This, I’m just doing to… to maybe satisfy some level of curiosity, that’s all.”
“Fine. So, how do we seek her out? I’ve never required to see a Senator before, so I’m clueless what to do.”
Stefan smiled at her sarcastic tone. “The Priest has already made the appointment. I had him do it. We’re taking this evening flight to Abuja and tomorrow morning, we’ll meet Cornelia Pius-Mbata at her home.”
“All planned out, I see.” Kufre sighed in impotent acquiescence. “I’ll go pack an overnight bag then.”
SATURDAY 17 DECEMBER, 2016.
PRIVATE HOME OF CORNELIA PIUS-MBATA, ASOKORO, ABUJA.
* * *
“You look so much like him. His spitting image.”
Stefan was not sure how he’d imagined the first reaction of meeting his birth mother, but a shocked expression on her face and those words weren’t exactly it. But he’d been right when he’d imagined her beautiful. It hadn’t, of course, been much of an imagination given that he’d seen, and has been seeing, photos of her over the years.
She was beautiful. A woman with a fair complexion that made you wonder if she did something to enhance it. She was tall; likely five-ten… or thereabouts. Then she was slim with rightly-proportioned feminine curves that should be found on a woman who’d never birthed a child let alone four… five.
“It shouldn’t be so surprising. Even as a baby, you were so like him.” She made a fluid gesture with her hand. “Please sit, won’t you?” Her smile, warm and pleasant, encompassed both him and Kufre.
They were in what Stefan supposed was her private study—a private home office. He sat on the rich leather armchair directly in front of the… must be pure dark oak polished desk, while Kufre sat on the other armchair.
“When Sixtus… it’s a little difficult adding ‘Father’ when he and I have not spoken in more than thirty years.” She broke off apologetically. “Anyway, I think a formal introduction is necessary. At least, to nudge us rightly into this meeting. I am Cornelia Pius-Mbata.”
“You forgot to add ‘Senator’.” Stefan said blandly, realising that his first impression was—no impression at all. He wasn’t impressed, not by her beauty and not by her polished manners. “I am Stefan Dikko-Jack. Truck driver and thirty year old son of Ken and Uduak Dikko-Jack.” His eyes locked with hers as he said this. Hers, only smiled. “And this is my fiancée, Kufre Edem.”
“Kufre, a lovely name.” She rested that dulcet smile on Kufre. “So, what do you do?”
There was a pause. Where Stefan imagined Kufre was struggling to prop up her good manners and not tell off the duplicitous Cornelia Pius-Mbata.
“I own a beauty parlour.” Kufre said finally, her voice stiff with a faint edge of dislike.
Stefan wondered if the Senator noticed the edge of dislike. Possibly not. It wouldn’t matter, not to any of them, if she did though, he realised.
“A beauty parlour, how nice.” Cornelia Pius-Mbata ticked up her smile to one of approval. “And what are you proficiencies? I mean, what services do you offer?”
“I know what proficiency means, ma’am. I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology.” Kufre too had ticked up her tone to rigid, and downright unfriendly, Stefan noted. “We specialise in hair treatments and styling, makeup and nail artistry and sometimes, on clients’ request, we offer body exfoliation services.”
“You must be doing well, then. I am always enamoured by women involved in skilled services. Not only do they have an earning power than will always come in handy, they most often possess a wealth of talent.” Cornelia Pius-Mbata beamed her smile as she inclined her head. “It’s a pleasure to have you both in my home.”
“Is it?” Stefan asked.
She looked at him. “Of course, it is. There have been times over the years when I’ve wondered. Now, I see you and I know I made the right decision.”
“You made the right decision by giving up your child?” Kufre sounded astounded.
“I made the right decision to give him life and to give him a fair chance in living that life.” Cornelia Pius-Mbata simply replied. “Meanwhile, may I offer you both anything?”
“Nothing, thank you.” Stefan declined for both of them.
“Very well.” She nodded her jet black full-waves coiffed hair and sat back on the elegant executive leather chair. “May I, then, inquire why you are here with your fiancée, Stefan Dikko-Jack?”
No, this was not at all what he had imagined. And Stefan still wasn’t certain what it was his imagination had dreamed this meeting would be. But this, all polite manners and business-like, suited him. And staring at her perfectly made-up face with the genteel smile, he realised that she wasn’t really duplicitous. This was who she was—a woman of poise and one not easily ruffled by unexpected events.
A woman with absolutely no interest in him. Not thirty years ago and still not today.
That too suited Stefan, he realised.
“I want your story. Just the story.” He added for clarification.
“My story.” She shifted her gaze to Kufre. Then returned it on him, half a minute later. “Sixtus did say that you were only after answers. I doubted it. But now,” she delicately moved her shoulders, “you’re saying that’s all you came for?” She leaned a little forward and slightly arched her eyebrows. “You do know I could give you more, right, Stefan?”
“You have nothing that I want… except a story.” Stefan replied evenly.
“Money?” Her smile weaved to cynical. “Maybe connections?”
Their eyes locked for a full minute.
Then she inclined her head, smiled and sat back again. “It is actually a short but an interesting story. I was very young. Sixtus, I think, was twenty-one then and I was not yet eighteen. But I was curious about sex and with Sixtus, I satisfied that curiosity, and then I wound up pregnant. Not something I foresaw. Or something Sixtus envisioned happening. Even in those days, and whilst he helplessly took my virginity, he talked about going to the Seminary and becoming a Catholic Priest.”
Her smile carried a faint note of mockery. Directed at herself and at Sixtus Ugochukwu, Stefan suspected.
“I went to my mother. I had very little choice in this because it was either seek her help or… nothing.” She let out a chuckle. “That was it, there was no other choice but to go to her. She was furious. I’d stupidly given myself to a nobody and was pregnant for same nobody.”
Her voice thrummed with that faint mockery. “She instantly decided on abortion. My father was never to know. I was prepping to start university in France.” The side of her mouth lifted slightly. “In those days, my mother had big dreams of me working in foreign affairs. And being wrongfully pregnant wasn’t allowed to stand in the way of that dream. So, it was abortion and I didn’t argue with her decision.”
“But while waiting for the doctor, I…” She lifted her shoulders and offered a fuller smile. “Call it an epiphany, if you like, but I had this moment of insight. It was a human being I was carrying inside of me and that human being had a right to life. So, I turned to my mother and told her I wasn’t aborting the baby.”
“Of course, she was furious. But she was also helpless to do anything else other than take me back home. Then she hatched another plan. I would go to Côte D’Ivoire for a year’s language study. That was what she told my father.” She chuckled. “But I didn’t go to study French language and I wasn’t exactly in the capital city of Abidjan. I, along with my pregnancy, was tucked away in a little backwater town. I did learn to speak French though, maybe faster than I would have inside the four walls of a school.”
She laughed now. A deep husky sound that enjoyed a secret memory. That was how Stefan read it.
“The plan, my mother’s plan, was to have the baby and leave it at the orphanage home where I was privately installed. But I had another epiphany and instead of leaving the child after my one month’s recuperation period, I took him with me and returned to Nigeria. And I sought Sixtus out, handed him his son and walked away.”
She paused. Looked at Kufre, then back at him and moved her mouth into a soft smile.
“Well, the rest would be that I did go to France. I did acquire degree after degree. I did pursue a successful career in the journalism industry. I did marry well and as they say, the rest is history. So,” she again moved her gaze from him to Kufre and back to him, “that is the story you wanted.”
They were all silent for, what Stefan considered, a very long moment.
“So, you walked away and no backward glance?” He broke the silence.
“You mean didn’t I care about the child I’d handed over to Sixtus?” Cornelia Pius-Mbata sat forward and smiled as she slowly shook her head. “No. I’d obeyed the dictates of my conscience and the child was the father’s to do as he pleased. There were moments of curiosity over the years.” She flicked a well-manicured hand. “But I never again, not deeply, thought of Sixtus, or of the child.”
The door hummed open.
“I’m sorry to intrude, mum.” A young lady, in her late teens likely, poked her head in. “I just wanted to let you know I’m leaving now. I’ll be home before six.”
“All right, darling. Have fun and be careful.” She waited until after the door closed again before she shifted her smiling eyes to them. “My youngest. She’s just turned eighteen.”
Just a little younger than I was when I started experimenting with sex and ended up pregnant with you, Stefan thought was the apt completion of that pointless statement.
His sister. A spitting image of… well, their mother. At least, the face she’d poked in was.
Would he have liked to know her? Know the other siblings?
Maybe. But now, it wasn’t a choice and he wasn’t troubled that it wasn’t.
“Sixtus told me he hired a detective to find you.”
Stefan looked at her. “He did. Unlike you, he had an attack of conscience.”
She laughed. “He always had more conscience than I did. I don’t see why he wanted to rustle still waters though. It looks like you had a good life with the family he provided you.”
“I prefer the term: ‘he sold me to’.” Stefan corrected. “But yes, I had, and still have a good life with my parents and the rest of the family.”
She inclined her head. “Good. So, what now?”
“Now, I go home with my fiancée and we forget that we have ever met.”
Something, like a shadow, flicked through her eyes. “I won’t forget. But I will put it away.” She honestly said. “So, it’s let’s sleeping dogs lie, right?”
“If the expression suits you.” Stefan indifferently shrugged.
“It is apt.” She said.
“What it is, is sad.” Kufre said, her tone angry. “Sad that a mother would give up her son without care and have a chance to meet him thirty years later and still not care. I want you to know I un-followed you on Twitter yesterday. I found I have nothing to learn from you.”
“An outspoken and passion-driven woman, I like you.” Cornelia Pius-Mbata smiled unperturbedly at Kufre. “I wish I did not have to lose your followership though. But one must conduct oneself according to the dictates of their conscience at any given time, not so?”
“My conscience obviously demands more from me than yours does from you.” Kufre retorted.
“Individuality. It exists in all things.” She turned to Stefan. “You seem unaffected by all of this unlike your fiancée apparently is.”
“She’s a woman, a mother-to-be one day, so she’s naturally more shocked by your actions.” Stefan shrugged. “I, on the other hand, am only very grateful to have been spared the trauma of growing up with two very self-centred individuals.” He stood up, held out his hand for Kufre’s. “Thank you for an honest story, ma’am.”
“You truly want nothing then?” Her eyes searched his. “I could make a little difference in your state of life.”
He felt Kufre’s fingers tighten around his own. “I have all that I need and want, ma’am. There is nothing you can give me.”
“A man of unflinching integrity. Your parents raised you well.”
“That they did.”
“Stefan.” She said the name, not call it. “Who gave you your name?”
“My father. Ken Dikko-Jack.”
“A strong name. I like it.” Cornelia Pius-Mbata smiled.
“Good bye, ma’am.” Stefan said, turning with Kufre.
“Good bye, Stefan.”
Inside the cab driving them to the airport, Kufre asked. “Are we done?”
“Not yet.” Stefan said. “I have to see Sixtus Ugochukwu one last time.”
SATURDAY 17 DECEMBER, 2016.
BEST BITE RESTAURANT, GRA, PORT HARCOURT. LATE AFTERNOON.
* * *
“Again, I never expected I’d be seeing you in this life.” Sixtus Ugochukwu said.
“Not to worry, this would be the last time.” Stefan returned in an equally calm tone. “This is my fiancée, Kufre Edem. Kufie, Reverend Father Sixtus Ugochukwu.”
“Gosh, how alike you two are!” Kufre gasped the words. Then swiftly added. “I mean, physically only, of course.”
“Of course.” Sixtus Ugochukwu smiled mildly. “Nice to meet you all the same.”
“Just to clarify, this is not a biological-father-meets-prospective-daughter-in-law encounter.” Stefan said. “Kufre is only here as my moral support and because I would never hide anything from her.”
Sixtus Ugochukwu inclined his head. “I quite understand. So, what did you think of her? I hope I can ask that?”
“You’ve asked.” Stefan shrugged. “She’s a self-centred woman who’s been living a lie, as far as her family is concerned, for thirty years and who plans on doing so forever.”
“I guess that equates her and me.”
“No. She said you always had more conscience than she did, and I think she was right.”
“Oh.” Sixtus Ugochukwu seemed momentarily loss of words. Then he asked. “What now?”
“Funny that she asked same question.” One may have more conscience than the other but at the bottom-line, they were both two selfish people. “You’re a Priest and have no need for a son. I am a man with a father and a mother, and so have no need for another parent. Therefore, this should be goodbye between us. You have assuaged your troubling conscience by letting me know the truth and now, we can all go back to our lives. Do you consider that fair, Father Sixtus?”
“I do indeed, Stefan.” He said after a short silence and smiled. “Thank you. I think that you are a great man. Definitely, a better person than Cornelia and I.”
“I agree.” Stefan reached for Kufre’s hand and stood up with her. “I’m a little confused what to wish you now, given that you’re a dying man.”
“You can wish me a happy death.” He smiled. “I am Catholic, we constantly pray for that and are not fazed by such a wish.”
“Very well. I wish you a happy death, Father Sixtus, when that time comes.” Stefan impulsively held out his hand. “Good bye, sir.”
“Good bye, Stefan.” Sixtus Ugochukwu firmly shook his hand. “God bless you.” Then he turned to Kufre. “God bless you too.”
Kufre nodded and offered a smile. “Amen.”
Inside his car, Stefan cast her a teasing glance. “You smiled at Sixtus Ugochukwu when you would not at Cornelia Pius-Mbata, isn’t that sparing the rod for one and batting it hard on the other?”
“Father Sixtus Ugochukwu tried, in a very negligent way, to ask your forgiveness, thus acknowledging that he erred. Senator Cornelia Pius-Mbata considers that she never erred and is justified in her actions. Still, both of them are self-centred slobs and you’re better off without them.” She slipped her hand into his. “Are we done now?”
Stefan curled his fingers around her own and squeezed. “Oh yes, we are. Let’s go home.”
SATURDAY 17 DECEMBER, 2016.
PARENTS’ HOME, UYO. EVENING.
* * *
“Stefan! Kufre! What a beautiful surprise!” His mother, Uduak Dikko-Jack hugged both of them and pulled them into the living room with her. “I have been so worried about the both of you.” She looked at her son. “Are you all right?”
Stefan bent and gave her a peck on the cheek, then hugged her close. “I love you, mum. You’re the best mother there is. And yes, I am perfectly all right and I am home.”
“Oh Stefan!” Overwhelmed, his mother once again embraced him. “I am so happy to hear that. So, no more Port Harcourt?”
“No more Port Harcourt. I’ve called in my resignation at Long Haul. They are sad to see me go so soon.” Stefan grinned. “But I am a man looking to start his own logistics service company, so… I am back home to pull resources together with my family and to begin earnest plans for my wedding. Can’t wait no longer to marry this amazing woman here.”
“Oh, dear boy, but that is such amazing news!” His mother hugged him once more. And then, Kufre. Then she announced excitedly. “We should celebrate. I’ll go into the kitchen and ask Effiong to start preparing something better than pottage yam. Thank God we have chicken in the freezer and two bottles of wine your father brought home this morning. It’s going to be a feast this night.”
“I’ll come with you, mum. We’ll help Effiong prepare the food.” Kufre said and slipped her arms about her, both of them chatting and laughing as they went in the direction of the kitchen.
“You have made your mother very happy.” His father, Ken Dikko-Jack said, smiling at him. “She’s been worried since you left here Wednesday.”
“She shouldn’t have worried, dad. Neither should you have.” Stefan said. “You’re both my parents—the only parents I have. I know no other and I want no other.”
“I am happy to hear you say that, Stefan.” His father sat, motioned for him to do the same and then, asked in a low tone. “Who is she?”
He’d known his father would ask. He’d known he would tell him the truth.
“Cornelia Pius-Mbata. And I never again want to speak her name.” Stefan held his father’s gaze. “You and mum, and Kufre are all the family I need. With you all, I have more than I could ever ask for.”
“I am proud of you, son.” Ken Dikko-Jack said and smiled.
“Thank you, dad.” Stefan nodded and returned the affectionate smile.