Another nightmare and in this one, Chiedu threw not just her out of the house, but also Dinma. She was on her knees, crying, begging him to forgive her. But he wasn’t listening and yelled that he never wanted to see either of them again before turning his back to them.
That act, him turning his back to them, had terrified her most. It had been so final, like an end that could never be changed. Her heart palpitated as Isioma rose from the bed, tiptoeing out of the bedroom as she had no wish to rouse Chiedu who was still asleep.
In the living room, she cast a glance at the wall clock. It was five thirty-five, twenty-five minutes before her usual rising time. She lowered into an armchair and thought about the nightmares. She called them nightmares because they frightened and filled her with unspeakable fear. She was starting to lose count of how many she’s had in the last three months. All she knew was that it was becoming more frequent. She’s had one every other day this week.
What was she going to do?
The words which spoke themselves quietly in her heart startled Isioma so that she jolted and pressed her hand against her neck. It didn’t surprise her to feel it slightly trembling. She couldn’t tell him. And what would she tell him even if she wanted to, that she wasn’t sure if their daughter was his?
But what if Dinma was his?
It was possible, wasn’t it? She could be his. A first daughter didn’t always look like her father even if it happened often. And a child didn’t have to look like either of her parents. Sometimes too, a child could look like an outsider, a case of doppelganger.
That was possible, wasn’t it?
Her heart, in its quiet voice, told her that she was lying to herself. She had doubts, had always had them, and each new day her doubts grew stronger. What would she do if she ever knew for certain that Chiedu wasn’t Dinma’s biological father?
Did she even want to know?
Squeezing her eyes shut, she tried to pray. But no words of prayer formed in her heart and none slipped through her lips. Fear, confusion and guilt instead tortured her. Why had she allowed this to happen to her?
Her eyes flew open and she jerked around. “Chiedu!”
She hadn’t heard him leave the bedroom and now, he approached her with a worried expression.
“Are you all right?” He asked.
“But of course, I am.”
“Are you sure, babe?” He crouched beside her. “You have tears on your face.”
“I do?” She touched her cheek, felt the wetness. “I didn’t even know they were there. It’s the migraine. I had a bad dream and woke up with a pounding headache.”
There was doubt in his eyes, so she rubbed her fingers against her temple. “Yes. I think I’ve been working too hard lately. Anyway, how come you’re awake? Did I disturb your sleep as I left the bedroom? I tried to be quiet.”
“You were quiet. I woke up to ease myself, found you gone and came out to see what you were up to.” He caressed her chin, then rose, reached for her hand and pulled her up. “You should take some medications and maybe go back to bed for an hour or so.”
“And who will handle breakfast if I go back to bed?”
“What’s wrong with me handling it?”
“Nothing, except that you handle the kids bathing and dressing up and that is time-consuming enough as it is.” She gave his hand a squeeze before letting go. “Don’t worry. I’ll take some painkillers and give myself five to ten minutes for the drugs to set, then get into the kitchen.”
“Are you sure you can do it?”
“Definite.” She gave a smile to reassure him.
“Fine. I will go straighten out the bedroom then and have my own bath before waking up the kids.”
Her heart pounded with worry as she watched him walk away. He was so good to her, so thoughtful and caring. How was she ever going to tell him? Did she have to?
“Do you have any homework?”
“Yes, Mummy. One is spelling and the other is addition. But I will wait for Daddy and we will do it together.”
She was six and in primary one and had from the very first day she started school made her daddy her home teacher. Only him assisted her with her homeworks, except on the few occasions he travelled out of town. They were so close, they had always been. He was her hero, her super daddy, the one who loved her so much and gave her everything.
Did she want to take that from her little girl?
Would she ever forgive herself if her mistake cost her daughter her daddy?
“Mummy, you’re not looking at what you’re doing. See.”
She looked down at the childlike reproof and found that she was pushing Chikanso’s book into Dinma’s school bag. And the bag wasn’t even open.
“Sorry.” She nudged aside the bag and reached for Chikanso’s.
“What are you thinking about, Mummy, that you weren’t looking at what you were doing?”
Her daddy’s special reproof for her whenever she was absent-minded.
“Mummy, I want my juice.” Chikanso whined beside his sister.
“He didn’t finish his juice in school.” Ever energetic, always helpful like her daddy, she opened Chikanso’s lunch box for the bottled juice. “I will bring his cup and pour it for him.”
“Thank you. You can have a cup too if you want as I am going to finish preparing dinner.”
No. No, she couldn’t do this to her daughter. She couldn’t snatch the life she knew from her. She couldn’t take her daddy from her. And maybe, maybe she didn’t have to. Maybe her fears were unfounded.
But the nightmares?
She heard the squeal of laughter, jolted and was shocked to find herself in front of the pantry door.
What was she doing there? She didn’t need anything from inside there. She already had their dinner cooking on low fire on the gas cooker.
Disturbed that she’d been once again absent-minded, she rubbed a hand down her chest and tried to calm herself. She probably was worrying over nothing. She didn’t know anything for sure, no one did, and it should stay that way.
“Time for bed, princess.”
“But I’m not sleepy yet, Daddy.”
“You’re not? Why then are your eyes fluttering like butterflies?” He swept her up from the sofa, cradling her in his arms. “It’s bed time, little lady, and no excuses.” To her, he said. “Bring along that sleeping mister. His eyes dare not see nighttime before they blink close.”
“My eyes can see nighttime and still stay awake, Daddy.” Dinma said with pride.
“And that is because you are exactly like your daddy, agile and full of energy.” Chiedu retorted, his voice full of laughter.
Dinma was like him, wasn’t she? Not in looks, but in behavioural traits and mannerisms. Those could be innate, couldn’t they, traits inherited because he was her father?
“I’ll set him down and finish settling them in.” He slipped Chikanso from her arms and lowered him beside Dinma on the bed.
He was their father, not just Chikanso’s, but both of theirs. He had to be.
Noticing the curious way he glanced at her, she turned and stepped out of the bedroom.