The horror in another’s eyes had a way of making you more terrified. Isioma realised that as the fear inside her mounted and threatened to choke her.
“What do you means he thinks Dinma is his daughter?” Uche asked again as if she’d thought her exclamation hadn’t been understood.
“He saw them at ShopRite and…”
“Saw them who?” Uche cut in.
“Chiedu and Dinma. On Saturday, he saw both of them at ShopRite and Chiedu said Awele…”
“Chiedu knows Awele? They both know each other?”
“Uche, please let me talk. I…” Isioma shook her head, blinked back tears. “They don’t know each other. How can they? It’s only that the way he’d stared at Dinma upon seeing her prompted Chiedu to ask if something was wrong. He told him Dinma reminded him of someone.”
“Reminded him of… who? And why would she even remind him of anyone? Dinma doesn’t look like you. She doesn’t look…” Uche stopped as her eyes widened. “Isioma, why would Dinma remind Awele of anyone?”
“I… he said, when he came to my office today…”
“He was at your office today? You’re seeing him again?”
“I’m not seeing him, Uche. I wasn’t even seeing him before. He only came… Look, he came last week Tuesday to see me; said he wanted to say hello. I told him there and then to go and never return. But after seeing Dinma at ShopRite on Saturday, he returned today and said she looked like his sister.” Isioma breathed and tried to stop the rise of panic. “Uche, he thinks Dinma might be his and he might be right.”
“Chi’m oh! Isioma, what is this nonsense you’re saying? That… that…” Uche shook her head. “God forbid bad thing! Are you saying you foisted another man’s child on your husband?”
“I didn’t. I don’t know. I didn’t mean to.” Isioma crying again. “I only thought I conceived early; during our honeymoon. I wanted to believe that was it. It was easier to… But it’s been haunting me. I’ve been having nightmares of Chiedu throwing me and Dinma out. Uche,” she grasped her sister’s hand. “Uche, tell me I’m wrong. Tell me I couldn’t have conceived Awele’s child from mistakenly sleeping with him once. Tell me Dinma is Chiedu’s daughter. Only his, not Awele’s.”
“It’s been haunting you? You’ve been suspecting this possibility and you did nothing, Isioma?”
“But what would I have done? Uche, what should I do?”
“What would you have done? What about not having sex with another man two days before your wedding? How about not suspecting you’re carrying another man’s child and letting your husband believe it’s his?”
“Uche!” Her questions shamed and condemned Isioma.
“Isioma, what is this thing you have done? What is this mess you have made?” Tears filled Uche’s eyes and spilled. “What are we going to do? Where are we going to begin to explain it?”
“I will have to tell Chiedu, won’t I?” Her worst nightmare. Her biggest fear. “I’ve been lying to him, haven’t I? I slept with someone and didn’t tell him and Dinma… Dinma might not be his child. I will have to tell him, to confess it all. Then… then he will hate me. He won’t forgive me. He hates lies.”
“Everyone hates lies, Isioma. Even though we all tell lies, we hate being victims of them.” Uche said. “But I don’t think you should tell Chiedu, at least not yet.”
“But Awele is suspicious and if I don’t tell him…”
“I said, not yet. I think you should be certain whose child Dinma is before you tell Chiedu anything. You should do a paternity DNA test, using Chiedu and Dinma’s samples.”
“You ask me not to tell him and yet suggest I carry out a DNA test on both of them. How then will I get this test done without Chiedu’s knowledge?”
“Don’t be stupid, Isioma!” Uche reproved. “Of course you don’t need Chiedu to know or his consent before you get his samples for a DNA test. All you need is strands of his hair or nail clippings, and the same for Dinma.”
“There is no place for but here, Isioma. You’ve made this made and we have to handle it as cautiously as possible. If Chiedu is Dinma’s biological father, then there will be no need confess anything.”
“So you’re saying that I shouldn’t tell him about what happened between Awele and I?”
There was a moment of silence before Uche said. “In all honesty, Isioma, I am not only shocked by what you did but also very disappointed. But there are some things that are best left buried in the past.”
“And if after the test, we find out it’s Awele who’s the biological father, then what?”
“Then we are in trouble.” Uche looked in her eyes. “You are in trouble.”
Isioma’s heart sank as she realised that it won’t just be her in trouble, but also her innocent daughter. She shared such a bond with Chiedu and would be heartbroken.
And Chiedu, he too would be shocked, disappointed and heartbroken.
Since Uche had a solid connection at a DNA testing centre in Lagos, they sent nail clippings of Chiedu and Dinma, Isioma insisted on adding hair samples too, via courier service to the centre.
While she waited in utter fear for the result, Awele returned again to hound her.
“You might not want to see me or even want to hear this, but I think we need to do a paternity test.” He said.
“How dare you come in here and say that to me?” Oh God, how she rued the day she’d made that mistake with him! “What gives you the right to insult me in this way?”
“I am sorry if you’re insulted, Isioma, for that is not my intention. But I need to know for certain if Chidinma is mine or not.”
“I am telling you she’s not yours.”
“Is that the truth, Isioma, or a lie you’re desperate to hold on to?”
She gasped. “How dare you? Get out of here now. I want nothing to do with you and my daughter will certainly not have anything to do with you.”
“If she is mine, she will certainly have a lot to do with me. I intend to make sure of that. And if you’re not amenable to the idea of a paternity test, then we will have to bring your husband into this.” He paused and his expression turned rueful. “It’s likely he would be brought into it anyhow.”
“Are you threatening me, Awele?”
“Why would you consider this a threat, Isioma?” He asked quietly. “You think I’ve come here to disrupt your life? You think I want to do anything to harm your marriage or family? Isioma, I understand we made a mistake that evening seven years ago. What we did, we should not have done, and I have always regretted it. I know you regret it too and wish you can undo it. I know you’re scared and frankly, I don’t want to do anything to make you even more so.”
“Then don’t. Go away. Go back to the UK. You’re still based there, are you not? Go back home and forget me. Forget all of this.”
“But, Isioma, I can’t do that.”
“Yes, you can.” Desperate, she pleaded. “I am begging you to go, to forget all this and move on with your life. I am no longer available. I am married to another man, let me be happy with him and my family.”
“I am not after you, Isioma. I am not after ruining your home but if Chidinma is mine…”
“She is not. She can’t be.” She swept around her desk, lowered on her knees before him. “Awele, please go. I made a mistake. You said it, we both made a mistake. Let’s not make another mistake by ruining a little girl’s life. Let’s not ruin her joy, her happiness. She and Chiedu share such a close bond. He’s not just her father, he’s her hero, her superstar, her number one cheerleader. He’s her best friend, her confidante… her everything. I… we can’t take that away from her.”
“Then you know she’s my daughter?”
The shock in his eyes jolted her, pushed her back on her feet. “No, I don’t know. Frankly, I don’t know. I… maybe there’s a possibility but I don’t want it to be so. I don’t want you to be her father. You’re not her father, Chiedu is. He’s always been.”
“He might be the father she knows, but I am her real father; her biological father. You and I know that, Isioma.”
She rejected the idea. Hated hearing it from him. “No, we don’t know that. I don’t know that.”
“Then let’s have a DNA test tell us who is.” He grasped her hand. “I deserve to know if she’s mine, so I want a DNA test done.”
“I’m telling you she’s not yours and she never will be.” She tugged her hand out of his. “I don’t care what any test will say, the only father I will forever recognise for my children is my husband, Chiedu Igwebuike. Only him. He is Dinma’s father as well as my son, Chikanso’s father.”
“Isioma, I won’t allow you deny me access to a child that’s mine. I won’t allow it.” Awele said. “It’s either we do this paternity test privately or I go to your husband and involve him.”
There was such seriousness in his eyes that Isioma’s heart sank. “Awele, please don’t make my daughter pay for a mistake we both made. Please, I beg you.”
“Isioma… my God! Why do you think I will not make a good father for her too? Why do you think I cannot be all that your husband is to her if she’s my daughter?”
“I don’t know if you can or if you cannot but I don’t just want to disrupt her life.”
“Her life or your life?”
Her tears slipped. “Both. I freely admit it, I am afraid to ruin my life, my home and my happiness. I am afraid both for myself and my daughter. I am even afraid for my son and my husband. I don’t want anyone to get hurt because of what I did. I don’t want to mess up our lives.”
“So, what do you want to do, continue to deceive your husband where there’s a possibility Dinma is not his?”
“If he thinks her his child and acts like he is her father, then where is the deception?”
“Isioma…” Awele gave his head a shake. “I understand you’re avoiding ruining your life and your home, but I deserve to know my daughter if she’s mine. We have to do a DNA test. We must.”
“And if she is yours, then what, Awele?” She hated to ask, but needed to know.
“Then I must meet her.”