Someone was shaking her, calling her name in an urgent tone. Isioma snapped out of sleep and stared into Chiedu’s worried eyes.
“Babe, what is it?” He asked.
“What… what do you mean?” She shifted, let his hands slip off her shoulders as she sat up.
“You were crying out in your sleep. You are crying.” He touched her cheek and Isioma realised it was wet. “You were calling my name, pleading with me. Babe, what were you dreaming about?”
“Dreaming?” She recalled it. He had found out Dinma wasn’t his and was intent on throwing both of them out of the house. He’d called her a liar, a cheat and wouldn’t even look at her. Or Dinma. “It wasn’t a dream. It was a nightmare. A horrible one.”
“A horrible nightmare? And I was in it? But what was it about?”
She couldn’t tell him. No, she couldn’t tell him. “I can’t remember now. It’s all muddled.”
“You can’t remember a nightmare that made you cry out my name and repeatedly say, ‘please, forgive me’?”
“That was what I was saying?”
“Repeatedly.” He was watching her closely, his eyes not only worried now, but also suspicious. “How can you not remember a nightmare like that, Isioma? You’re sweating. There are tears on your cheeks. Surely you must remember what made you cry.”
“I don’t. I’m trying to, but I can’t.”
There was a short silence, and then he said. “What is going on with you, babe? Why would you require my forgiveness?”
“I require your forgiveness?” Dear God, he was going to hate her! If he knew, he would hate her and throw her out. “I think it was just a bad dream. You know how nightmares are, you feel like something is after you when in reality you’re on your bed, safe and unharmed.”
“Isioma, is there something you’re hiding from me?”
“My goodness, Chiedu, why would you ask me something like that?”
“I ask because you’ve not been yourself lately. You’re always distracted, you don’t sleep well and this is not your first nightmare.” He peered at her, as if trying to find an answer on her face. “Isioma, it’s clear there’s something bothering you. And if you are calling out my name, then that thing has to do with me. So, tell me what is it.”
She opened her mouth, but as if he sensed her denial, he added. “Please, don’t lie to me. You know I can’t stand lies.”
“I wasn’t going to lie to you. How can you say that?” She turned away and used the edge of her wrapper to wipe her damp forehead. “It was only a bad dream, Chiedu, nothing more. I don’t know why I can’t remember clearly what it was about. But it can’t be important if I don’t recall it. That’s what they say, isn’t it, a dream you can’t recall isn’t important.”
It took him a full minute before he said. “I don’t know what is it you’re reluctant to tell me or why you won’t tell me. But I hope you know it’s better to say a thing than to keep it hidden as every hidden truth eventually becomes known.”
“Chiedu, what are you implying by that statement?”
“I need a drink of water.” He pushed out of the bed and strode towards the door.
Isioma watched him as he stalked out of their bedroom before closing her eyes tightly and forcing back the tears that threatened to slip through them. He was angry because he knew she wasn’t telling him something. Lies, she was buried neck-deep in them and they were desperate to drown her.
“Uche, I’ve ruined my life. Chiedu is becoming suspicious of my numerous nightmares and he is convinced I’m hiding something from him. Actually, he thinks I’m lying to him. Which I am.” She added with a fleeting sad smile.
“Awele, on the other hand, has forced me into promising to tell him the result of the paternity test once I get it. I had to tell him I was having a DNA test done because he threatened to involve Chiedu if I didn’t agree to having one done. My life’s such a big mess and I don’t know what I’m going to do, Uche. I don’t know.”
“Stanley said we will be getting the result via email in three days. So, I think we should wait until then before worrying about what we’re going to do.” Uche said.
“But what if…”
“There’s no place for speculations here, Isioma.” Uche cut in. “When we have the result, we will know what next to do.”
She looked at her sister and realised she’d not only disappointed her, but placed a great burden on her.
“Uche, I’m sorry I’ve disappointed you. I’m sorry I let this happen.”
“Don’t let’s worry about that right now. We’ll wait for the result and take it from there.”
Isioma nodded and said nothing more. But if the result turned out her worst nightmare, what was she going to do?
Her fingers shook violently against the phone as her eyes stared almost blindly at the downloaded test result.
“I can’t do it.” She held out the phone to Uche. “You read it.”
“Isioma, the result is for you, so you should read it.”
“I can’t, Uche. I’m staring at it, yet the words seem blurred.” She blinked and felt a tear on her cheek. “Just read the interpretation as I don’t think we need to bother with the test details.”
Uche hesitated before taking the phone.
“Uche.” Isioma prompted when she didn’t say anything.
“Isioma, it says here: ‘the alleged father is excluded as the biological father of the tested child.’ That means that Chiedu is…”
“…not Dinma’s biological father.” Isioma completed as another tear wet her cheek. “Awele is her father.”
“Yes, he’s obviously her father since she’s not Chiedu’s. So now, we have to decide how we are going to handle this.”
How were they going to handle it?
Isioma held out her hand. “Let me have my phone, Uche. I need to see Awele.”
“What? But why?”
“I promised to tell him the truth about the result and I mean to keep that promise.” She took the phone out of her sister’s hand. “I also need to talk to him.”
“Isioma, I think it’s Chiedu you should be thinking of talking to, not Awele.”
“Yes, but what I tell him will depend on the outcome of my conversation with Awele.”
“Isioma, don’t try to complicate this further. What we should be doing is…”
“It’s gone beyond complicated, Uche. I just want to see if I can salvage the situation.”
“So, she is mine?” There was wonder in Awele’s voice.
“Yes, biologically she is yours, but in every other way, she is Chiedu’s daughter.” Isioma said.
“I can’t believe it. I mean I’ve been thinking about it all these days and considering the possibility. But now, it feels surreal that I have a daughter. I am a father.”
“Like I said, only biologically.” She would beg him to leave it at that. “Awele, I am not going to beat about the bush why I requested us to meet. You see, apart from wanting to tell you the truth about the result of the test, I also have a big favour to ask of you.”
“Isioma, if what you are going to ask is what I think it is, then you shouldn’t.” Awele said quietly.
If they weren’t at a corner table inside a restaurant, Isioma would have stooped on her knees before him.
“I can’t help but ask it, Awele. See, I’m a desperate woman. A scared wife and a confused mother. I swear to you, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what is right or wrong here, I only want what is best for my daughter; for my family.”
“Forget her, Awele. If you hadn’t seen her, you would never have known about her. Go back to the UK. Get married to someone. Have your own children. Please, please, don’t let’s disrupt Chidinma’s life. Chiedu is her father. Chiedu is all the father she needs in her life.”
“What? Isioma, how can you even ask this of me?” Awele looked shocked. “Do you know the gravity of what you’re asking? I should forget I have a daughter? I should pretend like I never found out a six year old girl is my daughter? You’re asking me to go away and forget her. But Isioma, how can I do that? How do you want me to do that?”
“I know it’s cruel of me to ask this of you, Awele, but Dinma already has a father. Look, I promise you, Chiedu is an amazing father to her.”
“And I can be just as amazing a father to her too. I want to be an amazing father to her. My goodness, are you even thinking straight? Isioma, I can’t pretend like she doesn’t exist after knowing that she does. Besides, what about your husband, doesn’t he deserve to know the truth?”
“I guess he does, but I can’t tell him. Awele, you know I didn’t plan for this to happen. It was a mistake; my mistake and yours.” Tears slid down her cheeks. “I love my husband. I love my children. I… this, something like this, will destroy our home. You’re a man. You know this is unforgivable. Chiedu won’t forgive me.”
“You can’t be certain if he will or not until you tell him, Isioma.” Awele said, his voice gentle, his eyes compassionate. “I wish we didn’t make that mistake. I don’t want to ruin your home or break up your family. But Chidinma is my daughter and I need to know her. I cannot turn my back on my child. I never will do that.”
“It is finished then.” Isioma said and stood up to leave.
“What are you doing?”
She spun around and found Chiedu at the door of their bedroom, staring at her with a puzzled frown on his face.
“What’s with the suitcases? Where are you going?”
Isioma turned, put the cloth in her hand into the suitcase and started to lock it. “I’m going away. I’m leaving before you throw me out.”
“Throw you out?” He walked slowly to her. “What do you mean by that?”
She couldn’t look at him. She was too ashamed, too scared to do so. “I’m sorry, Chiedu. I’m truly very sorry. I wish I can undo this but I can’t, so I will just go and I will take Dinma with me.”
“You will take Dinma with you?” He shoved aside the suitcase she tried to reach for. “What is this nonsense you’re saying, Isioma? Tell me right now what is going on?”
It was over. It was finished. There was no hiding the truth anymore. There was no running from it any longer.
“I am sorry. I swear to God, I never meant to do it. It was a mistake…”
“What was a mistake, Isioma?”
“I… I am very sorry, Chiedu, but I… I slept with someone two days before our wedding.”
“You did what?”
His utter shock let loose her dam of tears.