Growth in Dark Times

Change is constant, so they say. I’ve been taught to expect change and to evolve as a person, but there are some changes in my life that I wish should not have happened.

Tomiwa Hillary Dideolu

CANCER

Staring intently at the can of milk in front of her, Tomiwa never thought she’d be at this point in life. Her mother was dead. She had lived her whole life trying to make her mom proud, and she had been, Tomiwa thought with a rueful smile. She could sing, dance, and play the violin and keyboard very well. She even learnt ballet to an extent, which made her feet hurt so badly. God, why did my mom have to die now? This was something that happened to other people, not her. She pressed her fingers to her eyes to keep the tears from flowing down her face.

Hello?? You’re in my way, this is not a place to start thinking abeg. A woman’s voice broke through her thoughts. You do realise you’re in a supermarket, right? Tomiwa turned to see a woman holding a little boy by the hand. Yes, I’m sorry for standing in your way, Tomiwa said and walked away. 

As she drove back home, she thought about how her mother had lived her life. Her mother was someone who had always gone for what she wanted, even with the disapproval of her father. She remembered when she always wrote her full name as Dideolu Iretomiwa Hillary, her mother, had flared up, saying Tomiwa wanted to hide her Igbo maternal roots and insisted she replace Hillary with Ogechi. Looking around the streets of Lagos as she drove by, she compared it to Ilorin, where she went to school, where about 70 per cent of women were clad in hijabs and burkas. 

Growing up in a polygamous home has its pros and cons. Her father, who is a Muslim, had married two wives before her mom, and when she was little, she wondered why her mom embraced polygamy. Her father’s first wife had two daughters, Tope and Tinuade. Tomiwa wasn’t that close to them as she was with the second wife’s twin boys, Kayode and Opeyemi. Kayode gave Tomiwa her first ‘shakomended’ glasses. Glasses that look like the ones given to patients at the hospital but are bought from traders. Young people often wear them as a fashion statement and to make others wonder if they have a problem with their eyesight.

Her father was so meticulous that he had only two children with each wife. She remembered him taking them to amusement parks, beaches and fun centres. When he landed a deal with the Governor of Lagos State, back when Tomiwa was 10, he took the whole family to Disneyland. That alone was one of the best moments of Tomiwa’s childhood. Her elder brother always said that the family was like a volcano that had little time before eruption, but Tobi has always been pessimistic anyway.

As she got home, the gateman welcomed her, saying that her siblings had asked about her whereabouts. Since when did everyone care about what she did? Tomiwa thought, “Well, the death of a family member sure brings the family closer.

Doctorrrrrrrrrrrr! Someone shouted from the house. Tomiwa recognised that voice anywhere; it was Kayode.

 Kayflex!!! Tomiwa shouted back, running to hug him. I’ve missed you so much.

 Well, that’s what happens when you choose to study Medicine far from home, Kayode replied.

My mom has passed on Kayode. Cancer took my mom from me, Tomiwa said, crying. She was surprised that tears were running down her cheeks. She thought she had cried all that she could in the past few days. 

This, too, will pass, Kayode said.

If anyone else had said this, even Tobi, Tomiwa would have resented the person immediately, but this felt so reassuring coming from Kayode.

Everyone, please come in!!! Kayode’s mom shouted from the living room, Tomiwa saw her dad, and she tried to look for signs of grief. To her disappointment, she didn’t see any, and, in fact, her dad looked very good in her eyes, and she hated him for it. This is so not fair, she thought.

Iretomiwa, how are you? Her dad asked

I’m not fine, obviously, she replied. Tobi cleared his throat. Trust Tomiwa to always start a fight, even in this period.

Why don’t we have dinner? “Kayode’s mom suggested.

Well, I have to go now, Tope said.

Okay, no problem, dear; please greet your husband and children on my behalf.

Yes ma.

FRIENDSHIP AND FAMILY

Friends are important to everyone; they make our lives colourful. After all, no man is an island. Tomiwa thought of this as she woke up the next day, and she remembered her high school friends. She wasn’t friendly in high school, but most people were in a clique, and hers comprised of herself, Hauwa, and Olanna, and they were really close then. The first day Olanna attended Greenfields High School, Tomiwa recalled with a smile, she looked so sophisticated and posh. Born to an Igbo mother and an Italian father who were divorced, Olanna was the definition of ‘Oyinbo’ and her very fair skin just added spice to the whole package.

She had always thought that Olanna needed that family bond in her life, and that was probably the reason why she visited her home so much. In her family, everyone liked Olanna mainly because of her looks, and even though Olanna was a very lovable person, you just had to like her.

Tomiwa was one of those kids in high school whom most teachers liked because their parents were rich and who was easily given the role of princess or queen on cultural days and inter-house sports competitions. What’s more, Tomiwa was good looking enough. She knew that the teachers sucked up to her dad a lot, and she used it to her advantage to get things done.

* * * * *

Two days had passed before Tomiwa in a blur, and she had avoided every opportunity of speaking alone with her father. Her mom was loved. She had a shop in Lagos Island where she sold clothing materials, so a good number of people in the neighbourhood knew her well. Tomiwa had been in a bad mood; there was no space in her mind to accommodate other thoughts, except for the major one that her mom was dead and wasn’t coming back. Everyone has been kind to her, asking her if she was okay, and Tomiwa replied that she was just to get them off her back.

At the breakfast table, she saw Tinu and Ope having their usual banter. When she asked about Tobi, Tinu told her he followed Kayode and his mom to her mom’s church to start making arrangements for the funeral service. Tomiwa nodded, finished her breakfast, and went up to her room. She knew they were worried about her, but they were also scared to pierce the wall she had built around herself.

Hauwa got to Tomiwa’s house and was let in by the gate man. Hauwa looked around the house. It still remained the way she remembered it, except the parking lot was now extended and the verandah looked bigger. Or maybe it was just her eyes, she thought. It’s so bad that she and Tomiwa don’t talk anymore. Entering the house, she saw Tinu talking to a group of women and asked for Tomiwa.

She’s in her room; Tinu answered.

Hauwa got to the room and gave the door two sharp knocks.

No answer

She knocked again; still no answer.

Tomiwa saw the door opening and wondered who it was. She saw someone she didn’t expect to see in a few more years given the circumstances.

Hauwa Abayomi

The first thought that came to Tomiwa’s head was to ask Hauwa what she was doing in her home.

Well, you don’t look surprised to see me, Hauwa said. I heard about what happened, and I’m so sorry for your loss. How have you been?

Tomiwa felt bad. She had been a bad friend, and she missed Hauwa’s energy. 

I’m going through each day one by one. And I’m sorry to see you here because……Tomiwa sighed. I ruined our friendship. Back then, I had a lot of anger within me and I took it out on the wrong people. I’m sorry.

It’s fine, Tomiwa. I came here because I thought you could use a friend.

Yesssss. I need one, actually. I never thought my mom would be the first to die of all my father’s wives. Who would have thought my mom would die before Tope’s mom? She’s like 9 years older!!!!

Hauwa was shocked. Okay, just stop right there. Tomiwa, that’s a cruel thing to say. What if she hears you? Look, I know you are going through a lot, and you’re unhappy, but you need to tread carefully. Tope’s mom did not kill your mom, unless you’re insinuating something happened spiritually, like an attack or something of that nature. Your mom is one of the nicest people I know. She was one of the coolest moms when we were in high school, and we both knew she died of cancer. So please kill this thought before you end up opening a can of worms that you won’t be here to clean up. As a Christian, are you supposed to even think that way?

Grief doesn’t make you think straight, and besides, you can’t understand what I’m going through. Tomiwa instantly regretted her last statement. It was a hurtful thing to say, but she was hurting.

I’m sorry, Hauwa. It’s just that… Her voice trailed off. 

You’ve always been so sassy, Tomiwa, and that’s why you got into a lot of trouble with your older ones. Have you spoken to your dad yet?

No, because when I think of speaking with him, I get angry all over again because I feel my mom wasn’t treated fairly by my dad, which is weird because she’s his last wife and was supposed to be his favourite. I saw my dad hit my mother once, and I’ve hated him since then.

Wow, I still think you should talk to him. And I’m not trying to excuse his behaviour about hitting your mom, but I think if your mom still stayed with him all these years, there may be something you don’t know about. Some of us really care about you. Besides, I was taught human psychology this semester, and the relationship you have with your father can affect the way you see other men.

Okay, motivational speaker Hauwa I’ve heard ooo

You’re not serious. How’s the family taking the news? Hauwa asked.

Well, Tope, Tinuade and their mom have been extremely nice and caring, I don’t know if they’re having a guilty conscience because we were never close. Opeyemi and Kayode have been kind and supportive as they’ve always been. Tobi acts like he saw our mom’s death coming, my dad, well I don’t really care. Kayode’s mom is also very sad and broken, my mom and her were very close but she’s trying to be strong for Tobi and I.

She really likes you guys

A lot. The wake is tomorrow and I don’t know how I’ll feel. I wish I could go back five years to tell my mom all the things I should have told her.

Hauwa went to hug Tomiwa

Beep, beep, beep.

Is that your phone? Hauwa asked.

Yes, I wonder who is calling. Aww, Uchems. Hello, Uchems? How have you been? I’m hanging in there. I’m happy she lived a good life, but I’ll always miss her. I’ll use this period to catch up on her life and just maybe I can understand my dad a bit better. How’s medical school? They chatted for about 30 minutes.

Tomiwa finished the call and saw a smiling Hauwa. 

Why are you smiling? 

First of all, who is Uchems and what’s going on between you two? Did you see how you were so sweet on the phone? You aren’t this comfortable with anyone except your mom and Kayode. It’s like you reserved some sass for Tobi and the rest of us. 

Whatever. Uchems is a 500-level medical student, and his real name is Uche. He really likes me a lot, and I think I like him too, but nothing serious is happening between us because I’m scared. Wait, that reminds me. Have you gotten over your crush on Tobi yet?

We are not talking about me. Hauwa looked away smiling.

GROWTH 

We therefore commit the body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life.

The people chorused “Amen!”

As Tomiwa watched the coffin being laid into the earth, she wanted to jump in too, but she couldn’t. She still has a lot to do in life. She hasn’t finished medical school. Her relationship with her father is still a work in progress. She hasn’t even told Uche she likes him back. Hauwa and her weren’t back to their old friendship, but Tomiwa liked the new bond they were forming, and she was going to put a lot of effort into not ruining this one.

So this is what a funeral looks like, Hauwa thought. She hasn’t spoken to Tomiwa today yet, but boy! She sure looked beautiful. Her dress, shoes, and bag screamed “rich and classy.” Her entire family looked so good, and Hauwa never thought she’d have butterflies in her stomach merely looking at Tobi. He looked so handsome. She chided herself. “Hauwa, you’re at his mom’s funeral.” It was stupid of her to think she had killed the crush she used to have on him back then. The worst part was that Tobi only sees her as Tomiwa’s friend.

Everyone proceeded to the reception venue after the burial. The family had chosen a small hall in the heart of Victoria Garden City, Lekki. A big banner at the entrance read, 

Celebrating the Life of Akunna Celine Dideolu, A wife, mother, sister, and aunt. Continue to rest in the bosom of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Whoever selected the picture used did a good job; her mother looked so radiant, Tomiwa thought. Her mom’s praises were sung, and a lot of people kept pressing envelopes into Tomiwa and Tobi’s hands. 

As she was preparing for bed that night, she thanked God that her mom’s funeral went well, and she recalled the conversation she had with her dad the night of the wake. She took Hauwa’s advice and decided to not look at her dad through the lens she always used. And she saw him differently, he was hurting just like everyone else.

Hi, Dad. Good evening. Can I come in?

Yes, of course. Are you ready for tomorrow?

I don’t think I am. I guess when she’s laid to rest tomorrow, we’ll see how I’ll handle it.

Okay, that’s not bad.

errmmm, Daddy?

Yes

Can I talk to you about something?

What is it?

I know we don’t have the best father-daughter relationship, and I’ve not been your favourite child for a long time. Mom has been telling me to talk to you before her death and to make things right, but I’ve been so stubborn, and I… her voice broke off in tears.

Tomiwa, I’m your father. I know I’ve made a lot of mistakes in the past regarding your mom and your siblings, and I know I can’t go back, but I’m ready to build a better future with all of you.

Back then, when I came home just after I gained admission to the university, you and mom had a heated argument. Why did you hit her?

You saw that?

Yes, and to be honest, the reason why I’ve been a closed book to you all these years is because of that incident.

That night was the worst night of my life. I was defrauded by close to five million Naira. I handled it badly. I got drunk, and your mom thought I was seeing someone else. She actually threatened to press charges and leave me.

She did?

Yes. Your mom married me on one condition. That I would not marry any other woman after her. We met when I was on a business trip in South Africa, and she was so friendly and respected that I was already married. When we met again, one thing led to another, and we got married. But she made sure I told Tope and Kayode’s moms we were seeing each other before she agreed to marry me. After that incident, she spoke to one of her friends in the UK, who connected me to a therapist, and it took a year before your mom could look at me the same way. I know you’ve built a wall around yourself, but I want to tell you that we love you, Tomiwa. Though you may not see it, everyone in this household is rooting for you, and while we’ll still disagree on some matters, we’re family, and families stick together.

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