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Home Post 10061-chapter-54

10061-chapter-54

My phone rings and I answer.

“I haven’t seen you in weeks. Are you okay?”

My lips curve into an involuntary smile. “Somto, I’m alright.”

“Mum is really worried about you. You keep postponing your visits to them.”

“Work, you know.”

“Maduka, you used to visit at least every week. I’m sorry to break it to you, but ever since you got back from your village, you changed. It’s like-”

“Don’t say that,” I growl.

“It’s like you don’t see Mum and Dad as your parents anymore!”

An uncomfortable silence follows. It feels like I’ve been slapped. A colossal wave of sadness washes over me.

“How could you, Somto?” I whisper. “I would never.”

“I’m not the only one who thinks so. Chijioke, Amara, Obinna…we discussed this. I understand it’s your life, you’ve got a job and you’re always busy, but we’re still here. If something is bothering you, we’re here, Maduka.”

I find myself looking back on the last time I had seen my parents, with their greying hair and rectangular spectacles, their contented smiles. When last did I hear Dad’s deep laughter and eat Mum’s jollof rice and dodo? How are my nieces and nephews?

“I’m sorry,” I blurt. I hear a small beep, followed by a sigh from Somto.

“Wait, Amara is calling me. I’ll call you back later ok?”

“Okay.”

She clicks off, and I sit on my couch, brooding over how I have become a neglectful son, brother, and uncle to my family. Had I been so consumed in my misery that I hadn’t stopped to think about those who still needed me? Was that what they thought, that I didn’t see them as family anymore? I’d never thought of that!

My phone rings again and I answer. This time, Somto sounds hysterical.

“Dad had a heart attack a few hours ago.”

I rise to my feet so fast, it leaves me a bit dizzy because I haven’t had anything to eat since yesterday afternoon. “Where is he? How is he? Somto, don’t start crying now- tell me!”

She blurts out the name of the hospital and tells me she is also on her way before clicking off.

Agony, I repeat over and over in my head while driving to the hospital. The late afternoon traffic is crawling, because the average worker dismisses between four and five o’clock. I want to get out of my car and scream profanities at everyone with ears, at the Danfo driver trying to get into my lane, at the driver behind me who won’t stop blaring his horn, at the oversabi Federal Road Safety Commission officer ahead, standing at the junction and signalling with his whole body on who should move and who shouldn’t.

How is he now? I keep asking myself. My car feels like a carton, growing smaller by the second and getting hotter. I hear a pounding in my ears, feel my skin start burning slowly, and stare at my hands as they shake on the steering wheel. Breathing becomes a chore as my chest feels tighter.

Dad. Dad is dying. No goodbyes, just like Papa. He might be gone like that, poof. It will be your fault. Everyone will look at you differently.

I know these are irrational thoughts, but getting them out of my head is impossible. Thankfully, the traffic clears up a bit and it takes me fifteen minutes to drive to the hospital.

I meet my siblings in the waiting room, sitting solemnly. The way I burst in startles them.

“Where is he?” I demand.

“Emergency room,” Obinna replies, getting to his feet. He walks up to me, a challenge in his eyes. “Did Mr. Big Shot finally decide to show up?”

“Obi, not now,” Amara calls from the circle of her husband’s arms at one of the corners of the room. Her eyes are red and swollen from crying. I notice that she is heavily pregnant and another wave of shame hits me, that I had never called to ask how she was faring.

“Somebody has to let him know,” Obinna protests.

“We won’t do this today,” I tell my brother.

“We probably should. Who knows when next we might see you?”

Another invisible slap. “Obinna, I didn’t mean-”

“Of course. You found your ‘roots’- no, you dug them up. Then you became famous, and suddenly you’re missing our calls and not returning them. Not being around when we visit or returning our visits, either. What do we make of that, brother?”

I turn away from him, realising my selfishness. But Obinna grabs my shoulder and forces me to face him, to face the rest of my family. They watch with wide eyes, wanting to hear what I have to say: Somto, holding Noel who is fast asleep in her arms; Adrian protectively cradling Amara with her head resting on his shoulder; Chijioke leaning forward in his chair, eyes intensely focused on me.

I lower my head. My throat is clogged all of a sudden. To my surprise, Obinna pushes me backwards. I react without thinking, purely on instinct and with a need to vent my frustration. My fist flies out and connects with my brother’s jaw.

Obinna laughs, but I can tell he is equally shocked. When I look up from staring at my own fist in amazement, my mouth opens to form an apology. But before I know it he charges into me, using his head to deliver a blow to my torso and sending both of us to the floor. My breath leaves me in a whoosh.

“Stop it!”

We both look up to see Amara standing over us, hands on her waist to support her bulging belly. Adrian stands behind her, worry in his eyes and his hands stretched out in front of him towards his wife.

“I am ashamed of you two!” Amara hisses at us.

“Darling, don’t stress yourself,” Adrian pleads.

“Adrian, I am not an invalid; I’m just pregnant,” she tells him over her shoulder before facing us.

“Right now, we need to be strong for Mum and Dad. Not to fight amongst ourselves like children!”

“I’m sorry,” Obinna says, releasing me and rising to his feet.

I lie there, grinding my teeth and wishing for the pounding headache disturbing me to disappear. Obinna stretches out a hand to me. I take it and he helps me up.

“Are you okay?” He questions.

“I’ll live,” I reply. “And I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry, too. We missed you.”

A nurse interrupts us by walking in and asking for “Kaka.”

“Me,” I croak.

“Your parents want to see you. Please follow me.”

I give one last look to my siblings before following the middle-aged woman. My parents are in a private room, with Dad hooked to a heart monitor. The sound of his laughter greets me and I pause for a moment at the door, watching him look up adoringly at Mum, who is also laughing while wiping tears from her eyes. She is seated at his bedside, holding his hand.

“Look at this one,” Dad speaks, taking notice of me. He looks tired and thinner, but it doesn’t stop him from stretching out a hand for me to hold.

My feet carry me closer to them, and I grip his hand fiercely.

I’m such an idiot, I think while struggling to speak. Before I know it, I’m heaving with heavy sobs. I’m unable to shake off my shame at being derelict towards them.

“Ahn-ahn, but I didn’t die,” Dad says, amused.

Mum’s hand caresses my back. Her warmth feels so good, I wonder how I never felt the need to seek her comfort these past months. “He’ll be fine, Kaka. Stop crying.”

“You heard your mother. I’ll be fine, because I have her.”

Mum chuckles. “You’re not going anywhere, so long as I’m here.”

“I’m sorry,” I tell them. “I have been a terrible son.”

“Maduka, I understand you must be going through a lot. But you know, you don’t have to go through it alone. Your mother and I…when we wanted to adopt a child, we agreed on an older child because we knew most people preferred babies and toddlers. We wanted to give an older child a chance. And we didn’t regret it,” Dad says seriously.

“You have been an angel,” Mum adds, gently brushing my tears away with her thumb, just like she used to do so back when I was younger. “You’re our son. Maybe not biological, but nothing less than our child. We are happy you have found your family in Imo, too. We want you to know we’re always going to think of you as one of us.”

“I didn’t mean to make you think I was withdrawing from you. I got carried away. I was so foolish.”

“We are all foolish at many points in our lives. What matters is that we make amends.” Dad pats my shoulder. He yawns, a sign of exhaustion.

“You should get some sleep, nke m,” Mum tells him. “I’ll deal with the others.”

“You should sleep too, nke m,” he replies with another yawn.

“I will. But sleep first.”

To me, he says, “Kaka, eat and rest. You look like you got into a fight.”

That makes me laugh. A few minutes pass and Dad is snoring peacefully.

“Come, let’s go and speak with your siblings,” Mum says, reaching for my hand. “They have missed you, too.”

“Yes, and Obinna showed me just how much,” I joke.

During the short walk to the waiting room, I mull over the events of the past year and today. Seeing my parents laughing despite the thr_@t to Dad’s health had reminded me of the importance of spending your life with worthy people, people who will hold you down no matter the circumstances. It doesn’t matter that the world will probably think otherwise of you or them, but it matters the most that at the end of the day, you have someone beside you who knows when to be strong on your behalf.

Mum squeezes my hand and I reciprocate. “I love you, Kaka. Holding Daddy in my arms after he fell when the heart attack started, it scared the living daylights out of me. My mind went far, wondering how I would cope without him. I’m happy he lived through this, and I’ve realised that now I might have to be stronger than I ever was, for all our sakes. So I’ll advise you to go for what makes you happy, because life is too short to deprive yourself. I’d choose that man over and over again if I had the chance. He’s my happiness.”

“I love you, Mum. Thank you.” I study her face, brown and smooth with fine wrinkles from ageing. But her smile is the same, like it had been when she had held my hand at the orphanage the first time we had met, and transferred her warmth to me.

And just as I had allowed her to lead me away from the orphanage to her home, I allow her to lead me into the waiting room, where I will tender my heartfelt apologies to the rest of my family.

And it’s time to continue the search for my happiness.

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