Mid-life crises are common to most men. It is that period in a man’s life when he suddenly realizes that he’s growing old and really scared of ageing. So he just goes crazy and does all sorts. If you’ve seen Father of the Bride, you’ll understand. A little. For some men, the phase passes without much damage done but some others aren’t as lucky.
Nosa was a very successful man. He ran a large scale fish farm and poultry in Lagos and Benin and he was doing incredibly well. When he quit his banking job to start the business, people thought he was crazy. It took Nosa about 8 months to grow his farm in Lagos and become a major reference point for restaurants and bars. His fish and chickens were some of the biggest available and so people paid good money for his supplies.
Nosa’s wife Grace and their two daughters were very supportive. Belema who was an accountant managed his accounts for him and working together brought them really close. Nengi did all the research required to keep the business moving. If there was a new chicken feed in the market, Nengi knew it. If a new restaurant opened, Nengi was at their doorstep requesting to supply them with fish and chicken. His girls were incredible.
2 years after breaking grounds in Lagos, Nosa started up another farm in Benin. It was actually Nengi’s idea. Nengi travelled with him, scouted the market and did most of the work. And just like the Lagos farm, the Benin farm thrived. It was all too incredible. Because Nengi and Belema couldn’t be in Benin all the time, Nosa hired Oghosa to manage the business in Benin. He paid her good money and she ran the business pretty well.
Soon, Nosa stopped frequenting Benin. He would only go once or twice in a month. Well, that was up until his 52nd birthday. Two months to his birthday, Nosa made a trip to Benin to check on things as usual. Oghosa took him on a tour around the farm and he was impressed by how well things were going.
They sat in her office to talk afterwards. Oghosa was beautiful but Nosa had never noticed. Something changed that day however. Nosa had been talking about his upcoming birthday and how he felt like he was growing old. How the conversation went from business to personal, Nosa would never be able to figure out. But Oghosa indulged him. She teased him a lot and had him laughing like he had not laughed in a long time. Oghosa insisted he was really young at heart and did not look like he was 50.
Nosa enjoyed her compliments and without meaning to, he found himself flirting with the girl who was young enough to be his daughter. Nosa thoroughly enjoyed the time spent with Oghosa and rather than return to Lagos the next morning as was scheduled, he stayed an extra day to enjoy her company. Oghosa didn’t mind. She actually prepared him a lovely pepper soup dish which they enjoyed together.
That could well have been the beginning of Nosa’s problems. No one noticed anything different about him when he returned. No one thought it odd when his trips to Benin became a weekly occurrence. And just like that, Nosa’s life changed.
Two weeks after his 52nd birthday, Nosa packed a bag and left the house in Lagos without a word to anyone. He rented a three-bedroom apartment in Benin and moved in with Oghosa. He completely cut off from his family.
It took the ladies over a year to accept what happened. A lot of hurtful words went back and forth. The business in Lagos suffered and eventually shut down but the one in Benin continued to thrive. Grace and her daughters pieced their lives back together and moved on. And Nosa? He just went on with his life. Oghosa made him feel great. He became this playful, crazy person around her. He dressed casually all the time and spoke pidgin English all the time as well. He said it made him feel younger and less serious. His was a rather obvious transformation agenda. It was clear for all to see that he had really changed.
Of the three women, Nengi seemed to be the hardest hit. She hated her father and there was nothing anyone could do to change her mind. She never spoke about him. He was pretty much dead to her. Nengi was a hothead. Everybody knew that but she also had a really large heart. Nengi was a great lady actually. She was the kind of person who was really lovely to people but if she got hurt, she would shut down a person and never look back. And that was what she had done with her father-shut him down and never looked back.
Their mother, Grace on the other hand seemed to handle it better. Although she reverted back to her maiden name, she harboured no hatred in her heart. She wasn’t the strongest woman alive and occasionally, she would send Nosa text messages, checking up on him and praying for him. Nosa hardly ever replied but she ensured that she sent him messages at least twice a month.
Belema was actually the hardest hit but no one knew that. Belema could not believe that in spite of how close they were, her father would throw everything away and go off with some random woman. Belema had always been an introvert but her father’s betrayal caused her to retreat further into her shell. She took the hurt to heart and nursed it till it became an integral part of her.
Belema and Nengi had not communicated with their father in about two years. For the both of them, he was a forbidden subject. Their mother tried to respect their wishes but this one time, she knew she could not deal with the chaos on her own. Belema had tried to take her own life, Nosa needed to know. So Grace called Nosa and the following morning, he was on a flight down to Lagos. Regardless of whatever madness might have been going on with him, Nosa knew that he needed to be there for Belema.
Nosa sighed as the plane landed at the airport in Lagos. There was going to be a lot of drama. He knew it but he was not prepared for it. He also knew he would never be prepared for it. He had not seen the girls in two years and he wondered what they looked like. They both hated him, he knew, but there was nothing to be done. He shrugged and got up from his seat. He retrieved his small bag from the overhead compartment and got off the plane. He found a cab and gave the address to the house on Bode Thomas then relaxed in the back seat.
Belema sat in Dr. Ikem’s office, her expression blank. Dr. Ikem wrote the last prescriptions for her, mostly anti-depressants and flu medications. Belema had caught a cold. Ikem looked up and smiled at her.
“You’ll need to take these religiously. Don’t miss out anyone.”
Belema looked at the prescription and studied the varying pills beside the paper and she cringed.
“I hate pills. Can’t you give me injections?”
“Why are you giving me anti-depressants?”
“We talked about this Belema”
Belema’s tone was firm
“I told you I’m fine. I’m not going to go jump off another bridge. But don’t give me those pills. I’ve taken them before, they made me feel utterly useless and I gained a lot of weight.”
Ikem looked shocked
“You’ve treated for depression before?”
Belema looked away slightly embarrassed.
Ikem immediately looked concerned. Belema had talked to him some more the previous night but she had not told him everything about herself and he understood that. These things took time. Ojiugo was willing to talk to her as well and Ikem was only glad to have both of them talk. He expected Ojiugo to walk in at any minute.
“Belema, these things aren’t easy to get through but you need to take your medication and then find the required willpower to pull through.”
Belema said nothing.
“What do you do for fun?”
“I’m tired of answering your 21 questions. Can I please go now?”
Ikem smiled and nodded. There was a soft knock on the door and Ojiugo walked in looking bright and radiant as always. Ikem’s heart dropped. It was heart-wrenching to know that she was not going to live longer than 3 months. As though she could read his mind, Ojiugo grinned.
“Three months is a long time, you can’t be rid of me faster than that. Chill.”
Belema turned to see the lovely petite lady standing behind her. Belema thought she looked vaguely familiar but she wasn’t sure. Ojiugo walked up to her and sat next to her.
“Hi Belema, how do you feel?”
Ojiugo smiled and stretched out her hand
“I’m Ojiugo. We went swimming together on New Year’s day.”
Belema looked at her oddly for a few seconds and suddenly realization hit her and she gasped and covered her face. Ojiugo laughed.
“Yikes. I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine. I just found it ironic. You were trying to die, I was trying to live. Life is strange.”
Ojiugo brought out a card from her purse and handed it to Belema.
“We should talk sometime. Please, call me.”
Belema smiled warmly and collected the card. Ojiugo had a presence that was warm and pleasant. Belema instantly decided that she liked her.
Belema stood up.
“I really need to go home now. I’m sure they’re waiting to hold a hearing session on my matter.”
“Naah. No one will stress you. I’ve told your fiancé and your sister. They’ll go easy on you.” Ikem said
“I actually saw them outside. I left them with Leslie.” Ojiugo said.
She gathered the medication on the table and walked out. As soon as she sighted Seun and Nengi with Leslie, she took a deep breath and walked in their direction, her steps slow and unhurried. She was tired.
Belema stood before them awkwardly for a few seconds and Nengi suddenly rushed to her and embraced her tightly.
“You scared me shitless Belz. You really did. Don’t you ever ever try this again, ever!”
Belema felt the lump in her throat and she swallowed hard. “I’m sorry boo.” Belema said softly
Nengi broke into a sob and Belema held on to her tighter. Her mind felt totally woozy. It had been a long time since she held Nengi this close and an even longer time since she saw Nengi cry. How could she have tried to hurt Nengi? She really hadn’t thought the entire thing through. She had been selfish.
“I’m sorry love. Really.”
Nengi sniffed and pulled back.
“I kept thinking, oh shit, I’m going to have to deal with mum’s drama all by myself now. Nobody to complain to.”
Belema laughed and pinched Nengi’s side.
“Really? That’s all I’m good for? Handling mum’s drama?”
“Well, and cooking too. I would have died of starvation as well.”
Belema shook her head. She really wanted to cry but she couldn’t bring herself to. There was too much she needed to sort out in her head. Way too much.
She looked at Seun, saw the frown on his face and sighed. She wasn’t in the mood for a fight. Seun had to have the common sense to not go off on her.
“Hey. Good to see you’re on your feet now.”
His tone was void of emotion
“Can we go?” Nengi asked. She did not like the tension at all.
They bid Leslie farewell and walked out to the car park. Belema and Seun sat in front while Nengi took the back seat. The drive back home was a quiet one with Nengi occasionally passing comments on other road users.
As soon as they got to the house. Nengi got out and walked into the house. She knew Seun and Belema needed to talk.
Seun turned to face Belema in the car but she kept her face straight ahead.
“What did I do wrong Belema?”
She ignored him. Why did it have to be about him?
“I’m talking to you. What were you trying to achieve? Hurt the people who care about you?”
“I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone Seun.”
“Really? So you took a dive off ThirdMainland bridge because you assumed we would throw a party for you?!”
Belema opened her side of the door, got out of the car and walked into the house. If Seun would not be sensitive to the fact that she was hurting then he needed to go and have his head checked.
Nengi was seated on a couch texting on her phone. She looked up as soon as Belema walked in.
“You guys talked already?”
“Not really. I’m tired.”
Belema walked into her bedroom and plopped down on the bed. She did not want to think about anything. She just wanted to sleep.
Belema did not know how long she had been asleep for but she woke up with a jolt. She could hear loud voices coming from the living room. Her heart thudded softly in her chest as she swung her feet off the bed. She could barely make out the voices but they were loud. Someone seemed to be really upset about something.
The moment Belema walked into the living room, her blood ran cold. Nengi stood in the living room, pestle held raised high, her voice several notches higher. Their father stood at the threshold of the house, his voice equally just as high.
“I swear to God, if you take a step into this house, I will bring this pestle down on your head!” Nengi yelled. Her eyes were bright and fiery and every vein stood out on her neck
“You better shut up there! I am still your father.”
“You are not! My father died three years ago. Just go away!”
Belema remained frozen where she was. She could neither move nor speak.
Their mother who stood between Nengi and their father was the first to notice Belema. Mrs. Ochoga had tears in her eyes.
“Belema, please tell your sister to put that thing down. Please.”
Nengi turned around sharply and Nosa turned to see Belema as well. He made to move forward but Nenngi turned around and raised the pestle again.
“I’m not joking. If you come near me, I’ll bring this thing down on your head o. Go back to the slut you’re staying with.”
Nosa ignored Nengi. His voiced dropped slightly and he called out to Belema
“Belema, are you okay?”
Belema just stood there.
Her tone was dead, her voice was low but clear.
Nosa was slightly surprised.
“Belema, I came-”
Nosa shook his head. These girls obviously thought he had made the trip from Benin to Lagos to play hide and seek. He pushed Grace roughly out of the way and took a step forward and in that second, Nengi gripped the pestle tightly in both hands, raised it high and swung it at him, aiming directly for his head.