I resumed at Wells Petroleum Development Company’s Warri office two months after I returned to Nigeria. The ambiance was good. The office environment was great. The residential area was out of this world. And my colleagues were great. A car was practically waiting for me before I inked the pen on the acceptance letter. All these had absolutely nothing to do with my father, who by then had unfortunately vanished.
The circumstances of his disappearance, I assumed then, would haunt and hurt me for the rest of my life, no matter how I tried to put it behind me. It happened on the day I returned from the US. Mother told me he had chosen to come to the airport in Lagos to pick me up. He flew into Lagos the day before and called her to announce he arrived Lagos in one piece. That was all we knew. He never showed up at the airport and we never saw him again.
My mother almost lost it when after searching everywhere, including mortuaries, we could not find him. Police drew blank. Days ran into weeks and weeks into months and we had no choice but to carry on with our lives. Resuming at Wells was a good distraction. And meeting a great work environment was healing.
It was years later that it occurred to me that our worry over father was misplaced. The truth was discovered by my sister. She had hinted me in a letter before bringing Tobe and Helon to see me at the underground maximum prison. Coincidentally, the letter arrived a day after a chance meeting with their biological father at the Prison Hall when the Minister of Interior came visiting. We spoke briefly and agreed that the kids should be blind to the truth given that we were both waiting for death. We felt it would break them. So, it was good they lived the rest of their lives believing the dead ex-military administrator was their father.
“My Dearest Sister,” Linda’s letter had begun, “I do not need to ask you how you are because I know you are not feeling fine. Tobe and Helon miss you so much and they talk about you every day. They also pray that a miracle should happen and the government will realise it made a mistake and set you free. They find it difficult to believe you are capable of the offences for which you have been convicted and fervently pray that Jesus will open the eyes of the government and you will be set free.
“I have tagged along with them and refrain from telling them that you confided in me that you were not wrongly convicted. Tobe says nice things about you every day. Helon sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night crying and praying for the best mum in the world. That is how he sees you.”
The second part of the letter shocked me to the bone marrow. It was about my father, who disappeared mysteriously in Lagos and we gave up as dead.
“I know you will be shocked by this. Our father is not dead. He is old and alive.”
I almost dropped the letter when I got to that part. But my hunger for information made me go on and I was broken at the end of it all. I had expected to read that he was kidnapped and taken to some dungeon and he could not recognise home again. The case was far from this.
“I went to California for an event last week and saw a familiar face on a wheel chair. He looked 80. I went closer and looked at him again and did not know when I shouted father. He looked at me and called out my name too. I almost fell. I wanted answers to what I just saw.
“He knew I wanted answers and we retired into a pub and sat at their reception. What father had to say broke my heart. In tears, father begged me for forgiveness. I wondered what that was for. But when he explained himself, I understood why he was pleading for forgiveness. Father’s disappearance was planned. He said he fell in love with his secretary, the fair-in-complexion one called Lydia and they eloped to the US together. He abandoned his family and life and started a new one with Lydia who after ten years without having a child severed ties with him and ran away. Of course, with his credit cards and available cash. His life crumbled, but shame made him stay back in the United States and he remains there till this day. He asked after you and mum and I told him mum was dead and you were in jail. He was still shedding tears when I left him at the pub’s reception and took Uber to my hotel, where I soaked myself in tears. I could not sleep throughout that night. How could father have done that to us? To you? To me? To mum? How?
“I am still in shock, but as far as I am concerned, he is dead. He has been dead and he remains dead. Do not think too much about him. He is a disgrace and deserves everything Lydia did to him. How could he abandon us and mum because of another woman? It still baffles me. I told myself I would not go looking for him, even though he mentioned his address at a point in our discussion. He got what he deserved and we should let him sink in the hole he dug for himself.
“I will come to Nigeria soon with your kids. They have been troubling me about seeing you and I have finally promised them. Expect us in the first week of October. I have already bought the tickets and got the tickets confirmed. Once there is no cancellation of flight and such other unforeseen circumstances, we will be live and direct in Naija.
“Take good care of yourself and do not waste your time thinking of someone who does not deserve our sympathy. Father is dead and let us leave him buried.”
Our father’s disappointment was a rude shock to me. He must have planned the whole thing for months and looked for an auspicious moment to realise it. Like my sister said, he was dead and he remained so to me.
All I looked forward to after putting father in the grave was seeing my kids. I counted the days and it finally came. They both jumped on me immediately I walked into the reception of the female wing of the prison. Lydia joined them too. We cried, we laughed and we talked. We prayed, too. It was like they should not go after staying one hour beyond the approved time.
As they left for their hotel, where they would stay, before flying back to the U.S., I wondered if I would ever see them again. Optimism took the better part of me. After all, no governor had signed death warrants in years. I reasoned that we would just be left in the prison till we age and pass on.
For reasons I could not fathom, the night of the day my kids came I found myself thinking about father, Ignatius Amama. Oluwakemi was fast asleep. As I sat on the bed, my mind wandered way back into the past, the good part of my once darling father who chose to shock us all.
I was his first child. I was born when he was 32 and mMther was 25. He had just returned to Nigeria from Oxford where he had his first and second degrees when he married my mother, who was a teacher at the time.
Throughout our childhood, we had no cause to feel our father was unhappy with his choice of a wife. The two of them did everything in common, even ran a joint account which, in the real sense, was run by my mother and largely funded by my father.
Our father’s relationship with Mother was so cordial that his family did not like her. They felt he had handed his life to her. He cared less and insisted on getting mother’s permission before giving any family member money from what he chose to call commonwealth.
Most of our father’s property bore our mother’s name. Even when she encouraged him to have some property in his name, he would flare up and insisted that was how he wanted it. He ensured mother had the best in life. Her vacations were spent in the best of destinations. Hawaii. Singapore. Bahamas. Paris. London. Florida. Miami. Sweden. Canada. And lots more. Our mother went to them all on father’s bill.
He appeared to take no decision without seeking mother’s consent. The choices of schools my sister and I went to were subject to mother’s approval. Father always told us our mother’s instinct was not quantifiable. So, he left weighty decisions about us for her to take.
On one occasion, father needed to reclaim his property in our village, which housed his mother while she was alive but was taken over by his sister. He sent mother to do the assignment. She turned it down and he had to lie to his sister that he took a loan from the bank and the bank was after his property. So, she had to vacate. She grudgingly did, but she eventually found out our father lied and despite the fact that my mother never got herself involved, she held mother responsible because she felt if mother had stopped him, he would not have taken the action. She felt mother was the one controlling him.
Another incident that would make it difficult for me to understand why father eloped with Lydia happened while I was 12. Our driver at the time, Idoto, disappeared with father’s 550 dollars the day he returned from a trip to Norway. Father was furious and threatened to arrest his guarantor when Idoto could not be found. He was really livid. But mother did not think he should arrest the guarantor. Father agreed in seconds and stopped boiling with anger. He even smiled and joked with us from his heart. Such was mother’s influence on him, which I believed could only have been because he loved her. So, at what point did he stop loving her? At what point did he become unhappy?
He was a doting father ready to give all for his kids. There were times he would insist on driving us to school himself. He visited me more than mother while I was abroad studying. And he never came empty-handed. He knew what each of his children liked and the idea of what gift to buy was never a problem. He was a great father and husband in every sense of the word.
So, when did love die? I found myself asking. Did Lydia use juju on him? That looked more like it to me because the facts on ground did not support the action he took. I really did not believe in the efficacy of love potion, but there was no better way to explain our father’s action other than resorting to the supernatural.
I had a really long night that day and could not come to a conclusion on why father surrendered all for a woman’s filthy thighs. I felt like seeing him and asking him questions that would make me understand how he shut his real world to create an artificial one with Lydia.
The image of him sitting in a miserable wheel chair in California flashed through my mind. But, if there was anything I was grateful to God for, it was that I was able to put closure to what happened to him and the guilt I felt about his disappearance—which happened when he was supposedly in Lagos to pick me from the airport—vanished.
I was also happy that mother was not alive to hear the bad news. It would have broken her. The sleepless night also made me remember something that happened the day he disappeared. I was oblivious of my father’s disappearance. He did not even hint me of any plan to come fetch me from Lagos. He had told mother he wanted to surprise me. Since I was not aware of the coup the two of them had hatched, I went ahead with my own plan of spending the night in Lagos with a friend I met in the U.S.
Regina Okonkwo and I became friends in our first year in the university and did a lot of things in common. She grew up in Lagos, where her father was a big shot in the private sector with a number of industries.
Lagos was friendly when our plane touched down. The weather was not harsh. It was in the raining season. It was good for us because it was summer in Washington from where we had just come.
What I saw that night made me remember a gist by Moses about a father who was sleeping with her daughter. I had thought he was lying, but seeing Regina and her father making love that night turned my stomach. They kept telling each other, “I have missed you baby”.
They kissed, smooched and did everything normal lovers would do. They obviously thought I was sound asleep. I actually was until Rebecca woke me up with the noise she was making as a result of the lovemaking. She was not the type to keep quiet when being banged. I had to leave her room on many occasions in Washington when she would smooch her Caucasian boyfriend in my presence. She was that crazy. But never would I have imagined father and daughter going that wild.
I felt like dying. Regina’s mother was late. I wondered if the incest started after she died or they started when she was alive. I longed to know how she died to be sure one of them was not even responsible for the death.
I pretended as if I saw nothing and simply sneaked out of their house first thing the next morning without saying goodbye. I had not seen her since then.
The sort of betrayal we faced from loved ones sickened me that night and I blacked out Regina and her father and my father from my heart. After more minutes of asking rhetorical questions, I eventually called it a day.
But till this day, as I wait for the authorities to decide my fate, I remain confused about this thing called love. I will never understand it. Or maybe I will when I am six feet below.
Photo Credit: artworkcanvas
About the Author
OLUKOREDE S. YISHAU, Author of IN THE NAME OF OUR FATHER, NMMA Columnist of the Year (2015), NMMA Entertainment Reporter of the Year (2015), NMMA Capital Market Reporter of the Year (2013), NMMA Aviation Industry Reporter of the Year (2003), Finalist, NMMA Columnist of the Year (2016), Runner-up, Union Bank’s Banking and Finance Reporter of the Year (2003), Runner-up, Olu Aboderin Entertainment Reporter of the Year (2001),Runner-up, Print Journalist of the Year (2005), and Runner-up, Political Reporter of the Year(2006)