Grief has made her even more beautiful. As if such a thing were possible. And if it were, there would be no one who it could succeed with better than Mally.
Her huge eyes don’t blink for long periods. They show life only when the children come in sight. As for her smile, it is a mere shadow that peeks out of the veil of grief very rarely.
It has taken me more than two months to have the presence of mind to come here and see her. Before she chose him over me, I had spent every hour of my life loving her.
The children are playing in front of us and their sounds are the only thing that interrupt the silence that shrouds us. Adeiza is tall and leggy like her mother. It is hard to believe she is only 10. She carries herself with a grace that belongs to professional models I have danced with in Manhattan clubs. It is a grace made even more beautiful by the growing up she has had to do these past few months. Mo Jnr. is 6; his eyelashes are Mally’s. but everything else is his father’s. He knows he should be sad but he forgets too often as children do.
And then there is Imran who is not even a year old yet. This grief is not his. Not yet. And not ever if I have anything to do with it.
I clear my throat to get Mally’s attention.
She turns her unblinking stare to me. It is a stare full of accusation and guilt at the same time.
I want to tell her it is not her fault. I want to tell it isn’t my fault either. I want to tell her how I love her, how despite all the other women there has been these many years, it has always been her, how it will always be her but she pre-empts me.
“Why are you here Hassan?” She asks, and I forget all that I wanted to say.
I gave up smoking a year and few months ago, back when I thought everything was finally going to be alright. I never went back to it, not when the pack of cards I had confused for a home fell apart. I haven’t craved nicotine in a while but here I am, fingers twitching, foggy brain, tongue tied.
“You should go.” Mally tells me gently. Her eyes have not glanced my way, not once. They remain fixed on the children and suddenly I hear clearly all the things she is trying to say. They sound similar to the same things she said to me not too long ago as we walked the streets of Brooklyn together.
“My children, Hassan, they are what is most important. It is why I will always be Mo’s wife.”
“What is this, you ask Hassan? It is an escape. It is a few days. It is not real. Stop trying to make it more than a few days. That will hurt so many people that we both love.”
I start to leave. I was a fool for thinking she would lay eyes on me and that would make all of it alright. I am halfway to the gate when I remember I am yet to hold my son.
I retrace my steps , making a segue to the children rather than their mother.
“Saanu Adeiza,” I greet my niece for the second time today.
“Hello uncle,” she greets me with a warm smile.
“Can I carry him?” I ask.
I hear more than see Mally walking towards us.
The little one is some minutes away from sleep but he manages to smile at me.
“Oh look uncle, he is smiling at you” Mo Jnr announces.
“He must like you,” Adeiza informs me “He never smiles at strangers.
Mally has stopped in her tracks but I can feel her eyes boring into my back as I hold Imran. I kiss his forehead and whisper in his ears.
“I love you. I will love you forever.” I say, the words of a simpleton but they are the only words I can manage before the dark clouds in my soul let loose their downpour and I embarass myself before children.
I hand the child to Mally who takes him as if she is afraid I would never give him back.
“I will come see you guys again soon, okay?” I tell the kids.
“Bring me chocolate,” Mo Jnr asks.
“Stop begging,” His older sister chides and I laugh, a temporary relief from the battle going on inside.
I nod my head to Mally, a silent plea for forgiveness, a silent acceptance of where she stands, a silent acknowledgement that I have turned the key in the door that she closed.
The tears finally spill in the car I borrowed from my father’s garage as I drive back to the home.
Fifteen years ago, I had run away from Kaduna on the guise of getting an education. I had broken off all contact with my brother and Mally. The truth was that it was simply too hard to see Mally belong to someone else. My brother had married the woman I was in love with. It was none of our faults. The blame lay with our parents, people greedy for power and clout in a society where love was rarely ever the reason for anything. As a 19 year old man, I had been too young for marriage but Mally was 21 and female and my brother Mo was 37. It didn’t matter that he was already married or that Mally would be a second wife. A marriage of two of the most powerful families in Kaduna meant Mally’s father could and would win the next governorship elections. There are no self-help books on coming back from all of these. Believe me, I had scoured many book shelves around the world.
Last year, after so many years of silence, I had run into Mally in Home Depot where she had come to place orders for her flourishing furniture business in Kaduna. There had been silence at first and then she had helped me pick out curtains for my new apartment.
“Would you like to come see?” I had asked as we stood outside the store together unsure of how to say goodbye. “My new apartment I mean.” when I realized how incomplete my question seemed.
She had smiled and in that moment, it was summer in October. She has accepted the invite and on my new Ikea bed, we had made love. For the next three days, it was like Kaduna all over again, except there was no one here who knew us. We went back and forth between her hotel suite and my apartment. I begged her to leave my brother one night just before I climaxed inside her. We both cried afterwards and the next day, I drove her to the airport.
9 months later and my mother had called to announce the birth of grandchild number 5.
“Well big congrats Grandma,” I had said to her over the phone, trying hard to keep the bitterness out of my voice.
“The least you can do, hippie uncle living in Brooklyn, is ask your new nephew’s name.”
“Why? I am sure you were going to tell me in the next breath anyway.”
“Dan boroba! Anyway, his name is Imran…”
I heard nothing else after that. My mind had immediately gone back to the before.
“What name would you give your son if you had one?”
“Oh God, Mally! You are like 18 years old and about to write Jamb. Why are you doing thinking of children’s names? Girls are just somehow!”
“Whatever! Answer me silly!”
“Why? Are you pregnant? Gosh we haven’t even had sex yet!” I had answered cheekily as we sat together underneath the single gaze of the moon. Our homes were on the same street and it was common for us to escape our beds to spend the nights talking about nothing as lovers do.
“Boys are so stupid!” was her retort.
“Me? Boy? I am a man abeg!”
“Well a man would know what to name his first son…so tell me Mr. Man!”
On and on it went until she changed tactics and started to reel off names.
“One Mo in the family is enough.”
“One of my dad’s Lebanese business partners with greasy hair has that name…”
“Oh heavens! You are so dumb! But okay, how about Imran?”
“Are you there Hassan?” My mother yelled, bringing me back to the after.
Then a few months later, Mally had called me at the apartment. I had stood by the curtains she picked out so I could picture her face as she spoke.
“Hassan! Hassan! Oh my God! We have killed him. We have killed Mo. He found out about Imran and had a heart attack. The doctors don’t think he will make it…”
It has taken me 15 years to return to Kaduna. I find that it no longer has a place for me. Not even in the heart of the woman I love.
I have a son. His name is Imran. But he has a father. His name is Mohammed.
There will be other sons, I tell myself. But first there must be new beginnings and new love.
For dinner tonight in the house I grew up in, I ask Cook for some Fura, the only thing I know will act as a salve and begin my healing. Cook is shocked. Fura was Mo’s thing. I don’t tell him it is my way of saying ‘I am sorry’ to the brother I never really knew, the one I have always been so angry at, the one who like me was just a pawn in the game of life.
Tomorrow, I will kiss my mother goodbye and make father promises to come home again soon that I will not keep. Looking into his eyes, I know he knows that I will not keep them. It is the same look I had seen in Imran’s eyes when I promised him and his siblings I would see them again soon. Fathers can’t fool their sons. Sons can’t fool their fathers.
Song of the day: Lauren Daigle- Trust In You