It is the first Thanksgiving since the divorce and NnaNna is not exactly sure what to do as he walks to his car after another long day at the lab. No one seemed to have written a rule book on how to handle the holidays after a divorce. Nothing he had been through in his hard life could have prepared him for this; not losing his father as a teenager, not having to move halfway across the world because his mother thought life would be better for him with an uncle he had never met and definitely not all the classes he had taken for the PhD he was finishing up.
Two nights ago, Eke had texted him what read like a warning rather than an invitation.
“What are your plans for the holiday? You are welcome to come to mine for Thanksgiving. Let’s try and be civil for the girls’ sake.”
He had laughed out bitterly in the Subway restaurant he was having his late dinner in when the text came. He settles behind the wheel now and thinks back to last Thanksgiving. Had there been any signs then? Anything to warn him that he was at the beginning of an end?
The traffic on i99 is not as bad as he is used to which is surprising considering the hordes of people that would have usually left their travel plans till last minute.
Last year Maria had insisted on wearing the red dress she had worn for Christmas for Thanksgiving dinner instead of the one Eke had picked out. Anna had only been two then, unable to string long sentences of defiance like her five year older sister but she
had mimicked her elder’s sister body language to the tee and refused their mother’s dress offering as well. Eke had given up angrily after a few minutes of threats and pleading and gone back to cooking. It had been left to him.
“So listen up ladies, here is the deal and it is only good for tonight. Whoever wears what Mummy wants gets to play horsey with Daddy after dinner.” Both pairs of eyes had widened when he mentioned their favorite sport.
“Can I go first?” Maria asked.
“No! Me, me!” Anna countered.
That was all it had taken. He had gotten them dressed in ten minutes tops and marched them to the dinner table where their mother’s side of the family was already waiting. Eke had been born and bred in Detroit. Her family was as American as it could get despite their Nigerian roots. His own mother was still back in Nigeria. She had visited once since they got married and complained about everything, especially the ‘cold’ in June.
Later that night, when her family had gone home and with the girls asleep between them, Eke had turned to him in bed with what he now knows were tears in her eyes and asked “How is it that no matter what I do, it is never enough?”
“Babe,” He had started, caught unawares by the question. “Whatever do you mean?”
“Take a look at the girls for instance. They love you indefinitely, unquestioningly. You are their hero. They would do anything for you. But me? I am just ‘mum’. Everything you do is magic, everything I do is ordinary.”
“Oh Eke, what are you talking about? You are the light of their life. They wouldn’t know what to do with themselves without you”
“You think so?”
“I know so.”
Even before they had gotten married, he had always know that he was marrying a person blanketed by her own insecurity. He had gone ahead with it because she was pregnant with Maria. He had hoped that marriage and a child would be a cure that worked where everything else had failed.
“How about you? Would you know what to do with yourself without me?”
He had started to open his mouth to answer but Anna had cried out in her sleep at the same time and his attention had turned swiftly to calming her.
NnaNna wonders now if things would have turned out the way they did if he had gone ahead and lied to her, that yes, he too would be lost without her.
The court had ruled that the girls were his one whole week and one separate weekend every month. The divorce had been complete four months ago. Outside that one week and one weekend, the rest of his life was a blur. He walked around like a zombie and went to sleep in a king sized bed surrounded by this children’s unwashed clothes so he could dream about them.
Eke got Thanksgiving while he got Easter and Christmas because he took his Catholic faith much more serious than she did hers. At what used to be their thanksgiving table, there would be two places for the girls, six or seven places for her brothers and their families, one place for her mother who still referred to him fondly as ‘Dede’. He wonders if she still intended on putting out a spread for Thanksgiving or if it would be quieter this year.
As he makes a turn into the still unfamiliar street where his new home is, he wonders if the man he had seen Eke eating dinner with at Cheesecake Factory a month ago would have a place at the Thanksgiving table too. His own Thanksgiving table would be relatively empty. He didn’t even have real plates yet. When the girls stayed over, he used paper plates for their meals. He himself preferred to eat in whatever containers he had purchased the food in. He also preferred to eat his dinners on the couch with Duke,
his golden retriever, rather than at the table. He would buy stuffing and turkey from Stews’ later tonight, he thinks, because that’s Duke’s favorite type. Tomorrow they would settle down on the couch, man and dog with separate plates and watch reruns of Luther because Duke loved Idris Elba for some weird reason.
He turns off the ignition in the garage before settling his head on the wheel as he imagines Maria, his Ada in her red dress, on the couch with him. Her eyes sleepy but intent on staying awake to ask him all the questions her curious mind needed answered. Anna’s feet would be in his lap, her sleeping head supported by throw pillows and Duke. She would be snoring softly in that way that reminded Nnanna of his own mother.
That was what Thanksgiving had looked like last year. He had never been happier.
Thanksgiving this year was tomorrow. He wondered if Eke would mind if he brought Duke. He hoped it wasn’t too late as he swallowed his wounded pride and all the hurt from the past months, picked up his phone and typed a reply to Eke’s last text.
Song of day: Maroon 5 – 7 Miles from the Sun