Sade [shahday] is a god-fearing and studious medical student. At least so her parents think until they find out that their daughter who has just escaped a ghastly accident has been living a life of decadence and deceit. But the shocker is when her mother finds out that Sade is carrying a secret—an unspeakable secret—that would test the most forgiving mother. 

A thrilling story of love, betrayal, and the costs of a mother’s devotion. Ola Nubi’s writing is careful, calm, and alluring. With just the right dose of suspense, she keeps you glued to the page. 

Enjoy. 

jamilia-okubo

“Maybe you need to sit down, Ma?”

I stare at the tall young policeman.  He has two big tribal marks that run down his face like big black tears but his voice is gentle. I think he is new in this job.

I am sinking. The room is spinning around me. The policeman tries to calm me down, as I prostrate myself across the blackened tiles of the police station’s floor, hands on my head as I begin to rock back and forward silently like someone in mourning.  People are staring at me but I do not care.

Later on when they seat me in a chair I let myself think of you.

You were such a beautiful baby. A contented child and intelligent student. Such a loving, obedient and God-fearing daughter.

 Yesterday, I had dreams of becoming the proud mother of a Doctor and saturating myself in the glory of having given birth to a child of such supreme intelligence. Voices would lower in respect when I approached. That is Mama Doctor. People would mention their ailments to me at parties and I would tell them not to worry as you would diagnose what their problem was.

Today my dream died.

The accident on the Lagos – Ibadan expressway, had caused a terrible Go – slow. It stretched along like a road, in a multicoloured collection of different vehicles, for hours.

My fingers clench tightly around the clasp of my handbag until they ache. The pain does not help. The Policeman said that the car was unrecognisable. That you both had to be pulled out from it. “Madam, there was blood everywhere.”

The car was headed for Lagos, two suitcases in the boot. They show me your pink overnight bag and point to another much larger one. Smooth black leather with the initials T W.  It is the kind of suitcase that a man would carry.

He has been taken to the hospital too.

Security men in black suits are around and they lead us to a room.  They ask us questions we cannot answer.  They are joined by another man. A big man whose large drooping belly, strains against a jacket, weighed down by medals and commendations. He keeps shaking his head at us, as if we know more than we are telling him.  The security men leave and are replaced by a policeman.

“An important man has been shot and is fighting for his life. Your daughter is found lying besides him in the car. I find out that she recently purchased a jeep with his card. His bank book was found in her bag with a drivers licence.”

I stare at the superintendents heavy jowls. They are shaking now, along with his head as he pounds the desk. I am shaking too, with disbelief.

You don’t even know how to drive.

He turns to your father. “Mr Oni. I am sure you understand the seriousness of this matter. I need you to co-operate and tell me everything you know.”

Your father sighs. “We have brought our child up as a studious, hard working God fearing young lady. I am perplexed myself as to what has happened here. She came home a few weeks ago.  He puts his head in his hands. “I don’t know. I just don’t understand.”

The Superintendent points upstairs. “My boss, the Oga pata pata at the top, and the secret service people want me to send you people to Alagbon CID, pending further enquiries. This is a matter of national security. What do you want me to tell him?”

Your father throws his hands up in defeat, showing his palms. “Our hands are clean. We know nothing. We are just ordinary folk.”

The Superintendent signals to his sergeant, a small man whose uniform is several sizes too big for him. “Sergeant Innocent! Go and bring the case.”

Sergeant Innocent whose duty is to uphold the law and treat all suspects fairly until proven, to be not so innocent, has already judged and sentenced you.  I can see it in the twist of his lips as he scurries to his boss’s side like an obedient child.

“Yes Sah! Which case Sah?”

His boss seems to glow from within. His eyes bulge out of his head.  “The case that your mother brought here! What kind of a question is that? The case of the suspect of course.”

“Sorry Sah.” Innocent bows himself out of the room.  Silence swallows us up and as we wait I hear steps echoing on the hard concrete floor.

He comes back with your pink travelling bag, which he presents with a dramatic flourish and opens it slowly, like a magician with a box of wonders and tricks, ready to tempt the imagination.

“Open it.” The Superintendent is waiting, eyes on our faces as if they would reveal the information our mouths refuse to deliver.

Innocent opens the bag, and brings out a red bra covered in black lace and matching panties with most of the area that was supposed to cover a woman’s decency, missing. It was like a rat had chewed at it and any hope I have – that this is a nightmare – that will end, the minute I wake up, dies a quick and brutal death. I remember the story I learnt in my secondary school days about a woman called Pandora who against advice, opened a box that brought calamity upon the world.

Innocence runs his hands over the clean neatly folded skinny jeans, which I brought for you last time I travelled to New York.  They linger over the silk of a short red dress.

The quiet in the room is deafening.

The Superintendent turns to your father. “Are these the clothes of a studious, hard working God fearing young lady?”

Innocent is restless. “We also have more evidence. Many Fotos.

The Superintendent gives him a warning glance. “O.K Get on with it, we haven’t come to sleep here.”

My lips are shaking, my destiny is gone, and the roof over my home is exposed to the vultures to tear us to pieces.

Your father lowers his head and I realise that I am your only champion in this room. So I speak. “What do the clothes in this bag have to do with the accident?”

The Superintendent leans towards me, as if he is sharing a secret, he doesn’t want my husband to hear. “We are hoping you can tell us, Madam.”

“We have told you all I know.”

The sergeant hands his boss a small black phone which he presses. “We have managed to open this phone and retrieve the messages – Darling Toye. I love you and I can’t wait till we meet again.”  He scrolled down the phone, his eyes squinting at the screen. “See you this weekend. Love you . Told my parents am studying this weekend and can’t come home. Let’s meet up. Last night was …” He looks up at us. “There are more here but out of respect for you both, I will not read them out. There are also a lot of explicit photos of your daughter.”

My mouth opens at the same time as your father slams himself out of the room.

“Shall I go and bring him back?” Innocent eager to prove his efficiency was looking expectantly at his boss, who shook his head.

My sigh weighs a lot. It is full of memories, regrets. There is anger too.

How could you do this to me?

“How long was this going on Mrs Oni? We have reason to believe that she might have been used as bait by enemies of the senator. Her accounts show regular large deposits from a company which we believe is linked to him.”

“I tell you – I don’t know anything.”

The Superintendent sighs. “That may be the case but you have to understand my problem. I have a case to solve. You tell me that you know nothing about this, but I find it hard to believe, Madam, that you really thought your daughter was as innocent as you think. It is good that your husband has gone, so we can speak frankly. You see I am a father, a parent too. ”

Innocent coughs loudly. He is scratching his head.

“What about this Oga?”

The Superintendent shakes his head but it is too late to stop the Sergeant from bringing out a small packet with heart shapes on it, and holding it up in the air.

I stand up and tie my scarf around my head. My mouth is too dry to talk.  My heart, too broken to cry. “Since you are a parent Sir, you must understand why I need to go to the hospital.”

The Superintendents voice seems quieter. “Sergeant. I think we have finished this interview for the moment. You can turn off the tape now. ”

“Yes Sah.”

“I would like to continue with this interview tomorrow. You and your husband are free to go to the hospital now. We will however, send our officers to accompany you.”

I nod at him as he walks out, past the policeman on the counter who jumps up to attention and salutes.  Sergeant Innocent follows having killed innocence, with the large black suitcase in one hand and the smaller pink one in the other, their footsteps echoing on the hard concrete floor.

 ***

Your father is silent as he stares out of the window. Even our driver, a generally talkative character is remarkably reticent.

 I try to dredge up memories of my last discussion, the last time you came home to Lagos. Glowing with youth and energy, slim and pretty in your usual outfit of T- shirt and slacks, telling me how busy you were at University and how you were looking forward to our holiday abroad.

It was going to be your first trip to London.

We had made plans together how we were going to have this big graduation party in a couple of years to celebrate your graduation.  Then it would be some more years in Medical school.

How did you know this man? Where was he taking you? You told me you were studying this weekend?  What made you leave your campus?

I have no answers. Only questions.

Your father’s body stays turned away from me as he continues to he stare out of the window, even though there is nothing new to see along the long stretch of road leading to the hospital.

Eventually we get there. It is a simple two storey building with several cars parked outside. There are more security men rushing around on their phones.  One of them blocks the entrance wanting to know my name and why I am here.

“I want to see my daughter.” My voice is determined and louder than usual as I tell him your name.  I catch an embarrassed look from my husband as he wipes sweat from his brow with the sleeve of his Danshiki.

Reluctantly he steps aside to let me in.

We get to reception and I repeat my request.

The receptionist hardly looks up. “What is her name Madam?” One of the security men whispers something. She stares at me, her half open lips, shiny with cheap bright pink lipstick.

I wonder whether she has a hearing impediment so I repeat myself again – this time louder and in my native language. “Omo mi da? Where is my child?”

She gives me a cold look. “I do understand English, Madam.”

I put my hands on my hips and stare back. She picks up the phone, says something then continues writing without looking up.

“Doctor is very busy. Can you take a seat?”

We sleepwalk in the direction of some plastic chairs arranged in a row. There are about ten people waiting to be seen; an old woman and a young man, his arm in a plaster, a pregnant woman and a man and a little girl. The little girl is about three.

She is smiling at me. She reminds me of you a long time ago.

I ignore the little girl, and the chair.

“I will stand.”  I start to pace the floor, head down, mouth working in furious prayer.

“Suit yourself.” Your father sits down heavily and stares into the air in front of him as if in a trance.

It takes more prayer and another forty minutes for Doctor, a young man in a white coat to come down the stairs, his tone direct and businesslike as he speaks with us.  His professional detachment leaves me even more bewildered. Almost immediately I burst into tears.

It was my fault. I was the Mother. Even my own husband blames me.

Your father and the doctor continue their discussion in low, hushed voices and I interrupt them.

“Where have you put her? I want to see my daughter.”

The doctor nods. “They are just getting things ready Madam.  I will go upstairs and see if the nurses have finished.”

“What are they doing to her? “

The two men exchange glances.  I feel your father’s hand on my shoulder. The Doctor leaves.

“Evelyn…”

I look at him.  The man hasn’t called me by name for years. Not even during our most tender moments.  I want to say something but as the words form in my mind they get stuck in my throat as they travel up to my mouth.

The smell of disinfectant chokes my nostrils then a loud scream tears into my thoughts. It is coming from one of the wards upstairs.

A woman is cursing you and your generations yet unborn. She does so in our language which makes the words even more potent, piercing my flesh through to the inner marrow of my soul. I hear curses and more curses, loud and foul, filling up the spaces in my head that are not full of questions, pain and betrayal.

Shame burns me up.

A nurse beckons and I draw as much courage as I can into my heart, and command my reluctant feet to move.

***

I go in first. Your father stays outside while I close the door behind me and stare, as you lay there so still and silent. It is like you are sleeping.

I don’t know how long I have sat here crying. These tears just will not stop.

The voices outside are closing in on us. I hear the woman’s sobs followed your father’s quiet voice trying to calm and reassure. Then more words. They question our capabilities as parents. They say that we did not train you properly and that you are nothing better than a prostitute, a home-wrecker and that you deserve what has happened to you.

I see you through my tears as you lie on the bed, your beautiful eyes closed, unaware of the war breaking out around you. A story in which now you play leading role in the final chapter.

I begin to pray again, my mouth moving feverishly as I recite the Lord’s Prayer. Familiar, calming words in my unfamiliar world.

 Our Father who art in Heaven…….

Then silence. The shouting stops and your father comes in.

We look at each other again, then a small voice calls my name and I see you open your eyes.

“Mama?”

“Yes, Sade. We are here.”

Your eyes struggle to see my face for rejection or censure. I have no time for either. Your arm is attached to a drip and your left leg is bandaged and attached to a hoist.

“Mama. My leg hurts.”

“Papa Sade – can you get the nurse?  Our daughter has returned to us. She needs some pain relief.”

He doesn’t move. “Ask your daughter what was she doing in that car?”

I lower my voice into a whisper. “Now is not the time. Let us thank God she is alive.”

“Look at all the disgrace she has brought to the family. Then there is her brother at the bank and the other at school, how can they hold their heads high in the middle of this scandal!”

“Papa Sade! Ssssh.” I look to see if you can hear us and see tears making dry paths of moisture on your beautiful face as you struggle to speak.

Your father paces the room as he does when he is in the courtroom. “This is a very serious matter. Look at all this wahala! We have policemen and secret service downstairs wanting to know what you were doing in that car! For goodness sake – we all thought you were safely in school!”

Sade’s voice was weak. “They came out from a junction and started pursuing us, firing bullets. I was scared – I begged him to drive faster. Then we hit something and I can’t remember anything after that …”

“Somebody get the nurse…”

Your grip tightens on my hand as the door opens and a woman pushes the door open and comes in. A policeman follows her. Then suddenly her hands are on you, slapping and hitting any part of your body, which is not attached to some medical device.

I stare at her in horror, before my maternal instincts kick in and I pull her away.

She is her late thirties. I recognise her from the newspapers and television. Today she is without make up, jewellery or elegant clothes. Her simple African loose caftan doesn’t disguise that she is at least five months pregnant.

Shola Williams isn’t speaking with a well modulated English accent as she does when she campaigning with her husband promising to make the lives of ordinary Nigerians sweeter or carrying big bellied children with dull brown hair and dry skin for photographs.

Her eyes are lifeless, yet her chest is heaving with emotion as she faces you. “He is dead! Are you happy now!  You can go and tell the people that sent you that the assignment is over!”

I stand over your bed. “We are so sorry for your loss, but our daughter is innocent of any complicity in this.”

The woman faced you, folded her arms across her chest making her belly protrude further. “So Sisi Eko – what happened eh?”

“A car came out from a junction and started firing bullets. Then we crashed and I don’t remember anything else.”

Your father is shaking his head.” Madam. Let the police handle this matter. Interrogating my daughter is against her rights and it achieves nothing.”

“How could the bullets miss her eh? It is only because she was sent by his detractors – it’s all part of a plot!  You dare talk to me about rights? What about my husbands rights – what of the rights of my children to a father?”

I shake my head. “I am so sorry for this unfortunate terrible thing that has happened to the Senator. I pray they catch those responsible but I have no idea how this happened. This is not my daughters fault. They were driving and three men in a black car opened fire on them. She was hurt herself.”

Again I see pity in her eyes. “Did you know about this affair? “

I am silent.

The woman laughs. “So she didn’t tell you. If she could lie to you about what she has been doing with my husband for the past year….she could lie to the Police- to all of us!”

“Madam…please.” Your father tries to speak

She hardly looks at him. “I don’t have business with you. “ She wags her finger at you as you lay there with your eyes just staring into space.  Like you are in another world while we are left here fighting and shouting.  “So what was it – you stupid little harlot?  What did he promise you eh? Money – maybe a trip abroad?  You were just the latest conquest and have now become the last. They say that what a man loves most will kill him one day and now it has happened. I used to warn him but no, he would not listen. He thought I was just jealous. He had everything, and he gave it up for what?” She hisses. “You have made innocent children orphans! Yes, the two at home and the one in my belly. I curse you and everything you will ever be in life – that is if you have a life after this. The police will be up to take you away soon and I hope you rot in prison! I will personally make sure of it.”

Then she walks out and slams the door.

You burst into tears.  I want to comfort you but I see the look in your father’s eyes and decide that now might not be the right time.  I should have disciplined you more, made you study harder, and not let you go to parties or allow you to have boyfriends. I was the Mother. I was to blame.

He was just the Father.  Childrearing was my department, your success – his achievement and your failure – my responsibility.

“I’m going home. You can stay here with that disgrace you call your child, if you like!” His words are cold as he slams the door.  I hold you in my arms.  Now we can cry together in peace.

 ***

There are some times when you think that you will never see the end of a matter. Even a very serious matter like that of the Senator.  Some times I still wonder but it has been a year now.

The late Senator Toye Williams was a rising star in Nigerian politics and was expected to run for the position of President and his loss was keenly felt during the recent Presidential Election.

I do not know or understand how you managed to get involved with the Senator. Even though this matter has uncovered sides to you that I still don’t understand I have to continue to love you. It took a long time for me to gather all my courage together and ask you why you were having an affair with a man almost twice your age, but I know I had to do it if I was going to forgive you totally. I told you I needed to know the truth.

I regret it now.

It was about six months after the accident.

You had that same look in your eyes that you had when we came to see you in the hospital. Like you did not care whether you lived or died.

“I loved him, Mum.”

I realised that she was not the same girl who I used to drag to church every Sunday morning and evening. “He was a married man.”

She had a small smile on her face. “He was the only man who really understood me. I never had to get distinctions to be loved. He was loving, kind and very generous. Had a great sense of humour too. He told me I had the most beautiful smile in the world. He used to call me his First Lady in training. He could hold me like…”

I covered my ears. “Stop it! Stop it! I don’t want to hear any more of this nonsense. You didn’t go into this willingly. Tell me he deceived you, forced you…took advantage of your youth and inexperience.”

You went on, your voice cold and emotionless. “Mum I’m an adult. Nobody forced me. I wanted his baby you know. He was the one who was worried about my studies and what my family would think. He told me he was going to leave that witch and I believed him.  Then I got pregnant and he compelled me to have an abortion and a month later – I find out from the gossip papers that he is to become a father again at 50! I can still see the headlines – Senator Toye and Shola Williams at the Achievers Ball. Shola resplendent in a blue ball gown showing off her baby bump. It was all in the news. That was the day I promised to take my revenge. He thought he could continue to use me and play Happy families…No way!”

I think that is when I fell down. All I can remember about that dreadful night is that I could not feel my hands and legs or speak. If not for your medical knowledge I would have joined our ancestors by now.

Sometimes I wish I had.

 ***

Anyway. A mother’s love is like the sea. You can never tell where it begins or where it will end.

Now all you have to remind you of that sad event is a left leg that will always cause you to walk with a slight limp. There is also the reality that your older brother Rotimi will never forgive you for causing him to miss out on being promoted to Bank Manager.  His bosses did not want the publicity of hiring one of your relatives.

Things are a bit better now that the Police have informed us that they have conducted their investigation and that you had not been implicated in the assassination. For once in my life I am happy at their ineptitude. Rotimi got a job in a smaller bank and your younger brother no longer has to hear all those horrible things said about you at school. I cannot believe that secondary school boys could be so crude and wicked.

I have to take things very slowly now. Ever since that scare where I the mini-stroke, I try not to let things get to me anymore. It is not easy but what can I do? Your father introduced me to a very good doctor who is monitoring my condition and he says I will live long enough to see my children’s children.

Anyway, it is good that you are in London now. Your father and I both decided that the one year’s compulsory National Youth service was not an option.  I think it was better for you to finish off your Medical training abroad. It is good that we had some money saved. I believe that your love of the medical profession will give you a good future, so that that the past will be an unwelcome guest and not a regular visitor in our lives.

Your father has decided to marry again.  At first I was so hurt and disappointed. During the last year when I needed his support the most – he was often away on business. Now I realise what kind of business it was.  I realise that everyone has ways of coping with crisis.  I turned to church and he turned to women.

A very young woman.

I carry no malice for him or the girl.  My load is heavy enough; malice will make it even harder to carry.

Lola is about your age, 26. Very pretty and very intelligent. She is in her final year in University where she is studying law.

How things have changed? When I was a young woman all I wanted to do was go to University but all I could do was manage to acquire a few ‘O’ Levels before marriage and motherhood were decided for me. Your father would not allow me to go back to school while you were all so young and as you got older it seemed more impossible. I had to content myself with reading as many books as I could find to better myself and increase my proficiency in the English language, so as not to shame your father. He has a very important job as a Lawyer and I made it my duty to ensure that he could always be proud of me when we had guests.

So many opportunities for the young woman of today and yet so many squander it away.

Now your father’s new wife is putting me through the same thing that the senator’s wife suffered, I pray that you will never again be the source of another woman’s suffering, another fatherless child’s pain.

I love you enough to want better things for you, my daughter.  You see, a mother’s love is a very serious matter. It is like the sea.  You can never tell where it begins and you will never know where it will end, because it has no ending.

One day, when you become a mother you will understand.

 ***

Post image by Jamilla Okubo. Pretty amazing stuff. See more of her images {HERE

DSC00324Award winning writers, Ola Nubi was born in London to Nigerian parents. She received an MA in Creative writing and Imaginative Practice at the University of East London. Some of her short stories are feature on africanwriting.com, StoryTime, faithtowrite.com and naijastories.com. Her short story, “Green Eyes and an Old photo,” is in the 2013 African Roar Anthology  edited by Ivor Hartman while “Ilusion of Hope” appeared in the NS Publishing short reads series—Wiping Halima’s Tears. She has a romance novel due for publication later this year.

Find more of her work {HERE} and {HERE}

Follower her on Twitter @createandwrite

 

 

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

6 Responses to “A Very Serious Matter By Ola Nubi | Brittle Paper Storyteller” Subscribe

  1. Tolu Popoola 2014/02/14 at 05:27 #

    It’s a very serious matter indeed. Well done for weaving such a compelling story, Ola.

  2. Su'eddie Agema 2014/12/25 at 18:46 #

    Wow! This tale is touching. Well done Ola Nubi. I enjoyed the piece and I could easily relate to the piece. You employed an interesting style of unfolding down the way to the end, giving us answers to puzzles that slowly lost their knot as the tale advanced.
    Well done… Seriously, what inspired this tale?

  3. Daina 2015/10/12 at 15:17 #

    I can??t really support but appreciate your blog site, your website is adorable and good

  4. Chalya Princess Miri-Gazhi 2016/07/23 at 05:28 #

    I always look forward to your stories Ola. I can relate with your characters, their fears, pain, hopes and dreams. And yet through their struggles, the message is always clearly passed on. Well done

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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