I’d always hated Christmas. Those religious nutcases exhibiting their over-the-top celebrations in the name of their Lord, preaching “Jesus is the reason for the season” every five seconds… Or did they mean the reason for their turkey seasoning? Sure, their festive gluttony helped Mama sell more cubes in the weeks leading to the 25th, but she never quite earned enough to lead us out of our miserable abode. Years had passed, and I’d attended several lavish Christmas family dinners at Chief Bassey’s mansion, which I completely despised. No-one was permitted to enter the dining room unless they were dressed to the nines. How could one tell which of those numerous forks was used to eat coconut-sprinkled, honey-drizzled fried plantain-on-toast? Chef-prepared meals displayed on long marble tables did more to decorate the plain white china than satisfy one’s appetite. And of course, family gatherings at Chief Bassey’s were yet another excuse to poke fun at my humble beginnings, reminding me yet again they would never truly accept me. I’d since broken free from that despicable clan, but not before they dropped the bombshell.
Isaac was not my son?
I never imagined I’d ever hate Shirley more than I already did, but talk about going to the extreme. From the day Shirley placed him in my arms at the Uyo hospital where she’d given birth I’d fallen deeply in love, but his oppressive grandfather snatched him away, refusing to hand him back to me until visiting hours ended. I sat at my son’s bedside when my three-year-old lay in bed after contracting chickenpox before the old buzzard flew him abroad for treatment without consulting me. I’d watched Isaac grow into a playful eight-year-old with a mischievous streak, swallowing my tongue hard when Chief Bassey made snide remarks regarding “rough traits inherited from his father” after his grandson sprained an ankle during a football game. Even Mama had tolerated her fair share of Bassey palaver during rare visits to see Isaac at Shirley’s mansion. I loved my son with all my heart, how could anyone tell me he wasn’t mine? The Basseys had agreed to a DNA test after the shock revelation, and I feared the worst.
I’d regarded Obioma Okoroafor as no more than ‘Waste of Flesh’, ‘Sperm Donor’, ‘Hit-And-Run’… I’d declared him dead even if he still walked the earth. Turned out he still breathed and lived somewhere in Asaba with the new family for which he’d left his old one. How he’d managed to track me down remained a mystery since I had no relationship with his extended family, but anything was possible when you were a cancer-stricken gold-digger. He didn’t bother showing up at my office either, sending his son instead. I sat in my chair stiffly, barely listening to the young man who mumbled some lame tale about Waste of Flesh finally realising his selfishness and cowardice, and desperately wanted to see me again. A likely story. I summoned security, warning my half-brother I wouldn’t be held responsible for my own actions if anyone from his side contacted me a second time. I never heard from him again.
I’d sworn I’d never become another Obioma Okoroafor, but as Etim had pointed out during our argument, the apple hadn’t rotted that far from the tree, because I’d done the same thing to my other little boy. If I’d stuck around and taken responsibility, I would have grown to love him the same way I loved Isaac despite my reservations, no question. Etim Bassey said it all—Waste of Flesh and I were one and the same.
Nearly every person I knew shared connections with Chief Bassey and Bass Communications, and had only associated with me for business purposes. None of them truly cared about me as a person, tossing me out of their circle after that letter did the rounds over the internet, leaving me on my own. Mama still lived in Aba where she ran a thriving wholesale business thanks to my ties with Bass Communication sponsors (Yes, Mama had finally moved up in the world), but did I have enough guts to return home a bigger failure? How would she react to the news she’d lost her grandson, despite having gained another? Would she ever forgive me?
Thank goodness for social media. Everyone logged on to communicate with old friends, build relationships with new ones, promote businesses, or share information. No-one could describe me as the most approachable person, I had nothing to publicise now I no longer worked at Bass, and as for my friends… I sat at the computer in a rundown internet centre near the cut-price hotel I checked into after leaving Shirley’s, and searched thoroughly for hidden information. I hadn’t seen Nkiru since 1995—did she still look anything like the timid fifth-year commercial class student with aspirations to study Commercial Law? Not just a pretty face, Nkiru had boasted real potential based on her outstanding academic record. Until I came in. Even in my Alvan days, I had a way with the fairer sex, and while I’d hadn’t fallen for her as I did with Ekaette, I grew fond of Nkiru, constantly inventing excuses to get her alone with me, taking extra measures not to parade her in public lest tongues began to wag. The Jideofor Okoroafor charm always worked its magic, and in no time she visited me at the Alvan hostel to spend forbidden time on my single bed, but I sulked at her whiney attitude when I pressured into proving her love the only way I knew how.
“But Mr. Okoroafor, I’m not ready for that right now,” she pleaded. “We’ve only known each other for two weeks, and that’s not long enough. Shouldn’t we know each other a bit better first…”
“Bullshit!” I snapped. “Your name is Nkiruka, mine is Jideofor, we both know each other. Unless you take off my clothes, I take off yours, and we have that exchange, how else are we going to know each other better, eh? Stop acting like a child when you’re capable of having children yourself.”
No truer words had ever been spoken.
I had no permanent roof over my head, and prospective employers slammed their doors in my face, but unless made amends, I’d never find peace. Making a sudden appearance after my unexplained vanishing act? Dangerous risk, but I had to take the chance, whatever the consequences. Too many Nkiruka Nwankwos on Facebook to choose from, I grumbled. I glanced at the time bar at the bottom and frowned. Only ten minutes left, and I hadn’t brought enough cash to buy extra time. Not that I had much money after discovering what remained in my bank balance. As usual, I needed a miracle. And suddenly, I found her, albeit as a ‘private’ user. A thorough scan of her mutual friends’ posts and pictures revealed she worked as a hair stylist in Surulere, and my heart raced wildly. Nkiru, here in Lagos? I would never stop loving Isaac—whatever that damn blood test declared, Isaac Okoroafor would always be my son—but I couldn’t keep hiding from the truth. Only the truth would set me free. I scrolled down Nkiru’s friend’s page, scouting for more clues, stopping at a photo of the user flanked by Nkiru and a young teen with a toothy who could have passed for my twin. The accompanying caption read “Me, Nkiru and Michael chilling at the beach, eating the best suya in town. Jealous?”
Michael. My son had a name. Michael.