Previously on 890…
“Hey, what’s wrong?”
Aliu simply stared at me. His lips were trembling. I sensed them before I figured out what they were. His fear. His anger.
“Aliu, what is it? What happened?” I took his shoulders in my hands and shook him slightly.
He didn’t answer.
“Daddy?” Khalil whispered from behind me.
Only then did Aliu try to regain some semblance of composure. He covered his face with his hands and turned away. My heart started beating rapidly as many frantic thoughts crowded my mind.
“Khalil, go to the living room,” I instructed. “Your dad and I need to talk.”
“No, I want to –”
“The living room – Now!” My tone brooked no argument.
With a sudden sullenness in his face, the boy went back to his room, retrieved my tablet and walked past us at the doorway down the stairs. When I was certain he was out of earshot, I pulled Aliu into the unkept room and sat him on the unmade bed.
“Hey, talk to me. Please.” Still nothing, “Aliu, you’re scaring me. Kilo sele?!” The urgency I felt throbbed with every utterance.
He remained silent. But he moved to pull out his phone from his pocket and his thumb began to flick over the screen. I looked at the screen and watched him scroll down his email folder. When he found what he was looking for, he handed the phone to me.
I read the first few lines and my hand flew to my mouth. “Oh my God.”
Aliu’s father had bought his son’s company.
TWO MONTHS EARLIER
“Aliu! Breakfast is ready. Did you find my note okay?”
I called from the kitchen of the flat I shared with Ivan. I was scheduled to take my last paper for the semester that afternoon and Aliu had travelled down to my school, with Khalil – who was on midterm break – to keep me in good spirits. He could just up and leave – the perks of being his own boss. I’d left him asleep in my bed when I went out to get breakfast, and now I could hear the shower running as I put the food on the small table in the dining area.
Aliu walked into the kitchen some minutes later with a towel around his waist. His bald head was glistening, and his upper torso was ever so inviting. “You mean the orange sticky note you stuck to the wall over the toilet that explained why you denied me my morning cuddle?” he groused. “Yes, I got it. And I’m furious!”
“Yeye is smelling on your body. Be furious na.”
“Ehen? That’s what you’ll say abi?” He walked up to me slowly with a devilish grin plastered on his face.
“Kini? Aliu, fimi sile o!” I chuckled as he wormed his hands around my waist and pulled me close to him. His beards tickled the top of my ears.
“Lailai,” he murmured into my ears before nibbling my earlobes and pecking me on the side of my face. Then he released me to go to the table.
I felt such a warm glow of pleasure as I watched him.
“Where’s Khalil?” I asked. “Still in Iv’s room?”
“Yup. He’s still there.”
“We leave tomorrow, yeah? Which means I’d drive behind you?” Since I was going to be done with my exams today, I couldn’t wait to return home to the familiar smells of Aliu and Khalil and their things.
“No o,” he burst out, his eyes widening. “You’ll be with us in the car. I don’t want to get lost again.”
Because he wanted to surprise me with his visit, he’d been guided to my school (a place he’d not been to before) by his GPS and he found himself in another school. He’d ruined his surprise by calling for help. Ivan had to go pick him up because I was stuck in the school’s radio station producing a show with my lecturer breathing down my neck.
“But my car will be –” I began protestingly.
“Don’t worry about your car. I’ll send one of the company drivers to come get it. How about that?”
I thought about it for some seconds and gave him a smile. “Okay. That’ll do. Thanks.”
He smiled his acknowledgement at me.
“So breakfast?” I pointed to the meal laid out on the table.
“Sure.” He dug in.
After several bites of his buttered bread, he said, “I spoke with Father earlier while you were out.” His expression was serious.
“Okay?” I said tentatively. “About the pending issue?”
Aliu’s family got to know about his sexual orientation a year after the death of Khalil’s mother. As expected, the news didn’t go down well with his parents. Two of his siblings were accepting. The other two, who had been looking for ways to discredit him in the eye of their parents who thought the world of him, pounced on the revelation, ever so homophobic with their drama. One of these two is friends with Jide. (Remember Jide from the mall?)
Following that furor, because Aliu’s father couldn’t come to terms with his son’s homosexuality, he’d been threatening to buy out Aliu’s company, a company that incidentally happened to be his grandson, Khalil’s inheritance. The man either didn’t care or had conveniently forgotten.
“Yes, it’s about the pending issue,” Aliu answered.
“Okay. What did he have to say?”
“He wants me to come over for dinner with Khalil…” – he paused, dropped his cutlery, folded his hands on the table and looked at me with a gravely expression – “and with you.”
“Huh?!” I stared at him, aghast. “You can’t be serious.”
“Babe, I know how this sounds but it’d mean so much to me if you could come with us. You’re a part of me… and my son.”
“Aliu, common!” I moved my chair back from the table a bit, as though seeking space to even consider the absurdity of what he was saying. “You want me to meet your father, a man who loathes you! Really?!” My voice rose, teetering on hysteria.
He raised his hands placatingly. “Babe, I know how it sounds–”
“Do you? Do you really?”
Before he could answer, Ivan and Khalil burst into the living room, a laughing duo. The boy spotted us at the table, and his grinned broadened as he greeted me.
“Good morning, Uncle Moe.” He bounced toward the table and breakfast.
“Morning, trouble,” I greeted back. “How are you?”
“I’m very well, thank you. Morning, Dad.”
“Morning again, champ.” Aliu reached out to give his head a scratch.
Ivan pulled out a chair and helped himself to a slice of bread as he sat down. “Morning, you two.”
I eyed Aliu and mouthed: This discussion isn’t over. To which he sighed.
As I took a sip of my water, Khalil suddenly turned to me and asked, “Uncle Moe, do you like it when my Daddy kisses you?”
I choked on my water and started coughing really hard. An awkwardness instantly descended in the room and a bustle broke out around me as Aliu went to my side to dab my back, and Ivan filled a cup of water, started to hand it to me and stopped when he saw I was coughing over the one I’d just choked on. There was a studious refusal to acknowledge the little boy who’d thrown the bomb that had upset the world.
Seconds later, the stir calmed. Ivan returned to his sliced bread. Aliu scooted back to his corner of the table. And I reached for my glass of water, carefully taking sips as though forceful gulping would set off the discomfort in my esophagus again.
“Uncle Moe, you didn’t answer my question,” Khalil prodded.
Dear God of mercy! Them send this pikin?
I knew I was in trouble and I exchanged a quick and trapped look with Ivan, who looked like he’d bolt at any moment.
Aliu spoke up first. “Khalil, leave Moe –”
“That’s alright, Aliu,” I cut in.
He looked at me and I nodded. His eyes grew and I gave him a small reassuring smile. Truthfully, I didn’t know what I was going to say but I didn’t want to insult the child’s intelligence. He was a damn smart kid. All I had to do was respect him and leave out inappropriate details.
“Khalil,” I started, “sweetie, why are you asking? Have you seen your Daddy kiss me?”
He nodded, his eyes twinkling. “You were giggling and making these funny sounds.”
Okay good. Clearly it hadn’t been a traumatizing sight for him, I thought as I felt heat rise to my cheeks.
“Khalil –” Aliu tried to interfere again.
“No, Aliu, it’s okay.” Refocusing on Khalil, I said, “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I dunno. I guess because I thought Daddy would be mad at me.”
Oh, your father is mad right now, I thought, spying the tense expression on Aliu’s face.
“And you don’t think he is right now?” I asked.
He glanced at his father briefly before putting his head down. “I think he is.” He turned his face to me, and there was such an expression of childlike purity on it, that my heart began to melt even before I heard what he said next. “But I’m happy you’re here with him.” And then he went back to his breakfast.
Just like that, acceptance came easily. I felt this rush of mixed emotions consume me. I was overwhelmed. Two years of tiptoeing around this young man with his father and his words left me feeling all manner of sunshine inside me.
Ivan shook his head in disbelief as he stared at Khalil, who had begun to chatter about something else. There was something in his eyes: Pride. His eyes shone with pride, and when he caught me looking at him, he winked.
I looked at Aliu. He smiled and mouthed, I love you.
And just then, I remembered the question that led to all this. I scooted closer to the boy and petted his head. “Yes, my darling, I do. I love it when your Daddy kisses me.”
That earned me a toothy grin. “I know you do,” he said, before puckering his lips and making kissing sounds at me.
The four of us burst out laughing.
I read the email a second time and a third time. I still couldn’t understand why a father would screw his son – and grandson – over simply because of his prejudice and because he had the power and money to do so. How dead could his sense of paternity be?
I didn’t know what to say. I just kept staring at the screen till it sprang to life, jerking me out of my dazed state.
Aliu’s father’s name was the Caller ID bobbing on the screen.
Aliu snatched the phone from my hand. He stood up and stalked out of the room into the hallway.
“Aliu, calm down,” I called after him as I got up and made to follow. Then I stopped. I figured he needed his privacy.
About five minutes later, I heard him growl so loud that I jumped. Running into the hallway, I ducked my head just in time to miss getting struck by a flying object. His phone missed my face by mere inches and made a smashing sound as it connected with the wall behind me.
“Aliu!” I gasped, turning to glance with dismay at the shattered device. Then I turned back to him. “What has come over you?” I hissed, mindful of Khalil’s presence. “Will you calm down? Your son is in downstairs.”
He started toward me, his eyes red, his breath coming in explosive bursts.
I raised my hands to him in a placating gesture. “For chrissakes, calm –”
I didn’t finish the sentence. He slapped my mouth shut!
Written by Vhar