By Bunmi Sofola
Almost 15 years after Gbemi had set eyes on her dad, she got a visit from her father’s half-brother. “My dad was in town, he told me after a few minutes of trying to gauge my mood”, explained Gbemi now in her late twenties. “Dad had left his family years back for another woman. My uncle now wanted to know when I would be free to visit my dad at his place. Dad had relocated to another state as soon as he remarried. The last time I’d seen him, I was 14 years old. I’d visited him fairly regularly after the separation before he moved with his wife to another town.
“He called from time to time at first and even sent me cards, but the contact slowly dried up. It had been years since I’d spoken with him when my uncle turned up. I hadn’t missed him, in fairness. Mum had told me how he’d treated her and I was firmly on her side. But now he was back in town and wanted to meet me. Despite everything, he was still my dad, my uncle stressed and I agreed with him. What was the harm in meeting up? Only mum saw things differently. `Be careful’, she warned, `he can’t be trusted. He acts all nice and charming, but he’s a snake. The man is a liar, so beware!’.
“I found her attitude a bit irritating. `I’m `I’m just visiting him in my uncle’s house’, I reminded her. `He’s my dad afterall and it’s been a long time since the divorce. He deserves a chance to explain himself’. There was no way I would pass up the chance of meeting him. So I agreed to a meeting at my uncle’s and until that day of our meeting, I’d told myself I wasn’t too bothered, but as the time approached I was a bit apprehensive. I hadn’t seen him since I was a girl, but all those old feelings stated to flood back to me. I hoped he liked the person I’d become and I prayed he would be proud of me.
“When I walked into my uncle’s living room and I saw him, I felt a wave of happiness. After all those years thinking he meant nothing to me, I suddenly realised I felt a great deal for him. I was mildly surprised. He smiled at me warming as I sat down. `It’s been a while’, he said after I’d greeted him. `You were the one who moved states away with your new wife’, I reminded him. He laughed ruefully. `You’ve got me there!’, he said, and I’m sorry. Circumstances were different. With your mum’s attitude, it seemed that best thing to do. But I know I was wrong to lose touch with you. I’ve missed out on so much. Look at you. You’re a young woman now. How did that happen!? Last time I saw you, you were a child. It seems like a few months ago. Tell me all I’ve missed …”.
“Somehow, the anger I’d been carrying for over a decade fell away. This man was my dad and I was thrilled to see him again. I explained all about my catering business and how well it was doing. He looked really proud of me. It felt real good. We parted with a promise to see each other again. Back home, mum was waiting. `So, what did he have to say for himself?’, he fumed. What lies did he tell you?’ `Actually’, I told her, `he was really nice’. `I bet he was’, she replied. It’s typical of him to come back just before I get married. I bet he did it on purpose. That’s the type of person he is!’ I was a bit taken aback. Mum had been going out with this Alhaji who already had two wives and how he wanted her as a third wife. They’d only met nine months ago, and efforts to make her wait to know him better fell on deaf ears.
“I told her: `Dad only wants to reconnect with me and I’m happy about it. He seemed genuinely sorry and you don’t need to worry about me. He’s my dad and I want to get to know him’. She huffed, `Well, just don’t say I didn’t warn you’. We met regularly for a couple of months before he introduced me to his wife. She was a really nice woman – not at all what I’d expected. I thought she’d be some horrible man-eater, but she was lovely and genuinely cared for my dad. I still resented him for splitting up our family, but to be honest, there’s a possibility it was for the best. He and mum argued all the time and from what I could remember, made each other miserable.
“I felt good to have him in my life once again. Only, mum wasn’t happy with the amount of time I was spending with him. `I’m planning my wedding’, she shouted at me one night. `You’re supposed to be on my wife, but you’re spending all your time with that lying so-and so’. I told her I wasn’t taking sides. `You need to get your priorities straight’, she said. `I raised you and loved you while he was swanning off to his floozy’s home town. Where was he when you really needed him? You should be helping me, not chasing after your dad’. I simply refused to argue with her.
“A few days later, dad’s wife phoned. `It’s your dad’, she said sounding very upset. `He’s in hospital. He wants to see you as soon as you can”. I got in my car and raced to the hospital. She met me outside his room and explained why they had to come to Lagos. Dad had bowel cancer that had spread. There wasn’t a specialist hospital where they could treat him and he was brought down to Lagos where his friends and family were. The news hit me like a hammer blow. When I opened the door and walked in, dad looked so weak and frail. I couldn’t believe it. I walked towards him and took his hand. `I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you, he croaked, `that was a mistake. I shouldn’t have let her drive me away. I should have fought harder. I really love you …’ `I love you too dad’, I told him, tears streaming down my face.
“Over the next few days, he got quickly weaker. He died a week later. It was such a shock. I had only got to know him again over the last few months and now he was dead. But when his wife told me the day of the funeral, I was in for another shock – it was the same day of mum’s Nikai to her Alhaji. `You can’t go,she fumed. `I’m not cancelling the wedding now, not for him. It’ll cost us a fortune to postpone it. You have to be there. You have to be at your mum’s wedding’. I was furious at her for even thinking I could not attend my own dad’s funeral. She’d hardly let me grieve before she started making demands on me. `His tart can change the date if you really want to go, but I’m not. I’ve been planning this for ages. `For God’s sake mum, you only met Alhaji nine months ago!’ I yelled angrily. `And she can’t change the date – she’d due back at work the day after’.
“Remember who raised you!’ She shouted back. `He abandoned you and didn’t give a toss about you until he was dying. You owe me. He’s nothing, you’re my only child and you’re coming to the wedding’. I couldn’t believe what she was asking me to do. She wanted me to miss my own dad’s funeral out of spite for him. She didn’t care how his death made me feel. I made up my mind. `I’m going to the funeral’, I told her. `I’m going to mourn my dad properly. I love you mum, but I have to do this. I’m sorry”.
“Since then, we’ve barely spoken. On the morning of the wedding, while she was getting dolled up, I was putting on a sombre black dress and getting ready to bury my dad. There weren’t many people at the funeral – his wife, a few of his friends and close relatives. It was heart-breaking. I’d only just got to know him again and he’d been taken away from me.
“I hope mum and I can find a way through this. I’ve kept away from her but I wish we hadn’t fallen out but I still think she was in the wrong to demand I miss my dad’’s funeral for her wedding …”.