A douse of cold water on my face got me sputtering and gasping for air. As I struggled to sit up, I frantically slapped away the hands that tried to hold me down.
“Madam, you need to stand up small small o!” It was Odiong, appealing to me in broken English and pushing my shoulders down to the hard concrete.
“Get your hands off me!” I protested and struggled even harder to sit up. I didn’t understand the concerned looks on the faces swimming in my vision. Until I slowly recollected why I was on the floor in the first place… NJ IS MISSING!
I searched around for Nathan.
“Where is he?”
“Where is who?” asked Mrs Gift, a neighbour from the opposite flat. Very nosy woman.
I looked up and saw him holding a glass of what I guessed was juice in his hand.
“You. Car. Now.”
I firmly shook off the restraining hands and marched to the passenger seat of Nathan’s car.
After a few seconds, irritated that he wasn’t moving fast enough, I rolled down the glass and stuck my head out of the window.
“Do I tell our lovely neighbours the details on what a horrible father you are or do I just call the police and report your gross negligence while you take your sweet time doing something before any harm befalls that baby?!” (I didn’t pause for breath as I said this).
That got him moving.
He shoved the glass into Odiong’s hands and rushed to the car.
As we sped out of the estate, I closed my eyes and rested my head on the dashboard. I prayed silently under my breath, praying for a miracle; that NJ hadn’t been picked up by a pervert, or a child trafficking ring, or anyone I wouldn’t like the look of.
I felt the car slow down and lifted my head. Nathan had stopped by the side of the road, and he had a hand extended to me, waiting for me to take it. I looked into his worried eyes for a beat, then I placed my hand in his. He bent his head and prayed;
“Lord, I made a foolish mistake. And You know me, I’m out of my depth here. Please, don’t let the baby…NJ…come to any harm because of me. Lead us, and thank You for his safe return. Amen.”
Without another word, he let go of my hand and continued driving.
I was still so angry, but in that prayer, I heard the silent cry of a man already beating himself up for his mistake, so I held my tongue.
A battle, but I won.
As we arrived at the park, it was full of families milling around and sampling the many stores and varieties of services to be found.
Nathan navigated the car to a spot close to the line of ice cream shacks and killed the engine.
He got out and walked around to the passenger side, probably to open the door for me, but I had already jumped out and was scanning the area for any sign of NJ.
“Okay. Think Nathan. What buildings did you get into? Did you talk to anyone who might remember? Or do we go straight to the security office and ask that a public announcement go out for a missing boy?”
Nathan stood still for a moment, his eyes running through the immediate area, then he looked down at me and said;
He made a beeline for a line of stores selling toys. I practically had to run to keep up with his long, quick strides. He entered the last store on the line and headed straight to the counter.
“Excuse me Miss, but I’m looking for someone…”
The plump teenager behind the counter looked up at him, then a look of recognition crossed her face.
“You’re the man with the cute baby!” She exclaimed in excitement. “Where did you disappear to, sir? You said you’d be right back, but it’s been like an hour now.”
Nathan ran a hand across his brow, a guilty look on his face.
“Eh…yes. I’m sorry about that. But I’m looking for…”
“Yvonne? She’s in the changing room out back. Your baby pooped and it was stinking up the store, so she had to go change his diaper. Lucky thing you left his bag here too.”
I slumped against a pillar in relief and muttered “Thank you Jesus” under my breath.
Nathan stretched out his arms on the counter and laid his head against it for a few minutes. Then he stood upright and asked for directions to the changing room. But I was a step ahead of him and already heading for a door marked ‘Changing room’.
As I barged in, I saw NJ on a changing table, cute bum exposed and legs kicking in the air. The lady who had been bent over him stood up as I entered, and despite my anxiety, I couldn’t help but acknowledge that she looked liked she had just stepped off the cover page of a beauty magazine. She was stunning. Tall, fair-skinned and with eyes that could pierce you with just one look.
She blinked in surprise and then smiled in recognition as Nathan came in behind me.
“Hello.” She quipped, with a bright smile and deep dimples.
“Hi,” said Nathan in response.
I rushed forward to the changing table and scooped up NJ for a snuggle and lots of wet kisses, not caring if he was properly cleaned up or not.
From the corner of my eyes, I saw the lady look at me in surprise and look to Nathan for an explanation.
“Thank you so much Ms…”
“Yvonne. Just Yvonne.” She replied, looking at me and back at NJ, no doubt trying to spot a resemblance between us.
Nathan stepped forward and took her hand in his for a handshake.
“I can’t tell you how grateful I am Yvonne. I thought for a moment that I’d…”
“Misplaced him?” Yvonne cut in, looking up at him with an amused glint in her eyes. “I suspected you were feeling lost and out of sorts when you came in earlier.”
“You bet!” She laughed, and handed me the diaper in her hand.
“I’ll leave you to it then, ma’am. Nathan Junior looks very happy to see you. I’ll be outside if you need anything.”
With that, she laid a hand briefly on Nathan’s shoulder and stepped out.
(I couldn’t help wondering why she knows his full name, and if that parting gesture was absolutely necessary, but it’s none of my business…)
For a few more minutes, I ignored Nathan and kept on bestowing kisses on NJ’s face and making rumbling noises against his belly. NJ cackled in delight, while trying to stuff strands of my hair in his mouth.
Nathan had to step in and untangle my hair from NJ’s grip. As I laid him back down on the table, I looked up at Nathan, a questioning look on my face.
“I can explain.” Nathan said.
“I’m waiting for it. It had better be good.”
I continued cleaning NJ up and wore him clean clothes while Nathan explained what happened.
NJ woke up from his nap and cried for an hour straight. Nothing Nathan did could placate him. Desperate, Nathan packed him and his bag into the car and just wanted to drive around. The rumbling of the car engine seemed to calm NJ down a bit, so he stopped at the park in hopes that the crying was over. As soon as he cut the engine, NJ started up again, and by then several cars had parked behind him, so he was boxed in.
Nathan got out of the car with NJ and aimlessly wandered around until he got to the toy store.
When he got inside, he met with Yvonne, who noticed his predicament and took NJ from him. Through some persuasive bribing with squeaky toys, NJ quietened and began to play heartily.
“I told Yvonne I needed to get something from the car and I walked out of the store.”
“And got in your car and just drove off?” I exclaimed, amazed at his carelessness.
“Habika, I know how it looks, but I wasn’t myself. I kept remembering…” He stopped.
“Nothing. All I could think of was getting home to my laptop who wouldn’t scream in my ears nonstop.”
“What did you remember Nathan?” I asked again, worried about the look I saw in his eyes when he made the statement.
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Don’t, Habika!” Nathan sternly replied, hands curled into fists. “Please.” He added.
I stared at him in silence for a few seconds, then wordlessly packed up NJ’s bag and headed for the door.
With one hand on the doorknob, I paused and turned, speaking to Nathan’s stiff back;
“I really want to help Nathan. But you need to stop making me feel foolish for choosing to do so.”
I walked out and saw Yvonne and the teenager bent over toys scattered on the floor. They stood up as I came close.
“I really want to thank you for caring for NJ. I’m sorry for any inconvenience…”
“Oh no ma’am, no inconvenience at all. He is a sweet child.” said Yvonne, smiling down at NJ and tweaking his nose playfully.
“And very handsome too, just like his father,” added the teenager. (I rolled my eyes at this, only in my head though).
She (her name tag read ‘Dera’) picked up a squeaky toy and pressed it into NJ’s eager hands. “This is on the house. And what I mean is Yvonne will pay for it.”
“Ha ha, very funny Dera.”
As we laughed at her joke, Nathan walked in. I cleared my throat.
“Ladies, this little man needs to go home ASAP. Thanks again for your kindness. Especially you, Yvonne. This boy’s poo can stink to high heaven. I admire your courage.”
Yvonne laughed, a pretty tinkling laugh that made her look even more appealing.
“Bye now.” I called back as I walked out of the store.
I got to the car before I realised that Nathan wasn’t behind me. So I sat on the hood of the car with NJ and waited.
He showed up about ten minutes later, and I pretended not to notice the business card with the name of the toy store across it, tucked halfway into his breast pocket.
We got into the car and headed home in silence. Halfway through, I suddenly turned to Nathan, remembering in dismay a grievous error.
“No! No no no no no no…”
Nathan jerked at this, his mind obviously far away before.
I was by then banging my head against the headrest repeatedly. NJ, seated on my laps, stared up at me quizzically, his head cocked.
“Habika, what’s wrong?”
I turned to Nathan, a guilty look and a self deprecating grin on my face and announced;
“I think…No, I’m sure I left the gas on at home, with a pot of soup simmering on the fire.”
Nathan stepped on the brakes abruptly, throwing us forward as I hastily clung to NJ for dear life. Cars horns blared all around us. Some commuters shook their fists at us and called Nathan such foul names that I unconsciously placed my hands over NJ’s ears to block them out.
Nathan was oblivious to them though, as he was staring down at me with an incredulous look.
“Yes. Er…Nathan we’re in the middle of the…”
“You’re really not joking?”
“Nathan Okeke, will you get this car off the road this instant! Do you want to get us killed?”
Shaking his head and muttering under his breath, Nathan started the car and continued driving.
“Just so you know, if my apartment goes up in flames, I blame you.” Looking out the window, I saw through the glass reflection that he looked over at me and shook his head again.
Then he reached for his phone and called Odiong, instructing him to check on my flat, break into my apartment if necessary and turn off the gas.
“C’mon, must he break in?”
“If you want to have an apartment at all, then he must.”
“Nothing is going to happen, I might seem accident-prone, but I don’t lose things.”
“Good to know, but I’d rather not take any chances.”
We drove on in silence. As we arrived at our building and parked, Nathan hopped out of the car and rushed to my flat, colliding with Odiong on the way.
“Odiong, what’s the situation, did you…”
“Ah Oga, welcome.” Odiong took Nathan’s hand in his and pumped vigorously. “Oga, it is a miracle o. The pot black well well, but nothing catch fire.”
I was close to them as he made this last statement. I turned to Nathan and grinned widely; “I told you so.”
He ignored me, dipping his hand into his pocket and pulling out his wallet. Odiong was getting richer by the day.
I went on to my apartment, and amazingly, the smell of smoke seemed to have been confined to the kitchen area. I headed for NJ’s high chair and placed him in it. He protested immediately, hands stretched to me to be picked up again. I could tell he was hungry, so I ignored his squealing and prepared his food. When he became more insistent, I started to sing and dance. My gyrating amused him, and he began to laugh and hit the tabletop excitedly.
At one point in my multitasking (singing, dancing and food making), I spun around and saw Nathan leaning against the door, arms crossed against his chest, an amused smile on his lips.
“What are you looking at?” I demanded, embarrassed at being caught.
“I’m just trying to wrap my head around your abrupt mood swings.”
I snorted at that. “Just thank God for it. I can’t stay angry for long. Or else you’d be minced meat by now.”
“In that case, ‘Hallelujah!'”
I burst out laughing. (Nathan picks the weirdest moments to be witty. I enjoy it though. It makes him unpredictable).
NJ saw that my attention was divided, and he cried in protest. I squatted down before his chair and began shoving spoonfuls of his cereal into his mouth. Nathan casually drew close and looked down at us. I was just about to tell him off for not offering to help me out when my phone rang.
“Can you help me with that?” I asked, gesturing to my handbag on the sofa behind me.
Nathan rifled through my bag and pulled out the phone, handing it over to me.
‘Mommy dearest’ was what was on the screen, and my sixth sense told me this was a call I didn’t want to answer with Nathan hovering over my shoulder.
“Take over please, I have to take this,” I pressed the plate into his hands and stood up, heading for the privacy of my bedroom.
“Habika, wait. I don’t think I can…”
“For goodness sake Nathan, you’re to feed a baby, not fly to the moon,” I replied, exasperated at his irrational fear of being left alone with a child. “Dip the spoon in the plate then put it in his mouth. Very simple.”
“And try not to kill him while you’re at it,” I called back to him before I shut the door to my bedroom.
“Hi Mom!” I said with as much cheer in my voice as I could muster, “Yes Mom, I know it’s been awhile … I’m sorry I haven’t called … They did? … Yes it’s true … I was going to tell you but … No Mom … I’m sorry … What? That’s a lie, or a very bad joke. I’m not engaged to his father … It’s a temporary arrangement … Yes Mom, I learnt that from you … What?! No, no, that won’t be necessary … Come on Mother! … Please don’t … Yes Mom … Okay, bye.”
I ended the call and stood still for a few minutes, staring at nothing. A cry from NJ jolted me and I hastened back to the living room.
“What? What is it?” I inquired anxiously.
“Eh, nothing. I delayed too long in putting the spoon in his mouth and that was him showing his anger.”
“Oh. But you see? You’re still breathing. That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
“You’ve been gone for what, seven minutes? He spent that time assessing me, as if deciding if it would be worth it to defy me. So I withhold judgment for now.”
Nathan seemed to notice the pensive look in my eyes, because he asked; “Bad news?”
I sighed and plopped down on the sofa.
“Bad news? Well, I guess that depends.”
“On if it’s considered good news to have your Mom come over and subject you to questioning of the nth degree.”
“Your Mom’s coming?”
“That’s what I said. Pay attention Nathan.”
“Well,” Nathan placed the now empty plate on a stool and stood up. “That doesn’t sound so bad.”
“Hah! Speak for yourself.” I took over and cleaned NJ’s mouth with a damp towelette, lifted him out of the high chair and gently patted his back so he’d burp.
“My brothers told her everything. And obviously garnished the story a tad too much. She’ll come here armed with questions, and a truth potion too if she can lay her hands on any. But answers, she must have.”
“Don’t sound so nonchalant. You will be the main topic under discussion and scrutiny. Consider yourself warned.”
“You make her sound so menacing.”
“Nathan, this is a woman who invited a guy who liked me during college to dinner. By the end of the night, after she had asked a million questions and dug deep into his family history up to the time of his great-grandfather, the poor guy told me he was no longer interested.”
“Whoa.” Nathan replied, eyes wide.
“Exactly! Mrs Gabriel can be relentless.”
“Hmmm.” He responded thoughtfully. Then he said, “NJ is sleeping.”
I looked over my shoulder at NJ’s face, and indeed the tyke was out cold. I couldn’t blame him. He had had quite an eventful day.
I laid him down in his cot, and guilt tripped Nathan into helping me clean up my smoky, messed up kitchen.
As the sun set, I finally released him to go do some office work that had piled up.
I spent the rest of the evening feeding NJ again and watching movies, while treating myself to a large helping of my energy meal: bread and Nutella spread.
As I lay in bed much later, thinking back over the events of the day, it hardly seemed possible that so much had happened within twenty-four hours.
I laughed scoffingly as I thought of my Mom getting her claws into Nathan.
Nathan had no idea what was about to hit him…
This is Episode 6 of
Life! With Habika.
If you’re new here, please read through from Episodes 1-5 for maximum enjoyment.
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Thanks for reading!