August 11, 2022

I turned and there before me, was Mary, I was dumfounded, I also felt guilty. Straight out of the mental home, I had not thought of her, I was fixated on mother and finding the real cause of her death. I did not remember the one woman, who was not my mother, but loved me no less. I rushed toward her, and then stopped. She was not looking at me; her eyes were on someone else, a slim dude that could be in my age group. She was looking at the boy because, that is how I would look, if I had not grown fat due to sedentary living in the mental home. He had my height and my shape of head, and he was turned away from her. She began to walk towards him, but I intercepted her. She looked up at me, and I stared at her. Unlike Nora, the years had told on her, she did not have a ready smile like before, there were a few crow feet at the edge of her eyes, and a few gray hairs in her mass of hair.  We stared at each other for a few seconds, on her face was a frown; she could not understand why this young lad was standing in her way. Her moment of comprehension came when I smiled.

Mary: “Leke?” my smile was unique; I twitched one side of my mouth upward when I smiled. Despite every change that had occurred in my life, that didn’t change.

Leke: “Yes Mary” I bent a little and embraced her. My eyes welled up with tears; she was like a part of my past that had eluded me.

Mary: “Oh Leke bobo, I knew you were going to make it because you are strong” she said as she wet my tux with tears and phlegm. I pulled her away softly, and looked at her legs.

Mary: “It is a long story”

Leke: “I want to hear it, come on, lets eat somewhere” I pulled her by the hand and took her to Mama Cass. I ordered their special spaghetti with big cow tails, while Mary ordered amala and ewedu. We ate in silence, each of us immersed in our thoughts. After eating, I ordered a bottle of wine for us to talk over.

Mary: “Leke, how do you have the money you are spending?”

Leke: “I work at my mother’s fashion house, and I am being paid”

Mary: “Really, Nora allowed you work there?”

Leke: “She doesn’t know it is me, I go by a different name now”

Mary: “That sounds like something I watch on television, what is your job there?”

Leke: “I work in the creative department as their graphic designer” I replied impatiently.

Mary: “I am asking the wrong questions right?” she asked rhetorically. She was always so perceptive of me, right from the time I was a little boy.

Leke: “You can ask me anything you want though” I said to make her feel better. After a few seconds, I couldn’t pretend not to be curious.

Leke: “I am curious, the doctor said, you would never walk again, how are you walking?”

Mary: “It is a long story” she said as a blanket of sadness came over her eyes.

Leke: “We have enough wine for it” I replied, and she looked from me to the bottle of Chardonnay, like she wanted to oppose me drinking wine. But she thought better of it. I was surviving in this cold, cruel world all on my own; I deserved a glass of wine once in a while. The truth was, I had bought the wine for Mary’s sake, and my intention was to seduce her, not sexually but mentally. So that, she would tell me everything, and leave nothing out. It is a trick I learned from the laws of seduction, a book I read while in the mental home. The next person I was going to try this trick on would be Banke.

Mary told me how she had told the police, who came to get her statement that I was innocent, that though she had not seen the face of her assailant, it was a grown up person. Whether it was a man or a woman, she could not tell because the person was wearing a free flowing clothe and masked from head to shoulders. The police had reopened the case, and the heat around my father became much. Many theories were peddled around; some said he had hit on Mary, when she had refused his advances, he had attacked her to punish her, some others said he had slept with her and she was blackmailing him, so he decided to end her life to save face. Just before he was arrested again, Nora approached Mary and gave her a deal she could not say no to.

So, Mary went ahead and withdrew her formal statement, she told the police that I was an unstable child and was on medication. She had also put the question of my mother’s death to rest, as she lied that my mother was suicidal and had tried to kill herself before. I was dumbfounded when she was done. I could not believe that she was capable of such betrayal. I could not say a word, even though my mind was riddled with words. I felt betrayed, but I had also learnt an important lesson, that humans would always look out for themselves first. The reason Mary had betrayed me and my late mother was so she could walk again. After she kept her end of the deal, Nora flew her out of the country for rehabilitation. She underwent numerous surgical procedures before she could walk again. By the time she came back to the country, Nora and my father was already wedded, and they wanted nothing to do with her. She had been living from hand to mouth, from one menial underpaying job to the other. She was still unmarried because, the guilt of what she did, destroyed any relationship she tried to build.

Mary: ‘I am very sorry Leke, I was tempted by the ability to walk. I looked at my life, stuck to a wheel chair and I could not bear it. Forgive me” she said holding my arm entreatingly.

Lleke: “Is your life any better now?” I asked before I could stop myself. I could not deny that I was angry. Mary had the power to change the course of my life, but she didn’t care. She condemned me to a life in a mental home.

Mary: “Forgive me; I have regretted my actions ever since. I have wanted to see you, but the home administrators refused”

She begged to make it up to me, but I wondered how she could ever make it up to me. While she was talking, telling me of her plan to disguise herself and work in the house again, so she could keep watch over Nora.

Mary: “I will disguise myself, anything I will do to make it up to you” she said desperately. I almost told her to go retract her statement, and tell the police the truth. Instead, I said;

Leke: “No, this is something I have to do alone. But you have given me a better idea” I said thoughtfully, the wheels of my mind turning in my head and birthing a perfect idea of how to snare my mother’s murderer.

I thought of a better plan, and I knew just who I was going to use to execute that plan. I smiled and turned to her, even though she had betrayed me, I was still happy to see her because she was the only one from my past who really knew me and what I had been through. So I embraced her. She told me, she had heard about the collection launch and had come to demand that the mental home administrators allow her see me, before luck had shined on her and she had seen me. I was not the least warmed by this bit of information because, coming to see me was not the essential thing she could have done, she could have gone to the police and told them the truth.

The next day, I rushed to the fashion house; I needed to be there for all the gossip, it was the only way I would know how my plan had fared. The receptionist as usual was ever ready with gossip, she hammered on about how guests had fallen on each other, how one guest had fallen on someone to find out it was her fiancé who brought another girl to the show, whereas she was also with another man in the show.

Receptionist: “But, who could have played such mean prank?” she asked.

Leke: “You are asking the wrong question. The right question would be, why did she react the way she did?” The receptionist shrugged with her eyes wide open, the question was bigger than her. Then came Kunmi, with Banke in tow.

Leke: “What is she doing here?” I asked pointing at Banke.

Kunmi: “Rude much. Well she suddenly has an interest in fashion designing after last night’s debacle”

Leke: “I would wonder if it is fashion that interests her or drama” I said, which got me a stink eye from Kunmi.

Banke: “Hello Mikhail” she said with a small smile. I just nodded and walked away.

Receptionist: “That boy is beginning to put on airs” I heard the receptionist say lightheartedly.

I was working on some prototypes in my cubic office when I heard the click of heels coming towards the office. It was Nora; she walked past on her way to her office without a sideways glance. I rushed out of the office to take a look at her receding figure. I was surprised because, just yesterday, she had been shocked out of her mind, but today she was back on her feet like nothing happened.

Leke: “Does this mean…” I began to ponder the possibility that I was wrong. No, I was not wrong, I would need to up my game, and it was time to bring Banke in.

Question: What does Leke have in mind for his late father’s widow, and what role would Banke play?

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Names have been changed to protect the identity of the narrator and other individuals in the story.

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