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Chapter One


Ehizele Abhulimhen stared long and hard at his prospectus.
He could not make much sense of the items listed on the single sheet of paper. He stood up and pushed back the dining room chair he had been sitting on. Then he stretched from side to side. The growl inside his stomach struck a symphony he understood too well. His left palm involuntarily patted his stomach. He knew his mom would help him out. Looking again at the prospectus, he decided to abandon it in the meantime.

Ehis patted his hair and rushed off to the kitchen. As an afterthought, he came back, took the prospectus from the table, and rushed off again with it.
“Mom, come take a look at this!” Ehis called out on getting to the kitchen door.

Anne looked up from her cooking. A dimple appeared on her right cheek as she smiled at her son. She was in her middle thirties, though she looked a lot younger. Many of her colleagues extolled her beauty. But Anne never took note of those. She was a modest and calm woman, with little tolerance for flattery.
“Stop mesmerising me with those smiles, Mom. I need you to resolve a little qualm. Would that be too much to ask?”
What was the boy reading these days? Anne wondered. Where did he even learn the word ‘mesmerising’?
Anne smiled. “Well, now,” she began, “that depends on how little your ‘little’ problem is, darling. As you can see, I am still in here.” She made a sweeping gesture with both arms all around the spacious kitchen.
“Wow, Mom! What is that aroma? Chicken, beef, or turkey?” Ehis walked straight to the gas cooker in one corner of the kitchen with his nose raised. He sniffed now in one direction and then the other.
“Since when did aromas become your problem, dear? How so like your Dad you look, sniffing around like that in a kitchen you have no business being in the first place!”
“Oh, Mom, you know I get easily distracted by things–” Ehis let his right hand touch the pot that seemed to be the source of the spicy aromas “– like this,” he finished.
“And what about your little qualm now?” Anne cut in, knocking his hand off the pot in the process.
“Ouch! Mom. Do you always have to do that?”
“It is called maternal discipline dear. Get used to it.”

Anne knew the boy was still a child. He had celebrated his ninth birthday just the week before. He was however a lot smarter than most children his age. He had remarkable eyes – a perfect combination of his parents’. One look at those eyes when the boy was born and Anne knew she was committed forever. She regarded the boy again. How he had grown! An oval shaped face, a fine narrow nose, ending in a small mouth, and dark, straight hair combined to give him a feminine appearance. The fact that he got most of his external features from her heightened the resemblance between them. This pleased her immensely. Ehis was indeed a beautiful boy.

“Mom! Concentrate,” Ehis said. “Why do you always look at me like that?”
“Like how?”Anne feigned amazement.
“You know mom, as though it were the first time you ever saw me?”
Anne said nothing. She put down the pots that had been on the gas and put out the cooker after that.
“Am I that special?” The boy smiled, and tiny dimples surfaced on both cheeks.
“You wish, darling,” she replied with seriousness. “Your dad is obviously spoiling you. Let me tell you, you’re not even handsome.”
Anne was not going to admit to her son that he was the next best thing that ever happened to her after his father. Ehis could brag all he wished; she would not be influenced into doing anything for him today, she hoped.

“It’s my prospectus, Mom,” Ehis said, finally getting to the point. He stretched out the paper in his mom’s face for emphasis.
Anne took a few steps back. ‘
“Do you have to shove it in my face like that?” She took the paper from his hand and stared at it.
“Some items there are unfamiliar. I am not sure they can be purchased here in Uromi oh,” the boy pouted.
“Look, my dear, you don’t always have to sound as if nothing good can be bought here in Uromi. Don’t worry, we’ll deal with this. But not here in the kitchen, okay?”
“Okay.” Ehis cast one last look at the pots. “Aren’t we supposed to eat that?”
“Not yet, my dear. You will, soon enough. We have to wait for Daddy to get back, remember?”
“Uh-uh, nope! Why must we wait sef?” The boy rubbed his chin. “So that we can eat together as a family, right?”
Anne turned the boy around and led him out the kitchen door. She could still recall the delight with which he had received news of his admission into St Kizito National High School. She had had her doubts when Ehis opted to go that far from home, but she had relented when it was very clear that Sam was in support of his decision. She led her son past the dining room, through the exquisite corridor adjacent to the staircase, up to her room upstairs.

Ehis let his mom’s hand guide him. He wondered why she always did that, though. He was certainly not going to get lost inside their house. As soon as they got to her bedroom, he ran forward and took a giant dive into the huge bed at the middle.

Anne followed at a more reasonable pace, and sat on the bed. Ehis having rumpled the sheets, looked up with an apologetic gaze and fell flat across her, his head resting on her laps.
“Don’t say, Mom, I know. It was so tempting I couldn’t resist.
I swear.”
Anne was silent. She cradled his head on her lap and ruffled his hair. “Don’t worry about the items on the prospectus, darling. Let Mommy take care of that. Your only responsibility now is to ensure you pack all the things we will get you.”
“Alone? Won’t you help me pack?” Ehis was alarmed.
“Of course, I will. I am just concerned about you not forgetting anything at the end of the day.”

Anne had a distant look in her eyes. She already missed her son, even though he still had more than two weeks at home before resumption.
“I will get Dad to help. Don’t worry, Mom, he never forgets a thing.’

Ehis was familiar with the look his mother now wore. It almost broke his heart. He knew that the hardest part of going to school would be leaving his mom behind. But that was supposed to happen someday, right?
“Mom, stop acting as if I am going away forever.”
Anne attempted to respond. “Don’t even say anything, cos I know you. You are so transparent.” Ehis sat up on the bed and gave his mother a hug.
Anne returned the embrace, holding the boy so tightly that she feared she would squash him.
“Ah! Not so tight, Mom,” Ehis was already wriggling out of the embrace. “Don’t worry; Hakuna matata.”
“What?” She asked.
“It means no worries. It’s a problem-free philosophy, Mom,” Ehis explained.
“Where on earth did you hear that?” Anne asked, perplexed.
“Oh, Mom, it’s a line from Timon and Pumbaa’s song in ‘Lion King’. It’s not even like you like cartoons. Why are you so interested?”
“Because you mentioned it nah? Why else would I be?”
“This boy, you think you’re smart, eh?”
“You bet, Mom.”

Just then, a car horn blared downstairs. Ehis jumped out of
the bed and made for the window overlooking the courtyard below. Lifting the blinds, he looked down in time to see his Dad’s car going inside the garage. He let fall the blinds and raced to the door. As he dashed through, he called to his mom over his shoulders in a singsong voice, “Catch ya, Mom. Dad is home!”
“Go get him, darling,” Anne called after him, her immediate concerns forgotten.

“Our son is overjoyed at the prospect of going to a boarding school, you know. It hurts me so to see how he jumps all over the place as though he is very happy to leave us. Why can’t we just put him somewhere closer?” Anne was sitting with her husband on the sofa in the sitting room later that night after Ehis had gone to bed. They were watching a movie on television.
“Look, Anne dear, I know we want him to be very near us,” Sam began; “but see, things have changed.” Sam stretched his long legs out and placed them on the center table. He let his fingers run across his bearded chin for a moment. “The moment that boy came into our lives, everything changed. Our choices cannot be exclusive to us anymore, you know. There is always one more person to consider now. It is normal for a growing child like Ehis to jump at the prospect of boarding school. It does not mean that he is happy to leave us. He loves us as much as we love him. Besides, he is no longer a baby. He is old enough to take care of himself. Babysitting him would only make him feel unnecessarily pampered.”
“So I am the one babysitting him now?” Anne moved away from her husband on the sofa.
Sam paused. Women!
He had not expected that kind of remark this early into the conversation. This was going to be a lot harder than he thought. He moved closer to her, took her hands in both of his, and continued.
“Did you not notice how he jumped on me when I came in this evening? When last did Ehis give me such a passionate reception? Moreover, do not forget that many of his primary school friends got admission into that same school. If you ask me, your son is very happy going to Benin. He is not happy leaving us.”
” But that’s not my only fear, Babe.” Anne was close to tears. “He has stayed home all his life, surrounded by much love and security. How can he cope out there, mixed up with children from different backgrounds and all? I am just scared. Who knows what could happen to him out there? We run the risk of losing him to such a mixed crowd.”
“Losing him?” Sam was perplexed. “The boy will be just fine. I promise you. We have taught him all we need to, and frankly, we are not losing him to anyone or anything for that matter. Have some faith in this family, Babes. I assure you that we have brought him up properly. Don’t worry; I am certain Ehis will weather any storm he faces there.”
Anne was still doubtful, but she sighed and managed a weak smile, more in an attempt to reassure Sam than anything else.
“Are you sure he’ll be fine?” Anne had a bad feeling about this.
“I cross my heart. He will be. Do not forget your man here went to a boarding school too. They rarely are as bad as people think, you know. Moreover, the boy needs some space. I don’t want him growing up to be a woman.” Sam made sure he placed much emphasis on the last word.
“What did you say?”
“Forget you heard.”
Anne aimed a blow at her husband’s head, while he jumped out of the sofa like one stung by a bee. “Hey, Woman, don’t take it too personal. I was only expressing my thoughts aloud. Is it not better to be open in marriage?” He laughed; a deep rumble of vocal chords.
“Such openness can cost you your marriage, Man.” This time the smile touched Anne’s eyes. “At least I now know where Ehis gets all those silly things he says.”
Sam smiled. He moved towards the large Plasma TV on the wall. For him, the conversation was over. “Can I switch this off yet?” Anne nodded.
“Come on Babes, are you not going to bed? It used to be you petitioning me to come to bed. I wonder when the roles got reversed.” Sam headed for the stairs.

Anne made no effort to get up from the sofa. She still sat there, hands folded on her lap, head bent, with her long hair falling across her shoulders, and creating an atmosphere of dejection. “This house will be so empty without him.”

Sam came back and sat down beside her, almost at the point of frustration. He should have known the matter was not over yet. “Now that’s completely a different matter, my Angel.” In his usual manner, he managed to keep the impatience off his voice.
Anne knew Sam saved this particular endearment for the rarest of occasions; the effect was not lost on her.
“Come on, I know what you are thinking. Don’t worry, we’ll manage.” Sam got up again and, in one swift motion, lifted her off the chair. He was not about to make the same mistake twice in one night. He needed to carry this woman away from the sofa.
“I think you need reassurance that your man is not growing old and senile. I should be jealous, though. Imagine, Ehis is about to depart for Benin and here you are, totally losing it. What if I were the one going to school? Would you be this moody?” He was already on the stairs with his self-imposed burden.
“It’s not every day I get a ride upstairs with my head on broad shoulders, so I forgive you for your lack of mouth control. Say something that stupid about me some other time and you will get a new interpretation of losing it.” Anne allowed her frustration seep out as she rested her head on Sam’s chest, with her arms around his neck.
“Your fate is totally in my hands and yet you threaten me? What if I let you drop—”
A sharp pain in his stomach prevented Sam from completing whatever he had wanted to say. Anne had punched him with all her strength.
“My God! Woman! Can’t you take a little joke?”

To be continued…

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