4: Sins, consequences

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If you focus on the hurt, you'll continue to suffer. If you focus on the lesson you'll continue to grow

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Desmond was twenty-five-years-old when he married Juliet, who had just turned twenty-three few months prior to their wedding. It was a marriage born out of love and a promise to stick together forever. 

A year later and Juliet was without a child. Everyone was patient. After all, there had been marriages that didn't produce a child in the first year. 

The second year came and people started to ask questions, especially Desmond's mother. They all questioned Juliet's ability to conceive and issued the blame on her, given the lifestyle Juliet once lived.

Juliet used to be a wild woman, who gave herself to any man she found attractive — though all these ended the moment Desmond came into her life. Despite the change of character and being converted to a Christian by her husband, Desmond's mom still said she was only pretending.

Desmond was the first and only son — amongst three daughters — of his parents; and after the death of his father, his mother grew agitated in her desire for him to have a son to carry-on the family name.

The third year came with Desmond's mother, secretly, suggesting he brought in a second wife. And by the fourth year, Juliet found no peace in her matrimonial home. Her mother-in-law refused to leave the house, and almost every day she threatened to bring in a new wife. 

The doctors they visited said it'd take a miracle for Juliet to ever conceive. Their faith were thinned by this news, but they both strengthened their hope and decided to wait on that miracle. This piece of information they kept to themselves.

These were trying times for Juliet and if not for her new-found faith, a supportive husband and caring parents, she would have sought for a divorce.

By the fifth year, when all hoped had been lost, Juliet conceived. This eased the pressure from her mother-in-law, and the woman finally left the house. But their happiness was short-lived as, simultaneously, Juliet had Isabelle and her parents died in a car accident.

Her mother-in-law was the first to say she was a witch, who had sacrificed her parents' heads for the life of her child. All these accusations only worsened when Desmond's mom found out Juliet had given birth to a daughter. And due to dire birth complications, Mrs. Onyenorah would forever be unable to conceive.

As Isabelle grew to a knowing age, she witnessed first-hand how much her grandmother hated her mom, and how much the woman also hated her.

After Isabelle had, unintentionally, let her feet leave the floor, causing the chair to tilt back fully so she fell with a loud thud, she yelped in pain. Her parent's heard the commotion and hurried into the dining room.

“Oh my goodness. Isabelle, how did this happen?” Her mom asked as she helped her up.

“What is wrong with you? How can you be so reckless?” Her dad asked, picking the chair up and giving it a quick check.

Her mom helped her sit on another chair, examining the back of her head. 

“Does it hurt?” She asked.

Though it did, a little, Isabelle shook her head.

“You were playing with the chair, weren't you?” Her dad asked with a glower.

Isabelle didn't say a word, rubbing the back of her head and rolling her shoulders.

“Where was your mind?” Mrs. Onyenorah asked as she straightened and took over rubbing the back of Isabelle's head. 

“Why is grandma coming here?” Isabelle regarded her dad.

“Isabelle,” her mom reprimanded.

Isabelle looked away.

Sighing, her dad took out a chair opposite her. “Isabelle.”

But she wouldn't look at him.

“Isabelle.”

She finally turned to him. 

“Do you hate my mother that much?” 

Hate: a strong word Isabelle had never dared attach to a person, but hearing her dad ask if she hated his mother almost made her wish she could say she did. Hearing anything about her grandma was enough to make her blood boil, let alone, what the woman's presence did to her. Was it then fair or right to say she hated the woman?

Isabelle refused to give a reply as she also left her inner dilemma unanswered.

Her dad sighed deeply before telling her to go to bed. “We'll talk about this tomorrow. I don't want you to wake up late for school.” 

~~~

Isabelle had barely closed her eyes when Kiss me by 5 Seconds of Summer blasted throughout her room. With a quiet moan, her hands searched for her phone on the lampstand beside her bed. Grabbing the phone, she rubbed her eyes and drew in a deep breath, then ended the alarm. 

Letting the phone slide out of her hands and hit her chest with a low thud she ignored, she lay back on her bed, staring into the dark. Her grandma was coming that day. How was she supposed to be at ease knowing that that woman would be at every corner of their house, devising various means of causing trouble? How does God reward good people like her mom with evil mothers-in-law like her grandma?

There was a knock on her door and she shut her eyes. If it was her dad, she didn't want to talk to him.

“Hey, honey,” she heard her mom's soft voice as the door was closed gently and the light came on.

Isabelle opened her eyes and shielded them with the back of her hand, squinting, so they could adjust to the current brightness of the room.

“You're up yet?” Her mom asked, making her way to sit at the edge of the bed. “I wasn't sure you'll be in since you always go for a walk every morning.”

Isabelle put her hand down and turned to face her mom. The woman looked sleep-deprived: her pale face was accompanied by puffy eyelids that cast shadows beneath them, consequently ruining her mom's perfect face. Though the two had a deep resemblance, Isabelle believed her mom to be prettier.

“How's your head? And your back?” Her mom asked.

“It stopped hurting since yesterday. You look like you haven't slept in days,” she commented and sat up, leaning back on the headboard.

“I do?” Her mom cleaned her lower eyelids with a thumb on one and a forefinger on the other. “I guess I'll have to wear heavier makeup today and maybe look like a clown.” 

That was supposed to be a joke, rather it upset Isabelle the more.

“How can you joke at a time like this?” 

Her mom said nothing as she joined her hands together and breathed deeply.

“I know you don't like your grandma and you're probably questioning why God would allow such a person to exist in our lives as a burden,” she said. “But I want you to understand God never gives us too much to handle.” 

Isabelle didn't look convinced, so her mom continued.

“I've told you about my past life many times, right?” 

“Yes.”

“And you know of the many mistakes I made. This is just me paying for the sins I committed.”

“But I thought God completely forgives anyone who repents? So why then do you still need to pay for something he already forgave you for?” 

“Okay. Let me ask you,” her mom paused, tapping her right forefinger on her lips. “Can you forgive a person and completely forget?”

Isabelle was quiet for a while. “But He can, can't He?”

“Yes... let me ask you something else. How'd you feel if a man takes a life and later in the future, he repents, but he never pays for the sin he committed?” 

Isabelle pondered on the question and then murmured: “But you didn't kill anyone.”

“Aborting a child is the same as maiming a life.” 

Isabelle's eyes left her mom's face and focused on the door.

“It's just the natural order of life,” her mom said. “Of course, I've been forgiven. That's exactly why I have your father, who's always on my side. And you.” She put her hand on Isabelle's and Isabelle turned to her. 

“Do you know I was never meant to give birth?” Her mom's voice cracked as tears welled up in her eyes. “Five long years, I waited. Wherever I went, doctors told me it'd be impossible for me to ever give birth. That it'd be a miracle if I even conceive. Isabelle, I was never meant to have you.”

Isabelle's eyes watered.

“But God took pity on me. He took pity on someone like me and gave me you. He could've given me a son, your grandma would say. But I believe every child is a blessing from God. And you're more than just a blessing to me. You're my everything.” 

By now, tears were streaming down both faces.

“So please. Isabelle, please. Don't let your heart be filled with hate and anger. These two things can drive a person into making the greatest mistake of their life.” 

Unable to say anything, Isabelle simply nodded, lips pressed tightly. Her mom moved closer and spread her arms, comforting her with hug.

During breakfast, Isabelle's dad didn't say a word, except answering her greeting and asking how she was. 

“Isabelle, can I talk to you,” he said.

They had just finished eating breakfast and Isabelle's mom was clearing the table. She glanced at her mom, whose face held a silent plea and she sat down.

Her dad leaned forward, resting his right arm on the table and turning, so he could look at her. 

He said nothing for a while and during that brief moment, Isabelle took note of every facial detail. Current stress was starting to take a toll on his handsome face, causing a slight crinkle at the corner of his eyes and some white strands invaded his black hair. 

“My mom isn't one of the best, person in the world. She has her... Flaws,” he said. “But I want you to know she doesn't mean you or your mom any harm, and would never do anything to hurt you two.”

Isabelle failed to believe him and was partially successful in hiding her disbelief.

“But no matter what happens, I will never, ever, abandon you or your mom. Because you both are my family and I love you more than life itself.”

This Isabelle believed, because her dad had shown it in numerous ways.

“She's only going to be here for a week,” he went on saying. “No longer than that. So throughout this one week, I want you to be accommodating.”

Isabelle's face contorted into a disagreeing scowl. Her grandma was the trouble, not she.

“Okay?" 

Nonetheless, she agreed. 

“Alright. Let's get you to school before you're late.”

Isabelle shouldered her bag and was about to open the door, when her mom stopped her.

“Isn't your bag heavy?” She asked.

It was. Isabelle's shoulder was tilted to one side and this was as a result of the large textbooks in her bag.

“You know I didn't resume on the first week, so I want to cover up with a quick revision of mine during my free periods,” Isabelle explained.

Mrs. Onyenorah's brows knit together. “Is that why you want to break your shoulder?” 

“Aren't there textbooks in the library?” Mr. Onyenorah asked.

Isabelle thought about it and ended up feeling stupid. “I'll take them out now.” She took off her bag.

“No o. Why not leave it there? Maybe it's until you start carrying your arm in one hand and your bag in another that you'll learn,” her mom mocked.

Desmond laughed and Isabelle wore a playful scowl. She started to imagine her arm popping out of its socket like a mannequin's would, and then went on to seeing herself chasing everyone around with it. Laughing at her imagination, she shook her head. 

“Gosh, I'm so funny.” 

At the door, she was met with an upset Emily, who had just slammed the door.

“What's wrong?” 

Emily glanced back at the door. “Let's be going first.”

As they made their way down the flight of stairs, Emily narrated what happened that morning.

“But they're your parents,” Isabelle said.

Emily stopped to give Isabelle a look. “Are you being serious?”

“I know what they did to you was wrong, but aren't you curious to know why? Because if they didn't actually love you, why would they still keep in touch?”

“Guilty conscience,” Emily said and continued down the stairs.

“Exactly. They feel bad and want to-”

“If they loved me, they'd have sent their son here too.”

A year after Emily was flown into the country, her parents had a son. This only aggravated Emily's anger towards them, especially when they didn't send her brother to Nigeria too. Emily's conclusion became her parents were embarrassed of having a daughter as their first child so they sent her away. After all, it was no secret Nigerian parents adored sons than daughters.

“I mean, what's the best explanation for what they did?” Emily went on saying, her feet covering more steps. “They had a daughter and sent her away. They had a son and kept him. What would you think if you were in my shoes?”

“Can you hold on,” Isabelle called out, a little out of breath because she was trying to keep up with Emily's pace.

Emily rolled her eyes, but still waited. “All these stress can be avoided if you'd just grow a pair and let us take the elevator.”

The complex they lived in was a five-storey building, and they lived on the last floor.

Still catching her breath, Isabelle said: “Claustrophobia is a real thing, you know.”

“Dey there dey whine yourself (be deceiving yourself). When you're always eating.”

Isabelle laughed. No matter how many times she heard Emily's accent switch it never ceased to be funny.

“Did you see Yemi this morning?” Emily asked.

“I skipped this morning's walk.” 

Yemi was one fine hunk living in their neighbourhood and Isabelle got to know him through her usual morning walks. Although, Isabelle suspected Emily had a thing for him. 

They waited by Isabelle's parents car. Though there were few car owners, the compound was quite spacious to accommodate every car in a vertical position across the building.

Emily was staring at her reflection, pouting, grinning and making a peace sign.

“Let's take a selfie,” she said, taking out her phone from her bag.

“Don't you ever get tired of taking pictures? We took like one million in school yesterday.”

“Shut up and just pose.” 

Emily stretched out her right arm with her phone in her hand and Isabelle stayed behind, grinning with a peace sign. Neighbors taking their kids to school passed and the two stopped to greet them.

“Hmm. This one is okay. Let's take another one.”

“My grandma's coming today,” Isabelle blurted out.

Emily whipped up her head and Isabelle feared a bone might have shifted, because of how fast Emily's neck made a 180.

“What? That witch is coming here?”

Isabelle hushed at Emily and looked around them. There was only one man, two cars away from them, frowning down at his car's bonnet with his hands on his waist.

“Why is that witch coming here?” Emily ignored Isabelle's warning.

Emily had witnessed Isabelle's grandma's cruel behaviour, and probably even hated the woman more than Isabelle did. 

Isabelle shrugged. “My dad just told us yesterday.”

“Wait a minute. That woman is coming here today, and your dad only told you and your mom yesterday?”

“I'm sure he has been planning on telling us. You know how sensitive the issue about grandma is to my mom.”

Emily's mouth hung open and a sardonic laugh followed. “Well, I sha know I'm not coming to your house till she leaves. God knows I might strangle the woman if I see her.”

“Emily!” 

“What?”

Isabelle's parents showed up and the two shut up.

In school, Isabelle spent most of her morning trying to figure out the reason behind her grandma's visit. She wasn't sick: Isabelle knew so, because if she was she'd have heard of it, either from her mom or her dad. Could she be bored and just looking for trouble as usual? 

Isabelle grimaced and let out a groan.

“Miss Isabelle Onyenorah,” the teacher in front of the class addressed.

The man, Mr. Christopher, always made it a point to call everyone by their first and last name. Even though his pronunciations were a bit wrong.

Isabelle's eyes widened as her head snapped up. She had been so lost in thoughts, that she forgot they were having Physics class. And worse of all, she was seated on the front row.

“What was the last thing I said?” Mr. Christopher pointed his cane at her, his eyes trained on her with a cross look on his face.

Their Physics teacher was the only person who wielded a cane — something Isabelle found unusual since there was supposed to be a no cane policy.

“Uh,” Isabelle thinned her lips, rising to her feet as her heart hammered against her chest.

“Vector,” Emily whispered beside her, the back of her hand to her lips. 

Everyone sat on a two-person bench that was joined to their table, and everybody had a seat partner and Isabelle's was Emily. So this made it easier for Isabelle to hear her.

“Vector,” Isabelle repeated.

“Is the-” 

“You,” Mr. Christopher pointed his cane at Emily. “Stand up.”

Isabelle gulped, but Emily was on her feet without as much as a hint of fear in her demeanour.

“Since you two think I'm a joke, get out of my class.” 

“Sir,” Isabelle started to beg, but Emily was already leaving the classroom.

Isabelle stared, wide-eyed, at her nonchalant friend.

“I said, out!” Mr. Christopher's loud voice prompted a jolt from Isabelle.

Away from the classroom's window, Emily leaned on the wall, her left arm under her right arm as she chewed on her right fingernails. Isabelle slapped her hand. Emily frowned.

“You didn't even try begging the man,” Isabelle said.

“Why should I have done that? His class was even boring, so he only helped me.” 

“Emily.”

“Wo, leave that one jare. That man is just looking for a means to flaunt authority. Was he supposed to send us out? Hasn't he heard of 'being lenient' before?”

Isabelle hushed her and lowered her voice. “It's his class, and he can do whatever he wants. Besides, I'm at fault.” 

She joined Emily, also leaning back on the wall as she groaned with hands over her face. “Gosh. Why did I embarrass myself like that? In front of everyone.” 

“What were you even thinking of sef?” Emily leaned away from the wall to ask.

Isabelle sighed.

“Is it about that woman?”

She nodded. Emily leaned back and said nothing.

“I swear,” Emily finally said. “If she should try anything stupid, I'll break those bones she calls legs.” 

“Stop swearing,” Isabelle said tiredly.

“I mean it. I will,” Emily argued.

Isabelle stayed quiet, staring into the window of SS2 A classroom, which was across them. It was empty, meaning the students were probably in one of the laboratories. 

As she sighed, the bell rang.

During lunch hours, against Isabelle's persistent refusal, Emily dragged her to sit with Jessica and the rest. The excuse was the need for Isabelle to return Jessica's notebook since Isabelle had been able to finish it the day before.

After returning the note, Isabelle stayed quiet as Grace told of a film she had watched the night before. Bankole was more into his phone, as was Jessica; and with the looks the two exchanged, Isabelle suspected they were texting each other — although Jessica looked upset. 

Emily was the only one paying Grace any attention; and Opeoluwa, though looking lost in thoughts, seemed to be listening too. A few minutes before lunch ended, Joel left the cafeteria to receive a phone call. 

By the end of the day, Isabelle felt drained, but Emily was quite the opposite.

“Emmy, let's go home already.” 

“Wait, wait, wait,” Emily said, slapping Isabelle's arm and Isabelle slapped her hands away. “Dave and some guys are playing a friendly match against the SS2 students. It's supposed to be training or something. But they said it'll be fun.”

“So?” 

“What do you mean so? Your grandma's probably at your place right now. Going home early is like having an early death wish. Let's have a little fun before we go back and face that witch.”

Isabelle shot Emily a displeased look.

“Sorry. Grandm. Not witch.” Emily put her hands up in surrender.

“What about your cousins? Aren't we going to get them?” 

“It's just three. And because of after-school lessons for his Junior WAEC, David won't be closing until four or four-thirty.”

“Emily, I'm tired.” Isabelle whined. “And hungry.”

“You're always hungry. Tch. I just pity you.”

Isabelle retained an unhappy look.

Emily mirrored the look. “Eh, you can go, but as for me, I'm not leaving.”

“And what do I tell them if they ask why you aren't home?”

“My aunt will still be at her boutique and your parents won't be home. Except of course to welcome your grandma,” Emily drawled the latter and put a hand on her chin. 

“You know what?” She said after much thought. “Cover up for me. Tell them I got into detention or something. But make it believable. Don't give all those your ridiculous lies. Like the last time I went to visit Bidemi.”

“My lie wasn't ridiculous.” 

“You told my aunt I had gone to the laundry mart.”

“And?”

“We have a washing machine and the laundry was still at home.”

“If you know my lies are ridiculous, why did you let me cover up for you? Besides, you could've just told her where you were going.”

“You know my aunt hates that girl.” Emily frowned.

“Oh, yeah. I really don't get why you won't stop hanging out with her. I mean, she was caught smoking in school and was suspended for it. Then, became a dropout.”

“She was going through a tough time at home. Why would I abandon her like that?” 

“Because she refused to be reasoned with.”

Something above Isabelle's head caught Emily's attention. “I'd love to stay here and keep this argument going, but I have a match to watch.”

Isabelle turned to see Grace, who gave an enthusiastic wave, and she responded with a shy one. Jessica greeted her with a small smile, which she returned stiffly.

“Don't be long,” Isabelle warned.

Reaching home, Isabelle dragged her exhausted self up the stairs. Why she was this tired, she couldn't tell. Taking out her key from her bag, she inserted it into the keyhole. The door was already unlocked, and she pushed it open, brows furrowed.

The TV was on and a slim woman was seated on the couch, clad in a purple lace gown with her left hand over her head as she pointed the remote control at the TV. Isabelle recognized that human figure, and it made her pulse quicken.

“You're home.”

It was her dad who had acknowledged her presence as he came out of the dining room.

The sound of spoons and plates clicking together in the kitchen had her attention and that was when she caught a whiff of the egusi (melon) soup in the air.

“Is mom home?” She asked.

A lady, light-skinned to the point she was turning red all over, stepped out of the kitchen to stand beside her father.

“Welcome home,” the woman said.

But she wasn't Isabelle's mom.

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