Throughout the drive home, she was so quiet, with an unmistakable guilty look on her face. I did not say a word. She kept on glancing at my face, but I kept a passive face and avoided her face throughout. It was as if Emeka had been expecting us, I had not even pressed the car horn before he opened the gate and I drove in straightaway. I parked the car in front of the main entrance into the house and instructed Emeka to park it inside its garage. Julia came out slowly, her head was down and she stood rooted to the spot beside her side of the car. I went over to her, took her hand and led her inside.
The children were inside, all looking forlorn. They stood up when we came in, I greeted them as cheerful as I can and took Julia inside the masters’ bedroom.
Once we were inside, I led her to the bed and gestured for her to sit down, and she did. She sat there on the bed looking down. I went over to the dressing table in front of her and rested against it. I stared at her for a long time.
I knew I would be unjust if I blamed her because I knew I pushed her to do what she did. I imagined myself as a woman, in her shoes, and I suddenly discovered I would do worse than she did. It was true I never had time for her and the kids; it was work, work and work all the time. Even on public holidays, I was either at a business conference outside the country or if I managed to stay at home, I would lock myself up in the study, coming out only at meal times. If there was a person who deserved all the blames, then it was me. Besides, merely looking at her sitting down, looking so sorry, I knew she would not have done it, if she could help it. I started it all, so, I decided I was going to put an end to it all.
I moved close to her and knelt down in front of her. She was still looking down; I tipped her chin up with my right hand. Her eyes were tightly closed, but tears were dropping out of them freely.
“Julia” I said, “Open your eyes”
She obeyed and gazed at me softly.
“I’m so sorry Sweetheart,” I said, cupping her cheeks with my hands and holding her gaze. I looked her straight in the eye. “It is my fault, I know it, everything…is my fault.” I said, paused a little before continuing, “I have not been the best husband, the best lover, the best soul-mate, the best companion and the best father…I’ve drifted away over the years from you and our kids, all because of money and work.”
By this time, she was sobbing silently, her tears flowing more freely than before.
“I cannot judge you…In fact, Heavens know I dare not judge you ‘cause, if I do, I would definitely rot in hell if anything happens to our marriage. Julia, I still love you with my life, I still want this marriage, I don’t want our kids to grow into adults out of this union, you’ve always been everything I ever cared for and nothing else…”
She broke into another fresh round of sobbing now; her voice went up a little higher.
“Richard” She said, amidst sobs, “I’m sorry…I’m so, so sorry, I should not have tried it, I don’t know what got into me…I feel so unclean and unworthy now and…”
“Hey” I said, wiping her tears with my thumbs, “It’s okay, you aren’t at fault at all…all the blame is mine.”
“But Richie…” She started, but I interrupted it.
“That’s enough…” I said, before I kissed her.
“Please, forgive me.” I said after we broke apart.
She looked dazed and amused at the same time.
“But…but…but…but I should be the one…”
“No…I’m actually the one who needs forgiveness here, not you, because I caused all this…Please forgive me My Queen…will you?” I asked.
She nodded gently for an answer.
“Thank you.” I said, before I rose up from my knees and sat on the bed beside her.
I put my arm around her and drew her tight to me. She rested her head on my shoulder.
“Now to the other part,” I said, “Let’s go and have a hot bath together…shall we?”
She looked at me, smiling sweetly through her tears and nodded.
Later, while we both sat on the bed together, in our pyjamas, resting our back on the bed head, I took off my wedding ring and hers and I exchanged it. I inserted mine on her ring finger and hers on my ring finger.
“I promise to always be there for you from now on…to always respect your wishes, wants and needs…to be the best husband, lover, friend, companion, soul-mate, father…uhmmm…what other roles…?” I asked her playfully.
“Bed-mate?” She asked, laughing softly, her fairly large eyeballs twinkling.
“Huh…huh…and that too?” I asked, making a funny face.
She laughed out loud. Her happy laughter was like sonorous music to my ears. I could not believe I had been missing that part of my wife all these years.
“Yeah…yeah…bed-mate…sure…”I agreed, nodding vigorously.
I held her cheeks and gazed at her tenderly.
“I love you Julia” I said.
A single tear rolled down her left cheek.
“I love you too Richard” She replied.
I kissed off the tear.
“Thank you Richard…I don’t deserve you…” She said.
“No…It’s the other way round…it is ‘I’ who do not deserve you Sweetheart.” I replied.
Our faces were moving closer for another kiss when we heard the sound of throats clearing.
We both looked at the direction and saw our three children. Eunice stood there looking genuinely happy, one of the scarves I bought for her draping around her neck. Emmanuella stood beside her, her eyes bulging out of their sockets; she looked pleasurably expectant at us, clutching one of the books I bought for her. Emmanuel was the funniest looking of them all, he had this funny amused look on his normally rocky face. Julia and I burst into laughter.
“Well…?” Julia said, after our laughter had died down.
“Well…?” Nuella replied, crossing her arms.
The children gave each other some meaningful looks.
“Sorry to disturb you Mum and Dad,” Eunice said, “but we just couldn’t resist showing you what Daddy bought for us Mum…”
“Mum see!” Emmanuel interrupted her, before going ahead to press a button on the remote control in his hands, and the mini-robot matched in, singing the “Aud Lang Syne” song in a baritone voice.
“Wow!” Julia said, awed by the display.
“Daddy, I just love this books you bought for me, they are wonderful, I’ve been saving up to order for them all these while…and wheez…! You just bought the whole pack at once.” Nuella said, before moving over to kiss my cheeks. “Thank you Dad.”
“You’re welcome Mother.” I said tenderly, calling her my pet name for her.
“Dad, how do I thank you for this scarves?” Eunice said, walking over to kiss my cheeks too.
“You don’t have to, Sweetheart, you deserve more than that.” I replied.
Emmanuel walked over, clutching something apart from the remote control, in his left hand. He squeezed it in my hand, as if he was shaking it and looked me full in the eye, like a man.
“Thanks Dad!” He said.
“Don’t mention Bro.”
I realized that what he pushed into my hand was the necklace I bought for Julia. I brought it out and slipped it around her slender neck. She could not have looked happier, if I had bought her a private jet.
“For me?” She asked in a quiet awed voice.
“Yeah…for you, my one and only…you deserve more than this.” I replied.
She hugged me tightly.
“Awwwwwwwwww…” The duo of Eunice and Emmanuella exclaimed at our action.
“Guys”, I said to them all, including my wife, “Since you’re all on holiday presently, I’ll suggest you begin to pack your bags gradually, we are all travelling to Paris next week for a two-week vacation.” I announced.
“You don’t mean it!!!” They all screamed.
“Yeah…I do, and I’ll start processing our visas on Monday.”
Author’s Note: Now, someone once told me that this story is impossible in the Nigerian society (Context)…but then, I sighed knowingly and thought “Nothing is not possible”.
Now, to be sincere, how would you handle the issue if you were Richard?