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Drew quickly muted the call and then tucked the phone under her pillow. She grabbed the cake and hurried to the kitchen. When she got back, she stared at her pillow, as if she’d buried a dead body underneath it. She sat on her bed bench and buried her face in the palm of her hands.
Why was Nik calling? How did he survive the Desolation of New York? That was the term for the wipeout that took place in New York, 200,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19, two-thirds of the U.S. total. It was horrific. She lost friends and family. Drew wasn’t an evil person; she didn’t wish ill on anyone. However, in her subconscious, she had wondered if Nik survived. Apparently, he did.
After a long while, she took her phone from under her pillow, deleted the call log, and then blocked his number. About five years ago, Nik told her that he didn’t want to be part of their lives. She hadn’t spoken to him since and she was fine with that. They didn’t need him, she took care of Ama on her own. Her parents helped in the beginning when work was hectic, but now she had a handle on things. She and her daughter were just fine. No matter what, she wasn’t going down this path again, no matter what!
Drew and Ama lay curled up in a day bed on her porch. Drew was staring at the ocean and Ama was sketching, her back comfortably against her mother’s chest. Drew loved to lay on the porch and stare at the ocean. It was incredibly calming for her, but it also made her feel proud. It was always her dream to get a house on the beach and she was grateful she got a job that provided her with the means to do just that. She bought two acres of property on the beach, just a few kilometers from Krokrobite. The house itself was very modern, a stark contrast from the colonial style homes and basic steads that littered that part of the city. She loves clean lines and glass, and she didn’t want to build anything that resembled the homes the slave masters owned. She did incorporate the wrap-around porches that were prominent back then, and she limited the compound structures to half an acre, leaving the rest of the land for the pool and landscaping. Beach or not, she needed her pool for laps. It was the only exercise she enjoyed.
The property provided direct access to the beach, right from her porch, less than two minutes and she would have water at her feet. Initially she worried that it wouldn’t be safe for Ama, but her house staff were pretty good at securing the home and her daughter. She had two guards for each shift. One guarded the entrance, and the other watched the beach area. Her live-in nanny/housekeeper was also attentive, and her live-in gardener/maintenance man also kept his eye out. The property was walled on three sides except the beach front, so she felt it was secure enough. The commute to Accra was hectic though. Ama attended a Montessori kindergarten school ten minutes from their home, but Drew had an hour drive to work each morning, if she left at 5am. They hadn’t left the house in almost 7 months anyways, which was a great break. Soon though, schools and businesses would re-open and she’d be back to the brutal commute.
Drew took out her phone and took a selfie of Ama in her arms. Ama’s thick, curly hair framed her olive face, her eyes were big and wide. She looked a lot like Nik’s mother. Nik had shown Drew pictures. Nik’s mother was from Iran, and she emigrated to the US seeking asylum with her parents when she was only ten years old. She died of cancer when Nik was the same age she was when she came to the US. His parents didn’t have any other children together. His father, half Nigerian, half American, remarried but Nik wasn’t very close to the rest of his father’s new family. He idolized his mother.
Drew took some more selfies and then took pictures of her view – the oceans, the fishing boats, the palm trees, and the well-manicured lawn that surrounded the home. She realized then that she had her own little paradise right there, she could invite Hans to visit Ghana instead! And then they could still do Maldives for their honeymoon. Drew laughed at herself, she was planning a honeymoon with someone she hadn’t even kissed yet, someone who didn’t even blow her a kiss back last night. All the same, she sent the pictures to Hans, including the ones of her and Ama, and asked if he’d consider a visit to Ghana instead, to vacation with her in her little paradise. She added ‘we can save Maldives for the future. I’d like to see you soon.’
She actually felt good about her boldness. That was the only way to do it now. Be bold!
The housekeeper popped her head through the glass doors.
“Grandma is here.”
Ama jumped up excitedly.
“Grandma! Grandma! Grandma!”
Ama jumped off the day bed, nearly tripping but the housekeeper was fast and she scooped her up. Drew frowned. Her mother was here? Her parents hardly made the hour trip from Accra to see her. They had very comfortable lives back in Accra, and her dad didn’t like leaving home. Her mom was more social but she was selective, and visiting Drew was not part of her priority social calendar.
Since the lock down had partially been lifted, some movement was allowed. The Government was trying to phase in the re-opening of schools and businesses.
Drew got up from the day bed and adjusted her bikini top. Her mother would definitely make a snide comment, but she didn’t care. She was at home, on a Sunday, on her porch, having a quiet time with her daughter. She could wear a bikini top with hot pants all day if she wanted to. She walked through the doors and then her heart dropped, for the second time in less than 24 hours.
“Hello Drew,” he said.
Nik was here, in her home, with her mother.
Drew’s eyes immediately searched for her daughter. She was in her mother’s arms. Drew threw daggers at her mother, but maintained her composure. She turned to the housekeeper.
“Aku, please take Ama to her playroom and sit with her. Don’t come out until I come to call you.”
“But I want to visit with Grandma!” Ama immediately cried, clinging to her grandmother.
Drew clenched her teeth,” Aku, now, please.”
The housekeeper attempted to take Ama, but the child started to wail and kick and scream. Drew’s mother held onto her, not helping the situation.
“Drew, I’ll stay with the child, and you and Nik can go and talk. Go to the beach.”
Drew lost it. She really thought she could last until her daughter was safely in her room, but her mother’s part in this whole situation set her off.
“Aku, I said now! Mama, don’t try me right now. Don’t try me! Let the child go, now!”
Ama immediately stopped crying and she stretched her arms towards the housekeeper. She knew when her mother wasn’t playing. Once Aku and Ama had disappeared through the corridor and she heard her the door close, Drew started screaming.
“What is he doing here? What did you do? How could you? I’m your daughter! Why would you do this? Without calling me, without informing me? Do you have any idea what you’ve done? This is not how to do things! What is wrong with you!”
She’d never screamed at her mother like that before, but these were unusual times.
Her mother didn’t flinch or waver. She was steely, unsympathetic.
“Don’t you ever speak to me like that again! You will calm yourself down, you will speak to him and you will listen! Then, you and I can talk. I’m going to be with my granddaughter. You didn’t need to frighten her like that. I suggest you take him outside to talk.”
Her mother glared at her but Drew had one last warning for her mother.
“Don’t you dare say anything about him to my daughter. Don’t you dare!”
Her mother kissed her teeth and then walked off towards Ama’s room.
Drew was panting, clutching her stomach, trying to breathe, calm herself. She refused to look directly at Nik, but from the corner of her eye she could tell he hadn’t moved an inch from where he stood when she entered the room. She walked out onto the porch and then down the stairs towards the beach. She didn’t care if he followed but he did. She was crying freely. Why now? Why was this happening?
Drew’s emotions were all over the place. She’d never told Ama about her father. She simply said she belonged to Mommie, just Mommie. She had moved on from Nik, she was done, she was quite relieved she didn’t have to co-parent with a narcissistic geriatric man who couldn’t even put his needs aside to care for his own flesh and blood. Ama was hers, in every single way. She didn’t need this. She didn’t need Nik to show up and she didn’t need her mother to betray her like this.
Obviously, Nik was already in Ghana when he called past midnight last night. He must have gone to see her parents in the morning, and her mother, who believed every child deserved both parents no matter the circumstances, must have gladly brought him here, without even a call.
“Drew, please, Drew.”
She heard his voice but she kept walking. She was barefoot but she was used to the sand. She tried to increase her pace but he caught up to her. When she felt his hand on her arm, she turned around and hit him across the face. She didn’t even know where that came from but that stopped them both in their tracks. She looked at him, really looked at him as he licked the sting of her slap from his lips.
He had lost a bit of weight, so he looked leaner. His shoulders drooped slightly but she wasn’t sure if it was from age or life. His grey hairs had quadrupled, and he had full facial hair. He had definitely aged, but still remained a sight to behold. His dark eyes were even darker, tinged with sadness. She stepped back from him but maintained her gaze. Her heartbeat slowed.
“What are you doing here, Nik? What do you want?” she muttered.
“I’m not going to waste your time with lengthy words and empty apologies. I fucked up. Simple. Nothing more to it. I was stupid and I refused to grow up. I thought I could own the world, be fucking rich, and not need anyone. Then this virus hit, this thing just changed everything. I finally earned my first 100 million dollars, and yet there I was, cowered in my penthouse apartment, frightened to step out through the doors. Actually frightened! I had everything I wanted but I couldn’t buy off this disease. I lost friends, I lost colleagues and I just holed up, waiting like a criminal in his cell.”
Nik paused and closed his eyes, like he was reliving the past year. He was pushing back tears but a single one evaded his willpower and dropped down his face. She couldn’t be bothered. She had cried more than that. She waited for him to continue.
“And I thought of you, I thought of you every single minute. I thought of you, and our child, and I hated myself. I just hated myself. I’m a cliché, I know. Death comes knocking and I think of my regrets, think of the child I didn’t acknowledge. I’m a complete cliché, a complete statistic. You already know what I’m going to say – I want to be part of your lives.”
His voice cracked and he stopped talking. He had more to say but he couldn’t get it out. She stood and stared at him. She wasn’t going to help him.
“That’s really it, Drew. I was a dick and I’m sorry. I want to be part of my daughter’s life. You’ve done an amazing job. She’s so beautiful. She looks just like my mother…”
The dam broke and his tears went into freefall. Drew had never seen him cry before. He turned away from her and sobbed. She tried not to cry, she steeled herself and choked it all back.
“This isn’t fair, Nik. You decided! You said you couldn’t! You can’t just show up like this. You can’t.”
He raised his head back towards her. He wiped the tears away, but said nothing.
“God, what is wrong with you? You can’t just do this!” she hissed at him.
“I know, you think I don’t know? But I am tired of having regrets. I’m just tired. If I just called to talk, you would just hang up on me, and rightfully so. I had to just come. I know it’s unfair, but I had to come.”
“So you are here. What do you want?”
Nik shook his head, exasperated that she was making him spell it all out.
“I want to be part of my daughter’s life, and I want you back.”
Drew stepped away from him and continued walking. She just couldn’t. This was all too much.
“Drew,” he called after her. Eventually she stopped and dropped down to the sand, pulled her knees up and buried her face in her lap. Last night she was planning a romantic vacation to Maldives with Hans, and today, Nik was actually here, asking for a second chance, but he didn’t deserve one. She didn’t owe it to him to help him feel better, or get over his existential crisis. Sure, today he felt like he had made a mistake, but what about in a year? What if he got tired of being a parent and went back to his selfish bachelor life?
He sat down on the sand next to her.
“Talk to me, please,” he whispered.
“I don’t know if I can trust the way you feel. You feel like this now because you were at the epicenter of a crisis and you nearly died. That’s why you feel this way. But guess what, you didn’t reach out to see if we were alive! You simply cowered in fear and now you want to feel better, make sense of the world by seeking us out, but it’s all about you!”
“I know. I’m not going to deny it. I’m imperfect, I’m selfish, I’m a terrible person. I was scared for my life, my empty life. And after I went through what I did, I just have this indescribable need to make amends, change my life, become better, to be there for my daughter and for the woman I have always loved, but just didn’t know how to show it. I’m never going to promise you perfection, but I promise you Drew, I promise you, I swear on my mother, I will never, ever leave you or my daughter. I will not. I would rather lose my life first before I go back to who I was.”
Drew let out a sob. Where was this man five years ago?
“You’re fifty-five, can anyone really change at that age? Who you are is already set!”
“No, it’s not. Come on Drew, you believe in God. Is that what your faith tells you? That people at a certain age can never change?”
She clenched her teeth. Damn him for using her faith.
“Listen, I didn’t come here with a plan, I don’t know what comes next. But maybe we can just talk? Spend a couple of days talking? And I’m open to whatever works for you, maybe something like limited access, supervised visitation, child support, anything. Let’s just talk, and see what works for you.”
“I need a minute,” Drew muttered.
They sat there silently, staring at the water, watching the fishermen head to shore a few kilometers to their left, where young boys and women waited for them. The waves were getting bigger now, as the day was coming to an end. She loved this time of day. In a short while, the sun would set, casting a glistening glow over the water. Drew was calmly staring out to sea but chaos reigned in her mind. She’d asked Nik to be clear with what he wanted, but what did she want from him?
He was Ama’s father, if she attempted to deny him that, he could file for custody and he would be given the access he wanted. Ama was born in the U.S. and her father was American, Drew would never be able to keep them apart legally. If some type of custodial arrangement was inevitable, then what could it look like for her, for them? She glanced at Nik. He was staring quietly at her. He reached out and wiped tears from her face. She didn’t even realize she’d been crying. He pulled her close to him and hugged her tight.
“I’m so sorry, I’m sorry. I love you so much,” he whispered, kissing her cheek.
Drew didn’t stop him. She nestled within his arms, allowing him to draw her in even closer, enveloping her in a tight embrace. He still felt really good, safe and protective. Her cheeks brushed against the hair on his face and somehow that did all kinds of things to her, breaking down her barriers. When his lips found hers, she didn’t resist. They kissed deeply, but it wasn’t overtly sexual. He simply hugged her and held her. Eventually they broke apart and she laid her head on his chest.
“Do you know your daughter’s name?” she asked softly.
“Your mom said she was called Ama, the name for one of the days of the week.”
“Yes, her name is Ama, but she’s not named after a day in the week. Her full name is Amaya Ashti King.”
Nik’s body stilled. He shifted to look at her, and then he started to cry again, she knew why this time. Nik’s mother’s name was Amaya Ashti, and despite his abandonment, she’d given their child names that were tied to him. He kissed her again, and she tasted gratitude on his tongue. When darkness fell, they got up and started walking back towards her house, holding hands. Nik talked, complimented her on the life she’d built, thanked her for listening and asked questions about Ama. Drew answered noncommittally. As they neared her house, she started to feel antsy again. What was she doing? Was she that weak? Was this even weakness? He was the father of her child, the first love of her life. What was wrong with considering reconciliation? Hans had never expressed his love to her. There was no guarantee that they’d go on vacation and fall in love, get married and have babies. Gosh babies! She could have another baby with Nik, give Ama a direct biological sibling. They could be a complete family.
Drew shook her head hard. She was doing it again, fantasizing about scenarios that weren’t likely. Getting back together with Nik would be risky but so easy. Pursuing Hans was also risky. She’d be introducing a third party into her situation. Would Hans even want to deal with this? Co-parent with her and Nik? Would he even want to move to Ghana? Would Nik even want to live in Ghana?
“Are you okay?” Nik asked as they walked up the steps of her porch.
“No, I’m not. This is a lot. This is really a lot. Listen, I don’t want us to say anything to Ama tonight. I’ll just tell her that you’re my friend okay. I can’t have the daddy conversation tonight.”
Ama was at the dining table in her chair, wolfing down chicken nuggets and peas. She looked up and smiled at her mother.
“Mommie!” she squealed, spitting out peas in the process.
Drew smiled at her, and also wagged her finger.
“No eating and talking, you know that.”
She turned to her housekeeper who was packing up food she’d cooked into Tupperware.
“Where’s she? Where’s mama?”
“Oh, she left a while ago. She said she had to go somewhere. Her driver brought some bags inside, said it’s for Mister Nik.”
Nik spoke quickly, “I didn’t plan this. She said she’d wait for us to talk and take me back to the city.”
“It’s okay, she probably left minutes after we left to talk. I have a guest house, you can stay the night, and we can keep talking tomorrow. For now, let’s just eat.”
She made a plate for him and they all sat with Ama and had dinner. They didn’t need to talk, because Ama filled the silence with her chatter, telling Mommie’s friend about her toys, her books, and all her favorite things. Drew was used to the chatter but Nik lapped it all up. Drew chuckled inwardly, yeah, he was eating it up now, but in a week, he’d run from the table. While Aku cleared up after them, Drew went to bathe her daughter and then she invited Nik to help her put Ama to bed. Ama was completely giddy. Mommie never had friends over so this was a treat for her. Nik read to her and Ama gave him a big hug before he tucked her in.
“Thanks for letting me do this,” Nik said, as they walked out of Ama’s room.
She nodded. When she woke up this morning, she never imagined that by night Nik would be tucking Ama into bed. She leaned against the wall in the corridor, tired, overwhelmed by her emotions.
“It’s been a long day. I need a moment, okay? Aku will help you get settled into the guest house.”
He leaned in to kiss her, but she was truly exhausted so she kept it brief. He pulled away, sensing that she’d reached her limit for the day. He kissed her forehead.
“Believe me Drew, I’m sorry. I’m grateful for this. I will do everything in my power to make this work, in whatever way you want it to be. I love you.”
She felt her breath catch in her throat. This was really too much. She pulled away from him and disappeared into her room. She closed the door behind her and leaned against it. She glanced at her watch. Hans would be calling in a couple of hours. She wasn’t ready for that. She had to think but she couldn’t do yet either. She run a bath and then soaked in it, fighting against her emotions and her thoughts. There were no clear or right answers. On one hand, getting back with the father of her child who also happened to be her first love was appealing. They could be a complete, beautiful family. On the other hand, what if this change of his was brief? What if in six months, he’s back to where he was five years ago and he decides this isn’t for him? What if she’s pregnant again when he reverts back to his old ways? It wouldn’t be fair to Ama to introduce him as her father, and then have him disappear on them. That would be devastating.
Drew lay on her bed agonizing for hours. She was still up at 2am, when it hit her that Hans hadn’t called or even responded to the texts she sent earlier in the day. She really wasn’t ready to talk to him so that was just fine.
Drew sauntered out of bed well past 9am. She never slept in this long but she’d survived a rough day. She deserved it. She checked Ama’s room, it was empty, so she walked through the house and onto the porch. Ama and Nik were out in the garden, playing ball. It was a heartwarming sight. She took her phone and snapped pics. Ama looked so happy, screaming and giggling uncontrollably. Drew waved at them and then went back into the house. She walked through to the driveway to check in with the gardener who was working on the vegetable bed just around the staff quarters. The security guard was in the middle of opening the gate as she stepped outside. She wondered if it was her mother, returning to pick up the unwanted package she dropped off the day before. It wasn’t her mother, but she recognized the car. Her best friend for the past 20 years, Tawiah, in the front seat. Her driver was besides her. Drew squealed with delight. This was a much better surprise than yesterday’s bomb. Drew and Tawiah were tighter than sisters. Tawiah knew everything about Drew’s situation with Nik and her growing feelings for Hans. Drew hadn’t seen Tawiah in a very long time, even after the lock down was lifted, and she hadn’t briefed Tawiah on Maldives or Nik’s appearance just yet. This was perfect. Tawiah was very level-headed, she could help her think through this mess she was in.
“Ohhh I’m so happy to see you! This is such perfect timing! I have so much to tell you!”
Drew was yanking on Tawiah’s door even before the car pulled to a stop. Tawiah was laughing hysterically. Drew pulled her friend out of the car, into her arms and hugged her tight, her eyes closed, so grateful for her presence.
“Wow! You’ve missed me that much? I like the love! Thank God I didn’t show up empty handed. All this hugging! I would have felt bad!”
Drew pulled apart from her friend, tears in her eyes.
“You have no idea how happy I am, I need you. I’m falling apart.. I’m…”
And then she saw him. He stepped out quietly from the back, awkwardly pulling his six-foot-three frame out from the back seat of Tawiah’s car. Drew’s mouth fell open and she used the Lord’s name in vain, against her better judgment.
“Jesus Christ. Hans?”
He was smiling so broadly, pleased with himself, oblivious to the awfulness of his timing. Tawiah was also besides herself, laughing and clapping. Tawiah was yapping, and Hans jumped in a few times but Drew was struggling to follow the whole story. Something about Drew’s texts the day before propelled Hans to immediately grab a bag and head to the airport and catch a flight to Ghana that very day. He was lucky, flights were still relatively empty so he got a good deal and his timing was perfect. Also, visitors from countries that hadn’t had any cases for two months were let into Accra unchecked. Hans arrived late Sunday and he called Tawiah instead. She got him a hotel and then drove him straight to Drew in the morning.
Drew was frozen, barely following their words. She was sure her poor heart was about to give up on her, she was going to die from stress. COVID-19 didn’t kill her, but her end was meant to come because this situation made no sense. Then her daughter’s voice jolted her out of her catatonic state.
“Mommie! Mommie! See what Uncle Nik gave me. Look!”
Drew slowly turned around, as Ama and Nik approached the driveway from the side of the house. Her eyes barely registered the toy that Ama was holding, she looked straight at Nik who was smiling like he’d won the lottery, then back at Hans whose eyes were fixed on Nik, and then she looked at Tawiah whose mouth was wide open staring back at her.
And that was the last thing Drew saw before she hit the ground, Tawiah’s tongue, teeth and gums.
TO BE CONTINUED.