Femi’s hands trace a scandalous path across Ama’s form leaving Ima wide-eyed and breathless.

Oscar hesitates a beat. He knows he has to make a quick decision to forestall damage that may be irreparable.

“Get in,” he says as he opens the car door for Ima.

“You see my shameless mother? Femi. Femi of all people!”

“Calm down Ima. They’ve only been drinking.”

“They are not the only ones who have been drinking here this night! Femi has the audacity to put his hands on my mother’s breasts in front of me! In front of the whole of Ikeja! Who knows what they have been doing all the while we were looking for them! Oh I’m so ashamed!” Ima says and covers her face with her palm.

Oscar maintains 50km/h as he powers the car towards Alade junction. It is just past midnight. You wouldn’t know it if you consider the hive of activities on Allen Avenue even at this time.

Ima is sobbing. Oscar says nothing. He slows the car, makes a U-Turn, and stays on the other side of Allen.

They drive in silence.

After a while, Ima becomes calmer, to Oscar’s relief.

“Shall I take you home now?”

Ima does not want to stay under the same roof with her mother this night. She regards Oscar with a tinge of frustration. How would she tell him she is willing to go to his place with him?

She knows she hesitates too long on the answer. She swallows and replies “Yes please take me home.” Did she not just get mad with her mother for throwing herself at a man? This weirdo could even be gay for all she knows!

Oscar knows the address. He drives to the gate and stops.

Ima does not wait for any of his uprightness. She pushes the car door open and trots off with a simple ‘goodnight’ off her shoulder like an afterthought.

Her daughter is sound asleep in Eno the nanny’s arms on the couch in the living room.

“She did not want to go to the bedroom until you returned,” Eno explains.

Ima lifts her daughter from Eno’s body and starts to move towards the bedroom. Gift stirs awake and is about to screech when she recognizes her mother and lets her head drop on Ima’s shoulder.

Tucked in, Ima proceeds to her room, peels off her clothes, removes her make-up with facial wipes, and goes into the bathroom and soaks herself in the hot tub.

She hears Ama’s noisy return. And something else.

There are two voices.

Ima cannot believe her ears.

She sits up on the tub, willing her ears to be mistaken.

The voices are louder. Drunken. Insane.

There is no mistaking what she is hearing.

She slowly steps out of the tub and wraps herself in a large white towel. The sounds are now unmistakable.

Her head spins and she collapses on the floor of the bathroom.

She comes to after a lifetime. It could have been only a few minutes.

She crawls into bed, covers her ears with her hands and begins to cry.

Her mother’s bedroom is just beside hers. She can hear her moans and his groans. The ta-ta-ta sounds are like pins driving into her skull.

Tears soak her pillow. Her hands ache from blocking her ears and she lets go. They go on for eternity. In her only relationship, she never had her man inside her for any longer than forty seconds. How is it possible that these two could go on for so long if this was not designed to kill her? She chokes on her phlegm and sits up and yet they would not stop.

Finally, she screams! She screams so loud she is sure it wakes the neighbourhood.

Then silence.

Fifteen minutes later, she hears someone opening the front door.

Ama turns around in her nightie and Ima is standing there. Her eyes are like flaming daggers.

“Bitch! Whore! Ashawo! Akpara mkpo! They were right after all. Shameless old goat!”

Ama takes two steps forward and lands a slap on Ima’s face and the night turns to day before the younger woman. She swings another blow that sends Ima sprawling on the floor as their entangled lives flash before Ima’s eyes.

They are in the theatre all over again to remove Ima’s uterus following a disastrous abortion. Ima’s breath hitches as the anesthesiologist begins. Ama leans in and whispers, “Be strong my love. Tears well in Ama’s eyes as Ima’s grip loosens, eyelids fluttering close. This isn’t supposed to happen. A silent sob escapes Ama, muffled against Ima’s skin.

They are in the labour room. Sweat slicks Ama’s brow as contractions rip through her. At 38, with her daughter’s inseminated twins, the delivery is proving brutal. Hours bleed into an agonizing blur. Then, her oxygen dips. Panic envelops the room. Finally, with a heart-stopping plea from Ima and the doctor, Ama concedes to a C-section. Rushed to the operating theatre one tiny cry pierces the tension. She hands Ima the surviving baby and holds them both as they weep as one. Joy, relief, grief for the lost baby. Ima can see the framed photo of that moment where it hangs in Ama’s bedroom.

Ima’s world tilts under the burning sun. A gunshot wound, they had told her. Tears well up in her eyes. A familiar hand grasps hers. With a strength Ima cannot find, Ama steps forward. They pull the sheet, revealing a nightmare. A crater where her husband’s temple should have been. A sickening spray of blood and brains. Ima clings to her mother’s strength.

Ama has been everything for her.

She picks herself off the floor quietly, dazed and rubbing her cheeks.

Ama could blame the alcohol and she would be right. But Ima should never humiliate her in public and also call her names to her face in her house over a man she does not want.

“I can fuck whoever the hell I want. Maybe you should do the same and let’s see if that would remove some of the cares of the universe which you carry on your shoulders!”

She pushes past Ima and goes back into her bedroom.

The following morning the tension in the restaurant is like a burnt pot of stew.

Ima is uninterested in Ama’s saporous sermon on the day’s house special. Ama is explaining why it is not ekpang-nkukwo if you do not wrap the grated cocoyam and water yam mix with sprouting cocoyam leaves.

“You have only made something similar to ekpang-nkukwo but not quite it. Find the right wrapping vegetable!”

Ima trudges through a wretched workday. At night as the men sit to their beers, she looks to Oscar who is only interested in what Uche and Charles are on about. Femi is not with them. He has not shown up today.

“Russia for the first time refers to the United States as enemies. Putin is threatening to send long-range missiles to regions from where sensitive strikes would be launched against the West. Guys the drums of the third world war are beating,” Uche says.

“Not just that, Spain says she will join South Africa’s case against Israel at the International Court of Justice over the Gaza killings. Guys, trouble everywhere,” Charles affirms.

“As if that is not enough, the WHO warns of a new strain of bird flu after a man dies in Mexico. Trouble everywhere. Then here in Nigeria, there was the comedy moment in the Uyo stadium when the Super Eagles players were honouring the new national anthem with confusion on their faces as if they were listening to the Latin rendition of ‘happy birthday to you’.”

“Gentlemen, if you want peace in your lives, stop watching the news. It functions only to instil fear in you, which is the single condition needed to keep you in the mental bondage that suits the darkness that pervades this world. Much of humanity is unconscious. You cannot be conscious and threaten to bomb and kill other human beings much less carry it out as we see with Israel and her neighbours. Shut off the news. They are called programs for a reason. To program you however it suits them. Seek the comfort within your souls. Be rest assured that if anything happens worth knowing you will surely hear about it,” Oscar says.

Ima shudders in disenchantment. She finds herself alone at every chance contemplating her damaged life.

Irikefe keeps a close eye on her. He is aware of all that happened last night except the fight between the women.

As soon as they heard of the plan to go to the club, Castro and Irikefe invited themselves and lurked in the shadows of the car park. Two sets of eyes gleaming like mysterious stars in the night. They even guessed correctly at the time Ama emerged from the club with Femi what had happened between those two.

“Guy, Femi don give Ima mama that 200 kilogram prick inside that club I swear,” Irikefe said.

Looking at Ima now, the boys have no doubt in their minds that something as unbecoming as that had happened.

Irikefe approaches Ima where she stands looking lost at the cash register.

“Bestie,” he says tentatively.

Ima looks up at him and for the first time, he sees light in her eyes.

“You don’t look well. I’m sure mummy will understand if you left early today.”

She nods and says, “Will you come with me?”

Irikefe wants to say he will go with her even if he has to crawl on his belly but he manages only a nod in agreement.

They walk to the gate. Last night rushes back into her consciousness. She should go inside to her daughter but she needs to talk to someone who can understand.

“Come inside,” she says to Irikefe.

Irikefe nearly summersaults in delight.

He hesitates in the living room as she heads to her bedroom.

“I don’t want to stay here. You can come in,” Ima says.

He perches on an armchair as she goes into the bathroom. She re-emerges in a diaphanous nightie with no traces of underwear.

She sits on the bed and begins to sob.

Irikefe, filled with compassion gets up and goes to sit beside her on the bed.

“What happened? I’m your friend. You can tell me,” he says.

Ima places her head on his shoulder and starts to cry.

“It’s Femi, right? He slept with your mum.”

“Why him? Why her? Why here in this house?” Ima wails.

“The bastard!” Irikefe fumes.

“I know I didn’t want him but it still doesn’t make it right.”

“He is no good. He was never good for you. But mummy sha…”

“My mother means the world to me. She can do no wrong. But this hurts. This hurts so very much.”

Irikefe puts an arm around Ima. A bead of sweat runs down his spine, as he feels no resistance. With as much courage as he can muster, he cups her breast and begins to mutter, “Humans are devious. How can a mother do that? How can a man move from daughter to mother so effortlessly? Don’t they fear God?”

He parts her nightie to expose a bulging nipple, which he covers with his mouth.

“God will punish Femi,” he groans. He will forgive your mother but He will surely punish Femi.”

He readjusts his position to allow space to be able to part her legs as his hand travels up her thighs and meets with pouring wetness. He slides a finger inside and her phone rings and jars them both.

Ima grabs the phone beside her and shoots to a standing position and Irikefe stands with her.

“When did you leave the shop? Where is Efe?”

It is her mother.

Ima is disorientated. It is as if she just awoke from a trance.

“Please leave,” she says to Irikefe. Please go now.”

“God will punish your mother too,” Irikefe says under his breath and heads for the door.