Ten Things His Mother Told Me: Number 6

Number 6: {Appreciate the Little Things. Never Take them - or him - for Granted}

2 months later

The silence, broken only by the hum of the central AC wrapped itself around her – oppressive and stifling. Mindful of something lingering and unresolved between her and Drew, she was careful to never be alone in the office with him. It had been relatively easy until now because the Front Office Coordinator, Jasmine always closed the office at 5.30 p.m. Besides Chiaka, there were three other people who worked in the office, managing sales and liaising with the clients. Drew himself was often out in the field, monitoring construction and tackling problems hands-on. But today had been different. First, Jasmine had called in sick so Cindy, one of the Sales Representatives had covered the front office for her. Unlike Jasmine, Cindy left with all the others at 5 p.m. on the dot.

Source: Bing Images

Source: Bing Images

Chiaka herself stayed a little after 5 p.m. on most days, and was usually out by 5.15 p.m. But, she had been held back dealing with a problem with one of their most important accounts. The work schedule on the strip mall had exceeded estimates and the project was close to running over budget. She had spent all afternoon adjusting the estimates, working on the spreadsheets to tweak the budget. Finally, exhausted but pleased with her efforts, she had looked up and seen the time. It was 5.30 p.m. and it seemed everyone else had left. At least Drew wasn’t in the office. Thank God, she breathed.

Grabbing her purse in one hand and lunch bag in the other, she was rushing down the short hallway that connected her office to the exit when she heard the door open. It’s probably the cleaning people, she thought as she rounded the corner and came face to face with Drew.

It was obvious he had just come in from a site. The chambray shirt he wore was open at the collar and sweat beaded his forehead, despite the cool November weather. Tucked into heavy work boots, his blue jeans stretched tight across his hips.

A slow smile curled his lips when he saw her and a tendril of something snaked its way through her.

“Well, what a surprise” he drawled. “I had almost forgotten you worked here, seeing as how you make yourself scarce whenever I’m around.”

Chiaka flushed. “Hello, Drew. I have no idea what you mean.” She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of knowing how unsettled she was around him.

His eyes twinkled as he laughed. “Kay, don’t give me that.”

He had always called her ‘Kay’ for short because he found her name difficult to pronounce. Hearing the affectionate nickname used to make her smile. Not anymore.

“Andrew, please don’t call me that. I’m sure you’ve dealt with enough Nigerians to be able to pronounce my name properly. It’s Chiaka….Chi-ah-kah…” Her tone was clipped, repelling any playful banter.

Silent, Andrew regarded her thoughtfully. It seemed to her that the room got warmer because she suddenly felt flushed. It couldn’t be because of his casual, yet intense regard of her, could it? The way those eyes traveled down her, with a hint of the intimacies shared in another time. A different life. Though he said nothing, tension crackled in the air as they stood – one seemingly casual and relaxed, the other on edge; a bird poised for flight at the first sign of danger.

Andrew took a step toward her and she stepped back, almost tripping over herself in her haste.

That darn cleft in his chin dimpled as he chuckled again at her expense. He held up his hands in mock surrender. “Relax. I was just trying to get by. I need to go to my office and change into some fresh clothes. Come by so we can talk some more. We need to catch up.”

The teasing light in his eyes was familiar and a rush of anger filled her chest. She wouldn’t be in this uncomfortable position…wouldn’t have to stand here and endure Drew’s flirting if it wasn’t for Obinna. This was all his fault. Jaw firm, she walked past Drew resolutely, and stood at the door for a moment.

“Thanks for the offer, but no thanks. You’ll find my report in your email, as usual. That should…catch you up on whatever you need to know. Goodnight, Mr. Curtis.”

She saw his eyes widen at her use of his formal name, and his mocking laughter floated through the door just before she closed it, trailing her down the wide hallway as she sought escape from the emotions that churned inside her.


Brake lights twinkled all around the gathering night as Chiaka made her way home. The street lights stood like sentries on I-10, watching unblinkingly as cars filled the six-lane highway, the bottleneck extending for miles ahead.

Chiaka sighed. Rush hour traffic. She had been working at Curtis Construction for two months and she still hadn’t completely adjusted to the routine. It was difficult leaving her son at Lily’s apartment most mornings, when previously she would snuggle with him before they started their day. The days she left him at home with his Dad were easier. Easier in some ways. Seeing Obinna holding their son on those days when he wasn’t hustling to get an interview twisted something inside her. What was he doing playing Mr. Mom when he should have been out there, busting his behind to get a job – any kind of job – to take care of his family? How could he stand there and smile at her when his lies and inability to keep his job had wrecked everything and put her in this untenable position?

Memories of her encounter with Drew filled her consciousness and she suddenly longed for a simpler time. Everything just seemed so complicated. She had known - known it from that day she saw him at Dave's party - that Drew was a no-go area. Then, she had only been concerned about her emotional stability and the security of her marriage. How was she to know that Obinna would lose his job, and they would find themselves on the knife edge of poverty? Pushed to the wall, she had done the only thing she could think of. At the time, it had seemed like the best solution. Now, she felt like a child tugging on the tail of a sleeping tiger.

A slow chill filtered into the car, and Chiaka reached across the dashboard to turn up the heat. As she scanned radio channels, a black Ford F-150 truck swerved from the right lane and cut in front of her so suddenly that her foot reflexively rammed on the brakes.

“What is wrong with you? Ever heard of a turn signal?” She yelled at no one in particular. Frustrated, she fumed as she turned up the volume on the radio. People don’t have manners anymore. A claustrophobic feeling crept up on her as she inched along the bumper-to-bumper traffic. So many people. So many different lives.

Driving past a Toyota sedan, she peeked around at the spectacled driver, quickly looking away when the woman caught her eye. She absently wondered what the driver’s home life was like. Did she have children? A husband? Was she excited to get home to her family, or ambivalent like Chiaka was? She missed the days when she and Obinna actually enjoyed spending time together…now, it seemed like they were either arguing, or icily polite to each other.

The sound of music filtered from the radio, filling the silent space in the car but unable to offer the solace Chiaka sought. She sighed. 

Nothing was the same. Everything had changed – and not for the better.


Obinna pulled his jacket closer to him as he walked from his car towards Lily’s apartment. Cars lined the parking spaces in front of the buildings, neat rows of sedans and SUVs filling the courtyard – their owners home after the workday, and ensconced in the warmth of their apartments.

His steps quickened and a thrill of excitement filled his senses. The interview that afternoon had gone really well. There had been so many, he had almost lost count. After a while, they had blended into each other – one recruiter after another, emails flooding his inbox. In the past two months, his resume had caught fire, attracting recruiters like moths to a flame. Glad for the attention, he had replied emails, done phone screens and attended interviews. But, this one felt different. It was different. And somewhere deep inside him, in the place where truth resided, he knew.

This is it! He laughed aloud and felt like jumping up and clicking his heels. He would wait to share the news…until he was sure. Until he could show Chiaka the offer letter – proof. Maybe then things would go back to normal. It had been difficult in the beginning, staying at home while his wife went to work. What was his role as a husband and father if he couldn’t go out every day and provide for his family? After years of having a steady job and regular income, he was at odds with his circumstances.

"Look bro, you can't let that stuff eat you up" his friend Dave had said during one phone conversation last week. "You know my wife is a Doctor, right? She's been earning more than me for years!"

"Seriously?" Obinna asked, surprised.

"Yeah. I mean, it was hard in the beginning because we men - especially us Africans - have this extreme ego thing where it feels like we should be the ones taking care of the family. You know? You want to earn the money and have your wife manage the home and look after the kids."

Obinna nodded in agreement. "No man wants to depend on their wife's money. It's...emasculating."

"And it was. But, man. I had to get used to it. First of all, this is America. Gender roles aren't cast in stone the way they are back home. I knew I was working hard and doing my part, so my wife and I talked it over and we've been good ever since."

Obinna rubbed his head in frustration. That was the thing. The talking part was where things got sticky. He and his wife hadn't had a civil conversation in what felt like forever, even though it was just the last couple of months. How would she react to any discussion about her job and the way he felt? Would she be willing to have an open-minded discussion or assume that he was trying to find fault with her?

“So…umm, what do you think would be a good way to approach the conversation?” Obinna asked.

A thoughtful silence greeted his question, and Obinna imagined his friend pursing his lips as he considered his answer. Dave’s hands would be steepled as he leaned forward, Bluetooth firmly attached to his ear. He hoped Dave wouldn’t probe. The desire to protect his wife’s privacy still burned in him, a steady flame that wouldn’t be quenched despite strong winds.

Finally, Dave cleared his throat and spoke. “Maybe, you can start by doing. I think sometimes we talk too much, yet our actions don’t validate what we say. I know you help take care of your son and all that, but pick up some more slack around the house. Do the laundry or keep the house clean so she doesn’t have to do it when she gets home. Heck, surprise her and have dinner waiting for her. That way, she’ll see that you’re not coming from a place of jealousy or resentment, you know?”

Hmm…doing instead of talking. That kind of made sense. He’d thanked Dave and hung up, caught up in his thoughts. Maybe if he shared more of the workload at home, she would see that he cared about her – about their family. She would see that he was willing to do everything in his power to make things work. She would see that he loved her and trust him again. Maybe. He hoped so. As he neared Lily’s apartment, his steps quickened, keeping pace with his heart. He fervently hoped so.


The savory smell of spicy noodles filled the narrow kitchen, as a small pot bubbled on the stove-top. Television sounds from the living room punctuated the air with Team Umizoomi’s high-pitched voices and giggly adventures. Enraptured, KT sat - bathed, dressed and ready for dinner. Obinna whistled to himself as he worked, a pleasant feeling of accomplishment coursing through him. He checked the noodles one final time, turned off the burner and set it aside. Taking out four eggs from the fridge, he cracked them into a bowl and reached for some seasoning. The array of spices in the cabinet interrupted his happy efficiency and he stopped for a moment.

Long narrow bottles of curry powder, thyme, something called ‘all-seasoning’ and cayenne pepper lined up in a neat row. Smaller containers sat in front of the larger ones, like rows of children in a school picture separated by height. Herb seasoning, onion powder, shredded pepper, ginger.

Hmm…does ginger go into an omelette? He wondered. He thought about checking for omelet recipes online, but pushed that idea aside. It would take too long, and the recipe might call for something he didn’t have at home. He wanted to make sure he was done before Chiaka came home. It was already 6.30 p.m. and she would be home any minute.

Ignoring the dizzying selection, he reached for the salt, added a little sprinkling of red pepper and whisked the eggs. He was in the middle of turning the heavy omelet for the third time when he heard a key in the door. Obinna turned down the heat and quickly set dishes on the little breakfast table that sat next to the kitchen. Luckily, he had taken out the place mats beforehand, arranging them in a pleasant pattern around the table. It didn’t look as good as when Chiaka did it, but it was the best he could do.

Running a jaundiced eye over his handiwork, Obinna shrugged. It would have to do. A curious sense of anticipation swept over him when he heard KT's trilling “Mama!” and Chiaka’s subdued response. He was standing with his back to the door and suddenly felt shy about turning around. He closed his eyes briefly, willing himself to act normal despite the recent tension.

Turning around slowly, he smiled “Hey, honey. Welcome home.”

Chiaka’s slow gaze wandered over the table, place mats at crooked angles against each other, then meandered to the saucepan, full of sizzling eggs. Finally, she looked at her husband and the look on his face pricked her heart. He looked hopeful, expectant…scared. He had clearly worked hard to have dinner ready when she came back, yet she could see that he was unsure of her reaction. Considering the atmosphere in their home the past few months, she didn’t blame him. How did one go about repairing a breach that felt miles wide? Was a simple meal of Indomie noodles and eggs enough to plug the holes?

She gave him a little smile and could see his shoulders relax in relief. Arms full of KT, she walked over to her husband and gave him a hesitant kiss on the cheek. She felt the smile pull his cheek before she saw it. His arms encircled her and their son and for a minute, she relaxed, glorying in his embrace and the love she saw in his face. Suddenly tired, she leaned against him, drawing strength from his solid frame. The next thing he said shattered her momentary peace and restored the unsettled agitation that had plagued her of late.

“How was your day, baby?”


To be continued...

Onyih Odunze

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