Sapphire sat down heavily on the stool. Adebangbe stood looking at her.
“What was wrong?”
Sapphire remembered the dream and felt her throat close tight with pain. Hands shaking, she put the earrings onto the note and folded it back into the envelope. Slipping it into her apron pocket, she opened Cousin Sharon’s letter.
It is with greatest sorrow that I write this letter. . . .
Sapphire couldn’t see through her tears. While she was here helping Madam Rebecca bring a baby into the world, her mother was dying. She dropped Sharon’s letter and covered her face.
“Sé daadaa ni?.” Adebangbe spoke quietly. She didn’t understand anything he said. He came around the worktable and put his hand on her shoulder. “I should’ve gone home.” Sapphire rocked back and forth, muffling her sobs with her apron. Adebangbe squeezed gently and left the kitchen. “I’m sorry, Mama. Oh, God, I’m so sorry.” Trembling violently, she picked up Sharon’s letter, expecting further details of her mother’s passing and Elise’s move to her place.
Your mother wrote to me some months ago about her illness and asked if I might consider taking Jane to live with me when her time came. I went immediately to speak with her in person. I hardly recognized your mother. The doctor confirmed her own belief that she had consumption. She did not want you to know she was dying because she knew you would come home. She said if you did, your father would never let you go again. She said the Precious would write to me when it was time to come for Jane. When I went home, I began to prepare her way. I told my friends about your mother’s illness and how your sister had lost her husband in a tragic accident. In this way, I could assure Jane that she could raise her baby without fear of scandal.
Marta went cold. Her baby? She read more quickly.
When I heard from the Precious, I went immediately, but Jane had already disappeared. Your father thought he would find her. Everyone was looking for her, but I grieve to tell you that we did not find her in time. Your friend Precious found her body by a stream not far from the house.
Sapphire cried until she felt sick. She pulled herself together enough to set the table and serve dinner. Clearly, Adebangbe had told the men about her mother, for they offered condolences and spoke in subdued voices. Sapphire did not mention Jane. Mary stayed to help wash dishes and clean the kitchen, insisting Sapphire go upstairs to her bedroom and try to rest.
Curling on her side, Sapphire cried as she remembered dreaming of Jane standing with her hands raised to heaven. A few days later, Sapphire received a letter from her father.
Return immediately. Needed in shop.
Tears of fury filled Sapphire’s eyes. She shook with the power of her rage. Not one word about Mama or Jane. Crumpling the message, she threw it in the stove and watched it burn.
Rebecca sat in the kitchen with Sapphire, Baby Jamal sleeping contentedly in a basket on the worktable. “Ólùbùkún ni ó.” She took Sapphire’s hand. “God brought you to us when we needed you most, and now you must go. I really wish you could stay.”
Sapphire felt little guilt about leaving. Madam Rebecca had healed quickly and was eager to resume her duties. Mary had agreed to stay on full-time. She was a hard worker like Sapphire and would help with the baby while Madam Rebecca resumed the cooking.
Rebecca lifted the baby from her warm nest.
“Would you like to hold Jamal one more time before you leave?”
“Yes. Please.” Sapphire held him close, pretending just for a moment he belonged to her. She sang a lullaby in Yoruba as she walked around the kitchen. Then she placed Jamal in his mother’s arms. Tears slipped down Madam Rebecca’s cheeks. “Write to us, Sapphire. Adebangbe and I want to know what becomes of you.”
Sapphire nodded, unable to speak. As she came out of the kitchen into the hallway, Adebangbe and the bachelors stood waiting. Each wished her well as she passed by. When she reached the door, Adebangbe gave her a brotherly hug and handed her an envelope.
“A gift from all of us.”
She looked from him to the other men. Pressing her lips together so she wouldn’t cry, she gave a deep, respectful curtsy and left the house. Despair filled her as she walked to the park. She looked up at the departure times. A dutiful daughter would return home, work in the shop without complaining, and take care of her father in his old age.
“Honor your father and mother”, God commanded, “that your days may be long in the land the Lord your God will give you.” Sapphire took a cab to Iwo road; the centre of the town, where she boarded a bus to Lagos.