Beauty marks in the Anuya family were signs from the gods that the person born with them had a special gift from a deity. Usually, the child had an encounter with a god in his or her teenage years and grew into their mission in life naturally.
Kemi Anuya was twenty-seven and she didn’t feel particularly gifted. She spent most of her teenag-e years waiting for the mystery encounter but it never came. After another couple of years listening to her parents make subtle comparisons between her and her older, more successful, androgynous brother Kunle, she decided to move on with her life, forgetting about the family blessing.
She left that life behind pursuing a career in mechanical engineering that she loved with all her heart. Most of her time went into her job as she found herself in situations where she needed to prove herself in a male-dominated field.
Still, she loved it and she already had ample experience competing with the male gender thanks to her older brother.
Kemi had nothing against her brother; in fact, she loved him very much. They were very close and even when he travelled abroad to pursue a degree in Marine Biology, they still did their best to keep in touch.
The problem was with the rest of the family who felt the compulsive need to compare them. It didn’t help that he excelled at everything he did. Kunle had a visit from the Yoruba deity, Yemoja when he was four and this was rare for two major reasons.
The first was that the deities usually visited during teenage years and childhood encounters were very rare. The second was that Yemoja had never chosen to bless a male child before in the history of the Anuya family. These two factors gave him celebrity status in the family and Kunle grew up to be a very beautiful young man.
Describing him as beautiful was not a mere expression.
He had caramel skin, wide piercing eyes, lean muscles and a lanky build. With unusually long hair and a slightly curvy frame, it was impossible to tell his sex except you took a closer look and that was never a guarantee. Yemoja was the spirit of women and mother deity of the living ocean so he had an affinity for water. Somehow, the water seemed to bend to his will so it was no surprise when he decided to become a marine biologist.
Kemi was born when her brother was five and from the minute she opened her mouth to let out her first cry, she was in a competition with her brother and his achievements. She just didn’t know it yet.
Most days she could forget all about it and focus on work and her life. Sadly, the coming weekend wasn’t one of those days. Kunle just got back into the country and her parents had insisted they both spent the weekend at their home.
Leaving work on Friday, she mentally prepared herself for all the questions relating to marriage and relationships. It’s not like she had not been in relationships, she just didn’t have it in her to stay in one for more than a couple of weeks.
She was a romantic at heart and believed in love on a very primal level. Although she had to admit that after so many years, a part of her had totally given up on men. The challenge was, most people would never believe she had these issues because of how she looked.
People that saw her and Kunle together usually thought they were sisters at first glance because they looked alike. They even had their beauty marks at the same spot on the lower lip.
The difference was that Kemi was smaller, had thicker hips and was quite busty; a fact that usually earned her stares especially at the work when it was time for physical labour.
No one was going to believe that she was single let alone a twenty-seven-year-old virgin. She had no problems with it either but she knew that her parents would have more than a few comments on the subject matter.
It wasn’t all bad though, three months ago she started talking to Fred, an old classmate of Kunle’s, and they totally hit it off. As much as she didn’t want to jinx it by calling it a ‘relationship’, she knew that it was the technical term for whatever they were doing.
She definitely had no plans to tell her parents just yet and she only told Kunle after swearing him to secrecy.
She made a quick stop at her apartment to get the things she would need for the weekend before heading down her parents’ house.
Her parents stayed on the outskirts of town away from the noise of the city. They owned a large twin duplex painted grey and black surrounded by a garden of freshwater lilies and pine trees. The compound was big enough to fit three more houses of the same size comfortably and Kemi had fond childhood memories of running around and playing with her brother and cousins.
The back of the house had a pathway that led to a river. Surrounding the path a sea of trees that their parents told them their ancestors planted.
When she drove into the compound, Kunle was standing outside waiting for her.
She quickly parked her car and jumped out realizing how much she missed him.
‘Easy, Baby K.’ He said chuckling as she gave him a tight hug.
‘I missed you, Big K.’ She said.
‘I missed you too.’ He said.
‘Okay let me look at you.’ She said pulling back to look at him.
‘Gosh, did you get prettier?’ She said after staring at him for a bit.
‘I should be asking you.’ He said with a smirk.
‘I’m serious.’ She said
Kunle called the security guards to help with her luggage and quickly pulled her aside.
‘Okay, before we go in I have to warn you. Fred called me…’ He began.
Before he finished the sentence, the front door swung up and Fred walked out.
Kemi stared at him with her wide eyes not knowing which of the emotions she felt to act on first.
‘Dude, I told you to stay inside.’ Kunle barked at Fred.
‘What the actual f…’ Kunle placed his hand over her mouth to stop her from yelling.
‘Calm down. No one knows about the two of you. He called pops to say he wanted to see me and our dad invited him as an old friend of mine.’ Kunle said.
She made some muffled sounds her eyes were still red with anger.
‘I know you, Baby K. I’m not letting you go until you calm down.’
She tried to even her breathing and gave Kunle a nod letting him know that she was fine. Kunle let her go slowly.
‘But you know he came here because of me.’ She said.
‘Of course. He came to my apartment yesterday.’ Kunle grinned.
‘So you knew.’ She said raising her voice again.
‘Hey, I didn’t know this plan until yesterday. Besides, it’s just one weekend, he’s not asking for your hand in marriage.’ Kunle said with a shrug.
‘You don’t know that.’ She said giving Fred the stink eye as he stood at the door.
The door opened again and their mum stepped out.
‘I heard a noise outside and I knew Kemi had arrived. Do you plan to spend the weekend out there?’ She asked sarcastically.
‘We’re coming in Mama.’ Kunle replied giving Kemi a side-glance that said ‘Behave yourself’.
Fred waited for them to get to the door and before he could speak, she gave him a stern look that said ‘This isn’t over’.
‘I know you must be exhausted. Dinner is in two hours; you can go to your room and rest before then.’ Their mum said.
‘Gladly.’ Kemi murmured to herself.
Fred made a move to follow her but Kunle held him back.
‘Patience man. Give her time to cool off.’ He said.
She decided to take a shower to relax her nerves a bit. It didn’t take her mind off Fred but at least now she wasn’t as mad at him anymore. It’s not like she’d ever tell him but a tiny part of her was glad that he was with her for the weekend.
Time passed quickly and in no time, she was in her favourite blue Pyjamas heading downstairs for dinner. She wore a t-shirt under the loose fitting silk fabric top because Fred was in the house and she wasn’t in the mood to put on a bra.
She went to the kitchen to assist her mum while the men stayed at the table talking. They joined the men when they finished and one of the house servants helped set the table.
Dinner began with an awkward silence until Kunle decided to speak,
‘How has the family business been Dad?’ He asked.
It was such a cliché question but they were all grateful for the icebreaker.
‘Things have been smooth. These days the fishery business pays a lot more than timber but we’ve been able to balance things. It also helps when your grandfather comes to visit.’ He said.
‘But we don’t let him stay too long; you know how his moods tend to affect the weather.’ Their mum added with a chuckle.
Kunle and Kemi laughed too. Sango, the Yoruba deity of lightning and thunder, blessed their grandfather. He was a sweet old man who loved his family and grandchildren but they learned very early in life not to get him angry.
‘We didn’t ask you to come to hear about us, we called you here to talk about you.’ Their mother said.
‘Yes, Kunle has already told us about his work and his foreign girlfriend who we are all eager to meet. What’s been going on with you Kemi?’ Their father asked.
‘There it is, the real reason we are here’ Kemi thought.
‘Well work has been really tough but we have…’
‘Are you seeing someone?’ Her dad asked when he realized subtlety wasn’t getting him the desired.
Kemi stole a glance at Fred who had been quiet throughout the entire conversation.
‘No, I’m not.’ She replied.
‘So you don’t have any relationship in your life you think might be heading somewhere?’ Her mum asked.
She looked at Fred and this time he paused his eating briefly to look her directly in the eye.
‘No I don’t.’ She said again.
Her parents both let out a disappointed sigh.
The rest of dinner was a blur for her. Ten minutes later, Fred excused himself from dinner and went up to his room. Her parents talked mostly to Kunle about his work asking her questions occasionally just to include her in the conversation.
She left the dining table went up to Fred’s room.
‘Fred.’ She said knocking on the door.
‘What do you want Kemi?’ He said opening the door.
‘We need to talk.’ She said stubbornly.
‘I don’t think we do. You kind of made yourself very clear downstairs.’ He replied.
‘Maybe I wouldn’t have said that if you didn’t show up uninvited at my parents’ house. It’s my parents for GOD SAKES.’ She yelled.
‘I’m sorry about that but it was the only way I thought I could get your attention.’ He replied.
‘Well, you have my attention now.’ She replied bitterly with a heavy dose of sarcasm.
‘What are we even doing, Kemi?’ He asked in frustration.
‘Come on Fred. You know I hate that question, you know it’s a trap.’ She yelled. Her eyes were starting to tear up.
‘Okay let me ask you this. If I wasn’t at the table today, would your answers have been any different?’ He asked.
She opened her mouth to answer but she couldn’t so she ran downstairs and went out the back door.
She ran to through the pathway and when she got to the riverbank, she sat down and began to sob. Deep down she knew the answer to Fred’s question and she didn’t like it. She knew she would have said the exact same thing, not because she didn’t have feelings for him but because she was too afraid to find out what those feelings were.
The river began to stir and she simply said,
‘I knew you’d find me here Kunle.’
He came to sit beside her.
‘The river right?’ He said.
‘You should see me in the open sea. It’s so much worse in salt water.’
‘You mean better.’ She said with a shrug.
‘It depends on how you look at it.’ He said pulling her in for a hug.
‘He loves you Kemi.’ He said.
‘I know.’ She replied.
He kissed her on the forehead.
‘You’ll figure it out. I trust you.’ He stood up to leave.
‘Thanks.’ She muttered to herself.
The river stirred again and she turned to speak to him but he wasn’t there.
‘You’re a very difficult woman to find Kemi.’ A voice said beside her.
She jumped up startled her eyes met the most beautiful woman she had ever seen.
She was dressed in a bright yellow wrapper and covered her just to her knees and another that covered just bust. Her face, form, and shape seemed to blur and change every few seconds. She was small, then she was tall, she wall skinny then she was chubby, she was dark, then she was light but no matter the form or face she took, she was beautiful.
‘Who are you?’ She asked with a stammer.
‘A woman who almost gave up on waiting for you. Thankfully I do not age.’ She said.
She stood up to face Kemi then touched her affectionately on the cheeks.
‘My child, I’ve been waiting for you. I’m Oshun.’ She said.
Kemi’s mind raced as she tried to remember everything she knew about the deities.
‘You’re the deity of the river and all fresh water.’ Kemi yelled in surprise.
‘Yes. However, that’s a brief summary. I’m also the deity of love and fertility. Of all the wives of Sango, I was the one that loved him the most and I was the most beloved.’ She declared.
‘Why now? Why didn’t you come to me when I was younger?’ Kemi yelled
‘I know you’ve had a tough life Kemi and most of it wasn’t your fault. The pressure from your family made you chase the shadow of your brother so you abandoned the most important thing in life.’ She said.
‘Which is?’ Kemi asked.
Oshun gave her a perplexed look.
‘Love. Love of course. In the end, there’s nothing more to live for. I couldn’t meet you until you found love. Love is what makes Oshun who she is.’ She replied.
Kemi’s mind was spinning.
‘So if you’re here, that means…’ She put her hand over her mouth.
Oshun took her hand and kissed it.
‘You have my blessing my child. Go and get him.’ She said before walking into the river.
Kemi ran back to the house and knocked on Fred’s door.
No one answered.
She knocked again.
‘He’s packing his things to his car. He’s leaving first thing in the morning.’ Kunle said behind her.
She ran downstairs and out the front door just as he was closing the trunk of his car.
She walked towards him and kissed him passionately.
He let it linger for a bit then pulled away.
‘Kemi, I…’ He began.
‘I love you.’ She blurted out.
‘What?’ He asked in confusion.
‘I love you.’ She repeated.
‘And I’m sorry I’ve been so difficult, I’ve just never…’
He pulled her back in for another kiss.
In that instant, time froze and it felt like her universe finally made sense.
‘I love you too.’ He said.
‘Please don’t go.’ She said with a sob.
‘How could I leave you now?’ He asked pecking her on the cheeks.
She helped him move his things back to his room.
‘So what happens now?’ He asked.
‘I want to take you somewhere.’ She said leading him downstairs towards the back door.
‘Baby K.’ Kunle called from upstairs.
She looked up at him and he smiled.
‘You finally met her didn’t you?’ He asked.
She smiled backed and led Fred down the path to the river.
As they approached it, she felt it even before she heard it.
The river stirred, she was home.