Love, Music & Dreams =EIGHT=

 

*** *** *** 

 //Love Is …//

Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own. ~ Robert Heinlein

 

Adam Levine’s voice pierced through the charged atmosphere in the room as R City’s Locked Away played out from Ebuka’s phone. It was his ringtone.

Enitan held his wrist, stopping the progression of his hand as she felt his fingers trace the lines of his pocket to fetch the ringing phone.

Her lips were still locked in his, as her right hand arched his head closer to hers.

‘Let me see who’s calling me please,’ Ebuka breathed, biting Enitan’s ear lobes softly.

He drew her closely to himself with his left hand wrapped around her waistline, crushing her breasts against the hardness of his chest and peppering her shoulders with hot kisses.

Enitan could feel titillating sensations course through her body as Ebuka’s lips journeyed through her left shoulder area, alternating the kisses on her neck with soft bites on her collarbone.

She drew out the ringing phone from his pocket, took a cursory glance at the screen and stretched her hand to place the device on the table while pushing him gently towards the bed, far away from the phone.

‘Gold, who was that?’ Ebuka asked as he landed with a soft thud on the bed, his voice husky with desire, as the woman in front of him expertly undressed him, leaving him with only his briefs on and with the clinking of his belt head the only reminder that he had been wearing a trouser, some seconds ago.

‘Lanre,’ Enitan replied, biting his nipples, like it was his punishment for asking.

Ebuka winced in pain, and almost immediately let out a soft moan in direct contrast as he felt her tongue tickle his nipples after the bite. ‘Looks to me like you’re on a mission,’ he groaned in pleasure, his gaze locked on the full jiggling breasts hovering over him. He licked his lips hungrily.

‘I’m on a mission to please,’ Enitan whispered in his ears. ‘Let me atone for all the troubles I’ve caused you with the picture I sent.’

She saw the smile spread across his face like butter on bread and straddled him like a predator would do her prey as he dragged his full frame onto the bed.

She watched as he licked his lips hungrily and decided to tease him just a little bit more by lowering her body and letting her jiggling breasts brush against his chin. She could feel his muscles tense as he tried to turn her over on the bed, but she pinned his hands harder on the bed.

It was her most fertile period of the month – her deep green day by her Ladytimer application and it was the day she had meticulously planned out to have him grace her bed and she was determined to carry out her plan with ruthless execution.

Her eyes roamed to the head of the bed where she had hidden the handcuffs as she felt Ebuka grasp for her breasts with his lips. It was time for the next stage of the plan, which was to put him on a leash as she was sure he was going to attempt to turn her over a second time and she knew she wasn’t close to being strong enough to stop him at the next attempt. He always liked to be in charge, but tonight was going to be very different.

She locked the loose end of the cuffs around his left wrist arching her back slightly and drawing her body even closer to him; grazing her breasts against his lips, and just as explosions of pleasure rocked her body whilst Ebuka’s lips was working its magic on her nipples, she turned off the light.

***

Teni groped around in the darkness for her phone, her sleep-filled eyes too heavy to stay open but using the back-light from the phone to locate the position of the device. It was snuggling just under the pillow on the bed.

‘Hello,’ she mumbled into the receiver in a sleepy voice, her eye lids still fighting to stay up.

Wassup,’ Danny replied from the other end, ‘don’t tell me you’re already sleeping, it’s just fifteen minutes past eight.’

‘Yes I was, but I’m up now,’ she replied, letting out a big yawn. ‘I came back home very tired, actually dozed off in my clothes.’

‘Really?’

‘Yea,’ Teni cooed, letting out a yawn and stretching out on the bed. ‘Wait, where are you calling me from? Are you allowed to make calls from The House?’ She asked, her eyebrows arching curiously and her voice sounding much brighter. It seemed like a switch had just been turned on in her head as it occurred to her that Danny was not supposed to have access to a phone, and the number with which he was calling, was one that was not registered in her phone address book.

‘Relax babe, I’ve not been kicked out of the house just yet,’ Danny chuckled, sensing the worry in her voice. ‘We are all just being rewarded for a great performance this past weekend, they gave us ten minutes of call time to any number of our choice. I hear last weekend raked in the best ratings of the show so far, second only to last year’s finale.’

‘I’m not surprised, you guys were simply awesome last weekend. Twitter went crazy with your performances, I think the seven of you remaining in the house are just too good,’ Teni said excitedly, ‘your girlfriend, Orode, killed it with her performance of Adelle’s Hello, it was classic.’

‘And who says she’s my girlfriend?’ Danny asked, enjoying every bit of Teni’s chattering.

‘That’s the vibe we’ve been getting ever since both of you did that duet in week two or is it week three?’ Teni giggled. She liked that she was making him uncomfortable. His defensive response and pained voice assured her that nothing was happening just yet between him and Orode. She wondered why she cared, seeing that nothing could ever happen between herself and him.

‘Week three,’ Danny helped out. ‘And she’s just a friend, nothing more. What’s happening with the L.I.N.E Initiative?‘ he asked, changing the topic.

Teni smiled. She knew he was trying to change the topic by asking after her sickle cell themed NGO, Love Is Not Enough Initiative, but she was not in the mood to let him go so easily. ‘Both of you really look good as a couple though, especially since you’re almost always together when I watch the highlights of the day. The singing couple,’ she said dreamily into the phone, taunting him.

‘Are you mocking me?’ Danny asked, ‘No, wait, maybe the question should be, are you jealous?’

‘Jealous?’ Teni asked, sounding like she had just tasted sour grapes. ‘I’m just happy for you,’ she continued, laughing into the receiver. It was a throaty fake laugh. She was actually jealous.

‘So tell me, what’s happening with L.I.N.E?’ Danny asked again, eager to talk about something different. He was not ready to spend the whole of ten minutes talking about Orode who was guaranteed to be in the house with him for another week, when all he’d been dreaming about since the day he walked into the house was what he’d say the next time he spoke with the woman who made his heart beat to the rhythm of love.

‘It’s still going great,’ she answered, her voice losing the edgy feel that was present some seconds ago. ‘I spoke with the state office of the NYSC, and I’ve been granted permission to come around with the team when the orientation camp is in operation.’

‘Wow! That’s cool, but how do you expect to fund free genotype tests for that number of Corpers?’

Teni could feel the excitement in his voice and his genuine concern thrilled her. ‘We’re working out both corporate and technical partnerships,’ she replied, ‘plus we’re hoping to put a cap at the first hundred volunteers, if that’s what our funding would allow. We’re still working things out.’

‘Hmmn,’ Danny sighed. ‘You guys are really working hard. So… so proud of you,’ he said, highlighting every word in the sentence for emphasis, ‘and I’m sure your brother would have been too.’

Teni stayed silent on the phone, listening to him shower her with praises. Every word he uttered made her realize how much she had missed him, and hearing him mention her brother, Tobi, it made sense to let him know now that Tobi was not the only sickler in the family.

She had kept the information from him because there had been no reason to tell him, and she didn’t want him to treat her special because she was living with SCD like most people are wont to do, but with the many questions popping up in her head, it suddenly felt like the right time to let him know about her condition.

‘Teni?’ Danny called softly.

‘Yea,’ she replied, the word coming out from her mouth like a soft moan. She felt tempted to interrupt him and just spill the thoughts running around in her mind, but she restrained herself. She would let him finish and then tell him about her condition; the reason why they could never be more than just friends.

‘I don’t want you to be my friend,’ Danny started, before taking a calculated pause to let the words sink in, ‘and I don’t want you to be my girlfriend,’ he continued, his voice sounding strangely formal with an unmistakable tone of finality.

Teni pressed the phone to her right ear as she waited to hear Danny’s next words, the length of the pause clearly discomfiting her. She took a quick glance at her phone as the impatience of waiting became unbearable, and to her utter shock and surprise, Danny had hung up.

Teni felt a gasp like sound escape from her mouth unconsciously as she gazed at her phone screen, slack-jawed.

She was in shock not because of the words she had just heard, but more because of the tone with which he had spoken them. She couldn’t believe what just happened and the expression on her face was riddled with the tales of disbelief as her mind processed the event.

***

‘I don’t want you to be my friend,’ Danny said, taking a calculated pause as he listened to the quiet sound of Teni’s breathing over the phone.

He smiled, even though he kept his voice cold and formal. ‘And I don’t want you to be my girlfriend,’ he continued, his voice tone carrying a note of finality with it, and like a well-rehearsed poet, the tone of his voice switched in an instant to the melodic tone used for reciting love ballads. ‘I want you to be my soul-mate, the love of my life, the lone star that brightens up my dark skies,’ he purred, his voice dripping with emotion. ‘I’m in love with you Teni,’ he whispered into the phone, waiting to hear something other than the silence that greeted him from the other end.

‘Hello?’ He called into the receiver, after the sound of silence refused to abate, but the line was dead. He stared at the phone screen, tapping on its menu button with his left index finger and scrolling to check the duration of his call and the numbers 10:01 stared back at me.

He had overrun his time.

‘Damn!’ He cursed, hammering his fist on his lap in frustration. He had been talking with himself all this while. He had been so engrossed in his speech that he didn’t notice that the quiet sound of Teni’s breathing had ceased. He wondered what part of his message he had been able to pass across. ‘Sshit‘.

***

‘Oh shit!’ Ebuka cursed as he fell back on the chair, his fingers scratching on his cleanly shaved chin repeatedly, with his eyes staring blankly at the ceiling. They carried a hollowness that betrayed the pain in his heart.

He could deal with Stella ignoring him because of what happened at Raheem’s birthday party but imagining her holding hands with another guy, was way more than he could accept.

Lanre had been very categorical about what he had seen; Stella, holding hands with a strange guy whom he could only sparsely describe.

‘Are you sure,’ he had growled disbelievingly as he listened to Lanre describe the scenes to him over the phone.

‘Of course,’ Lanre had replied, ‘ don’t I know Stella anymore?’ He queried. ‘I even called you to let you know wassup but you didn’t pick up your phone and you didn’t call back, plus I’m the one still calling you now.’

Ebuka sighed. He remembered the call, he had been very busy with Gold at the time, and had totally forgotten to return the call. ‘I’m sorry,’ He apologized.

Lanre’s revelation made sense as to why it had been so easy for Stella to ignore him for a record breaking five days when the longest she had previously ever gone on any of these shakara trips was two days. She was not one to stay angry for too long.

Yes, this was the most serious case of cheating he had ever been in, seeing that she had Gold’s nude pictures as evidence whilst previous accusations were usually based on hunches and signs that he could so easily sweet talk himself out of.

She finally picked his call two days ago, exactly five days after she had stormed out of Raheem’s birthday party, but the formality with which she had spoken to him on the phone was one reserved only for strangers.

He had to cross check the number on the name of his last dialed to be sure he had just spoken with his girlfriend, and not another girl registered with same name even though her voice had been unmistakable.

She had displayed no hate, no love, and absolutely no emotions for the one minute, two seconds that the call had lasted.

He wished she had screamed and hurled insults at him, that way he would have been able to read from the script that he had prepared in his head, but her nonchalance was a plot twist he was completely unprepared for.

He had called her six times since, with the conversation getting better with every call even though it still felt like the cold war.

‘Baby, it’s Friday,’ he cooed sweetly into the phone like he had melting chocolates in his mouth as soon as he heard the very curt Hello from the other end.

‘I know,’ she replied. I have a calendar.’

Ebuka smiled. The sexy voice magic was obviously not working. It was no surprise, as nothing seemed to be working anymore, even his usual story that it was the women on his case and not vice versa did not work this time, and his jokes that would usually make her belly ache with laughter fell flat each time he opened his mouth to utter one. Her response usually left him feeling like someone with a terrible mouth odour, one bad enough to be transmitted as radio wave through a phone call.

‘Let’s do dinner tonight.’

‘Not in the mood for it,’ Stella breathed from the other end, like she had anticipated the question.

‘Lunch, please. We need to talk about us,’ Ebuka begged, his voice breaking with every word he uttered.

‘There’s nothing to talk about,’ Stella replied, somewhat irritated. ‘Besides, I’ve got a lot of work on my table so I can’t possibly do lunch now, maybe some other time. I’m sorry.’

‘It’s okay,’ He exhaled. ‘Some other time then, I love you.’

‘Thank you. Bye.’

Ebuka grinned to himself as he stared at the phone in his hand, hearing her respond to his ‘I love you’ call was a step up from the silence that usually greeted those words. He knew it was just a matter of time before he would hear her whisper the words, ‘I love you too baby.’

He liked the chase of getting her back anytime they had a fight, and even though this was the first time he had to deal with a mystery guy in the equation, he knew his biggest competition was no one but himself.

Stella was his wife in waiting, and nothing, and nobody could change that fact, but as he swiveled his chair in his expansive office, a couple of faces ran through his mind, faces whose heads fit the cap of Lanre’s strange guy.

One face stuck out like a sore thumb from the rest faces; Deji, the one guy who would never give up chasing his girlfriend. He was ninety nine percent sure that Deji was the mystery guy, but as sure as he was, he still couldn’t stop asking himself the one percent question; who the heck is mystery guy?

—————–

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Love, Music & Dreams =SEVEN=

These are some thoughts from the exclusive reading session of “The Bridge”. And now to our feature post of the day; #LMD5 – enjoy!

*** *** *** 

 //Side-Show//

Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option ~ Mark Twain

 

Stella closed her eyes, but the picture on Ebuka’s phone remained splashed on the canvas of her mind.

The breasts, the matching black lace panties and bra, the rose flower tattoo etched some inches above the indented belly button and the cropped out face of the picture refused to be erased from her mind. They stabbed at her heart like a million daggers.

She tried to be strong and deny that she was hurt, but the burning sensation in her chest wouldn’t allow as tears cascaded down the side of her face.

She hated the fact that she was crying. She did not want to cry. Not for Ebuka. But she could not help it, her body was not hers anymore, her system was malfunctioning, refusing to take instructions from her head and her heart was broken.

She had woken up with a splitting headache but was not in a hurry to leave the bed and get some pain relievers as the pain seemed to soothe the hurt from her naivety.

She had always suspected Ebuka was cheating on her but each time she unknowingly acted out her suspicions, he was quick to come up with stories about ladies pestering him and how he always kept them at bay by announcing to them that he had a girlfriend.

His defense seemed simplistic but since she couldn’t prove her suspicions, she had no option but to accept his stories – which made her feel secure, albeit in a bubble. And the bubble burst last night when she read the message from Gold.

She desperately wanted to believe that Gold was one of the phantom ladies in Ebuka’s stories, but as hard as she tried to make herself believe it, the more implausible the theory seemed.

The conversation style did not read like that of someone pestering another. It bore a tone of arrogance, that repulsive type of confidence borne out of familiarity. The most worrisome part of the chats from Gold was however not the arrogance displayed, but the missing chat history.

If Ebuka had nothing to hide, why was his chats with Gold prior to the photo blank?

It was the question probing her mind when she heard the raps on the door, quickly followed by the turning of the door handle as the door swung open.

‘Did someone chicken out of our Saturday challenge?’ Femi Haastrup announced as he stepped into his daughter’s room dressed in track pants and a sweat shirt, with a towel draped around his neck.

He wiped his face with the towel and inched towards the bed, stopping mid-way to take a look at a book, opened and turned upside down on the table close to the closet. For a fifty six year old man, Femi Haastrup looked really fit, with no pot belly to stare at in front of him and an almost permanent smile plastered on his face.

Stella forced a smile, trying to mask her sadness as she stared back at her dad. ‘I woke up very tired dad, just couldn’t make it,’ She answered, rubbing her fingers against her eyes in the motions of someone just waking up as her dad scanned through the book, making sure he had his fingers fixed in between the leaves as a marker for the opened page.

‘And even now, you still sound tired,’ he replied, walking up to the bed, cradling the book in his hands. ‘Are you sure you’re ok?’

‘Yes dad,’ Stella replied, almost choking on the Yes. She desperately wanted to say No but she couldn’t, as it would mean having to explain to her dad what exactly was wrong and she couldn’t picture herself doing that just yet.

How could she explain to the man that she saw a nude picture of a woman in Ebuka’s phone? Ebuka; her anointed husband.

The only person she wanted to talk to about it for now was Desola, and being that they were billed to visit the designer handling her gown by midday, she was sure they would have a lot of time to discuss.

‘Mastery, Robert Greene. I still can’t understand why I haven’t read this book yet,’ Femi Haastrup mused as he flipped through the pages of the book.

‘Maybe it’s because you’re already a Master,’ Stella teased. The words came out forced, as the usual sparkle in her eyes was missing. It felt like a failed attempt at a joke, as it only evoked a quiet smile from her father. A smile that had more to do with his person than with her comic skills.

‘Hello darling,’ Mrs Foluke Haastrup cooed as she waltzed into the room, interrupting the father and daughter moment. ‘How can you leave your sweetheart alone and come here to gist with another woman?’ She asked, frowning at her husband and eye-balling her daughter playfully. She locked her hands around her husband’s waist from behind, resting her head on his back, just at the nape of his neck.

‘I’m sorry my love,’ Femi Haastrup apologised, his voice laced with an exaggerated mush. ‘Yes I was gisting with another woman but I can assure you that it was your face I was seeing and your voice I was hearing,’ He replied, making a face and winking at his daughter, who by this time was smiling and up on her feet.

‘Are you making that face for me?’ Foluke Haastrup asked, tapping her husband’s stomach lightly. ‘Are you mocking me?’

‘I wouldn’t dare!’ Femi replied with a grin. ‘And by the way how did you know I was making a face, you can’t see my face?’

‘That’s why you have to be careful,’ Foluke warned. ‘I’ve got invisible eyes watching you’.

Stella watched on whilst her parents put on a show, her eyes showing her delight as the couple teased themselves in her room. ‘I think it’s time you both leave my room,’ she said, pushing the lovebirds out of the room gently and shutting the door behind them.

Inasmuch as she enjoyed her parents company, she wanted to be alone at this time to clear her head.

Her eyes caught the image of her phone lying idly on the bed as she rested her back against the door frame. The device had been quiet all morning not because the world had forgotten she had a phone, but because she had put it off after Ebuka had threatened her sanity with his endless calls, none of which she had picked.

He had called her close to fifteen times last night after she arrived home from the party, following which she had decided to turn the phone off since she was not in the mood to talk to him.

She tapped on the power button as she settled atop her bed, watching the device come alive in her hand as messages streamed into the phone, immediately the network signal turned on.

I’m on my way to the house
Called but you’re not picking
Call me when you see this. Will skin you alive if you’re not home. Have you forgotten our appt with the designer?

Stella smiled as she read the messages from Desola. She always had a way of making every assignment look like a ‘saving the world’ assignment. Desola was almost always in a rush.

Stella scrolled to check other messages on the phone. She wanted to be done checking her notifications before calling Desola, and just as she scrolled to the next message, the door opened as her dad slid in through the entrance, waving the book in his hands.

‘I came back to return this,’ he explained as he made for the table and dropped the book in the same way he had met it, open and turned upside down on the table.

Femi Haastrup stopped in his stride as he made for the door, turning to set his gaze on his daughter, who was clearly distracted by his presence as she held her phone in her left hand, tailing his every step with her eyes. ‘You don’t look happy to me,’ he started, his voice soothing and calm. ‘I don’t know what the issue is but I’d like you to know that your peace and happiness are more important to me than who it is you get married to.’

Stella could feel her heart fall into the pit of her stomach as she listened to her dad speak, she wanted to interrupt him and tell him that she was happy, and that everything was fine with her and Ebuka, but as she opened her mouth to speak, all she could hear herself say was, ‘Thank you dad,’ with her face easing into a smile as her lips curved upwards.

As the door shut behind her dad, the tears that have been welling up in her eyes streamed down her cheeks, like they had been waiting for the man to leave the room.

She wiped her face with the back of her hand as the salty taste of the tear drops seeping into her mouth hit her. The taste brought with it that lonesome feeling of heartbreak and turned her attention back to her phone as she read the message displayed on the screen.

Baby
Pls pick up your phone
S. Lemme explaiin
This is not what it looks like

‘This is not what it looks like,’ she chorused as soon as her eyes caught the first word on the fourth line, as she scrolled downwards through the chat. It felt like singing along to a song you don’t like, but one whose lyrics you know just because it has been overplayed on the radio. Ebuka’s lines were painfully familiar and had become pretty predictable.

She skimmed through the rest of the chat before returning to the home screen where there was an unchecked email and three Whatsapp messages waiting for her.

She tapped on the email icon and the message sprawled out on her phone screen with the subject, Episode 1 – 3. It was from Daniel.

Stella fell back on the bed as the email attachments downloaded on her phone. She could not have wished for a better distraction as she positioned a pillow under her head to assume a better reading posture.

She watched keenly as the download count closed in on completion. For the first time since the day began, her mind was not plagued with thoughts of Ebuka, his phone or the naked picture. All she could think about at the moment was the serial that was about to open up on her phone. She couldn’t wait to immerse herself in the world of Daniel’s characters.

***

Danny bopped his head to Darey’s ‘Pray For Me’ playing from the earphones plugged to his ears. His eyes were shut as he listened intently to the music, noting the inflections in Darey’s voice and muttering the ad-libs along with Darey as the song caressed his mind. It was one of the two songs that he was billed to perform next in the competition, in a week tagged Inspire Weekend. The other song was R Kelly’s ‘I Believe I Can Fly’.

Mo ri pe aiye le
forgive me father, but I got to take a chance
Oh I’m already gone, so just…

Orode watched from behind with a smile on her face as Danny seamlessly modulated from one key to another, still singing Darey’s lines. She was sure he was unaware of her presence as she approached him, lacing the back-up verses with her flawless voice.

She took off the earphones from his ears, smiling at him when he turned back to see who it was.

The duo didn’t stop singing even for a moment as their eyes connected, with Danny showing some excellent breath control as he sustained the last note in the pray for me part of the chorus.

The harmony from their blended voices was perfect, and even though this was just a rehearsal, the beauty of the song could be felt as the singers masterfully delivered their lines.

‘Why did you stop?’ Orode asked, her fluttering eyes showing her surprise. ‘I was waiting to see you do the chants.’

‘Chants?’ Danny asked like he didn’t hear her well, ‘I’m still learning that part. The yoruba in that part is not for people like us. That’s senior yoruba.’

Orode giggled. ‘You should be ashamed of yourself. Five years in Lagos and you’re still talking about senior yoruba?’

Yesso! That chant is not for omomos like us, that’s spiritual stuff,’ Danny said, his eyes showing he meant every word coming out of his mouth. ‘Don’t you see the way he went Ori Fashola baba ola o.

‘What!’ Orode exclaimed before bursting into laughter. ‘Fashola kor, Tinubu ni. It’s bori ba dolola ola o,’ she corrected him, singing the lines to him.

‘And why didn’t they give you this song?’ He asked, not expecting an answer.

The question brought a big smile to Orode’s face. ‘Maybe because they want you to learn yoruba,’ she answered.

‘I’ll shock them,’ Danny replied, rising up from the cushioned chair. ‘ I’ll do my chants in bini.’

‘Perfect,’ Orode said, still in a fit of laughter. She knew he was joking, but there was this dead pan expression on his face that would have fooled anyone that he was serious. She had been fooled too many times before with the same expression that she had learnt to look beyond the expression on his face to the mischief in his eyes to correctly judge whether he was serious or not.

As they joined up with the rest of the house for dinner, she imagined what it would sound like having Danny do the chants in bini. She was confident he would do it very well, whether in bini or in yoruba, as he had been one of the most consistent contestants in the house.

It was easy to see him as a threat in the house just like Tunde did, but she didn’t, because she liked him, and if the quickening pace of her heartbeat was a metric to judge likeness by, it could be safely said that she was beginning to like him too much.

***

Stella could sense Daniel gazing at her, even though her eyes were lowered as she read a new message on her phone. He had been stealing glances at her all evening and she was beginning to get used to it.

‘Is there something you want to tell me or you just like staring at me when I’m not looking?’ She asked, her eyes still lowered on her phone screen.

There was a brief silence.

‘Talking to me?’ Daniel asked, suddenly realizing that Stella was not soliloquizing.

‘Nope, I’m not talking to you, I’m talking to the man sitting on the other end of this table who won’t stop stealing glances at me.’

Daniel smiled.

‘But why is that?’ She asked, her eyebrows arching inquisitively. ‘Why do you talk so freely when we chat on phone and become somewhat shy when we’re alone together?’

Daniel’s eyes bulged for a fraction of a second even as he tried to remain calm, with that very familiar smile still playing around his lips. He dragged his hands on the table past the invisible borderline that he had created, and closed up Stella’s palms in his.

It was their first intentional contact of the evening as he gazed into her eyes.

She returned his stare, her eyes questioning and expectant.

‘When I see you, I run out of words to say,’ Daniel started, his eyes glistening and his smile broadening into a grin.

‘You wouldn’t leave me, cos’ I’m that type of girl to make you stay,’ Stella interrupted, with a delightful glint in her eyes.

It felt like they were reading from a script only both of them could see.

Daniel chuckled, ‘You’re so beautiful,’ he continued in a whisper, squeezing her hands softly in his. ‘You are truly so beautiful.’

‘Argh!’ Stella groaned disappointedly. ‘If you’re going to steal Akon’s Beautiful lines, you should at-least steal it right. You skipped close to four lines and jumped to the chorus,’ she protested, slipping her hand out from his hold.

‘I didn’t skip any lines,’ Daniel stated calmly, his hands recapturing her soft hands with a subtle move. ‘The dazzle of your beauty made me forget them.’

‘Hmmn,’ Stella muttered, her eyes widening in surprise. ‘Impressive lines. It reads like something Danny would tell Teni or will he be going for Orode?’

Daniel refused to take the bait, answering the question with a blank stare.

‘It’s still too early to tell the direction of the story from the number of episodes you have mailed to me, but I’m sure Danny would have sang these lines, not talk them.’

‘I can sing them if you want me to,’ Daniel said, clearing his throat, in pretense preparation to sing.

Pulease!‘ Stella chuckled, snatching her hands away from his hold and waving them dismissively at him. ‘Just concentrate on writing,’ she said as they both burst out laughing.

***

He watched the couple from a veiled position, observing how happy she looked, smiling and laughing at the slightest opportunity. They looked like lovers, especially with their fingers locked like that, her eyes wearing a dreamy look and her head tilted at an angle.

He didn’t know who the guy was but he was hundred percent sure it was not his friend Ebuka. This person looked way slimmer.

‘Women!’ he growled, ‘you just can’t trust them,’ he muttered to himself, his head analyzing the action plans his mind was working up.

What?

‘No, wasn’t talking to you,’ he replied the lady, barely looking in her direction. He had been thinking out loud.

What if he just walked up to them to say hi?

It would be nice to see the look on her face, especially with her fingers tied in a knot with this stranger’s.

‘No,’ he said, shaking his head. The idea seemed petty. Maybe he’ll just ignore the scenes playing out in front of him and hope Ebuka gets to find out some other way.

But what kind of a friend would that make him?

His head was still analyzing these thoughts when his hand fetched his phone out from his left pocket. He searched out Ebuka’s number from the contact list and like a man in trance, punched the dial button.

Gazing at his phone and waiting for the call to connect, he began to doubt his decision to call.

What if she was just chilling with a friend? And since when did holding hands amount to cheating?

He shook his head, ‘this is not just chilling with a friend,’ he murmured, doubting his doubts as the call connected and he waited with bated breath for Ebuka to pick up.

If Stella was cheating, then he owed it to his friend to inform him.

‘Women!’ he growled again as the thudum. thudum…  of his heartbeat served as a fitting accompaniment to the dhum-dhum… dhum-dhum sound of the ring-back tone.

—————–

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PLAYING THE LOVE GAME =EIGHT=

Playing The Love Game

Playing The Love Game

Playing The Love Game

Wassup Yarners, I trust you’re good. Two quick ones; The Team would like to announce the return of “Love. Music. & Dreams”, aka LMD. A new episode drops on the 26th of March and yes -logistics has been handled (thanks for asking *smiles*).

We’d also like to say a big thank you to everyone who completes every post with their comments, and this is reaching out to every ghost worker reader to come out of ghost-mode and connect. We have more subscribers and stats are through the roof but less and less comments. You can also use the share buttons beneath every post to spread the good news. It’s just a click for you but it means a great deal to us.

Get Clicking!

For now, enjoy our feature presentation, ‘Playing The Love Game’.

For previous episodes of ‘Playing The Love Game’, please click here

** *** *** 

//Smiling On The Outside//

 

She woke up in her matrimonial bed, her husband’s aftershave thick in the air and for the briefest of moments, forgot she no longer lived there. They had come back here last night after dropping Uche off at home. She wanted them to analyse their marriage. He had refused to contribute anything other than a grouchy ‘yes’ and a quiet ‘I understand’. And they went to sleep on either side of the king size bed. Dressed in his long, white embroidered kaftan, not the Saudi-Arabian style thawbs he wore to the mosque, she guessed, he didn’t have a meeting to go to and the serious concentration on his face as he focused on his phone was all for her benefit.

She got off the bed, clothed in the top she had on last night and her underwear, and went straight to the bathroom. She left the door open whilst showering, knowing he could see her from his position on the lounger.

He was typing on his phone when she came out wrapped in a small towel.

“You should probably wear one of my dressing gowns or shirts to cover up.” Idriss addressed her whilst his fingers continued typing. “You don’t want Austin or Aleska to walk in to find you like this.”

Anu turned to the wardrobe, opened the doors and started yanking shirts, tee-shirts and trousers off coat hangers. Stopping when he grabbed her from behind, she let him turn her around and rolled her eyes.

“Can I get one of your tee-shirts to wear? I need to go back home.”

“Slow down, baby. I get it, you want me.”

“Keep flattering yourself.”

“I’m supposed to be meeting the Imam about this youth charity project biz in ten minutes.”

“He can wait.”

“You want me that much?”

She let the frown on her face spread. “I want us to talk. I know there is something on your mind.”

Sometimes, sex for him was a distraction technique. A coping mechanism. Anu knew this. Over the past few months, he had been more attentive in bed. More demanding. The situation became almost unbearable three months ago when he started coming home during his lunch break. Exhausted, she complained.

In time, things went back to normal. Not that normal for them could be described as normal for couples they both knew. Later on, she calculated this intense period as the time the boys were born.

“If you are worried about the way I’m with the boys…” She held on to her towel.

His hands slipped underneath the towel to grasp her breasts. He moaned. She motioned for him to stop and he let go reluctantly.

“I don’t like seeing your… sons. I know they are yours. I don’t like them… yet.”

During the night, when Idriss came in with one of his sons and asked her to hold him so he could go and prepare his milk bottle, she pretended to be asleep. The boys were beautiful with chubby cheeks and curly hair. Going anywhere near them was just impossible for her. Seeing them alone made her feel the sadness and anger that she felt upon discovering their existence.

“Don’t worry. I will try to cope.”

“Okay. They will be with Kate most of the time, sha. Don’t stress about it. I know you have a kind heart. You will love them the way you love Kanyinsola, one day. ” He brought his hands up to rest on her shoulders. “I need something from you.”

“You want me to come back home? I told you we need time…”

“Not the coming home issue,” he shook his head. “I want you to put this marriage before your friendship with Bradley. No hanging out with him. No phone calls.” He caressed her shoulders tenderly and kissed her forehead.“I’m not telling you what to do… I trust you. And I want you to trust me too. I have told Kate that if she needs to speak to me about the boys or work, she can ring the house phone. Now that she is coming back to work, we need to prepare ourselves. Although Kate is not a threat like Bradley is.”

“I understand. We need to do everything to save this marriage. I will put some distance between me and Bradley. Promise me you won’t try to do anything to him.”

“Baby, don’t ask me that. The dude broke guy’s code.”

“Please, Idriss. For me.”

He narrowed his eyes at her. She engaged his gaze without breaking contact.

“Okay,” he grunted, “you win. I won’t touch him.”

“Thank you.”

“Come here Aisha, I have five minutes, you can thank me properly on the bed.”

 

***

He had left the house by the time she woke up. A bowl of fruit salad with extra strawberries and a glass of orange juice were on the side table. Anu sat up, covered herself in the bathrobe her husband left on the bed for her and compiled a message for Bradley. Her eyes went through each word, swapping them if any hidden meaning emerged, before sending the message.

Hi. I am sorry, Brad. I shouldn’t have involved you in my marriage. Please, forgive me. I hope you understand that I have to put our friendship behind me. He has forgiven me and he promised not to come after you. I love him. Please, let me be happy.

She wanted to go to her father’s house to bring some of her things over and was contemplating this when Jadesola came into the room.

“Mummy,” she ran towards the bed with an envelope.

“Jade,” Anu helped her daughter up. She hugged her and kissed her face a few times, ignoring her protests. “Don’t you know mummy misses you?”

“Take,” Jadesola passed her the card in her hands. “From Dada.”

Anu opened up the envelope whilst her daughter positioned herself on her laps. The card was a Missing You card dotted with pink hearts and red roses. What surprised her was that it had been signed by everyone in the house, except the babies of course.

Austin wrote that he missed her delicious cooking, Kanyin’s soups tasted like unsweetened tea. Kanyin’s complaint about the house chores killing her made her laugh but it was Idriss’ lines about not feeling like himself without her that brought her to near tears.

“Mummy, I write it.” Jadesola pointed at the clumsy semi circles she had drawn on the card.

Anu studied the awkwardly shaped circles. The circles criss-crossed into each other in a way that was messy rather than artistic. Austin told her jokingly one day that her daughter did not inherit her mother’s intelligence, after spending twenty minutes trying to get Jade to write the letter A. Austin stopped talking when Idriss, who he thought was out, made his presence known.

“Beautiful. Thank you, little mummy.” She kissed her daughter’s forehead and touched her untidy hair. “Let me plait your hair. Then mummy will teach you how to write alphabets.”

“I know albet. Austin showed me A.” Jadesola drew a C shape in the air with her hands.

“You are clever like your daddy.” Anu fastened the robe’s belt and picked up her smiling daughter. “Let’s find your sister.”

As they walked past her stepdaughter’s empty bedroom, she noticed the travel cot had gone. The babies were not there. They were not in Jadesola’s bedroom either. She took her daughter to the top level of the house, Austin’s attic bedroom where familiar voices were coming from.

Kanyin and Austin were in the room, on Austin’s bed. Austin appeared to be showing her something on his laptop. They were dressed in their bedtime clothing, he, in black shorts and Kanyin in plain vest and shorts.

He moved away from Kanyin slightly when he spotted Anu. “Hi, I was showing her this funny clip on YouTube.”

Anu walked in and placed Jadesola in-between the two. Austin shifted to the edge of the bed, his eyes seeming to be transmitting a plea. She imagined his thoughts were along the lines of ‘please don’t tell boss I’m making a move on his daughter, he will kill me and refuse to release my body to my parents.’

“I need to shower, princess.” She pointed at Jadesola whilst gazing at her stepdaughter whose lips were rather too glossy for someone recently out of bed. Her long hair was in a ponytail, pulled back neatly like a woman that wanted to look beautiful without appearing as if she made an effort. “Please look after her. I will take her downstairs and do some cooking when I’m done.”

Kanyin nodded. “Daddy took the boys to their mother. Then he is going to the mosque. He also said he has a few things to do in Manchester.”

“Okay.” She added in Yoruba, “Please, give me something to wear. I need to wash the stuff I came in last night.”

“You want to borrow panties?” Kanyin asked in English winking at Austin. “You want   normal bra or padded bra?”

“Very funny. Pyjamas will do.”

“You can get whatever you want from my room. Please get something that covers your whole body. We don’t want the noise that woke the whole house this morning to wake us up during the night.”

Austin who was now laughing stopped when Anu shot a glance in his direction. She could feel a beam on her face as her gaze returned to her stepdaughter.

“Kanyin, we were just talking…”

“Talking the language of love,” Austin interrupted and started to laugh.

“Someone has forgotten his application form for the agent trainee job is sitting in my inbox right now.”

Aah, I didn’t laugh. This is the way I cry. Kanyin is the one laughing.”

She tapped her stepdaughter’s shoulder. “I will make you a dozen pancakes as punishment, princess.”

“Anu, don’t touch me. I know where your hands have been. Please wash your hands before you start cooking. In fact, use bleach.”

“That’s it. I’m leaving this room.” She kissed her daughter’s forehead. “Jade, I’m leaving you with your naughty sister.”

They were all laughing when she left them, Jadesola’s laughter sounding unsure yet louder than the others.

 

***

Anu turned off the conservatory room TV and took Jadesola upstairs with her, leaving warm pots and oven trays of food on the kitchen table. Austin would store the rest once he and Idriss had eaten. He always looked like he enjoyed storing cooked food, labelling lids with the preciseness of a food lover. Half of the leftover ended in his stomach anyway.

Jadesola was asleep by the time Anu finished in the bathroom. She had taken quite a while, slowed down by Bradley’s text, I need to see you, one last time.

Kanyin was on the bed beside her sister. “You better move your daughter. You know Daddy doesn’t like her sleeping in your bed.”

Anu slid under the covers. “She has missed me.”

“It is so good to have you back.”

“Thanks.” She gestured for her to move closer and waited until she was lying closer to Jadesola. “What’s going on between you and Austin? The guy is smitten.”

“Stop it,” Kanyin giggled. “Okay, stubborn lady, sometimes he acts like he is into me.”

“Encourage him then. You like him, don’t you?”

“He is never gonna go there. He respects Daddy too much. Or shall I say fears for his life.”

“I’m sure you have heard bits about my father and your father’s relationship. That didn’t stop Idriss.” She tried not to think of the ugly memories that often came with thinking about those days. The emotions that took over, tainting her memory of the start of their love affair. “I know we’re not a good example. We built this relationship on a rocky foundation. This must be why we are struggling now. However, one thing is certain for me …”

“You love him.”

“No one comes close. No one ever will.”

“I want to experience love one day.”

“What about Bayo?” She hadn’t seen him in a while. And the love songs Kanyin serenaded them with at the start of her relationship with him had stopped coming. “Are you not dating him anymore?”

Kanyin lay fully on the bed, picking at her finger nails and not making eye contact.

“What is it? Are you worried because your father doesn’t like him?” The sound of her phone alerting her to a notification interrupted her. “Princess, talk to me.” Earlier she found out that most of the pancakes she made her stepdaughter were fed to Jadesola. Her daughter picked at her chips and chicken nuggets lunch, eventually telling her she didn’t want anything to eat. “I’m worried about you.”

“You should check your phone.” She smiled and snuggled under the top sheet covering her sister. “You know Daddy doesn’t like to be kept waiting.”

“No. He can wait.”

“I’m fine. If I need you, I know you are right here.”

Anu shifted forward to kiss her forehead.

“We are not doing that. I know where that mouth has been.”

“So, you think.” She climbed off the bed smiling and hurried to the dressing table where her phone was. Her notification was an email from Kaz –who was now the Manchester agency manager – reminding her of the staff meeting tomorrow.

She logged on to her laptop and forwarded the documents for tomorrow to the printer in the study room, sighing because she had never been the type that needed reminders about work commitments.

Kanyin’s eyes were closed in sleep when Anu finished. She turned off the light, walked on tip-toe downstairs and halted by the door of the study room. Austin was sitting on the arm chair, eating his meal. Anu had one of Kanyin’s silk night shirts on. It looked too short to be worn around the house and certainly not in front of her husband’s employee but she was already downstairs.

“I didn’t know you were down here. Sorry.”

Austin placed his spoon down and reached for his drink. “Why are you apologising? It’s okay o.”

“I should have checked.”

“It is okay, Anu.”

“What’s okay?” Idriss asked from his position in the kitchen doorway.

Anu had not heard him come in or the back door opening. He walked out of the kitchen, towards them as Austin stuttered a ‘welcome sir’ before rushing upstairs with his tray.

“What are you wearing?” His eyes inspected her like they could detect more from just looking at her.

“Your daughter’s pj top.” She opened the study room’s door and waited for him to follow before shutting it. The room felt stuffy because it had no window. A small, unventilated room with scanning and printing machines they rarely used because they had bigger, faster ones at work. “I could have gone home if I knew you would be gone all day.”

“Plenty to do, wifey.” He grabbed her as she bent to turn on the printer and turned her around. He guided her towards the oak table in the room, kissing her with an urgency that surprised her. Without ending the kiss, he positioned his legs between hers. “I want to get you pregnant. Right here on this table.”

“So, no other man finds me attractive?”

There were times she didn’t believe she knew him like a woman should know her husband. There were also times she knew him well enough to pinpoint the reasoning behind his actions. The baby decision was one of those.

“What are you talking about?” He cupped her chin. “You are a very sexy woman. It is normal for other men to look at you. If they want my trouble, they can let their eyes linger.” He kissed her whilst his hand sought for a button at the back of her neck. “I want you. Or are you too scared to let me go near you without protection?”

“I know you are taking your meds and looking after yourself but there is still a tiny risk, isn’t there? A risk I can’t take because of my girls upstairs.”

“Okay,” he kissed her forehead. “I love how sensible you are. I love you for the way you treat Kanyinsola like she is yours. Let me take you upstairs baby to reward you.”

“Do you ever have anything else to offer?” She slapped his shoulder playfully. “Anyway, we can’t. The girls are in our room.”

“We can stay down here… in the spare room. Hope you remember how small the bed in there is? I will have to sleep on top of you.”

“Like you’re gonna pass over the opportunity. Let me go and warm up your food then we can go through tomorrow’s meeting agenda.”

He helped her down from the table. She extricated herself from his grasp and left for the kitchen.

She served him jolof rice with moinmoin and a heap of grilled peppered meat and after placing the plate in the microwave ran back to the study to ask him what he would like to drink.

His voice was hushed from inside the room. He was telling someone on the phone to ring him tomorrow morning.

“I’m home. Anu is here. So, we can’t talk right now.”

She knew it would be better to go back into the kitchen and pretend she didn’t hear anything. As she turned around, she heard the rest of his part of the conversation.

“You know what to do, Ikumapayi. Deal with the fucking bastard.”

 

***

Uche stopped the car in front of Pearlicious cake shop. Kanyin climbed out of the car and banged the door shut.

“Should I wait for her?”

“No,” Anu replied from the back of the car whilst getting her phone out of her bag. “She will meet me at work. Sorry about her behaviour. I think she is angry that we are not doing lunch. She has no idea that the handbag she bought cost a week’s wages. I don’t work just for fun.”

Uche wanted to ask what happened to the usually polite Kanyin. She wanted to ask too why the girl no longer attended university but her friend looked busy enough, going through her bag whilst speaking on the phone.

“Voicemail again, Idriss. Where are you? Please call me. We have a staff meeting shortly and it won’t look good if you don’t show. Our staff will be arriving soon.”

Anu went straight into another call.

“Hi Kate, it’s me. Is everything ready? Can you double check we have our usual table at the restaurant, I want the whole team relaxed. Can we have extra copies of the agenda please.”

Uche continued down the road. She parked the car and tried not to sigh.

She agreed to go shopping with her friend to give herself some respite from thinking about Emeka. He came to her flat yesterday, muttered an apology and because she wouldn’t let him in, dropped the bag of wrapped gifts he brought along with him at the door. ‘Happy birthday’, he said.

One of the presents held a small black jewellery box in it. She opened the box and for a moment imagined she saw a ring in it. It wasn’t.

Instead, two gold earrings, the value of four years of her life sat in the box.

Last night, she got a call from Lotachi, his sister in California. She wanted her to know, no other lady out there would be as well received in their family. Their brothers couldn’t believe Emeka could walk away from her. Their mother hadn’t eaten since she found out.

And all through Lotachi’s rant, the only thing Uche kept thinking of was how cowardice could unmake mankind. She didn’t cry after the call. She skipped to the kitchen where her flatmate was and announced ‘Emeka has dumped me through his sister.’

She tried to be as strong as Anu would have been and instead of wallowing listened to the story of her flatmate’s brother, a man who proposed by accident. His wife found out five years later that he had actually been trying to end their relationship.

According to her flatmate, her sister-in-law could have lost her husband that day if he had been brave enough. She didn’t. She got a man who wasn’t perfect – their mother had tended to her bruised face a few times. ‘He slaps her sometimes…’ her flatmate continued, ‘but like my mother says, at least he honoured her by marrying her.’

Anu tapped her and dropped an envelope on her laps. She was out of the car before Uche could thank her, phone held to one ear, bags hung on one hand.

The envelope felt heavier than normal ones carrying birthday cards, so Uche tore the envelope open. She gasped when five, hundred pound high street shopping vouchers fell on her laps. She was taking off her seat belt, thinking of how to thank her friend when her phone shrilled.

She plugged the ends of her headphones in her ears and readied herself for scolding her caller, Idriss.

“Where are you? Your wife has been ringing you. Your employees have started arriving for your meeting.” Two men in black suits were alighting from a silver car as she spoke. They walked into Aspire Agency whilst she waited for Idriss to speak. “What’s going on?”

“Meet me at Emeka’s house.”

Although his tone worried her, she didn’t intend to go anywhere near Emeka. Not for anyone.

“Sorry. Tell Emeka his voodoo has stopped working.”

“Come, Uche. Something bad has happened.”

“What’s going on? Tell me. Anu is not here with me.”

“I went to see Bradley …” He grunted. “I messed up big time. I’m definitely going to prison this time.”

“What have you done?”

“He is dead. Bradley is dead.”

 

***

Kanyin walked briskly into Aspire Agency holding a small pink box with varieties of cupcakes. She had bought a couple of chocolate ones to placate her stepmother and her friend. Unfortunately for her, Uche’s car had gone by the time she got back.

Bayo’s silence lasted the weekend. She woke up this morning to several messages from him. In one, he said he would never let her go. He loved her too much. This left her feeling as scared as the night he assaulted her. She tried to immerse herself in the pleasure of trying on new dresses and managed to pose happily for Anu until Uche’s comment about one of the short ones she picked floored her.

‘Don’t buy that dress if you don’t want one of those randy university boys to jump on you. Biko, it is your responsibility to protect yourself. Some men are dogs but it will be your fault if you don’t cover up.’

If her stepmother had not been too busy on the phone with clients she would have seen that her eyes clouded with tears as she ran back in the dressing room. She would have noticed that none of those dresses made it into her shopping bag.

Kanyin kept walking towards Anu’s office ignoring Kate’s, “she is busy and returning Jame’s “hiya”. The main office was full with agents. As usual they all wanted to present their friendliest face.

“Hi boss’ daughter,” the one with a mole on his chin, whose name she could never remember greeted. She muttered ‘hi’ although her voice sounded alien to her own ears. Strained and tense. At least, it wasn’t completely broken like its owner.

She turned the door knob and stopped on her spot. Sitting on her father’s seat was Bayo. He had a cup of something in front of him. The same type of cup that Anu was drinking from on the other end of the table.

“Shortee, wassup.” Bayo walked up to her and took the box from her hand.

She let go easily. The box was about to slip from her hand before he took it from her. “What are you doing here?”

“Joining your family business.”

 

—————–

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PLAYING THE LOVE GAME by Olajumoke Omisore

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PLAYING THE LOVE GAME =SEVEN=

Playing The Love Game
Playing The Love Game
Playing The Love Game

Hello Yarners, it’s your boi back from the moon. First of all I’d like to say a big thank you to my Partner, Jumoke, for working extra shifts so this young man can go play the forever love game with the love of his life, and next, I’d like to dobale to ‘every’ Yarner for my failure to give a proper notice on my wedding, forgive me.

I apologize from the depth of my heart.

To everyone that sent kind wishes our way, thank you so very much, we appreciate you. And in my little way of bribing my way back into your hearts, it’s my privilege to announce that from the second quarter of 2016, we’ll be going on our promised run of two posts weekly.

For now, enjoy our feature presentation, ‘Playing The Love Game’.

For previous episodes of ‘Playing The Love Game’, please click here

** *** *** 

//Slow//

 

That was the word Uche started her week to. A word that now haunted her and prodded her awake every time she tried to shut her eyes. She examined the word, analysing it like a psychiatrist would a patient’s mind.

Staring at Doctor Vatani, a middle-aged senior doctor of the general practice at the health centre as he chatted about swimming topless on his holiday, she came to the conclusion that her life was going at the slowest pace possible.

At age fifteen, she had her life mapped out. She would get married after graduating university. Children would follow. A boy and a girl. If her husband’s amazing law career allowed, volunteering at a motherless babies home could be an option. They would travel the world before their third child. All of this before her twenty eight birthday.

How was she to know that she would fall for a man whose most favourite phrase happened to be ‘let’s take things slow’. A man who choked on his drink every time she told him about one of her many cousins or friends getting married. Or every time his friends asked him when they were going to get married.

Emeka’s commitment phobia had always been there. Raised by parents who fought constantly, his fear had worsened when one of his brothers announced he was leaving his wife and the other revealed he got his wife’s cousin pregnant.

“I know you have a Nigerian boyfriend.” Doctor Vatani pronounced Nigerian as if he had indigestion, his South African accent thickening around it.

Doctor Vatani had done his best to woo her since she started co-running the health centre’s baby clinic. Well, his pitiful attempts at wooing her. The first time he attempted to straighten his flabby body in front of her, his podgy stomach fighting his efforts to flatten it, she didn’t understand what he was trying to do. Tia, the receptionist kindly explained what his intentions were at lunch time.

Not long after, he declared, he would die happy if she considered him. He showed her pictures of his palatial house in Johannesburg. Tia had been kind enough to inform her his palatial home already housed three wives. This was in case his podgy stomach and bald head were working on her.

“I hear stories about Nigerian men.” He scratched his head with a rather hairy hand. “Don’t let him fool you.”

She noticed the different patches around his armpit area on his greying-white shirt as he scratched and wondered how many days of sweating caused this.

“Thank you, doctor.” She saw a woman come in with a baby through the glass window and jumped up. She picked up the tray of vitamin-drop bottles and started to head out of the room.

Doctor Vatani walked with her taking steps slower than that of a snail. “If you need an African brother to talk to, knock on my office door. I will take you as a sister.”

“Thank you.” She greeted the new mother when she reached her, gushing over her baby the way she always did with new babies. She had discovered early on in her career that it was best to ask about babies first as most new mothers loved the chance to talk about them. As she listened, she tried not to think of her own problems. How long before she could boast of a little one like this.

Yesterday evening at Emeka’s house, she found herself asking him the dreaded question, ‘when’.

“When are we getting married?” She asked.

He spent a while talking about Idriss and Anu before telling her he wasn’t sure if he wanted to get married anymore.

“If you give me more time…” Emeka did not look at her as he got another can of beer out of the fridge. “I simply need time. Let’s take things slow. No point rushing.”

“You realise we have been together for four years, don’t you?”

That was all she could ask, despite knowing that he tended to be more upfront after having a beer.

“Uche, I need time. I’m not ready. In fact, I won’t get angry if you find someone whilst you are waiting for me. Let me not ruin your life.”

At that point she gathered her things together and left for her flat. Deciding he was too drunk for anything he said to be taken seriously.

 

***

Idriss’ ears were present in the house with Aleska, his eyes however struggled to stay present. Both of them were at the window, Bashir was on his chest and Aleska was showing him how to burp his son. Yet, his eyes would not stop straying outside.

The wet weather wasn’t what he was staring at. It was the red sports car that arrived on the opposite side of the street a few minutes back that had his attention. He had almost yelled out, when the door of his father-in-law’s house opened up and Anu let Bradley into the house.

Why did she let him in?

His wife did not let go of Bradley when they became a couple. He convinced himself that what she felt was merely pity. Guilt, maybe. They were once a couple too and they would have married if Idriss and Anu never met.

All this while, he refused to see the friendship as a threat. Now, he knew different.

“Take the baby,” He passed the baby to Aleska, picked up his phone from the table and started walking towards the stairs.

Aleska rushed after him. “I go soon to de Adam families. I look after dere children.”

Idriss turned to his Polish employee whilst dialling his wife’s number. “I will pay you double what the Adams family are paying you.”

“Thank you. Thanks. I stay forever.”

A sly cough from the table interrupted them. Austin caught a funny picture, feeding Jadesola cornflakes with one hand whilst his other hand held Abdul.

“See, how hard I’m working, boss.”

Idriss grinned, pointed at his phone and continued on his way upstairs. Kanyin’s bedroom door was shut. He banged on her door to wake her up. Missing meals had become her favourite pastime. He had only noticed because Anu commented on how skinny his daughter had become last night.

Inside the bedroom, he positioned himself by the window. He could see his father-in-law’s house clearly. Anu was at the door with Bradley, holding what looked like her phone from his distance. Bradley had started to head to his car. The call had gone to voicemail. He ended the call and tapped on the screen again. He could hear himself breathing heavily when her voice eventually came on the line.

“Hey, wifey. What took you so long?”

“Sorry, darling. I just got out of bed.”

He watched her go back in, failing to steady his breath. “So, what have you been doing? Anything I should know about?”

“No. Nothing. I got out of bed two seconds ago. I’m going to shower and come over. Or do you want to come round?”

“No. I’m calling to cancel. I’m so busy here and I need to be at the Manchester office soon. Later, yeah?”

“Okay, darling. Enjoy your day. I will be at our Ribble base if you need me.”

 

***

 

When Kanyin volunteered to help her father look after the twins on Saturday, she didn’t do it genuinely. It came from the part of her brain responsible for scheming and planning. She thought of a clever plan to rid herself of Bayo forever.

He hadn’t stopped ringing her since the time she saw him and Dogo. Fuming from the state she had been in for weeks, thinking he had impregnated her, she was looking forward to a combat with him.

As she changed Bashir’s nappy for the third time that day, barely able to breathe, the last fragment of her plan fell in place. Getting a negative result for both pregnancy and STI checks at the clinic had done this to her. Reenergised her. Made her believe that Bayo could be conquered.

Having washed her hands in the sink, she picked up Bashir and left her father’s ensuite bathroom. He was on the bed, stroking Jadesola whose head was on him whilst his other hand typed on his laptop. Abdul, cradled in the mesh-side, foldable baby cot close to the bed seemed to have drifted off to sleep.

“When is Aleska coming in?” He didn’t look at her as he spoke. “Tell her she needs to work tomorrow. These kids… dia wahala na something else.”

“She will be in soon.” Kanyin moved towards the baby cot and checked on Abdul. Their curly hair and brown eyes constantly chipped at her anger. Although that anger was all directed towards Kate, sometimes it prevented her from truly relaxing with them. “Anu called, Daddy.” She gave her sister a warm smile. “She wants Jade to spend the day with her tomorrow. Should I tell her to come and see you tonight?”

“Why?” He looked up from the laptop.

“Don’t give up, Daddy.” She pointed at the jewellery box on the dressing table. It belonged to Anu’s mother. “She didn’t take her mother’s jewellery box. You know how much she loves it. It means her heart is here. She wants to come back home.”

“If only hearts belongs to one person.”

“What?” She didn’t understand what he meant. “She asked of you this morning. She even told Austin where to go for the babies’ toys.”

Her father left the house two days ago when Anu arrived to pick up her daughter. Yesterday morning when she dropped her off, on her way to work, he did not come out of the study.

“Stay out of it, Kanyinsola. I know you mean well. Everything is cool the way it is.”

She was trying to think of something to say when Austin came into the room after a quick rap on the door.

“Morning boss.”

“Hey, Austin.”

Austin had barely spoken to her since she told him of her plans to quit the university. Last night he retreated into his bedroom when he got back from the agency.

“Can you ring the guys and cancel tonight.” Her father addressed Austin.

“No,” she jumped in before Austin could respond. “Aleska will help me with the food, Daddy. Austin can get the drinks. Don’t cancel.”

“I’m not really in the mood for this get-together. Cancelling it this month will not kill anyone.”

“Please, Daddy.”

“Emeka is looking forward to it, boss.” Austin grinned. “I saw him yesterday.”

“Okay,” her father grunted. “Let’s see if the three of you can pull it off.”

Although Kanyin had to call Anu twice at work for tips about her father’s monthly soiree, she was smiling when his friends and acquaintances with their wives and girlfriends arrived. The kids were in Jadesola’s bedroom with Aleska and Austin seemed to shine with the two waitresses they hired.

It was easy to sneak Ikumapayi out of the house. She told him the barest minimum about Bayo. He wouldn’t leave her alone. She didn’t like him.

Her father’s friends, especially Ikumapayi and Emeka had told her in the past she could rely on them. She saw this in the way Ikumapayi raced towards Bayo’s car. He was waiting at the bottom of their street as he threatened in his messages to her. Although Bayo started the car and started speeding away, Ikumapayi did not stop chasing the car. He charged at the car with the speed of a predator after its first meal in weeks.

“You are dead if you come back. Oloshi.”

Kanyin was smiling as she reached him. “Thank you so much. I have told him I’m not interested. I don’t know why he won’t listen. If Daddy sees him …enh… I will be in so much trouble.”

“Don’t worry, omo babe e. If he comes back, call me, I will come and handle him. Leave him to me. Small boy like him. Im wan die ni.”

“Please don’t tell Daddy.”

“No prob, daddy’s girl. Now, let’s go back in before your father sees us and breaks my legs o.”

***

Uche was in Emeka’s bed clothed in the black lacy bra and panties she bought with a tenth of last month’s salary when she heard him arrive. Normally, she would have cooked him his favourite meal and littered the place with scented candles and red roses. This time she decided against this. Opting for what Emeka saw and liked all those years ago.

‘You.’ He had said when she asked him with a shy smile what he liked about her. ‘I like you. The whole you, Uchenna.”

They met at an African club in Manchester, one of the ones Africans patronised to reconnect with home. She had gone with Kelly, her former flat mate. A young woman from Addis Ababa whose waist made Uche workout at night.

Having recently lost her boyfriend to a flexible dancer who he met whilst back in Lagos to visit his family, Uche had not been on the look-out for a man. That night was particularly hard, as his cousin had called to let her know he declared he wouldn’t leave the country without marrying the dancer.

Kelly encouraged her to dance with a couple of men. Men that were not only lacking in height but also lacking when it came to communication. The men were both from French speaking African countries and she remembered feeling the need to rant when the second man started with, ‘No English. Bonjour mademoiselle.’

She was in a corner drinking her coke through a straw when Emeka approached her. She assumed then because of his fair skin, soft-texture hair and quiet confidence rather than the self-importance she observed in past boyfriends that he wasn’t Nigerian.

That was until he asked her if she was missing Lagos. In the middle of their introductions, he confessed to missing Enugu. They fell for each other and despite the occasional comments he made about the state of the marriage institution, she believed and he encouraged her to believe that they would marry someday.

She could hear him laughing as he walked around the house. He sounded like he was on the phone, a bit merry too, the way he talked after having more than a few to drink. He had been at Idriss’ monthly get-together.

She realised that he didn’t know she was in the house with him, she had parked her car at the top of his street.

Uche sat up in bed. She could see a partial reflection of herself thanks to the mirror mounted on the wardrobe in front of the bed. Despite thinking herself average in terms of looks, largely due to a mother who never complimented her, friends and sometimes even people she wouldn’t call friends had called her beautiful. Her fair skin had a radiant glow to it. Her breasts were perky. She was quite slim, perhaps due to the gross diets her colleagues were always introducing her to. She loved food and considered cooking a type of art so her obsession with cooking usually led to the failure of the diets.

What sort of girl would chomp on carrot slices or live on cabbage soup after discovering pounded yam and egusi stew? Why would she choose coffee and water for breakfast when she loved buttered toasts too much?

Uche loved food, simple.

This wasn’t why she asked her colleagues not to include her in the one boiled egg a day diet. It was the smell that the nurses who had begun the diet at the hospital left wherever they sat down that discouraged her. Luckily, the diet was soon ruled as unsafe after a pharmacist collapsed due to hunger.

Despite her failure to stick to diets, she felt that physically at least, Emeka had no reason not to want to be with her. She was, after all good enough to share his bed, cook his meals and carry his and his friends’ problems like they were her own for four years.

“Stop it o,” his voice sounded closer now. The tone had a familiar seriousness to it, the way he spoke during their ‘when’ conversations. “I told you not to get Uche involved. I know say you wanted to get your wifey back, but dude… how can I finish with this chick if you and Ikumapayi keep ringing her.”

She got up to listen to what he was saying but he had moved away again. His voice was muffled now, at times inaudible as water gushed from –what she assumed to be – the tap in the kitchen.

Uche grabbed the tunic and pants midwife uniform she took off moments ago. Different types of nightwear that belonged to her were in his drawer but dressing up in a revealing nightgown for him was the last thing on her mind.

Emeka nearly jumped out of his seat when he saw her. He placed his can of beer on the table and moved his phone nearer to his mouth. “Dude, Uche is here in the house. I didn’t even know. Let me call you back.” He planted a big grin on his face after putting the phone on the table. The grin didn’t hide his fear. “When did you get here? Babe, I didn’t even know you were here.”

“Shut it.” She slapped the hand coming towards her legs away. “I heard you Emeka. Just tell me why you want to dump me and I will be on my way.”

“What are you talking about again?”

“One of us will die tonight if you don’t start talking.”

“Why would I want to dump you? Uchenna, the conversation you heard was about Anu. You know I love you.”

“I heard what you said to your friend. I heard you say how can I dump this chick.” She pulled him up with his ear lobe without meaning to. She let go of it and he sat further back. “You have wasted four years of my life Emeka. Where do you expect me to start from? Where? You made me wait this long knowing your intentions. Why!”

She staggered back as he tried to get hold of her. “Touch me and I will scratch your eyes out.” She wanted to get married. She wanted children. Yet, the main reason her tears fell was because of her mother. The woman who told her a woman’s achievements if she didn’t have a husband were worthless. And although her mother stopped asking her when Emeka would make her a respectable woman a while back, each call between them now were filled with uncomfortable pauses.

She reached into the pocket of her tunic hoping for something to wipe her eyes, pulling out a urine sample bottle. Earlier at work, she had lost a sample bottle she wanted to give to a patient and blamed it on the state of her mind.

“What is that?” Emeka looked alarmed. What are you planning to do with that? Are you trying to infect me with a disease? All because of this marriage thing?”

She latched on to his idea. Waving the sample bottle at him. He couldn’t have seen through the label covering the bottle. It might as well be put to work to get the truth out of his alcohol-induced, muddled state.

“Yeah, it is nimokokulus ofungunlus pathogen. I will unleash it on you if you don’t tell me what’s going on. Did you get back with Efe when you went to Nigeria?”

“Eh?” He had slumped back on the armchair, face flushed from fear. “The Efe I used to date from the Abacha years. Fear God naa, a girl I haven’t seen since 1997.”

“Emeka, your refusal to tell me the truth is something.” She advanced towards him with the sample bottle, laughing as he gasped. “

His phone started to ring, he picked it up immediately. “Idriss, please come. This chick has gone mad. Please.” He placed the phone back on the table, his eyes on her hands. “This is crazy. Please put that thing down. Do you want to risk your life? Or is this thing not real?”

“You will know if it is real when boils, German measles and small pox cover you from head to toe.”

“This is crazy.”

“Tell me the truth then! What’s going on?”

“Nothing. No affair, nadda. Please.”

He reminded her about how they loved each other at the beginning. How they couldn’t go through a day without seeing each other. She made him believe in the concept of a family unit.

Although she ignored him, the hand she placed on the lid of the sample bottle did not shift. She decided to stay and get the truth out of him. Four years of her life deserved an explanation.

“If it is not Efe, then it is someone else. You are seeing someone. Your best friend is a dog, so it makes sense that you are cheating.” She studied him through wet eyes. He didn’t look guilty. For the first time since they started drifting apart, she noticed how unaffectionate towards her he was. In the past he would have held her and soothed her. He would have dried her tears and whispered into her ears. He would have held her the way Idriss did his wife in front of them all on his birthday. They were having a quiet row. Uche was to learn later on Idriss had been too complimentary to Ikumapayi’s pretty cousin.

She remembered the evening Anu made the comment about her friendship with Bradley. They all saw the slight anger that darkened his eyes but less than an hour later when Ikumapayi’s fiancée, Hoya turned the stereo on Idriss had pulled his wife up to dance with him.

“You don’t love me anymore, do you? Emeka?”

“Stop talking rubbish.”

Uche rushed over and sat on him. She unscrewed the lid of the sample bottle and held it to his nose. “Tell me the truth. You owe me that much.”

She felt someone pull her away from Emeka and just as she saw it was Idriss started to lash out at him.

“Please Uche, stop it.” Anu was standing at the door.

As if someone had turned on the light for the first time, Uche saw the state she was in. Her tunic had not been fastened, revealing the bra underneath. She straightened her length and ran into the bedroom.

Anu followed her and held her whilst she cried on the bed. When the tears stopped coming, Uche told Anu what she heard. Telling her too how stale her relationship had become.

“You could have misheard him.” Anu said, leaning closer to her on the bed. “Try to sit him down to talk to him.”

“After all the talk my cousin and sister gave me about dating a yes man, I know this time-waster would never open his mouth to tell me to keep walking. Not even if I threaten to cut off his balls. He would rather ruin my life than hurt my feelings. I should have gone with that locum doctor that tried to snatch me from Emeka. If not that my talk of getting married and wedding dresses scared him away.” Her friend appeared preoccupied. They hadn’t spoken properly since she moved back to her father’s, mostly because Uche didn’t feel like she could listen to anyone’s problems with her own torturing her. “What are you doing here anyway, girly?”

“I was at the house when Idriss called Emeka. I went to see Jade, they said she was crying, asking for me.” Anu rubbed Uche’s back and smiled. “Then Idriss asked me to come here with him. I couldn’t believe it when he said my angelic, sweet friend has gone crazy.” Her phone beeped from her jeans’ pocket.

“You can take the call.” Uche flicked a polite smile on her face and ran her fingers through her hair. “It could be about Jade.”

Anu smile’s changed to a frown after checking her phone.

“Who was it?”

“A text from my stupid husband. Anu read the message out. “Ask Uche if this disease thing is real o. Emeka just coughed on me.” She shook her head. “This man is stupid I swear. Since that head injury biz, sometimes it feels like he never went back to how he was.”

“Girl, your man has always been an idiot, don’t lie.” She laughed with her friend, a genuine laughter that felt better than the dark feelings that had taken over her for a while. “You love him, though. Please, fight for what you have. One of us deserves happiness.”

“I slept with Bradley.”

Uche gasped. “Why?”

“I was so angry that I would have done anything. Now, I detest myself. He said he can forgive me. He is very angry, though. I see it with the way he looks at me. He avoids me too.”

“Give it time.”

“I bet he is planning what to do to Bradley to punish him.”

“A real man. Emeka would have handed me to the competition himself and bought us wedding gifts.”

Uche stopped when her friend didn’t smile. She understood her. Beyond Idriss’ polished appearance, designer suits and twinkling eyes lay traditional values.

They were all together one Saturday evening when he told them about one of his friends from Kashmir divorcing his wife. The man, a friend from the mosque said his brother saw his wife and their neighbour hugging. Whilst they had all insisted it might have been a friendly hug, Idriss had disagreed, stating that a married woman didn’t have to have slept with her lover to have committed adultery.

That a married woman committing adultery was worse than a married man committing adultery, even if the acts were similar.

“The problem is…” Anu shifted.

“There is another problem?”

“Bradley says he is not going anywhere this time. He wants me to leave Idriss.”

“Say what?”

“He practically proposed to me… ring and all when he came to mine a few days ago. I just told him to go.”

“I need to start going to church,” Uche blurted out before she could stop herself. “Me, I can’t even get one ring.” She reached out and grasped Anu’s hand, “stay away from Bradley. He knows too much about your husband.”

 

—————–

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PLAYING THE LOVE GAME =SIX=

Playing The Love Game
Playing The Love Game
Playing The Love Game

 

Sorry, I’m posting late again. Let me not bore you with the details. Sorry again. Don’t tell Oga Daniel. Enjoy.

 

***   **   ***   ***   **   ***  ***  **  ***

 

//TWO WRONGS//

“You slept with Bradley!”

Her father’s voice thundered loud enough for her to hear all the way from the conservatory room. She believed it was something her stepmother said to punish him until she heard her start to cry.

“You broke me, Idriss. You jumped in bed with our staff when I was grieving for my father and I wanted to stop the pain you caused me for a minute.”

“By sleeping with that man?” Her father barked.

“You already thought there was something going on, what does it matter?”

“I saw you kissing him. At the hotel. Your hands were all over him. I saw you but somehow I convinced myself that you would never go beyond kissing. Boy! Was I wrong! Clap for yourself, you have won with the shock factor. My wife the whore.”

“He kissed me because you were not there.” Her gut-wrenching scream silenced him. “You paid all that money for that hotel for all of us yet you didn’t want to be with me. I know I was a mess, crying for Dad … I was drunk and Bradley took advantage. And maybe it wouldn’t have happened if my husband hadn’t left me in a hotel room by myself.”

“Come on, you went from strong, hardworking woman to this sad chick I didn’t recognise. I needed a break from the mood swings. You found a replacement pretty quick, if you ask me.”

“Bradley knocked on the door. It was the evening Penny left him, okay. He said she left because of his… feelings for me. I felt sorry for him and served him some of the wine from my bottle. I didn’t see the kiss coming.”

Kanyin put her short sleeve pyjamas on. It was the one depicting the young princesses and Olaf in Frozen. Jadesola had been the one to ask their father to buy them the kid’s pyjamas and after having her second shower of the day, she clothed herself in her own pair and disappeared under her heap of covers. One of her headphones, Adele’s voice crooning from it, would come on next.

It hadn’t surprised her that Bradley wanted her father’s wife. It was obvious with the way he always seemed to turn up when her father had gone for his evening work appointments, the takeaway he brought along and the way his eyes followed Anu’s hips.

This revelation would floor her father. With time, they would probably be fine again. Love like theirs always triumphed.

 

***

Anu had been crying for a while before Idriss returned with the piece of kitchen towel he went into the kitchen to get. She snatched the kitchen towel from him and wiped her eyes. Frayed, no words came from her as explanation.

The pleasure she was supposed to feel after sleeping with Bradley did not come. She’d had quite a lot to drink last night at the bar he took her to and when he started kissing her in front of the fireplace at his cottage, she kissed him back, mostly because a reminder about why they couldn’t do anything popped in her head. And that reminder, her husband’s face had set things in motion.

Minutes after he stopped trashing about on top of her, she had dressed hurriedly and insisted he called her a cab rather than drive her home.

Idriss left the room again. When he came back, he had a bottle of Hennessey in one hand. Sat far back on the sofa, he started to drink from the bottle without a cup.

She had never seen him this upset. So why did he cheat if she meant this much to him?

She stood up from her spot on the ivory rug to his position on the sofa. She knelt beside him and rubbed one of his legs.

“I’m sorry. I was so angry with you. And I know I’m going to lose my husband except now my head is clearer, I don’t want to lose you.”

“Me?”

“You see, all I have needed these past few weeks is a good friend. Someone who I know I can truly confide in. Someone whose judgement is always well received because it comes from a place of love.”

“That’s why you went to him,” he narrowed his eyes at her. “I get it. He is your best friend.”

“Someone who has been my friend no matter how hard we rowed in the past. Someone who at times can be a complete jerk to everyone else but a kind soul to me.”

“I’m your best friend?”

“Yes, Idrisu Abdulkadiri Akinwale.” She hoped she said his names with the same inflection his mother would have used. She had listened to enough of his childhood stories to know his mother called him by all his names whenever the situation called for it.

He put his drink on the floor and helped her onto his laps. She sat there for a while, fiddling with one of the buttons of his shirt.

“I remember you saying those words to me on our wedding day, Aisha. Right before our wedding planner screamed no. She thought the wedding was over. The woman looked like she was about to faint.”

“She told me not to include those words in my vows.” She ran her hands through his beard, needing to see his eyes. They looked wet but she wasn’t sure.

“I knew what you meant. And I think you get the crazy type of love I feel for you. Why else would I be with you with your shakara? The way you try to wear the trousers in this marriage. If we were back home right now, you would probably be on your knees for days. With your family on the floor begging me.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Yes o. I would let you get up of course so you can cook me pounded yam and egusi with panla in the evenings. And of course to give me that thing I can’t sleep without.” He winked at her.

“This is the problem with you.  Every conversation leads back to that thing between your legs.”

He caressed her with his eyes, mouth parted on purpose. By the time his gaze journeyed from her legs to the gaping part on her top, she felt completely nude.

His body, the part she spoke about, reacted before she had time to get off his legs. He took her hands in his and stopped her from getting away.

“I am crazy about you. The whole you. Even if sex suddenly went off the package, hopefully not for very long o… I would still be crazy about you.”

“So, why did you cheat then?”

“You know why.”

She yanked her hands from his and got off him. Standing at the farthest corner of the conservatory room from him.

He stood up and left the room. When he came back, he had an envelope in his hand. He emptied the envelope on the table before sitting back down and beckoning for her to come closer.

Anu did as asked. She picked up the pictures that came out of the envelope and studied them. They were pictures of her and Bradley: in his car, going inside his cottage and at a secluded area in a park. They seemed harmless to her. They weren’t to her husband.

“This pictures… they make it look like I met him all the time…like I hid the meetings from you. These were all taken when Dad passed. When you begged me to leave the house … I’m sure you knew where I was … except the one in front of his house.” She stopped as soon as she realised telling Idriss why she was at Bradley’s cottage that day wouldn’t help her.

“Go on, I’m listening.”

“He asked me to meet him after what happened at the hotel in Paris? I was mad at him so he asked me to come see him.”

“And you went?”

“Don’t jump to conclusions here.”

“I’m not jumping, haba. You are the one adding one plus one and arriving at two.” He sat up, balancing himself on the edge of the sofa. “Oya, tell me.”

“I went to see him to tell him nothing could ever happen between us.”

He replied with a grunt, smiling a sarcastic smile whilst his lower legs twiddled. “So, after you finished vexing, did he kiss you to apologise?”

“Now you are being ridiculous.”

“Help me then. Tell me what convinced you to go and see a man that stuck his tongue inside your mouth days before in his own crib? Are you sure you didn’t want him at all at the hotel? You took your time showing up at the restaurant. You hair was wet when you came down … I’m guessing you showered to get rid of the evidence.”

“I cleaned up so that you wouldn’t start telling me off for drinking again.”

He had picked up the bottle again.

“You have your weaknesses too. I’m sure the Imam wouldn’t approve if he knew his dear friend loves drinking and women or should I say girls.” She kept going to sate herself and to hurt him as if doing these would change him. “You cheated and fathered two kids, yet I’m the one answering questions here. You have countless female friends yet my friendship with Bradley is the thing you keep grilling me about. Let’s not forget your actions when we first met. The ones we don’t speak about.”

“Do you remember that day when all the guys were here with their babes and we were talking about this keeping your ex as friend issue and you were arguing like a lawyer saying you and Bradley would always be friends. That no man could dictate who your friends were. That you would rather leave the man.”

Uche had cornered her in the kitchen that night and told her there was a certain type of decorum expected of Nigerian women. ‘Go easy with the way you talk about your male friend in front of your husband’s friends. Your husband might love you so much, he tolerates your western ways and independence, biko don’t underestimate male pride.”

He placed his bottle on the floor and sat up straight. “The way you value this friendship you have with your ex is a deal breaker. Forget the pictures, the kiss and the fact you chose to hide it from me…”

“I had to…”

“No,” he interrupted. “This matter would not have gotten this far if you had bothered to tell me what that coward tried to do to you. Instead, you ended up exactly where he wanted you.” He stood up, took her hands in his and helped her up. “I can forgive you. Let’s put it behind us. Austin and I can bring your things from your dad’s house back home tonight.”

“You can forgive me?” She snorted in derision.

He had always acted as if he was better than anyone else. Like someone immune to patterns of conduct others followed, perhaps by virtue of his maleness.

“Last time I checked, you were the one that fathered two kids by another woman.”

He let go of her hands and sighed. “I have a meeting to get to at the council office. I need to shower. Can you book me a taxi at Corporate Cars for half an hour? We can talk later, if you don’t mind. Aleska will be back with Jadesola soon.”

She nodded and took a step back as his neck moved lower. He planted a kiss on her forehead instead, stroked her shoulders and strode out of the room.

 

 

 

***

Idriss did not get back until past nine. She was on the settee with the girls, having been stationed there for the best part of the evening. She hadn’t chosen to stay because Idriss asked her indirectly to stay or because Jadesola went to hide amongst the toys in her bedroom when she mentioned going home. Anu decided to stay after hearing Kanyin scream in her sleep.

Her stepdaughter insisted nothing was wrong with her. Two small tubes of vanilla ice cream, a bowl of sweet popcorn and reruns of Alvin and the Chipmunks film later, Kanyin looked more like the happy but cautious girl that joined her household two years ago.

She knew she had been right to worry when sounds of movement in the kitchen made Kanyin leap from the settee.

“Calm down, princess. It’s your dad.” Anu guessed Idriss had left his house keys. The backdoor had probably been left unlocked by him and Austin when they left the recyclables out that morning. She stroked Kanyin’s hand as she settled back on the settee. “What is it Kanyinsola? You are so jumpy these days.” She had noticed too that Kanyin was now a lot slimmer and for someone who had never retained fat, this was quite noticeable.

It took a while before she opened her mouth. And when she did, jumbled stuttering was all that came out. She stopped talking when Idriss walked into the room from the kitchen.

“How are my girls?”

“Wondering how your meeting lasted this long.” Anu answered and eyed him.

“It was easier to get the taxi back to Emeka’s.” He stopped by the sofa, smiling down at them.

“So, you made yourself at home with Emeka’s drinks? Hope the hangover that tortures you tomorrow does a good job.”

He pointed at the TV screen with the chipmunk faces frozen at the scene they paused the film at. “I didn’t miss much. Abi, I missed anything new with your rats Jadesola. You should be in bed not watching your rats again, little mummy.”

Jadesola dived under her pink blanket, levelling her body flat.

“Where is Jadesola?” Idriss played along, patting the cushion next to his daughter’s body before uncovering her. He hugged her as she jumped into his arms, squealing in delight and pretend surprise. “You want to stay here tonight, don’t you? I miss you too much when you’re not here. Say you will stay or I will start singing.”

Although his hands were tickling Jadesola, his eyes were on Anu as he spoke. Kanyin winked at her.

Neck bent in embarrassment, she ignored him. Soon, his voice filled the room as he started to sing Tuface Idibia’s African Queen.

“Now I know you are drunk.” She begged Kanyin who was now laughing not to encourage him with a sharp look. “Please, stop it.”

The door bell rang and she stood up, straightened her skirt and hurried to the door. At the door, Anu slid her shoes on. They were on the shoe rack in the hallway where she dumped them earlier. She hated attending to visitors with bare feet.

She unlocked the door quickly when the door bell rang out again. “Hold on…”

She didn’t get to finish her statement as right there at the door were her husband’s babies. Kate was holding one whilst the other was in a car seat.

“What is this?” Anu asked.

She needn’t have bothered as Kate grabbed the car seat with her other hand and barged past her into the house. From her corner, the taillights of a taxi leaving the street were visible. Like those taillights, the hope she nursed about her marriage ebbed away.

Could a marriage really be a marriage with three people involved?

She could do as Uche suggested the other day. ‘Yank the brat’s hair off her scalp so that next time her eyes spot your man, she will tell her legs to run.’ She could be tactful on the other hand, discreet with her warnings. But the worst had already happened. Her husband had two kids by Kate. What would be the point? Could anything worse happen?

What about the person sending pictures to her husband? She had assumed Auntie Yele was the culprit. Although Idriss gave Auntie Yele a lot of money when she left the UK for Abuja, she had wondered, the same way some of their friends had, if it was possible for Auntie Yele to ever forgive them for her daughter’s end.

Seeing Kate now however, Anu wondered if she knew something about their mysterious posts.

Inside the lounge, a verbal confrontation had ensued between her husband and his mistress. The girls had disappeared somewhere. Perhaps upstairs.

“I will come to your house to see them.” Idriss seemed to want rid of Kate and the anger in his tone deepened when he saw Anu. “I will see the boys then. Now is not the right time.”

“It hasn’t been the right time for weeks.” Kate yelled. “You haven’t seen them since your family… found out.”

“I need time.”

“Well, I’m tired. Your kids keep waking me up at night. They miss you or maybe it is the cold… because I keep rationing gas. I don’t have money and since you stopped coming round, I can’t ask you.” She passed the child in her arms to him. “Abdul is missing you. Let them stay here with you so I can sleep tonight. Bashir’s pampers needs changing.”

Anu let out a raw breath. It wasn’t the realisation that he had invested that much time with his new family, so that the twins had been named names that could have been given their own sons that hurt her. It was the look in his eyes as he focused on his son, the radiance of the smile that the baby returned.

She hurried past them, picked her bag from the side of the armchair and left the house.  She didn’t stop until she arrived at her father’s house and catching Idriss crossing the street to get to her, she wished her shelter was miles away and not a mere three doors away.

“Hey Aisha,” he reached her and held her shoulders. “Tell me how to make all this better. I’m struggling here, eh. All I know is I can’t lose you.”

“Do you honestly think you can forget I slept with another man?” Tears left her eyes. Her hands didn’t go up to her face to wipe them as typical of her. “And if you managed to do that, I could never be a stepmum to those boys. Every time I see them, I will think of their conception. I will think of my own baby. The one that got robbed off me.”

“Aisha…”

“No, don’t. Just go. I can’t deal with the pain you bring me anymore. I’m not strong enough. I can’t be your wife anymore.”

She waited for his soothing hug to come. It didn’t.

He wiped her face with his thumb whilst the other held her shoulder. Kissing her forehead, he mumbled something that sounded like sorry. Then letting go of her, he went the same way he came, his steps slow and lacking determination this time.

 

 

***

Anu had just finished getting ready for bed when she heard sounds from downstairs. She climbed the stairs quietly, clutching her phone.

Idriss was in the main sitting room unpacking snacks and drinks from grocery bags.

“Aisha, hey.” He placed the tray of chocolate cake he held on the table and walked towards her. “I called Uche and asked her what girlfriends are supposed to do if their friend is going through a hard time. So, I did as she said. Got you all your favourites. The ice cream is chilling in the freezer.” He wrapped his hands around her waist and pulled her closer. “I bought those ladies’ films you and Kanyinsola like to watch.”

“I should get dressed then.” Anu glanced at the short nightie on her body.

“You are perfect like this.” Idriss followed where her eyes went. “Really perfect.”

“Girlfriends don’t look at each other like that.”

“I hope not.” He laughed as he led her to the sofa.

 

She was leaning on him, her legs on the sofa when the film ended. She had gulped too much sugar, courtesy of the chocolate cake and ice cream. The atmosphere in the room reminded her of a scene from The Way We Were. Although she couldn’t imagine ringing any man for help after the same man hurt her.

The film they watched, Breakfast at Tiffany’s could have possibly converted her husband. He watched each scene with rapt attention. The comments that usually came when they watched chick flicks together were missing. Having him with her like this soothed her. His hand was on her thighs and although she would have preferred to have that hand travel around her body, their closeness soothed her mood.

“I should go,” he said. “I left the kids with Austin and Kanyin.” He stood up, helping her up.

They hugged at the door, a long hug that led to a kiss. The kiss deepened quickly. Neither of them wanted it to end. His hands descended on her body, moving swiftly under her nightie whilst leading her to the sofa at the same time.

“What are we doing? Anu pulled back slightly. “Is this how you say goodbye?”

“Sorry. I miss you…”

“Me too.” She planted a kiss on his chin. “Goodnight.”

Perhaps it was the twinkling of his eyes or the ways his dimples dipped to show his pleasure, somehow her lips moved to his mouth. He kissed them this time, eager and determined. His shirt came off. Then he took his time, pleasing and disrobing her until she stood nude in front of him. When he started to unbutton his jeans, she placed her hand above his to stop him.

“It’s okay. I have protection in my wallet. I’m always prepared.”

Anu turned away from him and picked up her nightie from the floor.

“Oh, baby. I didn’t mean it like that. I’m prepared for you … Not for anyone else.”

“You should go.” She covered her front with the nightie.

“Not until you say you believe me.” He held her shoulders. “If I was prepared, why did I get caught with Kate?”

“Keep digging.”

“I failed you once. One moment of madness.”

“Kate told me it happened a few times.”

“She is lying, then.”

“Why would she?”

“I don’t know. Maybe she has an agenda.”

“Can I have your wallet?”

Idriss eyed her with suspicion before passing her the wallet. She looked in it and checked for the condoms that were there last time. Three in all. They were still there. She remembered taking one out for him the last occasion they were together. They made love the evening before her family fell apart. A quiet fumbling on the sofa as they didn’t want Jadesola waking up.

Careful had become his middle name since he found out he had HIV. Surely, he couldn’t have been careless so soon after landing himself two unwanted kids?

“You slept with her once?”

“Do you want me to get your father’s Quran?”

She shook her head and touched his chest. “I believe you.”

“Good. Can we go back to making out?” He nudged his head in the direction of the picture of her frowning father on the wall. “Preferably upstairs. I no won anger Alhaji.”

“Well, I want to talk.”

“We can do both.” He took her nightie from her hands and kissed her again. “We can talk for as long as you want in your bed.”

 

***

 

She woke up to his voice moments after they fell asleep. Voice weary. Eyes twinkling in the dark. He had gotten dressed, shirt buttoned halfway.

“I have to go, baby. Kanyin has just text me. She is going to give the kids up for adoption if I don’t get back soon.”

She couldn’t help smiling.

“Jadesola included,” he said.

“Go,” she slapped away the hand he had on her waist. “In case she isn’t joking.

He rose after kissing her lips and forehead, his eyes giving away his joy. “If this is the way you say goodnight, let’s continue this in the morning. I will come over as soon as Aleska arrives to look after the children.”

“Can’t wait,” Anu blew him a kiss as he walked away.

She would have said more if she wasn’t choked with happiness and her longing for him.

Yesterday morning, she had woken up to a cold, bitter weather and the realisation that her marriage was done with. Today, warm from what he did to her body and mind, their marriage vows came back to her. She would honour them from now on.

—————–

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PLAYING THE LOVE GAME =FIVE=

Playing The Love Game
Playing The Love Game

First things first, congrats to my dear team member PJ and Aideyarn platform manager, Daniel as you two become one.

It takes a special person to form that required bond when you have a thousand and one characters living in your head. One that understands that the frowns and scowls on our faces are not always ours. They are the result of emotions we carry for the ones in our heads.

He calls you his muse, I think you are Godsend.

Wishing you a very happy life together,

Olajumoke.

Dig in. Sorry I’m posting late. Thank you for Thursday. Those sweet comments moved me. Thank you and have a fab day. I will be back for comments soon, I promise.

***  ***  ***

//THE SMILING GENIUS//

Kanyin ended up on Nkem’s bed on the same morning she returned to the university. She had dashed straight out of the car park after seeing Bayo sat in his car, ignoring the questions Austin shot in her direction.

It was thanks to Austin that her father came back home yesterday with her sister and ordered her to return to the university. Later on, Austin strolled into her room with an apologetic smile on his face and confessed his actions.

“Sorry nau,” he had knelt on the floor beside her bed. “I didn’t know the man was trying to rumble me. He asked me how school was today. Then my big mouth opened without my permission and told him school was fine.”

“You remember that I told him that the university is closed for the summer break, abi?” She was cushioned up to her chin in her thick quilt. It felt soft because Anu replaced all the duvets and pillows in the house with beddings filled with fine down feathers last month. Her table lamps were off. Blankets, pillows and shawls heaped on the bed, electric fan on full blast, adding to the insulating warmness of her cosy room.

“I wasn’t expecting him to trick me.” He pushed a pillow out of the way to make room for himself on her bed.

“What are you doing?” She screamed the question at him, startling him.

She heaved a sigh when he stared at her in bewilderment. She understood his confusion. They were friends. He had never needed to ask her before sitting on her bed. When the owner of his shared accommodation evicted him so as to renovate the house, her father asked her if he could move in with them before Austin got asked, citing he couldn’t bring anyone she didn’t like to their home.

“What is wrong with you Kanyin?” He didn’t sit on the spot he cleared, placing his elbows on the spot tentatively. “You barely eat. You have abandoned your studies. We don’t see you in the sitting room these days.”

Shift joor. Why would I want to be sitting between you and Daddy whilst you watch Sky Sports? Was it not you that spent ten minutes explaining penalty kick… or was it even free kick to me. Please I don’t want my head to ache because I’m trying to watch football. I’m going to watch Scandal now on my phone. Then I will watch Girls Runway. You wanna join me?”

With that, she succeeded in getting rid of him. If only she could get rid of the constant reminder of that night. It was like the rising of tide, creeping and filling up without anyone noticing. She would play music, watch a film, find herself laughing at a Youtube clip and then the taste in her mouth the night it happened would come back.

It came back last night, forcing her awake every time she started to drift off.

“Kay sweetie,” Nkem walked into the room with Shantel, a short, girl in the same year as them who always seemed to leave the room every time she saw them. “I’m going to braid Shantel’s hair. That’s why she is here.”

Kanyin sat up and regarded Shantel with the same mean stare she gave her. Nkem’s hand wandered in Shantel’s thick hair whilst Kanyin tried not to think of how her friend had suddenly become best friends with a girl they both called snorty shorts behind her back.

“She has nice hair, doesn’t she?”

Kanyin grunted in response.

“Nice natural hair.”

“I will wait outside for you.” Shantel raised one of her dumpy hands and patted her hair down.

“Okay sweetie. I will be with you in a sec.” Nkem trudged to the small table next to the wall where all sort of items were dumped because the room had no extra space. Swaying her hips from side to side, the way Kanyin had come to expect from her, she picked up her hair dryer from the table, turning round to give Shantel a wide smile. “Won’t be long.”

Kanyin barely waited for Shantel to leave the room before mouthing ‘what the hell’ at her friend. Nkem shut the door, plonked the hair dryer on the table and got on the bed with Kanyin. They had matching skirts on. Black leather skirts that looked tighter on Nkem because of her plumpness. Kanyin had paid for one for Nkem who became her closest friend shortly after she started at the university. Nkem who came to the UK on a student visa did not have a father like hers. He worked as a federal civil servant in Lagos, spending his salary before he got it.

“You don’t wanna share me Kay, sweetie?” Nkem was smiling now, playing with the ends of her cornrolls. Red hair had been added to the plaits to bulk them up. This suited her fair, smooth skin tone, her oval-shaped head and expertly trimmed eyebrows.

“You can be friends with whoever you like. Kanyin pursed her lips and drew air through the centre of her mouth, elongating the kissing sound to show her disapproval. “You can be friends with people that don’t like you. Wetin be my own.”

“It’s you she has a problem with.”

Enh?”

“She used to date Bayo. That’s what I found out.”

Kanyin didn’t respond. She picked up her phone and checked for missed calls. Five from Bayo. One from her father.

“I’m only doing her hair because of money o. Shebi, I told you Sege is pleading broke ass now that we have done the do. And I don’t want our landlord’s wahala this month. I don’t want that old man to come harass my babies on top small money with those big ogling eyes of his.”

“Your big babies.”

Nkem pointed at her chest. “See them, o.” Her top, as usual fought to keep her breasts in. They laughed together.

“Your landlord’s eyes can spot good things.” Kanyin stretched her legs out. She felt the sort of guilt that tortured her every time someone she knew didn’t have enough money for their basic needs. Her father told her once that they couldn’t help everyone. If they did, they would end up with nothing. “I can’t really ask Daddy for money. He is not talking to me much since the Jade thing.”

“When you took your stepmother’s side… I don’t blame him. What were you thinking?”

“He got my ex bestie pregnant.”

“Well, your dad is sexy. I’m sure the girl seduced him. I don’t blame her sha, if I had her opportunity I would do the same. You see ehn, whenever I see him my heart just starts beating like a drum. Like that time he gave us a lift from your house for a class, omo, I couldn’t breathe when he told me to have a nice day. The man is fit like a sportsman. Yum yum.”

Nah silly, he told us both to have a nice day. He says that to everyone… well every girl sha.”

“He did this thing with his eyes that you didn’t catch. See, even his eyes and his dimples can tame a girl on their own.  ”

“Stop it. Not cool.”

“Cool or not, your father is my fantasy bobo. Did you not see the way Akiah and Lateefa were staring at him when he dropped us off? Lateefa was doing that good Muslim girl thing, putting her hijab on show for him. No one would have believed that, that girl lost her innocence to her cousin six years ago. You better tell your stepmum to come home sharp sharp before one of those babalawo’s pikin take her place. Don’t let anyone mess with my fantasy bobo. The man is too perfect for any girl with millionaire ambition to come mess im up.”

There was a time she felt like that about Bayo. When she thought he was too good looking, too well brought up to be with her. A time when she thrived when she saw envy in the eyes of girls that saw them together.

“On the other hand, Kay sweetheart. If something dey too sweet, im owner will get jedijedi and still dey run after it. Your stepmother likes fine specimen. She go suffer joor. Have you not seen my Sege with his massive oblong head, bush dressing and skinny legs? Which kain girl will fight me for him?”

Nkem left her alone after trying to tempt her to eat again. She said no. Her appetite hadn’t been great for a while. Even her morning tea made her nauseous this morning.

She fell asleep to Davido’s voice. His tracks took every spot on Nkem’s playlist and she succumbed to sleep in the middle of it all, wondering how she could be enjoying the songs after telling her friend songs objectifying women would never win her over. Anu’s ideologies. Strange how the woman had succeeded in building on the foundation of knowledge Grandma embedded in her head, despite the two women not knowing each other.

 

She woke up to Nkem tapping her and calling out her name at the same time.

“Please Kay. Wake up. Now babe.”

“You finished already?” Kanyin knew she had not been asleep for that long. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” Her friend shook her head and looked at her as if she regretted waking her up. She crossed her legs, linked her fingers and sighed. “Go to sleep Kay. We will talk when you wake up.”

Kanyin grabbed hold of the headboard and sat up. She touched her friend’s hand. Nkem’s eyes were now on her hands. When she looked up, she saw the dread in her eyes, obvious in spite of the glitter eyeshadow and black eyeliner adorning them. Her fair face betrayed her feelings too.

“Please, just tell me. Ki lo de? What’s going on?”

“It’s Shantel o. I asked her what her beef is with you.”

“Leave her jo. She doesn’t like me, no big deal.”

“There is a big deal… a big tinko why she doesn’t. The reason why she ran out after dumping a bombshell on me.”

“Which is?”

“Maybe she is lying sef…”

“I’m out of here if you don’t talk soon…”

“Shantel said Bayo and his friends raped her. Four, altogether.”

Kanyin got up as soon as the words sank in. She groped around for her phone. She needed to find Austin, leave Manchester and never come back.

“She said Bayo is evil. That the day she dumped him after he burnt her with his cigarette, he came to her house and he and his friends forced their way in and attacked her. She got really angry when I asked why she didn’t report him to the police. She begged say we shouldn’t tell Bayo. She said his brother is a big police man here in this city. Is this true? Kay baby?”

“I need to go.” She was struggling to get in her jacket and when she eventually did the zip got stuck halfway up.

“Calm down Kay.”

Nkem followed her as she ran around collecting the items for her bag, things left out earlier –phone charger, handouts, notebooks and a Palgrave Macmillan book on feminism whilst one hand tugged at her zip.

“I’m calm. Help me get my stuff together. I have to meet Austin before he goes for his next lecture.”

“Okay. As long as you promise to stay away from that Bayo. The frown you get from a nice boy beta than the smile you get from an evil genius.”

“I cross my heart Nkem.”
***

Kanyin broke her promise minutes after leaving Acems when – neck bent to her phone –she collided with a man who was so tall she had to raise her head up to look at him. Her apology left her mouth but she didn’t hear it. The man blocking her part was Dogo, a strikingly unpleasant man she met once at Bayo’s. His very dark skin, the bulging eyes and the deep vertical mark on his face were not what scared her. It was the way his eyes prodded her. Bayo had claimed that day they were not friends.

He had lied, as at the bottom of the alley way was Bayo, sitting on top of his car, grinning. Kanyin promised herself that she would never take shortcuts anywhere again.

Dogo blocked her path. With one of his hands on her shoulder, he led her to Bayo. She took a breath when Dogo left them to stand at the top of the alleyway after Bayo barked something at him in Patwah.

“I have to go, my dad is waiting.” Kanyin stated.

“That’s why you’ve been ignoring me. Innit Shortee?” He jumped off the bonnet of the car and grabbed her before she could get away.

She felt his breath on her face as his hands closed around her. Despite it irking her, she stared back at him.

How could he act as if he hadn’t been a part of what happened to her? As if his body was not the one pressing hers down three weeks ago?

“My father is waiting. Austin is on his way to pick me up.”

“He can wait. The same way I waited for weeks. Like I missed lecture to wait for you here with Dogo. Mehn. You tortured me, Shortee. Promise you’re gonna make it up to me.”

“I will.”

“That ass needs more action.” His hands were on her bum, squeezing them whilst his eyes searched her. “Come Saturday night. If you are a no show, I will take it personally. I got your house keys at my pad, I can let myself in anytime…”

“What?” She tried to get out of his grasp.

“You left your purse, remember? I have your keys. I can turn up when your idiot daddy is at work on Monday.” He kissed her lips, then her cheek, licking her chin with his stretched tongue. “See yah.”  He clicked his fingers and Dogo ran over from his spot.

Even though the car sped away immediately, she broke into a run and did not stop until she reached the taxi station on the main road. She was still trembling when she got home. Her hands were shaking as she tried to fit the key Austin gave to her that morning in the door’s keyhole. When the door opened from the inside, she was more shocked than relieved. Her father stood there, holding a glass of fruit juice in his other hand.

The whiff of perfume that greeted her when she walked in coupled with the glass of juice told her he had a woman in the house with him.

“I’m not feeling well, Daddy. I need to sleep.” She hurried past him before he could say anything.

 

***

Invoices and receipts were on her skirt, yet when Idriss rejoined her in the conservatory room where she was on the sofa, she felt uncomfortable with the way his gaze fleeted over her. Right from her fuchsia painted toe nails to her white lacy top with a single button at its top. A slash on the top ran from her neck to the tip of her bra vest. She shouldn’t have agreed to come back here after their meeting finished earlier than planned.

He placed the glass cup on the oak side table and settled himself next to her.

“I think I should take this work home with me.” Calling her father’s house home did not sound right in Anu’s head. She wondered if it ever would.

“We need to get this tax return done.” Tilting sideways towards her, he picked up one of the invoices on her legs, examined it and placed it back, his fingers lingering on parts left uncovered.

“I will leave you to tackle this yourself if you don’t stop. We both know you wouldn’t get anywhere though.”

“This is why I asked you to come over after the meeting. Shebi, you are the number mastermind. Not my fault our book keeper is on holiday.”

“This is why we get things done before it is due. We could have used someone else if you didn’t wait until the day before the deadline.”

She reached for her IPad Pro on the table but he grabbed it before she could pick it up, arching his eyebrows at her.

“We talk first, then you can work.”

He seemed to be taunting her with his eyes to try to get the tablet from him. Anu shifted towards him and regretted her decision immediately. She ended up astride him, his unruly hand on her waist.

“Let me go, Idriss.”

“You sat on me, Aisha mi.”

“I didn’t. You pushed me on your crotch.”

“I miss you, baby.”

His eyes were on her lips for a while before his mouth closed around hers, kissing her with unrestrained passion and explosive anger. His tongue found its way in her mouth, exploring nooks he knew so well. Places he explored wherever, whenever. They never tired of exploring each other until the time she would rather forget last year. When her loss took away her desire.

She told herself she would push him away soon. That letting him do this did not equate to weakness and the hand pushing her skirt up did not awake anything in her.

The sound of her tablet crashing on the tiles compelled her to her senses. She tore her lips from his and jumped off him. She started picking up the discarded invoices and receipts whilst he kept muttering her name.

“This is not happening. Not happening. I’m not doing this with your cheating behind.”

“You make it sound like you were innocent.”

She paused to look at his bearded face. It was as stunning as ever in spite of the pain in his eyes.

“Come with me upstairs baby and I will show you the pictures of you and Bradley that I got sent.”

She shook her head. “I can’t deal with this anymore. I never went behind your back with Bradley. You are only saying it because you feel guilty… because you were the one visiting your mistress and your kids whilst I thought you were at work.”

“I know what evidence I have. My eyes work pretty fine. I know what I saw.”

“I have work to do.”

“But I can forgive you. We can wipe the slate clean. Baby?”

“It is too late.”

“It can never be too late.” He knelt on the floor and grabbed hold of her hands. “I should have had it out with you about the whole Bradley thing. Stupid me. I thought I could wipe it from my brain and be a better husband … Get you to fall for me again.”

“It is too late. Please.”

“It can’t be. I will do anything.”

“Can you forgive adultery?” She blinked away the tears in her eyes and forced the words out before they could become too heavy to be spoken. “I slept with Bradley last night.”

 

—————–

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PLAYING THE LOVE GAME by Olajumoke Omisore

CONTINUES ON SATURDAY

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Image Credits: Gazelle Studios

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PLAYING THE LOVE GAME =FOUR=

Playing The Love Game
Playing The Love Game
Playing The Love Game

 

Worked hard to get this episode out. Have a great day everyone.


                          *** ** ***

 

 

 

//THE ONE TO HEAL THE PAIN//

 

After his final grunt, he withdrew from her. She shut her eyes as he clattered about the room. Moments after hearing the bathroom door shut, she pulled herself up, using her hands because of the extreme lethargy weighing down her legs.

Ignoring the stinging in her groin was easy; she was too scared to dwell on it.

Groping in the dark, she found her jeans and pulled it up her waist and gave up looking for her knickers.

She felt for her phone in her pocket and retrieved it. Holding it in her hands, Kanyin realised she didn’t know who to call or what to say to that person.

She didn’t even know what to call what had just happened to her. She didn’t have time to decide as the sound of the toilet flushing from the bathroom made her bolt from the sofa.

Kanyin had reached the lobby on the ground floor before realising her hood jacket and purse  were on Bayo’s wall coat hook. At the same time she heard a door opening upstairs and his voice shouting for her.

“Shortee, where are you at? Nah girl, we ain’t done yet. Come on girl.”

She opened the main door quietly. The street took her down an alleyway which she took instead of the main road in case he came after her. The alleyway led her to Campus lane. There, at the bottom of the road was Acems, a private student accommodation. She knocked on the grey door of Acems and hoped that Nkem hadn’t gone out to her boyfriend’s.

A girl with messy hair and glassy eyes answered the door.

“Hi,” Kanyin tried to smile even though all she wanted to do was crawl into an empty room and cry until there were no tears left to be shed. “Is Nkem here? I’m her friend.”

“No,” the girl made to shut the door.

“Please.”

The girl halted, glaring at her with impatient eyes.

“She told me to come. I lost my purse on the way and I can’t get home tonight.”

She opened the door wider for her to come in and waved before she could thank her. Whilst the girl joined her friends on the sofa with their cans of beer and cigarettes, Kanyin went in Nkem’s bedroom. The room was tidy except for the folded laundry on the bed and in two other piles in the room. She guessed her friend had left her room in a hurry.

She found a pair of pyjama shorts on top of the pile on the bed which she put on after washing herself and her jeans in the bathroom.

Sleep did not come that night. She shut her eyes and yawned a few times when Nkem came back smelling of a man’s spray in the morning. She nodded to Nkem’s ‘did you and Bayo fall out’ and got a taxi home with the money Nkem gave her whilst she and the other occupants of Acems were still sleeping.

Her father was waiting for her when she arrived. He was at the door by the time she alighted from the taxi.

“Where is my daughter Kanyinsola?” His tone became louder when she stared at him instead of speaking. “Where is she?”

“Calm down, dude.”

Kanyin did not notice Emeka standing behind him until he spoke. They were close. It made sense that Emeka would be with him with his life disintegrating like burnt up paper.

“Don’t tell me to calm down,” Her father snapped at him. “My daughter could be in Kwara right now. What was she thinking, handing my child over to a woman that is probably wishing me all manners of badluck enh?”

Emeka came towards her. “Is your sister with Anu?”

She nodded quickly because his hand appeared to be advancing towards her. For some reason, she didn’t want him touching her.

“Do you know where they are? Did Anu say anything to you?”

“No.” Her gaze shifted from Emeka’s patient eyes and fair face to her legs. Her jeans looked dry but the insides of its length felt damp and clung to her skin like rain soaked clothing. She couldn’t wait to get to her room and rip the jeans off her skin. The jeans and her top would go in the bin, along with her memory of last night.

“So they are not at Bradleys…” Emeka held out his other hand as if both hands would help him think better whilst his eyes were fixed on her frowning father. “Bradley wasn’t at home either when you got to his house. That means they are all together wherever they are.”

“They could be anywhere by now.”

Emeka shook his head. “They are somewhere associated with Bradley. And I remember you telling me the bobo’s mother moved to Antigua and her house is empty. Which means that’s where we will find them.”

“Yes … yes. Dude, you are a life saver with this your brain.” Her father clicked his fingers in her direction. “You can tell me where you were last night when I get back.”

Kanyin didn’t start crying until they left and she locked the door. The tears kept coming in the shower and moments later when she started typing an email to her personal tutor to inform her she wouldn’t be at the university for a while, she wondered if they would ever stop.

 

***

 

“Little mummy,” Idriss whispered as his daughter flung herself in his arms.

Dressed in her Peppa Pig pyjamas, hair smelling of baby shampoo, it took him a while to shift the lump in his throat. It took him even a while longer to put her down and wrap her pink comfort blanket around her and pass her over to Emeka who took her outside to the car.

Idriss sat on the grand sofa in the room and waited for his wife. He could hear her talking to someone from the other side of the bungalow. He turned his lower lip down at the sound of his rival’s voice. Imagining them together nauseated him.

They couldn’t have heard them come in. Having visited Bradley’s mother, when she wanted her house priced before she emigrated, he knew enough about the house. Neither the triple colour wallpapers, nor the arrangement of champagne bottles and glass cups in the display cabinet had changed. The position of the ugly plant at the door, underneath which his mother kept her spare house keys, was still the same too.

“Idriss?”

He looked behind him to find his wife standing there in her dressing gown. A white towel had been wrapped round her head but two of her plaits had escaped, dripping water on the front of her dressing gown.

For a moment, he let himself be taking in by her. By her pretend vulnerability, her beauty. And rather too quickly, he found himself questioning what he saw. What he knew. Even if the evidence he got sent were all made up by someone out there that didn’t want to see them together, what about what he saw Bradley and his wife doing on that hotel bed.

Seeing them together like that nearly killed him. She was kissing Bradley, the way she kissed him anytime she wanted more than just a cuddle at night. Their hands were all over each other. They were lost to the world and even if he had caught on fire and exploded right there in front of them they would never have been aware. He had shut the door quietly and retreated. He couldn’t have confronted them then. Not when his eyes wouldn’t stop spouting tears. Instead he carried on as if he hadn’t seen anything, making love to her that night because her gloomy mood had lifted.

“You can’t take my daughter.” She was staring out through the window.

He got off the sofa and followed the direction of her gaze to his car where Emeka and Jadesola were. His daughter looked happy, blowing butterfly kisses at a puppy with a woman by the roadside.

“You have taken everything else. You can’t take her from me.”

“You expect me to let you leave the country with her?” He couldn’t believe she was still blaming him.

“What?”

“Your passports are gone. Do you think I’m stupid? I may not have a Masters like you or be able to add numbers without a calculator … that doesn’t mean I will be smiling and waving like a mumu whilst you take my daughter to the airport. Or what do you need the passports for? Shopping?”

He spotted Bradley hiding behind the blinds dividing the living room and dining room. “I’m not asking you to stay with me. You can go anywhere you want with that coward. As long as you don’t think you will take my daughter with you. If you try it, I will fight you with every penny I have for full custody. Don’t forget how detached you were with her when your father died. Now, I’m glad I made you see your doctor. He can provide the evidence I need about how depressed you were… ”

“You can’t take Jadesola away from me,” tears ran down her cheeks. She dabbed at her face with the back of her hand. “You have other children. She is the only one I have.”

Bradley rushed towards her. Although his hands were around Anu, it was on Idriss that his glaring eyes were.

“Say something, Brad. Give me an excuse to flatten you, coward.”

He left the house after his threat. Bradley was the one doing the flattening, holding Anu as if she belonged to him.

 

***

 

Anu had been waiting in front of Emeka’s house for a while before Uche’s car arrived. She was about to ring the taxi firm for a cab, having given up on banging on the door a while back. The house was a lot smaller than theirs. In the middle of a terrace building, on a cul-de-sac. A couple of nosey women who were old enough to know better had already come out of a house three doors away. This was when she banged on the door with both fists, yelling philandering bastard.

“Hiya babe,” Uche alighted from the car in her nurses’ tunic and pants uniform and strode to her side.

“What took you so long?” Anu did not let Uche hug her fully, presenting her side to her. “I saw his car at the bottom of this road and Kanyin said the three of them did not come back to the house when I went there…”

Uche squeezed the hand she was still holding on to. “You are cold babe. You have lost weight too. I came to the hospital, straight after my shift. I was told you were sleeping…”

“I need to find my daughter,” she interrupted, her voice slightly raised. Telling her she told the nurses she didn’t want to see anyone would have hurt her friend. The woman was already fidgeting unnecessarily beside her.

“Calm down, Anu. She is fine with her dad.”

“He wants to take her away from me.”

“What?” Uche studied her. “This is how Emeka said you were planning to leave the country.”

“Yet, I’m here. Listen… he is angry that I left him. This is why I asked Bradley not to come with me so that he doesn’t go ape again. I can’t lose my daughter. Please Uche, I’m not feeling so strong anymore. He will get custody if we go to court. All he has to tell them is how our daughter prefers him. How I fell apart when my father died and he will be right because I’m falling apart right now.”

Uche hugged her, holding on to her for longer than normal. She held both of her hands after letting go of her shoulders. “You are a strong woman. You can do this.”

“I just don’t understand why he is this angry with me. I mean … why does he think something is going on between me and Bradley?”

“Girl, seriously?”

“He keeps dropping all this comments about me… that I’m not innocent, as if he knows about what happened when we were in Paris?”

Uche squeaked. “You think I betrayed you?”

“Sorry. Just asking.”

“Shows we are really good friends.”

“Bradley kissed me on a hotel bed against my will. You blame me for not wanting my already suspicious husband knowing it happened?”

“I don’t.”

“You didn’t let something slip whilst you and Emeka were in the throes of passion or something, did you?”

“Me and Emeka?” Uche rolled her eyes.

“What does that mean?” Idriss and Anu had suspected their friends were having some kind of relationship trouble. Whilst Emeka had hinted that Uche and him might not be progressing with their plans to get married, her friend had never been the type to talk about her relationship. Directing their conversation to something less intrusive every time she questioned her. “Talk to me darling. Is it this whole marriage thing? Give it time. I’m sure he will be ready soon.”

Emeka’s BMW appeared at the end of the bottom of the street. Idriss who was driving, parked the car behind Uche’s car.

Uche tapped her hand and whispered her name. “Try to stay calm. You have your daughter and business to consider here.”

Emeka and Jadesola came out of the car. Whilst he opened the door, Anu squatted to her daughter’s level and gave her a long hug.

“I wan stay with dada,” Jadesola said.

“Okay, Jade. It’s okay, little mummy.” She kissed her head and wiped the Ketch-up at the corner of her lips. She smiled as her daughter waved and went inside the house with Uche. Idriss had come out of the car by now, waiting beside it. She strolled over to him.

“I’m sorry about this morning.” He said without looking at her. “I should never have said what I said. You were grieving, baby. I shouldn’t have brought your grief into all of these.”

“Nothing is going on between me and Bradley.”

“Hmmn.”

“I won’t leave the country. You don’t need a lawyer. We don’t have to air our business in court.”

Perhaps he had sought legal advice already. She noticed he had changed into one of his Massimo shirts. A burgundy shirt with black pants and black shoes from the same Italian designer. This morning he had been dressed in jeans and a tee-shirt.

“I don’t intend to fight you over our daughter. You don’t deserve that after how I messed up.” He held her gaze, gesturing with his hands as he spoke. “I know I hurt you. I did. But I think it is too soon for you to be moving in with Bradley or moving into his mum’s.”

“Frankly, it’s none of your business.” She paused to let the wave of anger pressing air out of her lungs pass. With it went the need to remind him why she and her daughter had to find a new home in the first place. “I was going to move to Dad’s but the repair men have not finished yet.”

“I will tell the guys to make the house their priority. They can drop the other properties for now. In the mean time, you can go back to our house with little mummy. She needs stability. I will stay with Emeka or in one of our furnished flats.”

 

***

 

On the day, Anu moved her belongings to her father’s house down the street, Austin was the only who helped her. Kanyin who now grunted whenever Anu said hi to her stayed out of her way. Idriss stayed away, citing his excuse for everything these days, ‘work.’ This wasn’t true as Anu had resumed back at the main Aspire agency as branch manager, taking over from him so he could have more time for his CEO responsibilities. He consented to her coming back as manager because the Manchester agency under Kaz had thrived, exceeding his expectations and making him cast his eyes towards the south of the border.  Although, his thoughts of an outstanding estate agency in the capital were what he called wandering-out-aloud, she knew the idea of a London estate agency had already started to take shape in his head.

Although, she learnt to be civil with her husband, the relationship between him and Bradley got worse overnight. They engaged in verbal battles every time they saw each other, fuelled by Idriss’ jealousy. Bradley enjoyed letting him think they had gotten back together. Anu didn’t help either, asking Bradley to come round almost every evening. She didn’t need him around, although his patient listening helped. What she wanted was Idriss to see she could flourish without him.

The verbal disagreements between the men nearly culminated in a physical fight three weeks after she took over the Ribble Greaves agency. Idriss had taken a few days off work and chosen to look after Jadesola himself that day. He let himself in using the spare keys her father had given him when he was alive. Bradley had arrived earlier claiming he had a free hour to spare and he wanted to take her to work.

“Why is he letting himself in?” Bradley barked when she got to the main sitting room where the men were. Both of them were trying to stand as tall as possible. Faces pulled in deep, angry glowers. “He is nothing but a toe rag.”

Idriss looked like he was ready to punch Bradley. Anu blocked his path and warned him with her eyes.

“He called me a toad. Who does he think he is?”

“He didn’t call you a toad.” She picked up her bag and suit jacket from the sofa where they were dumped earlier. She would get Bradley to take her to work now to diffuse the situation. “Your daughter is upstairs. She has missed you.”

“Don’t try to change the subject, Aisha. He called me a toad. He might have said it in that silly Northern accent of his but I’m not stupid.”

“Idriss, please calm down.”

“Why put me through this?” He switched to Yoruba. “Shebi, a wife is supposed to defend her husband and protect him from this kind of insults.

“What is he saying?” Bradley asked, flushed. “Is he calling me names in Nigerian?”

“It is Yoruba,” Idriss raised his voice. “Get it right, ode buruku.”

“I know what that buku word means. It means the devil. He is calling me a devil.”

“If the cap fits”

“What does buku mean Anu?”

Oponu.”

“Toe rag!”

“It is even worse. He is calling me a toad’s rag. See what I am going through at the hands of your boyfriend.”

Anu picked up her bag and jacket from the sofa. “That’s it. I’m off to work. You two stay here and fight. Austin will give me a lift. I will call Aleska to come look after Jadesola.”

She was out of the door in a second. She hoped if they fought, Bradley’s new obsessive hobby, weights at the gym would come in handy. She hoped her husband would end up with a body that would hurt for days. The way hers did for a while.

Yet, she was glad when Bradley came out of the house and ran after her. She told herself she didn’t want them fighting in a house where her daughter was.

 

Work was gruesome that day. By midday after calming down a client’s wife, following their discovery of him on top of his mistress at a new house the agency were leasing for him, Anu regretted coming back to work full time. She missed Jadesola too.

When she got home, she met a soothing atmosphere – lit candles in the sitting room, lights dimmed, savoury and sweet snacks on the table, Idriss in an apron and the smell of curried goat from the kitchen. This would have ordinarily calmed her nerves.

She bounded up the stairs to her room after telling him to take Jadesola home, that she had an appointment.

She was unzipping her skirt in the bedroom, having locked the door from the inside when the door knob turned. He muttered something in Yoruba and then proceeded to knock lightly on the door.

“Aisha, I cooked your favourite meal. Believe me, it wasn’t easy. I had to ask Austin for help after that moody Kanyinsola refused to pick my call. I even burnt a finger. Please come downstairs. Let’s eat. Jadesola is in bed. We need to talk. Please baby.”

Pausing her hand on the button of her skirt, she took in the anxiety she heard in his voice. A rare thing for him. He had never been the type to show anxiety in any situation. Acting like he had the answer to every problem. His voice and mannerisms echoed his confidence.

“I have an evening appointment.” She took off the skirt and searched for a dress in the wardrobe whilst her head ran through their client list at work. “It’s with Mr. Scholes. The retired army man from Guernsey. We are going to view the Folk Close property to see if it big enough for him.”

“Wait. The property in Manchester?”

“Yes.”

“At this time? It is late, baby. Why don’t you let one of our male agents go with him? James is free tonight.  Or I can come with you, so you know you are safe, sha.”

“Why don’t you just let me run the agency as I see fit.” She heaved a sigh as she heard footsteps moving away from the door.

She chose a double layer black dress. It didn’t look overtly elegant. Nor too formal. She would put her ruby gold earrings and bracelet in her bag to accessorise with once out of the house. Perhaps the Sekonda watch too that Bradley gave her for her birthday last year in Paris. He had given her the watch whilst his girlfriend and her husband were at the bar and she had thanked him before spotting the Swarovski crystals on it. Seeing the watch, Idriss bought her a Gucci yellow-gold band with rare gemstones that cost thousands. The letters A and I were inscribed on the inside of the band.

After a long soak in the bathtub, moisturising with dollops of her expensive lotion and body oil, she got dressed. She covered the tiny reminders of the accident on her face and hand with light brown powder. Idriss had left with their daughter. Candles blown. Snacks and food packed away.

As she walked down the street and past their house, her mother’s words about men came back to her. ‘Tell a man you will sacrifice all for him and you become the sacrifice.’

This afternoon after the florists delivered bouquets of pink and white roses to her at work and he sent her the love poem he read to her at their wedding, she entertained thoughts of forgiving him one day.

Then Kate had turned up and asked if she would have a job to return to. Marching her into her office, she had been ready to tell Kate what she thought of her until she burst into tears.

“Please, I can’t lose my job. It only happened three times and I regretted it each time.”

Those were the words that shocked her to her core. Idriss swore he cheated once. And she believed him, letting hope and love push out her anger.

Bradley’s red sports car was waiting as arranged when she got to the bottom of the street. She got in and strapped the seat belt on.

“You are beautiful, I swear.” He murmured without his eyes straying from her body. “Can I kiss you before I take you to mine?”

Leaning over, he kissed her cheek. She took in the intoxicating scent of his fragrance. It was enticing enough for her to turn her face fully to him and let him take her lips in between his.

He would help her forget.

 

—————–

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Okay lovely Yarners. I’m on shift for comments today (as soon as I finish work, that is). Oga Dan will be very busy all day and night. Thanks for Saturday’s comments. I promise to respond to each one. Thank you so much.

Hope you are all doing well. How are the 2016 goals coming along? Not impressed with myself so far. Hope yours are coming along nicely.

Enjoy this really long episode. If anyone asks for a Thursday special … I swear…

 

 

***

//AND THINGS GET WORSE//

 

 

Kanyin ran her hands down her legs. They were cold. Despite pulling them together and sitting one on top of the other, they still felt cold. She put her hands to her face. They were clammy against her cheeks.

She was sitting by her stepmother’s hospital bed. Trying hard not to stare at the large bruise on her right hand or the jagged marks on one side of her face. The marks were like angry scratch marks. Anu had reassured her that they didn’t hurt. That her knees were in worse condition under the blanket but they too didn’t hurt.

Seeing the woman sat up in bed, typing on her new convertible laptop would surprise anyone that had seen her yesterday lying in the middle of the road. The middle aged woman whose car knocked her down said she appeared from nowhere. That she didn’t see her.

Austin had to call for an ambulance because her father who had crouched next to Anu didn’t seem to know what to do. He was mumbling. Stared blankly at her when she told him they had to get his wife to the hospital.

Austin had to take charge. He was the one that begged her twice to go back into the house. Someone had to stay with her sister.

Although, Anu’s eyes fluttered open before Kanyin went back inside the house and Austin told her she spoke to the ambulance crew, she couldn’t relax until her father called from the hospital to say her stepmother was fine. Cuts and bruises marked her body but no serious injury had been done.

“Thanks, princess.” Anu shut down the laptop and placed it next to her on the bed. “I feel better now that I have sent that email.”

“You do?” Minutes ago she had sat next to the woman as a sonographer told her, her baby’s heartbeat could not be found.

“Yes. I was letting everyone know that I’m returning to full-time work next Monday.” Anu placed her palms on her thighs and massaged them over the blanket.

“Isn’t it too soon? I know you are aching all over. You have recently miscarried. Don’t you need time or something?”

“Babies don’t always make it.”

“My father doesn’t even know yet.” Anu had refused to let him go in with her for the scan. Telling him to go jump off a cliff when he said he couldn’t let her go in on her own. Kanyin had volunteered at this point.

“I will tell him, don’t worry.”

“He is waiting in the visitors’ room. Should I send him in on my way home so you two can talk?”

“Yes. You might as well.”

“I will call you tonight. Or do you prefer I come round? Is there something you need?”

Anu shook her head. Her eyes were on her fingers which were placed at the top of her knees. She looked like a girl in denial. One refusing to accept something had been taken from her. Although she pulled her face defiantly and spoke with a voice reserved for their employees, Kanyin knew better.

“He is sorry you know.”

“I know.”

“Very sorry.”

“I know.”

 

***

 

Anu straightened her neck when her husband came in. Her body felt worse than that time when she followed Uche to Zumba classes three nights in a row. She was glad for the pain. It helped her fight the one threatening to tear her apart. Yet, her heart didn’t feel right.  It was beating too fast. During the night, she had felt this slicing pain in the middle of her heart. At first she thought it was something serious. Something medical, triggered by the blow dealt her yesterday. The tears came then. Gushing and forceful. Brought on by the realisation that losing Idriss would finish her.

She buried her head in the hospital pillow and cried. Afterwards, promises were made. The pillow, her witness. She would live. She would never need him or any other man again. The heels of independence that she wore before he came into her life would be dusted and strapped back on.

“I’m really… really sorry.” He had taken the seat that his daughter vacated earlier. Painted a remorseful look on his face, hands stretched out.

“I don’t need your apology.” She paused and looked out of the window. It was raining, wind blowing branches of the shady tree by the building, left and right. The other woman in her bay, a Polish woman with suspicious injuries to her face and a broken wrist had fallen asleep earlier. Moment after her husband – who brought chocolates and bore the same apologetic look as Idriss – left.

“I can fix this.”

She nodded.

“I can make it up to you, Aisha.” He stretched his legs in front of him. The chair was too small. It made him seem larger than he was.

“I know, Idriss.”

“I wanted to tell you the moment I found out. I tried, baby. But I had just gotten the real you back. Things were good. I didn’t want to lose you over a one night stand.”

“I know you are sorry…”

“I cross my heart.”

“… Which is why I will let you have joint custody of our daughter.”

Idriss’ hands dropped to his sides for a moment. His neck sank and his hands were soon cradling his head.

“I wish I can move on and pretend it didn’t happen. I wish the reminders of your recklessness are not living in this very town. I wish for a lot of things.”

He held her gaze.

“I want to wake up to find all this is nothing but a nightmare.”

“Baby, please.”

“Don’t call me baby anymore. You have a young girl that fits that description now.”

“Kate means nothing to me. She is just the mother of my sons. Just their mother.”

“That should have been me.” She could feel tears gathering in the pocket of her eyes. Her throat croaked. “I was supposed to give you more children. Not another woman.”

He moved his seat closer.

“Don’t move any closer.” She would not give him the satisfaction of seeing her broken. Of holding her hand and acting like he hadn’t caused her pain.

“Don’t leave me, Aisha. We need each other. You have no one else apart from me. You are an orphan with no family in this country. I promised to look after you when your father said I could marry you. You must remember how happy he was when we said our vows.”

“I want a divorce. Then I want half of the agency. You can have the Manchester branch.”

“Splitting the company would kill our business. Don’t do this to us because of one stupid night.”

“There is no us anymore. I’d give anything not to have to see you ever again.”

Haba …” he got up and shook his head. “Just admit this makes things easier for you. I cheated. Now you can run back to your ex who never really became an ex. This is the excuse you need to get back with that bastard…”

She stared at him as the remorseful face changed

“My friends were right. Allow a woman her freedom and she will make a mockery of your name.” He pointed at the bed. “You are the one in a hospital bed, I regret that. That doesn’t cancel out your actions. You are not innocent in all of these.” He smirked. “You are not getting half my business. Remember how smitten you were back then. So much so that when one of your white friends suggested a prenup to secure the business, you shut down the idea like a Robocop?”

“The business is legally half mine.”

“I know that. The court doesn’t.” He walked to the door; there he dropped a parting shot. “If you want anything from me, you can come back home.”

 

***

 

Anu was in Bradley’s car but every part of her was outside. They had been sat in the car for nearly two hours. Since the nurse-in-charge discharged her.

They were waiting for Kanyin. She had promised to bring Jadesola to her that morning when they spoke. Kanyin’s voice, although hushed held strong conviction.

“You sure she is coming?” Bradley asked. “What if her dad found out? Or perhaps she told him? You know she is his daughter and her allegiance will always be to him.”

“She will come.”

He seemed a little impatient than usual. Tapping on the steering wheel and following with his eyes, every car that drove into the hospital’s car park.

“Sorry Brad. I know you go to the gym every evening these days.”

Since his mother moved to Antigua with the man she met whilst there on holiday, Bradley had changed. Uche said it was because he lost Anu to Idriss. The impact of his loss toughened him up. Made him care more about things he didn’t care about before, like his cars, income and appearance. Uche said he wasn’t as kind anymore. That underneath all that transformation lay resentment which the slightest trigger could unleash one day.

“I’m here for you, chick.” He reached for her hands on her thighs and stroked them tenderly. “That bastard didn’t deserve you.”

“I wish I had listened to you.”

He was never in support of her relationship with Idriss or the eventual marriage. His clenched jawline and blue eyes showed his disapproval when she announced they were getting married.

When Idriss left the room, his eyes had probed her. ‘Are you sure you want to marry Mr. Idriss whose name has to be spelt with double s just to set him apart? Just in case we mistake him for Idris Elba or the other famous Idris’ out there. Sure you are wired for this? The man makes gangsta rappers look soft.’ She had loosened up then because he seemed to be doing his best to accept her decision, coating his concern in humour as he always did and because he told her he only ever wanted happiness for her.

She thought his words meant acceptance. And his acceptance remained unquestioned until that cold night last year in Paris at the spa hotel where the six of them were. Bradley and his then girlfriend Penny, Emeka, Uche, Idriss and herself were spending the weekend there to celebrate her birthday. That night, alone in a hotel room Bradley crossed boundaries with her.

Uche, the one she shared her secret with promised to guard it with her life. But now, she wondered if Uche had let something slip. This would explain why her marriage started to crumble like a sandcastle under a booted foot.

“You can move on now.” Bradley said. “You can do better. A lot better than that thug.”

She didn’t respond. Every time she thought of what her husband did to her, her chest throbbed and her stomach churned at the same time. This afternoon her heart started beating rapidly. She was splashing water on her face, thinking of how he loved to watch her whilst she washed her face at night when it happened. Suddenly, there didn’t seem to be enough air in the hospital bathroom. By the time she hobbled back on to the ward, trembling and gasping, her top had been drenched in her sweat. The nurse, convinced that it was a panic attack, wanted her to stay one more night at the hospital. Anu wanted to get on with her life. Show Idriss she could survive without him.

She shook her head. She would not think of him. Not now.

The screen of his phone cast some light on Bradley as he typed on it. His hands, neck and face showed his holiday in Antigua left a glow on him. He looked darker. Tanned. Perhaps it was because he had his expensive dark taupe suit on. His face wore a scowl that tended to be there these days like someone had painted it on. A result of the many relationships he embarked on recently that ended before they began.

“I wish you would stay here and fight it out with him. The business is half yours. You are entitled to it and half his money. We can take him to court. ” He tapped the screen of his phone and put the phone in his jacket’s pocket. “Running away will not solve anything. You will be punishing the people that care about you. Uche, your stepdaughter… me.”

“He will never give me half of the business. He would rather run it to the ground. His new business buddies are experts at hiding their assets from their wives and honestly… I don’t want his money. I only want my share of the business.”

She sighed. A deep sigh that drained her further. “I thought he would feel sorry enough to want to part on good terms but he doesn’t. He wants to fight me for the business because he can… Because I refuse to stay with him. I’m too tired to fight. I need to get away from here. Antigua, then maybe New York to live with my cousin. Somewhere where he can’t find me.”

“When will you come back? I know you have savings…”

“I don’t know. All I know is I need to get away from here. If Kanyinsola brings my daughter, I’m leaving this country tomorrow.”

“Taking Jade away from him will finish him. He deserves it if you ask me. I just wish you will stay, beautiful. I miss you too much when I don’t see you.”

She heard the sadness in his voice. Ignoring it, she asked him questions about the date he went on last week.

Bradley sighed and narrated his ordeal. It was another non-starter. His date had five children and six parrots and twelve dogs. But it was her out of control chattiness that made him consider escaping through the toilet window. She talked all through the starter, main meal and dessert. Even when they said their goodnight, on his way to his car, he could still hear her chirping away.

They were laughing together, hers a little forced, when Bradley spotted a silvery grey BMW X5 and told her. Anu’s eyes followed the car. Bayo had dropped Kanyin off with it once. That was how she knew what to expect when Kanyin told her Bayo would bring them to the hospital.

The moment before she saw the side of the car, she missed a breath. Idriss had found out and stopped them from bringing Jadesola.

Then she saw her head and she remembered how to draw in air. They got out of the car together but she reached the side of the BMW before Bradley did.

Whilst the girls hugged her, Bradley and Bayo took the bags out of the boot, to Bradley’s car.

“Sorry, we are late.” Kanyin zipped up her hood jacket and pushed her long, black Brazilian hair away from her face. “I had to wait for Daddy to go out. Then I had to trick Austin into going out to see his friends. You know how nerdy that boy is. It took him twenty minutes to get off the sofa.”

“Thanks Kanyin.”

Jadesola who was now in her arms tapped her cheek. The girl always did this whilst others held her attention. Jabbing finger in her sides or parts of her body she could reach as if no one else was entitled to her attention.

“What is it, mummy?” Anu kissed her daughter’s forehead. She repeated the action to stop herself from thinking of him.

He was the one that nicknamed their daughter mummy. Jadesola had been his mother’s name.

“Wheres Dada,” Jadesola muttered.

Her gaze shifted quickly from her daughter to her stepdaughter. This proved hard too. Beyond Kanyin’s womanly yet slim body and her mannerisms, were features she recognised in her husband. Her lips were thinner, nose smaller. The luscious dark skin which stayed as soft as that of a newborn baby, the deep dimples and the way she held people’s gaze like she couldn’t let go were some of the features from Idriss.

She noticed that the girl had on the silver hoops earrings that she bought her last Christmas. Kanyin loved earrings and shoes and new hair styles. Most of her money went on this, leaving a fraction. Not uncommon for them to get a phone call in the middle of the month asking Anu or Idriss to bail her out.

She had chosen a side. Hers.

“The passports are in the smaller bag.” Kanyin ran a finger from the middle of her head to the side to sweep hair from her face. “You will be back soon, won’t you?”

Anu kissed her daughter’s head, patted her stepdaughter’s shoulder and started walking towards Bradley’s car. The men were in their respective cars now.

“Please, you have to come back.”

“I will,” Anu said.

“It will kill Daddy if you don’t come back. You know how much he loves Jade.”

 

***

 

Kanyin’s headache had worsened by the time they got to Bayo’s. Her head throbbed. Despite being a staunch advocate against painkillers or any kind of pills, she found herself accepting two big capsules from Bayo. She downed them with a glass of orange juice.

Stretching out on his sofa, she let him massage her feet and shut her eyes.

“You did the right thing,”

She shut her ears to him.

“Shortee, your father deserved this. Dude shit on his home himself.”

“I didn’t know Anu was planning to leave the country.” Kanyin raised her head to look into his eyes. “I thought she only wanted to see her for a few days. That she would bring her back. Now, Daddy has lost everything. He will never forgive me for this.” She paused to let the wave of sadness that gripped her pass, carrying on when it stayed stubbornly. “You don’t understand. No one gets it. Daddy is not perfect where his women are concerned yet he is the best dad in the whole wide world. He told me on my birthday that he regrets all those years that he wasn’t there for me. He says he will spend the rest of his life making it up to me. Now, he is going to lose my sister. If you say he deserves it, what about my sister. She will experience what it feels like not to have a dad around. Does she deserve it?”

She sat up to look for something to wipe her eyes. Bayo pulled her into his arms and the tears fell on the front of his tee-shirt. She sobbed on him. Too fraught to tell him that her little sister was more than life itself for her. Not seeing her again would wreck her.

They stayed like that for a while.

Soon she began to feel sleepy in his arms. It was an intense tiredness that took over quickly, the way she felt that evening when she tried red wine whilst out with Anu.

He caressed her cheek tenderly. “Sleep hotness. I will wake you soon and take you home. Your pops won’t blame you. We will get his friends to talk to him for you.”

 

***

 

When Kanyin woke up the room had been thrown into total darkness. It was the crushing weight on top of her that woke her up. And despite the weird numbness that made her limbs heavy and her vision blurry, she soon made out that it was Bayo’s legs between hers that was causing the pain in her pubic area. She told herself it wasn’t happening but her jeans were gone and his head was bobbing up and down.

—————–

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PLAYING THE LOVE GAME =TWO=

Playing The Love Game
Playing The Love Game
Playing The Love Game

******

//I WISH I NEVER TOUCHED HER//

 

“I wish I can take it back.” Idriss muttered. “I wish I never touched her.”

“This is a bad dream. Please God wake me up. Wake me up.” She was dizzy all of a sudden. She grabbed her head with both hands. It didn’t make the dizziness better. Neither did it help with all the several other things that were going wrong with her body all at once.

“Please Aisha, I love you.” He took a step closer. “Let’s not destroy our family over this.”

She reached for the first thing her hand touched on the table – the end of a stainless steel pepper shaker and armed herself with it. “If you come any nearer, I swear I will use this.”

“I will fix this Aisha. In time, we will be back to how we were.”

She shook her head, dropped the pepper shaker and fled the room.

Later on, in their bedroom, she would feel the softness of rug under her feet and wonder how she got there. Why she was now sitting on the floor like a wild animal.

His voice grated. He was at the door asking if he could come in. She wondered why he bothered. It wasn’t as if he asked her permission before wrecking her life.

He came into the room and sat on the bed, facing her. Today, he didn’t look attractive. His face didn’t look like that of the sweet, kind man that held her hand whilst she cried for her father.

“I touched her once, Aisha.”

“You had no business touching her.”

“I regretted it immediately.”

“Shut up Idriss. Shut up!” She would have kept screaming at him if Jadesola hadn’t started crying as if on cue. She tried to get off the floor but couldn’t. Her limbs were many times what they once weighed. She could hear Kanyin’s emotional-laden voice trying to soothe her sister from downstairs. He stood up, walked towards the door and shut it. He went and stood by the window afterwards.

“We were in a bad place,” He said. “Your father had just died and you were not talking to me. You refused to let me in…”

“I was grieving.” Anu held her head. “I didn’t shut you out on purpose.” She shut her eyes now. She felt ill, the way she felt for weeks last year when her father died. She never thought anything could make her feel like that again. Never imagined anything could be that capable.

“I thought you didn’t love me anymore. I thought you wanted out of our marriage.”

“Oh?”

“Come on, Anu. You know how bad things were. The only person you spoke to was Bradley. You made me feel like I didn’t matter. You were always at work, lashing out at me for no reason. Going to bed the minute you walked in. Shunning any type of physical contact.”

“So she made you feel special? Is that it? You turned to a girl that is the same age as your daughter because I couldn’t give you sex. Our employee Idriss. Our staff.”

He undid his tie and flung it on the bed. “She did the chasing, okay? And I was too drunk and angry to put up much of a fight.” He took a spot on the bed, directly in front of her. “It was just one stupid evening. One moment of madness. I messed up big time because I had been drinking at the agency. She came back to work to pick something up.”

“Stop talking. I don’t want to hear the details.”

“Don’t throw our marriage away because of this. I love you too much to let you do that.” He tapped his chest. “I have put up with a lot too. Your … relationship with Bradley hasn’t been easy for me to stomach.”

“I have one male friend.” How could he bring her friendship with Bradley into this? She had known Bradley since they were kids. They were lovers for a while but in the end their relationship had fallen back into a normal type of friendship. The type where both parties would not sniff at each other. “You have known about Bradley for years. He was in my life even before we got married so please don’t use that as an excuse.”

“It’s not an excuse.”

“What is it then? Tell me, what is it?” She turned her head away from him. She would be thousands of miles from him if only her legs would let her. Despite her unwillingness to let him see her pain, her tears had started again. “How do I bring a new baby into this?”

“You are pregnant?”

She didn’t answer; neither did she turn to him. Instead she let herself think of how happy she was this morning when she did the test. How she didn’t hope for a girl or a boy but for a healthy baby, one that would complete their family. They were going to be happy, very happy.

“Why didn’t you use protection?” She wiped her eyes with the sleeves of her top. The question sounded absurd to her ears but she persisted. “You would have saved me from this.”

“I told you. I was drunk.”

“You were always careful with me. Even when you didn’t need to be. You wouldn’t touch me without wrapping up.”

“I have to protect you.”

“Why didn’t you protect me against this? Why Idriss? Why?” She screamed, stopping when her ears began to hurt. “You made me go through all those checks …tests and injections because you were worried you would infect me.”

Since his HIV diagnosis –which they found out after she conceived Jadesola – he had refused to let moments where they were together take over. Even when tests showed his viral load was low and she begged him to make her pregnant, he refused. Insisting on protecting her.

She endured months of visits to the fertility centre in Liverpool for the sperm-washing procedure. Smiled through the prodding and poking. Whilst all he had to do was visit the centre a few times to perform his task.

“We can get through this.” He got up and squatted on the floor next to her. “Tell me, how I can make this better?”

She jumped to her feet when he reached for her, shocking herself with her speed.

“Touch me again and I swear I will floor you.” Opening her side of the wardrobe, she pulled a dress off the hanger. “Get me a bag. I need to get out of here.”

“I can’t let you do that.”

“Try and stop me.”

***

They could hear them shouting. Verbal threats. The sound of a palm clapping against skin and more struggling. Kanyin glanced at Austin to communicate her concerns. Her sister who was still in her arms had only settled after she promised her ice cream and mashed strawberries.

“Austin, we have to do something. She is going to go too far without meaning to. I’m too young to lose my dad.”

“I will call Emeka.” Austin said. He didn’t move from the window where he was standing. “I think he is the best person that can get them to calm down.”

She wondered if one of them, probably her father wouldn’t be dead before Emeka’s arrival. They heard the master bedroom door open, footsteps on the landing and Anu’s voice yelling for him to stop following her.

Kanyin rubbed her sister’s back. The girl’s tears had dried. She was busy on the sofa twirling her dolls.

“I will be back.” She took in a drawn-out breath and walked to the bottom of the stairs. They would stop for her.

“Let me go, Idriss.” Anu was at the top of the stairs, holding a heap of clothes in her hands. She looked like she had been in a fight. Hair messy, laces of her trainers undone.

“I need you to calm down. Let’s talk. I will drive you to Uche’s house myself.”

Her father reached for his wife. She stepped away from him and lurched backwards. Kanyin gasped as her father tried and failed to grab hold of Anu. Kanyin would have screamed if the rest of her senses weren’t frozen.

Anu regained her balance by letting go of the clothes and grabbing the handrail. She sped down the stairs, hurling abuse at him. He followed.

“Please, don’t go…” Kanyin started to say as her step mother walked past her.

“Just look after your sister.”

She noticed the long scratch mark on her father’s cheekbone when he reached the bottom of the stairs.

“Leave her, dad. She needs some time to calm down.”

“I can’t let her leave in this state, Kanyin.”

Anu was out of the house before her father. She left them to it. It was the right decision as Anu had started shouting again. She sat down on the sofa, picking up her sister to put her on her laps.

“I can’t believe Daddy has done this to us. I can’t believe it.”

Austin pocketed his phone. “He hasn’t told you he did anything, Kanyin.”

“Why does he look so guilty then?”

Em…”

“He did it.”

“Let’s wait…”

“I know he did it.”

They heard the tyres of a car screeching and a loud bang. A voice she didn’t recognise screamed from down the street. Austin who had now faced the window did not move. He didn’t speak either. The part of his face that she could see, spoke of horrors that couldn’t be put into words.

—————–

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PLAYING THE LOVE GAME =ONE=

Playing The Love Game
Playing The Love Game
Playing The Love Game

      

Hi, the next part drops today. That one is dedicated to everyone reading. Especially to the people that commented here when the series started and the ones that messaged me to ask for three posts a week (sorry, not gonna happen, lol). The passion is there, if only time and energy came with it. Tbone, Shughar, Des, Ai, Deeh, Kkkkk, Thegracedmisfit, Ihunanya, Amina, Gift and Nai. You are all awesome. Thank you. Shout out to Chinny, Ifedami, Auxano, Fsf, Mosespraise, Beezy fun Oluwa, Doughyeen and namesake Sarahaos for topping the comments list in 2015 alongside most of the people above.

 

***

 //THAT THING MEN AND WOMEN DO//

 

Bayo was kissing Kanyin when his hands started sliding under her blouse. If she had put a bet on his next move, she would have won. It always started like a small innocent kiss. The sort you would expect between friends that liked each other but were not yet ready to spell things out. And then he would put his tongue to action like a dog that hadn’t tasted water for years.

If only those randy hands didn’t always yearn for more.

“Shortee, seriously?” Bayo frowned. “Is it the Mary in you I’m gonna get every time we hang out.”

She resisted the urge to chuckle. Despite his irritation, his hands were still under her top. His  face didn’t look half-bad for someone frowning. She had always gone on about his luck with his physical features, telling him most women would be glad to have a face like his. It wasn’t just his skin – the colour of the flesh of ripe mangoes – that made him stand out, his narrow nose and slight lips fitted his face perfectly.

She crossed her legs, putting a few inches between their bodies on the sofa. His face fell and his hands dropped to his sides.

“When are you going to be ready then?” His tone came out stifled. “This is why I don’t date girls. They want to be treated like babies. I’m a big guy and you know I’m serious, Kanyin. You know I love you. And you know you are the first girl to capture my heart. Shortee, why are you doing me like this?”

His whining had started after their third date five months ago. At first, his voice carried on softly. These days, it would start with the impatience of a bark, increasing in strength with each yap.

Kanyin told him at the start it would take her a while to be ready. She thought he understood, until that Friday afternoon he volunteered to give her a massage in his studio flat. He could barely move when he walked her to the door. The way he carried himself, picking up each leg as if it weighed same as his body, anyone would have thought the thing between his legs would turn into a snake and bite him if he didn’t consummate their relationship soon. So far, persuasions and temptations had been handled with strict discipline, including the cold December night he called to say the harsh, chilly air would kill him if she didn’t come over. Her harsh ‘no’ didn’t kill him. Neither did the cold night.

“When are we going to take this relationship to the next level then?” One of his hands had wandered down to her legs.

She shoved the hand away. “Is this all you want from me? If it is, I suggest we end this now.”

“Chillax. Not my fault what I feel for you drives me nuts sometimes.”

“Please joor, love is not all about jigijigi.”

“But jigijigi makes it stronger.” Bayo sat up straight. “Shortee, I wish you would trust me. I know some men… even some of my pals are players but I will never do you like that. I would never treat you like a ho. I don’t even know why you are so scared of men when you are a small girl with no experience.” He picked up his phone from the table and started going through it.

He was right; her dating past was not as colourful as that of many girls her age. But having heard enough of what her father put women through, she decided a long time ago not to be any man’s pawn. She wouldn’t be one of many in someone’s life.

Although her father had become the archetypal family man, shunning social outings in favour of date nights with Anu and attending children’s parties with Jadesola, the horror stories Grandma told her about girls who let men ruin them would always stay with her. Stories about girls who let the lies from men’s mouths control them. Grandma insisted the girls were to blame. Her own daughter sat for her final school exams with the swell of pregnancy showing through her uniform. And although Kanyin’s mother moved on from the shame she brought home, finished her education and married a lawyer, Grandma never truly recovered. She started to drum stronger warnings about men in Kanyin’s ears when everything fell in place for her to join her father in the UK, two years ago.

She couldn’t argue with her grandmother’s points. She had met women who, upon seeing her father, would do nothing to hide the bright glow on their face and the fluttering of their eyelashes. He always wore his wedding ring and so the blame could not be on him but on those women.

“I have to finish off my essay,” Bayo announced. His eyes were on the Toshiba TV screen now, one of the many expensive appliances in his flat. His house left her surprised the first time she visited with Nkem, her friend and course-mate. Nkem said Bayo disgraced money with the set up. Kanyin just wanted to ask him how he could afford all these things.

“Well, Austin is waiting for me.” She fished out her phone from her bag, hoping that he wouldn’t explode again.

“It is that kind of decision that makes me go mad with you, Shortee. How you gonna leave me here go joy riding with another man?” His lower lip dropped in a sulking pout.

“Here we go again. You know Austin is my father’s personal assistant. We live in the same house and the only reason he is giving me a lift home is because my father insists.”

“You better don’t let that geek, that Johnny Just Come touch you.”

She was angry now. “Austin moved here three years ago. I only arrived two years ago. Obviously, you think I am a JJC too.”

His condescending, the way he walked past the university’s canteens to spend triple the money at Tastiest Chicken and Nandos, the way he snubbed impressionable year one students wanting to be his pals, had all been the things that made her notice him at first. The things that now infuriated her.

“No, bae.” Bayo smiled as she got up and started to get ready to go. He rose too, towering above her. At six foot tall, he was only three inches taller than her. Yet, he had a way of carrying himself that made him seem bigger. Stronger.

“Chill, I didn’t mean you. But it is hard watching my girl live with a fully grown man that is not related to her.”

He pulled her to his body and kissed her with so much aggression. She whimpered as his tongue forced its way in her mouth. His hands grabbed at her, touching her until her hands succeeded in pulling his hands away from her body. She stepped away from him and smoothed down her skirt, realising as she did so that she’d chosen the wrong skirt this morning. It clung tightly to her legs. Perhaps this was why Austin stared at her this morning when she joined him in the car.

“I have to go.” She tapped his chest and led the way. It would be mean to stay any longer. Dangerous too. He had licked his lips as she bent down to retrieve her bag.

 

***

 

Her father was on the sofa with Anu when they arrived. They were watching one of her Victorian documentaries on the TV. Anu had her body on his and his hands were holding her close. Kanyin regretted staying out so late. She had heard him say he would be at work ‘til very late’ this morning. Blaming roadworks and traffic in Manchester wouldn’t cut it this time.

“Where are you two coming from?” He growled, stopping them in their track.

“Sorry, sir.” Austin darted his eyes in her direction. “My presentation group had a meeting at the library after lectures. Kanyin had to wait for me.”

“And what did she do whilst waiting for you?” Her father asked, searching her with his eyes like he could read her mind.

“I studied in the library, Daddy.”

She was glad when his face relaxed a bit. Their relationship didn’t start off this way. He didn’t step into the protective fatherly role until a year ago. The first year, he had been more like an older friend than a parent. Making up for the years he was absent in her life by being soft with her.

“Okay, Kanyinsola Iretioluwa. I have heard you.” His face had a friendly grin on it now. “One of you should come back down and lock up later. I’m taking my wife upstairs soon.”

“Too much information, Daddy.” she pouted.

“Ignore him Kanyin,” Anu smacked her father’s hand playfully. She giggled when he narrowed his eyes at her and ran a hand down the spot she had smacked. Their eyes locked, the way it usually did. It used to annoy her when she first moved in. Her father would be having a discussion with her whilst communicating things she didn’t know about with his wife by using his eyes. It annoyed her too that they were always together so that you couldn’t get one without the other.

She turned to Austin. “I think we should go upstairs. I have heard and seen enough. I don’t want to end up needing therapy for the rest of my life.”

“Sorry,” Anu curved her neck in their direction. “There is chicken and jolof rice in the kitchen. I made cupcakes earlier too.”

“Thanks step-mum.” She planted a big beam on her face for Anu. This always came in handy for when she needed extra money from her father.

“Sweet. Thanks.” Austin rubbed his hands together. “I can’t wait to tear apart that chicken.”

They made their way upstairs. She would go into her sister’s room to check on her before going to hers to get changed. Leaving the girl’s parents with the job would be like trusting two loved-up hormonal teenagers with a job.

One of her father’s friends, Ikumapayi teased him once about his mad feelings for his wife. This was after he and Anu forgot their then four months old daughter at Emeka’s house. Perhaps the situation would have been easily forgotten if Emeka and his girlfriend hadn’t had to call the lovebirds to remind them of what they left behind.

 

***

 

“You have that look, Aisha.” Idriss’ hand travelled down her back and lingered when it got lower. “You want something, don’t you?”

Calling her Aisha – her father’s favourite name for her – didn’t help. She couldn’t help but wonder what her father would think of the new woman she had become. A woman who now spent more time churning out new recipes for her family than she spent at work.

“I want to go back to work full-time. I miss it.”

He reached for the remote control but didn’t use it, placing it instead on the sofa next to their bodies.

“Now that Jadesola has a nanny that she really likes, I think I am ready.”

“I disagree.” He traced a finger down the side of her neck to her collarbone, further down until her dressing gown stopped him. “Jadesola still needs you. I need you. I love coming home to find you pining for me.”

He chuckled. As her head was on his chest, she heard what the chuckle was. A fake, forced chuckle.  A tool to prepare her for his reasoning.

“Baby, you work two days a week. The other days you spend at home are not merely spent on running the house, you support me in taking our company places. Who was it that woke up at dawn this morning to start writing our annual business plan, wasn’t it you? Abi, is it not you that runs our online shop meticulously. So, what do you mean you want to go back to work? You didn’t exactly stop working.”

The death of her mother three years ago took its toll on her but it was finding her father dead in his bed last year that finished her. It wrecked her. Turned her into a woman that she didn’t recognise. A quivering wreck that broke down moments before her Women Business Managers Cheshire presentation.

They told her he was sixty-eight. That he had lived a rich life. They reminded her that he loved her. That he had been at his happiest, having seen his daughter marry and become one of the best in the housing business.

It took all of her willpower not to shout at those people. Sixty-eight might have been a good age for other men to go. It wasn’t for her father.

She would drink several cups of coffee to prepare her for work and still struggle to go in. Everything in their Ribble Greaves agency base reminded her of her father. Idriss had to start managing the agency himself whilst Kaz transferred to Manchester to oversee their new branch.

“I miss being busy,” she said. “I have too much free time.”

“So, you want to go back to running two branches, coming home so tired that you can barely look after Jadesola and me? You were doing three people’s jobs, Aisha. The minute you took time off, I realised that.” He kissed her forehead. “I don’t want you to go through that again. We have money. Even, if we didn’t have it, I wouldn’t be comfortable seeing you like that. I’m supposed to be the provider.”

“Idriss…”

“You are my wife. Now I know what you do, I don’t want you having that much responsibility again.” He lowered his voice. “We are trying for another baby. Jadesola is a toddler, she needs her mummy. Kanyinsola needs you too. I told you about that stupid boy that dropped her off last Friday. He is the same boy that came to the agency for a job. The one I told you insulted me when I said he didn’t get the job.”

“She is a university student. You can’t protect her forever.”

“When she is married and she has left my house, she can do whatever she wants. For now, I wouldn’t mind if it is someone like Austin that is staring at her. As long as all they are doing is staring at each other.”

Anu laughed. “Women and girls don’t usually go for serious types like Austin.”

“Why not? He is a good-looking boy. Very ambitious.”

“I married you, Idriss. Enough said.”

“Please talk to her. I’m worried and I don’t want to come down hard on her.” He started to touch her when she said okay, spinning her round so that he could have better access to her body. “Let’s go upstairs, you need to give me something sweet.”

She sighed as he helped her up. He was leading her towards the stairs when she sighed again.

He halted and faced her. “I didn’t say no, Aisha. I said give it time. Perhaps wait until Kate comes back from maternity leave. You and Kate were always good together at our main Aspire base.”

He tilted her chin forward and kissed her. She welcomed his lips. He was right. It wouldn’t be the same without Kate, her hardworking receptionist. Idriss had complained once or twice about the temp covering for the girl.

“Do I get something sweet now?” He asked, undoing his tie.

“You know you deserve it.”

 

***

 

“Lazy girls.”

Kanyin looked up and saw Austin staring at her and Jadesola. The girls were in their pyjamas, curled together on the sofa. With their slightness, long legs and dark caramel hue, they appeared more like full sisters to anyone that didn’t know them. A woman at Anu’s church mistook them for daughter and mother once.

“Hey Austin. Wassup?”

“I’m off to work.” Austin lingered on his spot, in the doorway.

Austin was dressed in a black tuxedo, cradling a new laptop. Although he was slightly shorter than Bayo and not as fair, Austin always looked presentable. Long, dark lashes and trim brows on an eye-catching face.  Nkem loved drooling over him. She helped her conclude he was good-looking. Kanyin had never had the inclination to look at him like that.

He usually left for work with her father and she guessed he was in a hurry to catch up with him. But instead of rushing through the door, he stood there staring at them.

“What’s wrong, Austin?” She pulled up the blanket at her feet and covered Jadesola’s lower half with it. Her sister had nuzzled closer to her, something she did whenever she felt cold. The girl settled her head in the comfort of Kanyin’s chest and arm.

“Don’t be angry but… em …” Austin scratched his chin in the way he was wont to do every time something worried him. “I think you should be careful with Bayo. The guys at the university are saying stuff about him.”

“That he is a player! That he is not nice! Whatever. I have heard it all before.”

“Be careful. Please Kanyin.”

“Okay, Austin. I hear you.”

He headed for the door.

 

***

 

Anu was a few minutes away from home when she spotted someone that looked so much like Kate pushing a double-buggy down the road. She had gone for a jog around their neighbourhood to ease her restlessness.

She started to run after the girl when shouting her name failed to stop her. She seemed to have increased her pace, guiding the big buggy onto the pavement. As she ran, Anu realised that the unreturned calls she had made to the girl had been missed on purpose.

Anu wasn’t one of those jolly bosses who cracked jokes with their employees. She loved getting the job done. Whilst Kate and her worked together though, they enjoyed a good working relationship. This was why it surprised her that the many calls she made to the younger woman’s phone, so she could see her twins, went unanswered. Anu wanted to help the new mother, the same way experienced mothers rallied round her when a prematurely-born Jadesola spent months in the hospital as a baby.

Kate paused. A woman with a stroller and a restless dog had blocked her path. Anu increased her speed, slightly. She couldn’t speak when she eventually reached her.

“I’m in a rush,” Kate snapped, trying to push past the woman with the stroller.

Anu noticed the girl’s unkempt hair. How her dark roots showed through her usually lustrous blonde hair. Her face, which had always looked youthful, was anything but today. Brownish blemishes looped her eyes and red freckles sat around her cheeks.

“Are you okay Katy? How are the babies?” She tried to catch a glimpse of her children but the road was now clear and Kate had started speeding down the pavement again. She hurried after her, one hand over her stomach. “Wait, Kate. Can I see the boys?”

Kate stopped, although it was clear by the way her hands gripped the handlebar that they wouldn’t be sitting down for coffee and a chat anytime soon.

“I understand, Katy. Motherhood is no beans.” She started, searching for the right way to put it. The girl, at twenty, had recently become a mother to two babies at once. Any young adult would struggle to cope with this. But for someone who struggled with day-to-day issues that most people would find trivial, she guessed the girl was exhausted. “Let’s go to mine to talk.”

“I’m sorry,” her voice trembled. One of her babies had started crying but it didn’t seem as if she had heard the tot’s cry.

Anu shifted towards the pram. The baby stopped crying when his alert eyes spotted her. She reached for his cheek and stroked it.

The boy had the same tanned colour and short, black curls on his head like his twin brother. She turned her eyes back on their mother with a question in her eyes, the only man she had seen with her was white. A pale-skinned lad who visited her at work in his mechanic’s overalls. She didn’t expect the babies to be mixed race.

“I’m sorry,” Kate repeated. “I slept with him once. Just once. I never meant to do this to your marriage. Please forgive me.”

 

***

 

“You and Kate are friends?” Anu was looking out through the window. At first glance she bore the picture of a wife waiting for her husband. Kanyin knew her well enough to know she wasn’t as composed as she looked.

“Did she sleep with your father? Did you find out? Is that why you and Kate no longer hang out?”

“He wouldn’t do that to you. No way.” Kanyin said. “And you know I wouldn’t support him to do that to you.”

She glanced at her sister where she was in a corner of the room watching Peppa Pig on her IPad. Her head was struggling to cope. She had called her father a few minutes back. After Anu told her what Kate said. At first, she had narrowed her eyes at her stepmother and maintained that the girl’s claims were ridiculous. Until, she remembered seeing her father’s hand on Kate’s waist last year. They were all at Emeka’s house for a barbecue and when she saw them, they were alone and leaning towards each other.  She would have assumed it was all innocent if they hadn’t both started trying to engage her in a conversation whilst at the same time telling her what they were doing in the kitchen. He had claimed to be in search of the Ketchup bottle. She, the kitchen roll.  And then, Kate started making excuses every time they were supposed to meet up. When she announced her pregnancy, the excuses had stopped coming and they had drifted apart.

She walked over to Anu by the window where she was standing with folded arms. “Why don’t you go upstairs and get changed.”

“I want to see my husband…” She turned away as if there was more to say but her mouth wouldn’t voice them. Or perhaps it was because it was Kanyin with her, after all her father was the one that had caused all this heartache and worry.

“He wouldn’t do this to you, I promise. He loves you too much.”

Her father had his faults, his open body language with women and the way he always seemed to be giving them more than the attention required. She had seen the way his female employees like Kaz flirted with him but had assumed that his heart belonged to only one woman.

Anu started heading towards the kitchen.

“Is it coffee you want? Let me make it.”

“No offence. I want to be by myself.”

Moments later, she heard the woman sobbing. She could hear the kettle boiling and rattling of dishes and cutleries but her sobs came through too. The type of painful, heart wrenching sobs that she heard from her Grandma’s room after her grandfather slumped two years ago. To occupy her hands, she picked up Jadesola from the floor and held her close. They were still like this when she heard the door and her father rushed in with the gait of someone whose wife had gone in labour unannounced. Austin followed soon after.

“Where is she?” Her father asked without meeting her eyes.

“Daddy, did you?”

“Where is she Kanyin?”

She pointed to the kitchen door.

Anu wiped her eyes when she heard his voice. She busied herself with getting her carton of skimmed milk out of the fridge, so that when he came in the first thing he saw was her back.

“Baby, hey.”

Placing the milk on the kitchen table, she met him halfway. They embraced, gripping each other, tightly. He murmured something. She was crying again. He cupped her face and wiped her tears.

“I knew you didn’t do it.” Anu wanted to scream at herself. Why couldn’t she stop crying?

He had wrapped his arms around her again so that she couldn’t see his face. His body felt warm. Her JD Sports top and training pants were still damp from her run earlier. Being this close to him felt good but what she wanted was to look into his eyes. She knew him. She would be able to tell.

“You didn’t do it, did you?”

“Aisha, haba.”

“Something must have happened.” She pulled away from him.

“Nothing happened.” He said with a casual shrug. Reaching for the carton of milk on the table, he grabbed it and took his time returning it to the fridge. Then he turned his attention to the cereal bowls in the sink – his daughters’ used bowls which still had bits of cornflakes left in them.

“You slept with her, didn’t you?” He didn’t answer her. He didn’t need to. His hands had paused around one of the bowls. Anu could feel her legs going from underneath her. The dining chair she was leaning on groaned.

Idriss dropped the bowl and rushed to her. “I don’t know what came over me.”

“No! Please, no.”

“It happened once.”

“No. Please don’t do this to me. Take it back.”

 

 

The next part will be posted shortly. Thanks.

 

 

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