//Don’t Kiss Me//
By the time he opened his eyes, Anu had gone. Left without a word passing between them. She had simply stared at him with nothing in her eyes. He wanted to say something to her but his mouth refused to voice it and then he let himself down by shutting his eyes. He had woken with a jolt and a foggy head. It felt as if someone had forced his head under water and left it there for ages before hanging it back on his neck.
The bald doctor was writing in a big file and the nurse with the black scarf was pulling the white bedspread covering him from his chest to his neck. The woman had a black hijab on her head but the loose ends had been tucked in so that it appeared at first like an ordinary headscarf. Her face appeared quite youthful, perhaps because she wore no makeup and he was embarrassed at that moment knowing that she and the other nurses had seen him at his weakest.
The question he wanted an answer to played on his mind. How long had he been like this for?
If Anu had already moved on and gotten herself engaged to a man that supposedly called himself his brother, then Idriss assumed he had been out of it for a while. A year. Perhaps longer.
“How long?” He forced his eyes to meet the doctor’s. “How long have I been in a coma for?”
The man was examining his head whilst his other hand held the file. “You have been in a coma for seven weeks.”
“That’s what the police are trying to find out. All I know is, your friend found you in your house unconscious. Do you remember Brad, your friend?”
Since when did Bradley introduce himself as his friend?
“Yeah.” Idriss answered. He had discovered earlier that it was less painful to answer yes than try to nod. His neck felt as stiff as his body often felt after overtraining. It throbbed every time he swallowed or tried to move it.
“He said he went round to your house because you were not picking up your phone. He was worried because you were expecting him to ring you about something important.”
Idriss realised he had been in the hospital since the night Anu discovered his plan. Since that night when Elicia tried to destroy them and he left, thinking he had lost everything.
“You are lucky to be alive. You were barely hanging on when Brad found you.” The doctor squinted. “We still don’t know how much damage has been done. The injuries you had were consistent with injuries caused by a blunt force object. The police said it was a bottle. Someone wanted you dead. We have a lot of work to do to get you fit and healthy again.”
Idriss muttered a thank you. The man stared at him as if he hadn’t heard him right.
He wished he could make him understand. Even if he could articulate his words that he was just grateful that he hadn’t woken up to a reality where his Aisha had perished, the man would misunderstand him. When he saw her ring – the ring another man had given her – the pain he felt was similar to what it felt like when Elicia shot him in his dream. But seeing her alive healed him. It would kill him seeing her with another man but at least she would be alive.
“Can you send her back in?” He needed to see her. He had questions.
“Your brother is here.” The doctor said. “I have some more tests to do before we send him in.”
“Brother, my brother to bad ju.”
Idriss opened his eyes. He had fallen asleep again. This time he wasn’t sure what scared him more. Meeting his brother or falling into another coma.
He gawked at the man standing in front of him to make sure it was him there.
“Na you be my aburo, abi?”
“I senior you joor.” Emeka said with a broad smile.
He advanced towards the bed and tapped him on the shoulder. Idriss noticed the strength of his beam then. His friend conveyed weeks of worry with one single grin.
“You couldn’t wait for your inheritance abi? I hear say you and Aisha wan marry.” He had decided that Emeka and Anu’s engagement was as bogus as his claim that they were related.
Emeka looked around the room, like someone checking they were really alone. “Bradley told us they would not let us see you because we are not related to you. Shebi, you know these UK laws, nau. We had to come up with a plan. I claimed to be your brother.”
“And you had to give my babe a ring?”
“Your ring. The one you bought for her in Manchester. You don forget?”
Idriss sighed. He remembered how he felt whenever they kissed. He remembered the smell of her hair, the way a few of her plaits came loose and framed her face. But he had known since he came round that there were things missing. Things he had forgotten.
“I didn’t ruin the surprise.” Emeka pulled the chair on the side closer to the bed and sat on it. “She found the ring in your bag and it made sense for us to use it for our plan.”
“Well, she took one look at me and left the room.”
“She is feeling guilty, dude. Anu messed up, no be small.”
“The police arrested Alhaji. They found men’s gloves and a hat that didn’t belong to you a few feet from the house. They said there was no sign of forced entry. And I remembered that you gave the man your spare keys to let your delivery guys into the property three weeks ago.”
It didn’t add up. Alhaji wasn’t that angry to want him dead. Idriss straightened his neck. “Please tell me you didn’t help the police frame Alhaji.”
“Have you forgotten what that man did to you? He threatened you. Abi, you have forgotten? This is how Anu messed up and gave that man an alibi, lying to the police that they were together at home.”
“She did. I was really mad. Ask Ikumapayi. I lost it with her.” Emeka pointed at the pink get well cards on the side table with wife lettered on its front in gold. “Even Elicia has outdone her, coming here every day, cutting Alhaji off.”
He wondered if to ask where Elicia was and changed his mind. How could she have done it? She wouldn’t have been able to lift the bottle the doctor told him his attacker used on him. Even taking the stairs left her out of breath.
“Bradley is here too by the way.” Emeka turned his attention to the cards on the table, rearranged them with one hand. “He and your girl are joined at the hip these days.”
His friend rarely laid down his words in straight lines. It was more like him to dither, skating around subjects with delicateness. He decided to let him be, after all he had to watch him for seven weeks fighting for his life.
“Dude, leave this family before them go finish you o. I don talk my own.”
Emeka had started pacing the room by now. He continued doing this when the nurse with the hijab came in with Anu.
“Can I have a few minutes?” Idriss asked Emeka who had moved out of his vision range.
“I will wait outside, dude.” He left the room without acknowledging Anu.
She stood a few feet from the bed, smiled uneasily and remained quiet even after the nurse had made a note in his file and left the room.
“Do I look that bad Aisha?” He ran his finger through the stubborn bits of hair on his face where their never used to be any hair.
“Sorry.” She shuffled towards the chair, dragged it a couple of feet away from the bed before sitting on it.
He studied her. She was slimmer than he had even known her to be. Her red jacket didn’t fit her perfectly the way it usually did.
“Aisha, I’m sorry. I should have been there with you. What you went through with the baby…”
“It is done now. It wasn’t your fault.”
“I should have been there to support you. We should have kissed her goodbye together.” He would have reached for her hand if she wasn’t sat so far away. It hurt him to see her like this. Sad yet refusing to let her feelings show. She had crept behind that solid wall, the one she hid behind when they first met.
“You know our daughter is alive, don’t you? She is at the neonatal ward downstairs.”
Idriss gawked at her.
“Didn’t Emeka tell you?”
“She is alive?”
“She is a fighter like her father. She is tiny but doing well.” Her face brightened in a warm smile. “I chose Jadesola as her name with my father’s blessing. We had to give her a name because … they didn’t think she would make it. I hope you don’t mind that I gave her your mother’s name?”
“I love it. Thanks.” He stopped there. The emotions bubbling to the surface had overwhelmed him.
She took her phone out of the pocket of her jacket. She tapped on the screen, moved the chair nearer him and showed him the picture of the tiniest baby he had ever seen. Being inside the incubator made her seem really small. Her eyes were alert. Bright. Gaze fiery.
He gasped. He wasn’t sure if to be happy or sad. The child had spent her first few days suffering because of him. “You wouldn’t have had her that early if not for me.”
“I went into early labour because of your stupid wife.” She tapped the phone and slid it back in her pocket. “It happened two weeks ago. I came to see you and she wouldn’t let me see you even though she had been here the whole day. She told the nurses to tell me to go. Emeka who arrived the same time as me agreed with her.”
“She has convinced them all that she loves you.”
“They are just angry because of your father and babe I don’t blame them.”
“He didn’t do it,” Anu snapped. “I know you are hoping he gets locked up for life because you are still angry with him. Yes, I know you Idriss. You can’t wait to punish him.”
“I’m not saying he did it.”
“You just agreed that your friends were right for treating me like dirt.” She stood up, “I was pregnant with your child. I know Emeka was worried about you but I was the pregnant one. I thought I was going to lose my father so I lied to protect him. Aunty Yele was at her flat and there was no one that could prove he was at home.”
“You told the police you were with him?” He reached for her hand but she stepped away from the bed. “I don’t blame you. I’m not angry.”
“I don’t believe you. I know you very well.” She started to walk towards the door. “Bradley is waiting for me. Have got to go.”
“So, that’s it?”
“No, actually.” She came back to where the chair was, stayed on her feet instead of sitting this time. “Bradley said he punched you the day you were attacked.” They heard footsteps from the corridor. She glanced behind her quickly and lowered her voice. “Please don’t tell the police when they come to speak to you.”
She was out before he could say something else. She had been granted her wish – protected someone else. And it was beginning to seem to him as if his Aisha would go out of her way to protect people. She would protect anyone. Anyone but him.
After Emeka left and the nurses started to attend to him, he struggled to be polite. The one with the hijab chatted freely. He listened and grinned here and there. She told him about how they talked to him. How they knew he would come round soon when his sister-in-law arrived two days ago, touched his hand and felt him grip back. He realised the nurse was talking about Anu.
“She came every day,” the nurse said. “She would put your headphones on and select Islamic songs for you. She even went into labour on this ward.”
He thought the frost between them would shift after talking to the police and clearing Alhaji’s name. He was wrong. It was there, noticeable in the way she stood at the door of the NICU ward when he met Jadesola for the first time, in the way she kept turning up with Bradley and her indifference whenever she saw Elicia at his bedside.
‘‘She has had too much to cope with.” Uche reassured him one afternoon when the two came together. Anu had gone to speak to the sister-in-charge then, wanting to know if he was making progress.
The hope that Uche’s words left him with dissipated when Anu announced she had to get back to work soon. He had hoped to get her alone that afternoon. Earlier that day, he had walked half of the way to the lift and although one of the nurses had followed him with a wheelchair, which he eventually collapsed in, he had wanted to tell her this.
Feeling lately, that she was doing too much, he had taken to giving his all to his rehabilitation sessions. Lying about the gaps in his memory and exercising his limbs on his own. He hoped this would help his recovery so that he’d be able to share her responsibilities soon – work and worries about their child.
“Idriss, are you asleep?” Anu asked and proceeded to put her notepad and pen in her bag without waiting for an answer.
They were having a work meeting. As her father had become more involved in the business, she thought it was best to bring him along too. Seeing Idriss’ face when they walked in though, confirmed that it wasn’t the best idea. His mood had set the tone for the rest of the meeting. She stared at him now in his wheelchair in stripy pyjamas, at the side of his head, slightly swollen and darker than the rest.
“I was thinking, not sleeping.” Idriss said. “I nominate Kaz for the team leader job. Do you second me Alhaji?”
“Is your memory that bad?” Anu picked her bag up and would have left the room if her father wasn’t present.
“What did Kaz do?” He asked.
“Nothing that has any bearing on her leadership skills, Alhaji.” Idriss replied without taking his gaze off her. “How can the business grow if you let personal grudges rule your decisions?”
“Last time I checked, I’m still the manager. If it’s all the same with you, I will do this my own way. The proper way!” She focused on him without flinching. The glare of his eyes wouldn’t make her relent. “I will give Kaz the chance to interview for the job, along with external candidates. Are we done here?”
“I’m done,” her father rose. “You should stay Aisha and talk things through with your boss.” He walked to the wheelchair, shook hands with Idriss and hurried out of the room.
“I have asked your dad if I can invest more in the business. Now that my memory is that bad,” he stressed bad and paused as if to make sure she knew why. “I want to concentrate on one or two areas.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.” Anu reclined on the chair. Last night she had spent the night at the neonatal ward with Jadesola. Their baby had an infection. This morning, she woke to news that Jadesola was recovering fine and stiff joints that hurt every time she moved. “Next time let’s do this over the phone. I am busy enough.”
“Aisha, I wanted to see you. Pardon me for my tactics.” He sat up. “I am tired of apologising.”
“Aisha, please. Give me a chance to be in your life again.”
“You are Jadesola’s father.”
“I miss you.”
“Don’t rush off today. Let’s talk.” He rubbed his legs and grinned. “Come with me for my session. The physiotherapist is really impressed with me.”
She forced herself to meet his eyes and saw them twinkle the way they had always done. He hadn’t lost even that small trait. His weight had shrunk but his near death experience hadn’t altered him too much.
Uche told her yesterday that Idriss would think that she wasn’t interested in him anymore because of his flaws. “What flaws?” she had asked without thinking. “The man has HIV. Now brain injury has been added to the mix. He has months, maybe years of recovery ahead of him. Don’t tell me these things don’t matter, girl?”
She had passed on her question. Partly because it was the last thing on her mind but mostly because the changes she had noticed, the subtle changes in his personality were all things that didn’t worry her. It was refreshing at last to see him so patient and forgiving.
“You are smiling. So is that a yes? Aisha?”
Anu heard familiar giggling and stood up. “Elicia is here.” She gave him a scornful look as she picked up her bag.
“She is my wife. I can’t stop her from coming.”
She glared at him whilst struggling to keep her thoughts to herself.
“Hey bae,” Elicia shrilled on her way in.
She swayed about in the maxi dress on her which covered most of her body. With her hair in chubby corn rolls, it became noticeable at once that her conservative look wasn’t an accident.
“Good morning, Auntie.” Anu greeted Auntie Yele who came in with a small basket of green and purple grapes. The woman patted her on the shoulder.
“You need a shave and a hair cut hubby.” Elicia said and caressed his face. Her eyes were on Anu when she bent to him and kissed his cheek.
“Bye Auntie.” Anu started to head to the door.
“Okay, my dear.”
“Bae, wait.” Elicia caught up with her at the door. “I went to see my niece yesterday and the nurses wouldn’t let me in. Can you tell them to let me in today? She is my hubby’s kid, remember.”
“We already have three appointed adults, Idriss, me and Emeka. The hospital won’t let us put another person down. Even, dad is not allowed on the ward without either me or Jadesola’s father there.”
“Bae, tell them I’m her stepmum.” Elicia giggled. “Her sexy, young stepmum.”
Anu continued heading towards the door. “If you really want to see her, you would come with me.”
Elicia concentrated on making the room as attractive as possible whilst Idriss was with his physiotherapist. It wasn’t an easy chore, her mum had not stopped talking since they arrived.
“Eli, I don’t want you to get carried away.” Her mother stopped to pluck a grape from the basket. “He asked you what you would like to do with your life now. That doesn’t mean he wants you back.”
She straightened from the bed she was making. Her mother’s jealousy had a way of coming out through her comments. Even Isoken who abandoned her when Idriss’ money stopped coming would have supported her. She would have given her one of those quick hugs of hers.
“He is not talking of divorce anymore mum. Please be happy for me and him. We are gonna get back together. Stop sabotaging me.”
“What are you talking about? I threw Alhaji under the bus so I could tell the police you were with me the night your husband was attacked. I lied that me and you were at the flat. Shebi, you know this has caused a lot or rows between me and Alhaji.”
“That man is useless mum. You don’t need him anyway. Where was he when I was growing up?” She walked over to her mother and held her from the side. “We will be fine, mum. My hubby will take me back.”
Anu could hear the heels of her knee length boots as she walked to the passenger side of the car to help Idriss out. He waved her hand off and started to fiddle with his belt.
“Thanks Anu,” Emeka said, without leaving the driver’s seat. “I will help him in. Why don’t you go in, put the central heating on and make us all something to eat.”
She returned Emeka’s smile, took the bunch of keys he presented to her and walked round to the boot to get her bags. She hoped Idriss had noticed her new dress. When they were together, the whole five minutes of it, he loved seeing her in dresses that showed her legs.
Inside the house, she went straight into the kitchen and set to work. She had started to season the whole chicken she bought from the Halal butcher when she heard the men’s laughter from the doorway.
Earlier, whilst stroking Jadesola through the access panel of her incubator, she had received a text message from Emeka telling her Idriss had been discharged and asking for her help. She had hesitated at first because she hadn’t seen Idriss for nearly two weeks. And he had stopped asking for her to come in to brief him about the business, dealing with her father or James instead.
Elicia picked up her bag and crept out of Idriss’ room, straight into the room next to his. She swore. How could she not have known that he wouldn’t come back from the hospital on his own?
Reaching for the belt of her leather jacket, she belted it, covering the short, fitted black dress underneath. She would wait. The others would leave soon. He wouldn’t be able to resist her in this dress. Memories of him manhandling her in this dress surfaced and made her smile. Knowing him, he would be choked with excitement on seeing her. She had gathered from eavesdropping on his conversation with Emeka at the hospital that her sister had parted with nothing. Their relationship had gone stale too.
Anu had finished washing the plates and oven dishes when Emeka came in, grinning the way he usually did whenever he needed something. The men had left for Idriss’s bedroom after he finished his meal.
“What’s wrong Emeka?”
“I got him inside the bathroom. I got his things ready and ran out.” He gestured with his hands. “Me, I no wan see bad thing with my eyes.”
“I don’t get you.”
“I think he needs help, Anu. So as your pretend fiancé, I beg you to go and help him. Me and him are not that kind of friends abeg.”
She chuckled, picked up the tea towel and started drying her hands.
“You can even go with Uche for the shopping she wants to go for, on Saturday. Call it… reward.”
“Reward? No, thank you. Three or four visits to each shop at the shopping mall is no reward. Sorry but shopping with your girlfriend is punishment. You will have to grin and bear on Saturday.” The last time she went shopping with Uche, she had thought she would go into early labour. Although, the latter had encouraged her to come with her to take her away from Idriss’ bed at the hospital, she had arrived home with swollen feet and dresses she didn’t need.
Anu found him in his bedroom. Judging by the towel covering him and his wet upper body, she decided he had already had a shower. He appeared to be struggling though, leaning against a wall.
She hurried to his side and helped him to the bed. He grasped her hand when she made to go to the wardrobe.
“I will go to bed now. I’m shattered. Thanks for today.”
“Okay, I will help you take off this towel.” She bent towards him and hesitated. She should have asked him if he could do this himself. Except this was where he wanted her, close to him, teetering on the edge.
“Go on, babe.” He shifted forward. His eyes were holding hers when his neck moved forward.
“Don’t kiss me.” She uncurled her back and tried to wrench her hand from him.
“I wasn’t trying to kiss you. Are you sure you are not the one that wants me to kiss you? I was in my room jeje before you showed up and started trying to strip me.”
“Your friend asked me to come up and help you.”
He narrowed his eyes at her affectionately. She wanted to wipe the smirk off his face but he anticipated her move, pulled her down on the bed beside him.
She wanted to say something. Telling him to stop wasn’t it and she didn’t get a chance anyway because he was kissing her and touching her at the same time. By the time his hands heaved off her boots, her own hands were on his towel.
Elicia’s agony increased with every grunt and each moan. They had been at it for what felt like eternity and her tears would not stop, no matter how much she dabbed at her eyes. She had dug her nails into her legs and drew blood. Anything to distract her mind. It didn’t help.
Unzipping her bag, she found what she was looking for without much effort. Idriss’ gun. Finding it the day she put him in hospital had been a message after all.
Although her back was turned to him, he knew she was happy. His hands were on her waist and despite exhausting himself to satisfy her, he was determined to keep sleep at bay.
“We shouldn’t have, Idriss.”
“Aisha, should I remind you how much you told me you have missed me just now or how you wrapped your legs around me?” He kissed her neck, nibbled her skin softly. “I know you are scared. I know, I don’t deserve a third chance. All I want is a chance to start again. I want to date you. Woo you. Alhaji said its okay when he came to see me yesterday.”
“It feels like the universe is against us. I went through hell when you were unconscious.” She turned to him, holding the duvet to her body. “I thought Jadesola wouldn’t make it. I lost all hope. With you too. And I suffered even more because I’m only your mistress.”
“Don’t call yourself a mistress. I’m all yours. Just give me two weeks. I don’t think we should hurry Elicia. Getting aggressive won’t help either. Let me turn on my charms. She will give me the divorce I want soon. I have already discussed it with Yele and my lawyer. I will make sure she is sorted financially.”
Anu kissed him and ran one hand down his chest. “Come on, let’s get dressed. Emeka will be wondering where we are.”
“Oh, I don’t think he will be wondering anything. I’m sure he heard you calling my name and sprinted out of here.”
They walked hand in hand into the sitting room after getting washed and dressed together. They let go of each other when they came face to face with his wife. She was holding a gun, the same colour of the black of her dress. Yele was sitting on the sofa. Her face was covered with tears and sweat. Apart from glancing at them quickly, her eyes did not shift from her daughter.
“Look who walked in,” Elicia sniggered and aimed her gun at them. “My mother came to finish setting up your plan for me hubby.”
Idriss got in front of Anu. She grabbed his hand and squeezed it tight. “Your mother wants the best for you, that’s why she is here.” He peered outside to check for Emeka and his neighbour’s car whilst rambling on about how much her mother loved her. Yele nodded frequently and Anu supllied the occasional shaky yes to his babble.
“Please, tell her.” Yele spoke up between sobs. “I came because of the money you promised us.”
“I don’t want money.” Elicia screamed and slapped her forehead with her left hand. “I want to kill Anu so that you will come back to me.”
“I won’t let anything happen to you.” Idriss glanced at Anu behind him. She had grabbed hold of his vest. And now that he had seen how scared she was, he didn’t believe he could save her. He had hoped Emeka was outside in his car. He had hoped too that his nosey neighbour would be in but his car wasn’t parked in his driveway.
“Step out of the way hubby or I will shoot you both. I hurt you before and I can do it again.”
Anu howled when she heard the gun go off and Idriss fell to the ground. The force of his fall took her to the ground too. Blood gushed from the wound as she tried to stem it with her bare hands. She shouted for Auntie Yele to get her something to stop the bleeding.
When she looked up, mother and daughter were busy tussling for the gun. They were both screaming, so that when another shot rang out, it took her a while to realise one of them had been shot.
Auntie Yele’s deafening screech confirmed that her daughter had been hit even before her sister fell to the ground.
Emeka squeezed her hand. She was trying to answer the sergeant’s questions but her eyes wouldn’t stop taking her back inside the house. She heard the ambulance purr as it started its engine to race Auntie Yele to the hospital, the woman had collapsed moments earlier. She started to cry so that Emeka had no choice but to hold her against him. He had come back and called the police. By the time the ambulance came, it had been too late. Her sister had already bled to death from the gunshot wound to her stomach.
“I’m sorry about your sister.” The sergeant left them to join the rest of his men inside.
Emeka led her to the ambulance where Idriss was. His shoulder had been bandaged and he was leaning forward.
“He didn’t want to leave without you.” The female paramedic with him said.
Anu got in the ambulance and grabbed hold of the hand he held out.