Heyoo Yarners, wassup? Playing The Game is over but do you realise that only one Grand Prize Winner was announced instead of two? Well nobody is saying anything about it,
abi una tink say we don scam una? or you think we’ve scammed you guys? Nah! We always keep our promises and that’s why the winner of our second grand prize will be announced on the Premiere of ‘ The Winner’ our upcoming serial -I like the sound of that- ‘the winner’ will be announced on the premiere of ‘the winner’.
One more announcement before I serve out today’s meal, an anthology -“Tales From The Other Side”- debuts today and it features 16 supaduba writers that I’m sure you’d enjoy reading from (Of course the A!Team is very well represented).
Download links for the book will be made available very soon – I’m out of time, please do enjoy today’s piece and drop a thought.
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Each step Pero took towards Blackpool Pleasure Beach seemed to require four times the effort it usually did. Her legs felt weighed down as if shackles were ringed round them. Today, she didn’t appreciate the second glances she got from male tourists; the ones with the swollen bellies and the beanpole lookalikes with rucksacks strapped to their backs. She could do without the hectic promenade today. Amidst the bobbing heads and paddling limbs, there was barely any room to move.
Blackpool attracted thousands of visitors on Bank Holidays. She knew this, having lived there since she left Lagos two years ago ‘to make it big’. But she didn’t want Nnamdi to see the cluttered bedsit she’d lived in since Aunty Risi threw her out of her house.
Wearing a nightie that Aunty Risi deemed too transparent the day that Aunty Risi’s son tried to force himself on her.
According to her aunty, she was the Jezebel that tried to seduce her poor teenage son. Aunty Risi decided to overlook the fact that Ken her son was nearly twice Pero’s size at sixteen stone.
A child ran past her, clutching her candy floss. The child’s parents followed her as if they had all hatched from the same pod.
Pero tried to steady the beating in her chest by drawing longer breaths. She slowed her pace. Her jacket was a summer one that barely covered her breasts, yet she felt hot. She wondered what her mother would call what she was doing.
Would she call her a ‘devil’s child’ for selling her body? Or would she call her a prostitute for doing what she’d done for Nnamdi when he had no intention of paying her bride price?
Her mother would never understand that it was her crippling responsibility that drove her to this. Her McDonald’s part-time job stopped stretching beyond her share of the bedsit bills months ago. Extra shifts cover were no longer needed for the restaurant because the staff on maternity leave came back. Pero was left with her two shifts a week at slightly above minimum wage.
She’d taken a cleaning job at the market. Cleaning stalls before the traders arrived to open up. Her income still didn’t stretch enough. It didn’t matter if she munched on cheap salted crisps or buttered bread and walked past the bakery and the butcher’s, head bowed, all she could afford at the end of most months was £65 to send back home for her mother and five siblings.
As soon as she saw Nnamdi’s car she hurried to the Cayman Porsche, thinking that if she hesitated, her doubts might resurface. He had parked on Aylesbury Street just as they agreed.
Pero hesitated when he jumped out of the car. He said a quick ‘hiya’ and then put her bag in his boot. He hurried back and opened the passenger door to let her in. Nnamdi’s wealth of good manners hadn’t surprised her when they met. She’d been told he was well-read and bred. But his good looks, she knew, she would never get used to. It was something he didn’t need on top of everything else. He would still have charmed women without it.
Good looks, fine background, high-flying career -she’d always thought – meant you didn’t need a splodge of good manners on top.
“Are you looking forward to this weekend Pero?” he asked, following his question with a grin that assured her he really wanted to know. She told him she was looking forward to her sleep not being interrupted by the sounds of trains and rides.
He smiled when she told him she wouldn’t miss her guitar-playing-neighbour’s noise at dawn. The first time she heard the man singing, she thought it was a cat having a bad morning.
She noticed his smile was as wide as Peter’s. The day she left for England, Peter had hugged her and told her their dreams were about to come true. Ten months later, Peter was shot dead by the police. He’d been walking home late at night in an area being raided by armed robbers.
Pero blamed herself when it happened. And every time she called home after, she was sure she could hear the accusations in her mother’s sobs. Every time her mother moaned about missing her son, all she could hear was –If only she’d sent them money, Peter wouldn’t have had to walk home that day from the university. He wouldn’t have had to give his last naira notes to his mother for his sibling’s ewedu and eba.
Nnamdi had parked the car before she managed to drag her mind away from home. She followed him into the extended hallway of their immaculate house, begging her eyes not to gape this time- the way they had gaped the last time she was here.
His wife, Camille, was in the kitchen murdering what looked like steaks in a frying pan. She abandoned the steaks and rushed to Pero.
“Darling you are here.” Camille kissed both cheeks before letting her slim hands cradle Pero’s stomach. “How is our baby doing in there?”
Pero didn’t respond quickly, because she was too busy thinking about the good pieces of meat going to waste on the hob. Camille led her into the lounge as Nnamdi rolled up his sleeves and started to rescue his wife’s cooking.
Later on, as Pero tucked into steak and chunky chips, ignoring the bowl of green salad Camille kept pointing at– she hoped the pounds that she’d sent back home last month was still keeping her family fed. Every time she put food in her mouth lately, a picture of her hungry little brother would pop in head.
“We asked you to come and stay here because Nam and I were worried about you,” Camille interrupted Pero’s thoughts.
Her fork was pushing her coleslaw and poached salmon around the plate as if the meal had gone off. Pero wondered if that was how she kept her body trim. Not the twice a week gym sessions. As she covered her mash with peppercorn sauce she noticed Nnamdi watching her. She turned her attention back to his wife.
Her eyes were still probing Pero’s face. “We are grateful you are doing this. We are just worried you are not coping.”
Pero put her knife and fork down. “My friend went missing three weeks ago. I miss her …but I’m not putting your baby at risk…”
“Camille wasn’t saying that,” Nnamdi interrupted. “We just need to do this after everything you’ve done for us, Pero. Stay here with us for the weekend and let us look after you.”
His smile made her feel at ease. She imagined they cared about her and that everything they’d done for her –including all the money they’d put in her account for expenses, because legally that was what they could call it – she imagined it wasn’t because she was carrying their baby.
“You said she went out on a date and didn’t come back.” Camille’s face had that look in her eyes again. The one she had when she asked her questions about her genes.
“Yes,” Pero replied. That was what she’d said to the police when she called them to report her friend missing.
Nel was off to spend the evening with a new client the last time she bade her goodbye. To do what she had done for years to raise money to send back home; sleep with men.
But Nel would not want people to judge her, hence Pero had lied through her teeth when people asked. She told a different lie to Nel’s parents, husband and children when she called them in Port Harcourt to break the news. But it wasn’t exactly a lie.
Nel went off to work and didn’t return.
That night, Pero did not sleep. Her belly- a huge reminder that she could not retrace her steps- kept her awake. The baby kicked most of the night as if it could sense her distress.
When Nel told her that a friend of a client – a fertility doctor – was looking for a young surrogate to carry a couple’s baby, she hadn’t paid much attention. She was amused then horrified when Nel broached the subject the next day and asked her this time if she would consider been a surrogate.
Whilst she tore spinach leaves for their supper Nel explained that the couple –a mixed-race husband and his black British wife- would like a black woman to carry their child. But none of the licensed surrogate’s profiles appealed to them at the clinic. All she would be expected to contribute were her ‘eggs’ and ‘womb’. Nothing else.
Perhaps it was because her friend kept singing in a low tone about how she would be able to relocate to Nigeria with the money she could get. Or perhaps it was because her little brother took ill with typhoid fever that she agreed to meet Nel’s doctor friend. What she’d been unprepared for was seeing Camille and Nnamdi at the doctor’s office. She watched Camille’s glossed lips and the way she moved her manicured fingers in the air as she spoke, telling her how much she and her husband would like a child. And all she could think of was how soon she could get out of the office and its sanitised air.
It wasn’t until Nnamdi started speaking, saying how much he would love to show his child the towns and villages he’d visited with his parents in Nigeria, that she started to empathise with them.
Following several tests and more meetings with the couple, she signed the contract with a trembling hand.
The day of the insemination, Camille and Nnamdi picked her up for the procedure at the clinic. Although, it was Camille that did all the talking afterwards, a couple of times her eyes met his in the rear-view mirror. She wondered then what was going through his mind. Words lain unspoken between them for a while after.
Despite all the running and sit-ups she’d done in the hope that the procedure would fail, it was successful. And while Camille hugged her and shed tears, he still didn’t say much apart from ‘thank you’. But she’d known then that he was far more grateful than his words conveyed.
It was on Saturday night that she discovered he smoked. She’d gone to find him with the mug of strawberry tea that his wife made him. He was in front of the garage, leaning on the shutters.
“I will give up when the baby arrives,” Nnamdi said. The glint of his eyes was barely visible behind the smoke that danced around for a while before the thin wisps dissolved in the autumn air. He stubbed out the cigarette and accepted the mug from her.
She was about to leave him to it when he asked if Nel was a ‘professional companion for men.’ The way he voiced his question was polite, so polite that she found herself telling him the truth. She raised her brows when he said he could understand how the dire economic situations in Nigeria could have driven her to it.
“My cousin lives in Lagos. He tells me how hard it is.”
She had wondered then where his cousin lived in Lagos, and if his problem was that he had to drive through the pot-hole-ridden roads and traffic of inner Lagos to get to his mansion in Ikoyi.
“I’m not sure you understand.” Pero’s words trailed off, her eyes taking in the arrangement of the houses on the close, with their trimmed lawns and tarmac driveways.
“You look at me as if I’m from another planet.”
Pero did nothing to hide the expression on her face. Her family were the ones who hadn’t had it easy. Her father slumped following a blow he received to the head, courtesy of their irate landlord. The latter was only owed two month’s rent. The manslaughter case didn’t reach court. Some said their landlord bribed the police to lose the case file. Some said it was her father’s brothers he bribed to drop the case.
Her family had thought they knew what poverty was before his demise. They were wrong. Shortly after, her mother’s stall by the roadside close to their new home was demolished by officers of the Lagos State Government.
“Have you ever wondered why my parents are black and I’m mixed race?” Nnamdi chose that time to interrupt her. He plonked his mug on the top of a deceased plant-bulb.
“My parents separated after they moved down here from Enugu. Mum moved on pretty quickly with an Irish man. When Dad came back to ask Mum for another chance, she had no idea she was already pregnant… so she thought I was his until I was born.”
“What did your father do?” She felt she had to say something. Ask something.
“He agreed to raise me as his own. My biological father had already gone back to Ireland.” He rubbed his palms together, his eyes still holding hers. “My Dad forgave my mum, but I was never made to feel like his son.” A chuckle punctuated his last word. “I think it would have been impossible anyway, physically. I have fair skin and hazel eyes. My father is really dark. A fact my school mates had plenty of questions about.”
“I had to work whilst attending uni. My brother didn’t. I was told to live in the university campus. It would help me become more independent. My brother lived at home until a month before his wedding day. But I didn’t let having a father that couldn’t be my father affect me…I got my stuff together and made it on my own.”
She moved closer to him and hesitated, unsure of what the protocol was when it came to patting men on the back.
Pero was about to apologise for judging him when the baby kicked.
“May I?”he asked as soon as she’d blurted it out.
She was still thinking about it when he placed his outstretched palm on her stomach. Their eyes- his hazel and happy and hers brown and happy – met as the baby kicked again.
Pero was taken aback by his happiness, so that when he heaved forward and kissed her, it took more than a few seconds before she realised what he was doing.
She let him kiss her. But it was her body, not her mind that responded to the hand that pulled her closer.He tasted fruity.
Her back was on the shutters, his slim body on her right. One hand stroked the side of her pregnancy bump, the other her thighs. His lips were on her neck when he said her name. It sounded more like a question than a moan.
Pero realised he found her attractive. She’d seen his eyes straying to her face a few times before. But they couldn’t do that to Camille. She remembered how Camille showed her teenage photos of herself. Photos taken before she had urgent total hysterectomy aged nineteen to prevent cervical cancer from killing her.
Although, she was the one who pushed him away, he was the one that apologised before hurrying back into the house.
Pero stood there for ages after he walked away. She knew she was to blame. Or was it her hands that didn’t push him away quickly enough? When he touched her, he’d woken up feelings that only Taiwo had ever made her feel. Before she left the country, Taiwo her boyfriend had written to her saying ‘goodbye.’
She had walked down to his shared flat that afternoon and insisted that once she reached the UK, she would save up and he would join her. His reply had been short but thoughtful.
“Pero you have two brothers, four sisters and a sickly mother to think of when you get over there. I have seven sisters myself to support on a teaching salary. Let me not add my own wahala to yours baby.”
But here she was, heaping more issues on her supple shoulders. Although, nothing told her Nnamdi saw her as more than a vessel to sprout the saviour of his lineage, she had started to feel something for him. Something she couldn’t name.
Wake up you stupid girl, she told herself as she walked to the back of the house. Pregnancy hormones had clouded her brain. A temporary madness. The kitchen door was unlocked. She walked into the house quietly, intending to creep upstairs to the guest room. But then the kitchen door made a squeaky sound as she made her way in.
“Pee darling, is that you.”
Camille’s voice came from the lounge. Today, she didn’t feel the slight irritation that usually accompanied Camille’s shouts of Pee. She shuddered at the thought of what the baby’s name would be shortened to. Nnamdi had hinted that his parents would be giving the baby a significant Igbo name.
When she walked into the lounge, they were sat together. His eyes didn’t meet Pero’s when Camille asked where she went.
He shuffled closer to his wife. “It was my fault babe…”
“I went for a short walk.” Pero interrupted after deciding he looked too guilty to be allowed to speak. His face was like that of a criminal ready to confess everything.
She had thought he would be able to handle it. That a man like him would have done wrong or come close to doing wrong before.
Tucked behind the locked door of the guest room, she paced the rugged floor.She was wondering when Camille would come into the room to throw her out when her waters broke. In the hospital, she avoided the gas and air so that she wouldn’t blurt out their secret to Camille. But later on, as they cooed and aahed over their baby and the nurse tried to get her to breastfeed their son, Camille didn’t want to let go.
And much later, when Camille thanked her with tears in her eyes and a smile that creased her brows, she wondered if she knew.
When the hospital discharged her and the baby, she’d expected they would let her come home with them. But they dropped her off at the bedsit instead.
Nothing prepared her for the emptiness that gripped her. They had all said all she would contribute would be her eggs and womb. Nothing else. They told her too she wouldn’t miss what she didn’t want. They forgot to tell her that every time her breasts leaked milk, she would feel as if someone was ripping something precious away from her and she would cry all over again. That even when Nnamdi called to check on her and see if she needed him to do her food shopping the call would leave her feeling raw, angry. Used. And that when his doctor-friend turned up with groceries, painkillers and ointment on Thursday, she would leave the shopping untouched after he left. Wanting to feel physical pain for a bit longer. It was better than the pain ripping her heart to fragments.
Logging into her bank account later and seeing they had put the rest of what they owed her into her current account didn’t put a smile on her face. A faint smile came days later when she sent the money home and her mother called in tears to thank her. To thank her for ensuring that her brother and sisters wouldn’t have to miss breakfast and lunch again. And that Kemi, her immediate sister would be able to enrol at the university. But it was the news that her mother would be starting a catering business with Mama Akpan with the leftover that thrilled her most.
It wasn’t until the day they had to register the baby’s birth that she saw Nnamdi, Camille and their son again. They had named him Kelechi. She went in to the registry office with Nnamdi to sign the birth certificate and that was when she asked if their son was being looked after.
“Yeah, he is Pero. And I know Camille is keeping him all to herself for now, but she is grateful for what you did. We both are. We would make sure he knows you when he grows up.”
“But I’m also sorry,” he added, without meeting her eyes.
Pero realised then that her son- their son – would be fine. Perhaps Camille changed towards her because she wanted her son to know only one mother.
The next time she saw him was four weeks later when he darkened the door of her bedsit with the parental order form he wanted her to sign. She had turned the form round, expecting it to be more than a page because surely signing one’s child away would need more than a few lines.
Days later, she walked down to the family court with the document. For a lawyer, she thought he seemed uneasy in the court room. She didn’t look at him as she signed the paper. And later, when he dropped her off on her street and asked when she was going back to Nigeria, she told him next month.
As she walked away from the car, cradling the photo of their son that he’d given her, she reassured herself it wasn’t a lie. She had decided not to go back to Nigeria because she knew she couldn’t just tuck her almost flat stomach into her jeans and embrace the life she once knew. Instead, she would go down South or East but not home. Not just yet.
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