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*).
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For now, enjoy our feature presentation, ‘Playing The Love Game’.
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//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.”
“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 moin–moin 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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