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//Revelations And Trepidation//
Anu didn’t expect her stepdaughter to be full of smiles when she came back from work. She was surprised that her door key didn’t work but did not expect Kanyin to come to the door and then refuse to let her in. When she demanded to see her daughter, Kanyin asked her to wait for their father to come back.
“She is not mine to handover to anyone.” She told her and slammed the door shut.
In her father’s house, she filled the bath tub and let the day’s events back in her head. Heat radiated through her and the fragrant smell of the soap in the water stayed in the air. Normally the heat of the water would soothe her aches and calm the mental ones. She would usually drift off to sleep and be woken up by her husband, his hand between her legs.
She wished she had stayed with him this morning. At least she wouldn’t have had to endure the unfriendly behaviour of Bradley’s mother and his cousin’s awkward silence. As Bradley –who had stomach surgery last night – kept drifting in and out of sleep, she had to endure it on her own.
She tried not to think of the text message her husband sent this afternoon. Short, cold and straight to the point.
You will need a solicitor soon. I want a divorce. I want you to buy me out of the agency.
She couldn’t afford to buy his share of the agency. Not even if she sold her father’s house. The houses in Ibadan where her uncle and his families lived were not considered. Despite her father’s intentions, she didn’t consider his houses in Nigeria where his brother, his wives and children saw as home as hers.
Shortly before her wedding, her father managed to persuade Idriss to sell five percent of his share of the business to Chief Agbaje, her father’s friend. This put her husband and her father at an almost equal footing with Idriss leading with his fifty five per cent. It benefited both parties as Chief Agbaje’s interest did not go beyond attending board meetings and receiving quarterly cheques. Although Anu spoke to her father before the transaction, telling him there was no need to worry about her, she let the men go ahead with their plans. Idriss told her he needed to please her father. Her father told her he wanted to protect her.
Speaking to Chief Agbaje when he phoned her at work to ask why Idriss wanted out of the business, Anu could hear the scorn in his voice. A clear, mocking scorn that made her conclude that he would never support her against her husband.
“You women here think just because you live in this country, you can forget what your elders taught you. Is that not how it is Anu? You think because you are so successful, you don’t need a husband. You think you can disrespect your husband because another woman tricked him and he made a small mistake.”
She held on to the receiver tightly and spoke in a lowered tone out of respect for him and to prevent her staff from hearing her. “Did he tell you what he did, uncle?”
“Yes, he did. He told me God blessed him with two sons. And instead of you to treat those kids like yours, I’m surprised you don’t want to forgive him. Why can’t you go and buy gold necklaces and earrings from those Dubai traders? Let your husband pay for it. This is what Iya Bukky does when those olofofo friends of hers see me with Ada. Don’t mind them o, Ada is just a university girl that I like advising so she won’t make mistakes in life. So, you hear me, apologise to your husband when he gets back home. Stubbornness doesn’t help. Punish him small and you will feel better.”
She lessened her grip on the receiver. Her husband did not mention Bradley and what she did with him.
“I don’t have the money that we will need for his share. Iya Bukky is draining me. Apologise to your husband and be a better wife. If you are a good wife, your husband will not look elsewhere.”
Anu was on the sofa later that evening, staring at her phone and contemplating ringing her husband when the doorbell rang. From the front window in the main sitting room, she saw Emeka’s BMW.
He was silent as she let him in, dressed in the type of formal suits she had seen him in during his work hours. She fastened her white, silk dressing gown whilst he settled himself on the same spot she occupied earlier.
“Can I get you something to drink?”
“No, thanks.” He glanced at his watch. “I have a big meeting at work tomorrow.”
“Okay. So, what can I do for you?” With him it was better to be more direct. He tended to, dither during important discussions, except when he and her husband were having a conversation.
“On Sunday, Idriss did something I never expected from someone like him.”
She sat on the edge of the sofa.
“He asked me to come with him to Kate’s house. You know she lives with her mother?”
“Kate is not coping with the twins. She has said she wouldn’t mind if the boys came to live with you. Well, on Sunday, Idriss begged Kate’s mother to be the children’s guardian. He wanted the children to leave with her permanently.”
“I don’t see him doing that. He loves his sons.”
“He did it because of you. He said it wouldn’t be fair to expect you to raise them.”
“I don’t understand.”
“He thinks it will help the issues between you too. How can you forgive him when the end-result of his betrayal are living in your house? He put you first … before his children.”
Anu folded her arms around herself the way she did whenever the temperature turned suddenly.
“The woman said she can’t do it anyway. She is battling terminal cancer.”
This was news to her. Kate’s mother had always seemed strong to her. Dropping her daughter off at work before racing to her gym instructor job down the road from them at Aspire.
“He didn’t arrange for Bradley to be beaten up by the way.”
“I heard him when he came back telling Ikumapayi he knows what to do to a bastard.”
“That conversation would have been about Bayo. Kanyin told Ikumapayi, Bayo has been hassling her, ringing and messaging her all the time. Unfortunately, Ikumapayi couldn’t get anywhere near Bayo on Sunday night. He had two big heavyweights with him. One of them had a gun. Iku had to get the hell outa there.”
She chided herself for not pushing her stepdaughter to talk to her. And for ignoring her own anxieties every time she saw Bayo. There was something about him, something that made her believe the flashiness of his cars and grins hid a dark side he wanted hidden.
“I let her down.”
Emeka shifted closer to her. “No, you didn’t. You will all be fine. Give it time.”
“Everything is falling apart. We were all so happy not long ago.” She included him and Uche in her statement. He fell into an awkward silence but his face showed that he didn’t mind her bringing it up. She caught evident anguish on his face, also. Talking about it hurt him as much as it hurt her. “Can you not give your relationship another go? You haven’t hurt each other like we have.”
“I don’t love her anymore. Isn’t it better to break up now than to keep faking it? I was wrong not to tell her a long time ago. I kept hoping to get the fire back.”
“How do you expect her to bounce back from this? Four years, she waited for you.”
“I didn’t plan this, nau.” He sighed heavily and linked fingers from both hands. “This is why it took me so long to admit the truth to myself. When I told my family, I wanted out of the relationship, they were devastated. Uche is one in a million. Mama loves her, I swear.”
“Why didn’t you tell her yourself?”
“Na Lotachi’s meddling put me for this double wahala. She thought I had already spoken to Uche. So she called her up wanting to commiserate with her. I’m a fool. Big time.”
“Go easy on yourself.”
“This is better than divorce, sha. And … in time, I hope she finds someone that can give her what I couldn’t. Someone that will make her realise she deserves to be loved. A man that will make her believe love is beautiful. No one should live life without experiencing its goodness.”
Anu realised as she observed the eagerness he finished each sentence with, that Uche’s pain was about to get worse. Emeka had fallen for someone. She knew him well enough to know he would wait for Uche to accept their relationship had definitely ended before doing anything about it. Yet, learning he wanted someone else when he could have been with Uche would double her heartache.
Kanyin was on the way back from the shop having bought sweets and chocolates for her sister when she saw Emeka coming out of Anu’s house. They didn’t see her. They were too engrossed in their chat, Emeka’s eyes lingering when he said goodnight.
Kanyin passed the chocolates and sweets to Jadesola and joined Austin who was serving chicken noodle stir-fry into two bowls on the table.
“How does my stepmum attract men even when it is clear she is just a user?”
“Some men like the challenge. The… I don’t need a man act is a turn on, I guess.” He picked up two forks from the cutlery tray and passed her one. “Your sister is missing her mummy by the way. She didn’t even finish her chicken nuggets.”
“I don’t care.” She placed her fork down watching Austin tuck into his meal with familiar urgency. He slowed down when he caught her staring.
“That woman is something else, Austin. I just saw Emeka coming out of her house. At this time of the night!”
“I’m sure she won’t do anything with her husband’s friend. Even if Emeka wants to.”
She observed the way he fixed his eyes on his stir-fry. “You better squeal if you know something.”
“Your father pays me to work for him not squeal to you.”
“I thought we were friends.”
He placed his bowl on the table, poured himself some orange juice from the fridge and drank it slowly.
“Austin, if you don’t hurry up and start talking, I will… I…”
“What are you going to do? Force it out of me.” He smiled and trailed off.
The smile, a beautiful, bright one sat well on his features. Nkem’s eyes were definitely working when she called him “a good catch.”
“Once I overheard Ikumapayi telling Emeka not to dare go after a babe saying, Idriss will kill you if you go near her. Emeka then shook his head and said, I no go even try am.”
“You think they were talking about Anu?”
“At first, I thought they were talking about Kate.”
“Daddy doesn’t care about Kate like that.”
“Those guys are close. What would possess Emeka to go after his best friend’s wife?”
“He is a man, is he not?”
“I know Bayo and you have cooled things off,” he said. “Knowing him, he messed up. I am not like that, sha. My point is not all men are jerks.”
“Let me take my sister to bed.”
“Are you not going to eat your food?”
“Later. Please put it in the microwave.”
Her appetite was yet to return. Although Bayo had not contacted her since the last time she saw him, her mind and body would not go back to what they once were. Not even after she called her father and asked for permission for the door locks to be changed. He didn’t question her, sending one of his Aspire repair men to do the job within the hour.
Thankfully, changing the door locks prevented Anu from getting in two days later when she tried again. Kanyin ignored the knocks on the door and turned the TV volume up. Kanyin sighed when the knocks stopped.
Tired of relying on her stepmother, she decided on the morning that she chose Bradley over them, never to trust her again. The house was quiet that morning and perhaps if her father and stepmother knew she could hear them from her bedroom, the outcome of their row would have been different. Kanyin had been looking forward to revealing her ordeal to her stepmother, having decided not to bear her pain by herself anymore.
Her father was fuming when he arrived the following day. Anu soon followed.
“What is this I hear about you disrespecting my wife, Kanyinsola? I went to Aspire and she told me she hasn’t seen her daughter in four days. Iretioluwa, what came over you?”
She ignored him. Angered about his decision to go and see his adulterous wife when he could have come home to his daughters.
“You are lucky it is Aisha you did this to. Most mothers would have pulled every strand of hair from your scalp.”
Jadesola ran out with her doll from the conservatory room. She hugged her mother and then their father, settling in her mother’s arms.
“Miss you, Mama,” Jadesola whimpered as if she hadn’t spent the past few days, playing and eating her favourites.
They went upstairs together. She followed them a while later carrying her legs slowly on the stairs.
The door was partly open. Her sister was playing with her doll, sitting on the bed beside her mother.
“We need to sort this out.” Her stepmother said in strained Yoruba. She spoke Yoruba the way her grandmother’s driver did, usually switching back to English when speaking to either Kanyin or her father. With others, especially her father’s friends she tended to stick to whatever they started their conversation with.
“We can’t keep doing this, Idriss.”
“I know you want out.” Her father moved from the window and sat on his lounger. “I can’t divorce you right now.”
“I spoke to someone. He said getting a divorce now might affect my case if I try to seek legal custody of Bashir and Abdul.”
“You want to take the twins away from Kate?”
“I’m worried, Aisha. She is trying but her mother who normally helps her is not well.”
“So? You can continue to do your bit.”
“The thing is… Kate said her boyfriend would like them to move to Wales. I can’t let that happen.” He got up and joined her on the bed. “This is why I need you. To the outside world, we will look solid. In our hearts, we know it is done. You don’t have to share my bed anymore. When we get the divorce sorted, you can have the whole of Aspire. I will pay Chief off for his five percent. I will also give you anything else you want.”
The sun was shining bright outside when Kanyin woke up. Last night, when she packed a small bag and left her father’s house, she intended to go to Nkem’s to stay with her.
She watched them act like a normal couple for several days, going to work together and holding hands. At night, her stepmother returned home. When she could not bear it anymore, Kanyin walked through the door ignoring her stepmother’s, “Princess, where are you going.”
On her way to the train station, she spotted a black car trailing her. She had seen the car when she left the house.
Feeling safer at the train station amongst commuters on their way back from work, she called her father and told him what she thought of his marriage. She didn’t plan to come back to his house. He paused a lot as he spoke, controlling the irritation that she heard in his voice.
“I will send someone over to pick you up,” he said. “We can talk about this moving out business tomorrow, I’m miles away. Please wait in a crowded area, it is dark out there. Love you, kiddo.”
When Emeka came for her and took her to his house, she was relieved that he didn’t take her back to her father’s house.
She fell asleep at dawn and when her eyes peeled open, decided to get some more sleep. Her eyes were half-closed when the door opened. She leapt up in bed before she saw his face.
“Sorry,” Emeka looked alarmed. “I didn’t mean to make you jump. I came to ask what you want for breakfast.”
Kanyin pulled the blanket to her chin despite having her thick, long pyjamas on. He was dressed in jeans and a tee-shirt, standing by the door. “Why are you not at work? You said you are working today.”
“I work from home at times. Are you okay?”
“Yes. Apart from you standing right there.”
“There is no need to be scared of me.”
“I’m not scared of you. I just don’t want to be in the same room with a man who likes my stepmother.”
His eyes widened. “I like your stepmother?”
“Austin heard you talking about your feelings for someone connected to my father.”
“Well, you got it all wrong. You are way off the mark. It isn’t Anu I like…” He began to say and then as if he decided against it, shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. All you need to know is I don’t have feelings for my friend’s wife. No way!”
“You men are all the same. Taking what is not yours. You are as bad as Bayo.”
He was watching her now, making her uncomfortable.
“Please, can I go back to sleep. I don’t want your breakfast.”
He walked towards the bed and went down on the rug. He rested his back on the wall but his eyes stayed on her. She hated the way he kept staring at her like someone who cared.
“The last time I saw a woman as scared as you was when my friend was attacked by a guy she turned down.”
“Please, leave me alone.”
“Why are you so scared, Kanyinsola? Why are you not at school?”
“Is it because Bayo attacked you? Is it because he forced you?”
“Leave me alone.” Kanyin screamed and started to cry.
Emeka got on the bed with her and held her. She didn’t feel the need to get away from him. She felt instead, a strong overpowering emotion that was stronger than the one that nearly broke her heart in two on that night. She let go and cried.
Idriss’ morning did not start well. Following a call from Kate last night claiming Bashir’s crying would not let poorly Abdul sleep, he had driven round to pick up his son. There, he noticed the washed-out colour of Anwen, Kate’s mother. Clad in multiple layers, she still managed to look gaunt. He knew she didn’t have long. And it scared him to think of Kate on her own, with his sons knowing how much Anwen did for them.
This morning the inevitable call asking for Abdul to be picked up came. Kate’s distress was clear on the phone. Her mother had taken ill overnight. Leaving Bashir home with Austin, he drove back to Malcolm Street. He dropped his boys’ mother and their spluttering grandmother at the hospital before bringing his other son home.
Having settled Abdul next to his brother in their cot, he thought he could get some more sleep and would have, if Anu didn’t text to ask him to take over her viewing appointment.
Please, I feel sick. I think I’m coming down with something. I can’t cancel this appointment. The client is David Kray and you know how busy he is. Bring Jadesola here, I will look after her.
That was how he abandoned thoughts of Refiloe and her big hips and hopped into the shower.
In the shower, her full figure appeared and dissolved under the ripples of soap bubbles and the gushing water. The same way she frequented between pleasant and discourteous when they met.
He was on his way to London and had stopped at the Ribble Greaves headquarters to pick up some documents and so was not prepared to deal with a client that didn’t understand their office hours were from nine in the morning.
“You might as well attend to me, Idris or whatever you say your name is,” she had stated with the same type of tone his wife sometimes used with a former office temp that worked for them. The temp loved working three days and taking two off every week. The three days she attended for were spent on Facebook and propositioning every man that walked through the door.
“It is Idriss,” he told the woman, trying to stay calm. He hated the customer service part of his job. The part requiring him to be pleasant to people. “I’m not actually here at the moment. Please come back at nine when our agents will be here.”
“I will be in bed, then. I’m on night shifts this week.” She planted her hands on her hips. “Please, this is the first time I’m trying this property business and I’m clueless. A friend of a friend told me you guys are the best.”
He looked at her properly then and was taken aback by her beauty: The contrast in colour of the black of her eyes and her light skin colour, the rosy lipstick on her lips that suited her flushed cheeks and the way she tilted her neck up like someone who wasn’t scared of anything.
She stood almost as tall as him with a full, toned body that gave her a regal presence and prevented her from appearing too tall. Her breasts alone were not the type he’d had the pleasure of fondling before. They were beckoning at him, bursting out of her sleeveless blouse. Right there in front of her, he imagined his mouth on her breasts, teasing her.
“Can I call you Reffy?” He had asked.
“No,” she replied. “But you can come and check out my investment right now and let me know if to make an offer or keep looking.”
That was how he spent an hour of his time, going to Reffy’s intended property with her and advising her how much of an offer to make. She wasn’t like the type of women he had gone for before. Her determined approach reminded him too much of his wife – another one he never imagined himself with before they got together.
The difference between them was subtle. Whilst Anu tended to be more tactful with her opinions, favouring diplomatic techniques and sometimes softening up for loved ones, Reffy’s approach appeared more forceful.
Calling her twice from London, the blunt “I’m at work,” response did not surprise him. He expected it. Welcomed it. What would be the point of chasing her if she acted like women of his past? The ones who called first and hounded him. So his interest soared. Until Uche called and asked if he had seen her colleague she sent to the agency. Reffy and Uche’s flat mate were close friends. And when Reffy who often slept over at the girls’ flat needed an estate agency, Uche directed her to Aspire.
He decided that Reffy would have to remain a fantasy in his head. He could never hurt Anu again. Even if she didn’t want him anymore, dating a friend of her friend wasn’t something he could do to her.
As he dressed himself in the bedroom, two text messages came in for him. One from Reffy asking him to ring her. The other from Anu asking how long he would be. He deleted the message from Reffy and finished dressing up. He could hear Aleska letting herself in and a Polish song renting the air as she made her way to Jadesola’s bedroom. He took an envelope filled with money out of the safe, sprayed a bit of cologne on himself, pocketed his phone and met Aleska in his daughter’s room.
He passed the envelope to Aleska. “Thanks for coming in on a Sunday. The boys are in my room.”
“Thanks. You are so nice.” Aleska’s big smile crossed the boundary between professional and personal as usual.
He kissed his sleeping daughter’s head and left the room. Minutes after, he let himself in his father-in-law’s house. His wife was leaning on the kitchen table, one palm on her head, the other hand on her stomach.
“What is it, Aisha?” He led her into the main sitting room, to the settee where a flattened pillow and frayed blanket were. “Why didn’t you say you were this bad?”
“It is flu. Nothing to worry about.”
She was avoiding his eyes. He knew why.
She didn’t want him knowing what she was thinking. The same reason why he sighed after settling beside her.
“I have infected you, abi?”
“You have HIV. We need to take you to the hospital, so you can be tested.”
“I’m fine. It is just a cold or flu.” She covered her mouth and coughed. “Please get me some water. Then I can tell you about this property David Kray wants to buy.”
“Is it not the house on Warrington Close?”
“It’s a gorgeous barn conversion set in a glorious part of Chesick with five ample size bedrooms. The garden at the back is stunning and the area itself is favoured by celebrities.”
“I know the drill. I will sell it to him.”
“Turn on the charm. I want this property off our list. I don’t know why it won’t sell because it is a beautiful house with character. Modern, yet retaining its original features.”
He grinned and shook his head as he headed into the kitchen. His wife talked about houses as if they were covered in gold.
He washed his hands and tore off a piece of kitchen roll to clean his hands with. Without asking, he had decided to make her a piece of toast with some margarine and jam. As much as her stubbornness often angered him, seeing her like this also tore him to bits. His love for her helped him beat dark times not long ago. He gave up when the doctor labelled him as ill. Anu didn’t let him wallow. She didn’t look at him with pity in her eyes. She propped him up and told him to continue living.
But he saw the messages on her phone. The ones from Bradley that she didn’t tell him about after they promised to walk away from their indiscretions. Coupling that with trying to understand why his would wife cheat. She had never been the sort to give herself willingly to a man and he kept wondering if it would have happened if Bradley wasn’t that man. And then the morning she found out Bradley had been hurt, seeing her so upset and worried for Bradley, triggered his suppressed insecurities.
He pushed the lever of the bin down and was about to throw the kitchen paper in when he caught the sight of a discarded item in the bin. With shaky hands, he picked it up and took it to his wife. She got up from the settee when she saw him.
Idriss placed the pregnancy test kit on the table. The two big ticks on the stick informed him there was no need to ask if she read the result wrong. Otherwise, he would have asked. It would have given him something to do. Something to stop him from shouting at her. “Please, tell me the baby is not his? Tell me you used something? Anu!”
“I don’t know. Okay? I was too drunk… and I assumed he did…”
He dropped the kit and hurried out of the room. His phone was ringing. It was Emeka again. He missed his calls whilst in the shower and although he didn’t feel like speaking to anyone, he needed complete silence to be able to cope with his wife’s news.
“Dude, I can’t talk right now.” He said, opening the main kitchen window to let in some air. “Not now.”
Emeka didn’t stop talking. He uttered the words that made him wish he hadn’t woken up that morning.
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