Playing The Love Game
This episode is dedicated to a very creative lady, Shughar, whose birthday is today. I remember how you welcomed me to the blog with your comments. Thanks for your consistency. Happy birthday from all of us. Have a fabulous day.
For previous episodes – click here
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//The One With The Men//
His hands were underneath her top when it happened, Bayo’s face next to hers, his body pinning her down.
Kanyin fled the room. Tucked in Emeka’s bedroom, on his bed, the tears started. She was wiping her face, trying to stop her body trembling and control her breathing when Emeka appeared in the doorway.
“Can I come in?”
She shrugged and returned to wiping her face. He came in and sat on the bed, though not too close to her. She wasn’t sure if she wanted him next to her or away from her. Seeing Bayo’s face again left her not knowing what to do with herself. She thought she was free of him when the nightmares stopped and even told Anu that she didn’t need a therapist anymore.
“I’m sorry, I should have stopped it.” Emeka said. “We shouldn’t have kissed…”
“I can’t get him out of my head.”
“And I’m making things worse.”
“Why can’t I move on from this? Why can’t I be free?”
“It is too soon.”
“I don’t want to be weak.”
“You are not weak.” He shifted towards her, stopping next to her. He didn’t touch her, placing his hand between them instead. “You are a brave girl. I’m in awe of you.”
She shook her head.
“I’m. Please don’t punish yourself. Give yourself time to heal.”
“And what kind of man will want to be with me when I freak out whenever we kiss?”
“A man that truly loves you.” He gazed at her and seeming to realise who she was to him, shrugged. He straightened and zipped up his jacket. “Let’s forget what happened. I can be there for you for as long as you need. Truthfully, I can’t see myself taking advantage of you.”
“You are a man. You men have … needs.”
“Which isn’t really important. What is the point of rushing towards what you are not ready for? If you wait, then you are less likely to have regrets. You have been through enough. I wouldn’t want to add to it.”
She remembered how Nkem told her Emeka could be one of those men who practised pure love. Men capable of separating desire from love. Skilled in the art of controlling themselves.
“Does that mean we can see how this thing between us will go?” She asked and endured waiting for an answer from him.
He stood up and walked away from her. She buttoned up her gillet top and flattened it down her middle.
“Let’s give it time. When you are better and I feel able to face your father and one young man has not snatched you up, then we should talk about us. If how we feel is real, time will not ruin it.”
“Really? You think you can face my father?”
“If you promise me, you will not look at another man when I’m gone, then yes. I will face him and take the beating.” He walked over to her and helped her up. “I hope you know I’m not going to rush. I intend to take my time.”
“You are such a coward.”
“I know. Come on, let me take you home.”
Anu did not sit even after Bradley repeated his offer. She watched him, voice faltering, eyes avoiding hers and decided that she had been right for asking Kaz to wait for her. She came in after Bayo drove off. She didn’t knock. She would have made holes in his door if she had.
“I saw Bayo. I saw him come in here. Please tell me it isn’t what I’m thinking.”
He was pouring himself whisky from the cabinet. He drank it and poured himself another. Face flushed, he faced her. “Do you want a drink?”
“I might just throw it at you.”
“Come on beautiful, it isn’t what you think.”
“Then tell me what the hell it is then? Now, Brad.”
“He is blackmailing me. Forcing me to give him information about you and Idriss.” He finished his drink and walked gently to the armchair in the middle of the room.
“From the beginning, Brad.”
“I asked someone to do something dodgy for me. He knows this guy. The guy works for him I think. And he recognised me that day he brought Kanyin and Jade to the hospital.”
“You are not making sense here. Since when have you done anything with anyone dodgy?”
She had known him since they were children. And he cared about people, about the impact of his actions on others. About the law and the ones in between.
Aged twelve he returned a book he won in a school quiz, asking their class teacher to give it to the boy who came second. The boy whose disabled mother could not afford to buy him books.
“You don’t know anyone dodgy, Bradley.”
“I do, okay. I was in a bad place. Penny had just finished with me because of you. She said I will never get over you. That she is sick of hearing about you. I came home from Paris determined to finish you and that man. I became so sick of not getting what I wanted and borrowed a leaf from your sister’s book.”
“You have lost it.”
“You were at the hotel by yourself, feeling down and he was at the bar with Emeka. Seeing all that when we could have been happy together drove me mad. I knew you needed me. When I kissed you, I could have pulled away because you were not feeling it… you were beyond smashed… but I heard the door opening and I wondered what it would be like if he got served a taste of his own medicine. So I let him see me kissing you.”
She covered her mouth and held on to the old beam in the middle of the room for support. The Bradley she knew had been switched. What else could have caused this?
“I hired a guy I found through a friend of a friend to take incriminating photos of us and send them to your cheating husband. To strengthen his suspicion that we were having an affair.”
“You sent those pictures?”
“That guy turned out to be one of Bayo’s hoodlums. Bayo showed up saying he was taking over the case. He wanted to know the relationship between us. He is the one that sent one of his thugs after me weeks ago when I refused to play ball.”
“Why Bradley? Why?”
“Are you seriously asking me why? Have you forgotten how you broke my heart? Have you forgotten how you wouldn’t let me go? Ringing whenever I had a girl over. No wonder my relationships never worked out.” He got up and walked out of the room, huffing.
She guessed he would have sped out if he wasn’t still recovering from the surgeries. She found him staring out of the kitchen window, looking out at his garden.
“What are you doing? We were having a conversation, Brad.”
He didn’t budge from his position. Watching the two black birds perched on the apple tree in his garden. The garden itself –the tree, greens interspersed with purple lavenders and English daisies – did once help calm her down.
It was on one of those days when the hectic relationship between her and Idriss at Aspire drove her into Bradley’s arms. When the chaos at work and her life kept her awake at odd hours. He invited her to his cottage. They sat at his kitchen table, drinking tea. There, he told her, not to hate Elicia or Idriss. “Especially him. He is the father of your child.”
“I feel this …huge guilt everyday for the way I treated you.” She said. “I rang you those days as a friend. I invited you to my husband’s party because…”
“To keep me around. The fall back guy. Isn’t that what I am?”
“How much have you had to drink?”
“That is the fucking truth. Your husband is nothing but a useless cheat. What would an untutored buffoon like him know about standing by his grieving wife?”
“I was crying all the time. It was hard for him … Probably brought back memories of his parents’ deaths.”
“So he cheated. I would never have done that to you.”
“He cheated because you sent him pictures of us together. Innocent pictures that made us look like we were having an affair.” She was shouting now, getting louder and angrier with each utterance. Gesticulating with her hands, trying not to do something to him with them. “He cheated because of what he saw at the hotel. You could have told me he saw us. I could have explained.”
“You blame me like I helped him unzip his pants and showed him the way to Kate’s legs.”
“You ruined my marriage.” Thinking of Jadesola’s sad face when crying for her father last night sustained her anger. Kanyin’s nightmares. Her ordeal. Kanyin would not have been at Bayo’s house that night if Anu hadn’t left her home. And she wouldn’t have, if those pictures and Paris did not happen.
“He would have let you down eventually. Can’t you see? He is beneath you.”
“He is not perfect. I love him, flaws and all. More than I will ever love you.”
“That is your weakness. Your refusal to admit you mistakes.” He started to walk away from her.
She followed this time. “And you haven’t made mistakes?”
“Not like the ones you have made. Yours killed your sister and caused your father’s early death.”
It took a while for his words to sink in. They hit her with a mighty force when they did. She raced past him and did not know he was right behind her until he grabbed one of her hands to stop her. She did not want to stay any longer in his house. Anu yanked her hand from him. She slapped him with the back of her hand when he tried to reach for her again. Bradley fell to the floor. She was about to open the door when she noticed instead of getting up, he stayed on the floor, curled up and groaning. He had landed next to his reading table. Very close to a sharp end.
“My stitches,” he groaned. “Help me. I’m sorry.”
“Please, stay with me. I didn’t mean to ruin your life.” She crouched on the floor next to him, willing him to say more, screaming his name, screaming for Kaz.
Refiloe did not climb back on the bed when she finished him off. She got off her knees and ran into the bathroom. He felt like a fool, sitting with his zip undone, on her bed.
When he told her about having HIV, she didn’t say much. This, a liaison where kissing involved just their lips touching and the culmination that did not include her legs were not his expectations. He felt bare. Ashamed. The uneasiness that pooled around him following his diagnosis. And although his friends tried to tell him his diagnosis didn’t matter. Anu was the one whose kisses remained the same. The one who didn’t make him feel infected.
“Reffy, wait up.” She was in the shower scrubbing her body. “Are you using boiling water?” He didn’t really need to ask. The steam in the bathroom concluded this for him. He spotted the opened bleach and vinegar containers in the cubicle with her. There were garlic cloves and quartered lemons in her soap dish too.
I barely touched you, he wanted to say. He discarded the condom and washed his hands.
In the bedroom, he picked up his phone and saw that Kaz had called him seven times.
She had left a short, unclear voicemail. The second message, a longer one, he played several times on the way to the hospital where they all were.
Kaz explained how she found Bradley, in agony, Anu screaming. His wife remained in a corner of the room, sitting quietly like a child. Bradley’s cousin, Kam was talking to a doctor when he arrived, he led him away from the women.
“Take your wife home. She keeps telling me to arrest her, that she meant to hurt him.”
“I’m sure she is just in shock.”
“Bradley is fine. I have seen him already. He said some nasty things to her. He has done some horrible things to your family too. He wants to speak to you.”
He drove home after seeing Bradley. Staying there after hearing what he did to them would have led to his arrest.
Kam preempted him, standing between him and Bradley’s bed. “Don’t do this. Take your wife home. She needs you.”
She was quiet on the way back, her eyes on the road ahead. He started to worry when Jadesola flung herself at her when they arrived home and instead of hugging the girl back, her hands stopped at her sides.
He asked Aleska to get his daughter ready for bed, glad that Kanyin and Emeka were together. From the hospital, he had called his friend and asked for him to take the twins home to their mother. Telling him too to keep Kanyin out of the house that evening.
“Aisha is in a bad way. I don’t want Kanyinsola seeing her like this. Take her for a meal or something. And I will call you soon, dude.”
Inside Jadesola’s bedroom, she didn’t seem sleepy.
“I wan Mummy.”
“Jadesola, iya mi, my sweet mother.” he knelt next to her bed and placed her teddy bear under her blanket.
“Mummy read me story.”
“Mummy is tired. Not tonight, kiddo. Sleep tonight and Mummy will read to her brave little soldier tomorrow.”
The last line –the one he borrowed from his wife –worked. Although Anu typically used it after reading one of their daughter’s colourful, little books to her.
He stripped off in the bedroom intending to shower as he believed Anu was in the tub. He found her hunched over and crying, the shower head oozing cold water over her body.
“What is this, Aisha?” He turned off the shower, wrapped a towel around her and carried her to their bed. “Why are you doing this? Why?”
“I’m a murderer. Elicia died because of me.”
“Stop it. Bradley is lashing out. Whatever he said to you is not true.”
“I hurt those near me.”
She let him dress her. She drank from the cup of tea he made her. Pliant and apologetic, it reminded him of the days following her father’s death.
“He has killed me,” she said one night. “He just forgot to take me with him.”
The crying didn’t bother him too much. It was the uncomfortable silence, the way she looked through him and the girls as if they were not there. The way she lost interest in everything that mattered and she started to morph into someone else.
Idriss did not feel like sleeping. Especially after, he found his wife sleep-walking round their bedroom. Not after Austin returned from the university library and asked him with a worried expression if he should ring her doctor.
She was sat up in bed when he returned from checking on their children in the morning.
“Sorry,” she began. “Did you stay here all night?”
“No need to apologise.”
He got in bed with her. She moved her hand when he touched it.
“You can leave now. She is probably waiting for you.”
“I’m not going anywhere. Okay?”
Last night when Refiloe called, starting with a softly-spoken sorry for the way she behaved, he told her he needed to apologise too. “I’m sorry for using you. Now, my wife needs me. You can keep the presents I bought you. Your car arrives next week. Keep that too. As long you let me get on with my family.”
This morning she called five times. Frustrated, he gave his phone to Austin.
“If you are so keen to help me, can I use your credit card?” Anu glanced at the table where he placed her laptop yesterday.
“Anything you want baby. It is your birthday.”
“Can you sort it out for me?”
“No wahala. Which shopping website is it?”
“A clinic.” She looked away from him.
“The answer is no.”
“Darling, please. I would do it myself if I could.”
“So, you want me to add murderer to all my crimes? What about what it will do to you? Yesterday you were crying about the people you have lost.”
“My uncle called yesterday morning. He wants me to come home for my grandmother’s ten year anniversary next year.” She shifted closer to him. “How do you expect me to go home with a white baby?”
“We will go home with all of them. We will put him or her next to Abdul and Bashir and say they are triplets that came out of my affair. From what Alhaji told me about your uncle, he will not frown at that. We will just push sweets in Jadesola’s mouth every time she wants to speak.”
“We can always explain away the size difference. My uncle will be fine with you fathering children outside of our marriage.”
He could imagine her uncle praising him, telling his wife to accept what has happened. “I hear he has a football team himself.”
She nodded. “Thanks for this.”
“If you want to thank me, let me help you get ready. Then you can come downstairs and open the presents Austin and our daughters bought you.”
“I can’t face it.”
“Please, Aisha. All you have to do is smile once. For our daughters. You are the one who worries about them o.”
“Okay. Five minutes then I’m back in bed. Please tell Uche and Emeka not to come this evening.”
“Okay, I will.” He lied. Uche had organised a party at an exclusive restaurant in Manchester. Although Idriss paid for most of the evening, it was Uche that ran around sorting the menu and invitations. Telling her she couldn’t see her friend after having to cancel the party would not be a clever thing to do.
Uche was in her friend’s house. Jadesola tapped her every few minutes. She started drawing her when she arrived. The picture now looked as though she had drawn a scary witch. Uche’s face and belly were three times the size of her body. Her red eyeballs were in her cheeks.
Emeka laughed when he saw it. “This girl can draw, sha.”
She did not fail to notice Kanyin’s timid smile when Emeka told her sister to draw her.
“This one’s beauty will make your drawing shine, Jade.”
Now the two were in the kitchen where they went to get Anu’s birthday cake ages ago. Uche was on her phone in a Whatsapp conversation with Kam. Last night she apologised for what he heard. He told her not to worry.
You should come over to mine. I’m still a bit wounded about yesterday.
And what will my coming over to yours do? She added a smiley face at the end of her message.
Punish you, what else? Except you know of a way to make me happy? I’m very experimental.
Well, I’m not.
I’m a good teacher.
I’m a good girl.
Good to know. Good girls learn quicker. I can bend you easily then.
You are supposed to be at work. What sort of example are you setting your junior colleagues?
The type about no playing makes their boss grouchy.
Jadesola tapped her and showed her the skeletal, one eyed elderly-looking woman she drew. “That’s Kanni.”
“Oh, my.” Uche tried not to laugh. “Really beautiful. Go and show her.”
Should I send you my postcode for your Sat Nav? I clock off work soon. Kam was waiting on the other end. We can go for a bite to eat first.
The mixture of nervousness and excitement led her heart to beat faster. She had half hoped he was joking.
Emeka came out with the cake, the candles already lit. Kanyin followed, holding her sister to her side with one hand, the other holding the picture. She didn’t look happy.
Uche heard footsteps on the stairs and started singing Happy Birthday To You. The others joined in. She was happy to see her friend in high heels that made her seem taller and a light blue dress the same colour of Idriss’ buba and sokoto.
Yet she was worried seeing the way she did not let go of his hand, the way she tried and failed to blow the candles, the purple eye shadow around her eyes as though she wanted to hide the redness of the whites of her eyes.
“I’m sorry, you are here and we are going out.” Anu apologised to her without looking at her. “He is taking me to see the present he bought me.”
“Let him look after her,” Emeka told her this morning. “He is the only one that truly understands how it feels to have suffered that much loss. That is the key reason they gel so much.” She grunted her disapproval ranting about him taking advantage and he told her “be careful, Uchenna. Don’t get too involved. I have done it before. They flipped the coin on me. My best friend chop that night come dey tell wifey how I said they were not compatible.”
“Are you okay, girl?” Uche asked.
Anu hugged her for a little too long, thanked her and after hugging the girls followed her husband out.
She let Kanyin portion out the cakes and wrap them up asking for an extra slice for Efe.
“What about Refiloe?” Emeka asked, digging into the huge slice Kanyin served him.
“That woman does not need cake. She can afford to go hungry for a decade.”
Her mood did not get better. Not after she read Kam’s new message.
Can we meet tomorrow? I’m strapping on a vest as I type, going on the beat. I’m about to descend on a sworn enemy. Please let me know if tomorrow is fine. Call the station and ask for D.C.I Diggs if I don’t pick up my phone. I really want to see you.
There was something about his message that worried her. Something that made her conclude that Bayo was the sworn enemy. She didn’t like this feeling. This feeling of worrying about him.
Kanyin unzipped her dress and let it slide to the floor. She unhooked her weighty, chunky earrings and placed them on the window sill next to her phone. She tapped the screen expecting to see some more missed calls from Grandma. There were none. She had sent a text instead.
Kanyinsola, what is going on? I called and called. I even called your mother over there.
Her grandmother started to refer to Anu as her mother the day her grandmother agreed that Kanyin should move to the UK. It came after Grandma told her father it would never happen. That day she had unwittingly let slip that the woman in her father’s house was his dead wife’s sister.
A few days later, Anu arrived in Lagos with a tiny Jadesola whose baby cries woke sleeping guests every time they left the air-conditioned rooms of their plush hotel. Anu knelt on the floor when she met Grandma and pleaded with her. Her father who was now half-prostrating joined in but it was Anu her Grandma told to get off the floor. And to her, she handed Kanyin to. “Your husband told me you were busy with your company, which is why you didn’t come home with him. Yet, here you are here, having dropped everything. How can I not believe that you will treat this girl like your own?”
She read the rest of the message quickly so she could delete it off her phone, subsequently erasing it from her head too.
Pastor Moses told me to pray for you on Sunday. My mind won’t let me rest too. I cover you with His blood. By His stripes you are healed.
She sent Emeka a short message afterwards asking him to meet her upstairs. She had left him in the main sitting room talking to Ikumapayi – who arrived after Uche left. She had her sleeping sister in her arms but was acutely aware of his eyes boring into her back as she climbed the stairs.
Emeka was sitting on her bed when she got back from the bathroom. She glided in and although she had dried the wet off her body in the bathroom, she ran a hand from her neck to her upper chest in a wiping motion.
“I should go,” He grunted.
“I need to dry my body.” She let her hand make a tugging motion at the top of her chest where the towel was folded in. “Then I can put on my dressing gown. We can say goodnight then.”
Each step she took revealed just how short the towel was. Confident, a result of the beer she drank when no one was looking, she did not feel the crippling anxiety that battered her down in his house. He had shifted until there was no room for him. She slid between his legs and pushed him down as he tried to get up. He fell back easily. Having this kind of control over him, with her slightness thrilled her. He wasn’t big. Slim with a body that seemed fleshy compared to hers. His chest, fairer than his face, surprised her, when she took off his shirt. His mouth closed around hers whilst her hands sought his nipples. One of those hands trailed from his chest, down to the middle, finding home at the top of his trousers. He muttered her name and something else. Something pleasant-sounding. Igbo words she didn’t understand.
“I want you right now.” He grunted and yanked off her towel.
She heard the sounds of shoes dropping to the floor as he switched places with her and covered her mouth with his. Having him on top of her did not thrill her as much. Her hands were motionless beside her, his body feeling quite heavy. His mouth was on her neck at that moment and although she didn’t say anything, he ended the kiss and cupped her face with his hands.
“You want me to stop?”
“I don’t know.”
The taste in her mouth that night was back. She wanted to say something, to apologise but the squeaking noise of her door opening interrupted them.
Austin looked like he had caught his lover in bed with someone else.
“Kanyin, what the hell is this?”
Emeka scrambled off the bed as Kanyin wrapped her blanket around her body.
“Wait until your father hears about this.”
“No, young man.” Emeka’s voice thundered above Austin’s. “Her father will not hear anything because nothing happened. Nothing to report.”
“What do you call this then?” He gestured as Ikumapayi walked into the room. “Dem say nothing is happening, Iku. Does this look like nothing is happening? Emeka was doing nothing on top of his friend’s daughter.”
“Eme bobo, what is this, nau?” Ikumpayi looked both amused and shocked. “Uncle, aah!”
“She asked me to come upstairs.”
“Ni gba yen nko. And so what? What did you think she was asking you to come and do? Read her a bedtime story?”
“Okay. I acted like a stupid, horny old man…”
“That is what you are.” Austin raised his voice even louder. “Randy old man who is so desperate to get laid.”
“I love her. It isn’t like that. I was not trying to touch her.”
“What were you trying to do then?”
“He fell in bed with her by accident ni,” Ikumapayi interrupted. “It can happen to any man. Correct. Gba be.”
Feeling a renewed type of assurance because of Emeka claiming to love her, Kanyin tried to defend what Austin saw. “He is not an old man. He is younger than my dad.”
“By around three months or is it even two month, sef.”
“He cares about me. He is the only one who stood by me when it all went wrong.”
“Because he was standing by you just nau o not on top.” Ikumpayi snorted. He walked over to Austin who had taken his phone out of his pocket. “Tell me naa takeaway you wan order for us?”
“I’m ringing my boss.”
“To say kini? What are you going to say?”
“Put the phone down, bobo. Your boss and his wife don’t need this right now.”
“And how you go clear the craze off their heads?”
“Next time I catch them, I will break every bone in his body. No more fine boy. Do you understand Kanyinsola?” He faced her, as though he wanted her to understand he meant what he said. “From now on, you treat him the same way you treat me. I will slap your mouth if I hear you call him Emeka again. He is your uncle from now on.”
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