** *** ***
//A Bad Day//
Austin’s voice woke her up and even before Anu opened the door, she had heard what the problem was. Her stepdaughter was standing outside a house a few streets away. Inside, her father and Emeka were shouting at each other.
Anu took the phone from Austin whilst belting her dressing gown strings over her pyjamas. She held the phone to her ear as Austin drove them down. Even when a very sleepy Jadesola asked, “is it morwin, mummy?”
Austin rushed into the house. She was only a few feet behind – stopping to reassure her stepdaughter and to tell her to stay with her sister. Yet, when she hurried into Emeka’s bedroom where all the shouting came from, Austin was lying on the floor between the men.
“What happened to him? What have you done?”
Her husband lowered the hand aimed at Emeka and helped Austin up with it when he saw her. “Are you okay? Austin!”
“Boss, I am seeing double.”
Idriss led Austin to the bed. “Next time you see two men about to engage in fisticuffs, don’t get in the middle.”
She watched Emeka, topless and dejected. He didn’t seem like a man about to fight. He looked like someone at the bottom of a ditch. And she realised she would feel how he felt soon. The moment the truth came out, that she knew about the relationship.
Why did she let herself believe Kanyin’s claims that they had ended it when the girl still walked around with a naughty smile on her face? When that phone of hers never stopped chiming?
When she herself did not give up her husband during those days when her eyes followed him at Aspire discreetly. Sometimes not very discreetly. Those days that Kaz warned her to stay away from him.
“Can I have a pay rise, boss?” Austin asked as Idriss helped him up. “It will help my head feel better. We should all go home so you can write me a new employment contract.”
“You guys should go. Take Kanyinsola too. I need to talk to my friend.”
She walked towards him and placed her hand on his arm. His grief was so palpable, she felt the tension on touching him. Her eyes held his and she saw the muscles around his jawline start to relax. “I know you are angry but violence won’t solve anything.”
“If I was going to touch him, you would not have found him on his feet.” He kissed her forehead, his breath fanning her head. “Please, Aisha. Go home. I don’t want you to see me like this.”
“I’m staying.” She gave Austin a slight nod. “Austin will wait outside in the car with the girls. We are partners. You are not doing this on your own.”
Emeka spoke first after Austin left. His voice was remorseful and yet showed strong determination.
“Like I said, I’m not taking advantage of her. I love her. Do you think I would risk our friendship if it wasn’t love?”
“How long have you been ogling her with your eyes?” Idriss asked ignoring all he said. “Did you have those intentions when she was sixteen? When I used to pass the phone to her so she could speak to you?”
“What do you take me for? I’m not like that.”
“What is this then? Explain, nau.”
“I love her. And If I mean anything to you, considering it … will be easy.”
“Go fuck yourself.”
“I want to be with her. I won’t use her. Why is that so hard for you to stomach?”
“And what next after that? Will you be asking for her sister too?”
“I’m not you. You are the expert when it comes to sisters.”
“We are just surprised.” She interrupted, staring pointedly at Emeka. “When Austin woke me up saying Kanyin said her father caught you and her together, I was surprised because this is so unlike you.”
“This is why we kept it a secret from everyone. Because of the judgemental opinions.”
His tone suggested others knew as well. Austin did not appear surprised earlier. And as he and Kanyin were close, it did not come as a shock that he knew. Austin knowing, would be a blow to her husband though. It would affect him. He treated Austin like a sibling. She watched him take a seat on the bed, his face in his hands and decided to tell him she knew too. As soon as it was safe to do so.
“Dude,” Emeka tapped his chest. “I’m sorry.”
“What for? Sleeping with my daughter or laughing at me whilst doing it.”
“We have not done anything.”
“You honesty expect me to believe the iranu you are spewing.”
“I haven’t. Some of us have no problem controlling ourselves.”
“When I decided to waste my flight money, determined to catch you, I kept saying to myself, your pal will not do this to you. Even as I let myself in with the spare key you gave me, I still refused to believe it. This is the same friend that refused to accept anything from me after Allah’s blessings.”
“I don’t want anything. Na by force?”
“But you want my daughter?” He jumped up from the bed, gestured with flailing hands. “You want to inherit a quarter of my money.”
“I don’t want your money.”
“ Haba, just take the money.”
” I don’t want your money.” Emeka screamed. “And if you are the same friend that I gave three months salaries to so you could get your mother a better place to live, then you will understand. I love her. She is twenty one. Old enough.”
Idriss shook his head and sniggered.
“I’m not a player. The only woman I have ever treated wrong is Uche and I regret that.There was only one other girl before her. Kanyinsola is the one. The one!”
“Let’s go, Aisha.” He clicked his fingers in her direction. “I know this fool’s illness don grip am, wella.” He paused in front of Emeka and pinned the index finger of his right hand on his fair chest. “You know me well enough to know when people cross me, they regret it. Prepare for war. I will bring the weight of the world on your head. I will make sure Kanyinsola runs whenever she sees you. She will dislike everything about you.”
She didn’t follow him straight away. She stayed with Emeka. Silent, her face spoke for her, for he gave her a reassuring smile as her husband yelled for her. “I’m so sorry,” was what she wanted to say.
He brought his frustrations to bed. Her back ached. One of her legs itched. And when he finished, he didn’t cuddle her. He spent a while in the bathroom. Clattered about, dropped things.
“I can’t believe I threatened my best friend.” He said as he climbed back in bed. “Emeka did too much for me when I was struggling.”
“So you know you were wrong to go that far?” She placed her head on his chest. It had been hard for her not to tell him off like a child. He had acted like one. The way he was when they first met. Unlike those days though, he self-reflected often now. Regretted deeds apologies couldn’t fix.
Apologies were not always at the tip of his tongue but she knew that he wasn’t the same man who loved goading people.
“I would never have met you, if it wasn’t for him.” He touched her bulky braids and started to play with them. “He is a good friend. I don’t know what possessed him.”
“He really helped you when you were diagnosed.”
“He didn’t judge me.”
“You should apologise to him then.”
She didn’t need to see his face to know it now had a frown as big as Birmingham on it.
“I might have lost it with him… a little bit. That does not mean what he did was okay. No way. He brainwashed my sweet, innocent child to start liking someone like him. An old man like him. Abeg, let me sleep. Enough of this topic already.”
Uche did not sleep after Kam fell asleep. His hands held her to himself and the heat from his unclothed chest and legs radiated to her and soothed her. Every so often, the face of his disapproving mother came back to her. The speed that took her to Kam’s room and the humour he used to make light of what happened.
Refusing to leave the room for fear of seeing that disapproving face again, she accepted his offer to sleep in his bed. Haunted by that face and what Kam told her about his mother’s strong Christian faith and old-fashioned ways, how could sleep come.
She had started to relax about dating Kam after speaking to her brother the other day. He had assured her that Kiisa, the Yoruba nurse he wanted to marry was initially accepted by their parents. And this would have continued if he hadn’t confided in his mother that Kiisa had dated married men for money in the past. He insisted that their parents would be fine with the possibility of Kam becoming their son in-law. His race did not matter.
Kam woke her up with wet kisses to the top of her chest. He was dressed for work, his white shirt unbuttoned. The dragon tattoo on his chest looked better, well-designed as if she had started to like it.
His lips found their way to hers. A warm, urgent kiss that teased her legs from under the blanket and made her wraps her hands around his neck. She pulled away when one of his hands started to caress her legs.
“Your mum is here.”
“I have a gruelling day ahead of me. I just want a kiss.”
“Your mum is here.”
“And if my mum wasn’t here?”
Uche sat up and ran her fingers through her hair. Yesterday, she wanted to be close to him. Today, she wasn’t sure. Sleeping with him was to ensure their relationship survived its early stages. But she would be doing it for him, the possibility of marriage and her mother’s happiness. Her father said her nagging could wake dead people these days.
“It is because you are not married, nwa,” her mother screeched when her father passed the phone to her last week. “Or did you think that we won’t find out that Emeka that we hoped will pity you has jilted you? At nearly thirty, what kind of brainless man will carry you home to meet his parents?”
Her brother turned thirty, nine years ago. Reminding her mother of this had ignited the usual rant of “he is a man, you are a woman. You will soon become too old for marriage, your brother will always be husband material.”
Kam stroked her hand. “I know you are attracted to me. What’s the problem?”
“I really like you.”
“That’s a bonus.”
“I’m just not ready. I was with Emeka for a year before we… you know.”
“I’m Kamil Diggs. I’m not your ex.”
“I know you are a good guy. You are really good looking too.”
He smiled and corked his head to the side. “I have been told I’m a catch.”
“I’m so flattered that you want me.”
“Uche,” he purred, emphasising the u, the way he loved to do. “You have no idea how beautiful you are, do you? How is that even possible?” He took both of her hands in his. “You are the most enchanting woman I have ever met. The sexiest. You are stunning and clever. I have never met anyone like you.”
“The first time I saw you at Anu’s wedding in that floor length dress you had on, I wanted to pick you up and bring you home with me.”
She had always doubted her physical attributes. Having a mother who called her ugly every time she forgot to sweep the floor did not help her growing up. Nor did having a boyfriend who called her names. Lucky was an aggressive bully who became angry every time he couldn’t get his way. Her decision to wait until their wedding day before having sex enraged him. Emeka’s tenderness healed her to an extent. Until his actions unearthed all that she forced down in the deepest part of her mind.
“I’m glad you didn’t give up on me. Thanks Kamil.”
“Come to Paris with me, If you want to thank me. Next weekend or something. Don’t say no. We have never had a proper date.”
“Separate rooms, babe. Let me treat you. Dinner, the works. No wine, obviously. We can talk about it one evening this week at yours.”
She laughed with him and nodded when he narrowed his eyes at her. “If you are not too busy.”
He started to button up his shirt. “I really need to get going. Can you please try to have a chat with my mum? Make her a cup of tea and take it to her. She is still asleep but I’m sure she wants to talk to you.”
Uche shook her head. “Sorry. I intend to sneak out of here in a few minutes.”
“Okay, then. Love you.” He kissed her forehead and hurried out of the room.
For a moment Uche thought it was the sun rays streaming into the room that woke her. That was until she saw Kam’s mother at the door in a baggy, kaftan dress, clutching a Bible.
“You were screaming in your sleep.” The woman’s face showed concern this time not disapproval.
She did not remember going back to sleep. Kam’s grey colour as he lay dead in his coffin was all she could remember. The dampness around her armpits and chest confirmed the nightmare felt as real as it felt when he left for work.
“I had a bad dream.” Uche moved to the edge of the bed, hoping the woman did not remember how they met yesterday.
“You were screaming Kamil’s name.” She stared intently at her. “Your nightmare was about him?”
“Don’t tell me about the dream. Get up, we will pray together.”
Perhaps it was their praying together or the cooking they did but Zara and her were chatting like close friends by the afternoon. Zara showed her how to cook Liberian jolof rice, rich with smoked turkey, chicken and prawns. Whilst Uche prepared the cabbage they laughed about their meeting. Zara advised her to let her head and faith set their relationship’s pace.
Kanyin rushed in after cleaning her father’s Volvo and Ferrari. They were on their way back from the Manchester branch and she wanted to clean the muddy footprints on the porch. She was taking the cleaning bucket back in when the door bell rang. Having washed her hands, she went to open it and was not surprised to find Emeka there.
“Hi,” he appeared calm. The smile on his face was small and he did not reach for her like he normally did. He was smartly dressed despite his cast and sling. “Did you text me?”
“Not since the other day,” she stepped aside for him to come in, stopping in the lobby area because she didn’t want him to stay for long. Her father still seemed very angry with her. “I can’t text you like normal, soz. Daddy is watching me all the time.”
“I got a weird text message from you.”
“From my phone?”
“Saying you don’t love me and Austin and you are now together?”
Kanyin smiled and rolled her eyes. “Daddy, obviously. He asked to use my phone this morning.” She showed him the bracelet on her wrist, a Pandora bracelet that Austin delivered to her yesterday from Emeka. “Why would I be wearing your present if I like someone else?”
“You like it?”
“Of course.” She held her face in her hands as a wave of dizziness wrapped round her. It started a few days ago. Spells of dizziness.
“Are you okay?” Emeka led her into the kitchen, helped her to the bar stool and fetched her a yoghurt drink from the fridge. “Finish it. I know you haven’t been eating. You have lost weight again.”
“I wanted to finish cleaning the house and washing Daddy’s cars first.”
“Your health is important to me, Kanyinsola.” Leaning on the washing machine, he sighed. “I think I should leave town as soon as possible, to give you time to sort things with your father. Go down south and secure my accommodation. My managers want me there soon anyway.”
“What about me? Are you going to abandon me?”
“No. No way. I will drive down every Sunday to see you. Your father needs time. Also, if our relationship is not too full on, you will be able to focus on your education. You can also pull out if you change your mind about settling down. You are very young, sweetheart. Let’s take it one step at a time.”
She let him take her free hand.
“I love you, sweetie pie. Why else do you think I’m doing this?”
“Not seeing each other regularly will not help us.”
“It will. I won’t give you up without a fight. I just don’t want to ruin the relationship you have with your family and the one I have with my friends. I can’t bare Uche finding out from your dad. She has not forgiven me completely for the way I treated her. I need to give it time… before telling her. But not now. When she and Kam are together proper.”
She liked his determination. He had confided in her about his parents’ marriage. How they constantly argued. How his brothers and sister saw them treat each other like enemies sharing a house. This, he explained, was the reason he couldn’t marry someone he didn’t love.
They were holding each other when her father’s voice announced their arrival home. Emeka let go of her but he didn’t go through the kitchen’s back door that she suggested.
Her father glared at Emeka when he saw him. He didn’t make it towards him as Anu who had Jadesola in her arms came into the kitchen.
“Darling, not in front of the girls.” She passed Jadesola to Aleska who had come in with them. “Take her to her room please and get her changed.”
Emeka pointed at the yoghurt drink. “I came here to see you about the lead Ikumapayi said you have. Then Kanyinsola felt dizzy and I came in here to get her a drink.”
“Don’t call her Kanyinsola. That’s what I call her.”
“You call Anu what her father called her.”
“She is my wife!”
“I intend to marry Kanyin.”
Her father appeared like he was going to push his wife out of the way and punch him. As if to stop himself, he headed out of the kitchen.
“Don’t provoke him,” Anu said with a sideway glance to Emeka. She touched Kanyin’s neck with the back of her hand to feel for her temperature. “I bet you haven’t eaten, princess. I will make some food now. Do you want me to warm up a meat pie from the freezer for you whilst you are waiting?”
“Make that two, I’m hungry,” Emeka said.
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”
“I need to talk to your hubby. So, I might as well eat whilst he dey calm down.”
She found him in their bedroom, looking out from the window. He had a smug smile on his face that felt too familiar.
“What are you planning?” She wrapped her hands round him from the back.
“Nothing. Is lover boy still downstairs?”
“Yes. Aleska and Jade are with them. He says he wants to talk to you. Something about what you are planning for tonight?” She knew it was about Bayo and hoped her husband wouldn’t put his pride before his safety. “I wish you would let the police do their job. Does Kam know anything?”
He took off his red tie. He had chosen the tie with the Aspire logo on this morning. She could tell he didn’t plan to tell her what they were planning.
She changed out of her stylish work blouse and her red skirt whilst he got ready for a shower. He pulled her to himself and kissed her on her way out. He was sitting on the bed, in a small towel wearing an apologetic grin.
“What are you planning? Austin says Ikumapayi and his cousin are coming this evening. And I heard you making loads of calls last night.”
He kissed her bump. “Trust me, wifey. Let it go please.”
“I will. If you promise to go easy on Kanyin. You will drive her and Emeka closer if you keep treating her like you are.”
“Okay. I will be nicer to her. But that goat downstairs will soon learn that kaaki no be leather. Come on Aisha,” he squeezed her backside. “Come and scrub my back quickly before that one downstairs kidnaps my daughter.”
She saw his face lit up when they got downstairs and Uche came in with Kam and realised why a smug look appeared on his face before.
Uche wanted to know why Idriss asked her to come over after their pleasantries. “Kam is taking me out to dinner. You are lucky he volunteered to drive me down here first. Oya, spill, we need to go. I have been waiting for this date for like forever.”
Anu glared at her husband when he directed a mischievous grin in the direction of Emeka who was watching a Disney film with the girls. “Don’t even think about it.”
“What’s going on? Kam is waiting. He deserves this after the advice you gave me ended up a disaster.”
“He was the one that advised you?” Kam grinned.
“Sorry.” Her husband’s mischievous grin grew wider as Emeka joined them. “I hope the trick juiced things up for you. My girl, Uche deserves someone like you. A real man.”
“No, mate. I appreciate. Keep telling her to do stuff like that. The moment was interrupted last time but tonight should be all manners of awesome.” Kam’s gaze shifted to Uche on his last word. She held his gaze, uncomfortably for a bit then seeming emboldened because of the way his fingers stroked her skin as his hand draped around hers.
“Talking of tonight Kam, any chance you can come with me to the see the contact we spoke about the other day. I’m sure Uche won’t mind waiting one more night.”
“You don’t need me. You have back-up, no? What about Emeka?”
“Emeka is busy watching films with my daughters. Going to that hell hole is a man’s job.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Emeka interrupted.
“It means dude you don’t have my back. How can you with one working arm?”
Uche’s gaze flitted to Anu as if to ask what was going on between the men.
“Shall we go to the conservatory room to talk, Kam?” Idriss asked. “You too, Emeka.”
Kam kissed Uche and hugged her. “I’m sorry, babe. I will come down to yours as soon as we are done. Or you can stay here with Anu, so I know you are not on your own. I will come straight here with the guys after.”
Uche nodded. She opened the fridge’s door after the men went to the conservatory room.
“Relax,” Anu patted her shoulder. “It will happen soon.”
Those were the words that Anu woke up to hours later. She had gone to sleep after speaking to her husband on the phone and eating a small portion of the fried rice, Uche cooked.
“They are not back yet,” her friend said, shaking her awake. “I don’t want to worry you but Kam is not picking up his phone.”
“Daddy is not picking up either,” Kanyin said, moving into the room. “I tried Emeka too.”
He couldn’t have known he had been shot. He wouldn’t have felt it. What clouded him instead was the wetness around his chest area, the eyes of his friends and the weight pressing down his lungs.
No one saw the black car slowing down beside them. Not until the man in the passenger seat started to shoot at them.
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