Happy Birthday Desiblaque -One Yarner who adds colour to the house -Your new age will bring with it fulfilment of dreams.
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//Take Me Home, Brother//
She could feel his presence in the room with her. He came because she had no more tears to spare and her initial anger had subsided, only for it to resurface when she felt him behind her. She would have screamed if her weary voice was strong enough.
“How can you do this to me? How can you leave when I was beginning to enjoy life? How could you not have fought harder?” She couldn’t remember finding out. What she remembered was someone shouting her name, telling her to open her eyes and she would survive this.
“I hope you know I will never be the same again. You might as well have taken me with you. I’m dead, do you hear me? Come back and take me with you.” She let her tears sink into her pillow. There was no point wiping her face, her pillowcase was still wet from earlier. “You made me fall for you. You made me picture a future where nothing will scare me. You promised to feed our children yourself. And you even said that you will manage my cooking.”
Her stomach hurt. Every now and then, it groaned as if reminding her to feed it. She was too weak to get up and go into the kitchen even if she wanted to. The truth was, she loved the pain torturing her. Feeling hungry felt less traumatising than grief.
She saw him, refreshed and frowning at her. He came alive in the darkness of her bedroom and in a soft tone told her she had to eat. His frown lines deepened when she informed him of her intention to starve herself. Kanyin had never seen him that angry before.
She woke up screaming. The room was still dark and she wasn’t sure if she had been dreaming. She scrambled up and tried to reach the bedside light.
“What is it?” The light came on and she saw her father standing at the door. “Was it a nightmare? Emeka again?”
He came into the room but did not sit on her bed. A good thing, for he smelt like someone who spent the whole day at the bar. It was Anu that hugged her when she came into the room and kissed her forehead.
“You really need some food princess. I know you are grieving for him, we all are. But he wouldn’t want you to starve yourself. Please, darling. Even if it is just toast.”
“Half a slice, mum.”
“Thanks. I will make it now.” Anu hurried out of the room, carrying her bump with an easiness that always surprised her.
“Daddy, are you okay?”
She didn’t notice the oddness to his behaviour at first. Not until Austin mentioned he thanked Bradley when he brought flowers and cards to the house yesterday.
“I’m fine, kiddo.” He glanced at her without turning completely away from the window. “We all need to pull together. Lotachi arrives from California tomorrow. I want you and Anu to look after her whilst she is here with us. Taking her brother…” He faltered for a bit, stared at his fingers then continued. “Taking his body home like that will be tough for her.”
“You will be with her, Daddy. She will be fine with you there.”
He didn’t respond. Anu came back with a plate of two pieces of toasts and Kanyin ate them. She was drinking the big mug of tea Anu made her when Anu started talking about Emeka’s family.
“Lotachi can’t wait to see you. She was hoping you would go home with them all but she knows that Uche doesn’t know about you and him. It won’t be wise to tell her now that she is grieving for him.”
“We will have to tell her soon,” her father interrupted impatiently. “The rings she took from Emeka’s house should be going to Kanyin.”
“Darling, let’s wait for Lotachi at least. She is his sister. She will handle it and sort his things. We all know Emeka wouldn’t want Uche hurting any more than she already is. Kam said she is still crying all the time and not sleeping.”
“I know how she feels.” Kanyin did not expect to start crying again. The tears trickled down her cheeks and whilst Anu held her and ran her hand up and down her back, her father remained in the corner, staring into the distance.
Idriss went for a long run after Kanyin fell asleep. He didn’t like seeing her like that, but he hated more, seeing Anu peering at him, checking if he was fine.
“I’m not fine,” he wanted to scream at her at times. “I will be fine when Bayo is dead.”
When Pete sent a message to him via two bulky white men at the Manchester branch, one of them covered in tattoos, he had to think quickly.
Pete, a chain club and restaurant owner according to the private detective they hired loved Bayo. He acted as his criminal world godfather, calling for the heads of people that didn’t like Bayo. One young man, Bayo’s rival when he started out, lost two toes.
Pete wanted to see him. After speaking to Kam and Ikumapayi who warned him to be careful and not to go to Pete’s club alone if he had to, he decided to go and see him. From what Alhaji told him of Pete when he was alive, he knew the man would do anything for money and honour and that he had too many willing people ready to do these things for him. But Pete disliked men that went after each other’s families.
The latter knowledge he armed himself with. He intended to use Pete’s love for his daughter and after two men in black suits pushed him into a luridly-painted room, he did. Knowing his friends were in the main part of the club ordering drinks like patrons did not give him the courage to speak up in the presence of Pete’s domineering bearing. Thinking of his daughter did it. Pete’s heavily ringed knuckles and the silencer he fingered constantly did not scare him. He spoke, even when Pete ordered him to stop.
“Tell him to back off. All I ever did to him was turn him down for a job he applied for last year. He left my office angry that day but if I had known he would assault my daughter, believe me, I would have given him anything. Yes, anything. My daughter did not deserve what he did to her.”
Pete did not flinch and he had wondered if the private detective’s findings that Pete’s daughter was drugged and assaulted when Bayo lived with Pete were true. The man interested in the girl was arrested but released without charge. Days after, a bomb went off blowing his car with him inside into smithereens. The private detective suggested that Bayo assaulted Pete’s daughter but his closeness to Pete and his role back then as Pete’s right hand man prevented Pete from realising the truth.
He left Pete’s office thinking he believed him when he didn’t ask his bouncers to throw him out. They were all reassured as they drove back. Kam insisted on travelling back with Ikumapayi and Gbenga, his cousin. He guessed this was so he could talk to Emeka, the tension between them on the way had been thick. And soon, Emeka cracked a joke about the way Uche looked at him when he asked Kam to come with them. They laughed, they chatted. Avoided conversations to do with Kanyin.
If only Emeka did not ask him to stop the car at that shop. They were two minutes away from the house.
“I want to get milkshake and biscuits. Waiting for one minute no go kill you, nau.” Emeka had insisted.
“Why won’t you be stopping to get milkshake and biscuits? When you are messing around with small girls. Cradle snatcher.”
“Aah, thank you. I expected worse. I will get you water now that you have stopped drinking again? Abi na beer you want?”
“Don’t try to bribe me,” he had turned to him as he took of his seat belt. “Dude, there are other girls out there. Kanyinsola is too young.”
“I can wait. How long? Two…Three … Five years. I can wait. Just try and think about it, okay.” He had a pleasant smile on his face when he climbed out of the car.
He phoned Anu to see how they all were and on looking up from his phone, he saw Kam and the others approaching his car. Emeka came out of the shop with a brown shopping bag and he came out of the car himself. He wanted to thank Gbenga who would be going home as soon as his cousin dropped him off at the train station.
It took Kam pushing him down for him to realise the sounds that reached him like cars backfiring, interrupting the peaceful evening air were gun shots. And seeing Emeka down beside him, hearing Ikumapayi thanking his grandmother’s witchcraft, he had thought they were all fine.
Until, Emeka called out his name.
“I wish you would talk to me,” Anu placed her head on his unclothed chest before he could turn on his side. She became accustomed to seeing him like this after what happened, his back turned to her.
“Baby, I don’t have anything to say.”
He refused to speak to her about that night. It was Kam who told them what happened but it was through Ikumapayi that they learned that Kam pushed Idriss out of the way. As Emeka had been standing close to Idriss, Ikumapayi suggested that the hitmen were probably after Idriss.
“Kam called. He said Bayo is still on the run.”
“His guys are doing their best. They will find him.”
“And they will release him because they won’t be able to link him to the killers. They will release him because the UK law is soft. This is how that Kam will be talking to me about following their slow process. They are collecting evidence. Rubbish!”
“He said he is worried you will do something stupid,” she wanted to say. She caressed his chest instead and kissed it. “Bayo will be punished.”
“I don’t want them to catch him. I don’t want them to send him to prison where he can watch TV and eat three square meals. Let them leave him to me.”
“Why does he hate us so much? You didn’t jilt his sister or something like that, did you?” She kissed him again as if to soften the effect of what she said.
“No. I didn’t.”
“Maybe he is another of my father’s secret kids.”
He heaved her head off his chest gently and turned off the lamp. Pulling the cover up to his chest, he apologised. “I’m sorry, baby. I need to sleep, I’m tired.”
“I understand. Sleep, darling.”
She craved to be held by him. It broke her in two every time he did this –shunning what they started to share after they betrayed their marital vows. Their intimacy. Really communicating with each other.
Seeing him grieve like this worried her. It reminded her of how she stopped talking to him when her father died. How she didn’t want to feel loved. Smiling at him came with a pang of guilt. Playing with Jadesola felt like a gruesome chore.
This was how they pulled apart without knowing it. Believing her friendship with Bradley had evolved into something more, he looked elsewhere.
She didn’t want this happening again knowing if it did, that would be the end of them.
His mood did not improve over the next few days. What he improved on were the excuses he gave not to come home early.
He drove for miles to speak to clients rather than call them. Even the twins’ arrival midweek did not help.
She wasn’t worried that he spent most evenings with Lotachi, Emeka’s beautiful, fair skinned sister whose trimness made Anu’s stomach seem bigger. She stayed at Emeka’s house and whilst she seemed to really like Kanyin, coming to the house often to see her, it was in the company of Idriss that she brightened up.
“Are you not worried about, Daddy?”
Anu looked up from her compact mirror as her stepdaughter walked into Uche’s bedroom.
They were at Uche’s, attending the ceremony she decided to arrange to celebrate Emeka’s life. She would have called the ceremony a success, a sombre reflection of a well lived life, If Refiloe wasn’t in attendance.
Refiloe’s eyes followed her husband everywhere. At times they darted in Lotachi’s direction. During those moments when the younger woman smiled after her brother’s friends shared something about him with the others. The first time they did, she wanted to pat Refiloe’s back and acknowledge she noticed it too. The familiarity between Lotachi and her husband. The way he discarded the scowls on his face whenever Lotachi looked at him.
“Now he is saying he is going to stay in Nigeria for a while.” Kanyin sat next to her. She stopped talking when the door opened and Nkem came into the room, tearing meat from a fleshy, chicken drumstick with her teeth, her hand gripping the drumstick’s rear end. “I was telling my stepmum about Daddy saying he will be staying in Nigeria for a while.”
Sitting on the rug in front of them, Nkem shook her head.
“I’m fine with it,” Anu said. “I know I can trust him,” her gaze lingered on Nkem.
“Yes, you should.” Nkem nodded a few times and then concentrated on her drumstick.
“Are you not worried one of those Lagos girls will snatch him from you?” Kanyin asked.
“No, I’m not.”
“No one can snatch him if he doesn’t want to get snatched.”
“Enh en, can I pack chicken and gizzard take home?” Nkem interrupted. “That South African woman keeps looking at me every time I go into the kitchen.”
“Ignore her. My husband paid for the food, you can carry all of it home.”
“Let me go and start packing before she start to dey help herself. She didn’t get that big by drinking water. I saw her eyeing the jolof rice.”
Kanyin giggled. “And I heard you say jolof rice is too spicy for you, don’t look at it or try to touch it.”
“It is true.” Halfway up, she sat back down again. “I saw her giving you this long look Kay sweetie. When you were crying.”
“When Lotachi held me?”
Nkem nodded. “I think she is gonna work it out, how Emeka was more than your uncle and she will tell Uche.”
“I won’t let her,” Anu told them. “I will tell Uche myself.” She touched Kanyin’s hand. “Don’t worry, she won’t be upset with you. I’m the one that will be on the naughty list for knowing and not telling her. Your father won’t be pleased, I knew for ages and didn’t tell him either.”
Nkem started to rise again, using one hand as the other had the drumstick’s bone in it. “She will be very upset. In fact she will wan deal with you sef. Or why will she learn you were rubbing it for her boyfriend and not want to scratch your eyes…” She stopped abruptly, staring at the half opened door. I shut that door when I came in. I did. So why is it now open?”
“Why indeed,” Anu did not like the answers that piled in quickly.
They didn’t have to wait for long. They came out of the room to find Refiloe talking to Uche in the corridor. Uche was shaking her head. She came towards them, hands clasped together, eyebrows raised.
“Please tell me she got it wrong. She told me Kanyin was sleeping with Emeka.”
“They were not sleeping together,” Anu felt Kanyin’s hand close around hers. “He liked her, that’s all.”
“What do you mean that’s all? The man I’m mourning liked your stepdaughter and you are telling me that’s all.”
“I’m sorry, darling. I tried to tell you.”
“You should have tried harder!”
Faces appeared at the end of the corridor. Her husband and Lotachi came towards them whilst Ikumapayi joked about their late friend still causing chaos from beyond.
Her husband held Uche as she explained what Refiloe heard, in between crying. He murmured something about Kam being on the way. “Please don’t blame Aisha. We only found out recently.”
“That’s not true at all,” Refiloe interrupted, pointing one of her big hands at Anu. “I heard her say she had known for ages.”
She felt her body go warm as her husband glared at her. The disappointment behind that glare was what got to her. He shook his head when she tried to say something.
“What do you even get from her?” Refiloe had not finished. “She is a liar and a cheat.”
“Say one more thing about my stepmum,” Kanyin raised her voice, “and I will have you.”
“Your stepmum is not an angel. She is carrying another man’s child. Why do you worship her?”
Anu would have slapped Refiloe if she wasn’t preoccupied with Kanyin’s questions. She wanted to know if it was true. If her father knew. Why they lied to her.
“I need to get out of here. Away from you people.”
Anu ignored all the eyes staring at them as she followed her outside the flat. “Please, Kanyinsola. I’m sorry.”
“I thought I was getting a brother or sister!”
“I’m sorry darling. We did it to protect you.”
“Stop trying to protect me. You are not my mother.” The lift’s door opened and she jumped in it as Austin came out of the flat.
“Please look after her, Austin. Thanks.”
It was raining when he started his run. Now he missed it. The pattering blocking his thoughts. The droplets that fell on him. His top felt damp against his skin as he ran. Torn between different emotions he paced up, covering further than he normally would.
It had felt necessary to leave the house and the problems he didn’t have the temperament to deal with, his wife’s apologies, his daughter’s quietness.
The roads were dark and clear. This, he considered a blessing. He didn’t want to run into anyone, known or unknown to him. He wanted peace from the faces that showed concern and mouths that curved before opening as if their owners didn’t know what to say.
But more importantly, he needed to get away from the memories that wouldn’t leave him alone. The one where Emeka, Dollar Bobby, Ikumapayi and Ikumapayi’s uncle followed him to Alhaji’s house to ask for his permission to marry Anu and to ask for forgiveness for his actions and how Alhaji remarked that Emeka’s prostration could clinch them a princess.
Memories of them eating from the same plate when they truly had nothing, going out to clubs together, Ikumapayi laughing when Emeka spent hours talking to a girl that liked him about getting a second degree. Emeka telling him about their boss’ pretty daughter, warning him to look away from her amazing body as Alhaji would “roast him alive.”
And the one that he wouldn’t forget, his friend refusing to accept more than a bottle of champagne after his syndicate fortune. Instead he pleaded with him to invest in businesses and high interest accounts. He warned him to stay away from women and if he couldn’t, try not to flaunt how wealthy he was in front of them.
Railway Road’s barrier had come down for the due train when he arrived on the road. He turned around and changed his route home, choosing Main Street, the road he started to avoid after it happened. The road where Emeka breathed his last.
He thought he would be fine if he sped up. Speeding didn’t work. He was back sprawled on the middle of the road again, holding him as he struggled for breath. Threatening him to stay alive. When that did not work and his eyes started closing and the ambulance Kam called was nowhere near, Idriss promised he could marry Kanyin. He saw what seemed like a smile chase away the fear in his eyes.
Kam said he was losing too much blood as he applied even more pressure to his chest. Ikumapayi ordered him to save their friend. Idriss’ could barely hear at this time, he couldn’t see either through his tears. When Emeka sputtered trying to speak, he nodded to tell him he didn’t have to say anything. Emeka Insisted, using fewer words than he usually did. He told him to look after Kanyin, Uche and himself. His last words before he stopped struggling in his hands rang in his head as he ran, “Take me home, brother.”
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