So, I fell asleep whilst trying to edit this post last Friday. I came back from work after one hectic week, got sorted and drank three cups of coffee. I even set my alarm. And sat up (no one falls asleep sat up, right?)
I was wrong. I’m afraid I slept through the alarm and the coffee. Totally unaware anyone was trying to wake me. (This body of mine knows how to take a break without permission from me) Then I had an emergency situation to deal with on Saturday. I didn’t know I wouldn’t be able to finish work on the episode until quite late.
Anyway, I’m so sorry you are just reading this episode now. It means a lot that you are reading. Thanks to those that reached out to us. God bless. Have a fabulous day.
Catch up on previous episodes of “Say You Will Stay” HERE
His mother was in the kitchen when he came back from work. Balanced on one of the dining chairs, the white, laundry basket on the table beside her.
“Nno, my son,” she greeted and placed the kitchen rolls she was folding on the pile of folded beddings and towels on the table. “Did you go to see Isio?”
“I went to Aspire, Mama.” He dropped his bag on the table, walked over to the fridge and picked up a bottle of Lucozade from it. “I have to work.”
“So, you could not go and see her from your office.” His mother was not letting go. She held on sometimes with such stubborn rigidness. “Chibuzor said she lives near your office.”
“Did Chibuzor not tell you I went to see her last night. And her flatmate, Habiba threatened to pour dirty water and soup on my head from the window.”
“Why would Habiba do that?”
“Her friend asked her to.” He opened the Lucozade, threw the lid in the bin and drank from it. “I’m done begging Isio. Her friend can barricade their home for all I care.”
“You don’t mean that.” His mother picked up one of the opened envelopes from the table and passed it to him. “You need her for that. Letter from the school. Even Annabel was asking of her today.
“Parents’ evening meeting at the school. Annabel said she put Isio’s name down when they asked her last month. She rang Isio this afternoon to ask her if she can still come and Isio did not pick up.”
“I will go to the meeting.” He folded the letter and put it in his jeans pocket. “I’m Bell’s father. I coped before Issy, didn’t I?”
“You are busy that day. Annabel said she checked your diary. You are at a conference or something like that. Just call Isio.”
“I don’t intend to disgrace myself again.” This was what he had done during the night when a sleepy voice answered Isio’s phone. He had gone on like one of those male presenters his daughter sometimes watched. Babbling on about how he would do whatever she said. How he had already bought her a ring. And reliving the stirring moment when he was with her. Moaning her name. Feeling her around him. Thinking nothing felt that great.
He would have continued babbling if Biba had not interrupted him. “It’s me, Obinna.” She sounded like someone trying not to laugh. “Don’t worry. I will tell her nothing felt great like her.”
“Do you know…” Obinna placed the drink on the table. “If I had started having children early, my first child would be close in age to Issy by now.”
“If you started the day after your WAEC,” his mother muttered.
“I don’t intend to beg her again.”
“You mean like last night when you were going to sing for her?” His mother smiled. “Chibuzor told me.”
“I hope he also told you, I said I’m done.” He picked up his drink and raised it. “Happy birthday to me. Here is to going it alone.”
“It is too late to change your mind about her now.” His mother pulled out his laundered beddings amongst the folded whites and creams on the table. Thoroughly cleaned. Ironed till creases were flattened out. The stains that were on the bedsheet –the last evidence of his night with Isio –were no longer there. His mother raised a brow as if to say it was indeed truly too late.
“I have washed your sheets,” she said instead. “You know, you can’t just walk away from the washing machine. You must tell it what you want. Press a button or two. Or it won’t know what you want from it.”
“You are not in one of your lecture halls in Nsukka…”
“What I’m saying is, you have to tell Issy where she stands. Tell her until she hears you. Tell her she brought happiness into your home.”
She placed the beddings back on the table, stood up and strolled over to him. Her characteristic strides vanished with the cancer. Just like her hair and the glossiness of her skin. This new bearing reminded him of the idle strolls she chided him and Emeka for when they were young. “What kind of girl will want a man that takes his time to get where he is going?” She would taunt them. “The kind of girl that has eyes,” their father loved to defend them. He could never pass over an opportunity to argue with their mother. If he really listened, he would have known that Emeka had promised never to marry. Obinna was going to leave it as late as possible. Find a girl who wouldn’t nag him like his mother did his father. One he wouldn’t hurt.
“I know what Chika did to you.” She hugged him and then looked up at his face. “Even the ones you didn’t tell me about. Don’t waste this second chance. Issy is a good girl.”
“She was,” his brother interrupted as he walked into the room, baring his teeth. Only two buttons of his short sleeved shirt were buttoned. On purpose. His brother often did this to show off the dragon tattoo on his chest. As if having his nipples pierced and chest permanently bare were not enough.
Their mother eyed Chibuzor, shaking her head like the parent of a stubborn child. Finally, she shrugged and returned to her seat. “Obinna, please get your brother a job. Let him stop deceiving himself in the name of going to university. The only reason your brother attends class is if he is meeting a girl there. Is he not tired? Two universities in Nigeria. One in Liberia. One here. The boys he started Unilag with have gone to marry. Whilst holding down good jobs, eh.”
“I will talk to him,” Obinna lied. He would not be wasting his time today. He knew what he would rather be doing. Celebrating his birthday with his lover.
“I was joking bro,” Chibuzor tried a genuine smile. “About your babe. I was joking.”
“Don’t do that. Ever. Actually, don’t talk about her at all.”
“Yes, bro.” His smile had been swapped for the broader one that accompanied requests. “Can I borrow your babe magnet tonight? Please bro. Then we can talk about my future.”
“I need my Range Rover tonight. I’m out with the guys.” His white Range Rover was one of his favourites. Stylish enough for socialising. Efficient for work. His brother’s paws on it had long since tainted the car. He did not want to imagine the things his brother did in his car whilst he worked away.
“Please big bro. You know you are my best bro. Ifeanyi won’t even dash me one naira. You…you are the real big bro. Please na. I just need to go see Bibs. To see how she is.”
He relented. His brother had a caring side that he didn’t like the outside world knowing about. Hidden under the thickest of layers.
“If you can drive me, yes. Then I can get merry with the guys.” He picked up his bag from the table and pretended not to notice his mother’s disapproving frown. The woman would have him go and kidnap Isio if it was up to her. Impregnate her and be ready to procreate again. This, he didn’t mind. But the thing about wanting something so much at his age meant he couldn’t let his heart rule him. “Annabel is at Toyin’s house, mum. If Kelly turns up, please don’t let her in. I have already told her not to come today.”
“Let her come,” his mother clicked her fingers. “I will show her pepper.”
Biba wished she had stayed in her apartment. Every time Kanyin spoke, she ended what she started prematurely. It was as if she hadn’t invited Biba over. Her eyes were half-focused on her phone and when it rang she ignored it and sighed. A sound that sounded like a grunt.
Biba had traded one unhappy friend for another. At least there were reasons for Isio’s sullenness.
“So, did you and Austin fight?”
“No. Not really.” Kanyin crossed and uncrossed her legs. She glanced at her phone and pouted.
“Cool.” Biba was thinking of how to say goodnight. She didn’t really have anything to do apart from decide on if to delete or respond to Chib’s unexpected message.
The sullen mood and silence were making her legs restless and she felt like going back to her apartment. She didn’t like seeing people sad, having grown up cherishing her jolly father. He was as fiery as he was jolly.
They rarely saw him. He often turned up on rare public holidays. Cracking jokes. Topping them with ice cream, suya and Okin biscuit to keep them happy.
Bags of asoro rice and gifts from Dubai or Abuja for Mummy Kazeem, the woman he dumped her with. The gifts and occasional visits failed to sustain Mummy Kazeem through the long days and rainy nights. They heard her cry at times. And at times when crying did not soothe her, she served her children their meals and let Biba go to bed unfed.
“I should go. Issy will be looking for me.”
Kanyin had walked to the window and looked out the same way she did whenever she was waiting for Austin. She came over, picked up the remote control and Ferrero Roche tray on the table and passed them to her.
“Trust me, the only person that girl is missing is Obinna. Let’s give her some time.”
“Okay sha. You know I can’t resist Ferrero Roche.”
They were eating chocolates, dropping the gold-foil wrappers between them and watching Keeping up with the Kardashians when Kanyin complained about Austin’s obsession with having children.
“You would think someone like him with four brothers and three sisters won’t want kids so soon.”
Biba laughed. “It is just an excuse for him to service his wife. Let him enjoy himself.”
“You wanna swap?”
“Don’t remind me what I’m missing. Anyway, I will catch up as soon as this one is out.” She threw a Ferrero in her mouth and busied herself with chewing.
“What? You are having an abortion?”
She was happy when she heard a distinct male voice from outside the door. She didn’t want to talk about her decision.
“Can you hear that?” Another voice she didn’t recognise was mumbling. She started to rise. “I hope it isn’t Obinna again. I told him not to come back.”
“Leave it,” Kanyin tapped her on her shoulder.
“It is him, isn’t it. This is why you kept me here. Never mind that our babe asked us to keep him away, you sha want her to get entangled in some crazy love triangle.”
“It isn’t our business.”
“I have made it mine.”
The door to the apartment was open. Kanyin’s father, his dark-skinned friend and Chib were in the living room.
Her eyes fell on the half empty bowl of spaghetti and tomato sauce on the table. Cutleries next to it like abandoned used serviettes. She was about to clear this and the magazines, phone chargers and used cups strewn about when Kanyin came to the door, to ask if they could talk at hers.
“What’s going on?” She didn’t give them time to answer. “You can’t just let yourself into my apartment.”
“Obinna is getting reacquainted with his chick.” Kanyin’s father pointed at Isio’s closed bedroom door. It had been partially open before. Left open by her after she went in to ask if Isio would like a small portion of spaghetti.
“You let yourself in?”
“If that’s what it looks like.”
“That’s wrong. You have no right to let yourself in.” The man’s lips crinkling at the sides made her angrier. She would have walked him out if she was a man. Him and his cronies.
“Correct me if I’m wrong,” he gestured with his ringed fingers. “Obinna and I are your landlords, no?”
“It still doesn’t give you a right. This is not Naija.”
“This no be Naija,” the friend chuckled. “If na Naija we dey, you fit talk to your landlord like that?”
“I have a right to enter my property, if someone is in danger,” Kanyin’s father said. “Issy was in danger. Love was about to kill her.” His eyes were gleaming mischievously. Trying to endear her to him.
He was good looking. Exquisitely fashionable. She had never looked at older men this way before. Perhaps it was because Obinna and Idriss were not like the men with big bellies and awful fashion sense her father socialised with.
“Uncle Ikumapayi,” Kanyin linked hands with her father’s friend. “Where are you going like this? Your wife will not be happy, shey you know?”
“Leave the wife alone,” Ikumapayi grinned. “She went on holiday last month with your stepmother and Uche. This month is my turn.”
“You can come with us,” Kanyin’s father walked towards Biba as he spoke. “We are going to this Naija joint. A famous singer is in town, I believe.”
“We’re in. Let me go get ready.” Kanyin rushed out of the apartment.
“What about you, Habibat? Gives me a chance to make it up to you. Plus, it will be superb.”
“She is busy.” Chib, who had sat on the red puff in the middle of the room like he owned it, answered for her. “I wanna talk. We can hang, if you want. I’m heading to Stratford.”
She restrained herself from laughing. “Who are you to speak for me?” Idriss was beaming. His friend, watching with eyes that told her he would probably lay the blame at her feet later on.
“I’d rather hang with Kanyin’s dad.” She did not call Idriss by his name. Yet the look they exchanged was not one usually seen between a father and his daughter’s friend. “Give me a minute and I can slip into something nice.” She glided as she walked towards Isio’s room and knocked on the door. “I just need to check on my girl.”
“Are you sure? They might be getting busy.”
“Olowo baba,” Ikumapayi laughed. “Let her go and see something, nau.”
“My friend is not like that. She doesn’t get busy with a man that she’s dumped.” She ignored the men’s laughter and opened Isio’s door. It was dark in the room. As she slipped in, she realised the men had been right. Obinna and Isio were on the bed, kissing. Half his body weight pinned her to the bed. He let go of her and shifted to the edge of the bed when he saw Biba.
“Hi Habiba,” he grinned as he put his shoes back on. He blew Isio a kiss and left the room.
“You told me you never wanted to see him again, Issy! I was rude to him.” Biba flicked on the light. Isio cowered like a naughty girl. “I was really rude to him, babe.”
“I’m sorry. Don’t be angry. He has explained he doesn’t want Kelly. And he hasn’t let her back in the house…” Isio stood up, picked up her hairbrush, lip gloss and compact powder from her dressing table and set to work.
“You mean you saw him and thought, boy, this man is fine.”
“Yeah, you talked with your lips glued together.” Biba opened the wardrobe and took out a red dress she encouraged Isio to buy. The slit dividing the dress almost in two had prevented Isio from wearing it. “Kanyin’s dad wants to take us out. Are you and Jay coming?”
“We will just stay here. It’s his birthday, remember.”
“So, you want to give him his present.”
“Get your mind out of the gutter. I bought him a watch…like a week ago, that I will give him after.”
“After you get busy.” Biba knew she didn’t have to remind her of the palpable excitement on her beau’s face. The unusual speed in his steps.
“He has gone to the shops because we might need… you know…for tonight.”
Isio’s embarrassed face wasn’t what she would have received from her other friends. The ones Isio herself had called fun friends. They would have said the word with no hint of embarrassment. This was what she found heart-warming about her. The differences between her and the fun friends Biba spent her weekends with. The fun friends of those lonely nights. After she did as her father asked and walked away from her love and son.
“You can say the word, Issy. You have to, now you’re doing adult stuff.”
“Don’t you dare make fun of me.”
“Wait until I see Kanyin.”
They were trying to decide on the dress and a more conservative one that Isio chose when Obinna came back a few minutes after he left.
“I bought creamy cakes and doughnuts as well, sweetie. We will leave you some, Habiba.”
“Thanks Jay.” She wanted to ask him how he came back so soon from the shop but he had sat on the bed and had started to tell her the men looked impatient downstairs. He continued staring at her, one hand on Isio’s legs, willing her to hurry up. “I’m taking the red dress, Issy-baby.” She picked up the dress and the jewelry box on the table and left. There was no point waiting for the obligatory, have a good time from Isio. Obinna’s mouth had already closed around hers.
Biba did not rush in the bathroom. She applied her make-up carefully. Ignored Kanyin when she came to ask her how long she would be.
When she took the lift downstairs, Idriss was waiting in his car. It was an Aston Martin. A colour reminiscent of the many nights she spent ordering Champagne and cocktails at bars.
“You know how to keep a guy waiting.” He didn’t compliment her but his eyes did. Traveled up and down her slowly.
“I like to look good.” She waited for him to strap her seat belt on, the slit of her dress winning all the attention. “Where is your daughter?”
“She has gone in Iku’s car. Let’s go have fun.”
“Sure your wife won’t mind?”
“I’m hanging out with my daughter and her friend.” He winked. “What’s the worst that can happen.”
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