Scroll down to read Episode Twenty Three. Don’t forget to leave a comment. One word, smiley faces and full pagers allowed.
Please bear with me. Work is hectic at the moment. I was hoping to post Saturday evening but I went to work on Friday and didn’t get back until Saturday afternoon. This is what life is like at the moment for me so please be patient with me.
It’s taken ages to get this episode ready, hope you enjoy it.
Here is wishing you a blessed Easter from us all.
Catch up on previous episodes of “Say You Will Stay” HERE
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Obinna had not heard from Isio in a while. It surprised him that after a full day with the fraud investigator at Aspire, all he had on his mind was her. The softness of her hair when they kissed on her bed. The curls. Ringlets that wrapped round his fingers.
“Your fingers are going to get lost in my hair one day,” she teased, one evening in her bed. When they were together.
He loved touching and kissing parts of her she did not like. Like her thighs and stomach because of her faint scars. Her hair was one of those. Often tumbling down with a little help from him. He would undo her hair band because he liked to see her tresses cascade down her cheeks and neck.
She would complain about its curliness. “I wish it was straight like my mothers. Or more afro like Kanyin’s hair. Or even short like Bibs.”
He remembered this moment because she complained a lot longer. He had pinned her hands to the bed and threatened to tattoo I’m beautiful on her head. She was laughing and protesting when he repositioned himself on top of her.
He heard Jadesola screeching before he saw her. Ezinwa was holding her quiet brother’s hand whilst the little girl skipped happily towards his parked car. He opened the door, alighted and prepared himself for the skin-tight hugs he received every day from her.
“Princess, how are you?”
“Aunty is taking us McDonald’s.”
“Please sah, can we go?” Ezinwa asked. “Bell has gone to her friend’s house.” Her hand went to the middle of her big chest, the way she tended to do whenever she wanted something. “Their mother is sad, sah.”
“Take them,” he took his wallet out and peeled out some notes from it. “Bell is okay at Toyin’s house. Her father is a doctor. Don’t worry.”
The buxom woman nodded and smiled. Her plump face crinkled whilst she urged the children to say bye uncle. This was how she won his daughter over, her luminous smiles and positive qualities.
He had warned his daughter never to be rude to the woman. She listened. Her polite manners returned as her relationship with her mother started to mellow. One of her doctors, credited this on her improved health. Last weekend, she had chosen to stay home with Ezinwa, Anu and the children rather than go to her mother’s. Helped Ezinwa with cooking.
This had become the norm lately. And her mother had stopped coming round religiously. Dropping to the occasional visits. Since the evening, she touched his crotch in the kitchen and he firmly turned her down.
He walked straight into the kitchen because he heard banging in there. Anu was smashing her pill’s pod on a wooden chopping board.
“Calm down, homegirl.” He took it from her and passed it back after opening it. “Let me guess. Idriss rattled your cage.”
“Yes, he showed his stupid face.”
Anu did not appear as though she was trying to suppress her anger. Instead, she appeared as if she would pick up the chopping board and smash it on her husband’s head if he came back.
Although, she was wrapped up in a thick cardigan and comfortable slacks. Feet in slippers. Skin, pale and lightening patchily. Her tired eyes showed her rage.
“What happened when he came?” He asked. “I thought you said you would let him play with the children?”
“I did,” she said. “Then when he was playing with the children in the garden, I checked his phone. There were messages there between him and Biba. Remember, I told you he denied cheating with Biba? He said all he did was flirt with Naffy.”
He agreed quickly. She was shouting and waving her pill pod about. It was the easiest thing to do.
“After seeing I know, he turned it all around. Practically blaming me for keeping my illness a secret and giving him a free pass. Can you believe him?” She popped her pills out. Left them on her palm and placed the pod down on the kitchen counter. She ignored the cup of water he offered her. “He said I should not tell Kanyin because we don’t want her to lose the baby. Meanwhile, he is the one messing with her friend.”
“Don’t try to lie for him. He didn’t even try to deny it when he was here.”
When he saw Idriss yesterday at Aspire, he wanted to throw the stapler in his hand at him. After he implied, Anu was having an affair. And he raised his voice because he didn’t want to hear what Obinna had to say. Miles, in his usual calm manner listened to him.
“I saw a card at the hospital, Miles, my guy.” Idriss insisted. “I knew it was from a man because of the way my wife reacted. Why is she crying crocodile tears? Isn’t that why she kept her illness a secret from me? Tell her, I don kolo jo. Dis mugu don turn master.”
Anu took the cup of water from Obinna and swallowed her pills. “As long as the baby in Biba’s stomach is not his. The last thing my kids need is another sibling.” She busied herself with taking bread and rolls from the wooden bread crock.
Although, she asked him if he would like a sandwich and produced butter and prepared chicken from the fridge, he tried to continue the conversation.
“He couldn’t have fathered her child.”
“I don’t care,” she dropped the bread knife and swore.
Obinna picked up the knife, placed it in the sink and led her to one of the dining chairs. She did not refuse because she had become breathless. Wheezing for air, she gripped his hand, tightening her grip as she inhaled.
“Should I get your spray? Should I ring for an ambulance?”
She shook her head and moved her lower lip in an attempt to smile.
“You are worrying me, chick.” Pulling the other chair closer, he helped elevate her legs like he had seen a nurse that came to see her do.
Her feet were swollen and her toes appeared crammed in her slippers. Her lips crinkled when he glanced at her face.
She was still quietly determined. Her determination to beat her heart condition showed each day. In her dark-brown eyes. In the way, she rose before everyone else, showered and applied her make-up. Preparing for the board meeting next week as if there was nothing wrong with her.
His mother – who had gone to see his brother’s wife in Germany – remarked on this when she called yesterday morning. “That woman is tougher than men, Obinna m.”
“I should have married someone like you,” Anu said. Her eyes brightened briefly. The sadness easily glimpsed from them retiring for a moment. “I hope Issy knows how lucky she is.”
He thought of something funny to say. Something to lessen the intensity of her tone and gaze.
“You are a kind man,” she did not let go of his hand. “I don’t even get how you can have me here after the whole embezzlement issue.”
“You would have done the same for Annabel and Issy if I was the one that messed up.” He straightened as she let go.
“Talking of messing up, why the hell did you let my husband in your head in December?”
“What do you mean?”
“When Kelly told you Issy and Chib were getting it on and you decided to ask my idiot husband for advice.”
“Your husband did not get in my head.” He had long decided that the only person to blame for what happened in December was him.
“I heard him telling you on the phone that a lot of girls are users. That maybe you landed a gold digger. And the very next day, you were using those very words. How can you say he did not get in your head?”
“How about that sandwich?” He was already at the sink washing his hands. Applying the antibacterial soap on the sill generously. The liquid soap did not smell like the fragrant ones in Aspire offices. Or lather creamily.
He had been assured by the blotchy man at the pharmacy of its effectiveness. That it would keep Anu safe.
“Have you told Issy you were under a lot of pressure at work? Have you told her what your best friend was saying?”
“I’m not going to blame anything or anyone else.”
“Have you told her you are very stubborn?”
He laughed softly. “Abeg, leave me alone.”
She shrugged. “As long as you know I care.”
“I know, homegirl.” He took the plate of sandwiches to her and after fetching her a glass of orange juice, sat beside her. “Talking of caring, I hope you know I’m not going to let you make the wrong decision about your health.”
Yesterday, when he drove her down to the hospital, the consultant had recommended surgery. Something about manoeuvring and stimulating. The bespectacled man claimed that the pills and change in lifestyle had stabilised her condition and operating on her now would not be as risky as it would have been before.
He could not guarantee a risk-free operation, though. Listing a host of outcomes that led to Anu pushing her chair back and asking Obinna to take her home.
“I can’t leave my children.” She placed her glass of juice back down. “How can I? Their father is useless.”
“I’m not prepared to lose you either.”
“What about when I’m recovering? When I can’t pick up my son? I know you will say I should have people around but I don’t want to be a burden on anyone.”
“We will sort things out, girly. I will be there. Even if I have to move in with you or you want to continue staying here, we will do that.”
She turned her head to the side. He knew why. Her eyes had started to get wet. He stood up, went over and hugged her. Jagged sobs tore at him. Reminding him why he could not watch a woman struggle because of the decisions of a man.
Those moments he heard her crying when he was young. He would go into her room and try to make her smile. Emeka did not like to see her crying. And their father, the one who caused her distress, was often out. With girls from the university. Women with expensive wrappers and gaudy necklaces from their neighbourhood.
He told himself this was why he gave money to Ezinwa for her rent yesterday. The landlord had called her at the house two days ago, shouting at her and calling her a black bastard.
It was not the voice of the racist thug that riled him up. Finding out, Ezinwa left three children, one of them a baby, at home in Lagos did that. Yet, half of the money she earned each month ended up in the account of her husband’s mistress.
“What will our people say?” Ezinwa asked when Obinna advised her to do the right thing for her and her children. “How can I be starting again at thirty-six? How can I let another man climb on top of me when we married before God?”
The following week started pregnant with good omen. He sold some of his shares at Aspire through a City trader. Idriss had done the same after a thorough conversation with Miles.
He told Obinna, he would start to pay him back his money. He came to the house also and apologised to his wife.
Obinna checked his Samsung whilst waiting for his car. He had stayed the night in a hotel in Essex after a late-night meeting with his stockbroker.
You will have my full support at the board meeting next week, Kaz had written.
Thanks Kaz, he replied. I will need all the support I can get.
He drove home with his car hood down, the fresh-smelling air on the back of his neck. His smile grew wider until he received a voicemail message from the fraud investigator snooping around him.
The man observed with rapt attention. Eyes and ears taking in everything around him. So, when he left a message saying he would be driving past Obinna’s house in the next half hour and would like to meet his lovely family, he understood what he wanted. He called Idriss, using his hands-free set.
“What’s up, dude?”
The speed with which Idriss picked up his calls was one of the things, he liked about him.
“Hey Olowo baba, I need your help. Remember that fraud investigator on my case?”
“The one wey dey do like Sherlock Holmes?”
“Yes. He said he dey come my house. To meet my lovely family.” He pronounced lovely family using the sort of upper end British accent Anu and Kaz often chatted with investors with.
“That’s not good. You know the man just wants to check out your house. To see if you have nice things that you chop the money for. Shut it down, dude.”
“If I do that, he will conclude I’m hiding something. Let him come, the house is not exactly grand.”
“So, what do you want me to do?”
“I’m gonna call him now and say I no dey house. I know he will say he will still drive past.” Obinna tried not to imagine the man’s infuriating face. The systematic method he gathered information with, asking indirect questions that led to the answers he sought. Ending up in one of the inner offices at Aspire after saying he needed the toilet. “You are still at my house visiting your kids, right?”
“Please, let him come in if he insists. Just hide my watch collection. Park any car that looks too expensive down the street.”
“Expensive? You with your econs head.”
“Just go round and check. Lock Annabel’s room, she has all those designer shoes and dresses, her mother bought her. Lock my bedroom door as well, you know I like my Italian suits. And the second ring I bought Issy is there too.” He added quickly
“No wahala, leave it to me. I will sort it. Trust me.”
He should have known better than trust him. His cars were where they were when he left. Idriss had parked his Aston Martin close to them too and Kelly’s trendy Bugatti had mysteriously appeared as if it were part of the park.
“What the hell happened?” He asked as soon as he had jumped out of his car. Idriss was at the door, grinning like a successful stakeholder. He went inside whilst Kelly, who was in the hallway came outside. She was immaculately dressed as usual. Wearing on her neck, the dazzling necklace her father insured for a fortune.
“James, Idriss called me to come over. He wanted me to meet with someone. He said the man was about to change your life.” She attempted a partial twirl. “I hope I represented?”
“What did you tell him?”
“Whatever would help,” she beamed. “I know we only went to vacay once in a resort in Nigeria but I had to give it the va-va-voom. So, I told him about holidaying on a luxury yacht and going to The Bahamas and swimming with Dolphins. Does that help?”
“No. Go home, Kel,” he snapped.
“What did I do wrong? Is the Bahamas not top class?”
“Go back home. I don’t need you in my life.”
“How can I fix us? How, Jamie?”
He ignored her question and went after the man whose neck he now wanted to break. Resting his back on a wall in the kitchen, Idriss looked on as if he had not done anything.
“Why? Pal, why?”
“What did I ever do to you?”
“Na wa for you sha. Why are you shouting?”
“You screwed with me.”
“Like you screwed with me,” Idriss shouted and charged at him. “Or is it a normal thing to go after your friend’s wife? Is it normal?”
Obinna glared at him. How could he think this? He opened his mouth to say something but nothing happened. He was still glaring at him when Anu came through the door.
“Here she is. Your lover. Here to defend you.”
“Keep it down,” Anu addressed her husband. “Our children are upstairs.”
“See. She is not even denying it.”
“That you and my supposed friend have started something or about to start something.”
She smirked. Obinna gawked, willing her to say something.
“So, all this while my friend has been trying to bed you and you did not even tell me. Aah, obinrin. You are a wicked woman.”
“Unlike you, I have not broken my marital vows. But from now on, I intend to. If my PA is a plaything to you, your friend is definitely doable.”
“I’m going to smash him to pieces.” Idriss snarled and raised a clenched fist.
“You will only be smashing the wrong friend.” She laughed and held her waist. Appearing to enjoy the attention she was getting off them. “Oh, by the way, there will be changes with the way we run Aspire from next week. Now that Miles and I are the majority owners of Aspire Developments.” She paused as if to let her words sink in.
“You and Miles!” Idriss fell backwards into a dining chair. He howled like an animal in pain. “I sold him one third of my shares and one third through that man he brought…”
“To me,” her smile lit up her tired face. “All those shares are now mine.” She did not smile when she turned to Obinna. “And the ones you sold too, James. Sorry, you got caught in the crossfire. We never intended to hurt you.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
He tried to seem happy for her. But it was harder than trying not to punch Idriss after he asked him to leave. Obinna hugged Jadesola a few times whilst they waited for a taxi to take them to what Anu described as a new start.
Driving round aimlessly did not ease his mood after they left. Walking around Uppington Square did not, either. With his car at the car park, he walked round for a long while. His intention to go to the gym abandoned. He trudged through the Old Deer Park. The scenic Riverside and the barges and people around it. He imagined walking with Isio and his daughter when he saw families together. Clustered around ice cream vans and sweet stalls.
When he arrived home quite late, he realised he had given Ezinwa the day off and had not arranged for anyone to stay with Annabel. He was almost pleased to see Kelly’s car.
“Daddy,” his daughter met him at the entrance. Dressed in her PE kit and long socks. She did not rush to him as she usually did.
“Sorry Bell. I forgot you were here on your own. Did you call your mum?”
“No, Daddy.” She fidgeted with the bracelet on her wrist and stepped in his way to block his path to the kitchen. “She came to pick me up from school and she stayed. I didn’t ask her to stay. I promise.” She whispered.
“It’s okay. There is no need to look so worried.”
“I know we had a conversation about you two. I know you said it’s never going to happen.”
“No, Bell. It isn’t.”
“It’s not my fault, Daddy. I told Mum to go.”
He followed her nervous gaze towards the stairs and tried not to shudder at the thought of Kelly in his room. Undressed. Or half naked. “It’s okay, baby-girl. Go and watch telly.”
She was staring out of the window in his room. At the empty street below and the bright street light. Her hair pins were luminously gleamy. Crystal pearls that appeared like tiny flowers bunched together.
The rest of her hair had been let down. As though to cover her chest and lend some modesty to her dressing. To the little dress that he thought was too short.
“I have missed you, Jay.” Isio’s voice jolted him back to his senses.
She did not turn away from the window so he walked over swiftly.
“You shouldn’t have come.” He murmured against her neck. “I won’t be able to say no.” A moan escaped his lips when she pressed herself into him. His hands wrapped round her waist and he assured himself it was because her heels were too high and he needed to support her. “You shouldn’t be in here, sweetie. I’m too weak at the moment.”
“Your daughter begged me to stay up here. Her mother is downstairs.”
“I’m sorry about that.”
“Is that why you turned me down when you came to mine? Or because of your principles not to sleep with women you are not dating properly?”
“I wasn’t thinking straight.” One of his hands had moved upwards. Acting by itself. He was not ashamed that he could not hide his desire. “How could I have said no to you? To this.”
“You did it for me,” she faced him. “You could have taken advantage of me. But you didn’t. So, I used that anger like you said. I started looking for better positions. Turns out the agency I work for needed a team manager.”
“You got the job?”
“Yay,” she giggled.
“I’m proud of you, sweetie.”
“This is why I went out with Kanyin, Austin and his friends to celebrate. Kanyin was not much fun because of what’s going on between her dad and Anu so Austin asked his friends to come too.”
“Celebrating is good. You deserve to have fun.”
“Just a small celebration. Kanyin, Austin and two of his friends.”
He did not like how her voice faltered when she mentioned Austin’s friends. His lips took hers because he did not want to think of how Ekong jumped every time he looked at him yesterday. More importantly, because her eyes would not let him be.
Her lips parted for him quickly. He kissed her as if he had not seen her for years. Kissing and kneading her at the same time. When, his mouth started traveling from her lips to her neck and the top of her dress, the hesitation he thought he heard earlier did not show in her voice.
“Are your friends waiting?” He paused his lips between the crook of her neck and shoulders. Captured by her scent and the feel of her legs on his. The answer to his question did not come on time. Instead, the hand she had on his chest, moved underneath his shirt.
She knew he could barely seek her consent. The daring expression on her face told him as much. And the way she bit her lips when his hands found their way under her dress.
“I’m here, Jay. I’m…” She did not complete her sentence. Instead, she bit her lips harder as if to stop herself from making sounds she did not want.
“Good.” He pulled the cord of the blinds down to close them. “I don’t intend to let you go this time.”
“You missed me then?”
“Why? Tell me, why?”
“I love you, Onyinyechi. I love every single bit of you.”
“Show me how much.”
Obinna did not need her to encourage him. She had wrapped her legs around him. Her hands, around his neck. And his shirt had been pulled off by one of them.
He carried her to the solid frame of his bedroom’s mahogany door. Sealed her mouth with his as he pulled down his gym pants and briefs in one quick movement.
He crept out of bed whilst she was asleep. Checked on his sleeping daughter before going downstairs.
He wanted to check if there were eggs, mushrooms and salmon in the fridge so they could have breakfast together.
“You keep breaking my heart,” a familiar voice said from the corner of the kitchen. “How many times do I have to apologise, James?”
His hand paused around the light switch. Kelly rarely sounded upset. “I thought you had gone home.”
“Don’t worry. Good riddance to bad rubbish. I’m going home. Going back to Nigeria. Good luck when Annabel gets sick again.”
She pushed past him. Moments later, he heard the door slam shut.
Back in bed, Isio made him feel better. She writhed against him and called out his name. Afterwards, she blamed him.
“You know I’m powerless, right? I have no self-control with you.”
“You mean you have never had self-control.” She settled herself beside him.
“Hey, self-control was my middle name before I met you. Then you came and scattered my head.” He liked the confident smile he saw on her face. It stayed until he asked about Biba.
“You won’t believe what she has done. I’m not even talking to her.”
“You know how her son’s grandparents are always doing things for her? Bringing him to see her? Looking after him with their son, Damian?”
“Yes. You told me. Isn’t it because Damian wants Biba back?”
“Well, they are never getting back together now.” She raised her head to look at him. “Damian’s father is the one that got Biba pregnant.”
“What are you talking about? Isn’t Damian’s father a pastor? Why would he sleep with his son’s ex? The mother of his grandchild.”
“I don’t know. All I know is Damian is devastated. And Pete, what’s going to happen to him? How will his grandma look after him now?”
“Does she know? The grandma, I mean.”
“No.” She answered. “It’s only Damian that knows.” She explained how Damian had discovered calls made between someone at the church and Biba whilst helping his father with the accounts and how he confronted her at the apartment. “Damian was crying, Jay. He refused to believe it. You should have heard him listing names of church workers he thought it would be.”
“It’s okay, sweetie. They will be fine.”
When he woke up, she was dressed. Sitting on the bed with her legs tucked underneath her. Day had broken. Consequently, the tears in her eyes were noticeable.
“Issy, sweetheart, what is it? Did Biba ring?”
“Don’t.” She put her hands out to stop him from holding her. “Don’t come close. Let me say what I need to say.”
“Are you breaking up with me?”
“The job I got is in Manchester.”
She started to sob. Uncontrollably. Not like any of the other times he had seen her cry. He pulled himself together, cradled her and wiped her face. Muttering over and over that her happiness mattered more than anything else. That she should move to Manchester.
“I can do all the traveling,” he suggested after she had calmed down a bit. “I can even pack up Aspire if you don’t want a long distance relationship.”
She withdrew from him. His mouth opened and closed as she strapped her stilettos on and called the taxi firm for a taxi. He did not get off the bed because he did not want to get on his knees in front of her.
“I need a man I can trust,” she did not look at him. “It’s not enough you love me. I need to know you won’t make me feel like dirt in front of your friends. I need to know you have my back.”
“You have to let me go. I’m trying to get on with my life.”
“Well then, you have my blessing.”
He did not get out of bed until that evening, when he heard his daughter crying. She had just received a goodbye message from her mother.
“Is it because I’m sick? Is it because I have epilepsy?”
Cuddling her did not soothe her. She cried until she fell asleep. And when she woke up, it started again.
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