Anticipate a Valentine’s special next weekend. I won’t tell you what it is but just anticipate.
This post is dedicated to @Coolrosebelle from her beau.
It was love at first sight for Khalid when she came into the kitchen. She was a gorgeous little girl with a contagious smile that touched something profound in him. She looked every bit like Monet except for a Nubian nose he was sure was from her father.
Brown, curious eyes searched Khalid’s before they looked up at Mrs. Tunji for some form of introduction.
“Hope, darling, this is another friend of your mommy’s. Could you say hi to him?”
Hope gave a wave and a smile.
“He’s Uncle Khalid,” Mrs. Tunji introduced. “Khalid, meet Hope.”
At first Khalid was unable to say a word. He was not so good with kids and this one in particular, was making him feel all sorts of emotions, mostly happy ones. He felt like he was staring back at Monet and into a past that had meant something in his life. There was an instant connection with the child.
“Hi, Hope.” He finally greeted. “How are you?”
“Good,” she answered non-hesitantly. The paleness and deathly look she carried a week before were gone. She was lively and the fact that she was leaning on crutches made no difference to him. There was a stylish beanie cap over her head that matched pink diamond studs on her ears and a bracelet around her wrist. She was wearing a blue dress for the occasion. It was Mrs. Tunji’s birthday and Khalid had offered to make dinner. The other guys were somewhere else in the house.
Hope tapped Mrs. Tunji and the woman lowered her ear to the girl’s lips. After a few seconds she burst out laughing. Khalid was curious to know what the joke was all about.
“Okay Hope, that’s enough. Go and stay with Uncle Guru.”
Hope waved at Khalid and made her exit.
“Silly child,” Mrs. Tunji said, going for a drink of water from the fridge. “She was telling me her mommy had a lot of boyfriends.”
Khalid hauled up his brows. “She knows about boyfriends at her age?”
“Of course. Kids will surprise you with what they know.”
“Yeah, jet age.”
“About Monet, I think she was merely referring to the number of platonic male friends that came to the house. There were hardly any females visiting, so to the child it simply meant her mother had so many boyfriends.”
Khalid didn’t need Mrs. Tunji making excuses for Monet. He knew she had lived her life like one big party and held no apologies for it. He didn’t judge her then and he wasn’t going to do so now.
As for Mrs. Tunji, he was beginning to love her company and wasn’t shaken by her outward stoniness, which he had seen crumbling before him over the past weeks. She was different with him and took to him like a mother would her favorite son. He didn’t know why but suspected it was because he was more mature than the other guys and was never intimidated by her ways.
“So tell me about you and Monet,” he dared as he stared a pot over the stove. “What were you to her?”
Mrs. Tunji took a seat before the kitchen table.
“I was her father’s ex-girlfriend. He and I met so many years ago, before he left the shores of Nigeria. We reunited after her mother’s death but I was merely friends with him and the family. By then I was married and Monet was close friends with my first son. They even dated off and on until she died.”
Khalid stopped what he was doing and looked at Mrs. Tunji. “But really, how many men did that Monet date that you knew of?”
Mrs. Tunji gave a shrug. “Monet was simply what she was.”
“And that was?”
“A cheerful giver.”
The words had been said with a bit of bitterness.
“And you didn’t approve?” Khalid carried a board of chopped onions and green pepper to a cooking pot.
“Abdul Khalid, I am all for women emancipation but please, the vagina needs no emancipating.”
“But you know Monet… she loved life. Not even death could rob her of her will to live.”
A sad smile visited Khalid’s lips.
“She told me your relationship with her was something deep,” Mrs. Tunji mentioned. Khalid turned to her.
“She said you loved her.”
“I guess. And I’m thinking… Hope might be mine.”
“Don’t tow that line, Khalid.”
“She has my nose. Didn’t you the similarties when she was here?”
“Oh well, a DNA test will tell.”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
Khalid simply smiled. He was doing the test and didn’t care that he had signed an agreement not to.
“Hope seems fine to me.” He changed the course of discussion. “You think the cancer will come back again?” he asked.
“They say she’s okay. Let’s just pray God keeps her going. We’ll be taking it one day at a time, a miracle every day.”
Khalid went back to his pot on fire.
“Monet didn’t treat her cancer,” Mrs. Tunji revealed. Khalid turned around again.
“Which was painfully and annoyingly ironic because she loved life so much and yet wanted to die.”
Khalid crossed his arms in bewilderment. “Why?”
“I don’t know. I still ask myself why she did what she did. Hope needed her, I needed her, G&M needed her but she didn’t need anyone. Death to her was like one of her spontaneous, unplanned trips to someplace new. It’s like she just wanted to taste the afterlife, to know what it felt like to die.”
Khalid shook his head in disagreement. “Not Monet. Not the woman I knew.”
“Yeah, I thought I knew her too. Well, she left some videos for Hope, to be given to her only on her eighteenth birthday. I’m guessing the answers to everyone’s questions are in those recordings.”
Khalid added that to the list of things he had to cross. He would get his hands on those videos at all cost. Monet died leaving a lot of questions unanswered. He hated being left in the dark.
Dinner was served some fifteen minutes later. Hope kept the table alive with unbridled chatter despite Mrs. Tunji’s disapproval. At some point, she let her be; no one else seemed to mind.
“Uncle Khalid, what happened to your neck?” Hope asked out of the blue as dinner almost came to an end. A brief silence followed her question as all eyes turned to Khalid. Not dressed in a shirt as he usually did, a scar on the side of his neck was made prominent. He touched it.
“Erm…I got in a fight when I was a little boy with my neighbor and he cut me,” he lied.
“With a knife?” Hope sat up, eyes darting out in interest.
“No, with a sharp metal.”
“Did it hurt?”
“And you went to the hospital?”
“And the doctor stitched it?”
“Did the doctor tell you it won’t hurt and it still did?”
“Yeah…he did.” Khalid found himself smiling.
She shook her head. “They all do that.”
Hope moved to another topic and it was directed at Guru. For the rest of the dinner, she kept them busy with either questions or stories about her friends in school back in the UK. They all forgot about her condition as she brought life to their presence and revived memories of Monet in their hearts. It was difficult not to fall in love with her; she was infectious and even Guru who never as much as kissed Monet, wished Hope was his daughter.
However, Madu remained aloof. He blamed his mood on a fever and was the first to leave the house when the dinner was over.
Khalid didn’t want to say goodnight to Hope. There was a strong urge to possess her completely. The feeling was nothing like he had felt before. It was pure and cleansing. It made him feel virtuous.
“Uncle Khalid, will you come to church with us tomorrow?”
Khalid was cornered. He had been to church only thrice in his life, to exchange vows in the presence of God and his wives, only to break them later without remorse.
“You want me to come to church with you?”
“You’d really like that?”
“Okay, it’s a date, then.”
Hope grinned and gave him a goodbye hug. He drove home in a high spirit.
Later at night when he lay in bed beside Uju, he pinged Sachi just to check up on her, something he normally wouldn’t do. She called him back immediately and he took her call in the bathroom. They didn’t have anything much to say to each other and he felt silly for attempting to be nice to her for no reason.
“I love you,” she said to him as he was about hanging up. He paused, listening to her silence, knowing she was waiting for him to say the same words back to her.
But it was all futile. His love died a long time ago.
“Goodnight,” was all he could say. He went back to bed and woke up the next morning, eager to fulfill his promise to Hope. Uju watched in curious fascination as he got ready and went about the house in a charming manner. She didn’t interrupt him. A happy Khalid meant good times for her ahead.
Beatrice was seated on the steps leading into Bankole’s house. The noonday sun was shining hazardously above her and her face was buried in a handkerchief. She didn’t hear the car that pulled up in front of the house until a door slammed and the gate creaked open.
She looked up through swollen eyes and saw Bankole heading towards her. She shifted away from his path but remained seated.
He walked up to her and stood. For a while he said nothing as he locked her eyes in his.
“Why won’t you just go away, Bea?”
She had an answer for that question but was too tired to utter it.
“It’s over. Don’t you get that?” Bankole ran his eyes over her boxes of clothes neatly arranged at the verandah. “Please, go to the man who knocked you up.”
“Banky, hear me out nau. Why are you doing like this?”
Bankole, for a moment, looked like he was going to refuse her request but her present state gave him a bit of concern. She looked exhausted and sunburnt.
“Five minutes. That’s all I’m giving you to explain yourself. Five minutes.”
Light filled her eyes and she stood to her feet. Bankole unlocked the door. They went into the house.
“Sit,” he pointed at a sofa and turned on the air conditioners. Beatrice sat down and waited as he went for a drink of water from the dispenser. She was thirsty but was too afraid to ask for a drink. Bankole, however, surprised her when he returned with a glass of water.
She looked into his eyes as she took it from him. She saw nothing to indicate he had forgiven her.
Bankole picked the couch farthest from her and sat, waiting for her to be through. He didn’t know why he was still sympathetic towards her after all she had done or why he couldn’t stand firm on his decision to cut her off from his life completely. He had broken up with her and kicked her out of the house earlier that morning. At that time he had been extremely angry and unbendable, and he could swear that something akin to hate for her had fueled his actions. Now, he was calm, and although, he still didn’t want her back in his life, he felt he needed to hear her speak, at least.
First, she needed to explain where she had been all through Friday to Sunday. And second, come clean about the pregnancy.
“I’m listening.” He urged her to speak.
Beatrice wasted no seconds as she began by telling him she had been summoned by her parents to her hometown for a crucial family meeting. It was to settle the case between her and Paul. Both families were going to be present and they wanted Beatrice to confirm that she was indeed done with Paul.
She explained that she tried calling Bankole to inform him of her trip but couldn’t reach his phone as it has been switched off.
“I was busy all day,” he informed her. “Besides, I was in a bad mood. Paul already called and told me everything you did. But let me not interrupt you. Continue.”
Beatrice narrated further that the journey to her village was an unpleasant one. From the moment she arrived, she was faced with insults from her parents, siblings and relatives. And the ill-treatment was carried over to the next day when Paul and his family visited. They held a long meeting of which Beatrice’s father who had benefited financially from Paul over the months tried everything to restore their relationship, promising Paul that Beatrice will get rid of the bastard she was carrying and swear an oath to be faithful to him all her life. But neither Beatrice nor Paul were interested. Watching the entire spectacle through tearful eyes, she now saw how her family had been principally instrumental in her ill-advised actions against Bankole in the past. This made her more resolute on her stance. Nothing was ever going to separate her from him.
At the close of the meeting, her father grudgingly paid back her dowry and she returned Paul’s ring. The moment Paul and his entourage left, she faced the worst verbal abuse and name-calling from her people. She took the humiliation with tears of silence. She knew she deserved everything she got and although it hurt terribly, she was relieved that she was no longer tied to a man she didn’t love.
Without saying a word to them, she entered her father’s house, picked her overnight case and informed them she was returning to Lagos. No one bade her goodbye nor cared that she was leaving at dark. In fact, it wouldn’t have been strange if they chased her away with sticks and stones. She was officially a disgrace to them. How easily her parents forgot the financial assistance she offered them through the years. How badly it hurt that they saw her only as a means to better themselves. She was broken that her own life had been a reflection of their ways.
She was lucky to find a night bus to Lagos but due to mechanical constraints, they left quite late, arriving at Lagos just as the sun was rising. She hired a cab straight to Bankole’s and was shocked when she saw her belongings waiting outside the door.
“What were you expecting, Bea?” Bankole cut her off at this point. “You lied to me about Paul. You told me you never slept with him. And now, you’re carrying a child that belongs to God-knows-who. That baby is not mine.”
“It’s yours, Banky mi. I swear.”
“Can you stop lying?”
“I’m not lying.”
Bankole leaned forward. “When last did we have sex?”
“Third of January.”
“And how many weeks is this pregnancy?”
“So how is it mine?” Bankole threw out his hands.
“Why can’t you just stop lying and come clean?”
Beatrice lowered her head as she saw that they were going to start all over again with the back-and-forth that had him kicking her out of the house earlier. She didn’t want to get him to that point where he would repeat his actions, so she held her emotions, composed herself and looked at him.
“I said I was here to explain about the pregnancy…”
“When Paul and I went to the clinic for the tests and the results came out I was very shocked,” she explained with a shaky voice. “The last time I had sex with Paul was in November and we used a condom and I swear there was no one else. Me, I felt like the test result was wrong, so I did another test in a clinic in Calabar and still it said the same thing. I now asked a nurse there who explained to me that they start counting from the first day of a woman’s last period and my last period was on the sixteenth of December. If you add that to the time we had sex, it’s seven weeks.”
“Lies.” Bankole stood his ground.
“It’s not lies. Google it. You can even calculate it online and it will tell you when the baby was conceived…”
“Abeg, get out!”
Beatrice flinched at his tone. It was the first time he was raising his voice since morning. He was never known to shout, no matter how angry he was.
She was weighed by crushing guilt and broken over how she had hurt him. She hated herself that she started feeling regret over her actions only after he told her he had hit it big. She hated herself more for not dumping Paul at that point and going back to him when he offered forgiveness. But she hated herself mostly because it took a pregnancy test and a peep into a disastrous future with Paul for her to realize she needed him back in her life. It was never her intention to keep the truth away from him this long. She had planned to open her heart to him but each time she tried, the words hung heavy on her lips. Now that it was out, she didn’t feel any better. She knew Bankole more than anyone else in the world. Beneath his handsome face and calm persona was an unforgiving spirit she was familiar with.
She didn’t want to lose him. She loved him more now and thought he looked more gorgeous than when they first met. That day she had been struck by his unassuming looks. It was difficult to see a guy so good-looking and yet so nonchalant about it. She was at a friend’s wedding and he was there as a freelance photographer, one of those guys who took photos of ladies at such events and sold them to smalltime style magazines. He had set his camera on her and a couple of friends as they were approaching the venue, but had let it down slowly to gaze on her face. Their eyes locked and she gave him a good look before turning away. He was dressed a tad shabbily. The sun and the stress of his job had him sweating, soaking his faded t-shirt at the armpits. On a good day that would have been a turnoff but somehow she didn’t mind. Weirdly, he didn’t follow her and her friends in and weirdly she couldn’t stop thinking about him. She saw him around the reception ground a good number of times and though their eyes met severally, he still wouldn’t walk up to her. Known to always go for what intrigued her, Beatrice sought for him towards the end of the ceremony and found him eating outside the venue where the caterers mounted their station. She thought it was cute the way he tore at the drumstick in his hand.
“Hi.” She gave one of her shy smiles just to make him feel at ease. He stared back, not hiding his surprise.
“Am I that ugly that you won’t snap me?”
Bankole put down his chicken and wiped the sides of his lips. He raised well-formed but full eyebrows at her.
“My name is Beatrice.”
He continued his silence as he slowly chewed the chicken in his mouth.
“Me and my friends want to snap sha, that’s why I came.”
He kept on chewing. She loved the way his inviting lips moved and made the thin stretch of moustache over his mouth more defined. She also loved his tranquil eyes.
“I’m Bankole,” he finally said after the chicken was watered down by a gulp of malt drink. And of course, she loved his voice too. It was deep.
“So why have you been avoiding me all day?” Beatrice asked. “I’ll catch you looking at me and then you’ll throw your eyes away. Why?”
“Maybe because I like you?”
His answer made her smile.
“And maybe because I think you’re too beautiful to be single and to bother about a guy like me?”
She blushed deeper.
“And maybe because I was still going to corner you on your way home and ask for your number?”
And that became the beginning of a four-year relationship that Beatrice had hoped someday would end in marriage. But conditions stood as barriers between them and ultimately tore them apart. However, she believed she could still get them back to the way they were, if only Bankole would give her another chance.
“I told you to believe that things would get better, Bea.” He was speaking to her now. She easily read the pain in his eyes. “But you were dissatisfied with the way things were. You wanted to live in a two-bedroom apartment just so you could compete with your friends. You bought clothes you couldn’t afford. You lived in debt and constantly made me feel like a loser. I begged you to trust God, I told you to hold on but you wouldn’t listen. Then you went behind my back to sleep with someone else just because of money? When did the woman I know become that type of person?”
“I don’t even know you again.”
Tears she thought she had run out of spilled down her cheeks. She lowered her head in shame.
“Now, God has blessed me and I’m comfortable and you want to hang on my neck and put another man’s burden on me?”
“I’m sorry.” She went on her knees. “I don’t want to lose you, Banky mi, and it’s not about the money.”
Bankole had heard enough. He pushed his feet into a pair of pam slippers and stood up.
“When you’re through with your fake tears, leave the house.”
He walked to his bedroom and locked himself in. There, his conscience ate him and pushed him to the internet, where he confirmed her words, using four different conception calculators to calculate her pregnancy date. The results were the same, telling him the baby was probably conceived on the same day they made love. But there was that tiny chance that she could have slept with someone else earlier and conceived for that person about the same time.
Bankole was restless. He still loved her. Having now heard her full story and listened to her relate in wretchedness how her family had treated her, he felt some pity for her.
Yet he doubted her.
He paced around for a while, listening to her cry outside his door. Finally, he walked into his bathroom and dialed her elder sister’s number. He wanted to be sure the story she shared about the village trip was true.
There was a long hiss before the woman on the line asked him what he wanted. When he didn’t answer as quickly as she had expected, she went off in anger, telling him how it was his fault that her sister brought their family’s name to shame.
“I hope you’re happy! All your own is to fuck and sit on your lazy ass! God will punish you and Bea and that bastard you put inside her! You will never see the riches you denied her and you’ll die in your poverty! Dirty beggar!”
She cut off the line and he stared at his phone in annoyance which quickly dissolved to compassion for Beatrice. He had always known her family members were about the money but he didn’t know it was this bad. He quickly forgot his own pain as he imagined what she had suffered in their hands during the weekend.
Sparing his logical mind no thoughts, he walked to his bedroom door and opened it. He found her seated outside.
“Why didn’t you tell your family that I have money now, that I can take care of you?”
“I did but they didn’t believe me. They said I was lying. Nobody believes me.”
She wanted to break down again but he gave her a hand and drew her into the bedroom.
“I think you should stop crying now.”
His words seemed to only make things worse. She buried her face in his neck and cried. He didn’t want to hold her at first but when she wouldn’t stop, he put his arms around her, rubbing her back. It took a while to stop the tears and this he did by soaking her in a cool bath. He had never enjoyed seeing her cry and this was her worst episode yet. Her entire face was swollen and he worried that she might fall ill afterwards.
“So are we back together?” she asked.
His answer was yes but it came out of his lips with a price. He still didn’t believe that the baby was his. However he couldn’t dump her like everyone else had and he couldn’t see himself building a new relationship with another woman. She had always been the one. She was in possession of his mumu button.
“Before I left on Friday I made goat meat peppersoup for you,” she told him. “Did you see it?”
He had seen it in a bowl in the freezer with a sticky note on it, on which she had written: enjoy, baale mi. And then she added pint-sized hearts beneath as her signature. It was those little things she did that made it difficult for him to want to leave her. Would he find someone else who would adore him that way?
“I think I just peed in this water,” she confessed. Bankole didn’t want to laugh but the look on her face forced him to. He felt some form of relief afterwards and helped her into a G&M bathrobe.
They walked out to the sitting room, microwaved the peppersoup and feasted on it with some sliced bread. It was something they always did back in the day but now, to both of them it was more than a meal to satisfy hunger. It was a moment of reconnection.
“Will you ever forgive me, Banky?”
She was lying on a couch, head rested on her hands. He shoved the last piece of meat in her mouth as he had always done and chose not to answer her question.
“Eat your meat abeg.” He stood up. “If I haven’t forgiven you will we be doing all this one?” he asked, walking into kitchen with the empty peppersoup bowl. He usually didn’t do the dishes but because he didn’t want her to read him, he took his time washing the bowl and spoons used before returning to the sitting room.
“Boo-boo, you didn’t answer my question.”
“You sef your wahala is too much,” he said. “Abeg, shift.”
Beatrice made little space for him on the couch but when he lowered himself to lie down, she turned and lay on her back, spreading her legs open.
“What’s your problem?”
“Lie down nau.” She smiled seductively.
He was being bribed with sex. It was typical Beatrice behavior. Many times she had glossed over her misconducts by just going naked before him. She knew his weaknesses and had never hesitated in using them to win him over.
He was planning to pick another couch to lie on and scold her for always using sex to have her way but she grabbed his hand and hauled him over her. When her lips touched his, he altogether forgot what he wanted to say.
“This is me telling you I’m sorry for everything I did to hurt you,” she whispered as she unbuckled his belt. “I’ll make it up to you, every second, every minute, every day, for the rest of my life.”
“Just shut up.”
He didn’t want to think about them and all that had transpired or else he might change his mind. He just wanted the good old times back. Making love to her was the closest he could get to that. He feared for what lay ahead; he didn’t see a good ending.
When he slid into her, he found her pristine as he had always known. She felt good and snug, a perfect fit. He told himself her body was meant for him alone.
“Promise me you won’t sleep with another man again.”
“You won’t even talk to any man I don’t know.”
“And you’ll dump all those your friends that twisted your mind against me?”
“You’ll hang out with only the type of people I approve?”
He was teasing but he saw her eyes water.
“And you’ll stay home like a faithful wife until the baby is born?”
He wasn’t teasing this time and her tears had increased, now spilling to the sides of her face. Somehow it gave him pleasure.
“I promise, Banky” she added. “Please, believe me.”
He pushed himself deeper into her and began gentle motions.
He didn’t believe her and he doubted that he would ever trust her.
So what are your thoughts on this? Do you think Beatrice will remain faithful to Bankole? Do you think he’ll ever trust her? Do you think they will last?