Naija Heels On Cobbled Streets #2 By Olajumoke Omisore
Read The Previous Episode of Naija Heels On Cobbled Streets
Pejo froze when her husband’s hand started to travel from the base of her back to the flesh round her navel. She stared into the black blanket of darkness as if prying harder would make the night part, to reveal light.
Today, she found out that a woman she left her children with when they were babies had bedded her husband. Today too, the same woman said “it happened years ago,” before they were married. But that didn’t stem the tears that poured out of her eyes as she fought her way to her car, ignoring Sade’s tirade in Yoruba.
She is dead to me. Peju concluded before wriggling out of Femi’s determined grasps. “Do you always have to think with that thing between your legs?”
“What is wrong with you?”
Femi’s voice jagged her anger to the fore. She wanted to turn round and scratch his nose off his face. She would have. But the thought of her brother-in-law wide awake in the spare room eased her frown into a blank expression.
She turned to him. “Your brother is here. The walls are paper thin.”
Femi straightened his body on the bed. She could tell by the sigh that escaped his lips that he was disappointed. Cold shoulder at bedtime had never been served to him before. But the rules changed when she found out he tried her friend’s bed before popping the question to her during their university days.
“I’m worried about your brother.” She said, using a quieter tone.
Femi rubbed his eyes for a while longer than necessary. A muffled sound escaped his lips.
“You have no idea how worried I am about Big Bro. I’m not complaining though, that man was my father when I needed one.”
“How long is he here for?”
“He has a medical conference in Manchester that will last till next week. He is also going to help his friend with his new business. I’m guessing he will spend all his annual leave here.”
“That’s fine.” Peju said, using one hand to sweep stubborn curls of hair from her face.
He kissed her after announcing he would go and check on his brother. The kiss was a last attempt at enticement. Peju on the other hand kissed him back because as much as she wanted to scream at him, she knew it was best to let her brother-in-law leave before plotting how to unleash her anger.
Niyi dreamt of her again. This time, they were at a lake creamed almost wintry white. Her dress, a simple wedding dress with ivory tail was torn in the middle. The tear stopped slightly above her toned knees, not revealing her baby bump. Their baby bump. A smile flirted with her eyes as her hands and neck performed a mock Bolero move. That was probably why, when she fell through the ice he didn’t move from his spot. He remained standing by the edge, even when her scream tore through his core.
He was wiping sweat off his face, trying to recover from the nightmare when his brother walked in.
“How you dey? Is sleep refusing to come?”
His brother’s middle was covered by a pair of lightweight pyjama shorts. Niyi couldn’t remember ever wearing one. Jennifer loved seeing him unclothed: as naked as he was born, even when things were bad between them. Sex between them always trumped everything else. Her affairs and his own tempting distractions.
Niyi forced a grin. “I was asleep before you barged in.”
“Sorry,” Femi apologised.
Niyi pulled the sheet to his chest. He noticed his brother’s eyes examining the glass cup on the table: the one that had tap water in it a few minutes ago.
“I’m still on the wagon bro.”
“I know. I’m just worried. Jennifer died seven months ago. I haven’t forgotten what happened when things got so bad before.”
“I’m fine.” Niyi observed his brother’s posture by the door. His face reminded him how dark things were not that long ago. “You are not going to lose me again.”
Femi opened the door and paused in the door way. “Jennifer’s death wasn’t your fault.”
He didn’t respond. His brother had left the room before he rose from the bed. The strides to the other end of the room where his phone sat were quick. He took the phone off the charger and checked for new messages. There it was, in bold letters. A new text message from the unknown number.
I know you killed Jennifer.
The first thing that popped into his head that morning was the message he got last night.
It had played on his mind most of the night. Sleep evaded him for hours, the same way that misery stalked him after Jennifer died: slicing past the barriers he created between himself and those unwanted feelings. The feelings won. He would have submitted himself into the cosy arms of the distraction that saved him in the past if he was at home.
As he navigated his way into the Manchester United Football Park searching for a spot to park his BMW, he knew that was the last place he wanted to be. Even without the messages that had started coming more frequently than before, this week was always supposed to be hard. Jennifer was due to give birth to their baby this week.
He signed in at the reception for the conference but minutes later he was squirting water on his head in the gents. As he dabbed the water off his face with paper towel, he caught a glimpse of his face in the mirror. He didn’t like the torn reflection staring back at him.
“You have blood on your hands.” He said to his reflection.
Sade was at Peju’s house. Having been there for a while, knocking on the door, she wondered if the day could get worse.
Work was where shame found her and ripped her to small strips this afternoon. Ben and Kogi, the Ugandan temp were behind her in the staff room when she bent down to pick up her gym bag and she heard a slitting sound from between her legs. She hadn’t needed Ben and Kogi’s laughter to confirm it was her pants that had ripped, revealing the not-so-glamorous shorts she had squeezed her thighs into that morning. As she wrapped her cardigan round her waist, she couldn’t help but wonder what she had seen in Ben anyway. With the body of a teenager, his head bore the appearance of that of a mangled scarecrow that was put together in a hurry.
The door flew open. Sade had already moved away from the doorway, having decided to go home. The look on Peju’s face confirmed to Sade she had known it was her at the door.
“Please Peju, don’t let this break us.” Sade started, wondering if it would be wise to move closer to her friend. She had heard stories of women who attacked other women because of their men. A tale about a woman who pepper sprayed the eyes of the woman that smiled at her husband during a wake keeping.
“My children are home.” Peju said, not moving from the door. Her arms were folded across her middle. Her eyes somewhere down the street.
“So, when do you want me to come back then?”
“Come back for what? I text you to say we are finished.”
“It happened before you two started dating.” She said in a soft voice.
A voice as lenient as she was with Femi all those years ago when he lapped up her cooking, undressed her in his room and called out Peju’s name as he collapsed on top of her. She had known then she didn’t want to lose either Femi or Peju’s friendship. And she had thought she was doing the right thing by helping her two friends get together. He was the student union president. Peju was the stunning sports club secretary. They were a match. Sade was the outsider. The shy and implausibly reticent outsider.
“I am sorry I didn’t tell you.” She realised her friend had taken a vow of silence. “He proposed to you on your third or fourth date. How could I have ruined that?”
“Do you honestly think I would have become this close to you if I knew you were bedded by my husband? Abi, I would have left my son with you whilst I was in the maternity ward giving birth to his sister?”
“But Peju, it didn’t mean anything to him.”
“What about you? Did it mean anything to you?”
Sade didn’t know what to say. She opened her lips and closed them again. Tears had gathered in the corner of her eyes. Dredging up all those memories she had buried in a sealed box was killing her. Slowly. Each blow cutting deeper than the last.
“So all this while, I was telling my secrets to a woman that wants my husband.” Peju was no longer calm. She let go of the door and hurried to Sade’s side on the porch. “Get this into your head. You are dead to me. I don’t want you to call me or come to my house again. If you do, I will rip you apart.”
Sade’s eyes let go. The tears gushed now. And they gushed for a few different reasons but mostly because in her friend’s words and eyes – where she had known nothing but kindness – was now frostiness she had never thought herself capable of causing.
“Just so you know, I’m not threatened at all by you. What would my Femi want with a fat barren woman like you?”
When the door slammed shut, she continued standing there, blinded by her tears and drained by her emotions. That was why when a car turned into the close and parked in front of the house, it took her a few seconds to realise that the Mercedes wasn’t Femi’s. It took even a while longer before she recognised the car. Her heart was churning by the time the owner alighted from it.
Niyi saw her and stopped. Her hairstyle was no longer the straight weave that hung loose around her face the last time he saw her. Long plaits had replaced the extensions. Her tunic failed to hide the plumpness of her chest – that he was sure was not that noticeable when he last saw her.
“Sade…” he murmured, covering the distance between them in quick strides. She said something he didn’t catch perhaps because of the barks sweeping through from next door or perhaps because her shoulders were heaving. Before he could ask why she was crying, she had edged closer to him. He wrapped his arms around her.
She was the one that he didn’t succeed in getting all those years ago. The only woman that ever made him doubt his attractiveness and charm. She looked shorter and curvier than he remembered but the cold climate had served her well, gifting her with skin that made everything else immaterial. Her soft floral perfume teased his senses, urging him to hold her for a little longer.
Peju crossed her legs and uncrossed them a few times. She sighed and huffed until her husband had to look up from the sports page he was reading.
He had arrived home to find her in the lounge slicing all the photos of their university days into tiny ribbons that blew round the room like wedding confetti. That was when she blurted it out. “I know”, she had screamed. Femi had pulled her to himself and apologised over and over until her shoulders relaxed.
Peju had thought it was possible to ignore the way her mind kept inviting the revelation in to taunt her. She had thought she could throw away the bath water without the child. Cutting Sade off would ensure the survival of her marriage.
So, why did she still feel like scratching Femi’s nose off his head? Why did she feel like grabbing that thing between his legs, twisting it and then watch him scream like a girl.
“I’m going to bed. Please take the couch.” She said, without looking at him.
“I have apologised several times …”
“And I have heard you.” She jerked her head towards him on the end of the lounger. “Sade is the one at fault here. Thank God she has her pretender eyes on someone else now.”
Femi continued staring at her.
“I saw her get in your brother’s car before you arrived. Common slut.”
Peju did not like the way Femi tried to return his eyes to the newspaper he was reading. It was obvious to her that the news bothered him. “Maybe, he will teach her a lesson or two. The sort of lessons he taught his dead fiancée.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Femi barked. “Jennifer was very troubled. You can’t believe anything she told you.”
“So, you expect me to ignore the screams I heard when we spent Christmas with them in 2012. What about all the things she told me, the bruises on her back and the fact that she died after Niyi called you to tell you he wanted out of their relationship.” Peju rose. “I am not a fool Femi. I’m sure you know what your brother has done. You disappeared to London when he called you in the middle of the night. And was it not two days later that you called me to say Jennifer had had a nasty accident?” She raised her palms upwards. “Please God, I have no part in what they have done.”
As she walked up the stairs, he was silent, the sort of silent mood he embraced every time she mentioned Jennifer.
Sade took her eyes off her lime and soda for a few seconds to drink in Niyi’s attractiveness. He didn’t look a day older. His skin was still the fair shade it had always been. It suited the black suit he had on. He had taken out the stud earring that she and Femi often teased him about. The trim stubble hair on his face that spread out stylishly like stalk residue on a farm was new. She looked away when his eyes caught her in the action.
A blonde girl in a group at the bar was staring at him. That was the third time she had noticed someone staring at her companion since they walked into the White Bull Pub.
“So, are you going to tell me why you were crying?”
She returned her gaze to his face. “I told you…I have hayfever.”
“Yeah I believe you, exactly the way I believed the pack of lies you told me when you burnt my school uniform all those years ago and you said that was the normal design. I had a black iron shape in the middle of my shirt.” His tone was slightly admonishing but he was smiling, playing with his half empty cup.
She smiled and tried to fight the force that kept pushing her to continue gazing into his eyes. Doing what she did with Femi had closed that door. How could she flirt with Niyi after sleeping with his brother?
“I haven’t forgotten what a terrible liar you are.” He chuckled.
The three of them grew up together. She called their mother Mama the way the brothers did. He knew her well.
“Do you remember how you managed to be placed at the bottom of the class once and you decided to hide your result card and tell your mum you came second!”
“You told me to lie to my mum. I came twenty second not the bottom of the class, by the way.”
“You and Femi begged me to help you. I had no idea though that the real result would slip out of your mouth when Mama arrived from Osogbo.”
Sade laughed again. They talked and laughed most of the evening. They talked about everything: Mama’s jokes, Sade’s disastrous first attempt at cooking, the way the three of them were. When she caught sight of her wrist watch, Niyi told her he would take her home. They would continue their chat over something not brewed from caffeine.
“I don’t think I can.” She tucked a braid behind an ear lobe. She had taken out her hair band and bubble after applying red lipstick and fresh mascara in the ladies. “Not a good idea anyway, I need to sleep early.”
He stared at her for a while. “Why not? What do you think I will do to you? You are practically my little sister. Get your stuff, let’s go.”