Sade remained in the same position, staring at him as if he had just announced that he had five wives and a mistress back home.
“Andrea is Jennifer’s sister,” Niyi added.
“Lovely to meet you.” Andrea stepped forward, holding out a slim hand that had a gold bracelet on its wrist.
Sade shook the hand. Her lungs filled with air again, relieved that the woman wasn’t much more. She couldn’t remember if Jennifer ever mentioned having a sister.
Not that the women looked anything alike. Andrea’s eyes were olive green. Jennifer’s were brown and she had the oomph of someone that knew how to live which wasn’t apparent in this woman’s polite manners.
Andrea left for home after the introduction, telling Sade it was lovely to meet her again. Sade relaxed a bit but she still couldn’t shake the uneasiness that weighed her down. She dumped her bags on a stool in the lounge but fought the temptation to sit down.
She was studying the new array of pictures on the white walls when he came back from walking Andrea to the car.
“Good to see you, love…” Niyi reached for her and hugged her.
As soon as he let go, she returned her attention to the room, carrying her shoulders high so he knew how uncomfortable his introduction –of her as his sister –made her. The pictures in the room included one of a younger her and the brothers, arms linked, smiling with the easiness of teenagers.
Jennifer’s pictures on the wall were bounded in metallic silver. Her poses and styling bore a hint of professional aid. She inspected them. It was if the woman knew what the future held.
“I would have tidied up if I knew you were coming.” Niyi straightened the muffled cushions on the black leather sofa in the room. The house was spotless, exactly the way he loved it to look like. What bothered him was the way she kept avoiding his eyes. “I told Andrea you are my sister because I don’t want her and the rest of Jennifer’s family thinking that I have moved on. Her family are still part of my life. Andrea is struggling to cope. It happened in her house…”
“The overdose?” She corked her neck to him.
“Yeah. Andrea and her husband were on holiday. Jennifer was baby-sitting their dog.”
“Were you there too…when it happened?”
He nodded slowly and then picked up her bags. “I hope you parked enough for a month.”
A smile lit up her face. “No. I’m going back tonight. The last train is around midnight.”
“I will drive you back tomorrow. First thing in the morning if you insist.” He added when her lips started to move in protest. “Technically, morning counts from when one wakes up and I love sleeping in on a Sunday. I hope late afternoon…evening…ish is fine?”
Her laughter was soft. Not the usual ones that echoed louder in his ears.
“Why don’t you come up to the guest room, get changed and I will order us pizza.”
Perhaps because of the questions in her head that remained unasked, when she finally succumbed to sleep in the guest room, it was a short sleep characterised with restless limbs.
His voice, the restless limbs and her unsettled brain woke her up a couple of hours later.
He was conversing in Portuguese but she couldn’t tell where in the house his voice was coming from.
Sade heard him say her name and what sounded like a chuckle. Unrushed Portuguese followed. It sounded important, whatever he was saying. His tone was patient, the way he often spoke whenever he didn’t want his listener to misunderstand him.
A slight headache made her wonder if to get out of bed to get some water. She tried to reach the bedside lamp on the table, knocking her handbag off. The knock sent the contents of her bag clattering around the room. She pulled the duvet cover off her and sat up slowly. Hurrying the actions could only make her temple’s throbbing worse.
A knock on the door startled her. Her eyes tried to search the dark room for her dressing gown as the door squeaked open.
“Are you okay?” Niyi asked, flicking the light on. His eyes took in the soft mound on her chest that her flimsy nightwear did not cover before she had a chance to pull the duvet back in place.
He stopped by the door, gazing at her – the woman that made his dreams beautiful for all those years. The timing was bad. Terrible, even. But he had her at last and he wouldn’t give her up.
“When you knock you are supposed to wait for a response.” Sade’s eyes narrowed in mock disapproval.
Niyi moved in and started to pick up the contents of her bag. “You haven’t grown out of your sleepwalking?”
“Hey, I’m not the one that sleep walked to Baba Landlord’s safe and then proceeded to talk myself out of the situation making Mama blame all her enemies that followed her from Osogbo.”
Niyi straightened and passed Sade her bag. “I found myself in front of that safe. Never underestimate God’s grace.”
He got on the bed and sat close to her. Watching her, he noticed the way her hand held the duvet in place as she placed the bag on the side table.
Sade noticed he hadn’t gotten changed for bed. Instead of asking him why, she asked about Jennifer. Why Jennifer would tell Peju he’d physically assaulted her. It was either her sanity or Peju’s relationship with her in-law. Her sanity won.
Niyi sighed and rubbed his jeans cladded legs. “I have no idea why Peju will take a silly conversation so seriously. I don’t care about what she says but when it affects us…”
She patted his shoulder.
“You know how cheeky Jennifer was. I know you only met her once.”
She nodded. How could anyone forget meeting a woman that introduced herself as “a very bad girl?”
“According to Jennifer, Peju asked her about this carpet burn on her back. Jennifer with her hilarious sense of humour said, your brother-in-law did that to me. If I’d known then, Peju would read something else into it, I would have said something. She probably would have misunderstood because all my brother has introduced her to is the missionary position…” He trailed off.
“I promise, I will ignore her from now on.”
A moment lapsed before he continued, “I have been thinking of resigning from the NHS and moving up North. Andrew wants me to join his agency as director.”
“It will be good for you to be close to your brother.”
He moved towards her and stroked her chin. “Femi is old enough to wipe his own bottom now. I’m moving to be with you. I want us to work out. This is why, I told Mama about us this morning when she called.”
“You told Mama? What if she doesn’t want us to be together? She sees me like a daughter, remember.”
“I don’t care. We are going to be together.” He closed the gap between them and kissed her. She let go of the duvet cover and drew him closer. Kissing him in his house was better than the first time in her home. Her hands held him tighter.
Letting go briefly so he could take of his tee-shirt, revealing the lean abdomen that her fingers traced delicately. His mouth claimed hers again, teasing her, so that by the time he unbuckled his belt, her body willed her to say, yes.
The ring tone of his phone woke him up in the morning. Slowly he withdrew from her hold and grabbed his shorts from the floor. After dragging his shorts up his middle, he tiptoed out of the room, trying not to wake her. She looked peaceful. Happy.
By the time he got downstairs, where he’d left the phone, it had stopped ringing. The three missed calls on the screen alarmed him. He walked into the kitchen with his phone and tapped on the screen. Femi picked up the phone on the other end and from the way his “hi Big Bro” sounded, he knew his brother was in trouble.
“It is Clara. That woman won’t stop until she ruins my marriage.” Femi’s voice reduced to a whisper. He sounded out of breath too as if he was walking or running.
Niyi sighed and pulled his shorts higher. His body felt cold, thanks to the nagging blustering wind that had descended on the South from the cold North.
“You’ve finished it, right?” The thought of Sade’s naked form in his bed pushed him to hurry the conversation. He’d told his brother to end the affair, when he found out five years ago. Since then Femi had told him at least three times about Clara reigniting the flames of their affair. ‘The woman knows what she wants and she is stubborn,’ he moaned once after telling him how Clara forcefully disrobed him, when she invited him to her house to fit a light bulb. Niyi had decided then to stay out of it.
“I went to her house to tell her last night Big Bro. She refused to let me leave. She blocked the doorway in her bra and pata.”
Why did you go to her house? Could you not phone her? He wanted to shout but held back, knowing from experience, Femi would only tell him what he wanted to know.
“Clara then said the whole world will find out about what I sowed with her if I dump her.” Femi’s voice rose to a squeaky pitch “She told me, my brother, that her son is mine.”
“Shall we bless your bed?” Niyi said as soon as he’d ferried their bags to her bedroom. Sade was pottering about. Her hot pink dress clung to her waist, reminding him why it had taken him four days to get her back home.
Despite the clear statement locked within her smile, he advanced towards her and grabbed her waist. “I can’t get enough of you.”
“Hey, I still have to recover from the four days I spent in your house.” Sade withdrew from him and planted a chaste kiss on his lips. “I have to get ready for my afternoon shift and you are supposed to be meeting your brother this morning.”
Niyi watched her take her nurse’s uniform out of her wardrobe. Even his brother’s murky situation wouldn’t stop him from enjoying the moment. Things were finally taking shape in his life. He was sure that the text messages would stop now that he’d confronted Akpan. Although the latter had denied knowing anything about those mysterious messages, Niyi did not leave his house until he had delivered a strong warning.
“What are you going to do about the for-sale sign in front of the building?”
Sade turned to him and shrugged. “I can’t get a mortgage yet.”
“I can put the deposit down for you. It makes sense now that we are together.”
Her eyes widened. She turned away from him before he could read anything else on her face. “No. I don’t want us to rush anything. And I definitely don’t want to feel like I owe you.”
He took the dressing gown in her hands and put it on the bed. Tilting her chin up, he kissed her. Their lips burned with the passion only decades of loving someone could produce. When he let go, their eyes did not shift from the other.
“I am going to resign from my job in London and be here with you. I know it now feels like I’m rushing this but we have wasted so much time.”
“I know but there is so much we don’t know about each other yet.” Sade rested herself on his frame for strength. The more time they spent together, the stronger her conscience about that one night with his brother became. At times, those feelings held her and weighed her down: making her feel that the only solution to her uneasiness would be to tell him what she did.
“Don’t you want to ask questions, Niyi?”
“We lived different lives for years. You don’t know if I’m now a witch.”
He grinned. “Grow wings and fly round the house all you want, I don’t mind.”
“We should talk about the past.”
“The past is nothing but the past. It is what happens between us from here on that counts. Let all the mistakes I made stay buried. I have made plenty. Maybe you have made some too but it doesn’t matter now. Okay, darling?”
Sade held his gaze. It seemed like he could tell she needed reassurance.
“Nothing matters,” Niyi said. “They don’t matter because I love you. And I always will, babe. So whatever mistakes I have made, whatever you have done, it’s all in the past.”
By the time Niyi left his girl, to meet his brother at work, the sun was out. Femi’s face was quite a picture when he approached his car.
“What have you been doing all morning? Did Sade lock you in her flat?” Femi sulked as he got into the car.
“Do you want me to paint you a picture?” Niyi asked, smiling a mischievous smile. “I don’t ask you what you do with your wife in the corner of your home, bro.”
Femi frowned. “You kept me waiting all day because of a woman?”
“Sade is not just a woman. Okay? It isn’t my fault you couldn’t keep it in your trousers.”
Femi rubbed his face. A sucking sound escaped his lungs. Niyi would have laughed if the situation was different.
“Aah, I should have known Big Bro. All those evenings Clara blocked my path and stopped me from leaving…she was planning this.”
I told you to end it. Niyi wanted to say. “Pull yourself together.” He said instead. “Like I told you, we can’t take her words without concrete evidence. Anyone could be that boy’s father. Tell me, did you use protection with her?”
“Protection ke?” Femi blurted. Sweat beads had gathered on his head making him look like a pork joint sweltering under the grill in his navy blue suit. “Big Bro, sometimes we didn’t even make it to the bedroom. Now I think about it, I think na juju she come put in my egusi. The second time sef, I think na force she use…”
“Well, you said she is at home today. We should just turn up uninvited.”
“Are you sure we shouldn’t ask her first?” Femi asked as Niyi’s phone buzzed.
He opened the text message on his screen after shaking his head. Another read of the message made him glare at his brother.
“Where is your wife?” Niyi asked, wondering how to tell his brother his secret had become today’s news. He glanced again at the screen of his phone, at the message Sade sent him.
-What’s going on Niyi? Are you still with Femi? Peju called me two minutes ago screaming. Apparently, Clara told her on the phone that she knows what Femi likes in bed.
He worked out that Sade had sent him a message rather than call him to avoid Femi finding out.
His brother’s questioning face had the appearance of an overfed middle-class man drained of oxygen. Niyi wasn’t sure if he was having a panic attack or something medically worse.
“Sade text me to say that your wife mentioned she is going to see Clara today.” Niyi decided to lie to him.
“Aah! mogbe…we need to stop her.” Femi reached for his phone in his jacket’s pocket.
Niyi had already started the car. “Don’t bother Femi. I think we should just head to Clara’s apartment. Let’s tackle this mess from the root.”
Femi put his phone away. His hand shook as he fumbled with the seatbelt, making his brother wonder how he would cope if all his secrets came out at once.
Would Peju be angry about his affair? Definitely.
But if she found out, the affair had produced a son, his life wouldn’t be worth living.
The drive to Clara’s flat was quiet, apart from the sighs that escaped Femi’s mouth when they parked at the back of her building.
Niyi noticed that Femi was two steps behind him as they climbed the stairs. He noticed too that his brother had conveniently opted for the stairs rather than the lift. It was as if his brother knew what he knew.
Niyi could hear a single voice shouting from inside the apartment. It was a voice he knew so well. Although he had never heard it like this before. He rapped his knuckles on the door. He knocked again when no one came to the door.
He opened the door a few seconds later, praying that one of ladies hadn’t reached for the kitchen knife yet. Femi nudged him to go in first. Like a fool, he did.
Peju and Clara were standing, facing each other in the latter’s small living room. Peju’s eyes were wet but what affected Niyi was the way she started shaking her head when they walked into the apartment.
Clara’s demeanour was the opposite. Decked in plenty of jewellery and in a red dress that matched her lipstick and the fire in her eyes, she seemed to be enjoying herself.
“Please tell me it isn’t true.”
Clara smirked. “Femi tell your wife how we did it in all the corners of this room. Tell her jare.”
“Shut up Clara.” Niyi moved to his sister-in-law and held her hands in his. They were cold.
“We need to go home Peju.”
“Is it true? Please, I just want to know…”
“Five years. Yeah, five years.” Clara pointed in Peju’s face. “I would have kept my mouth shut if you didn’t keep bragging about your wonderful hubby. That is partly why I seduced him in your kitchen that first time anyway five years ago. The same day you told me no man will want a woman my age.”
Niyi shouted at Femi to do something with his lover. Peju had pulled away from his hold and the two women caught the picture of two hens preparing to squabble. Femi on the other hand looked like a headless chicken –who didn’t know what to do. Yet, he still managed to stay away from the women. Away from harm.
“What did I ever do to you Clara?” Peju’s voice waned. Her eyes told Niyi she intended to scream the question.
“Please Peju…” Femi started in a shaky voice, daring to move an inch closer.
“Why is she crying?” Clara rolled her eyes. “She hasn’t even heard that my son is his.”
Peju paused on her spot. Sounds stopped coming from her mouth but her lips were moving. Her face crumbled as she searched out her husband’s face.
Niyi got between the ladies to stop Clara from saying anymore.
“Let me tell her the truth joor. It is me he loves, Peju. He doesn’t even like you. He told me he can’t stand you.”
Niyi saw Peju’s eyes seek out his brother’s face again. His face screamed guilty.
Peju made to start walking towards the door but she paused like someone whose legs had given up on them mid-action. He decided to follow her. Letting her drive in her state would lead to tragedies.
She fell before Niyi could reach her, slamming into the solid wood flooring with a loud thud.