Niyi lowered her onto the sofa. He reached for her hand to calm her down and she recoiled, giving him a look he’d seen in her eyes before. A very long time ago.
“I grabbed you to stop you,” he rubbed his face. The alcohol in his body had started to take effect. But it was seeing her recoil in fright that thrashed his spirit.
“You know me Sade. I would never hurt you. Please, tell me you know that.”
“Okay.” Sade said, not daring to move from the corner of the sofa she had wedged herself in. She wanted to say she didn’t know him. Not after the way he lost it in the kitchen. But her lips stayed sealed.
Years ago, you beat your father so badly, he needed hospital treatment. Then you made your brother lose his father because Mama chose you over her husband.
Those were the things she wanted to tell him. But her mouth refused to voice them. Her words were tied by fear this time. Fear of his wrath.
What sort of a fool would she be if she roused his anger again after escaping unhurt the first time? Peju would blame her. In fact, the whole world would blame her.
Niyi had started pacing the room. Corking his head back at times to look at her as if she had changed skin colour.
“I thought you knew me Sade. I love you. But it looks like you are like Peju who thinks I’m a violent thug…”
“You are the reason she has never met her father-in-law…”
“I thought you’d gotten over your issues. That’s why I agreed to give us a chance but after seeing you like that in the kitchen, I wonder if the Niyi in front of me is not the one that put his father in hospital.”
He moved to the sofa and put his hands in hers. Tears had welled up in her brown eyes again.
“I would rather die than lay my hands on you. What I did all those years ago, I did it for reasons I…”
“For your family,” she spat. “I remember what your father did to you and Femi. Mostly Femi.”
The scar on his chest –the one his father gave him for telling Mama he had a mistress –looked more visible today. She wanted to yell at him but a stronger emotion tugged at her heart. She wanted to hold him and protect him too.
“I did it for you,” he announced. “The day I lost it, I was so angry. It was as if someone else took over my body. It was the day after I saw him in your room.”
He let go of Sade’s hands even though her eyes were glaring at him.
“I had gotten up to cram for exams. Everyone else was asleep. I saw him in your bedroom.” Niyi folded his arms across his bare chest. “Adesuwa was asleep on the floor and you were asleep on the bed, so when he bent towards the bed, I knew you were in trouble. I dropped my books by accident. He turned round, saw me and headed back to their room.”
“Why didn’t you tell Mama what you saw? Or me? I could have protected myself.”
“I couldn’t tell Mama because when I told her what he was doing to Adesuwa, she started to make the poor girl’s life a misery. She treated her worse than a slave. I couldn’t let her start hating you too.”
“And in the morning, what made him slap you?”
“He told me to mind my business around his house. I turned around and he slapped me. You know what happened next.”
Yes. A punch had landed on his father’s face, sending him flying across the room. Femi, Sade and Mama were eating at the table. But if Femi hadn’t screamed like a terrified infant, they wouldn’t have believed it had happened.
But Niyi hadn’t stopped there. He’d gone after the man as he crawled on all fours away from his son.
“Femi hasn’t forgiven me. He lost his father because of me but I didn’t think he would go after you to punish me.”
Sade got off the sofa. Her explanation wouldn’t cut it. Not anytime soon.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
She turned around. “I need to get changed. Is that okay with you sir?”
“Pack your things. You are not staying here anymore.” Niyi pointed at the room as if it was filthy. “I live in London anyway and my work is there, so I suggest you move in with me. Plenty of nursing jobs dey there for you.”
Her face lit up. Not with happiness but the sort of smile that warms the face when confronted with insane ideas.
“Have you lost your mind?”
“No babe.” he jumped to his feet. “I haven’t lost it yet. But I will, if I have to watch you and Femi living in this small town. This is why, I think it is better for you to move to London with me. We can get married and be happy. In time, maybe I will let you come and see Peju for a day or two.”
Sade stared at him, eyes wide whilst he went on and on. She kept standing when he disappeared into the bedroom. And she was still standing when he came back from the bedroom dressed in a new pair of jeans with a white tee-shirt, holding a weekend bag.
“I will come back for everything else. Go on Sade. Get dressed and get a few things together.”
“Why can’t you just trust me? Why…”
“Because you slept with my idiot brother. I can’t trust you with that dog around. Now, go inside that bedroom and get dressed.” Niyi shouted.
He shut his eyes for a few seconds when she didn’t move. “I’m sorry. I wouldn’t have to lose my temper if you just listen.”
“Your father used to say that,” She whispered. “And right now, you look so much like him.”
Niyi gawked at her. Then like someone given a new lease of life, straightened his length and headed straight for the door.
It wasn’t hunger that drove Sade to root for food in her fridge after three days of living on water and crying like a starving infant. It was the realisation that her baby needed nourishment. The realisation that her baby needed a sane mother. Not one that hung her head low the minute her man left.
She hadn’t seen or spoken to him since the day of their row.
She ate a bowl of his healthy shredded wheat cereal because nothing else appealed to her. Then her eyes started to droop. A relief she welcomed with both hands. Glad to be free from worrying about her future, she reached for her phone and switched it off.
Peju wouldn’t stop ringing her even though Sade had hinted that the solitary confinement could not possibly make her shattered heart feel worse. To top it off, every time the phone rang she jumped up hoping it was him on the phone. Even when a text message came in from Nono, her friend at work, she had stared at the name on her phone willing the name to change to Niyi.
Niyi had barely checked into his hotel in Marseille –where he was to negotiate a new contract for Andrew’s company – when his phone beeped. It was a text message from a blocked number.
You refused to confess your sins bad boy. Watch me take your family out one by one. I will start with the luscious Sade. Don’t worry, I will be gentle. I won’t spill her blood the way you killed Jennifer. I will be nice to her.
The only person that had ever called him bad boy was Miguel, another of Jennifer’s lovers. A drug dealer.
He hauled his luggage into his hotel room and dialled Andrew’s number. His hands were sweaty. Although not drenched like his face. He had started to sweat despite the cool air that greeted him when he walked into the suite.
“Tudo bom?” Andrew answered on the other end. “Have you checked in? Go to bed early our clients are morning people…”
“I just got another seedy text. Is Femi with you?”
“Yeah. He is dosing off on the sofa”
“Put the phone on speaker.” Niyi said, not masking the impatience in his voice. He waited until he heard Femi’s voice saying a weary hi. “I need your help bro. Do you remember I told you about those texts?”
“He don send another one?” Femi’s sounded tired.
Niyi kept going.
“I think it is Jennifer’s drug dealer after me. I don’t have time to explain but he sent another message threatening to take my family out. I need you to go and check on Sade and Peju. Please bro. Andy will come with you. I would have done it myself if I was in the UK.”
The phone was quiet for a few seconds that ticked by like minutes to Niyi. He could picture his brother glancing at Andrew’s petite body, analysing the situation with his lawyer brain.
“You said the guy is a drug dealer? I think we should call the police, Big Bro. You know I’m not a big man. I’m not even well today. Cold is killing me.”
“I don’t think reporting him to the police will help my case. He had a thing with Jennifer and now…I think he blames me for her death. All I need you to do is check on the girls.”
“But you said the guy is a drug dealer nau. Tan fe ku? If I die today, Peju will marry another man and claim it is to provide a father for our kids. Let me call the police, I no wan die…”
“Think of your kids Femi. Get off your backside for their sake. I will be on the first flight I can catch out of here.”
“Calm down amigo.” Andrew’s voice came on the phone. “We will go round right now. I will ask Kenzi and his brother to come too.”
“We will go to my family first.”
Niyi heard Femi say before the call terminated.
He dialled Sade’s number and his heart sank when her voicemail came on immediately. He didn’t expect her to run to the phone, after all he had walked out in anger. The past few days for him cocooned in his anger, away from her had been easier for him. Now as he dialled her number again, he prayed Miguel wouldn’t go after her.
Although, Niyi had spoken to Andrew, he refused to believe Sade was fine until he saw her – curled up on the sofa in Peju’s lounge – the following day. As he hugged his niece and nephew, his eyes locked with hers. When the children let him go, he strode over to the sofa and hugged her, refusing to take the hands she put between them as a clue to anything.
“I’m glad you are fine.”
Sade withdrew from him to look into his eyes. “Femi said a drug dealer is after you…and us.”
“Thanks bro.” Niyi shot Femi a sour look where he was at the entrance of the kitchen.
He noticed his brother chose a safe distance away from the door whilst Andrew sat on a dining chair by the door. He had seen Andrew’s friends in a car parked outside but something told him if a group of thugs were to burst into the house, Femi would be out through the back door faster than his wonky legs had carried him in the past.
“How are you Big Bro?” Femi asked with a wide grin that crinkled his face. It was one of those grins that reached both ears to appear genuine.
From Femi’s pathetic grin, Niyi deduced that Sade had told his brother, he knew about their one night together.
He suddenly wished the city of Marseille still had him in the comfort of its lively allure. Spending the next few days in the same house with the brother that made his girl a woman wouldn’t be easy.
Sade got ready for the night in the en-suite bathroom. By the time she walked into the master bedroom, Peju had packed her slim frame on the bed in a nightwear that revealed more than it covered.
“Do I look like your man?” Sade eyed her friend’s long legs on the bed, wrinkling her face in a false frown. “Move your skinny naked legs joor, I need to sleep.”
“Sade, please don’t squash me in my sleep with your booty.”
Peju stopped smiling when Sade narrowed her eyes at her.
“How come you feel like sleeping, when we have a crazy man threatening to get us?”
“Don’t worry Peju, Femi is guarding the house downstairs.”
“Femi that can’t even kill a spider. You think that one that hid behind me when a Chihuahua puppy charged at us at the park can protect anyone. Give me a break, he will abandon us and flee if he hears a knock on that door.”
Sade would have smiled if the situation hadn’t impregnated her with this heaviness that threatened to choke life out of her.
“You need to go next door and talk to Big Bro.” Peju sighed, “I know he is doing his best but we need to know more. My cousin won’t mind housing us in Aberdeen if you can get time off work…”
“The last thing I need is Femi sleeping in this house. My children are confused enough. He asked me if he could come up and sleep on this bed with me when I went downstairs.”
“Does he have memory impairment or something?” Sade picked up her dressing gown and strapped it over her pyjamas.
“Why are you covering up, acting like say Big Bro has not seen it all before? Abi, tibi that im score na miraculous conception?” Peju stood up and on nearing her, whispered, “tell him about the baby. Hopefully, that will help him come to his senses.”
“I can’t add to his worries.” Sade whispered and then headed for the door.
He was leaning on the frame of the open window when she walked in without knocking. He had changed into a pair of shorts and white vest top. Despite not having his work suit on, he looked dashing. Perhaps even more so. Her heart dropped into her stomach when he turned to her. Everything about him fought against her will. His lean frame. The aftershave that lingered in her senses. The depth to his voice.
“Are you okay?” Niyi moved towards her.
The lights were off. Perhaps to make the street move visible. She could see him though, thanks to the street light that shone into the room with the strength of a beacon.
“I’m tired. I can’t sleep knowing we are not safe.”
“Sleep here.” Niyi pointed at the double bed in the room. “You will be safe here. I will be at the window if you need me.” His eyes searched her for a while. “I’m sorry about the way I lost it. Please forgive me.”
“Can you forgive me?”
“Of course, babe. There is nothing you can do that will change how I feel. I forgave you as soon as I found out. I will forgive you anything. Anything.”
Somehow they moved closer, until his palm was on her shoulder and his face lowered to claim her mouth.
He kissed her, pulling her body harshly into his as if his life depended on it. For the first time, she felt his vulnerability. It was strange to see him like this, having always thought he was the stronger of the brothers.
The way his heart beat in rhythm to hers told her to hold him tighter. Even in his rage, desire seemed to travel through his body, settling in his loins.
She had half-expected him to lead her to the bed – but in the fashion of a popped balloon the kiss finished suddenly. He tore his face away from hers.
“It is too soon.” He murmured without letting go.
“I know. You need to relax, Femi is downstairs.”
Niyi corked his face to the side. “Perfect timing. I’m holding you, fighting my mind not to recreate that picture of you two together and then you bring him up.”
He bent his head to hers again but she pulled away, having seen the bottle of whisky and the glass cup on the small lamp table in the corner of the room.
Niyi’s eyes followed hers to the table as he let go of her. “I had a glass. You can’t blame me for needing a drink after what you two did.”
“You said you’ve forgiven me. Besides, you are not supposed to drink.”
“It is the forgetting part that is proving impossible.” He tapped his head. “I can’t get the image out of my head. All I could see when I kissed you was the two of you together…”
“Forget this then. We are done if you have to get drunk to be with me.”
Sade ran out of the room. A strange blast of cold air hit her in the hallway. Right from the inside. She knew it wasn’t the central heating that had gone off. She kept walking. Heading downstairs –despite the tears half-blinding her sight. She didn’t stop. The last thing she wanted was to face Peju. Or the man that kept aiming at her heart.
Femi was sprawled on the sofa in the lounge, snoring as if he hadn’t slept for weeks. Although the front door was locked, standing in the room felt eerie tonight. She wiped her face and headed to the kitchen.
Her boss had taught her how to make coffee strong enough to keep the laziest bones awake. One weak cup for her and a strong one for Femi. Trusting her life into a snoring Femi’s hands seemed illogical. She would brew him a caffeine fix that would keep him standing for three days.
She had stepped into the kitchen before she saw them. Black letterings written in bold on the kitchen’s back door.
Curiosity took her closer to the door. Her heart was pounding fiercely. Perhaps this was why she didn’t notice the muddy footprints until her feet were resting on them.
It was then she noticed that the back door was closed but not completely shut. Someone else was in the house with them.
She heard something behind her and before she could turn around, gloved hands had clasped around her. The right one, cold and steel against her mouth.
“Move and you are dead.”