They say adrenaline kicks in when fear confronts one. Yet, the fear weighing her down felt stronger than the steeliness of the strange hands around her. He was a stranger whose scent now invaded her space.
She drew breath and decided to fight. A baby had implanted itself inside her. An unexpected miracle. One that ought to be protected. She packed her love for her tiny tot in a wriggle.
The stranger anticipated her move as she swung her right leg backwards. He slammed her head against the wall cabinet overhead, releasing her as her legs crumpled under her weight.
Sade felt herself falling.
“Sade, please wake up, babe.”
She could hear a familiar voice urging her to open her eyes but her head hurt so much it ached every time she gulped in air.
“I have called 999.The ambulance and police will be here soon.” Another familiar voice said.
“Why didn’t you lock the backdoor? Why did you fall asleep?”
The voice closer to her was louder, irritated. As her eyes opened, she took in the owner’s dishevelled state and the way his hand kept stroking hers, noting how much her heart thrived seeing all these signs.
“Are you okay? I swear…I would never have forgiven myself…” Niyi said.
Her head was propped up, in between Peju’s laps and a pillow. She wondered why they had not put her in a ‘recovery position’. Niyi was kneeling in front of her with a wet cloth on her head. A wave of nausea hit her when the cloying metallic smell of blood from the cloth reached her nostrils. Andrew and Femi were standing close to them but the looks on their faces did nothing to reassure her.
“You have a cut on your brow.” Niyi applied pressure to her head.
“I need a proper doctor.” Sade managed, worried about the baby. She saw Niyi grin and paused. She didn’t want him to know about the baby. Not yet.
“We are waiting for the ambulance. Stay awake. Okay?”
She knew now why they hadn’t moved her. They were thinking that her neck had sustained an injury. She knew too that the gleam in Peju’s eyes was caused by tears and that was why her friend kept offering reassuring smiles instead of speaking. But above all, she wanted to sleep.
Her eyes were closing again and Niyi’s hand tapping her when the ambulance crew announced their presence.
The nurse had finished cleaning and dressing Sade’s face before she found the exact tone needed to convey her situation.
“I need to check something else. I’m pregnant and I’m worried…”
“I booked you in for an ultrasound.” The young nurse revealed a flawless set of teeth as if her smile was supposed to offer some sort of explanation.
She offered the explanation when Sade kept staring at her.
“Your partner told us you are expecting when they brought you in.”
How did Niyi find out? Sade didn’t feel ready to tackle that discussion but she knew she would have to now.
“Get some rest. I will send him back in.”Another flash of her teeth and the nurse left.
Niyi came in rather too quickly for her liking – making her conclude that he had been standing right outside the cubicle and that he’d heard everything.
“I was going to tell you.” She didn’t turn round. Her neck felt still. Too stiff to be flexed about. “Not now but eventually.”
“Right before the baby pops out?” He asked grinning. “How could you have hidden the bump? Children in my family are born giants. Look at you, you’re showing already.”
She pulled the sheet up to her chest.
“Peju told me when we found you on the kitchen floor. I guess it slipped out because she was worried.”
He moved closer to the bed and held her gaze. “I know it is hard for you to trust me when you have a gash on your face from my drug dealer acquaintance…but if you give me a chance I can be there for you and the baby.”
“Even if we are not together?”
“I will still be there. I promise.
Peju kept glancing from one child to the other whilst plating their snacks in the kitchen. They were playing a game, ringing round Andrew in the lounge and although Mickey Mouse Clubhouse was blaring on the TV and they appeared happy, the feeling of dread she felt would not shift.
“Peju…” Femi took the ketchup bottle from her hand.
She noticed that she’d completely drowned the kids’ chips and nuggets in it.
“We have police men outside. Don’t worry darling.”
“They won’t be here forever Femi. What happens when they leave?”
She forced the arcs of her face to form a frozen smile when her children stopped mid-play. The arcs relaxed when her young ones resumed playing again.
“My brother brought this to our doorstep.”
“Well… it happens.” Peju wanted to tell him he was the one that fell asleep. The one that promised to keep watch from downstairs.
“Maybe I should move back in permanently?”
She gawked at her husband, unable to believe the way the words casually left his lips. “Have you forgotten what you did?”
“The devil caused it, iyawo mi. The devil used Clara but now… right now ehn, I’m ready to be the head of this family again. I will not have anything to do with that bastard child, she is saying is mine. I will even buy you all the Chanel bags and designer shoes in this world to make up for what I did.”
Peju sighed. She never thought the respect she had for him could dwindle any lower but staring at him right now nauseated her. What attracted her to Femi in the first place?
“I can’t keep paying the mortgage on this house when I’m sleeping on Andrew’s sofa. Let me move back in iya yi.”
“I saw you and Sandra at McDonalds on Saturday.” Peju picked up the plates from the worktop. It didn’t hurt to tell him she’d seen him with her Evangelical Women Comrade. It angered her that he thought he could buy her with shoes and bags.
“If you can’t afford the mortgage because you have to spend it on menopausal spinsters, fine Femi. Evict us. All I know is, I would rather sleep in my car with my children before I let you back in my life.”
In fulfilling his promise, Niyi stayed with Sade in her flat – in the guest room – following her discharge from the hospital. Even when the police liaison officer came round to tell them that Miguel had been arrested for the murder of a rival drug dealer, he stayed around to fulfil his promise, eventually settling into a routine both of them found helpful as her bump grew bigger.
Niyi made a decision when he saw their tiny baby on the screen. That decision was to put his son first. Above all else.
Sade was not the first woman to hurt him yet the wound she gifted him felt raw. He had not felt like this when he caught Jennifer in bed with his best friend, Akpan. He had not even felt the same when Jennifer confessed that she slept with Miguel Santiago, her ex for a bag of heroine.
What he felt was different.
He had felt like a fool, blaming himself because his demons had made him emotionally unavailable to the woman he was about to marry. Nothing had changed in that area. He loved Sade but he knew he couldn’t really be with her. He couldn’t possibly let her in. How could he?
Telling Jennifer the truth had caused the problems in their relationship? What woman would accept him this way? If Jennifer with her western ways and brazen ideas couldn’t, what chance did he have with Sade, the conservative opposite of Jennifer?
The buzz of his phone woke him up in Andrew’s guest room. He would have ignored the caller if it wasn’t the one person he wouldn’t dream of ignoring. The room had been thrown into utter darkness. Andrew and Femi had let him sleep longer than he wanted.
“Where are you?” The lilt to her voice cleared sleep completely off his face.
“In bed.” He replied, drawling on purpose. “And you woke me from a dream. A good one.”
Sade laughed on the other end. “I meant are you here in Lancashire or London? You didn’t say if you were coming up this weekend or not. You started putting the baby’s cot together eight weeks ago and it is still not finished…”
“You called me for that? Here I was, thinking you missed me.”
A pause followed. He hoped she would take the bait. Most girls he knew would.
“How is my baby?” He asked when the silence continued.
“He won’t stop kicking me.”
“That’s my boy.” He pictured her smiling, her head propped up on her elbow.
“You are going home on Monday, I think you should come over tonight Niyi. Or don’t you want to see your baby before you travel?”
Niyi grinned. Yes, he had intended to go down and see her but tiredness had snapped him up after his meeting with the Trust’s executives at work and the drive from London.
He had decided to travel to Nigeria to see his father, a decision Sade had applauded. Since business was slow with Andrew’s company, he had taken some days off work at his NHS management job. He’d decided to go to tackle the issues of his childhood to prepare him for the baby’s arrival.
Their relationship had settled down into this normal friendship that still managed to feel weird every time she hugged him and in the days they’d attended her pre-natal checks together. It was always there, on the tip of the midwife’s tongue: the question they couldn’t possibly answer themselves.
Were they planning to raise the baby together?
“Do you want to see your baby before you leave?” Sade’s question forced him back to the present.
“I have missed my baby.”
The line was silent. He could tell she knew he wasn’t referring to his baby inside her. And he knew too, she would find a way to force him back to reality.
“Do I get some sort of reward for this cot I will be assembling tonight babe?” He pulled the sheet to his middle and rubbed his stomach.
“Sade?” He called softly after becoming aware that he’d stopped taking in air.
“I cooked earlier. Two different stews you will like. Come over, we need to get the baby’s room sorted this weekend.”
He should have learnt his lesson the day he drove all the way from London, to find out she’d called him because something strange was tugging her from the inside. ‘Did you attend any lectures at uni?’ he’d asked. She had insisted the baby’s kicks felt different. And then after he checked her over, she asked him to go back home. It had occurred to him that day she would always want him near. But not as near as he would like to be.
He found himself peeling the bed sheet off his body and rising. “Can’t wait to see you then.”
He switched on the light after putting the phone down. The footsteps right outside the bedroom told him Andrew and Femi were home with him. He knew they were probably getting ready to go out.
Femi walked in crackling his knuckles. “What are you doing Big Bro?”
“Getting ready to go out, aburo.” Niyi started to take out the things in his travel bag, laying them flat on the bed.
“Andrew suggested we go out and paint the town red. You wanna come?”
“I’m going round to see Sade.”
“Do you have a problem with that Femi?”
“Wetin concern me ke? If you like bikes that have had a good test from even your own brother no be my own wahala.”
Niyi turned around to face his brother. Something fiery was pumping through his veins, through his body. Settling in his balled fists.
“I know you are blaming me for what I did with Sade but…” Femi tapped his chest. “It wasn’t like I took advantage of her. Kai. I don’t know what she told you but she wanted me, Big Bro. Even after I broke all that had to be broken, she was still begging for more. Telling me how much she loved me from the beginning.”
Niyi saw his fist flying towards his brother’s face. He fell backwards after the fist connected with his cheekbone. Yet, the calm expected did not wash over him as he walked over Femi’s body on the rug.
Calmness should have washed over him because the grin on his brother’s face was now replaced by a lopsided frown.
Andrew was right outside when he stepped out of the room.
“Femi is not coming out with you, he is a bit busy. On the other hand, I’m in the mood for partying.”
“Get in the shower then, you need to look dope” Andy smirked. “Except you intend to be a good boy for the Mrs tonight.”
“Bad boy Niyi on the prowl tonight. Sade is not my Mrs by the way, she is just a vessel that’s carrying my child.”