Sade’s tears gushed like rain after a long drought, refusing to cease until he put his arms around her.
“It was my fault those men did what they did to me.”
Even though the lights were off, she knew he was avoiding her eyes. He held her head next to his chest.
“I was warned off by the son of the Portuguese client I worked for.” He started slowly, letting each word hang in the air as if those words were alien to him. “I had decided to quit escorting but Mama wanted to finish building her house. She needed more money. Femi too. He wanted a new car. He said he needed it to drop you off for lectures. You were struggling with your health…”
“So, you went back because of us?” She wiped her face with the back of her hand.
“No. No, babe. I went back because I’m greedy. I could have managed with the wages I was getting from the holiday resort but I wanted things to happen faster.” He pulled her closer to his body. “I also wanted to challenge the…bastard. I thought, I would teach the racist a lesson. I don’t back down easily. I couldn’t anyway. His mum, Anabela, a young charity director said she really needed me with her. I wish I’d cancelled and asked Akpan to go instead. I called Manchester that day and you picked up. You didn’t like it when I told you I had to go out…”
His breathing became laboured. He let go of her and moved away from the bed, squatting next to the wall but not facing her. It would be easier to stop talking. Better for him. But he didn’t want to ever go through this again with her.
Since Femi found out his secret, he knew he would have to tell Sade what happened to him in Portugal one day. He sighed now, knowing that telling her would ruin their already fragile relationship.
“I was walking back to the resort after escorting Anabela to a black tie event that night when a car pulled over beside me. Anabela’s son, Bento got out of the car and lunged at me. When the other men in the car got out, I thought they were going to help him because I’d managed to knock him to the floor. They dragged me into the car and put a laced cloth over my face. I couldn’t have fought them off even if I wasn’t drugged…”
He could smell it all now. The bleach on the cold floor of the shed they’d taken him to. Their scents, that lingered for years after. That one thing –amongst the others – that the many showers and scrubbings couldn’t wash away afterwards. The blood, mostly his, because he fought and received the worst beating of his life for it.
He saw it all too. The horror in the eyes of the farmer that found him the following morning. He wanted to die. Prayed for death when the doctor that treated him couldn’t look him in the eye. Prayed for death when they referred him to a clinic, he thought, solely catered to women and girls. He waited for all his blood tests to come back fine before disappearing back to the holiday resort. The streets of Madeira haunted him after that night. The cosiness of his flat at the resort was just as punishing.
Although Akpan and Niyi had planned to go back to the UK the following summer, he had moved to Lisbon instead. How could he have faced his brother and his love again? Drink, painkillers and late night partying became his ticket out of the nightmares that plagued his sleep.
“I need a drink.” Niyi announced.
“Did you go to the police or tell anyone?” Sade found her voice. The room had cooled rapidly.
“I didn’t go the police. They wouldn’t have believed me. Even my wife-to-be didn’t exactly think I didn’t ask for it.”
“Jennifer? She knew?”
“She said I talked in my sleep. You know she spoke Portuguese and Spanish. I couldn’t deny it.” He picked at the fabric of his jeans. “She questioned my sexuality. How could they have attacked me if I didn’t seem queer? I tried to explain how it happened but she’d started using drugs again so…”
“She didn’t understand.”
“One evening, I came back from work to find my brother, Andrew and Akpan waiting for me. She’d told them. She told them my dirty secret. Apparently, it was so they could help me.”
“I tried to deny it but I don’t think they believed me.” His voice lowered considerably. “Andy and Akpan didn’t discuss it with me after that day.”
“He wanted to know if that meant I was gay. If that was why I didn’t mind having Andrew as a close friend.”
“You put him straight?”
“I told him the truth. That nothing would ever make me question my sexuality. But my brother must not have believed me. During Jennifer’s funeral, one of the doctors from the practice hugged me on his way into the church. I saw the way Peju stared at me from where she was beside Femi. My brother had told her. Judging by the way her eyes were picking me up, I knew he placed the blame squarely at my feet.”
He paused. Her silence seemed to be helping him. The judgment he heard in the voices and actions of those that found out before her would follow. He knew that.
For now, he would give in to the emotions reeling him in.
“I told Femi that if he ever let anything slip to you, I would never speak to him again … because finding out killed what I had with Jennifer. She changed towards me. She started using like she couldn’t live without drugs. Then one afternoon, I came home early to find my best friend with my fiancée in my bed. She begged me to forgive her. I didn’t have a choice, babe. She stopped seeing me as a man the day she found out what those men did to me.”
“You should have left her when you found out she was using drugs again or the day you caught her with Akpan. Niyi, she was carrying your child! Was the baby even yours?”
He got up from his spot and sat on the bed with his back turned to her. He recoiled when she touched his shoulder.
“Jennifer is dead because of me. Her blood is on my hands.”
Sade sat upright and gripped the edge of her bed.
“I told her to leave, sweetheart.” He put his face in his hands and rubbed his face with his palms as if to ward off tiredness. “We had a row and I told her we were done. I found her stash before she left for her sister’s house. I binned it and left for work.”
“She called me at work saying she was going to score. I didn’t rush over… because I didn’t think she could have gotten her hands on anything so quickly. I didn’t get there on time. She was on the bathroom floor when I found her.”
Sade wrapped her hands round him in a tight hug. “It wasn’t your fault. Please darling, let me help you. We will get you a therapist on Monday. Someone that will help you. You have to do this to recover from what you went through.”
“Please Niyi. Do it for our child. You will not take this journey alone, I promise.”
Niyi got in bed with her. He didn’t want to go back to Andrew’s, where he knew bottles and cans of alcohol would be on every inch of the kitchen table, gaping at him. Tempting him. He knew his recovery wouldn’t be that simple. Not the way she made it sound. The two weeks he spent in Nigeria, trying to mend the problems between him and his father had taught him that issues buried for years cannot be unearthed and tended to like fresh ones. Counselling or therapy would not take back what those brutes did.
His body felt clammy as she pulled the duvet cover over him. She moved closer to his back, not caring that she couldn’t get any closer because of her baby-bump. Undeterred that their relationship was still very much undefined. She would be there for him even if at the end of the journey towards his recovery, clarity about his life might mean his dependence on her ended.
Silent promises in her head aligned with the gentle rise of his chest.
Niyi studied the spider plant as if that was the first time he had seen it. It was nothing spectacular. He kept staring as the doctor asked his question again. Staring at the plant that sat quietly by the window sill listening to his secrets. The secrets he always thought he would be buried with.
“Do you know why you reacted the way you did when you found out about your brother and your girlfriend?”
Niyi shifted on his seat although this question was one of the easiest ones that the psychologist had asked him since he had his first session with him. The first session was supposed to be his second but he’d cancelled his first. Overwhelmed by the task, he’d driven back. Sade had begged him to try again.
“I went to work in Portugal for them. And what happened…happened. I had to repress it to be able to live with myself. And, when I found out that they were together when I was… going through hell, I suppose it brought it all back. It brought it all back in full force. The nightmares got worse.”
“I have this fear that Sade would never see me like a man again.”
“A man?” Dr Fitzgerald asked
“It’s a culture thing. Something like this is not supposed to happen to a man. A man is supposed to be the protector. Never the victim.”
“What I’m hearing is, you are worried about how this will impact on what she feels for you?”
Niyi nodded, shifting his gaze back to the plant again.
“Are you in labour yet?” He asked when she picked up the phone.
“Do I sound like I’m in labour?” Sade chuckled.
“I’m running late, babe.” Niyi said as he checked his appearance in the rear-view mirror of his car. He was at the hospital’s car park. “My meeting got moved to this afternoon, so I will be leaving London later than planned.”
That morning she had cried out in pain whilst they were on the phone, talking. She said it was just back pain from staying too long on her back. She promised to call him if it got worse. As he didn’t have many appointments booked in at work, he had promised to drive down after his midday meeting.
“How did therapy go?”
“Not bad, babe.”
“Go for your meeting. Don’t rush down, just drive safely.”
“Don’t miss me too much.”
“Don’t flatter yourself joor.”
“Sade, I know you will.” He ended the call before she had a chance to say something, smiling to himself as he picked up his bag.
A figure moved towards his car.
He looked up and saw him before the man reached his door and opened it. Niyi swore. It was the last person he expected to see. This wasn’t going to be good, he thought when he spotted the man’s accomplice at the other end of the car park.
Sade waddled to her front door. Why do door traders bother people in their own homes?
She opened the door, ready to say something polite until she saw who it was.
“May I come in? I need to talk to you.” Andrew said.
Sade let him in, biting down her reluctance. Niyi was supposed to tell his friend to stay away from her. That was what he said after she pleaded with him to end their friendship. “That man saved me in Lisbon. I can’t turn my back on my friend because he has feelings for me. If it helps, I will warn him to stay away from you. I will tell him to sort his head out too.” He had told her with an air of finality.
Andrew’s aftershave smelt strong.
His eyes didn’t meet hers as he surveyed the flat.
“I know the truth, Andrew.”
He flinched, meeting her gaze quickly like someone trying to appear strong to an opponent. “What did he say to you? Did he blame it on his one night with those men?”
Sade realised that the man standing before her would do anything to get her man. This unsettled her.
“You are a nurse, I’m sure you know experiences like that can force the most prudish soul to become experimental.”
She glanced at the table, where she’d put her phone before going to the door. “Niyi will be here soon.”
He walked towards the door and closed it, grinning manically as he turned back to her. “I know he is still in London. He won’t be here for a while. We should talk.”
As he moved closer, Sade realised why his scent nauseated her. It was the strong aftershave that filled her nostrils in Peju’s kitchen before the strange arms grabbed her.
The stabbing pain she told Niyi about that morning tore through her back as realisation dawned. She had opened the door to danger and the baby had chosen this time to make an appearance.