Tony spent all day with Kenny and Jackie on Saturday. Visit to the London Eye. Walking the grounds around Big Ben, the Palace of Westminster and shelling out for extra size of whatever snack Kenny pointed at for Jackie. When he saw them come out together on Sunday after the church service, he sighed.
“Calm down, lover boy.” His mum was reapplying her lipstick. Sat beside him in tight fitting pants, big earrings and short hair, this was one of those days where she looked around the same age as him. One of his students had asked him one day if she was his sister when she brought him his gym back to the school.
The age gap had not always worked for them. At secondary school he was often embarrassed walking with her. She was in her twenties, wore shorts during summer and braids woven into ponytails.
Soon, he realised that the senior boys were nicer to him whenever she came to pick him up. And over the years, he realised too that the little age gap helped the relationship between them and his own relationships. She had always been understanding. The way she had been after the conversation she overheard between him and Kenny.
His fiancée’s nails dug into his hand the night his mother overhead their conversation. Until his mother’s jokes reassured her. “I’m too young to be a grandma, babes. I don’t even like Tony calling me mum when there are handsome men about. Do your thing. Whenever is fine. I’m totally cool with it.”
“Jealousy is not a good look on men,” his mother commented.
Kenny and her cousin were now talking to Jide in front of his car. Jide, an accountant – who liked to be referred to as Elder Jide – had reportedly yelled, God forbid, when Kenny’s mum asked if he wanted to further the friendship between him and Jackie.
“I’m not jealous.” He glanced at his mother. She had taken out her phone from her bag and was concentrating on its screen, muttering about a missed call. He waved at Kenny who was now staring at him with a finger to her chin.
That’s me blowing you a kiss, she had messaged him last Sunday whilst he waited for her uncle.
Hope you know what sort of trouble you dragged me into. Now your uncle is talking about seeing me every week. His response was hastily typed.
I will make it up to you, I promise.
That night, she spent half of the night with him on the phone. Tone unusually seductive, she was as suggestive as his ex. Bella, the one his mother hated.
Bella often dropped comments his understanding mum struggled to ignore. Comments about their night time exploits. The risks they took. Bella was an adventurous stunner who loved risks and sex. She fed on them. Drawing happiness from their exploits. She thought nothing of sliding a hand in between his legs in the middle of a packed restaurant. And in the end, her demands made him feel like those days as a teenager when his mother encouraged his smoking and clubbing habits. Without having to sneak out, his vices became boring. Soon he was back to his normal self. Fun seeking, but not dangerously so. His relationships with Bella had to end.
It happened one day when she took him to a fire walking event. “We have to walk on fire,” she said with ease.
Staring at the embers before him, his brain had ticked into place again. Perhaps it was the glowing hotness of the hot coals or the way she whispered they could try bungee jumping after he refused to walk on red, hot coals in the name of adventure. Somehow, he managed not to tell her she was mad. The word she herself said people had used to describe her. He asked if one of her thrill-seeking friends, a woman with scars on her chest, could take her home afterwards and hurried back to his car. It amazed him afterwards that he didn’t run.
“Lover boy,” his mother clicked her fingers. “When you have finished staring at your babe, I’m ready to listen. I might as well listen because I know we are not leaving until you have seen her and chatted to her for hours. She means a lot to you and you are my world so spill.”
“We are fine,” Tony said without turning to his mother. His eyes were on his fiancée. She was laughing now. Holding hands with her cousin. Eyes gleaming with happiness. Shoulders and neck braced. It was as if she knew that Elder Jide was more attracted to her than her cousin. “I’m not jealous. I know she only has eyes for me.”
“I’m talking about her closeness to her family. Her cousins. Pastor and her auntie. You have to accept they are important to her.”
“I’m fine with Lola. Pastor, her auntie, her mum and Lola’s brothers. I have been encouraging Kehinde to get close to her twin again actually.”
“So, it is just Jackie you don’t like?” She whispered. “Not surprising. The girl is not very likable. Not even pleasing to look at.”
“Mum! That’s not nice.” He chuckled and waited for the couple getting in the car parked next to them to drive off before saying anything. “She is actually okay. Just a bit too clingy for my liking. She is always ringing Kehinde. And now I’m worried that this volunteering she wants to do at my school is because she wants to be with Kenny all the time. She wants to be close to me because of her cousin.”
He stopped as Jide got in his car and Kenny and her cousin started walking towards the jeep. “I will handle it.”
He climbed out of the car and met Kenny halfway. They hugged. As if they hadn’t seen each other that morning. He had expected her to sit with him and his mother. But John had passed her the microphone and muttered something about Lola not feeling well. And he had to watch her lead the choir. Unveiling a voice that was surprising and angelic. Powerful. Richer than even Lola’s soulful one.
The message she sent him that morning arranged like poem verses was a pleasant accessory to her voice.
I didn’t know it was possible to love anyone the way I love you.
I didn’t think I could feel either. Thanks for making me fall for you.
Thanks for making me feel again.
“I love you too,” he kissed her forehead. “I got your text. I want to kiss your lips but your uncle might just choose that time to come out.”
He didn’t have to kiss her. Having her close to him, the way her lips parted slightly was affecting him the way he would rather not feel in front of a church.
“Keep touching her. Let Pastor come and catch you.” His mother shouted.
She and Jackie were laughing. They were standing together in front of his car. He had forgotten about them.
“Sonny, I’m sure you have heard Pastor talk about his boxing days.”
Kenny walked over to his mum and greeted her. “Sister T.”
His mother, a self-proclaimed feminist had insisted that Kenny should not call her mum or mother. Not even Auntie. She was saying something to her now, pointing at Jackie.
“I’m not sure, Sister T.” Kenny replied. “Jack was supposed to hang with me today.”
“She can hang with me,” his mother insisted. “I want to go and see how Prof is doing. You can come with me. His daughter is your age Jackie. You can keep her busy whilst I’m offering Prof my condolences.”
Prof, who became a member after attending with the Christmas influx was a widower whose wife died last year. Tony was sure the man regretted telling church members about his circumstances. Women, single, divorced, widowed hounded him with freshly baked cakes and spicy dishes. Although the man seemed taken by Tony’s mum. As an undergraduate lecturer, she had a lot in common with him.
“Mum, what sort of condolences lasts over a year? His wife died last year. Besides, I don’t think Jackie wants to sit through you and Prof talking philosophy and your sociology nonsense. Right, Jackie?”
Jackie giggled for a response.
She often punctuated sentences with nervous giggles. A trait he had seen in one of his quiet students. A coping mechanism for her crippling anxiety. Although, he was sure, the litres of coffee Jackie consumed daily were supposed to help her cope.
He chided himself. What was it about her inability to speak for herself and clinginess that bothered him so much?
“Mum, she doesn’t have to go if she doesn’t want to go.”
“Prof’s daughter is nice. They will have something to talk about, Sonny.”
“I’m not sure,” Jackie ran her hands down her lumpy sides. He was staring at her. As if staring would help unseal her mouth. “I can go and see if our mums have finished with their women’s meeting thingy. They will bore me to death this evening though.” She sighed and faced Kenny, “If I promise to be really good, can I go with you and Tony? Pretty please.”
He looked away. Kenny’s eyes were on him. Frowning or saying hell no would definitely not help him.
“You are coming,” his mother insisted. She locked eyes with him when she came over and patted his shoulder. “My big soldier here is gonna go spend some quality time with your cousin. You will come with me whilst I perform my Christianly duty with the Prof. I have not had male attention since ages, so don’t stand in a sister’s way.”
Lola closed her eyes when she heard her husband’s footsteps. There were creases in the bed sheet that made her back itch. Stale, morning air that needed ridding of in the room. Her bladder was full too.
She didn’t feel ready though. Facing the day after her discovery yesterday was not possible.
“Ivie, wake up. You need to try to eat.”
She opened her eyes and pulled the cover up to her chin. He was smartly dressed. Laundered suit, purple tie, gold watch and Italian-made shoes. Preaching and fashionable dressing for him were like twins you couldn’t separate.
“I’m not hungry. How was your sermon?”
“It went well.” Bending over, he felt her cheek with the back of his palm. “I was worried about you. I raced home to check on you.”
“I’m supposed to be on a visit with your dad. One of Mrs Quadri’s daughters is in hospital.”
“You should go.”
“No wahala. Daddy will understand if I can’t go. He won’t expect me to leave his precious daughter at home like this.”
“I will be okay.”
“Osaibvie, don’t argue. I will run you a bath. Then I will go and get you supplies from the supermarket. Hopefully, Mummy will be home so I can raid her fridge. I’m sure you prefer to eat your mummy’s food today. Not my burnt, mushy fried rice.”
She stared at his face. The dark lips. The big, piercing eyes and broad nose. They were the features on that face. The picture of the skinny boy she saw on his phone last night. Around a year old, yet with strong facial features.
She felt a strange weakness that made her want to cover up again. The one that spread to her legs yesterday when she saw that picture. She had sat back on the bed examining the picture and the facts.
The sender was Nneka, the saintly girl her husband would have married if he didn’t leave Nigeria. Nneka reeked of Godliness. Hearing of how she prayed for hours left Lola feeling like a fraud. Spying on her almost bare Facebook wall, at the pictures that showed her plain-faced, she wanted to ask her husband how he went from someone like Nneka to her who would not leave the house without applying a generous amount of her Mac.
“Are you thinking of going to Nigeria soon?” She asked as he took off his suit jacket and rolled up his sleeves.
“Why?” He paused.
“To see your parents of course. Remember the last time you went was two years ago.”
“I can’t just turn up without you. I promised Mama I will bring their wife. And dem dey expect you.”
“So, why can’t you take me?” She watched him closely for signs of uneasiness.
“I don’t want to be dragging my pregnant wife up and down in that country.”
He was walking away, chuckling. Lola hurried off the bed after him. He was heading into the bathroom but turned around just in time. She nearly tripped. And as he helped her back in bed and chided her, she wondered what happened to her legs. More importantly, what he meant by his last statement.
“I’m not pregnant. John, I’m not pregnant.”
“Yes, you are. Why do you think you have been so tired and sick?” He laughed and held her hands. “My God is good!”
“I’m not pregnant.”
“Yes, you are my virtuous wife. I’m a doctor, I know a pregnant woman when I see one.”
“I’m going home,” Kenny pushed Tony’s hands off her and picked up her skirt as she made her way into a corner of his room. “You need a cold shower.”
He didn’t turn off the TV. Pretending to be engrossed on the sports show on the screen, he watched her pull her denim skirt up her legs. He had sat up in bed, his eyes travelling up and down her body when she turned to him.
“You have been such a jerk today, Anthony.”
“What did I do? You are the one that decided to make yourself comfortable.”
“You climbed in bed and asked me to join you.”
“I didn’t say take of your skirt, give me a good glimpse of your bum shorts and then climb in bed with me.”
“Yeah. Don’t worry, I won’t make that mistake again.”
“All I did was snog and touch you, cutie pie.”
“You practically had your hand on my neck, pretending to be massaging it whilst guiding it down to your boxers.”
He climbed off the bed, pulled up his branded shorts with one hand whilst trying to grasp her with the other. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me. I guess you are just too sexy. Please come here, let me give you are a big hug.”
“No. Not in that state.”
Laughing, he pulled her to himself and kissed her cheek. “I’m sorry. Forgive me.”
“Don’t worry. All this hugging, kissing and the extras you sneak in are definitely helping me.”
“I’m getting comfortable with you, it’s good.”
“You should stay then. Let’s keep helping you. Take your skirt off and get back in bed.”
“Erm, I don’t think so. Nice try. Go and have your shower.”
She left after kisses that did nothing to quench him. He had finished showering when he heard his mother’s voice. Perched on his sofa was Jackie, fingers wrapped around an ice lolly. His mother was not with her.
“Hiya,” he finished buttoning his top. “Where is my mum?”
“She went to the shop.” She beamed a radiant smile that lingered.
A radiant smile that worried him. What if he was wrong? What if she hung around her cousin because she liked him?
Please, God. No.
The smile did not waver. She was licking the ice lolly slowly. Not the manic licking she did as he walked into the room.
“Do you want an ice lolly? Your mum put them in the freezer. I can get you one.”
“No, that won’t be necessary. Your cousin has gone home.”
“I know. Is it okay if I hang here?”
“Not really, I’m tired.”
“I need to get some sleep.” He searched the centre table’s drawer for his wallet. “I will call you a taxi.” When he found his wallet and looked up, she had a hand on her face. A sniffle followed. “Are you okay? Are you crying?” He went over to where she was on the armchair, knelt on the floor and touched her hand tentatively. “Is it because of what I said?”
“It’s not you,” she spluttered for an explanation and placed the ice lolly on a saucer in the middle of the table.
“What exactly is it?” He grabbed some tissues from its box on the table and waited for her to wipe her face. “Talk to me, Jackie. Please.”
“Nobody likes me. No matter how hard I try, no one gives a hoot.”
“What! What do you mean? You have Daddy and your mum.”
“Yeah, right.” She rolled her eyes.
“You have Lola and Kenny.”
“Lola is all about her pastor husband these days. And sometimes I feel like even Kenny only puts up with me because of how much she adores my dad.”
“That’s not true. That girl loves you. I promise. They all do. Daddy is a kind man. You are lucky to have him as your father.”
“I don’t think he is my dad.” She wiped her face leaving streaks behind. “I overheard Daddy saying to Mummy when I failed an exam at uni, this is what I get for been a father to her.”
“That can’t be right. He could have meant it in a different way.”
“They are not my parents, I know it. How else do you explain why I don’t look like them.”
He had felt the sort of pain she felt. It was the not knowing. Not knowing who fathered him. Going to bed and seeing men that looked like him in his dreams. Waking and facing yet another day of wondering if he would ever meet his father.
“Do you think I look like Lola?” She asked puckering her lips. “I know she is slim and light skinned and beautiful. Do you think I look like her? Something tells me my mum is someone close to me. Someone like my sister.”
You don’t look anything like your sister, he thought. “You need to take it easy,” he said instead. “Lola is not old enough to be your mum. Calm down. You have good things going on in your life.”
“I’m a fat, never-been-kissed-virgin who finished with a third class at the university. It’s not easy to relax.”
“You are a lovely girl. Things will fall in place for you soon.”
“Thank you. Thanks, Tony. My cousin is very lucky.”
“I’m the lucky one.”
“Can I be lucky for one minute?” She placed her wet tissues on the table and moved strands of her hair to the side of her face. “Can you hold me, please? Like a man holding his sister.” Her top had moved out of place but she was too occupied with her emotions to notice. “I’m not trying to trap you. I just need a friend like you. Please, hold me.”