He lingered at the entrance of the house for a few seconds, the sight before him uncomfortable to watch. Still he remained at the door, watching them hold each other.
Chibuzor dragged her closer to himself even when she made to end the embrace, his hands stroking her back gently like a mother trying to lull her tot to sleep.
Leaning against the wall, Femi continued to watch, a wry smile playing on his lips – how was it that Umi had never seen what this man felt for her? He seemed to drop hints at every given opportunity and even now that he stroked her back, he did it so seriously like one at the embrace Olympics.
Femi wondered if the man was comfortable in the friend zone. Or maybe he just liked to watch from the shadows while the woman he liked saw other people.
It would be sick if the latter was the case.
However, deep down, even he knew it was definitely not that. Chibuzor was simply waiting for the time to strike. The time to reveal his true feelings and intentions for the woman of his dreams.
And normally, their unfolding romantic drama should be none of his business. But he found himself wanting to stop it. He wanted to feature in this drama but not as an extra, as the guy who got the girl.
The guy who stopped the other guy from landing the girl.
Chibuzor muttered something in Umi’s ears while he held the door to the car open. And she chuckled before hopping into the passenger’s seat.
The picture was disturbing and he knew he wanted to follow them. Not because he was a sick stalker but because that Umi woman owed him a lot of explanations. What was she doing snooping around his files, his computer and his email? What exactly had she been looking for?
He, the man who kept his life as private as possible, had told her about the darkest part of his life. Yet, she had felt the need to snoop through his files.
He knew he should be livid, but all he could feel was hurt.
He had bared himself, stripped naked for the first time without shedding his clothes. Yet, that was not enough for her.
The one person he had not been scared to tell all didn’t even trust him.
Hurt, he turned to return into the house. He couldn’t follow her now. Not when he couldn’t get himself together; he had his emotions all over the place and he had to fix that first. He had to figure out how to handle these new emotions he felt from finding out what she had done.
He wasn’t used to feeling this way. In fact, he hadn’t felt anything remotely related to this since his wife left.
When he stepped in, his mother was waiting in the sitting room, her arms folded firmly beneath her breasts.
“Maami, I will give you the response you want. But not now.” He began to walk past her.
He continued to walk, returning to the study where it had all began.
“Femi…” when he didn’t stop, she screamed his name, “Femi!”
He whirled around, his face blank.
“You are going to tell me what happened now and not later.”
“Mummy, you know deep down this isn’t a good time. I am not in the right frame of mind.”
“But you were in the right frame of mind when you chose to look for him.”
Silence fell upon them, both unwilling to say more but understanding the depth of the situation between them.
However, as much as he wanted answers from his mother, Femi knew he had to be the one to go first.
“I haven’t looked for him all my life, mum. Do you not think there was a reason I suddenly decided to look for him?”
His mother paused before she replied, “What happened? What changed?”
He made to speak, but words eluded him. This was bigger than his mother thought; it was bigger than even he thought. Suddenly weakened by the burden of narrating the whole situation, he found the nearest chair for support.
The man had sought him out without realizing it himself. And it had all began when Femi was trying to spread his tentacles in the media business to the part of Africa where his father resided.
He had been the stumbling block in Kenya, the man who was the silent destroyer who every single soul feared.
“I am waiting for this your explanation o.” His mother’s impatient voice broke into his thoughts.
Femi’s phone rang just then. Grabbing it, he realized the caller was Wasiu. He ignored it on the first ring, but when it rang again, he picked it. “Wasiu, how far?”
“Agbaje, sorry for disturbing you but that my guy I told you has mouth in distribution business is here with me now. You wan fix meeting?”
Femi considered taking the call of work or launching into an emotional conversation with his mother. He chose the former.
“I will talk to you later, maami. Excuse me,” he said and walked into his study as he began to discuss work with Wasiu and the movie marketer on the other end.
When Umi and Chibuzor returned to the Hospital, Amra was ready to go home.
“She is fit enough to go home now. I have written down a few medications in her prescription note. You can get them on your way out in the pharmacy downstairs. But like I have told her, what is more important is rest and a lot of sleep.”
As the young doctor spoke to Umi, Amra looked on at her elder sister, knowing she had disappointed her again.
She wondered if they would ever recover from this. If this was the beginning of their end.
Umi had given a lot to her and had sacrificed her happiness for her since they were younger and even Amra knew this time, she had overdone it. Yet, she had an explanation she hoped Umi would understand.
Chibuzor walked towards her bedside and began to pack her things into a small bag. Zainab hung around but didn’t say much. She watched her mother closely but kept her distance away. Chibuzor mentioned something about leaving her with Amra this way earlier. He had wanted to take her along to find Umi but she wouldn’t budge. Yet she remained standing, staring at her mom curiously, her new favorite toy – a purple unicorn – clutched in her hands.
Earlier also, Chibuzor had mentioned to Amra, how scared she had been when she heard what happened to her.
“She had a nightmare last night and woke up this morning, perspiring, asking if you were gone again.”
He had focused an accusing stare in Amra’s eyes that left her feeling awful. Like everyone else in her life, her own daughter was disappointed by her terrible life choices and worse, thought she could be ‘gone again’ in a whim.
The guilt she felt drove a knife deep into her heart and no matter how hard she tried, it weighed her down heavily like a weighty beast.
She knew the relationship between her and her sister was irreparably damaged yet, she wanted desperately to right wrongs.
She wanted to make things better once more and to prove she could be a better person.
“Thank you, Doctor.” Umi said and beckoned to Zainab.
Amra noticed Umi wasn’t looking into her eyes. Their gazes hadn’t met since Amra landed in the hospital. And if she knew anything, it was that Umi was done with her.
That silent action was all she needed to confirm that.
After they got Amra’s drugs, they all drove to Umi’s in Chibuzor’s car in utter silence. No one said a word, not even Chibuzor’s car radio which chose that time of all time to go bad.
“My mechanic keeps ruining one thing while telling himself he’s fixing another,” he muttered, uttering the only statement in the car till they arrived at Umi’s.
“Umi, can we talk? Please?” Amra said when they arrived home.
“The Doctor said you need a lot of rest. You heard him,” Umi replied, walking past her. Zainab’s hand slid into her Aunt’s as they both made their way to the Kitchen. “Bubu, would you like some pepper soup? I want to make goat meat pepper soup.”
But she didn’t wait for his response either as she moved quickly out of the living room towards the well-furnished kitchen on her right.
“I will make for everyone,” she added, as if unwilling to wait for Chibuzor’s response whenever it chose to come.
When she exited the sitting room, Amra faced Chibuzor. “Please talk to her for me. I need her to listen, I’m really sorry this time.”
But even Chibuzor was mad at her,“Do you blame her? All her life she has had to put up with your excesses. It’s about time you grew up.”
“But I couldn’t wait around. He found me.”
“Who is he?”
Amra made to speak, then fell silent as if the words were too heavy to tumble off her lips. “Umi would understand if she listens.”
“She clearly doesn’t want to listen, and I think you should respect that.”
But Amra wasn’t backing off, pushing past Chibuzor, she stormed into the kitchen. He followed her, unwilling to let the woman ruin what was left of Umi’s mood.
He had plans that night and he didn’t want the slightest provocation to ruin it for him.
Earlier, when Umi had called him to come pick her up, she had told him she was done with her tryst with Femi Agbaje. She had been serious – he had seen the look on her face when she told him of her decision. She had been lean with the information she gave about Femi but Buzor didn’t push. Hearing she was done was good enough.
“I’m proud of you. You got out before you became a statistic and you beat him to it,” he had said, a deep smile on his face.
And right there and then, he had decided it was time to finally utter the words. He had waited too long and this was a good opportunity. He was finally going to make the woman his and do what was right – make an honest woman out of her.
So he did not need her errant kid sister ruining her mood or putting her in a bad place before he made his move.
He needed her to be happy and in a really great place.
He stood in Amra’s way as she made to enter the Kitchen. “She does not need this, Amra. She is a very happy woman now, yet you want to take that from her. All you have ever done in your life is take from her while she gives you everything. Are you about to take her happiness from her now? How does one deal with an irresponsible sister who abandons her daughter and ends up overdosed on cocaine in a hotel room.”
Amra opened and shut her mouth.
“Cat got your tongue?”
“I did it for Zainab.”
“You overdosed on cocaine for Zainab?”
“No, I mean… I left to protect her. Look, Chibuzor… Only Umi will understand… But she is so angry at me right now and I cannot take that anymore. I want to make peace with my sister.”
Quincy who had been watching from the shadows emerged just then. She did not know why Chibuzor was bent on stopping Amra from seeing Umi. However, she knew she didn’t want Chibuzor to have his way with Umi. Whatever plan he had she wanted to thwart. And she was going to begin now.
“Amra,” she called, a smile on her face. She had just stepped out of the warm shower, her body generously smothered with her lemon scented moisturizer. She had on a sequined midi dress, her breasts held firmly in place by a bra which didn’t stop it from jiggling with every single step she took.
Chibuzor’s eyes briefly settled on them before he looked away. She seemed provocatively dressed for someone who just took a night shower and he wondered if she had anyone in mind while choosing that dress.
“You look well, Amra,” she said to the woman in front of him as she pushed him away from the kitchen entrance. Holding Amra’s hand, she ignored him and said, “Is it that Umi does not want to see you?” When she got in, she saw Umi placing a clean pot on fire. “Umi, Amra has something to tell you and I think you should really listen.”
And before Umi could refuse, she left Amra, grabbed Zainab by the hand and walked towards the door. “We would excuse you now.”
And in a quick second, she was gone, the kitchen door firmly shut behind her.
Amra watched her elder sister continue to ignore her as she threw the carefully washed meat into the pot before her. Grabbing spices off the kitchen shelf, she began to season the food, acting like she was alone in the kitchen.
And Amra said nothing for a while, trying to find her voice. But the moment she did, she started a story she refused to stop until she was done.
“I know you are tired of me, Umi. And that is fine, because I would be too if I wasn’t me. I have failed you as a sister too many times in the past you shouldn’t even want to be related to me anymore. However, this is probably the only stupid move in my entire life I have made for good reason.” She paused, Umi was still heavily concentrated on dinner. So Amra continued, “Zainab’s father found me and I couldn’t let him trace me back to where Zainab was. He was the reason I ran away from the UK. He wanted to have me deported. He is a very dangerous man and believe it or not, disappearing this time was for Zainab’s good.”
“You’ve been trying to get my attention all day just to justify your irresponsibility.” Umi said calmly, her gaze fixed on the meat she now stirred in the cooking pot. “How typical.”
“I am not trying to justify it, Umi. This is the absolute truth.”
“Your truth is always the truth until the next time.” She glanced at Amra now, for the first time since she landed in the hospital. “I am tired of temporal truths, Amra. I am tired of you.”
“I had to protect my child from her dangerous father.”
“And who protects me from you? Tell me, Amra, who protects poor Umi from her reckless sister?” The anger in Umi’s eyes blazed, threatening to burn whoever dared to come too close. Amra thought it made the fire boiling the meat pale in comparison. “You get into trouble, remember me, then show up with a temporal remorse and your mess. You think my entire life is revolved around fixing your shit? I don’t sit around here, waiting to fix your life. I am no Jerry Springer, Amra. So take your apology out of my kitchen, and remain quiet while you heal.”
Amra desperately wanted to try once more but she knew it was a lost cause. The wound would need time to heal and she would need time before she listened.
But she had one last thing to say before leaving the kitchen, “I know this doesn’t sound believable, but it was all for Zainab. And I knew you were the only person in the world who could protect her better than me. I was just all shades of messed up and didn’t think I’d end up overdosed.”
She had barely finished speaking the words when they heard voices from outside the kitchen. Umi was curious but she also didn’t need any more drama in her life.
As it were, there was the Femi situation and now, her baby sister and her never ending act of irresponsibility. If her workers, who were supposed to be closed for the day, had chosen to be of nuisance this evening, she was going to load what was left of her anger on them.
However, when she stormed towards the source of the noise, she caught the characteristic sound of Femi’s sarcastic laughter. She put the brakes on her movement and stayed behind the shadow of the kitchen window as Chibuzor’s voice took over.
“Please, leave. The woman is not in the right frame of mind for this,” Chibuzor spat; his own voice was considerably higher than Femi’s.
“Dude, what’s your ish? Abi you dey pay rent for the house? I’m not here for you, abeg.”
“She doesn’t want to see you anymore.”
“Don’t fucking piss me off, man. Your behavior is childish and I won’t stand here to entertain it. Get the fuck out of my way.”
Umi sighed. She wasn’t going to let whatever it is they thought they were doing get out of hand. She stepped away from the shadows and opened the backdoor. Her presence brought on instant silence on both men.
“I just want to have a conversation with Umi about personal stuff,” Femi said in a collected tone. He could have fooled anyone with the calm smile playing on his lips. And as if willing to push Chibuzor further down the edge, he added in the same calm manner, “nothing that should concern you.”
“Behave, Femi,” Umi spat. Femi held her eyes which were laced with anger. Even then, she looked more beautiful to him. And he enjoyed watching her stubborn lips pout, her beautiful brown eyes and the mahogany skin tone he could bury himself in all day.
His friends had always teased him about having ‘a thing’ for light skinned women. However, since he met Umi, he had felt an attraction he had never felt with anyone like her.
She was not ‘a thing’, she was ‘his thing’.
Chibuzor walked past Femi to Umi when he saw he was losing. “I can have him thrown out if he is upsetting you, Umi,” he said gently, his arms holding her shoulder as he looked into her eyes. “Just say the word.”
And Femi gazed at Umi too, expectant. Wondering if she would listen to her friend and have him thrown out of her house. There was no way he was letting her go so easily – he liked having her naked body in his arms, her breasts cupped in his hands while his tongue teased the hardened nipples. He liked thrusting into her moist insides, particularly when she arched her firm buttocks and let him entrance into her from the back.
He’d asked her once if her favorite position was doggy because of the way she drove him wild whenever she assumed that position. She had ignored him but he had decided himself.
He also liked to give her what she wanted. Pleasuring him was pleasuring her. He loved to watch her as he drove her into sheer ecstasy, her mouth uttering incoherent words, her fingers grabbing the sheets.
And he didn’t even want to think about the times she took control; if he did, he was going to have a bulge in his pants and that he knew he couldn’t afford at the moment.
“I told you what he did to my ex. He slept with her anyhow he liked and used her even when he knew she was in a relationship.” Chibuzor was saying to Umi now. “That is not the man you want hanging around you like a bad smell.”
“Oh.” Femi pressed his lips in a way Umi knew so well. He was trying not to laugh. “This explains a lot,” he began, “and while I do not have to elucidate on my affairs to you, for all it’s worth, I do not sleep with women in relationships.”
Chibuzor scoffed, “Half of the women you bedded are dating, the others married.”
“None that I know of,” Femi said with a grin, then he added “Or maybe your girlfriend considered herself single.”
“You deserved each other.”
“No we didn’t. I don’t even remember this woman.”
“You’re a disgrace to men around the world. Your morals are nonexistent and you pride yourself on this irresponsible behavior you call life.” Chibuzor faced Umi, “You can make your decision but remember, this guy shouldn’t be allowed the slightest chance to creep into your life again.”
“You’re wasting your time, gentleman. And I refuse to discuss a woman I have no recollection of because you’re so bitter. This is who I am and I am not ashamed of it. I do not care what you or anyone thinks of me!”
He’d said the words before he realized the woman he had come to see was regarding him in shock.
And only then did he realize what he had done. “I don’t mean it that way…”
“Leave, Femi,” Umi said.
“Umi, I was trying to explain…”
“Get out of my compound.”
Femi nodded slowly and turned away. He couldn’t stand there any longer. Whenever the woman was ready to speak to him, he hoped she would call.
He also hoped maybe they could talk and figure out this thing he felt. The thing about wanting to keep her somehow.
Once Femi was gone, Chibuzor decided he had to make his move right then or he’d never get the chance.
The idiot that just left already assumed he could waltz into her life whenever he liked. If Chibuzor didn’t mark his territory now, this would continue.
“Umi,” he called. She was back to preparing her pot of pepper soup.
“Uhm?” she responded, fully concentrating on the task at hand. He could feel her pain but knowing her, he knew she had swallowed it up and it would never make an appearance.
“I’m sorry how that went.”
She shrugged. “It is not your fault nau.”
“Okay, I want to tell you something.” Then he continued quickly, “I have always wanted you…”
Umi turned around sharply. “What are you saying?”
“Please listen to me first.” He raised a hand and finished off what he had to say. “I have always wanted you and even though we had that one time when… you know…and I thought it was nothing, I couldn’t stop thinking about you. I have always wanted you, I still want you and I strongly suspect I won’t stop wanting you. It sounds ridiculous but that’s how I feel in black and white. I want to stop loving you from the sidelines and get my own seat at the table. I want you to myself. I want life with you in abundance. And I know you might say no but you need a chance to have a real man in your life. I have waited long enough and I cannot wait anymore…”
He held her hands and drew her close to himself, his lips pressing hard against her forehead. “Make my dreams come true, Umi.”
His voice was a soft groan.
“Be the woman by my side when it all falls through.”
“Buzor, not now. Please, not now. I’m in a very mushy place. Please…”
“You need someone who knows you, someone who cares for you, someone who has always been there. I’d die for you, Umi. You know that. I’ve protected you all these years, shielded you from even myself. I’ve been your one constant. You know I’ll never break your heart.”
“I know that but…”
Umi looked up at him, her words dying away. He saw the vulnerability in her eyes. The tiredness. He wasn’t responsible for it. Femi was – and maybe Amra. Mostly Femi, though. On his own, he had shown Umi how much of scum he could be. But Buzor had shown how he was perfect for her, a lifelong résumé of devotion doing the work for him.
“You’re not saying anything, sweetie,” Chibuzor murmured. Umi continued in silence, and for a while, they simply breathed and did nothing else.
However, when it seemed like the moment was right and it would be a sin to let it pass without using it, Chibuzor lifted Umi’s chin with his finger and drew her lips into a kiss.
He expected resistance. A slap, even. But the initial shock wore out and when she kissed him back with almost the same intensity with which he kissed her, he felt there was a chance for him after all.
And as the duo kissed passionately, the one woman who hated what could be between them was walking past the kitchen. But because she thought silence was unusual after the drama that took place just minutes before, she took two steps back and peeped in.
And that was when she saw them, kissing, holding each other like nothing else mattered.
Quincy looked on pokerfaced, revealing no emotions on the surface but doing nothing to quell the fire of jealousy and rage that burned brightly within her.
This was not going to end well for everyone involved.