This post is dedicated to our best man, Seye, who just had his baby. Congratulations, Seye!
Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched?-Proverbs 6
She couldn’t sleep. She couldn’t sit still either. Tara ambled about in her room restlessly, replaying Alice’s words about Wesley’s extracurricular accomplishments.
She hadn’t been privy to the information until Alice let it out. Defending Wesley had been the best way to deflect Alice’s attack. Furthermore, Wesley was her man. It was only right that she stood by him. But she felt remorseful for the things she said about Papa. They hadn’t come from a place of disgust or disrespect. She had merely wanted to hurt Alice back, an act that was also now regretted.
However, neither of that kept her pacing about in her room. It was Wemimo’s reaction to the whole drama that got her. What had she meant by her words about Wesley? She knew her friend too well to know there was something she was hiding. Wemimo wasn’t one to throw words about aimlessly.
Tired of speculating, Tara exited her bedroom. She wasn’t surprised to find Alice still in the living room where she had left her. She slowed in her steps. Alice was lying on her back, phone clutched to her chest.
“What is it?” The response was curt. It was too dark to see her face.
“I’m sorry for the things I said about Papa. I just wanted to hurt you. I didn’t mean any of it. I still very much respect him, even with all I heard about him.”
“And just in case you care to know, I’m still a virgin. Wes and I are not having sex.”
“But you’re not saying anything…”
“I said okay nau. Please, just let me be. I want to be alone. It’s not the first time you get angry and start throwing words around anyhow. I’m quite used to it.”
“I just came to make peace.”
“Carry your peace and go.”
Tara felt her annoyance returning, but she didn’t give it room. She sensed Alice was in one of her terrible moods. If she pushed, there would be an outburst.
She left her and continued to her bedroom where she found Wemimo sleeping. She sat on the bed and rested a hand on her.
Wemimo turned with a groan.
“It’s me. I want to talk.”
“I just want to ask you a question.”
“And you couldn’t wait until tomorrow?” Wemimo hissed. “Remind me never to do a sleepover here again. You girls are exhausting. Oya, shoot. What’s the question?”
“It’s about Wesley.”
“I just want to ask you something about him.”
“Wesley is a topic I have no knowledge of.” Wemimo made to turn. “Goodnight.”
“Please, help me. I really like him and we’ve been dating for three months.”
“Three? But you just broke up with Moore the other day… You were cheating on him with Wesley?”
“It’s not like that. And please, can you people stop bringing Moore into conversations concerning my love life? He’s my ex.”
“Sorry. I was just curious. Oya, ask your question.”
“Did you ever have anything with Wesley?”
“Did I ever what?”
“Did he say we dated?”
“Good. We never dated. Anything else?”
Tara knew there was more she wanted to ask. But for the moment, she was clinging to ignorance. It was far more comfortable than unspoken truth.
She stood up.
“But we had sex,” Wemimo stated. “Many times. Many, many times while he was engaged to Sister Nebechi.”
“Are you serious?”
“Wemi, don’t lie to me.”
“Wesley has a birthmark on his scrotum shaped like a triangle.”
“I wouldn’t know that.”
“And you’ve been together for three months?”
“Baby girl… When we were still doing our thing, he’d be with Nebechi during the evenings after he returns from his office, and I’ll be waiting in that his big ass Nollywood house. We did it almost every night until I got bored.”
“So, you’re saying…?”
“If it’s not you he’s knacking, it’s someone else. Sorry, dear.”
“And you have to be very careful with him. He’s gentle. He’s smooth. He’s suave.”
Tara left the room. Alice was still in her position. She walked past her, and back to her room. She showered and ordered an Uber. Afterwards, she wore a short dress without underwear beneath, packed an overnight bag and left the house to her waiting cab. Wesley had a smaller apartment that was closer to his office. He stayed there during weekdays. On weekends, he stayed in the bigger house or his mom’s, if they were not having their normal weekly fights.
Alice was on her way to the smaller house. Lack of traffic had her there in less than fifteen minutes. She left the Uber running and peeped into the compound to be sure he was in. When she saw the car he had used earlier parked in the driveway, she instructed the Uber to leave.
The gateman, annoyed to be awoken, let her into the compound. She walked up to the front door and knocked. It took several minutes and incessant knocks for Wesley to materialize.
He came to her, clad only in briefs, looking at her questioningly. “Is everything okay?”
Tara stretched her neck to peep into the house.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?” he asked.
“Aren’t you going to let me in?”
Wesley moved away. She walked in, eyes on everything at once. Nothing in the blue space revealed that he had female company around.
“Tara, are you looking for something or you’re here to see me?”
She spun in his direction with a smile.
“I’m here for you.”
“You fought with Alice?” he asked, locking the door.
“Yes. She told me things about you, which I refused to believe are true. Wemimo told me things too.”
“You care to corroborate what she said or refute it?”
“Na wa o. You’re angry. See how you’re using big, big words on me.” There was a carefree laugh in his throat as he sauntered into his bedroom. She followed him, eyes still observant.
“Wemi said you guys were having sex while you were engaged to Nebechi. Is that true?”
Wesley picked a can of Coca-Cola on his nightstand and opened it. He was a sugar addict. It was always a wonder to Tara that he wasn’t diabetic or overweight.
“Yes, I was sleeping with Wemi and Nebechi at the same time. There were other girls too. But that’s all in the past.”
“I don’t like the way you’re answering me, Wesley. You’re so casual about it.”
“But you know I’m casual in my ways. Are you expecting me to cry over my past sins?”
“So you don’t have the habit of sleeping with girls in the church and dumping them?”
“No. All relationships I had were ended by the ladies. Not me. I was the one always heartbroken, and that was why I stopped for a long time. Until I met you.” He took a step towards her. “Read my eyes…or lips. Whichever. I am not a philanderer. I do not use women and dump them.”
“But you just said it was all in your past. I’m confused. Which is it? You slept around or you dated these women?”
His sleepy eyes went drowsier. “This is arduous, Tara. If you have feelings for me, you wouldn’t doubt me. You’ll believe me. Like I believe you. I believe you really feel something deep for me, despite how your friends try to taint my image. I believe you have the most beautiful brown eyes. I believe your soft, pink lips are the sweetest thing any man can ever taste. I believe you’re going to be my wife soon. And I believe we’ll have a wonderful life together.”
Tara was undone by his words and the manner in which he had whispered them to her.
“What do you believe, baby?” he questioned.
“I believe you.”
He smiled. “That’s my girl.”
They kissed, with his palm pressed to her bum, pulling her to his groin, as his other hand held her neck in place. She felt the slow rise of his aroused flesh until it came to nestle between her legs. It was something she was used to, having had many sessions like this with him. They would go through the motions that would always end without any action. Wesley never begged or pressured. In fact, anytime she stopped him, he treated her even sweeter.
But today, she wasn’t going to put a stop to their thirst. She was ready to cross the threshold. Being a virgin at thirty-two had been one of the hardest things she had ever done in her life, next to watching Titanic a second time. She had jumped over hurdles of temptation, escaped being raped several times and successfully avoided pleasuring herself. She had planned to lose her hymen on her wedding night, but for some reason, she felt it was best to do it now. Wesley loved her. He treated her like a queen. He deserved to be the one to take her virginity.
So, when he paused to look into her eyes for permission to continue, she gave him more than he was expecting to receive.
“For real?” he asked.
“Yes. Just be gentle with me.”
“You have nothing to fear.”
She let him undress her and caress her virgin body. It was a different sensation to feel a man’s hands on her without clothes. In some places, she felt strong shivers. In others, it was like the touch of a feather or a gentle squall blowing over her. And she was thinking to herself, because of all those different sensations, that it was the way people felt when they went to sleep and died.
She kissed him back, because it was all she could do to keep herself ashore. She was drowning in his arms. Wesley’s mouth was on her breast now. The heat of his breath came to her first before his tongue. He tasted her like he was taking a sip of something hot. It was feverish, but never mind what it was doing to her. She felt like dying. He was the first man to ever go that far, and she couldn’t believe that she was not stopping him or screaming.
A moan came out of her mouth. Something grating and embarrassing. She felt the shame of her immoral surrender as much as the sensations he was sending into her through her nipple.
She was thinking that something would stop them soon. Their fornication would certainly not be carried out. God would be so angry he would do something about their lust, because if it was left solely to her, she had no power to end this.
Wesley gave her a sudden lift from the floor and took her to his bed. Her back hit the sheets as he dove for her other breast. She was dizzy with pleasure. But he had only just begun. When she thought she couldn’t take anymore, he worked his way down to her navel, leaving wetness on her skin. Her thighs were shut when he traveled lower.
“Open your legs, Tara.”
She obeyed, shuddering as she did.
Her motions became slower, but soon she was spread open like a flower. She looked away, feeling shame for being exposed that way, judging herself for giving her purity to a man that wasn’t her husband.
But he silenced her thought when his head went between her legs. His beard rubbed on the insides of her thighs, and then with his lips and tongue, he came down on her abruptly. She moaned out, but she was confused too, in a pleasurable way. The heat of his mouth, the shocking waves his tongue brought, the indescribable feeling, all left her wondering what having him inside of her would feel like.
Wesley’s sudden ringing phone put a stop to his undertaking. He grunted, swore and dove for the phone on the nightstand. And as he did this, something snapped awake in Tara. She looked about her like she was just awakening from a dream. She drew her legs together, clamped her hands on her breast and stared at Wesley as if he was a stranger to her.
Wesley caught her stare in the process of turning off his phone. He returned to the bed.
“I can’t do this,” she said, reaching for the covers. “I can’t.”
“No, no, no, no, no, no.”
“It’s wrong. We shouldn’t. I’m sorry I took you this far.”
She managed out of the bed but he went after her and caught her by her waist.
“Wes, let me go. I can’t continue. It’s wrong.”
“It’s not.” He brought her face to his. “Baby, it’s not. Not when we’re getting married.”
“You can. It’s me and you in this. Come on, you’ve come this far.”
Tara felt the need to cry. Wesley saw it on her face and held her tenderly. “Okay, we’ll stop.”
“Thank you,” she said in relief. “I want to wear my dress.”
He picked her dress from the floor and handed it to her.
“But can we cuddle in bed?” he asked. She nodded.
They lay in bed after she dressed. They had nothing to talk about, so Tara stared at the ceiling, feeling a bit of regret over how she stopped her deflowering. Her mind was vulnerable, switching from one emotion to the other. She didn’t pay attention to Wesley’s hand rubbing her thighs until it became too hard to ignore. Yet she didn’t stop him, and so he went on and snaked his way into her center, fingers caressing her folds. She began to feel intoxicated again.
“Shh,” he said. And kissed her eyelids, then her nose, and her lips. She couldn’t stop him. Her body felt to her like a ball that a footballer was kicking from one end of a field to the other, just because he wasn’t sure what goalpost he actually wanted to score in. So, she thought, maybe she needed to stop letting her mind think for her and let Wesley do all the thinking and doing.
And that was exactly what she did when she finally gave in to him.
At the time, he was lying over her. His strong but gentle hands were stroking her. Gentle, Wemimo had said. Suave. Smooth.
He was slow when he dropped his weight between her legs and she felt the bareness of his erection. There was now no barrier between them, nothing but their bodies. And then she felt it – that sharp brief pain that made her tense up. She felt herself stretch, open and accommodate him as he slowly pushed himself into her.
“Does it hurt?” he asked. She shook her head. “You’ve been successfully disvirgined, baby. Congratulations.”
That strong need to cry returned and she wasted no second in indulging it. But with Wesley’s next thrust, her body abandoned the tears and involuntarily arched. Her hips responded to him; she ground her body against his and began to receive his rhythmic movements. Her eyes shut. She gave herself up and lost touch with time as he made love to her with face buried in her neck, his mouth telling her things no man had ever told her.
She didn’t know if it was seconds or minutes or even days that went by as she lay there and took all of him. She only came back to existence when he began to thrust harder. He then jerked with a loud groan of manly gratification, releasing himself into her.
They lay as they were, both breathing hard. It didn’t take long for Tara’s shame to return. She tried to push Wesley away but he held her, turned around and had her body on his.
“You’re not going anywhere. You’re mine now, Omotara.”
Something about the way he said the words scared her. But the tender touch of his hands drove away her apprehension. She rested her head on his chest and quickly fell asleep.
“Can the weather always be like this?”
Papa was staring up at a dark sky from behind a pair of sunglasses. There was no sun. Rain clouds had hung heavy all day after a brief windstorm that came with a short shower.
Papa and Alice had taken the day off and were loafing by some beach somewhere out of town. There was a collection of four identical houses behind them that stretched to the distance, all properties built by Papa. But only one of them belonged to him; the others had already been bought off by a couple of senators and a pastor, although they were hardly occupied. The houses were the only structures he had ever built. He preferred buying houses and reselling; even those he resided in. Real estate was one of the few things he had invested in. He owned houses and plots of land scattered about Lagos. He had been wise enough to start early, and after thirty years in the business, his investments were paying off. The beach houses, for instance, even after being sold, still reined in cash from paid housing and beach maintenance fees yearly.
It was a picturesque place, beautified by tall, hollowing palm trees. It was secure too. Silent and cut off from any type of intrusion. On typical days like this, only the sounds of lazy waves lashing against the shore could be heard.
“I wish we didn’t have to go back,” Alice said, after commenting about the weather.
Papa smiled. He turned to his side and gave Alice’s long legs a sweep. Her skin was smooth and glowingly dark. Clad in a bikini, it was the first time she was showing parts of her he had never been acquainted with. She had a scar on her tummy from an appendicitis surgery, faint stretchmarks on her bum which peeked out from her bikini bottom and also some on her breasts. She had a firm pair that managed to keep from falling to the sides even as she was lying on her back.
“Don’t you get tired of staring?”
“No,” he replied.
“In June, you’ll have all of it. Everything. Are you excited?”
“June can just come already.”
“After making all this mouth, you better perform o.”
“You’ll be shocked at what hit you. Dey there dey tempt the sleeping anaconda.”
Alice giggled. Papa returned to his initial position on the lounger. “It’s going to be one whole month of honeymooning in the most romantic places you’ve ever heard of. Are you ready?”
“More than ready.”
“If it wasn’t for that conference in August, I’d have suggested we extended the honeymoon.”
“And you’ll leave the church for that long?”
“BCC is in good hands.”
“I hope you don’t mean Adonijah.” Alice wore a frown. “I’ve not gotten over the fact that he’s the G.O.”
“You’re still mad at me.”
“I’m sorry, duchess.”
“I don’t like that name, Papa.”
He chuckled. He didn’t like being called Papa by her either, but he was going to stick to calling her duchess. He had discovered the moniker after he stumbled upon her old Facebook account which had ‘duchess’ added to her name. Being unable to log into the account and also having no access to the email with which she registered it, Alice had abandoned the duchess part of her. But somehow, Papa found the account and had since been teasing her with the name.
“It was necessary for me to do it, Alice.”
“No, it wasn’t. You do not hand over your ammunition to the person who has grand designs of killing you. How on earth you see this as good is what pisses me off.”
“You remember the story in the bible of Pharaoh’s chief baker? He took him out of prison and elevated him right before he hung him.”
“Bishop A will screw you over, sir.”
He loved the way she called him ‘sir’. It was more a term of endearment than it was of respect.
“And I don’t want you to go public with your past.”
“You’ve told me that already, Alice. Please, stop insisting. My mind is made up.”
Alice sat up and lifted her sunglasses off her face, pushing them over her hair.
“I just want to know if you are always going to be like this. Excluding me from major decisions because of my age.”
“What are you talking about, Alice? You’re the only one I’ve told about my intention to spill the beans, and you’re saying I’m excluding you? Please, don’t start your wahala with me.”
“Then why didn’t you tell me of your plans with Adonijah, the new changes in the church…”
“Because I knew you’d object,” he answered patiently. “I didn’t tell anyone else too.”
“I am not anyone else.”
He sat up as well. “You’re a difficult woman, Alice,” he said affectionately.
She couldn’t help but grin.
“I am getting married to you. You’ll become my partner and everything I own will be yours. Even my dreams and aspirations. So please, relax.”
“I’m sorry for overreacting, sugar daddy. But please, no more hiding things from me.”
“Yes, ma. Speaking of daddies…” Papa showed a tickled expression.
“My dad?” Alice rolled her eyes.
“That old man is something else.”
“You don’t have to meet his demands, asides what is required of you by tradition.”
“So that it would be said of me that I couldn’t afford to buy my father-in-law a 4-Matic?”
“He said if you buy it, you’ll be compensating him for what my mom and I did to him. Just so you know, we did nothing.”
“You’re ready to talk about that now?”
Alice’s past wasn’t something she loved dredging up. It had taken a lot for Papa to have her open up about her past relationships with men, but every attempt he had made to have her venture back into her childhood had been met with strong resistance.
“No more hiding things, remember?” he urged.
“George, like so many people out there, growing up sucked for me.”
Her frown returned. With stiff shoulders she picked a can of soda from an ice bucket between them. Papa opened it.
“I am my mom’s only child with my dad,” Alice spoke, her voice low, “but I could have as well been an orphan. She left when I was three months old to seek a better life in Europe with her boyfriend. She married the guy and they have kids and grandchildren today. My dad never forgave her, and by birthright, I suffered for her sins. I was basically on my own. My stepmom would always harass my dad before he paid my school fees in primary and secondary school. I wore hand-me-downs from my half-sisters. I can’t remember ever getting anything new, except for the pads I used for my periods as a teenager. Even my panties were handed down to me by my sisters.
“When I got into the university, I decided I was done groveling for what rightfully belonged to me. So, I started my sugar baby lifestyle, going after older, married men. I’d have the occasional boyfriend who was my age but I always preferred older guys because they treated me better.”
“Truth is I’ve carried my daddy issues with me all my life. And maybe it’s why I’m with you. You were the first older man who didn’t want to sleep with me, who genuinely cared, who took care of my needs without asking for something in return. That was why I was disappointed when that Phoebe person told me all those horrible things about you.”
“I’m no longer that man.”
“I know, George.” Alice smiled tenderly.
“Your mom? You’ve heard from her since she left?”
Alice shook her head. “But my aunt, her sister, always keeps me updated with what’s going on in her life. It took a while for her to tell me that my mom didn’t want to be around me because I reminded her of my dad. She had been forced by her parents to marry him. She hated him and had aborted four pregnancies before I came. She tried to abort me too but the first wife caught her. She was beaten by my dad and locked in her room throughout the pregnancy. When I was born, they said she wouldn’t touch me, no matter how much they forced and threatened her.”
“I see where you get your stubbornness.”
“My stepmom, the one who cared for me as a child, had just had her baby too, so she took me from her and cared for me. Three months later, my mom escaped from her room and had since not been seen. As at the time she left, I’d not even been named because my dad won’t accept me as his. He said I belonged to my mom’s boyfriend. It was my stepmom who named me Alice. She was reading Alice in Wonderland then and was fascinated by the story.”
Papa reached out and held Alice’s hand. “Your story makes me sad, duchess.”
“I’m over everything now.”
Papa left his lounger and sat with her.
“But I’m serious about you not bothering to fulfill my old man’s whims. He’s too greedy and wants to reap where he has not sown.”
“It’s just an SUV, Alice.”
“Just an SUV. Okay o. When I start demanding for just heaven and earth from you, hope you won’t be forming stinginess?”
“I already told you. What I have is yours. You won’t ever need to ask. Think of me as that angel that has come to right all the wrongs in your life.”
His lips rested on her forehead and then went down to her nose. “You don’t know how much you mean to me.”
She kissed him back. “We should be going.”
They stood up, folded their loungers and dragged them to the house. A short while after they were headed back to town. Alice fell asleep along the way, her head resting on his laps, feet raised up on the window. The chauffeur drove them to her apartment. Papa escorted her in and returned to the car. Asked if he was making any stops along the way, he replied in the negative. The chauffeur started towards home. On their way, Papa turned on his phone to find a text message from Adonijah.
Please call me when you get this. Your phone has been off all day.
Another text dropped in. The number was unknown. The message was written in Yoruba. Papa read it and a frown came upon him.
“Detour,” he told his chauffeur. “Ebute Metta.”
Papa yawned, turned off his phone and shut his eyes in sleep. Ebute Metta was a far way off.
Papa stepped out of his car to a waiting umbrella, held by his chauffeur.
“You may stay here.”
He took the umbrella from him and advanced towards a building that was close by. The street was a tight one, stuffed with parked cars. It was mainly a residential area, stretching down to a junction that held a traffic post in which a pudgy traffic warden was standing, watching the rain. Papa’s car had been parked at the other end. The structure he was now walking into belonged to the Omotoshos. The street was also named after them. Most of the buildings on it were owned by Papa and his brothers, passed down to them by their late father. The family compound was the largest on the street. In it were three separate buildings that formed a U, facing the gate. Leaving an open space in the center that was occupied by an abandoned danfo bus. It was the favorite spot for relaxation for the inhabitants of the compound who were mostly Omotoshos or related to them by blood.
Walking in through the gate, nostalgia enveloped Papa. It was his place of birth and childhood. Here, he had witnessed Nigeria get its independence. In those days his mother was a seamstress. Her clientele made up of wives of the learned and traveled; army wives too. Papa’s father was well-connected in circles that mattered. He was a manager of sorts in a small textile setup owned by a brother to one of the British premiers in the south-west. The family compound had also been owned by the man. Then, it held just a single house, and he had graciously allowed the Omotoshos have it. Papa’s father, Adewunmi, popularly known as Ade then, later bought both the textile business and the compound from his benefactor a couple of years after the independence.
Ade had been an enterprising man. Upon acquiring the business, he expanded it; and as he became richer, he began to buy off the houses on the street on which they lived. He also bought and leased out other houses around Lagos, so that when the business fell to pieces, he was still well off. His sons were grown by then, successful in their own fields. All except for one who had chosen to be a soldier. He had ended up crippled from a bullet wound. He then became a nuisance to his brothers along the years. It was he who had texted Papa to come over. His estranged wife was dying; she wanted to see Papa. It wasn’t going to be a pleasant visit.
The front door of the main Omotosho house opened, letting Papa in. A modern setting welcomed him. The widow of his late younger brother, who now lived in the house with her grandchildren, had changed the look of the place over the years. The only things unchanged were portraits of family members that hung on the walls. An old ceiling fan was also untouched. Papa wasn’t sure it still worked. There were now split air conditioners in the living room. A large plasma TV bought by him a year ago was showing a Yoruba movie. Its depressing soundtrack made worse the atmosphere Papa had just walked into.
At the sight of him, the somber gathering of familiar and unfamiliar faces took pause from the movie and gave him a courteous welcome. After responding to their greetings, he walked in through a door that led him to a bedroom with poor lighting. The place smelled of a mixture of local herbs and modern medicine. It also smelled of death. Papa tried not to be overwhelmed by the scene before him as he stood at the door, but it was difficult not to be affected. Lying on the bed was his brother’s wife. She was nearing her final moments on earth.
His tummy churned at the sight of her. She had been a beautiful woman in her day. Lively and voluptuous. An existence lived in regret had done a number on her. It was hard for him to look at her frail form that was almost lost in the huge bed upon which she lay.
“Kunle?” Weak eyes sought him in the dark. A gangly hand also stretched out to him. He moved towards her with slow steps. When his hand touched hers, his mind was forced back to the past. He was thrown into unpleasant memories.
She spoke. Her voice was barely audible. He lowered himself on the bed to hear her. She had so much to say but very little strength in her to let them all out. Yet, she went on – and he listened. When she was done, his eyes were thronging with tears.
“I want to go to heaven,” she whispered. “Take me there.”
Still holding her hand, Papa went on his knees and led her into a prayer of mercy and forgiveness. They were scarcely halfway when she passed.
His tears let down. He buried his face on the bed and wept. No one came in while this happened. When he eventually rose up, he sought for a small purse beneath her pillow as per her instruction. He took it and left the room. His elder brother, who had not been in the living room earlier, was now present, stuck in his wheelchair. He cast a hostile stare on Papa. They hadn’t spoken in years. One of them was holding a grudge; the other was accused of being abominable. Nonetheless, Papa greeted him out of respect. He failed to tell him that his wife was dead. He didn’t like to convey bad news. Someone would find out in a bit. He simply wanted to be out of the choking atmosphere.
He hurried out, forgetting his umbrella. The rain beat against him as he made for his car. The moment he was safe in the backseat, he unzipped the purse he had taken from the house. Its contents brought more tears to his eyes. He tried to contain his emotions but was unable to.
Papa broke down again.
His first stop was the kitchen when he got home. He made himself a cup of chamomile tea and went upstairs to his bedroom. Upon entry, he was met with unpleasant company.
She was seated on his bed, a leg crossed over the other, a sight that was all too familiar.
He regarded her with vacant eyes. The last time they had been in a similar setting, he was ending things with her. He recalled her seated on the bed of her apartment, glaring at him in shock after he told her he was done with their affair. Her hands had been wrapped around her belly protectively, like she was shielding their unborn child from his cold-heartedness. But he hadn’t been cold-hearted; he had hurt as much as she did. He loved her then, having first been loved by her. Although it was true that he made the initial moves and seduced her into their illicit relationship, it was she who went the extra mile to make him happy. She took away years of rejection and neglect he suffered in the hands of Moji. She gave herself to him unreservedly, and it didn’t take long for him to respond to the love in equal measure.
It hadn’t just been a mindless affair. George and Phoebe had adored each other, but he had callously torn her heart.
“Phoebe, I’m not going to ask you how you got in here. I’m sure the housekeeper forgot to lock the front door. I won’t bother with that. I’m just going to ask you what you want, instead.”
Phoebe smiled, and her youth was recalled. He remembered happier smiles that came with looks of adoration.
“I came here to see you, to have a talk…”
“You pop back into my life after twenty-three years. What do you want, Phoebe?”
“What do I want?”
He saw that his question had not been anticipated by her, or even his manner of engagement. She had probably expected him to be angry at her intrusion.
Without waiting for an answer, he proceeded to unburden himself.
“I’m sorry for all I did, how I treated you, how I ended what he had. I took away twenty-three years of your life. I’ve been told that you refused to be with any other man after me and you did away with the lively person you used to be, shutting yourself away from the world. You stopped singing, you stopped being the Phoebe I used to know. I am so sorry.”
Her face turned cold as she looked away from him. “It took you twenty-three years, George. Twenty-three years.”
“I was afraid of the scandal it could cause…”
“What scandal?!” she yelled. Her outburst didn’t shock him. Some things about her hadn’t changed with time. “We were over! I gave your wife my word that I wasn’t going near you! Ever! Coming to apologize for messing my life up would have caused a scandal?! You’re so heartless, George!”
“I was afraid of what could happen if I went back to you, Phoebe. I so badly wanted to, but my family and the ministry were more important than anything else.”
“You…wanted to?” She mellowed, as if controlled by a switch. She regarded him in surprise. “George, you felt something for me?”
“Yes,” he answered tersely.
“You were not just using me for sex?”
He shook his head.
“Oh God.” She covered her face and erupted in tears.
He walked to his reading table, placed his cup of tea on it and pulled a chair, maintaining his distance.
“Saying you’re sorry now doesn’t change the fact that I’ve been through hell, George,” she said, still sobbing. “And you’re going to pay.”
“How much do you want?”
She opened her handbag and drew out a hanky. “This is not about money, George.”
“Then what do you want, Phoebe?”
She blew into the hanky before turning to stare at him. “You. I want you.”
“You’ll restore all the years you took from me. All twenty-three of them, George. You will marry me. I will become your wife.”
He laughed to himself. “Are you okay, Phoebe? Do we need to get you institutionalized?”
“Either that or you give me my son.”
“The one you’re hiding from me.”
“I’m not hiding any son from you, Phoebe! He died! Christ! How many times do they have to tell you that?!”
She sprang up. “Then show me where he was buried! Show me his grave! I want to mourn him! I want to give him a proper farewell!”
“Phoebe…” Papa sighed. “You’re asking for the impossible. And I know someone is pushing you to do this. Get back to your senses and quit this madness. I’ll compensate you for the years lost. Name your price. Any amount. But marriage and resurrecting a dead son are beyond me.”
She snatched her handbag from his bed. “Then you’ll get what’s coming to you.”
Papa lost his calm. He stood up and took a slow, intimidating walk towards her. “You know me well, Phoebe. I’m not afraid of threats.” He looked down at her. She lifted her head to match his glower.
“What’s the worst you can do? Go to some media house or to some sleazy blogger and do a tell-all, complete with love letters, postcards and pictures as proof of a relationship you weren’t pressured into? Can’t you see how you’re trying hard to be a cliché? A statistic? You think you’re the first woman to have had an affair with an influential man? The first to air the dirty laundry of her illicitness because she was scorned? After that, then what? You think your life would become more glamorous than it was when you are done humiliating me? No, Phoebe. You will hate yourself even more. You’ll make yourself an enemy of the body of Christ. A stench. No one would want to come near you after that. So think hard and think wisely. I will give you a place of honor in BCC. It’ll come with money and property. And who knows, maybe even a man. You’re still too dashing to let your life waste away without love. Everything you want can be given to you, Phoebe. Just don’t try to destroy yourself because you want to get revenge.”
For a second, it seemed he had gotten to her, but she tipped her lips up in a vindictive grin.
“You and I know that your biggest secret is not what you did with younger women.”
Papa’s eyes came to squints.
“Imagine your daughter…what’s her name again? Jumoke. Imagine her finding out the truth about her biological mother. Imagine the whole world knowing how much of a vile man you are. Add that to the story of our affair and see if your own colleagues in the body of Christ will want to have anything to do with you.”
“Phoebe, you wouldn’t…”
“I wouldn’t?” She laughed. “You clearly haven’t heard the one about the woman scorned.”
“I told you a secret in a moment of weakness. I wasn’t even strong enough to finish the story. You don’t know half of it!”
“I don’t need to know half of it. All I need to know is that you’re a vile man, George Omotosho, and all your years of depravity are finally catching up with you. I see the halo around your head these days. You seem to have truly changed. And I think you genuinely love that Alice girl. I commend that, but guess what. I’ve changed too. I am now angry, depressed, mentally-unstable and full of revenge in my heart. If I can’t get what I want, things will end badly for you. I have nothing to lose, George. I already lost everything when I lost you.”
“When did you become this person, Phoebe?” he asked, stunned at the anger in her eyes. “Who has twisted your mind like this?”
But he already knew the answer to that. Adonijah was sore about being kicked out from the board. Papa had expected this response.
“You twisted me, George. You took a young girl with dreams, shoved your penis into her, filled her head with lies, destroyed her mind, killed her faith, used her body, and finally, shattered her heart. And then you abandoned her like a passing thought. Are you now expecting that she’ll come to you in roses and smiles? You’re a fool. You have a month to either give me my son or walk me down the aisle.”
She started towards the door.
“Phoebe?” he called in dazedness.
“Good day, George.”
His eyes followed her out. It was hard to shake off the state in which she had left him. The woman that had just left his bedroom was not the Phoebe he used to know. She looked like her and spoke in her voice, but someone else had taken over. If there were misgivings over how much of a tool she was in Adonijah’s hands, his doubts had just been cleared. The Phoebe from his past was gone.
However, Papa was not going to allow her expose his most-guarded secret. It came from a past that still haunted him; a past that would haunt his daughter if she ever found out how she came into existence.
For the first time since all this drama started, he felt his resolve caving. And he also felt himself wishing his son with Phoebe had not passed away.