Folarin was staring at the time on his wristwatch and thinking to himself that his hand needed some moisturizer. He was also having that feeling he normally got when he was in the mood to have another tattoo done. He rebuked the urge and at the same time tried to banish the memories of the past few hours. The evening had been a long one, filled with anger, tears, hurtful words, and shame. But Folarin had managed through it with a smile. He had just seen Cyrus to his car, having done his best to calm him over Cyrus Junior’s latest act of impregnating his girlfriend.
“You guys shouldn’t have let him have that apartment and that car. I know that boy’s medicine. Too much independence is going to destroy him.”
“Nobody is getting destroyed, Cyrus.” Folarin was almost giving up. Cyrus was most times unnecessarily difficult on CJ. “He’ll be fine.”
Cyrus connected his phone to charge and looked up at Folarin, his angry face coming to a calm demeanor. “So she’s back home?”
“And you guys are back together for good?”
Cyrus nodded. “That’s what we all want. She’s an awesome woman, Folarin. You know that already. She’s learned her lesson.”
“I’m rooting for you guys.”
“And you? Any plans of settling down?”
Cyrus laughed. “I have a baby on the way. And CJ who is more than any parent can take. That’s the most settling I can do.”
Folarin moved away from the door and Cyrus shut it. As the car left the compound, Folarin made it back to the house, rubbing dry palms together. Christie was occupied with the activity of sweeping the living room when he got in. The place was in good shape but Folarin understood that she needed to expunge the humiliation she had just faced in the presence of strangers. Cyrus Junior’s girlfriend had visited with her parents. They were a family of low means but bursting with ego. The news of their daughter being put in the family way was not received well by them. According to their version of the story, Cyrus Junior had manipulated and deflowered Lillian despite all efforts to ensure that she stayed away from him. She was betrothed to one of the pastors in their church. Her pregnancy was going to bring dishonor to their family’s reputation. They were demanding that Cyrus Junior get married to their daughter as soon as possible.
Christie had objected to the idea, as did CJ himself. The reaction to the rejection fueled a verbal fight that turned into name-calling. Folarin tried everything to broker peace but the girl’s mother, after incessant insults, rose up and promised hell on the Adedirans if her daughter was not made to become part of the family. She then stormed out of the house. Her husband followed, after reiterating her words but in a subtler manner. Lilian, at a loss on what to do, went after them, but she was chased back to the house by her mother and assaulted with slaps until she was rescued by Cyrus Junior and Folarin.
“Don’t you ever step foot in my house again or I will disown you! Useless child!”
Leaving them in shock, the woman made her exit the second time. Cyrus Junior looked into Christie’s face pleadingly. “Can she stay here?”
Christie’s reply came in silence borne by angry feet that carted her off to the bedroom. Folarin gave Cyrus Junior permission to have Lillian stay in the guestroom for the night. Afterwards he walked Cyrus Senior to the car. Now that he was back, he hoped to help Christie see reason why being antagonistic toward the young couple was not going to help the situation.
“I don’t want her staying here,” Christie made clear.
“Come on, Chris.”
“I just can’t. I’m not that type of mother.” She nudged a couch with her hip to put it in place while molding a throw pillow back into shape.
“Are you looking for a way out of this mess or not?”
“Why is she staying here, though? It’s just a way to bully CJ into marrying her. The boy is not ready. It would be a big mistake. A colossal one. My son is a kid.”
“He is not, Chris. He’s a man and he’s about to man up even more with a baby on the way. He has to take responsibility. Obviously, Lily is not safe at home. Where else do you want her to go?”
“Is the baby even CJ’s?”
Folarin shook his head in a show of disappointment. “Really?”
“I’m just saying.” Christie slammed the throw pillow on the couch. It rolled to the floor. She went after it and slammed it a second time. It rolled to the floor again. “This thing, behave!”
Folarin picked it, placed it gently on the couch and took her hand while resting his left hand on her waist. “It’s okay, Christina. Calm down. Everything’s going to be fine.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I didn’t ask for this.” Her face nuzzled in his neck.
She cried. He held her for as long as she let him. She then pushed away from him and went into the bedroom. Folarin let her be for a while as he sat and watched the news. Cyrus Junior emerged from the guestroom just when he was about to leave.
“Is mom asleep?”
“I doubt that she’ll sleep for days. Maybe weeks.”
The boy scratched his head. “I didn’t mean to. Please, can you tell her that? I wasn’t deliberately out to disgrace her as she said earlier. I know I already disgust her by just being me.”
“Don’t say that…”
“I know, dad. Imagine you being a constant reminder to your mom that her brother abused her and got her pregnant and she had no choice but to have you. Just imagine that. I see her look at me and see him. And now, I do this… She’ll think she’s done something wrong to deserve me.”
The brokenness on his son’s face crushed Folarin.
“We didn’t plan to get pregnant. It just happened. But I’m not bothered about me. It’s Lily. I’m thinking that maybe we should get married if it’ll make her parents happy. She’s been crying. I can’t stop her.”
Folarin let down the volume of the television. “Come here.”
Cyrus Junior went to him. Folarin put a hand behind his head and brought his face to his. “Don’t ever tie yourself to someone for the wrongest reasons. You will regret it. Do you hear me?”
“Her parents are angry but they will calm down. If not now, then when they see their grandchild. Don’t be pushed into trying to please them. Okay?”
“Lily will stay here until she has the baby. We will take care of her and get everything she needs.”
“So, stop getting ahead of yourself in this issue. Relax. We got you.”
“Go and ask your mom for a nightie and a blanket for Lily.”
“Dad, she’s angry at me…”
“Don’t give her the space she’s looking for to be mad at you. She’s your mother. Go and ask her.”
Cyrus Junior did as he was told. When he returned, he showed gratitude to Folarin.
“No naughty business in this house, CJ.”
Folarin turned off the television and the lights and retired for the night. In the bedroom, Christie was spread on the bed. Brooding eyes stayed on the ceiling. A short cotton kimono barely covered the lower part of her body. She had her legs hiked up and spread apart. Folarin pulled her legs down and sat astride her. She brought her eyes to him. Words were not said; just eyes communicating. It was she who first made a move by taking a tuft of his t-shirt and tugging him down to have her lips meet his. He stretched out over her as her thighs parted again and allowed him space between them. Neither of them had the patience for foreplay. But they were not as urgent as they were gentle. He entered her slowly, stretching her as if it was her first time, and she clung to him like she would fall if she let go.
When he was buried deep inside her, he replied to the question she had asked in the morning. “It wasn’t worth it being with another woman because I didn’t find what I was looking for.” His voice was rusty with desire as he moved out and in again. “You’re more than enough, Christie.”
“Thank you for coming back.”
He smiled. “It was you who went away.”
“But it was you who came back.”
“Maserati SUV 2017. My nipples are getting hard just looking at it. God help me not to sin on this blessed Sunday morning.”
“You’re so unserious, Tish. You want to have sex with the car?”
Toni walked away from Leticia and Khanyi towards the magnificent beast on wheels that was parked outside their compound with a black ribbon stuck on the hood. She knew Imade’s handiwork when she saw it. But she was not impressed by him trying to impress her. In fact, she hated when a man went over the top for her. Small gifts meant he was thoughtful. Extravagant gifts indicated that he wanted to own her.
“This is a beautiful car, Toni,” Khanyi said in her way of romanticizing little things. Her eyes would sparkle like a teenage girl in love for the first time just to describe the beauty of something as basic as perfectly-lined eyebrows.
She was now standing beside Toni. Leticia had also walked up to her.
“Very sexy. Seems our sugar daddy is generous with birthday presents.”
“It’s your birthday?” Khanyi asked Toni.
“My birthday is on the eighth.” Toni peeled off a black envelope fixed to the driver’s door. Out of it she pulled out a card that had a note which read:
You should have this SUV if you’ll take nothing else from me. You should also have this amazing house the SUV would do a good job of complementing. Happy birthday in advance.
“That is the most unromantic note I have ever seen and yet it reeks of so much power I am turned on.”
“So he calls you Scarlet?” Khanyi asked.
“Strange pet name.”
“Are you going to accept the gifts?” Leticia looked into Toni’s frowning face.
“Because he wants something. That’s why he’s doing this. It’s not because of my birthday. But whatever he wants, I don’t think I can give him.”
“Toni, just take what he offers and dump him. You seriously can’t be thinking of continuing with him. This has gone on far too long. I’m getting scared that you and Dre might never get back together.”
“Me too,” Khanyi agreed.
“Tish and Khanyi, don’t you two have church to go to?”
“Keep the car, dump him,” Leticia repeated and walked back to the house.
“Say what you want to say.” Toni gave Khanyi her attention. “I can take it.”
“Leticia is right. This thing with Imade Harrison has to stop. I understand your reasons for doing it…”
“What are my reasons?”
“You’re trying to numb your heart. You are also doing everything to destroy what love and relationship mean to you. This is beyond getting back at Andre. And like I said, I understand. But I have to let you know that remaining in this relationship with this man stands against all you believe in as an independent, empowered woman. Being a sidechick demeans you.”
“Khanyisile, don’t Beijing-conference my ass this morning. I’m not an afterthought to Imade. I’ve never been less than who I was to all the married men I dated in the past. I redefined what it meant to be a mistress and I own it.”
“Stop lying to yourself, Toni. You’re hurting inside and you don’t want to face that hurt. Imade is a distraction, but a bad one. End what you have with him.”
Toni hadn’t the strength to argue with Khanyi. “I will take a minute later on to ponder on your wise words, darling. Now, go to church.”
“Okay. See you later.”
Khanyi turned towards her apartment. Toni took out a key fob from the envelope and unlocked the SUV. She got in. The fragrance of new leather gave her a moment to appreciate the vehicle. She held the gearshift, caressing it in a sensual manner before she pushed the keyless ignition. The engine cranked into life. Google Maps was robotically initiated. An automated voice gave instructions to Toni to take the next left turn. When she peered into the screen, she discovered that a destination was already set for her. She followed the instructions and several minutes later, she was driving into a compound in an exclusive estate. Towering above her was an impressive duplex surrounded by nature and a setting fit for a family. Toni spied a playground for kids and also a swimming pool.
She alighted from the car and walked to the entrance door. She went in without knocking. The house was furnished and had the fragrance of newness. Imade was seated on one of the settees with his legs resting on the center table. He was watching a game of lawn tennis.
“Welcome home, Antonia.”
“I’m not impressed, Imade.”
“I told you from the start of this relationship that I’m not in it for the money or what you think you have to offer. I make my own money.”
“Then why did you break the rules with the car and this house? You think you can buy me?”
“What do you want from me?”
“I want something?” Imade smiled. “You think low of me.”
“What do you want, Imade?”
“To make you more comfortable. You and your kids – as you call them. Ruby’s bedroom is to die for. She has everything in it to support her art. Duke’s too. It has this Voltron and Transformers theme.”
“That car costs about forty million naira. I don’t even want to know how much this house goes for and all the furnishings you put in it. You can’t certainly spend all that money just because you want me to be more comfortable. What is it you want?”
Imade dropped his legs to the floor. “I have an offer you would like. Sit down.”
“Say what you want to say.”
“I’d like you to have my child, Antonia. I’m not asking for a commitment. No marriage. Nothing. Just have my child. My first spawn ever.”
“And be eternally stuck with you. Lucky girl I am.”
“There are benefits if you get pregnant. A stake in CIPRON Oil and other juicy privileges.”
“Why me? Why not Rita?”
“Because I chose you and not Rita.”
“I hate when you give stupid answers to my questions. I know you’re divorcing Rita.”
Imade showed a curious face. “Who told you that?”
“So you are?”
“Yes, but I can’t disclose the details…”
“Rita and I had a talk, and in my opinion, trying to ditch her because she slept with your cousin is phony. But then, it’s none of my business. That’s why I kindly ask you not to drag me into your shit.”
“I want you to stay with your wife so that she’ll stop being creepy by following me around and threatening to ruin both our reputations with pictures of you and I having sex.”
“If pictures of me fucking you hit the internet, I will destroy you, Imade.”
“No, I don’t want you to note anything. I want you to go and iron out your issues with Rita and leave me out of it.”
“I’ll take your request into advisement. Now, back to our discussion. Take your time to think really hard about my proposal.”
“I have, and it’s a no from me. Find someone else.”
“But I want you,” he said like a sulky child. “An offspring with a combo of our brains is going to be a child prodigy. A wunderkind. Think about it.”
“Next time you want something from me, just ask. Don’t go buying expensive gifts to bribe me.”
“I have no apologies to make. The house and the SUV belong to you. If you don’t want to have them for the mere reason of having them, then accept them as an early birthday present.”
Toni was incensed by his arrogant manner but showed nothing of it. “Let me have your car key.”
“My car key?”
“That’s your BMW outside, isn’t it?”
“Give me the key.”
Imade arose from the settee and went to her. He put his arms around her. She remained stiff in his hug. “For some very nasty reason, I want you right now, Antonia. When you get angry, you make me horny.”
Wandering hands took a fistful of her bum and pressed her into a hard-on.
“Your car key.”
He produced a single key from his pocket. She took it, pushed away from him and left the house. She got into his car and drove off.
The ebony goddess that stood before Leticia, glaring down at her, stirred abundant amounts of jealousy in her. She possessed the type of skin Leticia spent thousands of naira trying to achieve. It was dark, radiant and spotless. Perfectly-shaded brows angling up over bright, oval eyes left an expression of rude curiosity on her face. Leticia reacted with a grin.
“You want to see Andre? Who are you?”
Leticia kept grinning. “I’m a friend.”
“Leticia. Tell him I’m here.”
Camille cast Leticia a second glance before disappearing into the house. But Leticia went after her, pushing the front door in. Camille turned.
“You should have waited…”
“Dre?!” Leticia called. “It’s Tisha!”
Andre emerged from his bedroom with a smile.
He went to her with a hug and kept an arm on her shoulder while speaking to Camille in French. Camille retreated to his bedroom, unsmiling.
“I had to come see for myself, Dre. Why nau? We have a plan. Getting a girlfriend is not part of it.”
Andre dragged her to a couch and they both sat.
“Body no be firewood,” he muttered.
“Who is she, though? Her accent stinks.”
“She’s Camille.” He leaned towards Leticia and whispered. “And I like her.”
“I miss your friend, Tisha. Badly. Camille is my way of coping.”
“Well, you seem to be coping terribly because babe has marked her scent all over you. It’s going to be war to extract her from you.”
“How is Arinola?”
“Pretending you don’t exist.”
“I don’t think I do.”
“Get rid of your new girlfriend, please. She’ll ruin our plan.”
“You still think the plan would work?”
“Just trust me. It will.”
“Forgive my manners. Can I get you something? You look like you’re just getting back from church.”
“Yeah. Khanyi invited me to hers today. It’s not far from here.”
“What do you want to drink?”
“Nothing. Did you even attempt to go to church?”
Andre shook his head.
“Let me guess; you were fucking all morning.”
“Sad works for me. Leave me and my extracurricular activities abeg. Your friend, is she not constantly getting dicked down by Harrison?”
“And there goes your silence. Am I lying?”
“I don’t know. Maybe they fuck, maybe they don’t. She won’t tell me.”
Andre rested his back and pushed his legs forward. “If I catch Antonia in a room alone ehn, I will hold her ransom and won’t let go until I get her pregnant.”
Leticia laughed. “You’re savage, and I don’t mean it in a fancy slang way. You are savage like an African caveman.”
“I know. I’m pissed that all my silent attempts to impregnate her didn’t work.”
Andre allowed himself a thin smile. “I will not explain.”
“Na you sabi.” Leticia drew herself to an upright posture. “I just came to confirm the girlfriend news. I am disappointed in you, and I will ask you very nicely to dump her.”
“I’m not joking.”
Andre laughed. “Leticia! My surest babe!”
Leticia gave a snort and stood up. Andre accompanied her outside to where her car was parked.
“My love to Toni and the kids. Also hail Dapo for me.”
Leticia kicked the car into motion and left Andre’s neighborhood. She drove to GRA, Ikeja, where Dapo lived. She found him outside in the company of Tayo and a friend. They were hurdled over the engine of Tayo’s car. Dapo looked up when he saw her approaching.
Tayo spared her a side hug, apologizing for having his hands smeared with grease. She waved at the friend and allowed Dapo take her waist. They went into the house.
“I was just about to order food,” Dapo said. “Thank God you’re here. I want okra soup and eba. I haven’t had eba in a while.”
Leticia pressed her lips into a frown as she dropped her handbag. “Shebi they wrote cook on my forehead, Oladapo?”
“I miss your cooking.”
“And I didn’t miss your demanding ass. Get a cook, boy, and stop bugging my life. I’m not your mommy.”
He gave a charming smile. “Can I spank your ass, mommy?” He said this while falling backwards onto a couch and taking Leticia along with him.
“What is wrong with you?”
His hands lifted her gown to find her thighs. She hit him. “Them Tayo can walk in. Stop it.”
“Let’s go inside.”
“Dapo, I’m just from church where I gave my life to Christ after crying and saying I won’t fornicate again. For the millionth time. Allow me to enjoy my salvation, even if it’s just for one day.”
But Leticia was speaking from the side of her mouth. Minutes later, she was pinned beneath Dapo in sexual bliss. When they were done, Dapo called a nearby eatery and ordered lunch while she cleaned herself and slipped into a t-shirt.
“I was thinking…” Leticia began, head laid on his chest. “It would be good if you did a fertility test.”
“Just to be sure the problem is not from your side.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“I’m not. Remember the first doctor we went to see suggested it?”
“Tish, I’m good.”
“I know. I just think we should be sure.”
“I am good.”
Leticia lifted herself up. “Why does the problem have to be from me, though?”
“Seriously? You doing this now? After we just had bomb sex? You want to spoil the mood?”
“Because I asked you to go get yourself tested?”
“Tish, I’m not infertile.”
“Well, I don’t know that. And I’m simply asking you to prove that you’re okay and the problem is not from you.”
Dapo covered his face with a pillow. “Tisha!” he groaned.
“DP?” Leticia pulled the pillow but he held it down. “Why are you doing like this?”
“I am not going to any hospital to do any test. I can have kids, for fuck’s sake!”
“How the hell do you know?”
“Because I know!”
“I just know!”
“Because I once got a girl pregnant!”
Leticia felt something in her sink. She dropped her shoulders. Dapo let down the pillow.
“Not just her. There was another girl. Woman, rather. And maybe there was a third. They all aborted.”
“So I’m the one with the problem…?”
“This is why I didn’t want to tell you.”
Dapo tried to hold her hand but she tugged it back. Tears left a hot sensation in her eyes as she went on her feet.
“Where are you going?”
“I just want to be alone.”
“Tish…” Dapo crawled towards her. He held her hand; she yanked it away. “Baby, come on. The doctors say you’re fine…”
“Fine?” She laughed. “Dapo, once upon a time I could get pregnant at just a thought. Now that I need a baby most, nothing is happening and nobody is giving me an explanation, let alone a solution. So no, I am not fine.”
Dapo was in front of her in a flash. “We’ll have a baby. Just be patient and stop stressing.”
“It’s easy for you to say.”
“It is not. It bugs me too, but I know the baby will come.”
She pushed him away. “I want to go home.”
“You’re not going anywhere.” He held her.
“Dapo, please let me go.”
“Dapo!” she screamed. He froze. She made an attempt to move away but he held on tightly.
“If we’re going to get married, you have to learn to express your emotions in front of me, Tish. You can’t be running to your house all the time to go and cry when I’m here and you can cry on me. What you think you’re going through alone right now, we’re going through it together. Your struggle is mine, baby. So sit down, let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about this past of yours you keep sharing with me in bits. I want to know everything. Your body count, the number of abortions you’ve had, all of it.”
Fear stole into Leticia’s eyes. A warning from Toni in the past about revealing her past to Dapo was recalled. It was a good time to take her friend’s advice seriously, but the deadpan look on Dapo’s face showed that he wasn’t playing.
She heard Toni’s voice in her head… issa trap.
Dapo took her hand and tugged her down. He then lay on his back, resting his head on a pillow. “Oya, talk.”
The last thing Christie wanted was to become the overbearing mother that gave her son’s girlfriend a hard time. But she couldn’t help it. She knew nothing about Lily. She was angry that she had to accept a child she wasn’t prepared for; and of course, she hated the fact that she had to be made a grandmother in her thirties. But the bulk of her anger was for Cyrus Junior. Regrettably she couldn’t express it for fear of losing him entirely. She knew this was a test of her love and commitment to their relationship. How she handled the present dilemma was going to determine what would become of them in the future. It was her chance to undo all the neglect he felt while growing up, yet it was difficult for her to come to terms with reality.
Church today had been a bore. Not because it had been, but because she couldn’t connect with anything happening. She hadn’t waited until the final prayers were said before she hurried out to the children’s church to get Vanessa and Tamilore. Arriving home, she found her kitchen occupied with the presence of Lily. The girl stopped her activity when Christie made her appearance known by dumping her handbag on the counter.
“Good afternoon, ma.” Lily bent the knee a little.
“Hi Lillian. How are you doing?”
“You’re making lunch?”
“Yes. I saw that daddy and CJ haven’t eaten, so…”
“It’s fine. You don’t have to. There’s stew in the freezer. I’ll just boil rice and some veggies and we can all eat.”
“But the spaghetti I made is already done.”
Christie tried not to frown.
Christie picked her handbag. “It’s okay. When you’re through, call CJ to help you set the food on the table. Meanwhile, have you called your parents? You mother, especially?”
“She won’t pick my calls. My dad’s phone is bad. I can’t reach him. But I spoke with my sister and cousin. My parents are fine. They just don’t want to see me at home. My sister said my mom has packed all my things and kept them outside.”
Christie foresaw the tears before they escaped her eyes. If there was anything, she felt Lily’s shame and pain. She had been in her shoes twenty-one years ago, facing her parents’ wrath, being looked down upon by church members, dealing with her own guilt and self-condemnation. She understood Lily’s distress, but didn’t know how to reach out to her. Christie stood awkwardly while the girl battled with her tears. When she mustered up words, she simply said, “Everything will be fine,” and left the kitchen.
Christie’s bedroom was warm. Tan drapes were spread open at the windows to let in air, but the weather was hot, caused by a scorching sun outside. Folarin sat before the balcony’s open doors. His laptop rested on his laps but he wasn’t occupied with it. In his hand was a glass of liquor. His eyes gazed out.
Christie dropped her handbag and went to him. The tree right outside their bedroom offered the right amount of cool breeze needed for the weather. Folarin took the hand Christie rested on his shoulder and kissed it.
“How was church?”
“Your pastor ask about me?”
“As always. He shook my hand as I got into church and went, ‘how is Richard? I thought about him this morning.’”
Folarin laughed. “He always thinks about me in the mornings.”
“How was your day?”
“Quiet. I’ve been writing. Just taking a break.” He put the laptop aside and brought Christie to his laps.
“This new book of yours, what’s it about?”
“It’s something different.”
“Care to share?”
He touched her cheek and then her nose. “No, not now. You’ll read the first draft when I’m through.”
“Okay o.” Christie stood. “I need to get out of this place.”
“You saw Lily in the kitchen?”
“Yes.” Christie walked to the closet.
“She insisted on making lunch.”
“No, it’s not. I can hear it in your voice. That silent grunt.”
“If it’s silent, then you didn’t hear it.”
“Chris…” There was some hesitation in his tone but Christie knew he was going to say what he planned to say. “You have to get used to the fact that she’s going to be here a long time…”
Christie turned. “It’s not her I’m angry at. Yes, I don’t want to see her face, but it’s not her.”
“Yeah. And I know I ought to get past this and work on our issues, but it’s hard, Fola. It’s very hard. I’m so disappointed. Cy was right. We have been too lenient with him. He drinks beer in front of us, parties, keeps late nights…”
“He is no longer a child. And don’t forget he’s not under your roof anymore.”
“But his girlfriend and unborn child are. We don’t trust him enough to adequately care for them. If that doesn’t reek of irresponsibility on his side and bad parenting on ours, I don’t know what does.”
“Chill, Christie. Just chill. I spoke with Cyrus earlier. He’s getting CJ a job. He will work and make money for his baby while he schools. He will take responsibility. He can’t undo what has been done. Neither can we. All that’s left is for us is to adapt and make the best out of the situation.”
“I understand how hard it is for you to let people into your personal space. Lily looks like she’s an intruder right now, but things will sort themselves out soon. Okay?”
“I hope so.”
As Christie undressed, she mulled over the idea of a vacation. She needed one badly.
Sundays were for sleeping. Every Sunday, Salma spread herself on her bed in the nude while the sounds of carefree laughter from her kids lulled her into dreamland. It was in keeping to this weekly tradition she had stripped out of her clothes some minutes earlier and fallen face-down on her bed. She could hear the nanny scolding Fahad for pulling Deejah’s hair. She could hear Deejah wailing. She could also hear the distant sound of Northern-inspired music playing from the gateman’s radio.
Soon she was gone and her subconscious was toying with the idea of a pleasant dream, but a loud scream from Fahad jolted her up. She dashed out of the room and out to the staircase where she found Fahad at the bottom of it, facedown and crying his lungs out. She sighed.
“Ma, he was sliding on the banister and fell down,” the nanny explained.
“Did he injure himself?”
“Leave him there let him be crying. He doesn’t hear word.”
Salma returned to her bedroom. Unable to sleep, she picked a novel and got lost in it. A tap on the door brought her back to alertness.
“Who is it?”
The door pushed open and Raji walked in. Salma covered herself with the bedspread, although she had a bra and a panty on.
“You know you have to wait before being let into a bedroom before you enter, right?”
“What do you want?”
Raji looked around. “Aren’t you feeling the heat? The weather is steaming. Can I close the windows and turn on the AC?”
“The gen is off.”
Raji went to one of the windows and called out to the gateman, instructing him to turn on the generator. Salma watched him shut both windows.
“We need to talk about some things,” she told him as she rose up. She held the bedspread over her chest.
“I’m listening.” He dumped his weight on the bed. “What’s it about?”
“This. The way you barge in here as if it’s still your house, as if I’m still your wife, as if we still have something going on… We’re done, Raji.”
“Haba, Sal. We’re not that done.”
“Well, this still feels like home to me and you’re still the woman I love…”
“The same woman you cheated on. Twice.”
“Salma, the chemistry we have is still strong.”
Salma moved away from the bed and to the dressing table.
“But I still love you, Sal.”
“Raji… ” She was exasperated. “I want you to stop coming over.”
He laughed. “You’re not serious. Come here joor.”
“Just one kiss would–”
“I don’t love you anymore!”
Raji’s laughter died on his face.
“I’m not sexually attracted to you as I used to be. We are divorced, Raji. We have to stay that way or I’ll be forced to take drastic measures.”
“Like cutting you off totally.”
Raji went cold. He drew his weight up. The expression on his face wounded Salma.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered and walked to the closet to pick a jalabia.
“I can be what you want me to be, Sal. I’ve changed. You know that.”
“I know, Raji. But you’ll still go back to the man you used to be once I give you a chance.”
“No, no, no.” He walked to her. “Sal, I’ve truly changed. You’ve been the only one, and I haven’t been with another woman since we stopped. Come on, baby…”
She left him standing and sat on the dressing stool.
“Is it the guy with the dreads?” he asked.
“The guy that makes your hair. I’ve seen him with you more than a couple of times. Is it because of him? Are you guys…?”
“But you like him.”
Salma’s head dropped.
“You like him?”
“Maliq is my hairstylist, Raji. And that’s that.”
“Salma, you and that guy are from separate worlds. It would be a huge mistake–”
“There is nothing between us! Ah! Stop jumping into conclusions!”
“You don’t really mean all you just said, right?”
“Go, Raji. I’ll call you tomorrow and we’ll talk about the kids and new visiting arrangements.”
Raji gave a short, sad laugh. “This is not happening.”
“It is, Raj.”
“Don’t let me fight for my kids.”
“It wouldn’t have to get to that if you respect my wishes.”
“Fine.” He looked around, but this time, with a bit of wistfulness. “I’ll be expecting your call. Meanwhile, about the girls’ birthday…”
“It’s going to be handled by me as usual.”
“I want to be part of it this year.”
“Raji, I will handle it. Don’t bother.”
Salma was sad to see him go. She locked the door after he left and stood until she heard his car screeching out of the compound. Being that her Sunday bliss was interrupted, she took off her jalabia and went on Maliq’s Instagram. He had close to three hundred pictures and almost six thousand followers. Salma thought he was a little too vain, but it didn’t bother her that much. He took awesome pictures and constantly slayed with his fashion sense. He hadn’t posted anything in a while, which was a bit unusual. Salma fed her eyes with old images, nonetheless. But soon she switched back to her novel,with her mind half on the story and half on him.
“Dinner was wonderful.” Christie looked into her husband’s eyes like she was falling in love with him for the first time.
She nodded. “Especially the part where you made it hard for me to eat because your hand kept rubbing my thighs under the table. What was wrong with you?” She laughed. “I thought you graduated from that.”
“Remember that time we were caught because we thought the table cloth was long enough to hide what was going on?”
Christie’s head was thrown back in laughter. “Please don’t remind me. Everyone saw us. Jeez!”
Folarin gazed into Christie’s eyes, warmth coming from his. “I just wanted to recall the past. I’m glad you had fun tonight.” The silent hum of the car and the soft music playing from the speakers gave the feel of something amorous. He had set the mood from the moment, a few hours ago, when he dragged her out of the house for an unexpected dinner date.
Folarin freed himself from the clutch of his seatbelt. He also shut the car engine. Christie leaned towards him for a peck but he took her mouth entirely.
“We should go out like this more often,” she told him in breathlessness when he freed her lips.
“We should do a lot more than go out,” he responded. “I’m serious about getting married again.”
“Remember our first honeymoon night?”
“Ahhh,” Folarin breathed reminiscently. “it was fire.”
And there was some fire in his eyes now as he said those words. Christie could read the wanton thoughts he threw her way. She giggled when his eyes indicated that they should move to the backseat of the SUV. But a sudden tap on his window brought a stop to their plans. He let down the window for Vanessa. Holding a restless Tamilore in her arms, she looked from one parent to the other in exasperation.
“Please, take your baby.”
She thrust the toddler at Folarin.
“Mommy, Aunty Lily has been sitting at the back of the house since. She’s been crying. I told her to enter that I want to release the dogs for the night but she refused.”
Christie mourned the end of a wonderful evening with a sigh. For a moment she had forgotten Lily existed. “And where’s CJ?”
“He went out.”
“He’s not back? He told me he just wanted to buy a few things.”
“He hasn’t come back. Mommy, please come and talk to her.”
Christie didn’t feel like having a word with Lily, but she had promised Folarin she would do everything to make the girl comfortable.
She stepped down from the car, taking her phone with her. She dialed Cyrus Junior as headed to the backyard. The sounds of honking cars burst into her ear from his end.
“Where are you?” she demanded.
“My car broke down. I’ve been trying to fix it. I’m almost done. What’s going on?”
“Nothing.” Christie spotted Lily sitting on the stirs that led up to the kitchen. Her head was bowed over her thighs. “Do and come back.”
Christie hung up and walked towards Lily.
The girl lifted her head up. Swollen eyes tried to focus on Christie.
“What are you doing here and why are you crying?”
“Nothing,” the girl answered. She tried to push away a couple of braids falling over her face. Skinny fingers trembled as she did so. Christie felt pity for her. She was a fragile-looking girl. The stress of her present condition made her look gaunt.
“You’re sitting out here, crying, and it’s nothing?”
“Talk to me, Lily.”
“I’m okay, ma. I just want to stay outside for a while.”
“There are mosquitoes. You’re pregnant. You should protect yourself from malaria. So, get up and go inside.”
There was no hesitation from Lily. She went up on her feet and pulled open the backdoor of the kitchen. Christie followed her in.
“Warm up something to eat, have a warm shower and then go to sleep.”
“Yes, ma. Thank you.”
Christie hurried out of the kitchen. She still didn’t feel like connecting with Lily. She needed time to accept reality and to slowly let her in. Maybe the birth of the baby would make things real for her. For now, the whole thing was still a haunting nightmare.
She retired to the bedroom. Folarin was putting together a bottle of already prepared guinea-corn pap for Tamilore. The baby pushed away from him when her meal was ready and lay on the floor to have the moment to herself, sending her parents to stitches.
“Sometimes I don’t know what she wants,” Christie stated.
“The babe has her moods.”
Both parents stripped out of their clothes. Folarin occupied himself with his laptop while Christie stood before her idea board with a felt pen hovering over it. Tamilore was soon fast asleep, her hand clutching her bottle. An hour went by before Christie took a break from the new ad concept she was working on for a beauty product. She put Tamilore to bed and went to Folarin. It was at that moment Cyrus Junior came knocking. He entered the room with a distressed expression and a water bottle containing a greenish-brown liquid.
“Dad, mom, were you here when Lily’s mom came?”
“No,” Christie responded.
“She came with this.” CJ lifted the bottle. “She told Lily to take it to abort the baby, that if she doesn’t, she’s going to disown her.”
Folarin shut his laptop. Cyrus Junior sat on his parents’ bed. “She also told her to get 200k from me.”
“And what’s Lily’s reaction to this?” Christie asked.
“She’s seriously thinking about it,” he answered in embarrassment. “Mom, I want this baby. Can you talk to her, please? You’ve been in her shoes. You understand what she’s going through.”
“CJ, I don’t think I’m the best person…”
“Please. And then her parents, talk to them too. They should leave her the fuck alone. If they’re scared that I don’t want to get married to her, they shouldn’t be. I’ll do it…”
“No, no, no…” Christie hurried to him. “No. Both of you are not ready for marriage. You’re too young.”
“But you married dad when you had me and you were still a teenager.”
For a second Christie was speechless. “I…I did it because I needed you to have a good foundation. I couldn’t let anyone know who your real father was.”
“You chose dad because he was responsible, right?”
“I’m responsible too. If dad could take care of me, I can take care of my child too.”
“Cyrus, you’re not ready.”
“I’m getting a job, mom. I already have a house and a car. I’m ready.”
“No, you’re not. You just want to make Lillian comfortable.”
“And what’s wrong with that?”
“There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s not a bad thing, but…”
“I got her pregnant, mom! She is my responsibility! Why can’t you see that? She and the baby are my responsibility!” He leaped to his feet. “If getting married to her is going to stop her parents from treating her like trash, then I’ll do it! End of!”
He charged out of the room angrily. Christie looked at Folarin who stretched out a hand to her.
“If there’s anything, you should be happy that your son is owning up to his responsibilities. You should be proud.”
“Proud?” Christie settled on Folarin’s laps. “He wants to get married for the wrong reasons, just as I did. He is too young, Richard. And this Lily’s mother of a human being, who the hell does she think she is to barge into my house whenever she feels like to stir trouble?”
“She’s a disturbed mother. Just like you. She’s dealing with the problem the best way she knows how to.”
“I am not trying to murder my grandchild.”
“I think you should do as CJ suggests. Have a one on one with her. Mother to mother.”
“Hell no. she insulted us the last time she was here. She questioned my parenting skills. She called me names. I am not going anywhere near her.”
Christie got off Folarin’s laps. “I’m going to bed. I don’t want to talk about this again. I have a busy day tomorrow.”
Folarin lifted the lid off his laptop as Christie tossed aside the numerous pillows at the head of the bed. She picked one of them and dove beneath the covers. It took a while after saying her prayers to fall asleep.