He was quick. Too quick for her.
She was thinking of getting off the rug when he lowered himself next to her and kissed her. Or something that could be described as such. His reeking mouth closing over half of her face and slobbering all over it.
He was touching her, trying to climb on top of her when she slapped him.
“What is wrong with you? Get off me.”
“Issy, you can slap me.” He slurred, grabbed the hand she slapped him with and sniggered. “You can bite me. That will only make me wanna fuck you … more.”
His eyes were bloodshot and he smelt of the strong Harp drink her aunt’s husband reeked of whenever he came home all those years ago. When she tried to push him off her, she found him surprisingly heavy.
He moaned as his head settled on her neck. “Love me, sexiness.”
“I just want you. I will buy you the world.”
“Just get off me. Now, Chib.”
She was hitting him and screaming at the same time. Even though he slurred about no one being able to hear her, Isio screamed louder. Screaming until her voice rose above the rap music coming from outside. Until the noise seemed to penetrate his head and he started to roll off her.
Yet, she did not stop screaming. Not when the music stopped and she heard someone knocking on the door. Not even when Kanyin’s husband burst in, grabbed Chib by his collar and hurled him away from her.
Isio sat up, trying to pull her dress back in place at the same time. Her tears were blurring her vision but one man in a grey top had come into the room. He held Kanyin’s husband back and shouted something about calling the police. Biba came into the room followed closely by Kanyin.
“Call the police,” the man in grey said again. “I saw him sneaking in here.”
“Shut the fuck up,” Chib stood up and snarled at the men. “It is none of your business.”
“I heard her screaming.”
“Is she complaining now?”
Chib grinned at her and despite wanting to shout at him, she couldn’t. He shrugged and started to head towards the door.
“Don’t be scared,” Kanyin knelt on the floor beside her.
She was a slim, dark skinned girl with eyes that seemed to be able to access her mind. Isio tried to speak but instead of words, it was the tears that wouldn’t stop coming.
Kanyin looked up at her husband. “Call the police, Austin.”
Chib charged through the door and ran off. Austin and the man in grey followed him whilst Biba bombarded Isio with questions.
“Why would he try anything like that? I don’t get it. Why would he? He can have any girl he wants.”
Kanyin went to the door and shut it. There were a couple of girls standing in the hallway, looking in.
“What exactly did he try to do?” Biba would not leave her alone. “I asked him to come talk to you and he said he would only talk to you. He was so disappointed you didn’t come to the party.”
“I don’t care, Biba.” She had never felt like slapping someone so much in her life. “I just want to forget tonight ever happened. And, yes, he tried to force himself on me.”
“Really,” Kanyin shook her head. “You asked him to come here to talk to her?” She blocked Biba’s path as if she was bigger than her. As though she wasn’t in fact smaller. “Didn’t you also tell me and Austin that she was asleep?”
“So? I expected him to wake her. Ki ni big deal?”
“The big deal is your friend nearly got hurt.”
“But she is fine. Chill.”
Biba patted Isio’s shoulder. “See you in a minute, babe. I need to go see off Luke. I will be back in a sec.”
Kanyin glared at Isio after she left. “What the hell?”
“Please don’t worry about it.” She wiped her face with her hands. Worse things happened to her in Aunty Ejiro’s house. “I’m fine. I just need you to ring your husband. They have to let Chib go because I don’t intend to say anything to the police.”
“Are you worried about your job? Don’t. Obinna and Mummy are really nice. You won’t lose your job.”
“It’s Mummy I’m thinking of. Seeing her son in jail will kill her.”
Lack of sleep had depleted her energy source yet Isio was happy to hear Kanyin’s voice at the door. She unlocked the door and greeted her with a yawn.
“Hi, did I wake you?” Her neighbour was dressed in shorts and a crop top.
She was so full of energy. Showed her age because of this and at times it felt strange knowing she had been married for nearly two years.
“I didn’t sleep much.”
“I guess it’s because of what I have on my mind.” She collapsed on the armchair and yawned again. She felt like she hadn’t slept for ages. Like she had just finished back to back shifts at the hospital. Or those days she worked at the packing factory then completed her university placement on ICU wards at night.
“Did Biba not come back last night?”
“No. She called to see how I was though.”
“You don’t need friends like that.”
“Did your husband catch up with Chibuzor yesterday?”
“No. Sorry. What are you going to do about work?” Kanyin asked. “You can’t go back there as if nothing happened. Austin says we should report it. Men like Chib are so dangerous.”
“I called the agency. I can’t go back there. Now, I’m feeling bad. Mummy and Annabel have been so nice to me.”
“Don’t feel bad. This is all down to that monster.”
This distracted her from the mountain of guilt she felt about abandoning Annabel and her grandmother. Her worry about her sister’s wedding plans.
Not continuing with the planned shifts would result in a drop of income. Most of this income had been set aside, in her head, for the wedding.
“Can I bring you some food?” Kanyin asked. “Please don’t say no. Austin cooked a lot of food. Sausages, bacon, scrambled eggs and fries. He won’t be happy if you say no. We can eat here.”
“Yes please. I’m so hungry.”
What she needed more was someone to talk to. This was what she missed after she left Nigeria.
Friendships. Someone to listen.
She had tried in the beginning to continue talking to the friends she had as a teenager. In the end, social media chats had not been enough to sustain these relationships.
Kanyin and her talked all through their meal. They stayed on the sofa afterwards, holding their cups of tea. Their conversation had led to revelations. Kanyin telling her about what her first boyfriend did to her.
“He drugged me, so I was out of it as he assaulted me. I remember feeling so bad but thinking I could just shower and everything would go back to normal.”
“How did you cope?”
“I didn’t. I was a mess. I felt a bit better after he died.”
“He was involved with all these gangs,” Kanyin said. “A real criminal.”
“Does Austin know?”
“Of course. He helped me with everything. We were friends, you see. He worked for my father and lived in our house. I didn’t see him like that though. All I saw was this guy who liked to listen to me talk. Then, he moved to London to do his postgrad. I used to come to London a lot. They were setting up Aspire in London then. My dad and step-mum were here a lot so I came often too. Austin didn’t mind me staying with him.”
“Your dad didn’t mind you and Austin sleeping in the same flat? Getting it on?”
“There was no getting it on. My dad was on the phone to my guy twenty-four seven. He was always dropping in unannounced too. Austin is not that brave jo.”
She giggled. Her face lit up even more. She was getting accustomed to this. Seeing her brightening up every time they mentioned her husband’s name. It made Isio wonder if love like this was out there for her.
“Anyway, he was seeing this girl from his uni then. They were not serious. But it kinda worried me.”
“You were jealous?”
“I guess I was. Acting so crazy too. Like I was seeing him differently. I wanted him to myself. And if he came home late or took her out, I would be like, I thought you were one of the good guys. I thought you didn’t like sleeping around.” She placed her drink on the floor beside her and folded her legs again. “He tried to protect me though. He would leave the room to take phone calls in his room if she called. But one night, he must have thought I was asleep. I heard him tell her he was beginning to fall for her. That night enh … I wept. The next morning, I left whilst he was in bed.”
“He came after you?”
“No. He called and texted but I ignored him. I blamed myself. I shouldn’t have let him fall for someone else.”
Isio grimaced, every bit of her wanting to hear what happened next.
“That morning there was a terrorist shooting at Euston. Four people were shot. They all survived. I remember thinking I was going to die and wishing I had more time with him. Hoping I could make him see that it wasn’t that I didn’t love him, it was just that I thought I was too damaged to be with someone like him.”
“You are not damaged.”
“I know that now.” She exhaled and planted her chin on one of her knees. “That was what he said when he saw me. When he came to the train station with his shirt inside out.”
“How did he find out?”
“He had seen the news on telly. He was trembling when he saw me. We hugged and kissed. We came back here and he called my dad to let him know he found me. That was when he said, I’m never letting her go again. That night he asked me to marry him. And one of the reasons I said yes was because I knew he would understand if we end up having issues in the bedroom department. Imagine my surprise when our first night together in Monaco, everything fell into place. I wasn’t scared. It felt right.”
“So, there is hope for me then.” A new wave of fear hit her as his face, old and wrinkly fought to float to the surface. “My aunt’s husband was a perv.”
“Oh, no. Issy.”
He was grotesque to look at. His face was like a badly drawn picture. Hair where there shouldn’t be hair. A stomach that shot out like a pregnant woman’s.
“He came back drunk as usual. I was trying to make his food when he came into the kitchen. I remember the pain as his finger tried to find its way in. Then my aunt walked in.”
“You aunt saved you?” Kanyin’s hands were on her chest. Mouth, hanging.
Isio placed her cup next to her new friend and nodded. “You can say that, I guess.”
She did not tell her that her aunt blamed her. By the time, she was done, Isio wished she had not found them.
Her aunt hurt her with everything she could find. She remembered seeing a pestle coming in contact with her head and crying for her father.
After the nursing agency told him Isio could no longer care for his mother, Obinna wanted to light up a cigarette. Not the electronic cherry flavoured ones, his daughter’s nagging made him switch to. But the real ones he smoked before downing his coffee in the early hours. He inhaled the clean air and tapped the wall to prevent him from ringing the nursing agency again.
It was hard to be polite on the phone to the manager. And the more the man explained, the more he wanted to shout. The problem was, the man skated around the questions he asked him. Why Isio could no longer care for his mother. What exactly were the personal reasons she gave.
His part of the conversation were mostly apologies and assurances. “We have other good nurses.” The man did not sense his anger. Continuing like someone reading off a list. “I can email you some CV’s. They are all well trained.”
“No, my mother wants Issy. No one else,” he had barked in response.
His mother was in bed when he trudged back upstairs. Her King James Bible beside her. Her head, wrapped in a scarf, the blanket pulled up to her neck.
“Mummy, what is this?”
She had been fine this morning. Volunteering to make breakfast. Then, the petite nurse arrived instead of Isio and proceeded to call his mother Elizabeth, the first name only his father dared use.
“I know you like Issy. I have called the agency, they said she is not available. Please manage the one from this morning.”
“Manage what?” His mother raised her head slightly before placing it back on the pillow. “Manage that skinny one that did not even talk to me?” The same girl that did not ask what I wanted to eat?”
“How could she have known what you wanted when you did not speak to her. You didn’t answer her, she thought you didn’t even understand English.” He had been embarrassed when the cautious nurse came down and asked him what his mother liked. Explaining she did not seem to understand her.
“I didn’t like her,” she started to cough.
Obinna helped her into a sitting position and picked up the bottled water on the table. Gently he brought the plastic bottle to her mouth. After sipping some of it, she sighed.
“There are plenty of girls like Isio out there.” He placed the plastic bottle back without letting go of her.
“Not for Annabel. She really likes her. You saw how she was this morning when she didn’t see her.”
“Annabel rarely takes to people like that,” he agreed with his mother. “She wanted Isio to come with us to her school this morning. That’s why she wasn’t happy when the other nurse turned up.”
“See, what I mean. She likes her. Give it time and you will see what we all like about her.”
He didn’t like the cunning smile on her face. “If this is your plan to get me to settle down…”
“It isn’t, like I said before. All I’m interested in is to find someone that can look after my only grandchild. I’m not introducing you to any of my friends’ daughters. No way. The last one I did, her mother is still not picking my calls. The girl has still not gone back to work. I hear she hasn’t even left her bedroom.”
Yesterday evening when Angel called him, it was from somewhere she called heavenly, where she sunbathed every day. Where people with foreign accents waited on her and Champagne and caviar were served in abundance. He had been relieved that she wasn’t as suicidal as her mother claimed. So relieved that he deposited more money than he planned in her bank account. A lot, actually. A girl has got to eat like she said.
“I wish you would stop blaming me about Angel. She is not back at work because she doesn’t like work.”
“How can anyone not like that kind of job where she just sits in a nice office?”
“Angel is not a morning person.”
“What does morning person have to do with this?” His mother asked. “Does she not start work in the afternoon?”
“Not even afternoon person. She likes to sleep during the day and enjoy herself at night.” He had protected Angel when they were together. Often lying to his mother when she could not do something she had to do. It had not mattered that each time they were alone, he felt like she was a stranger he had been forced to communicate with. “She only took the cushy job at her father’s company to stop him from complaining. Let’s leave it there, Mama.”
“She is heartbroken. She really wanted to marry you.”
“I honestly don’t know why. She thought I was boring.”
“Don’t blame her. You are a rich man. Of course, she wants to be your wife.”
“Tough. I don’t want her.”
Downstairs, he found his daughter with a cleaning cloth dusting the living room and stopped. His mother had pouted and sighed until he told her he would find a woman soon. Someone who would not call him boring.
He hoped he had misread the expression on his daughter’s face. He was tired of making promises to make others happy. “Okay, my Bell?”
“I’m just helping out.” She placed the cleaning products back in its container. Plastered on a look she inherited from her mother. Neck bent whilst looking up at him. She was as manipulative as her mother, he found out years ago.
“Are you hungry, Daddy? Aunty Issy left meat pies in the freezer. Do you want one?”
“Baby girl, we don’t do secrets. If you have something to tell me, just say it.”
“Yes.” He squeezed her shoulder. When that did not work, he stroked her head. Her corn rolls were neat and firm against her scalp. “Don’t worry. I will still love you. No matter what.”
“It’s mummy,” she paused and played with the end of her corn rolls. “When I called like we agreed…”
“It’s once a week. I know you didn’t want to when she first asked.”
“I’m fine with it. I like that you and her are talking now.”
“So, what’s up?”
“She asked me for your phone number at work. I gave it to her. Daddy. Sorry.”
“It’s okay.” He wanted to tell her off. He remembered warning her. But she was no match for her mother’s craftiness. “Your mother has a new husband. I’m sure I have nothing to worry about.”
“He has left her.”
“She said he sold her car and land and then he vanished. Now she misses us. She wants to come here, Daddy.”
Isio was not expecting anyone and because she thought it was Kanyin, she skipped to the door.
Obinna was standing there when she opened it. She heard him ask if he could come in but not before he had repeated his question.
“We need to talk Issy? May I come in?”