*** *** ***
Isio was finally able to take a breath when Funmi Lawal ended the phone call. It happened after Isio told the older woman. “I can tell his brother, Obinna for you. He is a nice man. The Okadigbos are nice.”
The woman was quiet after that. She heard her scream for Biba. A frantic scream that sounded desperate. Then the call ended without any preambles.
“You have to ring his brother.” Kanyin said after Isio explained about how they thought Chib and Biba were siblings.
“I have to warn him this woman knows who they are now.”
“Issy. You have to tell him how your friend nearly died because of his brother.” Kanyin’s voice rose. “I’m so done with that Chib. He is a monster. Telling Biba they are related just so he could break up with her, who does that?”
“I don’t know how Obinna copes with him.”
“When you have finished talking about your Jay, you need to make the call. We know you love the guy, easy nau. Your friend needs us to think clearly.”
“Okay. I will call him. Then we can go and see her, if you don’t mind.”
“Are you sure you are not going to miss your Jay too much?”
“Shut up Austin’s wife. You think I have not seen the way you act around your hubby.” Isio had seen it too often. The way the two exchanged glances as if they were alone.
Obinna was calm on the phone. Even when she told him how angry the woman was. He was still on the road and she wished she hadn’t rung him whilst he was driving. She apologised for that and for revealing their identity, although it wasn’t intentional.
“You did good.”
“I should have been careful.”
“Sweet, you did good, okay? This woman had a child with my father, it is good this incident will make us sit down and talk. What I don’t understand is why my brother lied to Habiba. He knew they are not related.”
“I don’t know,” she sighed. “Let me go now. I’m going to go shower and get ready…”
“Yeah? You are having a shower now?”
“Let me go.” Kanyin was staring at her with a mischievous expression on her face. She had forgotten to take her phone off loudspeaker and the excitement in his voice when he mentioned showering couldn’t have been missed. “We are going to go see Biba. I have to see her, Jay.”
“I have to see her. Even If I have to beg her aunty.”
“Let me ring my father. Then I will brief my mother and I will be with you shortly. We can all go and see Biba together.”
The journey to Mayfair, an exclusive area in the West End of London was long and awkward. Obinna had turned up with a meek-looking Chib. Kanyin refused to sit with him in the back of the car and even after Isio sat with her and he took the front seat, Kanyin would not stop making snide comments.
The house was still as beautiful as she thought it was when she first saw it. Hidden behind a grey-ash gate, an unusual sight in the UK, the high chimney was the first thing she saw. It was an impressive sight. A huge house with fifteen bedrooms. Biba had dragged her to the swimming pool on her first visit and the warm water was so enticing that she stripped down to her underwear and swam its length.
“You are rich,” she had blurted to Biba that day.
“I’m not rich,” her friend had been unusually quiet.
“What do you call all these then?”
“I have like twenty brothers and sisters. Stepmothers and a lot of uncles and cousins. Those are the ones I know. There are more out there.”
“By the time they have shared everything all I will have will be my father’s slippers. Anyway sha, the only person that knows where my grandfather and father have hidden our country’s money is …”
“Your aunt,” Isio had concluded for her wondering where all the wealth came from. Biba’s grandfather and father were popular politicians. Her father had started to appear more frequently on TV these days talking about what he called the cancers of modern politics in Nigeria, embezzlement and corruption in government.
Funmi Lawal did not attend to them like she expected. She did not lash out at Chibuzor. Instead, she welcomed the brothers as if they were her family. Meimunat, her daughter, served them drinks. On closer inspection today, she saw the similarity between her and the Okadigbos. The broad shoulders, prominent chin and the high cheekbones.
Isio wanted to cry when she hugged Biba. Kanyin tried to help her up and it soon became obvious why she wouldn’t get up to greet them. The bone angles on her back were razor sharp against the flimsy dress on her. Her collarbone showed as if someone had dug out the flesh in-between her neck and collarbone.
Biba shook her head when Meimunat offered her a glass of orange juice.
“You have to have it.” Isio struggled to stay calm.
“I’m not thirsty.”
“Pete needs you. He needs his mummy.”
“Why did he do it?” Biba was looking at her but the question was directed at Chib. “What is so wrong with me that he had to get away from me. You thought I was your sister. It wasn’t confirmed and you came, dumped it on me and walked away like it was my fault.”
“Habiba, please let it go.” Biba’s aunt spoke and moved gracefully. “They could have easily thought you were my daughter. You look like me. We have the same surname.”
Her skin was a glossy earthy colour. Almost as glossy as her hair that had been braided into medium length corn rolls. The sort that she saw and knew belonged to someone who didn’t have to experience the harsh heat or unpredictable economy in Nigeria. It was hard for her to imagine the woman fighting for the attention of a man that was already married.
“I’m sorry.” Chib put his hands together and corked his neck in the direction of his brother. He turned back to her afterwards. “I was drunk that night. I don’t even remember why I thought it was a good idea to say it. I didn’t know it would affect you or my family like this.” He tapped his head and grunted. “I didn’t know.”
Kanyin glanced at Isio and moved her head slightly. She understood what she was trying to say, that they had all experienced enough and telling Biba that Chib knew that she wasn’t his sister wouldn’t benefit anyone.
“It is finished now,” Biba’s aunt said and then motioned to her daughter to come closer. “We are family. They are Meimu’s brothers. We have to forgive him.”
Obinna grinned and addressed Meimunat. “You look so much like our sister. She is tall like you too.”
“Really? That’s great.” Meimunat appeared to like the comparison. She perched on the armchair to listen to her brother talk about their family.
“Yes. We have some family traits that you won’t like though.”
“You have met the black sheep of the family.”
Meimunat and her mother laughed. Biba’s mouth curved slightly. She reached for her drink and drank it whilst Obinna talked about the rest of the family.
“So,” Meimunat beamed in Isio’s direction after a while. “Obinna, are you going to introduce me to your girlfriend or is it early days?”
He stared at his new sister.
“I see the way you keep looking at her.”
“No,” he shook his head. “She is not with me. We are not like that. I’m on my own at the moment.”
Isio wished he would stop talking. She wished too that her friends would stop looking at her as if she was supposed to be hurt by his statement.
“Take me to my room, girls.” Biba said. She addressed her aunt as they helped her up. “Meimu can talk to her brothers. I need to catch up with these girls. Is it okay if they stay tonight?”
“If they want to Habiba, of course they can.”
In Biba’s room, they had to wait for her to call Damian. He had tracked her down after ringing her aunt and as Biba explained how worried he was when he brought their son to see her, Kanyin’s mischievous look came back.
“Is it normal for an ex to care so much?”
“He is the father of my child,” Biba explained as she connected the phone to the charger.
“Me thinks, he wants you back.”
“Well, he can’t have me. I have sworn off men forever.”
“Why did you two break up anyway?”
“Race,” Isio joined the conversation. “Her father does not want a man that is not Nigerian doing his daughter.”
“Doing his daughter? The man has already done and done his daughter, knocked her up and she’s born pikin. Kini big deal?”
As the girls roared with laughter, she found herself almost joining them. She would have if Obinna denying their relationship did not keep coming back to her, interrupting her thoughts rudely. It was like a DVD that would not stop playing. And it occurred to her that he was right, that they had never discussed anything like that.
Meimunat came to the room and announced that Obinna wanted to talk to her outside.
“I’m staying the night.” Isio announced at the front door. He was standing beside his car and although he seemed to be expecting her to come over to him, she didn’t.
“Issy, please. Can you come over here? Let me explain.”
She heard Chib snigger from inside the car and walked over to him. He led her to an unlit part of the compound where shady trees cut them off from the rest of the house. She moved away when he tried to hold her. He followed. She could hear his breath quicken as he wrapped his hands around her.
“Jay. I can’t do this. You can’t keep picking and dropping me.”
She was firm. Yet she couldn’t stop him when he pinned her to the tree and took her lips with unexpected intensity. His hand tried to pull her closer, an impossible feat as there wasn’t any room between them. Her lips parted wider for him as he took her lower lips between his own full ones. He was gentle now, teasing her with his tongue until she started to feel her knees wobble.
He was breathless when she pulled away.
“What the hell are doing to me?”
“Jay, someone will see us.”
“No, we are fine here.” He kissed her hand. A gentle, intimate kiss. “I want to kiss your lips again.”
“Come home with me.”
She was not sure he wouldn’t change his mind on the way there. “Take me on a date.” It didn’t sound like the way it did when Kanyin said it, tone half-serious. A woman’s got to demand respect, she said also. Why should we have to wait for a man to be ready. Like my stepmum says, it’s a woman’s world too.
“Okay. We will go somewhere tomorrow. As long as I can kiss you afterwards.”
“We shall see.”
“That sounds promising.” He hugged her and grunted. “This is why I stay away from you. You drive me nuts.”
“Is that why you denied me?”
“I get it. You have been hurt before. But I’m not her.”
“Can I kiss you again?”
“Let’s go, your brother is waiting.”
They held hands as they walked to the car. Chib was leaning on the car bonnet.
“Bro, you have a house. Inside the bush, not classy. Don’t copy my style.”
“Get in the car, Chibuzor.” Obinna pulled her to himself and kissed her gently. “I will call you tomorrow.”
“Shey, I should drive?” His brother asked. “I don’t think you can drive like this James.”
She waited for his car to drive out of the compound and disappear down the street before going back in. Meimunat and her mother were watching a British soap on the big TV screen.
“Thanks for cheering up your friend,” the older woman turned to her as she entered the house. “Meimu will bring you pyjamas and towels so you can get ready for bed soon.”
“Thank you, ma.”
“Tell Habiba, Damian has called the house phone for her. He will be here in the morning with Pete.”
Kanyin and Biba were sat side by side when she entered the room. Biba had tissues in one hand. She wondered how long it would take for her friend to recover from Chib’s lies.
“Your aunt said Damian has called.” She joined them on the king size bed. It was so big that to get to the wardrobe and the dresser, she guessed Biba would probably need to climb on the bed. “Cheer up, babe. I know Chib messed up big time. But at least this shows you, you have people that care for you. Your friends, your aunt and Damian. How many women can boast of a man like Damian who cares for the mother of his child like that. Time to move on.”
“I can’t move on.” Biba’s lips trembled. “I have just done a test. I’m pregnant with Chibuzor’s child.”