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“How was your first session with the doctor today?”
Tanko pronged his plate of scrambled eggs with vegetable confetti, lifting his eyes at Victoria. He had returned home a short while ago, after a draining day at work. All he wanted was dinner and a good night’s rest. Not his mother butting into his personal life.
She sat adjacent to him, cupping a mug of steaming ginger tea. She had on that look that said she wanted more information about his doctor’s appointment. He wasn’t going to give her.
“I’ll be moving to my house soon,” he announced. Victoria began to stir her tea, making a clanging noise with the spoon.
“Don’t you like it here?”
“I do. This would always be home, Mom. But I need to go back to my house. Thank you for not selling or renting it out.”
“That house wouldn’t be the same without Tsakani.”
“Well, Tsaka has her own life to live now. I have to move on. Going back there is the first step.”
Victoria reached out and took his hand. “Please, don’t go. Stay a little. I worry about you a lot. I can’t stand not having you in my sight.”
Tanko lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it. “I’m not going anywhere. And the house is just on the next street, Ma.”
“I need the privacy.”
“I understand.” She smiled, her eyes falling on his meal. “Is that all you’re going to eat? Eggs and oats?”
“Yeah. I’m good.”
“Everything about you has changed, Tanko, but I’m glad you’re still my baby.”
“Baby? Is that why you still won’t tell me the people responsible for what I went through?”
He hated springing things on her like that, but he needed answers. The private investigator he employed shortly after Muna’s wedding had called him earlier today to tell him not to pursue the matter.
“I poked around and got a couple of threats,” the man explained. “They told me they would come after my family if I didn’t stop snooping. Look, I love my life. I’m sure you love yours too. Forget the whole thing and enjoy your freedom.”
The call had left Tanko angry and disoriented. He wasn’t going to stop poking, however. But his mother could make things easier if she spilled the truth.
“I already told you that I have no idea…”
“Stop lying to me, Mom. Stop it!”
“Don’t raise your voice at me, young man. You know what? I can’t deal with this rudeness of yours right now. I’m going to bed. Enjoy your dinner.”
She rose up and picked her mug.
Tanko glared at her through angry eyes as she left the dining area. He dropped his fork. He no longer had a taste for the food. He got off the table for a drink of water from a dispenser nearby. He sensed a presence in the room and turned. Tsaka was standing at the doorway with her younger son in her arms. The boy was asleep. Jason, rubbing sleepy eyes, held on to her leg.
Her eyes were red. He could tell she had been crying.
“Help me put these kids to sleep.”
Tanko walked over and lifted Jason up.
“Did you say hi to Uncle Tanko?” he asked.
“Good morning, Uncle Tank.”
Tanko laughed. “It’s evening. Not morning,” he corrected as they found their way upstairs. They put the boys to bed and Tsaka requested for a stroll around the estate.
“Pero is out of town until next weekend,” she revealed as they began their walk. “We had another fight over you this evening before he left for the airport. He’s asking me to choose between two of you. And I’m wondering why he would do that. He’s my husband. You’re not even an option.”
“I didn’t mean it that way. I know, as you stated at work, we didn’t fight or break up before you disappeared, but I’ve moved on, Tank. I’m with Pero now. And he doesn’t see it.”
“If you ask me, I don’t think he ever saw it. From what I was told he always had an issue with you being close to the Bahagos. This is beyond me being in your life again. He feels threatened by my reappearance, which is understandable, but even if I vanish from the picture again, he’ll still be unsatisfied.”
“He also complained about the bodyguard thing,” Tsaka lowered her voice. They were being tailed by Tanko’s security detail. “He doesn’t want the Bahago drama in his business. He’s suggesting that we leave the country. He got a job offer and he’s considering moving to Australia.”
“Wow. That’s a whole continent. Do you want to leave?”
“No. But if there’s anything that will stop the fights and the drama his family constantly gives me, I’m willing to do it.”
“What about me and Jason?”
“We’ll work something out.”
Tanko tried not to be annoyed, so he continued the walk, injecting calming words into her, advising her on how to smoothen things over with Pero. He did this while he burned inside. When they went back to the house, he swallowed his pills and sat in the living room to watch music videos to distract him. His pain and thoughts were involved in an active riot within him.
Ever since his return, he had felt alone, like an outcast. There was abundant love from family, but it wasn’t love he needed. He desperately wanted someone to get into his head, to know and understand him, to see his nightmares. Time had stopped for him from the day he was taken away. He had left a loving wife and a best friend. Returning to find that she was still within reach but he could not have her. It was as bad a torture as being locked away for years.
“Why aren’t you sleeping?”
Tsaka was standing behind him. He knew she was back to continue their talk. He knew her so well that he was certain she had more to say.
“I thought you took your drugs.”
“I expect them to kick in soon.”
“That was like an hour ago.”
She came to sit beside him. She was now wearing a nightshirt that left her thighs exposed.
“I’ll sleep, Tsaka, if you stop trying to seduce me.”
She pretended not to have heard him. “Would you be open to an arrangement where Jason can spend the holidays with you?”
“Tsaka, I don’t want my son taken away from me.”
“I can’t separate him from his brother.”
“Then get pregnant and have another child.”
“No, you get married and start your own life.”
“I can’t!” Tanko shouted, shocked at himself for snapping, but continuing anyways. “You think it’s easy?! I left everything in perfect order and came back to find that I have a smart, handsome son and my wife is still the same kind, compassionate and beautiful woman I married, and you want me to just act like none of that exists and start a whole new family? How?! You know me, Tsaka. I’ve loved only you all my life. You’ve been the only one and nobody will contend with you. I can’t let another woman in. I just can’t.”
“So what do you want me to do?”
“Stay. Let Pero adjust to the new reality. I’m not even asking to share your bed.”
“Of course not. You just need me here to have your perfect picture of what we used to have.”
“Is that too much to ask?” Tanko’s voice was brokenly hoarse.
Tsaka kept her face away.
“You didn’t come back here to ask about Jason,” Tanko accused. “You’re here to force me into giving you permission to travel.”
“I don’t need your permission. You’re no longer my husband. You know what? It was stupid of me having this discussion with you in the first place. I’ll do what Pero suggests. I’ll get a lawyer while you get yours, so that we can talk about what will be best for Jason.” She stood up. “Goodnight.”
Tanko caught her hand when she began to walk away. “Please, don’t go.”
“I have to. I had a long day.” She took her hand out of his. “Goodnight, Tanko.”
He went after her. She stopped, turned around and fixed her eyes in his.
“Tanko, stop this. Please, let go. I mourned you, I buried you, I moved on to someone who was patient with me the whole time. Our lives were great until you showed up. If you truly love me, you’ll let me go. It’s hard already, because I still love you and God knows I desperately want you. But we can’t…”
“Not just even once?”
“You’ll not be breaking any laws if you do. God still sees me as your husband.”
“This has nothing to do with God. It’s my conscience…”
Tsaka slowly let herself down and sat on a stair. Tanko sat beside her.
“I love Pero too,” she whispered. “I really do. But there’s you and…”
Her eyes went weak when she looked at him.
“Why did you come back?”
Tanko held her face. He stopped her tears as they came. “It’s not as complicated as you think. You can do this.”
“Your conscience was made to bite because we’re wired to do things that we’ll judge ourselves over. Especially things that connect two hearts together. Tsakani, you and I are beyond marriage vows. We’ve come a long way.”
“Just once. I’ll never speak about it.”
He kissed her lightly, like he was asking a question. She pulled away and climbed up the stairs, and then stopped, head bowed. Tanko went to her. She lifted her head, biting trembling lips.
“You want to say something?”
“Tanko…” She sighed. “If…” She cleared her throat. “If we make love, will you let me take Jason with us, without making any troubles?”
“I wasn’t going to hinge custody of my son on knowing your body once more, Tsaka. You’re a gift that must be had without any strings attached.”
“Just say yes,” she replied with wanting eyes. “Allow me hinge it on something.”
“Yes, if you let me make love to you, I’ll let you cart off with my son to Australia.”
“I’ll take you by your word.”
“No, take me by my lips.”
Tsaka leaned over and offered her mouth. He drew himself up and towered over her, taking her bargain with warm, slow sensuousness. They kissed their way to his bedroom. Tanko anticipated a moment of regret from Tsaka, a changing of her mind, but she stayed true to the course, going after him with as much hunger as he went after her.
For her, it was an itch that needed to be taken care of. An answer to curiosity’s questions from the moment he had shown up in her life. But above all that, she was only responding to her heart. Tanko had such a hold on her that even she could not break.
Pero suspected this. He had begged her earlier, before he left for the airport, to end their marriage if she knew she couldn’t break free from her love for Tanko. She had responded that her heart was for him alone. It was she who had thrown in the suggestion about relocating to Australia. Pero had not wanted the job at first.
“That way, we put behind us all this family drama from both sides and start afresh. You and I and the boys,” she insisted.
Although Pero had not given her an answer, Tsakani had hopes that he would agree to her suggestion. She prayed he wouldn’t read deeply into it and see that she was running from Tanko’s clutch on her emotions. But if he sensed it and was wise enough, it would be in his best interest to keep her far away from his rival.
In the dark of Tanko’s bedroom with just the rays of security lights illuminating the bed, Tsakani grasped Tanko tightly as he entered her fully in a long, deep thrust. She held him in, refusing him to move. The feeling of being filled by him was one she had thought she would never experience again. She wanted to cherish it since it was going to be the last time for them.
Her hands caressed his face, her fingers traced the roughness of the scar above his missing eye. Moisture occupied her eyes.
“This was not to make you cry, Presh. Please, don’t make me lose this boner.”
“I never thought we’d ever be this way again.”
“Well, miracles still happen.” He weakened her grasp around his waist with a soft nibble of her nipple and began to move in a slow, provocative motion, eliciting a loud moan from her.
Outside the bedroom, Victoria, in one of her restless insomniac walks around the house, stopped when she heard the moan. She had sighted Tsakani when her car drove into the compound two hours ago.
“Is it just me or Tsaka is enjoying Tanko’s company a little more than she should?” she asked Idris who was reading a book under the light of a bed lamp.
“She never stopped loving him. I doubt that there’s anything that can separate those two.”
“I wish she could just end what she has with Adepero.” Victoria turned away from the window.
“That’s not going to happen. She loves that one as well.”
“Maybe we should nudge her in Tanko’s direction?”
“Maybe you’re too old to be meddlesome.”
“No, I’m just at the right age.” Victoria picked her bottle of hard-pressed coconut oil from the dressing table. “Meddlesome old woman is the phrase, I believe.”
Idris laughed quietly.
“You know I never liked Pero. I found, and, still find him quite arrogant. Even before Tsaka told us about what she felt for him, he carried himself like someone who already owned her.”
“Vicky, stay away from that love triangle. You know that Tsakani is capable of handling both men. In fact, she learned perfectly from you the art of manipulation. I foresee her using it well on them because neither of those boys will let go of her.” Idris turned off the reading lamp and placed his book and glasses beside it.
“I just don’t want Jason caught up between both worlds.”
“With two fathers, a loving mother, protective grandparents, aunties and uncles, Jason would be fine. It’s you I’m worried about.”
“Your insomnia has gotten worse since Tanko returned. You want to start seeing the doctor again?”
Massaging her hands, Victoria sighed. “I don’t want to.”
“Herbs, then? Thirty to forty drops of California poppy in a cup of Valerian root tea would do.”
“That mixture always leaves me feeling groggy in the mornings.”
“Blackberry Kush then? Yohan still grows them, doesn’t he?”
“I told you I was never going to support his marijuana business.”
“Spare me the self-righteousness, Vicky. For a herbalist, I’m disappointed in your views about marijuana.”
“What he does gives this family a bad name. He’s gotten eighty percent of young people on the Island as high as skyscrapers.”
“And at the same time he’s helped a lot of people fight their health issues. Don’t blame him for selling a herb that has been considered unsafe because of lack of research. Blame your government for remaining in the dark about what cannabis can do.”
“And how many times has he been arrested and we had to bail him out with millions? Or the time those boys smoked his weed and almost ran mad and we had to cover it up before it hit the news?”
“Vicky, just call your son and ask for the Kush. Aged edibles preferably. Or the seed oil.”
“Or I could just come and lie next to you and watch you sleep.” She softened. “Sometimes it works.”
Idris stretched out his hand to her. She crawled in beside him and he pulled her close.
“You’re afraid of what is to come,” he whispered. “Don’t be.”
“If they’re going to come for anyone, it should be me.”
“Or me. Our children and grandchildren shouldn’t have to suffer for our sins anymore.”
Idris went to sleep shortly after. She listened to his steady heartbeat in envy. It was a blessing to be able to drift away at a whim.
Victoria remained in his arms until she couldn’t any longer. She slipped out of the room for the cup of Valerian root tea Idris had suggested. It was on her way to the kitchen that she heard the sounds of lovemaking coming from Tanko’s bedroom. It gave her immense joy. She smiled her way downstairs. The tea was deeply refreshing as was the sleep that came afterwards. She didn’t sleep beyond 6 a.m., however. She was up early enough to have the maids take over the care of Tsaka’s children. By 7 a.m., she put them in a car on their way to Polo’s home.
Tsaka came downstairs before Tanko did. She met Victoria alone at the breakfast table.
“Good morning, Mommy.”
“Lovely morning, Tsaka. Did you sleep well?”
“It shows. All that smile on your face.”
Tsaka’s smile vanished. Victoria caught the shame in her eyes even though they were directed at the large double doors that were thrown open to let air in.
“Mommy, did you take the kids to Debbie’s?”
“Yes, I did. You’ve worked hard all week, my dear. You should have a pleasurable weekend with us here.”
Combing her hair to the side with her fingers, Tsaka sat.
“Tea or coffee?”
Victoria called a maid over who poured Tsaka some hot water into a mug that had her name written on it.
“You still do this?” Tsaka pointed at the inscription, laughing.
“Every time I buy a set. I can’t help myself. It makes me remember all of you when you’re away.”
“What are those herbs for?” Tsaka referred to a small tray that held bottles of medication.
“Insomnia.” Victoria pointed at three of the bottles and then picked the fourth. “This is for you, though.”
She pushed it towards Tsakani.
“In case you didn’t use condoms last night.”
The teaspoon held by Tsaka fell to the table.
“The last thing you need in this complicated triangle you’ve found yourself in is trying to figure out who the father of an unplanned baby is.”
“Shh… No need to explain. Take the herb and keep your relationships less complicated. Enjoy your breakfast.”
Victoria rubbed her back warmly as she walked away. Tanko showed up a short while after. Tsaka avoided his eyes as he picked the chair facing hers and made himself a cup of green tea.
“We’re going to act all shy around each other, now?” he murmured as the maid who had served Tsaka returned.
“Good morning, Uncle.”
“How would you like your bread?”
“Sliced. Whole wheat.”
“Fried. None of that sunny-side-up shit.”
He shook his head. His eyes had been on Tsaka the whole time. After the maid was gone, he continued.
“Taking off your clothes last night was excruciatingly delicious. It was like the unveiling of a masterpiece. And then when I touched you… The softness of your skin, your smell, your wetness…”
Tsaka looked around in a blush. “Stop it.”
“Your taste… The tanginess…”
“I knew I shouldn’t have…”
“And then when I went in.” He shut his eyes and moaned. “I swear I almost cried.”
“You’re a pig.”
“I booked us an entire cottage at Liana Resort. I’ll be leaving here for there in an hour. You can join me if you missed me so badly and you want more of what happened last night.”
“I thought you said it was only going to be once.”
“Once more never hurt anyone.”
Tsaka sprang up. “This is the point where I pour my drink on you, but I won’t give you that much power. We had a deal last night and I’ve fulfilled my own end of it. We’re over.”
Tsaka hurried away. Tanko kept a smile on his face.