I apologize for this coming today. Network issues ?
On the night Folarin’s mother passed away, he was with her. None of the family members were present. He had asked them all to go home. Nobody sensed what was about to happen. The old woman seemed in good spirits. The doctors said she was leaving the next day. The brain hemorrhage that had caused her to pass out in her bathroom and landed her in the hospital month ago was now managed and she was good to go. Everyone expected her back home and in good health. They had all missed her; everyone except Folarin who stood staring at her while she slept.
And as if she sensed it, she opened her eyes and asked why he was standing by the window. Normally he would sit beside her and watch her sleep.
“Did you cheat on my father?”
His startling question elicited a narrowing of her eyes and then a scowl. “Why would you ask me such a question, Afolarin? Or even use that tone on me?”
Earlier in the day, he had run into a former neighbor he had been acquainted with during his childhood in Ikotun. The woman had been the housemaid of the man that owned the large compound in which his family lived. The man had been a huge, menacing bully that liked to speak in a fake British accent and use confusing grammar to intimidate people. He had been to the UK just once, but to him, it was enough reason to be a pain to his tenants. His family had not lived with him; they lived in Ijebu Ode at the time. When he passed away in an accident, Folarin had secretly rejoiced over his demise for a couple of days. It had all been childish foolishness but he was certain that no one in the compound really mourned him.
The man’s former housemaid whom Folarin had come across earlier, had interesting tales to spare from a time Folarin could hardly recall. He had not been interested in making small talk with the woman, but she had held him hostage just outside a bank he had emerged from, yapping away animatedly without caring for the lack of reception he gave her.
“That reminds me sef! I saw your mother some months back at the market and she passed me like she didn’t know me. I was calling her ‘Mama Richard! Mama Richard!’ but she didn’t answer.”
Folarin had no defense for this. Sometimes, his mother did whatever she felt like doing, and this could include being snobbish. As much as he loved her, he knew she had some nasty character traits.
“It’s not the first time she is seeing me and doing this o. Me and her that used to be very close, she just passed me like that. I don’t know what I did to her. I’m so surprised.”
Folarin was still not going to offer up any apologies, but he wasn’t going to defend his mom either. He was only interested in getting back to the office to finish up on a manuscript he was proofreading. However, the woman went on, talking about people Folarin couldn’t remember. He was going to interrupt her when she threw in a line that made him curious.
“Aunty, please, that thing you said, repeat it.”
The woman became shifty-eyed. Folarin frowned. The sun was bearing down hostilely on him. The sounds of cars speeding past on the street beside them and the fumes they released in the air made for a terrible afternoon.
“Ah, it’s nothing o. I’m just saying that Oga Landlord and your mother are very good friends that time. Maybe that’s why my friendship with her is not meaning anything. It’s her and Oga Landlord that are close.”
“In what way?”
“Ah. No way o. Just friends ni. In short, I did not say anything. Please, greet your family for me o.”
And she disappeared into the busy street, having set Folarin in curiosity. He stood beneath the sun, pondering on her words, recalling that his mother had enjoyed spending a lot of time at the landlord’s house. It was assumed by all that she was close friends with the woman who was about her age then. But was it all a cover as the woman had just insinuated?
Folarin kept his thoughts to himself all day until he went visiting his mother in the hospital. She was unusually chatty, and for the first time in a long while, she gave him good counsel concerning his marriage.
“Seven months is too long, Afolarin. Tamilore would soon start walking. Why do you want her growing up in a broken home? Boluwatife nko? Because she doesn’t complain?”
Folarin was silent. She was merely echoing everyone’s thoughts on his marital situation. No one was on his side, and it didn’t surprise him. But his mother did. For the first time since he married Christie, she was taking her side. He surmised it was the illness talking. She didn’t speak any further, though. She claimed she was dizzy. She shut her eyes in sleep, waking up almost two hours later and wondering why he was standing by the window and not sitting close to her as he usually did.
He detected that she sensed something was wrong, and so he threw the question at her suddenly. When he wouldn’t accommodate her attempt to deflect it, she released a long sigh and came clean.
“I cheated on your father,” she confessed. Folarin had moved away from the window and was now standing at the foot of the bed. She set weak eyes on the window. “It was with our landlord at Ikotun.”
Folarin, as he had been doing all day, remembered the fellow. A loud, foul-mouthed man with the ugliest face ever seen on a fair-complexioned skin. How could she have slept with such a person?
“I fell in love with him. I don’t know how it happened but I did. I was very discreet but shameless. I got close to his housemaid, Zuliat, so that I could visit the house without anyone raising a brow. Is she the one that told you about what I did? You mentioned earlier that you ran into her.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Folarin replied crustily.
“I used to sneak out at night to be with him. His family was in Ijebu Ode. The affair went on for years until he died. I traveled to my mother’s place for almost a month, just to mourn him without your father suspecting. When I came back, I met your father sick. Things got bad so fast and in a few days, he died. Before he died, he told me he had always known that I was cheating on him.”
The old woman’s voice cracked. Her hands shook. Folarin’s eyes rested on them. He couldn’t look at her face anymore.
“He told me how he had been heartbroken for the entire time I had the affair. He said he didn’t confront me because he was scared to lose me. He was also pleased that I was happy with someone else. He had realized a long time ago that I was never happy with him, no matter what he tried. After saying those things, he told me he forgave me, and then he died. It then dawned on me that he had died of a broken heart. It also dawned on me how much I had hurt him. I cried for months, Afolarin. I couldn’t forgive myself. I still can’t…”
“And yet you judged my wife.”
Folarin’s mother looked at him. “She was too much of a woman for you, Richard.”
“What does that mean?”
“I saw myself in her. She had her life all set for her before she met you. I was scared that you’d be trying to catch up. Your father was trying to catch up with my worldliness. I was too exposed and educated for him. But he was a good man, just like you are. Christina did a selfish thing and I found it very hard to forgive her because you matter to me than anything else in this world, Richard.”
“You never showed it!” Folarin spat in anger. “Instead, you made my wife miserable! You tried to get me another woman…”
“A woman you could control. I was afraid that Christie would do what I did. And it happened, just as I feared. I didn’t want you to go through the pain your father went through. It killed him. And it is killing you…”
“It is not.”
“Then go back to her…”
“You have no right to tell me what to do! You cheated! You killed your husband! So don’t even try to justify it by acting like you care about my marriage!”
He headed towards the door. “Please, don’t talk to me. I’m disgusted.”
Those had been his last words to her and he had meant them. He didn’t comprehend her hypocrisy through the years or the fact that she had cheated on his father. The woman had always been perfect in his eyes, despite her flaws. She had been the picture of a strong, independent woman with principles. How could she have stooped so low?
Folarin had a fine tirade to deliver to her, but a hospital room was not the best place to do so. He was going to wait until she got better, then he would express his disappointment at her. To keep from expending his anger, he left the room and took a lengthy walk around the hospital premises to relieve stress. When he returned, he found her with her eyes closed. The bed was propped up and so he let it down to have her lie comfortably. It was only then he realized something odd about her. When he felt for a pulse and he got none, he called a nurse, who in turn, called a doctor. Minutes later, she was pronounced dead.
Folarin felt like his soul had been yanked out of his body when the doctor confirmed what he already knew. He stayed with his mother for a long time, holding her hand which was fast turning cold. He didn’t have tears but the pain his heart began to feel deepened and widened with each breath.
“But she was a lot better,” he whispered to the doctor who had returned a while later.
“I’m suspecting another hemorrhage. If you like, the pathology department can perform an autopsy.”
“To what gain?” Folarin asked, but only to himself. The woman wouldn’t have given consent to anyone opening her up if she knew she was going to die.
The doctor allowed him stay longer. When he eventually left the hospital and headed home, he thought about his sisters and how they would take the news of her passing. He also thought about his estranged brother who had stayed away from the matriarch because they couldn’t get along. Had he known that she had been unfaithful to their father?
Folarin stayed awake until daylight began to show its face on the sky. He then called his siblings, one after the other, breaking the news to them. Mosun was the last, but she had already been told by one of the sisters. Folarin stayed with her on the phone while she cried. Her tears left him feeling helpless. It brought back the last words he had said to their mother. It made him almost cry.
The day went by slowly, like he was high on a mind-altering drug. He stayed in all day after returning to the hospital to sign the death certificate. His sisters’ husbands and relatives were kind enough to relieve him and his siblings of the stress of planning a befitting funeral. Folarin was visited by friends, including Salma, Raji, Toni, Khanyi and Andre. When darkness came and he had his first shower for the day, he stepped out to the bedroom and found Christie waiting.
“I’m so sorry, Chief.”
He shook his head. She had been saying sorry a lot. He didn’t want her to bear this pain too. He went over to her and pulled her into an embrace as though she was the one who needed comforting. The smell of her hair and the feel of it on his neck almost drove him into tears. He didn’t realize how much he had missed her until her body fell perfectly into his arms.
“She wasn’t my favorite person in the world, but you are, Fola, and your loss is my loss.”
He couldn’t believe he had stayed away from the comfort of Christie’s touch this long. Barakah had told him he was being stupid to not reunite with her. She said this long before she returned home to Egypt. Her scent, the feel of her chubby body against his, the taste of her kisses, her robust laughter, the long conversations they always had, she took everything with her. There was little nostalgia whenever he thought about her – just faint memories of the time they had spent together. Some days, he didn’t remember her at all. And she had predicted that this would happen; she had told him he was too in love with Christie to let another woman in. He had been in denial, but somehow she knew that the only time he got aroused was when he was thinking about Christie. Their sex arrangement came to a slow end when she started having difficulty stimulating him as easily as she used to. It had upset him more than it did her.
“I don’t know how this marriage thing works. It never worked out for me. But I think you should try, handsome.”
Barakah whispered this into his ear as they both lay on a bed covered with clothes after one last futile effort to get him aroused. Her flight was for the next morning and in her lazy manner, she had put off packing her bags until the last minute.
Folarin didn’t respond to her words. Christie was not a topic he liked discussing with anyone. Not even with Christie herself whom he was doing everything to stay away from.
“You’re too much of a good man to go down the path of the average scum.” Barakah pulled his bearded chin to her face. “Go and make your woman happy.”
Barakah left the next morning. He wasn’t sad to see her go; neither was he happy that she was leaving. She had had tears in her eyes, though, and had hugged him like she didn’t want to leave him. That night, he slept over at Christie’s, stretched out on the long couch in her living room with Tamilore on his chest. When Christie came to take her to her cot later, he held her hand for a second. He wanted her to stay, but when she asked if she could, he let go and gave a yawn. Just that single touch from her had left a bulge in his pants. He hated himself for how much she still had that much power over him. This kept him away from her for a long time, and even when he found himself in the same space with her, he did everything to ensure that he kept his feelings in check.
The months passed and he continued to refuse to see a relationship therapist while Christie insisted on living in her apartment. Time chipped off the angry edges of his emotions, but he was not willing to make the effort to see them back in the place they used to be.
“You’re waiting for Christie to light that fire again?” Khanyi asked one day during lunch.
“Then what is your fucking problem, you very annoying Nigerian man? I have had it up to here with you guys and your pride. You always want your women to go all the way and do all the work. Haba!”
And Folarin laughed. “Your anger is clearly not at me. You’re still upset that you shot your shot at Toni’s brother and he curved you.”
“That happened months ago and I have gotten over it.”
“Not when you keep running into him next door.”
“Stop making this about me, Folarin. Your wife needs you back.”
“What if I don’t want to go back?”
“You just have to.”
Still, he made no effort and sort of just let things get by on their own. His relationship with Cyrus Junior had worsened since that evening when the boy tried to hit him. There was always that look of disdain on his face each time he saw Folarin. Vanessa, on the other hand, continued to adore him, although she always pestered him and Christie to get back together. She kept a mental diary, and would count each month that went by. A few days ago, she reminded him that seven months had rolled past.
“Are you two ever going to get back together?” she asked as his car sped past a deserted street, leaving her school premises. He and Christie had agreed to do school runs together. It was to lessen the pain of their separation on Vanessa. She had just gotten into secondary school. The excitement she felt over a new environment and new friends helped their efforts to see her not hurt too much over their issues.
“We’re getting back together, Tife. Stop worrying,” Folarin assured her.
“Is it until Tami starts walking before two of you will realize that you’re really messing up?”
“Hey, careful with your tone.”
Vanessa’s words made him uncomfortable, but like everything that made him uncomfortable about his situation with Christie, it was short-lived.
The next day, as if in keeping to Vanessa’s words, Tamilore took her first steps. She was with him in the office, clinging to his legs while he worked on a client’s manuscript. He hadn’t realized that she had left him until she shrieked out in laughter and he turned and saw her walking towards the door, responding to Comfort who was calling her over with a toy. Folarin immediately took a video of her that lasted barely a few seconds before she fell to the floor.
“Her first time?” Comfort asked, walking in to lift her up.
“Yeah. Christie’s so going to punch herself for this. She missed Tife’s and CJ’s too.”
“Awww…” Comfort buried her fingers into Tamilore’s full, curly locks. “Maybe you shouldn’t tell her. Let her experience it and enjoy telling you about it.”
Comfort lowered Tamilore to the floor again. “Are you going to ever forgive her, though? It’s been like forever, Fola.”
“I’ve forgiven her.”
“I don’t think so.”
Folarin wore a frown on his face. Comfort abandoned the discussion and retreated to her office. He went back to the manuscript before him, but hardly concentrated on it. He knew that it was time to put his house in order. But he didn’t know how to go about it until now.
“You must be starving,” Christie said. “Let me make dinner.”
She took a step away from his clutch but held his hand. He wouldn’t move when she did. He stood and gazed at her.
“Let’s go to the kitchen.”
There were things he wanted to tell her but found his tongue too heavy to obey his prompt to speak. All he could come up with was, “are you coming back home?”
Christie looked around their bedroom and lifted her eyes up to meet his. “Dinner, first.”
Dinner was had in silence because Folarin would not speak. There were moments of long stares at Christie, and anytime she asked why he stared, he would shake his head and keep eating. When it struck 9 p.m., she told him she was leaving.
“The kids… CJ would soon start calling.”
He was tempted to ask her to tell Cyrus Junior to bring the kids over, but maybe it was too much to ask of her in one night. So he walked her to her car and when she sat in, he stood by her door.
“I’ll be here tomorrow.”
Christie kept her promise, showing up the next morning and every day after that. Sometimes the kids came along. They received visitors who came to sympathize with them over their loss. On the day Folarin’s mother was put to rest, Christie stood with him, hand in his, with the occasional gentle pat on the back. At home that night, after he put Vanessa to bed, he asked Christie to stay. She shook her head. Sleepy eyes blinked at him as she lay on their bed, wearing his shirt, with Tamilore sleeping beside her. She smiled when he told her how beautiful she was. She soon fell asleep while he stayed awake, watching a movie. Christie awoke in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. Folarin placed Tamilore in her cot. When Christie returned, he tugged her to the bed and pinned her beneath him, asking her once more to stay.
“You’re mourning, Chief.” Christie’s hand went underneath his t-shirt, stroking the small of his back. “I’m scared that once this phase is over, you won’t have use for me. You’ll go back to her…”
“There’s no ‘her’,” Folarin responded, eyes shining with desire. “She’s gone. I’ve been alone for four months.”
As he spoke, he undid the buttons of the shirt Christie wore. “Please, come back. Let’s start again.”
She looked at him; he saw her eyes brimming with tears. “The first time you said you forgave me… I believed you, but you punished me until I had to move out. Now, you’re asking me to come back again. I’m scared…”
He stopped her sentence with his mouth on hers, inhaling pleasurably when their lips met. The kiss was long and breathless. When their lips spaced out, he took a moment to appreciate her beauty which was now laid bare before him, having undone the shirt completely. The brown of her skin was like desert sand and yet it glistened as though she had dipped herself in honey. If he only stared at her, he would be satisfied, but his body wanted more. Her brazenly-exposed breasts and rose-tipped nipples grazed provokingly against his chest as he went for a second kiss.
“I don’t want you to be scared. You’re still my wife. We’re still married.”
With the look in her eyes, he saw an emotional moment coming on. It was the last thing he wanted from her. Laying a gentle hand on his chest, she pushed him away and rose up to a sitting position.
“I have to go home.”
“Come on, Christina…”
“You’re mourning, Chief,” she repeated, buttoning the shirt. “I don’t want us both to get into something you’ll regret later. Take your time.”
“You’re being unreasonably difficult.”
“I know, and I don’t have the right to, considering what I did…”
“Who is talking about that? I’m letting go of everything. I want us to start again.”
“That was what you told me the other time.”
“And I’m telling you now that it’s over. We’re starting again.”
Christie picked her handbag. “I know you more than you think I do, Folarin. Mourn, get over this difficult period. I’ll be waiting. Now is not the right time. And this may sound selfish, but I can’t afford to have my heart shattered again.”
One part of him was angry at her; the other part understood her reason. He had been unnecessarily vindictive, even though he kept reassuring her that he had forgiven her. And just as she had earned back his trust, she needed to be assured that he wasn’t going to keep calling the past to account.
He walked her to the front door.
“Marry me, Christie.”
“What?” she asked, her lips coming to laughter.
“Marry me again. Let’s do it all over. Last year, I gave you the type of ring you always wanted. This year, let’s have the wedding of your dreams.”
“Wedding of your dreams, you mean? Because I had mine twelve years ago to the most amazing husband on earth.”
“I just want us to clean the slate and start afresh, and what better way than to renew our vows to each other?”
She laughed. “You’re just being a typical, party-loving Yoruba man. Anything you say, darling.”
He was then gifted a kiss, soft and lingering, that left him in a good mood long after she was gone.
Toni’s eyes took a moment to adjust to the imperial settings around her before she was reminded that she hadn’t passed the night in her bed. She turned around and lay on her back, craving for a smoke. She heard his voice; he seemed to be speaking to someone on the phone. He enjoyed talking, and that was all they ever did. Conversation over conversation, they bonded. Sex was not a priority. They had had it only once and after that, she withdrew carnal privileges from him. He told her he was too crazy about her mind to mar it with going after her body.
“I know where to get sex if I’m horny. But you, Antonia, you’re one of a kind.”
And so was he. Imade Harrison was a weird man. But it didn’t surprise her. Almost all the extremely wealthy men she had met came with their quirks. She was now used to his weirdness.
Toni dunked her hand into her handbag and drew out a cigarette pack. When she lit a stick, she went up on her feet and took a small tour of the apartment. She had been exhausted after a tiring day at work yesterday. Imade was residing in one of the few hotels he enjoyed lodging in when she called and asked for a place where she could get some rest and relaxation. Since she broke up with Andre seven months ago, she had found that she constantly sought for ways to escape her reality. The breakup had torn her apart more than anyone knew, but she showed nothing of it, carrying her pain with a face of steel and a smokescreen of fortitude. High Mistress had returned, brutal as ever, but mushy on the inside, craving for the type of love only Andre could give. Imade alone knew this, however. He was there when the tears would not let her be. She shamelessly unburdened herself on him, and he spoiled her with attention and gifts. That singular time she gave herself to him, it had been done out of a desperate need to be loved; and he loved her back, without asking for more. It wasn’t your average sugar daddy and baby arrangement. Without Imade she would have fallen to pieces. She needed to be with him for as long as it took to get over Andre.
But it was almost impossible. The annoying Frenchman’s office was next to hers. They bumped into each other every other minute. His voice and laughter was a constant in her life. She had begged Raji to take her to the management floor but he had rejected her request.
“Did I run away from Christie when we ended? No. Deal with your shit.”
The old Toni would have known just well how to deal with this shit of hers, but not this Toni. This one craved for Andre increasingly with each day.
Imade was stirring a cup of lemon grass tea in the kitchen when she walked in.
“I have a very good mind to go back to sleep and stay in all day.”
“You could do that.” Imade smiled. He was dressed for work and it was barely 6 a.m. She had learned a long time ago, even before she climbed the ladder of influence, that successful men never toyed with their business life. Imade Harrison kept a strict routine of waking up early each morning. He was always prepared for the day before his staff. There was so much he had come to learn from him in a short while. She feared that she may miss him when their temporary arrangement ran its course.
“Or you could let me take you to Abuja and give you a good time,” he suggested. His offer sounded tempting, but she smiled at him with a shake of her head.
“I’m not asking you to fall in love with me, Antonia.”
“Just let me spoil you.”
“You do realize you are talking to a woman who is rich in her own rights, right?”
“Right-right,” he replied, making her laugh again.
He gulped his tea in one go and dumped the cup in the sink. “I have to run. See you later?”
“But if you want to come around…”
She got a kiss on the cheek as he began out.
“Your wife…” Toni said. He stopped. “I saw her the other day. She knows about us?”
“Yeah. Does that scare you?”
Imade left. Toni stubbed her cigarette in an ashtray she found on the counter. The luxuriousness of the apartment enticed her to stay in. For a place that was expensive, it was doing its job of keeping her distracted. But she had a table loaded with work and Ruby and Duke to pick from school. She couldn’t afford to bask in the lavishness of her sugar baby lifestyle.
However, she indulged in an aromatic bath, a kingly breakfast and picked a senselessly-expensive corporate wear from the hotel’s boutique. At the office, she remained behind closed doors, deliberately missing a management meeting for the third time in two months. She was expecting a query letter and some scolding from Raji soon. He had told her the last time they spoke that she was becoming a sore in his butt.
“You’re bitchier, frownier and frustrating. What amazes me, though, is how you keep doing an astonishing job despite everything.”
“Priorities, Asepita. I cannot come and destroy my career over a two-timing dick.”
Raji had looked at her sadly. “Andre is one of the most forthcoming men I have ever met.”
“And yet he went behind my back to plan to take my kids from me and bring back to my life one woman I hate with a passion. Forthcoming, my ass.”
“He is sorry.”
“Sorry? Because of him I have a needless ongoing custody battle over those kids. And with the way I’m seeing things, I might lose them. I’ll never forgive him if I do.”
Raji’s face went back to seriousness. “Whatever decision you take, stop letting it affect your working relationship here. I don’t want to receive another complaint from your subordinates.”
“If I find out who reported me to HR, I’ll fire that person,” she assured, walking away. She hadn’t meant her words, but with the way she felt sometimes, she knew she was capable of being that petty. Today, she didn’t feel so much like being angry at anyone. She was apprehensive. The final custody hearing was tomorrow. The judge was going to decide whom to give Ruby and Duke to. Nkechi had done a fine job of convincing the woman that she was a reformed mother. Her position at Covet, the church she attended and the charity work she engaged in every weekend spoke well for her. At the last hearing, the judge had seemed like she was leaning towards her side, putting Toni into dread. Toni didn’t want to be without the kids. They were now part of her. Sometimes she felt like she had even birthed them herself.
The door to her office creaked open. Tochi’s head prodded through.
“Hey,” she greeted.
“You have a minute?”
“What’s up?” she asked.
“This is a ‘let me sit for a while and gist you’ visit. Can I sit?”
Tochi settled into the visitor’s chair. “Okay, this is going to be hard for you to hear, or maybe even good news. I don’t know which. It depends on how much your heart is faring post breakup with Andre…”
“Just get on with it.”
“Nice pantsuit, by the way.”
“Thanks. Go on.”
“Andre is…seeing someone new.”
Toni’s tummy knotted.
“I don’t really know her but I’ve organized more than a couple of dinner dates for them and sent over a bouquet of flowers last week. I think it was her birthday. I didn’t know they were that serious until he spent the night at her place yesterday. His car was at the mechanic’s and I picked it up in the evening. This morning he called me to come get me from her house. I think what they have is pretty intense. They were sharing this long kiss at the door as he was leaving…”
Toni raised her hand to interrupt him. “How is this my business?”
“I just wanted you to know, in case you’re thinking of going back to him.”
“Or you’re just trying to spoil any chances I might have because you still badly want me.”
“Tochukwu, I am over your boss. He doesn’t exist in my world. If he now has another woman, it’s none of my business, so don’t bring your amebo to my office again. If it’s not work-related, don’t come near me.”
Tochukwu had a knowing smile on his face as he made his way out of Toni’s office. The moment the door shut, she heaved, fighting tears. But her efforts failed. She pulled a hanky and covered her face, sobbing helplessly into it. The rest of her day went sour. When she couldn’t handle the pain anymore, she called Pascal in.
“I need you to take Tochi out for one of those your happy hour things. Not today or tomorrow. But this week. Help me find out who Andre’s new girlfriend is.”
“You have to be smooth. He cannot know I’m the one asking.”
“Can I go home now?”
“It’s three minutes to five,” Pascal said, staring at his watch.
“Really? Yeah, go home.”
He left and Toni cussed. She had forgotten to pick the kids. Their school buses would have taken them home but she had promised that she’d be there. She picked her phone and connected with Ruby.
“Baby, I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay.” The girl giggled. “Vanessa joined the bus today, so I wasn’t bored.”
Vanessa was in her class and was her new best friend.
“Great. I’ll be home soon, okay?”
The line went off. Toni cleared her table and stopped at the kitchen to retrieve her lunch which she was certain had been delivered by her favorite food vendor and stored in the fridge. Leticia and Christie were in the kitchen, much to her pleasure.
“Hi, girls. You’re just having lunch?”
“The kind of hunger that’s killing me ehn,” Leticia complained. “Today was too hectic abeg.”
“I thought I was the only one,” Toni responded. “Chrissy, you too?”
“Don’t even ask.”
Toni picked her salad from the fridge, and just as she shut the door, Andre walked in. Their eyes fell into each other’s. She withdrew.
“Good evening, ladies.”
The others responded. Toni did not. This had been their manner since the day Nkechi and Izu returned. From the moment Nkechi put a call through to her and explained what Andre had been up to behind her back, she knew she was going to end things with him. Their breakup got Leticia mad. After dishing out a barrage of invectives on Nkechi, she turned her anger on Toni.
“She set out to break you people up and you fell for it! Same way she destroyed your relationship with Mark! You keep letting her win! Just because of your stupid pride! If Andre wanted her back at Covet so that she would take her children and he can have you all to himself, so fucking what?! How many men would go the extra mile to ensure that they have the woman of their dreams?! Who has loved you like Andre has, Antonia?!”
“Please, don’t shout on me,” a weepy Toni begged.
“I hate you sometimes, Antonia! You don’t have sense! And this will make you lose Andre! Mark my words!”
Leticia didn’t really mean that she hated her. It was just anger. Anger that often resurfaced whenever she remembered that Toni was not with Andre and Nkechi was enjoying her stay at Covet. Toni wondered how she would react if she found out that Andre was seeing someone new. It was best not to tell her.
“I was wondering if any of you have seen Tochi,” Andre inquired, remaining by the kitchen entrance. “He has my car key.”
Leticia and Christie shrugged.
“Tone, you’ve seen him?”
She stared Andre in the face, giving no response.
“Enjoy your evening, ladies.”
He made his exit. Leticia dropped her fork. “What’s your problem? How long will you keep doing this to him?”
“It’s because she still loves him,” Christie answered. “I totally understand. I did something similar on Friday night. I was with Folarin. We were right there on the bed…”
“For real?” Toni pulled a chair. “You guys are back together?”
“Not really, and I think I messed up. I think we’d be together now if I hadn’t acted really stupidly. I was completely naked, we were kissing and bros was hard as a rock, but I turned him down.”
Leticia hissed. “What is wrong with all of you?”
“I tire,” Christie said with a smile and a frown at the same time. “You don’t know how much I wanted him, but I was scared that we’d get back together and he’ll remember that he’s still holding something against me.”
“Yeah, so I told him to mourn his mother properly. He sha said he wants us to renew our vows.”
“That’s so sweet.” Leticia smiled.
“I know. But I’m worried. He hasn’t stopped by since Friday. Maybe I pushed him away too much.”
“Maybe you didn’t,” Toni replied. “Allow him mourn.”
“So that she will be like you abi?” Leticia accused.
“Tisha, leave me abeg.”
“Your own case is different. I have told you that it would do you like Mexican soap opera the way Andre will take and forget you and start dating another chick. Be there forming bad girl.”
“You’re just angry at me anyhow these days,” Toni spat back. “Do and carry that belle you’re looking for, let me hear word.”
Leticia’s face turned miserable and Toni immediately regretted her words. “Oh God, I’m so sorry, Tish.” She left her seat to hers. “That was so insensitive to say. I know how hard you’ve been trying. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay.” Leticia rubbed Toni’s arm that had wrapped around her consolingly. “I’ll be fine.”
“Can I say something?” Christie asked. “If the doctor says you’re fine and that’s certain, why doesn’t Dapo go and test himself?”
Leticia and Toni paused at Christie’s words.
“No, I think he’s okay,” Leticia answered. “The doctor said I’m probably stressed over the whole thing. He says we should keep trying.”
“Girls, I have to go,” Toni announced. “I’ll be at court tomorrow for the final hearing. Wish me luck.”
“Justice Henrietta?” Christie asked.
“You want me to put in a good word for you?”
“You know her personally?”
Christie nodded. “She owes me one.”
“No, don’t bother.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
Christie got a hug from Toni who also hugged Leticia. Toni left the office building to the parking lot where there was a bit of traffic because of the number of cars driving out. Not recalling exactly where she parked her car, she ambled about a bit and discovered she was in the wrong section. When she finally located her car, following the blinking lights triggered by the alarm, she came across Andre waiting beside it.
“Hi,” he greeted. She slowed down, activating her silent mode. “Aren’t you tired of shutting me out and being a bitch?”
She opened her door. He slammed it shut.
“What the fuck is your problem?” he demanded.
“Go away, Fabrice.” It took more than willpower not to stare into his eyes. She desperately wanted to, just so that she would have reason to let go of her pride.
“You never gave me the chance to explain myself and I want to do so now.”
“Shove whatever you want to say down your pants. I’m not interested.”
Andre shoved his hands into his pockets instead and stood before her. “Okay, you caught me,” he said. “You were not supposed to know that I was the one behind Nkechi and Izu’s return. I just wanted Nkechi back so that she can have her kids and you’ll return to your normal life.”
“Fabrice, did I not say that I’m not interested in whatever you have to say?”
“No, you’re not,” she said calmly. “You are selfish and manipulative, and I don’t want you in my life. If my silence over the months hasn’t made that clear, I’m letting you know now. Stay the fuck away.”
“Alright.” He opened her door. “I just wanted to apologize and tell you that I’ve moved on. I’m seeing someone else now.”
“Okay,” she said casually, entered the car and started it. She watched him walk away, taking note of the bunching muscles of his shoulder from the back which indicated that he was in as much pain as she was. She knew well the game he was playing because she was doing the same. Yet the fact that he had spent the night with someone else and kissed the woman with lips that belonged to her was beginning to drive her crazy. She picked her phone and dialed Leticia.
“Tish, are you going home or to Dapo’s?”
“Home. Dapo is coming over.”
“Great. I’m going somewhere. Please, help me watch the kids.”
“You’re going to spend the night with Imade, aren’t you?”
“Not this evening, Tish. Please, don’t.”
“I’ll take care of your babies. Just get me that type of pantsuit you wore to work earlier.”
Toni hung up just as the first tear dropped. There was something comforting about Imade’s wiggly tummy that made for a relaxing pillow. If Andre was going to be drowning his pain in the softness of another woman’s depths, Toni felt she might as well console herself with the luxury of a five-star bedding in a thousand-dollar-a-night apartment. It was either that or she was going to lose her mind.
The latter was not an option.