And because I still owe you one more episode…
He loved to stay in hotels. He owned exquisite homes scattered around Lagos, all good enough for his taste, but he preferred the luxury of hotel suites for some unknown reason. This strange behavior birthed one of the popular rumors about him, as it was whispered that he belonged to a secret cult and had been warned not to live in any of his houses or he would die.
But none of that was true. Imade Harrison sometimes spent nights at home with his wife. They had a cold marriage but were both reasonable enough to engage in the infrequent marital intercourse, usually initiated by Imade himself, who sometimes got aroused while watching his wife’s TV show. He didn’t consider himself a sexual being. His pursuit of wealth gave him more orgasms than any vagina could. These days, however, having finally climbed to the place of his dreams, he was allowing himself enjoy the simple pleasures of life.
One of them was Toni. He wanted her, like he sometimes wanted his wife. Maybe even more. Or maybe it was the chase he enjoyed. He was not the type to possess a woman. His wife was allowed her own share of side distractions as was he, but he hardly took advantage of the privilege. Now, he felt it was time to reward himself for all the hard work. And Toni was the only present he could think of.
Toni, on her side, was aware of what the game was, and this was why she broke no sweat when she came to work on Wednesday and was informed that Imade had done an interview on one of the big newspapers, revealing unnecessary but implicating details about the death of his former boss.
“These types of clients are trouble,” her associate complained, shaking his head and tapping his knuckles on her desk. He also rested one half of his butt on it. “What should we do?”
Toni kept a calm demeanor. She was drained of froth. Aching eyes that were fatigued from crying hid behind her glasses. She played with her nails in distraction.
“Leave Imade to me,” she responded. She brought her fingernails forward to stare at them with much concentration.
Pascal burst in, informed her of her next appointment and disappeared.
“You may leave,” she said to her associate. He stepped down from the desk and faced her.
“Toni, this is not my business but I think you should not come to work for the next few days. You look like shit…”
“Imodumeh, get out,” she uttered quietly.
“I’m worried about you…”
“The day I decide your worry or anything you have to say or do matters to me, I’ll let you know.”
Imodumeh left the office without another word uttered. Leticia came in, throwing the door wide open and slamming it hard to show she was in a mood. She had on an outfit that Toni had never seen on her before. It wasn’t something special. Just an army green blouse tucked in a black pencil skirt that hugged her curves. Probably one of Dapo’s many gifts to her.
“Here comes the bride,” Toni said cheerlessly.
“Bride keh! That’s never going to happen.” She dropped the blue file holding Dapo’s prenuptial agreement on Toni’s desk. “Read!”
“Tish, not now. I am bushed. Just gist me the whole proposal thing. I need some fairytale in my life right now.”
“Your brother proposed to me on Saturday night.”
“I got your message on Whatsapp.”
“I was going to gist you how it went but a lot of things happened…”
“And four days went by and you never bothered to see if I was dying and you’re only coming here to report my brother to me.”
Leticia’s annoyance immediately switched to guilt. “Awww, I’m sorry, Tone.” She hurried to her friend with open arms and hugged her. “I didn’t mean to.”
“I know. Dapo was all up in your vagina. It’s okay.”
“It’s not like that. I was going to call, but…” She exhaled. “I have no excuse. I’m sowi. How are you, though?”
“Pathetic. God! I miss him. And I’m tired of being on this side of the fence. I’m ready to drop my pride and climb back in to work something out with him. How terrible can it be falling in love with a three-year old?”
“Babies are adorable.”
“The boy is not a baby. And he’s a boy, which means his energy level is going to be high, and I can’t deal.”
“Try not to think of the negatives. Go for the positives.”
“But you’re seriously thinking of going back?”
“I’ve been using Tochi as my cuddle pillow since Saturday.”
“No. Poor me. He’s been trying to cup my boobs.”
Leticia laughed, forgetting her anger at Dapo.
“So, what’s this file about?”
Leticia wore a frown again. “Before we get to that, Dapo proposed without a ring.”
“And did you say yes?”
“No. I didn’t say yes. Why should I say yes? But it wasn’t just because of the ring. I was actually thinking of saying yes when he gave me that file in front of you.”
“What’s in it?”
“Just tell me, Tish.”
“A prenuptial agreement.”
Toni pulled the file towards her and opened it. “A prenup?”
“Yes. There’s a form I have to fill and then there’s the agreement proper. Can you imagine? He says we’re not getting married until I sign it. When did Nigerians start doing prenups?”
“There’s a lot of legal jargon here,” Toni shut the file. “Did you understand it?”
“At first I didn’t. I just opened it, saw all the big-big grammar and closed it. I was like last-last, I won’t sign shit. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday passed. Uncle now asked me this morning if I had read it. I told him that I hadn’t. He said I should and I should get back to him with my answer latest this evening…”
“Wait. Who is older in this relationship?”
“Toni, our age difference doesn’t matter. You know that.”
“That’s bullshit. Dapo is still a baby. When he starts to give you ultimatums like that, tell him who’s boss. That’s why he’s with you. He wants you to put him in his place sometimes.”
“Toni, I’m not you that will be forming boss and end up losing the man I love.”
Toni opened her mouth to retort but closed it in a sad frown. “That’s unfair.”
“Good. Shut up, let me finish talking. Anyways, I came to work and first thing, I went to the lawyer and he broke it down for me. So, I’ll break it down for you. One, it states that I must get pregnant before marriage. Two, that once the baby is born, a DNA must be done. Three, if the baby isn’t his, he’ll divorce me and I’ll get nothing from him. Four, if I ever cheat on him, he’ll leave me with nothing. Five, if he cheats on me and we get divorced, I will get only five percent of all he owns. Six, I cannot own any part of his businesses. Seven, no joint account. Eight, he will not help my family out financially. Can you imagine?! I am so pissed, Toni! So pissed! Dapo clearly doesn’t trust me. And he doesn’t feel like what we have is special. If you love somebody, you don’t do a prenup! You just get married to them!”
“I’m sorry, Tish. But in all fairness, my brother is fucking rich.”
“So, now I’m a gold digger?”
“Would you have gone near him if he was broke?”
Leticia pretended to mull on the question and then replied. “Nope. Maybe knack him once but after that, nope.”
“Exactly. Anyways, I’ll advise that you talk to him about it and see reasons why it can’t work with all these demands. But if he insists, get a lawyer and add your own terms and conditions. Then you can both sit at a table and come to a common ground.”
“It’s like you are not understanding me, Toni. I am not doing any nonsense prenup!”
“I truly feel your pain.”
Leticia crossed her arms. “That’s all you’re going to say? You truly feel my pain?”
“Am I supposed to feel something else?”
“Call your brother and talk to him.”
“No. I’m not getting into this.”
Leticia dropped her arms. “Please, babe. He worships the very ground you walk on. He always listens to you. Please, talk to him for me.”
Toni stood up. “No.”
“There’s no haba nau in this thing. He’s my younger brother. You’re my friend. I can’t put my mouth in you people’s matter. Handle your wahala, abeg.”
Toni picked her car key.
“So, it’s like this now.”
Annoyed, Leticia started for the door, but stopped and turned. “What if I bring Andre in all his dark chocolaty hotness to your bed tonight, will you knock some sense into Dapo’s head?”
“Andre is mad at me. He won’t listen to you.”
“I have my ways, Toni. Do we have a deal?”
Toni laughed. “Good luck with that.” She strode to the door. Leticia took her hand.
“Heartbreak is a bitch, innit?”
Toni didn’t give an answer. She clasped Leticia’s hand tightly as they both left the office. Pascal, who was on his phone, turned to them and informed Toni that Raji was asking to see her. They continued out and parted at the lobby. Toni took a walk to Raji’s office.
“Hey Toni.” Raji looked away from his laptop when she entered.
“What’s this about?”
“Everything’s good, Toni. Make yourself comfortable on any of those seats there.”
Toni noted that Raji’s office had changed since she had last been in it, making it look a lot more like hers. The long leather couch that was previously there had been replaced by a couple of two-sitters, facing each other, with a low table between them. It made for a less formal setting when one wanted to discuss business. There was also a third table for impromptu meetings. Toni was impressed by the new arrangement and dropped a compliment.
“Better use of space,” she added.
“Not as executive as yours or Christie’s.”
Toni sat on one of the two-sitters. Raji went to her, taking the second couch.
“Toni, the other senior partners and I discussed, and we feel it would be great if you went on a vacation.”
“The other senior partners?”
“Christie and Jumo.”
“You guys agreed to me taking a vacation?”
“Asepita, I’m fine.”
“It’s only a two-week long vacation…”
“All costs handled by us. Go and grieve and heal your heart. You’re broken, Toni.”
She couldn’t argue with him.
“Pick anywhere in the world you want to go and let me know so that my assistant can handle the travel arrangements.”
“Thank you, Raji.”
“In your absence, we’ll come to an agreement over the new equity partner who will be in charge of marketing. We need someone who knows their beans in the marketing world. I can’t handle management and do that at the same time. It’s beginning to tell on me.”
“How many offers do we have?”
“As it stands, three offers.”
“I only know about two.”
“There’s a third person wanting so badly to take the position.”
“Just do your thing, Raji,” Toni murmured, rising up. “I trust your judgment. You made me partner, didn’t you?”
He held her hand as she made to leave. “He still loves you.”
“Raji…” Toni took off her glasses. “Have you ever seen me this sad?”
“That’s how much I love him too, but…”
She couldn’t say more. She wanted Andre back. And she didn’t understand why she was helpless to stop the feeling of desperation that haunted her. In the past, she easily walked away from men and never looked back, but leaving Andre was giving her nightmares. Toni was ready to throw in the towel.
“I understand,” Raji said. He gave the back of Toni’s hand a rub before letting go.
Toni left the office and made a stop at Imade’s hotel suite to have a word with him about his latest shenanigans. As she had predicted, it was all about her. He pleaded for a single night with her. She declined and left his suite. When she got home, she popped a couple of analgesics to help calm a fever. Subsequently, she dove beneath the sheets and went into a snooze.
Christie was having one of those passing moments in which she was worrying about how fast Vanessa was growing. The girl had just asked if it was okay to finally have an account on Instagram.
“No,” her mother replied.
Christie sighed. She knew it would take only another couple of weeks and the question would be repeated. Vanessa was known to go hard after something until she got it. Her parents, on the other hand, were stubborn too. They had resolved that she wasn’t getting on social media until she was thirteen. She was allowed to use the internet only for educational purposes. They were terrified of the kind of information and sexual predators she could come across on the web.
“Does that mean I stay with them Ayo for the holidays?” Vanessa asked Christie from the blue.
“Do you want to stay for the holidays?”
“Yes. There’s no crying baby there.”
“Vanessa?” Christie scolded.
“Tami likes to cry. I don’t get it.”
“She’s a baby. Babies cry all the time.”
“Did I cry like her?”
“A lot. And your daddy and I didn’t get angry at you.”
“I’m not angry at her. I just don’t know what to do with her.”
Christie smiled, walked to where Vanessa sat and sat with her. “I didn’t know what to do with you either. Your daddy was a better mommy than I was.”
She put an arm around her.
“But now, I can’t get enough of you. I’m so going to miss you.”
Vanessa didn’t push away from the side hug Christie was giving her but she made a face. Christie knew she was being a little too mushy, but she couldn’t help herself. She was about to make a drastic decision which she believed would save her marriage and family from falling apart. It was going to involve sending Vanessa to stay with her aunt, Mosun, and she Christie, moving to a smaller apartment, away from Folarin. It had been a heart-wrenching decision to embark on, and it had given her sleepless nights. But the more she thought about it, the more she was certain it was for the best. Her clothes and Tamilore’s were already packed. She was now finishing up with Vanessa’s. Mosun was on her way to get her.
“Let’s finish packing.” Vanessa pulled away from her clutch. Christie dabbed at her tear ducts and also rose to her feet. Several minutes later, Vanessa’s travel case and an extra carryon were filled. Christie dragged the case out to the living room and was surprised to find the duo of Mosun and Folarin in a conversation.
She put a smile on her face when they both looked her way. Mosun was always a sight for sore eyes.
“Christie, you’ve lost a lot of weight o! Ha-ahn! Come and tell me your secret.”
Christie laughed, went over to her and hugged her, avoiding Folarin’s stare. Today, she had made the effort to look good, doing away with her drab post-pregnancy appearance. She had worn some makeup, a snug t-shirt and a mini skirt. Her natural locks which she had been held in braids for months were let free today, and they fell all the way to her shoulders.
“There’s no secret, Mosun. You know I don’t even try.”
Mosun stood up and took her hand. “Let’s do two aside, jare.”
She dragged Christie to the kitchen.
“What is going on? You sounded weird when you called.”
“Long story, Mosun. We’ll talk, but not today. Not with him here.”
“Folarin is now him?”
Christie didn’t give an answer. She opened the fridge and took out a jug of ice tea.
“Just help me out with Tife. Let her stay until school resumes next term…”
“Christie?” Mosun gave her a pointed stare.
“I’ll call you tonight and explain. But not now. Not here.”
She poured Mosun a glass of ice tea and another for Folarin.
“Please, help me give this to him.”
Mosun withdrew her stare and took both glasses to the living room where Folarin and Vanessa were having a moment. The child was seated on his laps and nodding to whatever it is he was telling her.
Christie went into her bedroom. Tamilore was awake, staring up at the ceiling and kicking her legs in excitement. Christie went through their luggage, ensuring she had packed all they needed. She wasn’t sure how long she was going to be away. It was all dependent on Folarin. All she was certain of was that she was done seeking his forgiveness. She couldn’t let him or any kind of heartache eat up what little was left of her person. Her kids needed her to be strong. Covet also needed her creative mind back in motion.
It had taken just a night alone on her bed, without Folarin, to come to this decision. It was either she was going to lose him or lose herself. She chose the former. A moment of separation was best for both of them. She hadn’t discussed it with him yet because he hadn’t slept at home since Saturday. He only came in to shower, spend time with Vanessa and his mom and was off again. Christie had resolved not to let it bother her, although she cried every night. But she would wake up strong in the morning and go through her day with a straight face. Earlier today, when her mother-in-law, demanding to know what was going on with her and Folarin, accused her of driving Folarin away from the house, Christie had looked at her and given her a calm response that revealed nothing of her pain or Folarin’s anger at her.
“Anyway sha, I am leaving today,” the old woman said acerbically. “I have done all I came here to do. Let it not be said that I didn’t.”
Christie didn’t beg her to stay. She thanked her, and when it was time for her to leave, she carried her things to the car.
“Mommy, this is from Folarin and I. Our little way of saying thank you for all you have done.” She presented her with a fat envelope containing cash, but the old woman looked at it and cast a hostile stare on Christie.
“If this is a bribe for me to overlook all the sadness you are making my son go through, you can take it and burn in hell with it. You have no shame. After sleeping with his friend, you still carry yourself around like you own the whole world. You ought to be burying your head in the sand. Thank God the DNA test you did stated that Tamilore is an Adediran. If not, you’ll be out of here at the snap of my finger!”
Christie took the words in bravely. Her heart couldn’t hurt any more than it already did. But when the car drove away and the gates shut behind it, she remained on her feet, staring into the air, until the gateman asked if she was okay. Giving him no answer, she returned to the house. For the stretch of the day, she went about like one who was drugged. She couldn’t wait to get into her new apartment, lock herself in and commence on the ideas buzzing in her brain. Strangely, it was at this weakest moment in her life that she found herself pregnant with creativity.
A cooing sound from Tamilore drew her attention. She leaned over the newborn and kissed her forehead. While in the act, Folarin walked in. He gave the space a thorough stare and then turned his attention to her.
“Where are you going?”
“Far from you, Folarin, since that is what you want.”
“I never said I didn’t want to be around you.”
“You didn’t have to say anything. Staying away from the house and refusing to talk to me pretty much sends the message. I’m leaving.”
Folarin pushed his hands into his pockets. “We should have discussed this.”
“There’s nothing to discuss.” Christie picked a few items from the bed and dumped them into her handbag. “You need space and time to deal with your anger, and I’m going to give you that. In short, do whatever you want. Have your own affair, fall in love with someone new, I don’t care. I’m done begging you.”
Christie’s heart beat wildly against her chest. She didn’t mean any of the words she had just uttered. All she wanted was to be held in his arms, to hear him say that despite everything, they were going to be fine.
But he didn’t. Instead, he asked, “Why him?”
Christie, holding on to Tamilore’s bib, dropped her hands, her shoulders dropping as well. She had given him an answer to this question before, but only a half truth. And he had known she was hiding something more.
“I sincerely want to know.”
“Folarin, I can’t…”
She was scared to let him know the truth because of what it could do to him. But she knew he already knew what her answer would be.
“We just sort of fell into…”
“Don’t lie to me, Christina. Not today. Please, don’t.”
She sat on the bed. “He… I was turned on by who he was. His status, his leadership position, his command of respect,his wealth.”
“You’re just treading lightly,” Folarin stated in a raspy tone.
“I’m sparing you pain, Richard. Don’t push me into digging into a past I have let go of.”
“Since you’re finding it hard to say the words, I’ll say them. Raji is the man you want me to be.”
And that was the unblemished truth, but it was no longer Christie’s reality.
“He was the man I wanted you to be. But no more.”
“Yeah. Because I’m now famous and have more money than I used to. You suddenly find me attractive.”
Christie gave a long sigh. She was tired of speaking but she needed to let it all out. “You told me you forgave me. We got back together. We had a baby. But I’m not the one who is changing because your status changed. It’s you, Folarin. You’re finally the man you want to be and suddenly, you don’t need me. Suddenly, you call the past to account.”
“The past is refusing to go away.”
“Well, I’m saying this for the last time and I’m saying this with all my heart. I am sorry for what I did. The shame of it kills me. I wish I could undo it but I can’t. I am stuck with the memories of a person I never thought I’d be. I miss us.”
She sought his eyes. “I miss you, chief. I want us back, but since it all lies in your hands, I’ll let you be.”
She went up on her feet again, preparing to take Tamilore in her arms. Folarin came towards her.
Christie shook her head. “No. There’s so much going on right now. We can’t work things out magically. I know you need some time alone.”
“Can I know where you’re staying, at least?”
“Sure. I expect you to come around to check on Tami now and then.”
Folarin pulled Christie to him unexpectedly, burying his fingers in her hair as he held her. And as she remained in his arms, she realized how much of a distance there was between them.
“Will you ever be open to counseling?” She looked up at his face.
“Not now. I don’t think I can handle it.”
She nodded in understanding.
“Do you want me to help you take your things to the car?”
“Not yet. Nessa has to leave first or she’ll start asking questions.”
And so, Folarin stood awkwardly; and for the first time since falling in love, they both felt like strangers to each other.
“I’m sorry about Saturday night,” he murmured.
“I’ll be waiting in the parlor.”
He lifted Tamilore from the bed and left to the living room with her.
When Andre heard the knock on his front door, he knew his attempt at a brief nap was futile. He was yet to have a full night’s rest since returning from Abidjan the day before. It wasn’t so much that he was tired as he was seeking a clear mind to finish up on some business models he was working on. He needed his mind refreshed to be able to soak himself deep into work.
He left his bedroom to the front door, sidestepping a couple of Jozi’s toys on the floor. The boy had been kidnapped by his aunt, Andre’s sister earlier, who had burst into the house, had a single glance at him and fallen in love. She then packed a bag and made away with him to her house. Andre was grateful for her timely intrusion. Going from being a bachelor with no family obligations to becoming a parent overnight was not as easy as he had imagined. From the moment he took on responsibility for his son, he lost his freedom.
Jozi was a handful. Eerily quiet one minute and hyper the next. Andre had already replaced a laptop and a wristwatch that had unfortunately landed themselves in the boy’s hands when he had been left to his vices. But that was only the beginning. He discovered that the boy threw tantrums if he didn’t have his way. Once when asked to pick his toys from the floor, he went into a fit that lasted more than an hour. Andre, traumatized, had watched him from a distance, unsure of what to do. He had eventually placated him with some candy. And that had been a terrible mistake. More tantrums came after that, especially in public places. And each time, Andre would appease him with a candy.
“This boy needs a mother,” Andre’s aged mother told him on one of the tantrum nights in her home in Abidjan. “And you have to stop giving him treats to appease him. I would use the cane, if I were you.”
Andre had shaken his head. He didn’t believe in spanking kids. His father had been brutal to him and his siblings, leaving them with haunting memories of their childhood.
“You should try it,” his mom insisted. “Look how great you all turned out.”
And Andre had given the old woman the eye. But it didn’t quite take twenty-four hours after that discussion for him to start thinking of what length of cane would be perfect for Jozi. As a father, he already felt like a failure, and he also felt bad for the undue pressure he had put on Toni that led to their breakup.
But he wasn’t going to tell Leticia, who was standing outside his door, that he was regretful of his actions.
He opened the door and welcomed her in. She reached up for a hug.
“How are you?” she asked.
She walked in, eyes darting about.
“If you’re looking for the little bugger, he’s not here. He’s with my sister.”
“Awww… And I brought him some chocolate.”
“He’s off treats for a while due to naughty behavior.”
“Sit down, jare.”
“Can I get you anything?”
“No. I’m good.”
“How is Dapo?” Andre asked, pushing away some of Jozi’s books off a sofa.
“And Omolade. That one is now a star. We don’t hear from her these days.”
“I spoke to her last week. She was in Enugu for a shoot.”
“And Tayo? Are they still together?”
“No. They separated a long time ago. And I think you know that. You’re just asking about everyone to avoid asking about the one person you badly want to see.”
Andre stretched out on the sofa he had just cleared, placing a pillow between his legs. He smiled as he did so, in response to Leticia’s insinuation.
“The one person being Antonia?”
“Your darling chatte.”
He threw his head back in a hearty laugh. “How is she?”
“Well, she has herself to blame.”
“No, two of you are to blame. And I’m angry at you that you didn’t come to see her to offer your condolences over her loss.”
“You mean, Mark? I hated that asshole when he was alive and my feelings haven’t changed.”
“Andre, it’s not Mark you’re going to see.”
“I know. But to be fair, I have been away. I just got back.”
“A call would have been nice.”
“Okay, I fucked up. I will call and…”
“You will go and visit her. Today.”
Andre was laughing again.
“Dre, she is vulnerable right now. In a moment of weakness, she let out that she wants you back. I think this is the time you sneak back in.”
“What if I want things to go on this way?”
“Things can’t go on this way. My friend is dying without you. She’s tired of fighting you.”
Leticia’s words made him feel good.
“I know you’re also tired of your pride.”
“Yes you, you this annoying Frenchman.”
More mirth erupted from his throat.
“So you better go back to your woman and make things right. There’s this friend of ours that has always liked her and he’s back in her life. Actually, I called him to come back, thinking his massive crush for her would be gone, but from what I’m noticing, dude is still trying to get into her pants. So, you better go back to her.”
“And fight for what’s mine abi?”
“I’m not joking, Dre. Go to her. This night.”
“I’ll think about it.”
Leticia sprang up.
“You’re leaving already?”
“Yes. I have a boyfriend I have to go and fight with.”
Andre rose up and walked her to the door where she stopped and asked, “Do you think prenups are necessary?”
“Yeah. For those that they’re necessary for.”
“And who are they?”
“Couples who don’t love each other. Or when you have a case of a gold digger and a rich partner. Awesome marriages don’t begin with contracts.”
Leticia smiled and thanked him but he was sure he saw something in her eyes that belied her expressions.
He leaned towards her to drop a peck on her cheek. “Au revoir.”
When she left, he strolled back into his bedroom and sought the nap he badly needed, waking hours later to a ringing phone. It was his sister calling. He answered the call and they conversed in French for a while before she informed him that Jozi wanted to have a word.
“Put him on.”
Andre waited and his son’s voice came on.
A warm feeling filled him. “Hey, buddy. Are you having fun?”
“Or you want to come back to daddy?”
“Alright. Be good, okay?”
Andre’s sister came back on. He thanked her for her kindness. She brushed off his gratitude and called it a night.
Alone in the dark of his room, he was just realizing it was almost 9PM. He entered the bathroom for a shower, changed into fresh clothes, tossed his laptop and work documents into a shoulder bag and left the house with his riding gear. Outside, he fired up his power bike and sent the speed demon racing into night. He arrived at Toni’s apartment just as a light shower began. He stood at the door a short while before pressing the doorbell.
The door opened and a tall, slim guy whom he suspected to be the friend Leticia spoke about, appeared in his view, giving him a probing stare.
“You have something to deliver?” Tochi asked.
Andre ignored the question. “Is Toni in?”
“She’s sleeping. Maybe you should come back tomorrow.”
Ignoring his words a second time, Andre entered the house, intentionally nudging him out of the way as he trudged in. He aimed for Toni’s bedroom and opened the door. Tochi went after him.
“I said she’s sleeping.”
“And I want to sleep with her,” Andre responded in whisper. “If you know what I mean.”
Tochi gave him a full stare. “You’re Andre.”
“Yeah, and unless you’re washing the dishes, you shouldn’t be here.”
Tochi stepped back. Andre shut the door. The room was quiet and chilly. Toni’s body was half-covered with a blanket. Andre discarded his riding gear and left only in his normal clothes, he tossed aside the blanket and lay beside her.
Her eyelids fluttered several times before it registered in her head that he was the one.
He pushed shocks of her weave off from her face, pulling her towards him to crush her lips with his. The familiar softness of her mouth and the pleasure it gave him drew out a moan from him. But he stopped before he got consumed by the sheer suppleness of her body against his.
“I heard about Mark. I am so sorry.”
“No, you’re not. You look awful. You’ve lost weight. And your eyes…”
“I just woke up.”
“You’re not talking to a stranger, Antonia. It’s me. And I’m here to make things right. Fill me in on all that’s been happening.”
“I’d rather kiss you again.”
And so he gave his lips to be caressed by hers, and she kissed him like one who was afraid to do so. There was nothing passionate about it. Andre sensed her neediness and responded by tugging her towards him, locking their legs together and holding her in a soothing manner. It took only a short sentence whispered into her ear in French to unleash her emotions. She broke down, face buried in his chest. But her sobbing lasted only a few minutes before her vulnerability was replace by the need to be comforted through some other means.
And Andre, understanding her implicit yearning, swathed her mouth with more kisses, as his hand switched from delivering soothing back rubs to stroking her sensuously.
Soon their bodies were engaged in a tango only they understood. It was neither rushed nor wild. The abundance of affection given and received made it one of Andre’s best sexual moments with Toni. They stopped sometimes to talk and laugh and continued at the same pace, using up a stretch of two hours before they finally brought the session to an end. And even then, Andre was sure they would jump right back into it.
“So are we a couple again?” Toni asked, lighting up a cigarette she had between her lips.
“Let’s take it one day at a time and see how it goes. No obligations.”
“I want to meet Jozi.”
Andre shook his head. He didn’t think she was ready. Toni read his thoughts.
“I really do.”
She lowered her bum on his groin, her back to him.
“I’m sure he’s an adorable little guy.”
Andre gave a mischievous laugh. “He is.”
Tony slowly lay back on Andre and his hand followed the curve of her upper body down to her waist and coursed down to the juncture of her thighs until he found her warm moistness. But she pushed his hand away and turned around to straddle him.
Still enjoying her cigarette, she let him inside her and initiated a slow forwards and backwards movement on him.
Like the previous session, this carried on leisurely. Andre felt hypnotized – by the smoky ambience her cigarette gave in the dark and her measured rhythm which sometimes turned into fine, subtle, circling gyrations brought on by her fiery waist. But it didn’t last as long as he wanted it to. Toni worked them both to orgasms; she getting there first and causing him to join her shortly, after being driven to the brink by the contractions of her inner folds.
Drowsiness hit them both afterwards. They burrowed beneath the blanket and went to sleep linking their pinkies together.
When the morning came, they were both too lazy to leave the bed.
“I have tons of work I need to do,” Andre mumbled, face buried in a pillow.
“I’ll make you breakfast, Frenchie.”
Toni kissed the back of his head and dragged herself out of the bedroom, wearing nothing. In the living room, she bumped into Tochi.
“Jeez!” She covered her breasts. “What’s wrong with you?”
“What are you covering. It’s not like I haven’t seen it all.”
Toni retreated to her bedroom and came back in a bathrobe. “Don’t you have a house or something? I thought you left last night?”
“It was raining. Not that I expect you to recall, since you were having such a good time. I would have gone home but I don’t have a car here, so I crashed on your couch. Now that you’re awake, let me be carrying myself and be going.”
“So, does this mean I’m no longer your side cock?”
Toni glowered. She went towards him and said in a low tone. “You were never my side anything. We were just friends with benefits. A loooong time ago. And you will never mention it around my boyfriend. Yeah, that’s him sleeping in my room. The Andre Leticia and I told you about, the one whose name I was moaning out last night. And from now on, you’ll visit only when I ask you to. Understood?”
Tochi shrugged. “He’ll dump your ass again and I’ll be back to wipe your tears.”
“That’s never going to happen.”
“You’re sure? Why don’t you take a look outside?”
“What’s happening outside?”
Tochi went to the front door, opened it and called Toni over. She went to the door cautiously and peeped out.
Sitting in her verandah and having breakfast were Ruby and Duke. There was no one else with them, except the set of children’s suitcases resting on the floor beside them.
Toni drew back in, shock on her face.
“Who brought them?”
“Was he tall and huge with a big tummy?”
“No. Lepa like me with a long neck. He said, ‘me I just be driver. Abeg, tell the aunty say I no fit wait.’ He then got into the car and left.”
“And you didn’t think to knock on my door to tell me?”
“That would have to mean Andre finding out. I didn’t think you’d want him to.”
“So leaving them in front of my house was the best thing to do?”
“Toni, it was a few minutes past seven when they came. I tried to call your phone but it was switched off. Tried Leticia’s, the same thing. What was I to do? Throw the kids out? Anyways, the long neck guy says I should tell you that oga said you should check your text messages.”
“Oh God. Oh God. What is this? Why would Uncle Abrams do this to me?”
“So the kids are legally yours?”
“Tochi, your question is not helping me now.”
“But I’m really handy. Always your handy man. I figured the kids would be hungry, so I made them breakfast. The least you can do is say thank you.”
But Toni hadn’t heard him. She had gone to her bedroom, tiptoed in and picked her phone from her handbag. When she returned to the living room, she turned it on and then peeped out the window, staring at Ruby and Duke.
“Oh God. These kids need to go back to where they came from.”
“How about me? Can I go?”
“No. Stay. You’ll be useful to me somehow. I don’t know how, but somehow, you will.”
A series of vibrations hit Toni’s phone. She unlocked the screen and clicked on her messages. She got a couple from Abrams, explaining that he urgently needed to talk to her.
“Why did I off my phone?” Toni whined.
“And fuck my boyfriend all through the night?” Tochi added, mimicking her voice.
A third unread SMS from her bank caught her attention. When she tapped on it, her jaw dropped.
“What?” Tochi came forward. He took the phone off her hand. His brows came together in a squint. “Am I seeing well? Toni, how many zeroe are here? Somebody credited your account?”
She snatched her phone back. “That was the money I told you that Mark stole from me. Uncle Abrams returned it. And the kids!”
She went through her call log and tapped on Abrams’ contact. A few seconds passed and she was informed that his number was switched off.
She tried a second, a third and fourth time and was given the same response.
“I can’t reach him. His number is not available, Tochi. I can’t reach him. Oh God. Oh God, what do I do?”
“What do you do to what?”
Andre’s voice came from behind her and she spun around. He was standing by the door in the nude, hands covering his privates.
“What’s he still doing here?” he asked, eyeing Tochi.
“I’m out of here,” Tochi announced and began heading for the front door but Duke walked in, causing Toni to freeze.
“Uncle Tochi, my tea has finished,” the boy said, thrusting his mug at Tochi.
“Tochi, please give him more tea,” Toni said in a shaky tone. She was out of balance.
Andre who had withdrawn to the room at the appearance of Duke returned in his jeans just as Tochi and Duke disappeared to the kitchen.
“Tone, what’s going on? Who is the guy and who is the kid?”
“The guy is em…that’s Tochi. And the boy is his nephew.”
“What are they doing here?”
“Tochi is a friend. We know each other from way back. He just moved into the neighborhood, so his nephew and niece are on the way to his house.”
“And they did a stopover here?”
“Yeah. The car they came with broke down, so Tochi wants to borrow mine to continue the journey.”
Toni almost cringed at her lies. This was the first time she was being dishonest with Andre, and she hated herself for it. She was aware of how ridiculous her tales were. She just prayed Andre didn’t catch on.
Tochi came back to the living room with Duke.
“Tochi, I’ll get you my car key and you can take them home,” she said, avoiding Tochi’s eye and hurrying to her bedroom. Upon her return, she saw Ruby also waiting in the living room. Andre had rested curious eyes on the child.
“Let me escort you guys out,” Toni announced, taking Duke’s hand and leading him out. She kept her lips sealed until she was out of earshot.
“Take them to your place, Tochi. Once Andre leaves, I’ll come see you.”
“Or come get them, you mean?”
“Please, help me.”
“Why can’t you just tell him the truth?”
“I dumped him because of his kid. And now, we’re back and you want me to tell him that I am solely responsible for the care of my ex’s children?”
“So, you’ll keep lying to him?”
“I will figure a way out to clean up this mess. Just help a friend here.”
Tochi shook his head wearily. “When Tisha told me to come back to you, this wasn’t what I was anticipating.”
“Tochukwu, get your mind out of the gutter and help me.”
She carried the children’s luggage to her car and dumped them in the trunk.
Ruby sat in the front passenger seat and Duke took the backseat.
“Aunty Antonia?” Ruby called. Toni felt her tummy churn. She took a step back to have a better view of the girl.
“My daddy said you’ll take care of us if mommy never comes back.”
“Wait, how did you know my name?”
“Daddy showed us many pictures of you and him together.”
Mark, you were out of your mind.
“We want to stay with you, Aunty Antonia.”
Fuck you, Mark!
“Sweetie, I will see you in a few hours and we’ll talk about this, okay? Go with Uncle Tochi. He’ll take good care of you.”
The girl turned away. Toni could see the sadness in her eyes. She looked at Duke. He was unperturbed, swinging his legs and sipping from his mug.
“Thank you, Tochi,” Toni mouthed silently. He winked.
She hurried back to the house. Andre was in the kitchen, trying to prepare a meal of scrambled eggs.
“Are they gone?”
He opened the fridge and took out peppers and tomatoes and washed them. He then set them on a chopping board.
“Pass me an onion.”
Toni picked an onion from a basket on the counter.
“You asked me earlier if we were getting back together and I told you we’ll take it one day at a time,” Andre said, chopping a green pepper into little chunks.
“Well, I think it’ll be better if we take it slower than one day at a time.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I want an open relationship, Toni.”
“What does that mean?”
“You know what an open relationship means.” He kept on with his green pepper. “It is when two people feel deeply for each other but still want to hit it with other people outside.”
“Why would we want to do that?”
He looked at her. “I don’t know. Maybe because there’s Tochi who spends the night in your place and drives your car and then Mark Ebute’s kids who have their luggage in your frontage and are asking for extra tea.”
Toni felt her mouth go dry. She placed a hand on the fridge for support. “Andre, I…”
“Don’t bother explaining. I don’t even want to know what’s going on. You have your shit you have to deal with. I got mine. When time allows us, we come together and do us. In the end, we either merge both worlds or we find our separate ways.”
“What are you saying?”
“I like what happened last night. I want more of it, but at the same time, I don’t want to be burdened by your responsibility or burden you with mine. So let’s keep it open and see where it leads.”
“It’s fine, Toni.” He went back to the fridge, stopping to peck her cheek. “We’re adults. And I understand how complex human relationships can be.”
Toni felt a glob in her throat and tried to swallow it down but couldn’t.
“You can take a moment to mull over it,” Andre added, smiling like he was not shoving spikes into her heart. She left the kitchen, pulling out her phone from her pocket. She put a call through to Leticia.
“Hello?” Leticia answered.
“Where are you, Tish? My world is falling apart. Please, come home.”