This is a bonus for the public holiday. Enjoy!
“I don’t want to go with her.”
Toni’s lips pressed together in a silent sigh. She had this overwhelming fatigue she couldn’t do away with. Duke woke up with a fever and Ruby with a mood. Both of them were to spend the weekend with Nkechi as directed by the court. Toni had won full custody while Nkechi was given visitation rights. She was allowed one weekend with the children in a month and also one of the holidays in the year. The judge’s final decision hadn’t gone well with her, but so far she was being mature about it. She wasn’t the only one upset over the new turn events. Ruby had fostered a temper since Toni broke the news to her.
“Ruby, baby…” Toni sat on a kitchen stool beside her. She was engaged in her favorite pastime of coloring while her mother waited for her in the living room. “It’s just for the weekend…”
“She doesn’t love us! She left us and left daddy when he was sick! I hate her!”
Toni looked to Leticia for help. Leticia, standing by the kitchen window, returned the look with a blank face.
“You can’t hate your mommy, Ru.”
“But I do.”
“Shhh…stop saying that.”
“She hates us.”
“She doesn’t. If she did, she won’t be here.” Toni almost bit her tongue for her lies. “She’s made some mistakes but she’s here to undo them. Give her a chance.”
Toni remembered Mark’s words in one of his videos about Ruby. She can be an unforgiving little brat. Try never to hurt her.
“Okay, promise me one thing…”
Ruby maintained her frown.
“Promise me, Ru.”
“That you will try not to cuss at her or be disrespectful and that you will take good care of Duke while you’re there.”
Ruby stopped moving the felt pen in her hand. “I’ll try.”
“And you’ll watch everything your mommy does very well,” Leticia added. Toni gave her a side glance. “If she hits you, call me immediately.”
“Yes, Aunty Tisha.”
“That’s my girl.”
“Call me anytime you feel like, okay?” Toni requested, rising up. Ruby nodded. Toni picked the children’s overnight bags and together they went into the living room. Nkechi was seated with Duke. He was cuddled to her chest. The sight made Toni jealous.
“Are you ready?” Nkechi asked Ruby. The girl gave no response. She shifted backwards, leaning on Toni.
“It’s okay, darling.” Toni rested a hand on her shoulder as Nkechi rose up. “Tomorrow evening, Nkechi. No later than 6 p.m.”
“We’ll be going to church for an evening program…”
“No later than six, Nkechi.”
“Ebube, let’s go,” Nkechi stretched out her free hand to Ruby. The girl ignored it and walked ahead of her. Toni followed them with the bags and ensured that the kids were both seated safely in the backseat of Nkechi’s car. She stood until they drove out of sight. She muttered a prayer of protection for them. These days she was learning to pray, although she wasn’t sure whom she was praying to or even if she was doing it properly. She had silently uttered gratitude after the judge’s final decision at court a few days ago. She simply wanted to be grateful for being considered worthy enough to take care of the children that had changed her life and come to mean so much to her in a short while. According to Khanyi, her love for Ruby and Duke was a projection of what she still felt for their father. Toni had disagreed with her, assuring her that what she felt for them was in many ways stronger than what she had borne for Mark. And this was the truth, which was why it was particularly painful to see them leave her presence with their mother.
When she returned to the house, Leticia was waiting with a glass of wine.
“This early morning?” Toni asked, taking the glass from her.
“We have too many bottles in the house. We should look for every reason to finish them.”
“So what’s this one for?”
“You successfully cutting your apron strings without drama. We’ll also be toasting to the fact that you had a civil conversation with me yesterday on the topic of masturbation.”
“You said if your dry spell continued you might try it.”
“Did it occur to you that I was sleepy when I said that?” Toni began towards her room.
“But it was said still. I’ll get you a beautiful rabbit dildo.”
“Or just go back to Andre.”
Toni placed her glass of wine on her dressing table and gave Leticia a sharp stare. “I’ll slap you the next time you mention that name out of nowhere.”
“What if I ease into mentioning it?”
“I don’t want this conversation to continue, Tish.”
“You want to go back to him…”
“You’re not listening.” Toni began undressing.
“You miss him…”
“Shut up, Tish.”
“You desperately need him–”
“He has a girlfriend!”
Leticia’s face fell slowly like melting wax. “What? When?”
“Who cares? I’m done with him anyways.”
Toni went into the bathroom. Leticia followed. “You saw them together?”
“He told me himself. Tochi also told me. They’ve been a thing for a while.”
“Oh God.” Leticia downed her drink. “We have to break them up ASAP.”
Pushing her weave into a shower cap, Toni stepped into the shower stall. “We have to do nothing.”
“I’m having a mini heart attack.” Leticia clutched her chest and slid to the floor dramatically. Toni was forced into laughter, but it wasn’t the happy kind. Her heart was also experiencing its own pain. She hadn’t been herself since Andre confirmed Tochi’s words about his present relationship status.
“Annoying Frenchman,” Leticia muttered, eyes lined with tears.
“You can say that again.” A spurt of water from the shower head squirted on Toni and she shut her eyes. For the stretch of time that she bathed, all she could think about was the children. They were her safe place when memories of Andre tried to get into her head to destabilize her.
“Let’s go to the spa,” Leticia said out of her melancholy. Somehow she had managed to top her glass of wine. “I’ll pay. Let’s just go and get pampered and forget life for a while abeg. Dre is getting me depressed.”
The spa was a new one, not far from where they lived. Toni and Leticia had facials, deep body massages and finally sat to sip tasty smoothies as they received pedicures. It was while Toni was in the middle of explaining to the smiley-faced Filipino woman who was painting her toenails how she wanted it done that Imade’s wife suddenly walked in.
She was an intimidating woman with a tall frame and skin so fair that from afar she looked Caucasian. Rose-read lips pursed in snobbishness showed a frown as she went towards Toni and stood before her. She had on a ruffled cotton-chambray shirtdress. Toni suspected it was a Burberry. Some chick had stopped by at the office a few weeks ago to sell a knockoff version of it.
“I’d like a word with you, Antonia.”
Always in control of every situation she found herself, Toni showed no reaction. She straightened her posture slowly and asked one of the pedicurists to give her intruder a foot massage.
“I’m not here for that.”
“Neither am I here for a word with you. We can compromise as you sit and accept a foot massage while I listen to what you have to say.”
The woman gave in, settling into a chair that was placed beside Toni’s.
“Is your friend going to be sitting with us?” she asked.
“Yes.” Toni found herself liking the huskiness of the woman’s voice. She had never been a fan of her TV show. She had always considered her too feminine-centered.
“So what’s this intrusion of my private time about?”
“For starters, stop seeing my husband.”
Toni tried not to display her default arrogant smile which always appeared whenever she was facing an antagonist.
“I was just joking.” The woman smiled, slipping out of a pair of heels. “Relax. Imade and I have an avant-garde marriage. Our arrangement is solely for business. We were never in love, and I doubt that we’ll ever be. He wanted to buy my father’s company; I, on the other hand, saw the potential in him to become great. Contracts were signed and we became husband and wife. We are both allowed to have side pieces as long as the pieces do not threaten the marriage itself or the business reputation of either of us.”
Toni hated to be referred to as a side piece.
“And that’s why I’m here, really.” Rita pulled out a long white envelope from her handbag. “Try not to gasp,” she said, handing the envelope to Toni.
Toni took out photographs that depicted Rita and a man having sex in various positions at different times and locations. “Those pictures were taken over a span of six years. There are more. I had no idea that I was being watched. The man…he’s Imade’s cousin. I’m sure you know him. It was his father who committed suicide, whom Imade took over from at CIPRON Oil.”
Without meaning to, Toni made a frown.
“Yes, judge me, but when you love somebody, nothing matters. I love Melvin. I was stupid to think that Imade wouldn’t find out about us. He’s done so and now he’s threatening to divorce me right at the moment we began planning to have our first baby together.”
“Baby?” Leticia tossed out her head to look at Rita. “Aren’t you like old?”
“Why is she talking?” Rita questioned.
“But you are allowed side pieces?” Toni asked.
“Not family members or close friends. I crossed the line with Melvin and I’m going to get punished. He will divorce me and give me next to nothing. I won’t even get my father’s company back.”
“Okay.” Toni returned the pictures to the envelope. “Hard luck.”
Toni saw pain in Rita’s eyes that disappeared with a fluttering of long eyelashes. “I am going to lose everything, Antonia, including the baby I’m supposed to have with Imade. Melvin has dumped me already because he doesn’t want a scandal. I can’t afford to lose what I helped Imade build through the years. I’ve lowered my pride and begged and cried but he won’t budge. He wants to get rid of me. The moment those pictures are released, it’s enough grounds for him to divorce me, based on our marriage contract.”
“I’m really sorry, Rita. But I still don’t see how this is my business.”
“Imade is crazy about you, Antonia. I know my husband well and I know when he falls in love. He’s been in love with you for years and now that he has you, he’s not going to let you go.”
“He will listen to anything you tell him.”
“And you want me to…?”
“Secure my place.”
“Mrs. Harrison, I don’t want to get involved in this.”
“But you already are.” Rita pulled out a second envelope. Toni took it from her warily. Within it were pictures of her and Imade having sex.
“I’m as dangerous as he is. That’s what he fails to understand.”
“So, let me get this straight… Both of you signed a contract, agreeing to have an open marriage and yet you wouldn’t trust each other? You’re both sickos.”
“No, we understand each other very well.”
Toni returned the envelope to her. “Then show him these and threaten to let the world know.”
“He’ll laugh in my face and dare me to do my worst.”
“Not with me in those pictures. Imade would never play with my privacy like that. But you know what? I’m done with him anyways. You can have your husband back.”
“Oh, you dare not leave him now, Antonia.” The menace in Rita’s tone elicited a grunt from Leticia. “We’re in this together. Me and you. You will continue what you both have and ensure that my place in his life is secure. When you speak to me about him, he will ask something of you in return to accede to your request. You will give him whatever he asks for.”
Toni’s laughter was long and scornful. “Madam, you are out of your mind.”
Rita dropped a hand on Toni’s knee. Toni looked at her after. “I have lowered my pride to come to you,” she said almost inaudibly. “And this is because you are a woman of substance in your own right. I know you are smart too and you’ll do the right thing.”
“I’m doing nothing. You and Imade should sort your weirdness out.”
“Antonia, I am not a woman to be toyed with. I have done everything to see Imade where he is today. Everything. And in that same way I would bring him and anyone else down who stands in the way of my intentions.” She let out a dry smile. “But we won’t have to get to that if you do your part.”
Rita lifted her hand off Toni’s knee and picked her handbag.
“Thanks for the foot massage.”
She rose up, slipped her feet into her heels and walked off.
“That is the strangest conversation ever had between a wife and sidechick,” Leticia commented, slurping noisily from her straw.
“Not the best time for your wisecracks, Tish.”
“I warned you about Imade. I told you he was trouble.”
Toni stirred her smoothie, replying nothing back to Leticia.
“What is paining me in this whole thing is that I have to pay for her foot massage as well.”
Toni drew out a debit card from her handbag. She handed it to Leticia.
“I was just kidding. The treat is still on me.”
“No, it’s on Imade. He and his wife are about to drag me into some shit that stinks badly. We can as well start enjoying the benefits of it.”
Leticia accepted the card with a wild smile.
Salma was taken. From the moment he showed up at her door a few months ago, looking casual in t-shirt and jeans with stringy dreadlocks packed in a short ponytail, bulgy eyes gazing into hers with a questioning look, she knew she was going to fall for him.
“Who are you?” she had asked.
“I’m Maliq. I came to make your hair.”
Salma touched her hair as if just remembering that it existed. “Sorry, I don’t understand.”
“Comfort told me you needed a hairstylist.”
Salma and Comfort had developed a weird bond. When both women stopped making Raji the mutual denominator in their lives, they found a common ground and worked on their issues. Raheem’s little accident might have also been responsible. Salma had been helpful during the period, making a mark on Comfort with her kindness. They managed an open-minded rapport these days. Sometimes when Comfort stopped over to pick Raheem, she stayed for a glass or two of zobo. Sometimes it was Salma who stayed longer than she should at Comfort’s. They would speak about the kids, and once in a while, about Raji. One of the days, Salma had been bold enough to ask Comfort if she had slept with Folarin.
“Don’t you want to?”
“I wish you did, just to make sure Christie’s heart gets broken a million times over.”
“Salma!” Both ladies laughed and then Comfort went serious. “Why don’t you hate me the way you hate her?”
“Because you were not my friend, lying to my face, while you slept with my husband.”
“Christie has changed.”
“And that change has nothing to do with me. But seriously, sleep with Folarin if you want to.”
Comfort shook her head. “I’m no longer that person. And Folarin is too much of a good man to try that nonsense with.”
They hadn’t had another conversation after that. It was as if both of them were scared to let what they had delve deeper. So they maintained it on the surface, keeping it cordial and respectful. Salma’s hairstylist, five months ago, had relocated to Canada without informing her. She had only found out when she tried the woman’s line and someone else picked up the call and delivered the not-so-happy news. Comfort had been at the house that day.
“My hairstylist is good,” she had said. “I could give him a call on your behalf.”
Salma hadn’t heard the ‘him’ in Comfort’s statement.
“When do you want to do your hair?”
Salma showed her a picture on her phone.
“Ghana weaving. I’ll tell him.”
Again, Salma missed the ‘him’, which was why she stood confused when Maliq materialized at her doorstep the next morning.
“Are you not Mrs. Salma? Am I in the wrong house? Comfort gave me this address, and your gateman let me in.”
“Give me a moment.”
Salma shut the door and made a quick phone call to Comfort.
“Your hairdresser is a guy?”
“You didn’t tell me.”
“I kept saying ‘he’.”
“Seriously, I don’t recall.”
“Does the fact that he’s a guy bother you? He’s really good and respects women, if you’re scared about having him in your house.”
“No, no. It’s just that I didn’t know he’d be a guy.”
“Just give him a try. You’ll not regret it.”
Salma hung up. She stood before a mirror that was hanging off the wall beside the door. Her casual garb of yoga pants and a boyfriend tee gave her a modest appearance. She exhaled and opened the door again.
And thus Maliq walked into her life, bringing along his magic fingers and calm persona. They became friends in no time. She found out that he was just a few months older than she was, his other name was Taiye because he was a twin, he had never been married, and had a post graduate degree in political science. But he didn’t like discussing politics, or hairdressing either. He also didn’t have that quasi-gay manner many male hairstylists bore. He was all masculine.
Ensuring that he put food on his table, Maliq sometimes engaged in culinary services as a side hustle. Financially, he was nowhere near Raji. In fact, he was so way down the ladder that Salma sometimes wondered if something beyond the ordinary was responsible for her attraction of him. The interesting part was that he had no idea how she felt. He appeared and disappeared from her life every time she wanted to make her hair, which was now more frequent than it used to be. Sometimes she would call him over just to have him change her nail polish, something she knew well to do. She would then keep him engaged in long conversations until he asked to leave. This was usually done in her office. Raji had opened a supermarket for her that was located a short distance from the estate in which she lived. So far, it was a success. The place kept her busy all day; sometimes, into the night. She basked in the elation of knowing she was no longer a responsibility to Raji. There was something freeing about making one’s money that not even the stress that came with the business dampened the feeling.
Maliq sometimes helped her with her account books whenever he stopped by. He was good with figures. He was a devout Muslim too – something she absolutely adored about him. But he was not fanatic about it. One had to get to know him before one realized how committed he was to his faith. Salma drooled over the way he dressed. He was the poster boy for Ankara outfits, always tailored to his lanky frame, with a new design on each attire. Sparsely-bearded, smelling wealthier than he looked, he struck an appearance of style which Raji lacked. Salma would sit in her office and stare at him discreetly each time he entered the premises. She had no plans to let him know how she felt; she was going to nurse her crush until it died or Maliq disappeared from her life.
This afternoon he was here to help her with planning Deejah and Leelah’s birthday party. Salma had always employed the services of an event company to handle the celebration, but this year she wanted something simple. She had casually mentioned it to Maliq’s hearing and he had suggested contacting a cousin of his who was just starting out in the business to take over the planning of the birthday.
“I want to do it myself,” Salma reiterated as he crafted an intricate henna tattoo on her feet.
“My cousin will handle the stress, and then you can take over the major aspects.”
A wasp buzzed past her face from nowhere and she jumped up in fright, kicking Maliq on the face and making a mess of all he had done.
“I am so sorry, Maliq.” Salma covered her mouth apologetically, still trying to dodge the buzzing insect.
“It’s okay.” Maliq was more interested in killing the wasp than wiping off the smudge of henna on his face. When he finally smashed a book over the creature, he gazed at Salma with a victorious smile, and for a second it seemed like there was a look in his eyes that was laced with meaning, but he turned away, picking a towel to wipe his face.
“We’ll start again.”
Salma apologized once more and called an employee to bring a bowl of water for her feet. When the bowl was brought, Maliq insisted on washing off the henna himself. His hand was soft and gentle, and maybe a little too unhurried, but Salma laid no complaint.
“You should go to a spa for a foot massage. You badly need one.”
Maliq didn’t respond. He had a habit of not responding to questions that had obvious answers.
“I would have done it but I don’t give massages to women.”
The door burst in and Raji made an appearance. His eyes dropped on Maliq and moved to Salma’s feet and then all the way to her face. Maliq sized him up with a single look.
“Hey, sweetie,” Raji greeted.
“Good morning, Raji.” Salma kept her tone formal.
“A word, please?”
Salma let her feet down and into a pair of slippers. “One minute, Maliq.”
She followed Raji outside. His visit was about a piece of land beside her supermarket he was interested in acquiring. He wanted to know if she was okay with the idea. In other words, he was just looking for a reason to see her face. Ever since she stopped being intimate with him a short while ago, he had been doing everything to get back in the sheets with her.
“Maybe we should have dinner to discuss about the land in detail?”
“Raj, stop. I told you I’m not going back to us.”
“We both have to move on.”
“Try.” She touched his cheek. She still loved him, but he wasn’t good for her. He was going to cheat on her again if she let him back in. He was polygamous; she was not. They were never going to work.
“We’ll still talk about the land. I’m trying to negotiate a good deal. I’m broke.”
“You’ll be fine.”
His eyes lingered on her in that manner they did anytime he wanted to do more than talk. “Let me run. See you tomorrow?”
Salma nodded and got an unexpected kiss from him. She didn’t fight him. She still loved kissing him. Getting rid of him was going to be harder than she thought. When he left and she returned to Maliq, she found that she had gotten into a mood.
“Let’s hold off on the lalé and talk about the party.”
Maliq’s phone rang. He left the office to take the call. Salma watched him from her glass wall. He couldn’t see her but it seemed like he was staring back at her. His bulging eyes that constantly gave him a curious expression were now tapered in her direction. He was laughing. It wasn’t something one saw often, and now that he did it, she saw that his teeth were whiter than she had imagined because they were set against dark gums. Salma felt another mood coming on her as she wondered why she felt drawn towards him. Wasn’t she tired of men? Hadn’t Raji hurt her enough?
She looked away from the wall and picked her phone to get lost in it. She needed someone to advise her on what to do with her wayward feelings. She dialed Folarin’s number.
Folarin’s ringing phone startled Christie. She looked about her and saw the device connected to a socket on the wall, resting on the fridge. She hurried towards it and rejected the call before she realized it was Salma calling. Christie switched on the silent mode.
Folarin was asleep, probably tired from keeping a long night with Tamilore. The girl was teething and generally irritable. Christie would have had her for the night but she had been at the office with her creative team until 2 a.m. She then enjoyed a stretch of three-hour sleep before packing what little she could from her apartment and decided it was time to come home to Folarin. She wanted it to be a surprise, so she snuck in through the backdoor and tiptoed to their bedroom to find him asleep with the infant in his hold. Not wanting to disturb the daddy and daughter moment, Christie returned to the kitchen and fixed breakfast before proceeding to clean the place. It wasn’t particularly dirty; it was just that she had missed her home.
She cleaned the living room and guestroom as well. Afterwards, she had a shower and returned to the kitchen for a bowl of cereal. Just about to get a pack of milk from the fridge, she felt fingers run up her sides. Christie let out a yelp, bursting into giggles as Folarin trapped her in a snug hug.
“There’s a stranger in my kitchen,” he said playfully. His fingers continued to tickle her as he nibbled on her earlobe and neck. Christie escaped his clutch but he caught her again, lifting her off the floor and sending her into squeals of laughter. Their moment was disrupted with a tap on the door. Vanessa was staring at them, eyes heavy with sleep.
“I heard you screaming and I thought something was wrong.” She frowned, rubbing her eyes. “You woke me up.”
“How about good morning, mommy?” Christie asked.
“Good morning mommy. Good morning daddy. I’m going back to sleep.”
She had scarcely disappeared when Folarin resumed his naughtiness which finally saw Christie on the kitchen table with her arms around his neck.
“Are you here to stay?” he asked.
“Yes. Until we fight and I remember I have my own apartment.”
Folarin rested both hands on the table and kissed her forehead. “Don’t go away again. I never wanted you out of here in the first place.”
“Me too, but you needed your distance. Was it worth it, though?”
“Mmmm…” he moaned into her ear. “You smell soooooo good.”
“You’re evading the question.”
“I so want to eat every part of you.”
Christie abandoned her line of reasoning and went for his lips. She found them warm and wet. Her kiss was thick with bliss. She clung to Folarin’s neck, moaning each time their lips separated, clutching him tighter when they reconnected.
“It’s been almost a year,” she told him. Her eyes glistened. “I want to remember how it feels to feel you.”
Folarin drew her off the table, her legs wrapped around him. They began towards the guestroom but the sudden barging in of Cyrus Junior through the front door interrupted them.
“Oops.” He stopped. “I’m sorry.”
Christie let herself down. “Hey CJ.”
“Hi mom. Good morning, dad.”
Folarin nodded in response.
“I’ve been calling your phone, mom.”
“It’s on silent and in my handbag and my handbag is in my room.”
“I figured. I went to the house and it was locked. I guessed you’d be here.”
“Is everything okay?”
“Yeah. Yeah, everything’s cool. Just wanted to hang out with you guys. With everyone.”
“With everyone? On a Saturday? This early?”
“Yeah. We’re family, right?”
Christie felt his comportment was odd. He never spent his Saturdays with her. He was most times passed out after clubbing the night before.
“Are you high, CJ?” she asked in the sweetest tone.
“No.” He laughed. “Can’t I just come home and be with my parents and sisters again? I miss us as a family.”
Christie looked at Folarin. She saw suspicion on his face as well.
“Is the police after you?”
Laughing again, Cyrus Junior headed in the direction of the kitchen. “Everything’s chill, mom. Stop stressing.”
She got a peck on the cheek from him as he walked past.
“Odd,” she whispered to Folarin.
When the boy reappeared again he had drinks with him. “I love you guys. Dad, I’m sorry for what I did. It’s never going to happen again. I love you.”
Folarin crossed his arms across his chest. “What is going on, Cyrus?”
“Drinks?” He waved the canned beers at them, smiling.
“CJ?” Christie called inquiringly.
“Okay, sit. I have something to tell you.”
His parents remained standing.
They sat together, hands held in each other’s. Cyrus Junior took the couch opposite theirs.
“Were you rusticated from school?” Christie questioned. “Because if you were, I promise you I’m sending your ass off to Covenant and you’ll be starting from Hundred Level.”
“I’m still in school.” He opened all three cans and took a long gulp from one, burped and faced his parents. “Mom, Dad… I think I might have gotten my girlfriend pregnant.”
He went for a second gulp which was longer than the first. When he put the can down, he looked from Christie to Folarin.
“I hope this is a joke, CJ,” Folarin said.
“No. She’s pregnant and she wants to have an abortion and I don’t want her to. I’m going to be a dad.”
Christie was quiet. She wasn’t sure she understood his words or what was happening. She stared at him blankly.
“Mom? Are you okay?”
“She doesn’t understand what you just told her. Repeat yourself.”
Cyrus Junior had a go at the second can of lite beer and it was only when the last drop went down his throat that the news hit Christie.
“Oh my God!” She gasped like one coming out of a trance. “You did what?!”
“Cyrus Junior Ekpenyong, you better be joking right now! Tell me you are joking!”
“I’m sorry, mom.”
“Pregnant?! You got a girl pregnant?! Are you crazy?! What is wrong with you?!”
Cyrus Junior went for the third can as Christie’s eyes came to tears.
“This girl…who is she?” Folarin asked.
“Lily. You don’t know her.”
“Who are her parents?”
“I never met them. They’re not rich, though. She can barely even take care of herself–”
“And you got her pregnant?! Oh God! What is wrong with you?! Why would you be so careless and so stupid?!”
“Calm down, Chris.”
But Christie was just getting started. Folarin and Cyrus Junior sat in silence as she expended her emotions in an outburst. It went on for a while and when she finally stopped, she rose to her feet.
“I’m calling Cyrus. He has to know…”
“Mom, please… Please, don’t call him.”
“Call him,” Folarin instructed.
“Come on, dad. Please, don’t. You know he’s extra. He’ll tell me to get married to her or even worse. Don’t call him.”
“This is a serious situation, Cyrus Junior…”
“Your father has to be involved.”
Christie disappeared into her bedroom. She slumped on the bed and broke down, stirring Tamilore awake. The infant crawled up to her and lay on her laps. She took out her phone from her handbag as Tamilore tried to find her way to her breasts.
“Tami, no. Stop it.” Christie pushed her away. She protested with a cry but Christie ignored her and connected with Cyrus. She explained the situation to him; he promised to come over before sundown.
“Stop crying, Chrissie.”
“I’ve failed as a mother. I was not a good example to him.”
“Shut up, dear. You’ve been an amazing mother, considering everything. Relax. Don’t let it stress you. I’ll be there when I’m through with business here.”
A crippling feeling came over Christie when Cyrus got off the line. Tamilore demanded for her attention with a whimper. Christie picked her off the floor where she had fallen and covered her face with kisses and tears. She undressed her and was in the process of taking her to the bathroom for a shower when Folarin walked in.
“The girl would be coming over.”
“I don’t want to see her.”
“You have to, Chris.”
“This is not happening, Fola. I don’t want to believe it’s happening.”
“He showed me the pregnancy test results and a picture of an ultrasound. It’s happening. We’re going to be grandparents.”
Christie’s knees almost gave way. Folarin took Tamilore off her hands. “Hey. It’s going to be fine. It’s not the end of the world.”
“I’m a bad mother…”
“You are not.” Folarin left her with a kiss before he took Tamilore into the bathroom. Christie returned to the bed. Her thoughts threw her into her past recalling the day she had birthed Cyrus Junior. She had hated him at first sight after two days of active labor. Everyone who was in the room with her—Cyrus’ aunt and sisters and her mother—gushed over him.
He’s so handsome.
Most beautiful baby I’ve ever seen.
This one na oyinbo.
Christie, you gave birth to your carbon copy o.
He’s an angel.
But Christie had felt nothing for him. All she saw was Solomon. When he was placed in her arms, she held him awkwardly and kept her face on the wall ahead of her. Memories of what Solomon had done to her along the years forced her into tears. Cyrus Junior was taken from her and a week would go by before she would hold him again. That second time he had looked up at her, but her mother said he was still unable to see. Christie passed him back to her in a hurry. That night, Solomon came into her room, bringing him along. He lay on her bed and placed him between them.
“Our son. He looks just like you.”
“Please, take him away.”
“You need to get used to him, Christina. We made him together.”
Christie jumped off the bed and backed away from father and son as far as she could. “Take him away!”
“Christina…” Solomon rose up. He seemed surprised at her behavior. “What is wrong with you?”
“Take him away! I don’t want to see him! Get out!”
Their mother charged in. “What’s going on?”
“I told him I don’t want to see him but he’s not listening!”
“Solomon, you took the baby from his cot? What is wrong with you?”
The woman snatched Cyrus Junior from him. “Solo, stop disturbing your sister.”
She hurried out. Solomon went to Christie with slow, deliberate steps. He arrested her eyes in his.
“You hate him.”
“Leave me!” She slammed her palms on his chest.
“But he’s never going away. He is your son. He is my son. Both of us made him. Nothing is ever going to change that.”
Solomon tried to touch Christie but she broke away and ran into the bathroom. She shut herself in until the next morning when her father broke the door and dragged her out. Christie was depressed for weeks, cut off from everyone. She heard Cyrus Junior’s cries, felt her body stir towards him in a way she didn’t understand, but no matter how much she longed for him, she couldn’t bring herself to touch him. School started, giving her the escape she needed from her life. She saw him on the occasion. The distance was maintained. Not even her marriage to Cyrus a year later and the freedom from her family pushed her into accepting the boy. He only became a part of her existence after her parents passed away. It was difficult to be affectionate towards him, but with Cyrus’ help they developed a relationship as the years went by. Folarin had then come into her life and helped heal the chasm between them.
Christie had never considered herself a good mother. The men in her life were better parents than she was. In many ways she believed she had let Cyrus Junior down. She wasn’t surprised that he was towing the path she had towed by becoming a single parent. She longed to go back and start from the scratch – to hold him closely when he came into the world and had only her to look up to, to watch him grow and be there for him at the major milestones of his life and every other day when he needed her motherly presence and guidance. If only she could… Maybe it would fix some foundational issues that were never addressed. Maybe this mess they were in could be avoided.
Folarin returned to the bedroom with Tamilore. Christie didn’t feel like it but she insisted on dressing her up and feeding her. When she went to pick a change of clothes for her, Tamilore crawled off the bed to the floor and set her feet into motion in Christie’s direction. Christie stopped.
“She’s walking.” She held her breath. “My baby is walking. Chief, look!”
Tamilore displayed a toothy smile, stopped in her tracks and called out for the first time, “mama.”
Christie had her hand to her chest as her eyes watered. Smiling to himself, Folarin made his way out of the bedroom.
“Aren’t you going to wake up?”
A soft palm caressed his cheek as the unmistakable feel of heavy breasts rested on his chest.
Andre opened his eyes. Camille was smiling into his face. He thought she looked perfect. Too perfect. He saw she had makeup on, and it just occurred to him that he had never seen her without makeup. He doubted that she would look unappealing but he was curious to know what she would look like bare-faced.
“Dream about me?” she asked in French.
“Always,” he lied in French. She laughed and rested her head on his chest.
“Simone just left. She took Jozi for the weekend. We have the house to ourselves.” She lifted her head again. “What do you want to do from now until Monday morning?”
Think about Arinola.
Andre was scared that his thoughts might have made it through his lips and so he pulled Camille closer and kissed her. She tasted like chocolate while he tasted like stale wine. He made a comment about that and she laughed.
“You know I don’t mind.”
“Let me wash out the sewage in my mouth.”
He left the bed, nursing a morning boner Camille tried to toy with as he walked away. In the bathroom, he took a leak and brushed his teeth. When he opened the door, Camille had breakfast laid on the bed. Again, he thought to himself that she was too perfect. She ticked everything on his ideal list for what the textbook wife should do and have.
Commendable character traits
She made the average woman come off as plain, in addition to possessing a body that constantly made it hard for him to think rationally. Andre was sure Camille was his dream woman. The only problem was that he stopped dreaming about the ideal woman a long time ago and fell in love with what the dice cast for him which was Toni. It didn’t matter that she constantly like to pretend that he meant nothing to her or that she had no qualms falling into another man’s arms just to prove a point to him. None of that mattered to Andre. She was all he wanted, even now that Camille made it her occupation to keep him from looking elsewhere. He was certain that if he ended up marrying Camille, he was going to make Toni his lifelong mistress. But it was not an idea he toyed with. Toni was too much of a woman to be a sidechick. It was a pity she didn’t realize that.
“Classic French breakfast of croissant with tartine, juice and café au lait,” Camille announced, smiling proudly. Andre wasn’t hungry for food. He was hungry for the curvaceous goodness beneath her nightshirt. He was one of the numerous men who could conveniently get lost in the body of a woman while tethering his heart to another.
He had met Camille at a function organized by an Ivoirian for Ivoirians living in Nigeria. She had caught his eyes when she made an entrance. Every man in the place and even the women couldn’t help but ogle the dark, curvaceous eye candy she was. It was one of those days when Andre felt the world was at his feet because of certain entrepreneurial victories, and thus he indulged in thoughts of rewarding himself with the slim but shapely goodness of Camille’s body. When lunch was served, he took up the space beside her and learned a few things about her. She was half-Ivoirian and half-Togolese but had lived most of her life in France and was now in Nigeria to pursue her dreams. For leisure, she loved swimming, baking and spending time with kids.
“I am that aunty everyone leaves their children with,” she had said in her heavy French accent, laughing as Andre watched her in fascination. They spent that night in a hotel and it turned out more pleasurable than anticipated, with the exception of the moments when he mentally kept comparing her to Toni. He hadn’t expected to see her after that but then they bumped into each other at a supermarket. She was with her friend’s children and he was with Jozi. They had lunch together as the kids occupied themselves with games and other distractions.
“I want to see you again, Andre. I really like you.”
Andre gave a quizzical look that pushed Camille into laughter. He didn’t like his women hitting on him, but he was going to make an exception with her. He needed the distraction.
They began with lunch and dinner dates. She was a talker; he was done opening up to women, so he’d sit and listen, hand beneath his chin. She made all the moves, from kisses to inviting him to her home and subsequently showing up at his. He simply went with the flow.
“That look in your eyes…”
Camille walked towards him slowly as he remained by the bathroom door. At the sight of her nipples pushing through the thin fabric of her top, he felt a certain type of weariness that had plagued him since Toni left his life. He was weary of himself, tired of his ways, annoyed that he had used his own hands to sour his soup. Things he now did for leisure and fun left him feeling sullen. There was no satisfaction beyond the somatic. And just like he had done twice the night before, he would make love to Camille and forget about her the instant it was over, even as she remained in his arms.
“You’re a very quiet man, you know that?”
‘That’ was pronounced as ‘zat’. She had an exotic tongue and an outlandish body. But her mind was plain. Toni’s mind was an endless journey to places he had never been.
Camille drew him into the bathroom and shut the door. She put her arms around him. His hands palmed her bum. His body responded to hers in arousal. It was she who demanded for his lips, she who touched him knowingly, she who opened up herself to him. When they were over, he thought to himself that someday soon she would come to realize how much she was putting into them and how little he contributed. That day…or night, she would get tired of him and walk away. Meanwhile, he would enjoy what she had to offer while seeking for another opportunity to get back with Toni. He and Leticia had a plan in the works. He wasn’t confident it would fall through, but he was going to give it all he got when the time came. Toni must return to him no matter what it took.