I’m very sorry about the lateness of this episode. Thanks for all the comments. Have a great day. Thanks.
Lola hurried out of the room, shirt unbuttoned. “Did I hear you say Tony tried to kiss you?”
“I… don’t think I should have gone to his house.” Jackie sobbed.
“Don’t you dare blame yourself. Men are goats. I know them, believe me. Even the ones we think we can trust are future rapists!”
“It wasn’t like that. He was trying to help me.”
“That’s what they all say, sis.”
Kenny had reached the bottom of the stairs before she realised what she was doing. She wanted to leave the house. She wanted to see Tony and hear him laugh with her. He would explain. Her cousin had misunderstood his intentions.
“Don’t walk away cousin. Jackie needs us.”
Her cousins followed her.
Kenny aimed for the last step on the stairs but landed on the floor. She had needed to sit. And had known if she hadn’t, she wouldn’t have been able to hold herself up anymore.
Now, she laughed. Tossed her head back and laughed like the madwoman from her uncle’s childhood days. The one he often talked about. There was nothing funny about the tears around Jackie’s make-up laden face. The tears merged with the pink of her cheeks, pooling at the neck of her dress. Lola looked like she was about to pull Kenny up and slap her. She reached for Jackie instead and hugged her.
“He took advantage of you, Jackie.” Lola interrupted her sister who was blaming herself and shot Kenny a quick glance. “It wasn’t your fault. But you have to tell us if he…” She turned her back to Kenny and whispered the rest of her question. “Did he try or succeeded in forcing you.”
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Kenny screamed. She flew into the sitting room and grabbed her bag. Her phone wasn’t next to it and she couldn’t remember where she had left it. “What are the chances of me falling for a pervert after the childhood I had.”
“He just kissed me, sis.” Jackie shook her head. “Nothing else.”
“Don’t cover for him,” her cousin had tears in her eyes too. “Men like him deserve to be punished. Tell us, what else he did and we will all support you. This family knows better when it comes to believing victims.” Lola avoided Kenny’s eyes but the statement had been uttered for her ears.
“Go to hell,” Kenny ran out of the house, down the street and into her car. She ran, not because of the light drizzling of the rain. She ran because of the questions in her head. Why would Jackie lie? What if Tony was just like Uncle Kola and she would always attract men like these.
She broke road rules with her driving. Irritated a few drivers, two hooted horns, a few glares.
She banged on his door, ignored his mum’s greetings. Yet when she saw him on his bed, the first thing she did was run into his arms. He held her and even as she started to tell him, he still held her.
“She said you tried to kiss her. Tell me she got it wrong.”
“How dare her,” Tony fumed. “She is the one that tried it on with me.” He picked up his phone from the bed and showed her the screen. “I have been trying to ring you. I wasn’t gonna drop her in it but I needed to tell you something.”
“What was she doing here?”
“I’m not really sure. I’m guessing she has a thing for me.”
“I woke up and she was here. Right downstairs. I left the door open for you like we discussed.”
“Did you do anything to make her think you like her? You know you can be too nice sometimes.”
“No. I woke up, saw her and she tried to kiss me. I told her to get out immediately.”
He held her hands firmly in his. “I didn’t do it, trust me. Even if I didn’t have you, I wouldn’t try something like that. No way, babe. No way.”
She sat on the bed and held her head. It was throbbing. His mouth and hands were moving but she needed to think. To disbelieve her cousin would be the same as doubting the stories of the hundreds of girls and young women she had counselled. Girls who told of horrors in the hands of relatives and lovers. Women with historic tales. Those who would live with the faces of their attackers – known assailants, a stranger or multiple strangers – embedded in their memories.
“I need some water.”
He had a worried expression on his face. One that she couldn’t care about. For a moment, she thought he was going to reassure her of his innocence again.
After he went for the water, she let herself breathe for the first time since Jackie told her. She would have rung Carly, her mentor if she had her phone. Although she knew what Carly would have said. Believe every story.
Kenny walked over to Tony’s table, intending to email Carly with his laptop. Her mentor checked her emails more than she did phone messages. Kenny would ask to see her. Seek help. Explain about her cousin’s clinginess. Her self-doubting tendencies. The way she sought approval from everyone. Craving attention from strangers as a child as if attention came with measures of sweets and chocolates.
For despite knowing all she knew about her cousin, her counsellor eyes seemed to be shielded by something unmovable. Love. Family loyalty, perhaps.
She spotted the box of chocolates on top of pages of essays even before turning on the table lamp.
Neke offered her a few of them the last time she saw her. Running out of the house, panting, holding two boxes. She claimed her father’s factory had too many leftovers from an order.
Neke and Kenny met during her student days. Kenny invited Neke to the church and introduced her to Lola and Jackie. These days, Jackie and Neke were often together. Although, Jackie did most of the running around in the relationship, visiting Neke daily and referring to her as her best friend.
What she didn’t understand was how a box of chocolates from Jackie’s new best friend ended up on Tony’s table.
Tony came back into the room and shut the door. “Pastor is here. He wants to take you home with him… Mum is trying to calm him down.”
“Well, I have to go. Or is there something else you want to say to me?” Her heart was pounding so hard that it surprised her that she was still standing.
“Kehinde,” her uncle’s voice reached her from the living room. “Come out right now!”
She pointed at the box of chocolate. “I know the girl whose father’s factory makes these chocolates. What are they doing in your bedroom if you say Jack was only downstairs? And why would you accept chocolates off a girl that tried it on with you if you didn’t want her to.”
“Cutie, I didn’t …”
“Jack was here before this evening, wasn’t she? She was with you earlier as well.” For some reason, she had believed their relationship could survive without sex. Without the frolicking in and out of bed. She believed him. His lies and promises. “That explains a lot.”
“It explains your allergies,” she screamed.
Her voice was as loud as her uncle’s. Her uncle was saying something about calling the police. Something about getting Tony arrested. Followed by Sister T’s firm retort. “My son has done nothing wrong.”
“Neke’s family has dogs,” Kenny said. “That explains how you came in contact with pet hair.”
“She came to the school. She is after me. Like that evening she came here with her sob stories.”
“So how come I’m just hearing about this?”
She lurched forward. He blocked her path and held her.
“Please, I’m not like that. She is lying.”
She was there again almost as if someone had slotted her back there. In that moment when she saw them. Uncle Kola’s arm buried in the fold of her mother’s back. “How can you even believe that girl Oluwakemi? How can you believe Taye, that spoilt child! When you know what I have done for you? How many men will be in my shoes and be here. When I have two wives that bore me sons and beautiful daughters at home. When I could have chosen someone young. Instead of wasting my life on egbon’s second-hand goods.”
“Get your filthy hands off me Tony…”
The door opened and he let go. Her uncle charged in. His mother jumped in the way. She bore the appearance of a lioness worried about her cub.
“My son is a good man. Call the police, if you have to. But lay one hand on my son and I will skin you alive.”
“Let’s go,” Kenny grabbed her uncle’s hand. “He doesn’t deserve our time. He is a dog like the rest of them.”
He was silent as they walked away. Lips tightly pressed together like a man who couldn’t believe he had been caught.
She had seen too many faces of guilty men not to know what one looked like.
Sunshine had started to pour into the car. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t shown up at work yet.
They had been sat in his car for the past hour. The car, tucked discreetly between cars at the bottom of Pastor’s house felt stuffy. Dare had offered to go and fetch them another Starbucks coffee each. The needless persuasion they were doing the right thing followed. Yet he felt like starting the car and just driving. Driving away from the street, its expensive cars and big houses. From people that were supposed to know him. From Pastor, who often called him son.
Kenny did not answer his phone calls last night. He thought of going to her house and would have if her WhatsApp message with the swearwords and threats did not come through. He had stared at his phone’s screen wondering how she could be this hostile. How a heart housing love could froth hostility at the same time?
Pastor did not answer his calls either. And Lola’s screams when he called her were loud enough for his mother to take the phone from him.
“We will get her to tell the truth,” Dare tapped him on the shoulder and grinned. “As soon as her father leaves, we will get in there.”
Dare was the one that suggested tackling the chaos from where it sprouted from. “Talk to her. Threaten her if need be.” He came to the house this morning and repeated his suggestion. Making sure his mother heard them so she could back him.
Tony had just ended his phone conversation with John when Dare’s blaring stereo announced his car’s arrival. Through John he had found out that Lola would be back at her house early that morning. This was why he agreed to go with Dare to see Jackie.
“The coast is clear,” Dare said.
He followed the direction of his friend’s eyes to the top of the street. Pastor looked like a fragile, old man as he put his bag in his car. Hunched back, with a neck that slouched as if he had a back injury. He dropped his key fob. When he bent down to search for it, Tony wished he had avoided Jackie. Or had been kinder to her.
He felt raw guilt. An overwhelming sense of guilt that left a painful lump in his throat.
He missed his allergic reactions. Dare’s girlfriend owned three small dogs and without the effects of the medication he took last night, he would have been reacting today. Eyes watering and turning an uncomfortable red. Throat itchy and begging to be scratched. This and more became a regular occurrence after Chinaza moved in with Dare. His friend’s refusal to like the dogs, locking them out of the way and calling them rats did not alleviate Tony’s condition. It would start every time he and Dare were in a locked car. Or if he visited Dare and windows were closed. He didn’t like to complain about it. His friend had a phobia of commitment, already joking that he might not marry Chinaza, blaming the dogs.
“Now I know why your church events start late.” Dare was staring ahead, at Pastor getting in his car slowly. “Remember the church thing you invited me to?”
Tony nodded. He wondered if Dare would ever stop talking about having to wait a while for an event he invited him to. “African time, mate. It happens.”
“No man. It shouldn’t happen. And waiting nearly three hours for a show to start on a Saturday when I could have been gaming or balling should not be called African time. Call it Naija time. Or better, Naija girls’ time. Or did you not see those girls with ayamantaga weave that rolled in five minutes before the show finished.”
“One of them liked the look of you, remember?”
“Yeah. Like I would go there. Imagine marrying a girl like that. She will be one of those that sleeps through three alarms. Our child will be five hours late for school every day.”
“If your child makes it to school at all. Remember you like to sleep too. Your child might just inherit it from you.” He unfastened his seat belt in preparation for getting out of the car. Pastor had driven out of the street, taking the first turn to the main road. “Thanks for this. You could have been at work…”
“Don’t thank me, buddy. Or I will have to remind you how you helped me pass my exams year after year. Even my mother still credits you for saving her marriage. My father would have married his yellow Comfort if it hadn’t been for you.”
When they reached the house, Dare did not wait. He turned the door knob and walked into the house. Tony would have preferred ringing the doorbell. He felt guilty when Jackie, clad in sports skirt and bra vest dropped the plate she was holding. The different arrays of meat and pastry snacks on the plate were crushed under her feet as Dare snarled at her to sit herself down on the sofa.
“Please don’t hurt me.”
“Move and I will.” Dare wedged himself between the table and Jackie as if he thought she would try to run off if he didn’t stand in front of her.
“It’s okay,” Tony said. “Let me talk to her. Back off for a minute, mate.”
Dare quizzed him with his eyes. He wasn’t sure why either. Something about the bulky framed picture on the wall shelf behind the armchair she had occupied. This picture bore a life size image of Pastor. The living room –which he knew so well –had too many furniture in it. Even the armchairs were groaning under the oriental cushions, back pillows and throws piled on them.
Each wall had a mounted shelf. Brown shelves that fitted the wall papered room. And he knew if he turned right, he would see a picture of Kenny and her twin with plaited hair in matching ankara dresses. They were more identical back then. Faces glistening with something shiny. Vaseline perhaps. Without Kenny telling him which one she was, he could have picked her out by himself.
They looked different now. Taye had left behind the sullen faced girl that had to partake in the family tradition. A recent picture showed she had cut her hair. Opting for a boyish length to go with her skinny figure. A black earring jutting out of an upper earlobe.
“If you are sure, Anth. Okay with me.” Dare’s contorted face and body language showed the opposite. He shrugged, moved towards the kitchen and folded his arms.
“There is something you need to know about me,” Tony squatted in front of Jackie. He relaxed his face. He wanted her to stop trembling. To give him those nervous smiles that showed her big cheeks. He would stomach anything. For his love. For his work. “I can’t be me if I’m not teaching. I think life will be purely miserable. I can’t be happy without your cousin either. These and more I stand to lose if you don’t retract what you said.”
“I’m sorry, I thought you were going to get me in trouble. I thought you were going to tell her…”
The rest of her explanations were drowned by her blubbering. His friend rolled his eyes when they caught the word guilt between her sobs. Tony understood. She did have a plate full of snacks when they walked in. But her eyelids were heavy. Bags cushioned each eye. And her face, which was bare looked as puffy as his sometimes looked following an allergic reaction.
“I should have been gentler,” he said. “We can … of course start again. Tell Daddy the truth. If he calls the police, that’s my career gone. You know the UK government won’t let anyone with that kind of criminal record near children. Please, fix this.”
He was too engrossed in her nods and apologies that he didn’t know someone had come into the room until he heard Lola’s angry voice. “What do you think you are doing?”
“Getting the truth out of a liar,” Dare replied.
Lola dropped her bags on the floor. “You can tell the police when they get here.”
“Please, Lola.” She had already picked up the cordless phone on the table. “You know me. I wouldn’t try it on with anyone that’s not into me. Your sister knows nothing happened.”
“So, you are saying she asked for it.”
“He is saying he didn’t do it,” Dare raised his voice. “Have you seen his babe? Why would he even sniff at your sister.”
“Tell Lola the truth.” He wanted to shout at Jackie. Her silence, the way she linked and unlinked her hands infuriated him. But he knew shouting wouldn’t help. She was holding on to her sister’s concern for her. “Whatever happens, it is better to tell the truth. Please.”
“Get out.” Lola said. “Or you can wait for the police to arrive. They can charge you for breaking into our house.”
Dare walked over and grabbed his arm. “Let’s go.”
Tony’s tie was tugged loose, jacket halfway zipped when he arrived at work three hours late. It seemed later. The sun felt harsh on his neck. There were too many cars in the school’s car park. On a normal day, he would have arrived shortly before seven. An hour before his contracted start time.
He had dropped Dare off at work, clinging on to his friend’s advice that Jackie did not look like she could sustain a lie. Yet, he found himself ringing Jackie’s phone before he left the gym where his friend worked. Lola’s voice came on at the end of the third ring and her hello was so calm that he hung up. Stressed, he had stayed in the gym’s car park for a while before driving to the school.
I love you, Kehinde. I haven’t done anything wrong, I promise. Please pick up your phone. It is so cold without you by my side. I will clear my name and we will go back to the way we were. To how happy you made me feel. How safe you felt with me. It would be wrong to throw away something so perfect.
Your Anthony x
The note he wrote to his fiancée this morning and posted through the mail box interrupted his thoughts as he drove. Her mother had folded and unfolded her hands at the window. For a while, he thought she would defy her daughter and let him in. She had simply walked away.
“Morning,” he greeted after swiping his staff card on the security panel and entering the staff building. He had avoided coming in through the main entrance, unable to listen to any teacher or student wanting his attention. Nicky, the school administrator did not greet him with her cheery, morning head. He saw her back through the opened window. As he walked into her office to collect his posts, he heard a voice that nearly sent him sprinting.
Lola was sat cross legged on one of the chairs in the room. She stood up when she saw him but Nicky spoke before she could, the guarded expression on her rosy face told him Lola had been talking before his arrival.
“Miss Lola would like to see you. She says it is really important. As I have explained to her, Dr Fahad and the rest of the school board are here in your office. For the meeting, we scheduled last week.”
He did not check his diary when he woke up. Normally, he would still have remembered he had a meeting with the school board.
“I can make her a cup of tea whilst you attend to them.”
“I don’t want a cup of tea.” Lola yelled. She faced him, although her voice was loud enough for the whole school to hear. “Stay away from my sister. Do you understand?”
“Lola, please calm down.”
“I will not calm down. Unless you can assure me that you will not try to stick your tongue in my sister’s mouth again. That when you see her you will not try to abuse her. You will keep your dirty hands to yourself. My sister does not deserve what you did to her. She is young. That does not mean you should take advantage. You men are disgusting. Why didn’t you go after a woman your age? Why my little sister!”
“What’s going on?” The familiar, nasally voice came from the entrance of his office. He would recognise the voice even in his sleep. It was Dr Fahad’s, the school’s board chairman.
He did not want to look and when he did the expressions on the faces looking at him pummelled him to his core. Mrs Erdoyan, the white-haired woman whose daughter and granddaughter passed through the school was muttering in Turkish. Whilst the others glared at him as if he had opened his bowels right before their eyes. Dr Fahad grinned as he came towards them.
“This isn’t what it looks like…” Tony could have chosen to say anything. Yet, this was all that came to him. He stared at Lola’s retreating figure as if this would make her turn round and take back what she said.
“Spare me.” Dr Fahad signalled for Nicky to go after Lola. To Tony, he whispered, one of his hands on his shoulders, bending his long neck slightly. “You just played into my hands. By the time I’m finished with you, the teaching job you will be able to get will be in a third world country.”
“I didn’t do anything.”
“We have to follow laid down procedures,” Dr Fahad spoke up now for the benefit of the others. “Henceforth, you are suspended as the head teacher of this school, pending police investigation and our own inquiries. As you know, we have to do this, our hands are tied. Try not to worry. Hopefully, your career isn’t over.”