The bed was warm. Warmer than it had ever been. Sleep inducing. Comforting.
She wanted to stay like this forever. In this picture-perfect moment with him. She wanted to turn to him and kiss him until his eyes fluttered open. Until the gleam she saw in his eyes occupied them again and he stopped being aware of everything else but her.
The way he was last night when she asked him if he would call his mother to tell her he wouldn’t be home. And he told her he had never forgotten to call his mother and daughter to say goodnight before. In fact, he had never stayed out at night except when it was for work.
He was right, when during the night, lips on her stomach, he told her they were not going too fast. That they were meant to be.
That was his argument after she questioned him about Kelly’s intentions, showing him the second text she sent her.
Hope you are not angry that I got your number from Annabel. I just want to make sure there is no hard feelings. Especially, now that you are going to be my daughter’s stepmother. Kelly’s text read.
“What does Kelly want?” Isio asked when he stirred and his lips started to travel down the back of her neck slowly.
“Morning sweetie,” he continued to kiss her neck, nibbling her gently.
“I can tickle you until you surrender.”
“Keep begging me with that sexy voice of yours. Keep doing things to me.” He kissed her lips, pressed into her gently and then stopped. “What’s wrong Issy?”
“I’m scared.” She could feel it sitting on her chest again. That weight. The crippling fear that woke her up in the middle of the night and grew heavier every time she thought of what could become of them. “I don’t believe Kelly will just walk away like that.”
“She did it before.”
“She is older and wiser now. She has tried someone else and she has seen no one is as perfect as you.”
“I wasn’t like this with her.” He sat up in bed and heaved her with him so that her head ended up on his chest. “I was always busy. Moments like this were rare with her.”
“This is not helping.”
“I have already told you how I feel about you. The chapter with Kelly is closed.”
“I hear you.”
“I will tell her off for hinting about the marriage thing and spoiling my good surprise.”
“Can I see the ring? Please Jay.” She squealed despite trying to tame her excitement. She had been too preoccupied when she found out about it. But it had pleased her to know he bought the ring before Kelly arrived. It hadn’t been bought in his attempt to get her back.
“Jay, put your clothes on.” She giggled. He had climbed off the bed naked and picked up his trousers from her yellow puff where he dumped it last night. She wished she was like him, extremely confident. Their child would be half of them. Half of her and her flaws. That was enough for her to want him. She didn’t want a child that trembled every time a classmate barked at it. A child, completely like her. She wanted one that strutted around like him. With the dexterity he handled his family and work with.
Whilst he was asleep, she had crept into the bathroom and washed herself. Then voluminous black mascara was applied to her lashes. Liquid concealer to her fading scars. Rose-tinted lip balm to her lips.
“Look at me, Issy-sweetie.” He had nothing on apart from the wristwatch she bought him. She imagined it looking pale next to the Rolex Idriss bought him. The one she saw in one of his jacket pockets last night.
“I have never rushed anything in my life,” he knelt before her. “This feels like going after happiness. You have changed my life in ways you don’t know. You gave me a reason to be truly happy. A reason to laugh and not feel like a fraud. Isio Maddiah Sanomi make me happier, marry me.”
“Yes,” she beamed. She was supposed to laugh because it wasn’t a surprise anymore. Yet her eyes were spurting tears she had no idea how to stop. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay.” He took the ring out of its box and placed the box on the floor. His eyes radiated happiness as he slid the ring on. Gently, he pulled her up with him, wiped her face and hugged her.
“I’m so happy, Jay. The ring is beautiful. Life with you will be so good.”
“Let’s not waste time then.” He kissed her lips and chin and traced the contours of her neck. Grinning like a man who had won a major deal, he picked her up. Her hand curled round his neck for support. “Have my child, Issy.”
She gawked as he lowered her back on the bed. “Jay?”
“Let’s make a baby.”
Isio opened her mouth when Obinna scooped up scrambled eggs with his fork and proceeded towards her mouth with it.
They were eating the food she cooked in the kitchen. He helped her break the eggs after begging her not to tell his mother or daughter.
“Are you not hungry?” He asked as he returned to scooping scrambled eggs on his buttered, sliced bread.
“I have to go to the chemist.” She saw him focus on the food, even though he had stopped scooping the eggs and rushed the rest of her rehearsed speech. “We can’t rush these things. You are the one who says good food should be taking in small bites. You haven’t told Annabel about wanting to marry me and you want us to have a child. How is this going to help her get used to the idea.”
“I won’t be happy if you take the morning after pill,” he shrugged, “but I will just have to accept it.”
“I haven’t even told my sister I’m seeing someone.”
“That’s already covered.”
“What does that mean?”
He placed the folded, sliced bread on the plate and smirked. “What makes you think I haven’t spoken to your sister?”
“You spoke to Lohor?” Her stomach felt full all of a sudden. As if she had eaten more than the few spoons of scrambled eggs. There was nothing embarrassing about Elohor. It was all her. She hated knowing anyone had knowledge of her family and past. And it worried her that her sister might have told him things she hadn’t shared.
“Sweetie, are you okay?”
“Lohor didn’t tell me.”
“It’s no big deal. She called the house when you switched off your phone. She was looking for you. How else do you think I got your Sudanese name, Maddiah?”
“Hmmm. Okay then.” She picked up her cup and tried to act as if it didn’t matter. He was watching her even though he had picked up his cutleries. She wished she hadn’t listened to him when he asked her to ring her sister with his house phone. Her desperation that day to speak to her sister had led to her using the phone. Having told her sister she was ringing her from work, it had not occurred to her to tell her not to ring her on that line.
“I want you to be open with me, Issy. You know everything about me. Why do I feel like you are uncomfortable sharing everything with me? I want you. All of you.”
“You kept me awake all night! Has no woman complained you like it too much?”
“You know what I mean, sweetie.”
She dipped a small spoon in the bowl of sugar in front of her and scooped some for her tea. She didn’t usually drink her tea with sugar. But she needed to do something that didn’t involve looking at him.
“If you are uncomfortable, I won’t go and see your sister when I go to Naija then.”
“You two have arranged to see each other?” She dropped the spoon on the table.
“I want to see her. She was helpful. She even told me I have to ask your father’s friend for permission to marry you. And I want to give her something for the wedding.”
“You better don’t encourage her. Or she will give you a long list.”
He chuckled and returned to his food. A lovely smile brightening up his face. She went to check her phone even though she wanted to stay with him and stare at him all day. But Biba had not returned and there were no missed calls displayed on her phone screen.
During the night, she had heard Kanyin arriving home, a voice she recognised as Austin’s trailing hers. Obinna confirmed he knew Austin was coming home. Upon sharing her worry that Biba might end up alone with Idriss, Obinna did not tell her not to worry.
“Where is this silly girl?” She scrolled down to her contact list and tapped her friend’s phone number. The call went straight to voicemail, Biba’s pre-recorded greeting saying, hi folks, leave a message. “Do you think Idriss will take advantage of her?” She asked him.
“You worry too much.” His neck was bent as he ate.
She went over and sat back down. “You didn’t say he won’t. Please just tell me what you know.”
“It might be nothing.” He picked up a napkin and wiped his hands. “But seeing as you want to give me headache with your wahala, I will tell you.”
“Now, Mr Okadigbo.”
“Anu and Idriss are going through a rough patch or something. Her focus is not on her family, husband or even the company these days.”
She thought of how lovely Anu was to her and how she had wondered if she could ever be that confident. That ambitious.
“Then he told me yesterday that they have not slept together in like four weeks.”
“Four weeks? That’s not long.”
“That’s like four years for Idriss. Anyway he told her he has had enough and she apologised and practically gave him a cheating pass.”
“What? What is wrong with them?” She hopped off her seat. “I need to warn Biba.”
He stood up. “Leave it. Why are you taking unnecessary Panadol? Are they not all adults? Doesn’t Habiba know her left from her right?”
She did not want to tell him what she really thought of her best friend.
He took one of her hands and sighed. “Okay, then. I will ring Idriss. As long as you realise, we might actually be too late. My late brother used to go on about how fast the guy is.”
“You will make it up to me tonight, sexy.”
Biba woke up in an unfamiliar room alone, feeling the heaviness that usually came hand in hand with drinking too much.
The dread of not knowing where she was didn’t last long. She realised that even though her dress was still on, it had been unzipped and it was bunched up around her stomach.
“What have I done?”
She remembered the feel of his solid body against hers as they danced. His muscled arms. The faint aftershave and his lips on her neck.
Austin had turned up and whisked his wife home with the speed of a man that had not seen his wife in a year. Ikumapayi disappeared with another party group. And Idriss and her ended up in a dimly lit room in one of those clubs where door men were extra polite to men like him. Men that looked like they had a house in every English city.
Her head was fuzzy. The memory, half-blurred. She had drunk enough to keep her comatose for a year. She could barely stand when he asked for a dance. And despite purring when he pushed her against a wall, she begged him to stop.
“Why are you doing this to me?” His voice was urgent.
“We can’t do this.” She remembered looking around. At how intimate the room was. The furnishings were soft. The room itself, cosy. The small, red floorlights were dim and the rap music filtering in from the main club area was barely audible. Unlike the dance floor where everything was simply too harsh on her senses. The room’s cosiness gave an idea of intimacy. That they were alone in the world. But even in her state, she could not really let go.
“You have no idea the things I want to do to you, baby.”
“We have had too much to drink.” She had said something like this. Something close.
“I’m just drunk on you.”
“I like you.”
“Oh yeah? Tell me who doesn’t.”
“But you are my friend’s dad.”
“Plus the last time I checked, you were still married.”
“I’m sure Anu will be devastated to hear about this.”
She couldn’t be sure if the words were uttered correctly or slurred. It seemed to work though. His hands dropped to his sides and his head lowered to her neck.
They had parked themselves in a black cab with another couple that were nuzzling each other all the way. She wasn’t sure why they didn’t go to her place and the note she found on the lamp table did not explain why.
Sorry, I didn’t wake you. I have to go get my car, I have meetings back to back. Thanks for helping me come to my senses last night. We could have done something very stupid. Pls, use the money in the envelope for your taxi. Feel free to make yourself breakfast.
Not a word to Kanyinsola.
Ring me if you need anything.
His number was on the back of the envelope under the note. She picked up the envelope and dropped it in her bag.
The image of his unsmiling wife, leaning on him in a bedside photo would not let her stay for breakfast.
Annabel’s face when Isio picked her up from school for her doctor’s appointment wasn’t friendly. She complained until they arrived at the health centre. Her father had promised to think about letting her mother attend the appointment with her. Isio ignored the complaints. When she was silent as the doctor questioned her, she suddenly understood why her father’s ex-girlfriend slapped her.
Obinna had been in Ribble Greaves for two days. Sounding stressed when he called, she enquired what was wrong. “Mama said Bell is complaining of headaches and sleeping too much.” And even though, she had not offered to take the spoilt child to the doctor’s, he had suggested it. “Please. I won’t be back for days. Take her for me. I will make it up to you when I get back. In bed, of course,” he had added.
Biba’s refusal to talk about her unborn child had already infuriated Isio. Biba had missed the appointment for the termination. Going off shopping every time Isio came back from work. Ignoring her texts that they should talk about it.
That morning, Isio slammed doors and watched the TV on the loudest volume possible. Biba came out of her room, armed with swear words. Isio was able to explain why Biba had to decide what she wanted soon.
“I know this is difficult for you. But if you have changed your mind, you need to talk to Chib. I’m going out with his brother. How do you think it will look when you faint one day and his brother finds out? Will he not ask me why I didn’t tell him?”
Biba had responded in the same manner Annabelle had been doing all afternoon.
“Do you want anything to eat?” Isio asked Annabel when they arrived at the house.
“No.” Annabel grunted. “I’m not going back to the doctor by the way.” She said as she crashed into the dining table. She dropped her bag on it and hobbled over to the kitchen window.
“I’m worried about you.” Isio held herself back from following her. “This is why I thought it would be good for you to see the doctor.”
“Liar,” Annabel yelled. “You dragged me to the doctor’s because Daddy asked you to.”
“You are only doing this for Daddy. So that you can get your hands on him.”
“Sweetheart, you know I care about you.”
“So, why didn’t you let my mum come with me? If you really cared… not trying to impress my dad, you would have let my mum come with me. I even had a… class to attend. You made me miss my…my class.”
“You had coding club to attend.” Isio tried not to show how worried she was. The girl had a memory that she had envied in the past. Her forgetfulness had to be related to her mystery illness. “You still think nothing is wrong? Wake up. You are not yourself, Annie.”
“The only thing that’s wrong is me putting up with a fraudster in my house. A gold digger.”
“I have had enough of this. We were once so close. What’s come over you. Loving your dad is not a crime.”
“But you don’t love my dad. You love my uncle.”
Isio glared at Annabel. Chib and her barely spoke before his pathetic apology. She forced herself to be polite these days. For his brother’s sake. And he was, to some extent, better behaved. But they were not friends.
“I think you’ve got it all wrong.” She walked over to where she was by the window. “I love your dad like there is no one else in the world.”
“Yes Annie. Really.”
“So, why did I hear my uncle talking on the phone about you and him. Saying how he was with you in your flat. How he kissed you and touched you.” She rolled her eyes, pouted and then relaxed her face suddenly.
Isio understood the reason for the change in expression, when a sound behind her forced her to turn around. Annabel’s grandmother was standing in the doorway.