Isio paced the floor of Obinna’s room, looked out of the window for a while and straightened the beddings before scrolling down to Ifeanyi’s phone number on her contact list. It was the other phone number Obinna gave her. Just in case, his number wasn’t going through, he had said.
She had been like this at the hospital. Staring at the oncologist’s thin lips and hairy face and not really listening. It had taken Mrs Okadigbo’s sighs of relief and thank you Jesus for her to take in what the oncologist was saying.
She was trying to listen. She even nodded to the oncologist’s prodding gaze and gesturing hand motions. But everything she saw and heard reminded her they had not spoken in twenty four hours. That her friends’ voices when they told her not to worry did not sound convincing.
Mrs Okadigbo had to pull her back when she stepped in the way of oncoming traffic. “What is wrong with you? Do you want to kill yourself because of a man? So, you want to die because he hasn’t called you since last night. You better tie your wrapper very well. Men are very good at letting women down.”
On their way home in a taxi, Mrs Okadigbo had softened her voice. “Don’t worry about what your aunty told him. He would be stupid to take her seriously. He knows you.”
“So, why is he not picking up my calls?” The Celine Dion song playing in the taxi added to her anguish. She would have cried if her friends were with her.
“I told you, he said he was busy when I spoke to him last night.”
He has always been busy, she wanted to say. She longed to add that he promised to make time for her no matter how busy he got.
“Don’t worry, enh. You are the one for him. Just have it in the back of your mind that he is a very suspicious man. That’s what his wife did to him.” Mrs Okadigbo was still radiating the glow that followed her out of the hospital building. The pensive look on her face this afternoon had long gone. “I know he was already struggling to let women in even before he even met that woman. I told you about the way me and their father were,” she sighed and took Isio’s hand in hers. “You two can work this out. Sit him down and talk to him when he comes back. Make sure you don’t take this issues into your marriage like I did with their father. Tell him everything about you. Why hide anything from the man you are going to be living with for the rest of your life?”
Isio could not say thank you. Not when one of the things she kept from him was what Mrs Okadigbo instructed her not to tell him.
“Mummy, this thing with Chibuzor…”
“That one is different. I told you, it did not happen. I have warned your brother-in-law and stepdaughter. If I hear them say anything, they are finished.” Mrs Okadigbo smirked. “You know I’m going home soon yet this is what I get from you. Do you want me to be worrying in Nigeria?”
“Sorry Mummy,” Isio smiled. She started to chuckle when the older woman puckered her brows and pouted her shiny lips. “I know we should be celebrating.”
“Yes. No cancer cells were detected in my body and all you are concerned about is your hubby-to-be. Aah, now we know o. You are the type of daughter-in-law that will go and cook for her husband when her mother-in-law is taking her last breath. The kind that will drop the baby on the floor just because her husband arrived from work.”
When they arrived home and she dropped Mrs Okadigbo’s apples on the floor, she did not get a jokey reprimand this time.
“Biko, go and call him. Try Ifeanyi if the phone doesn’t go through again. If Ifeanyi doesn’t answer come and collect his father’s number. In fact, I will give you his maiguard and PA’s numbers.”
Now as she waited for something to happen, the phone glued to the side of her head, she started to feel ill. She thought of what Annabel asked her grandmother as she came upstairs and grimaced.
Annabel had asked if she was ill. And her grandmother had answered back and said she was. “But only your father can cure her, baby.”
“Hello,” a friendly voice answered the phone. “Ifeanyi here, may I ask who this is?”
“Hi,” Isio muttered. He had called his mother before during those days when she was bedbound so Isio was familiar with his voice. But the similarity between his voice and his brother’s was still something she hadn’t become accustomed to. “Hi, Ifeanyi. It’s your brother I’m looking for.”
“Hi beautiful voice, are you sure it isn’t me you want?”
She thought of what his brother had said about him. That he had inherited the womanising gene from their father. Just like Chib. But she couldn’t be sure if he had guessed who she was and was simply joking.
“It’s Obinna I’m looking for. I’m sorry to disturb you. It’s just that I have been calling your brother…”
“I know, I know. He dropped his phone this morning. And you know what, he has been worried that you might have tried to ring him.”
“Yes. Daddy has been teasing him for checking his phone.” He laughed. A friendly kind of laughter that sounded pleasant.
“I wanted to ask him something.”
“He is a bit busy. He is with Chief Ibe, Daddy and two uncles in the next room right now. I can get him for you, if you want?”
“No, that won’t be necessary.”
She didn’t want to offend Chief Ibe, Kelly’s father more than she imagined she already had.
“Please tell him to call me.”
“I will. Trust me.”
“No. Thank you. I just got Mummy’s message about the hospital news. It is all down to you, babe. You looked after her like she is your mum. Thank you.”
“She is a lovely woman. And technically I didn’t do anything.” She thought of the oncologist with the thin lips and hairy face as she moved the phone to her other ear.
“Thanks all the same.”
“You are welcome.”
“I will tell Obinna you called, Onyinye.”
She was silent as he said bye.
Later, after she had helped their mother with the different dishes she wanted to cook and plaited Annabel’s hair, she fought her bouts of yawns with cups of sweet coffee. She was waiting for Chibuzor to come back so she could ask him who Onyinye was.
He came back smelling of a girl’s perfume. Lipstick stains decorated his shirt. His mother and niece were in bed and Isio questioned him whilst filling his cup with coffee he didn’t ask for.
“Onyinye?” He scratched his head and stared with eyes that were struggling to stay open.
“Yes, Onyinye.” She wondered if he would be able to think clearly anytime soon.
“If a girl named Onyinye came to visit me, then I know her. Never turn any girl away from the door. Every girl is welcome here.”
“Just go and sleep, Chib. You are too drunk anyway. Tomorrow morning sha, Mummy wants you to take her to Aspire in Stratford. She wants to see Anu. But it’s okay, this alcohol will still be in your system until next year. I will call her a taxi.”
He seized her hand as soon as she placed the flask down. “You know why I drink.”
“No. I don’t.”
“It’s because of what you do to me. Do you think it’s easy hearing you moaning my brother’s name at night?”
“Chib, don’t start this again. I’m with your brother.”
“Yes and he is not even here with you. All he knows is to come back, eat your food. Shag you like there is no tomorrow and then abandon you.”
She pulled her hand out of his clutch and walked out of the kitchen. He followed her around the house as she turned off lights and locked doors.
“Do you know he doesn’t even trust you. He grilled me about you when he first started liking you. As if he thought you were only after his money.” He blocked her path when they got to the master bedroom. “He didn’t even want you like that back then. I heard him talking to Idriss about it. He only wanted a girl that will be here to look after his daughter. Someone to cook and clean.”
He was whispering. She knew this was because he didn’t want his mother hearing their conversation and coming out of her room to hit him with something.
She heard a bedroom door squeak. She didn’t push him away despite his face coming too close to hers. She wanted his mother to see this.
Isio stepped back and turned around when she heard Annabel’s voice behind them. “Annie?”
Annabel shook her head and retreated into her room.
“Stay away from me.” She hoped her voice was loud enough to wake his mother.
“Issy, you will have fun with me.” He gazed at her lips whilst licking his lower one. “I can give you a better life.”
“How can you give me a better life when you are like this?” Her voice wasn’t loud anymore and as he checked his appearance because he had misinterpreted her, her voice mellowed some more. “Have you forgotten what you tried to do to me? Well, your brother is not like that.” She spoke in a whisper. Overcome simply by thinking of his brother. “When we were together the first time, it was perfect. He was selfless.” She wanted to tell him when it started to hurt, he held himself back. He held her and made sure she was fine before he tried again.
Chib yawned. An exaggerated yawn that went on a while.
“That is the kind of man I want. The one that pays his siblings’ school fees and cares about me. Yes, that one. Your brother.”
He shrugged. “It’s not that serious.” Turning from her, he walked towards his bedroom door.
“Chib, I said I’m sorry.” She had been told too many times by Obinna’s friends, his employees and his mother how much he cared for his family. Antagonising them could only yield one result. “I want us to get on.”
“We’re cool. Seriously, we are.” He rested his back on his door, grinning as he did so. “Your friend is not cool though. I saw her and Kanyin at the club. Then Austin turned up to pick his wife up and accused Bibs of getting his wife drunk. Bro was just shouting at Biba like she killed his mother.”
“Really. Austin?” Austin had never seemed like a man that got angry at will.
“Yes. Like there was something else going on. And Kanyin did not even defend her friend.”
“I will ring Bibs now.” She was already turning the door knob. “Thanks.”
Inside the room, she found her phone ringing. Ifeanyi’s number displayed on the screen.
“Jay?” Her tone was hopeful.
“Hey sweetheart. I’m sorry. Forgive me.”
She would have said she missed him. That she thought of him every second and every one she saw reminded her of him. But she was too overwhelmed that she perched on the bed whilst he explained why he had been so busy.
Chief Ibe sacked Obinna’s cousins from their factory and he had to remind his father-in-law that he owned three quarters of the factory.
“Is he giving you problems because of me?”
“My father used to say no matter how much someone likes you. They will not love you more than their own offspring.” He paused like someone thinking of how to explain their reasoning delicately.
She understood what he was saying. It was like her situation with his mother. Mrs Okadigbo seemed to care for her. Just not enough to risk the relationship between her sons.
Keeping what Chib tried to do to her was difficult enough. Now that Annabel had become involved, she hitched to tell him. Worrying about infuriating Mrs Okadigbo kept her from telling him.
“Have you fallen asleep?” He sounded impatient.
“Sorry. I’m still here. I have just come to the bedroom. I’m still dressed. Not in bed.”
“Why? It’s past midnight.”
“No. No reason. Chib came back late but that’s not why…” She stuttered and fidgeted uneasily.
“Are you hiding something from me again? Issy, you know I don’t do secrets.”
“It’s nothing, I promise. Or should I be running to you every time your brother drinks too much? After all, I’m not the one whose brother called his girlfriend another girl’s name.” Thinking of him with someone else coated her with the required defensiveness.
“What are you talking about?”
“Ifeanyi called me Onyinye.”
“He did?” He laughed and continued to laugh when she tried to interrupt him. “The onyinye thing started with my dad. You see, I kept telling him you are a gift from God to me. When he couldn’t remember your name during our meeting with Chief Ibe, he just blurted out Onyinye. So, I hope you don’t mind?”
“I love your dad.”
“I know you are trying to make me jealous.”
“Okay, let me help you get to sleep. I will stay on the phone whilst you take off your dress and stuff.”
“How do you know I’m wearing a dress?” She asked, smiling. The dress she had on was the mini, bodycon dress he liked.
“I know you. Come on, take it off. Let’s spend the night together.”
On Monday when Obinna came back, Isio took the stairs after her shift. She had done one of those shifts where it felt as if everyone wanted something from her. Yet she didn’t feel tired. Her legs climbed the stairs to the canteen as if her day had just started.
Biba was waiting for her after attending her ultrasound appointment. Her friend was hunched over a plate of scotch eggs and tea that appeared lukewarm.
“Come on, Bibs,” Isio picked up Biba’s bag from the table. “Obinna and Idriss are waiting in the car park. Let’s go.”
“I bought you scotch eggs.” Biba pointed at the plate. “Sit down and at least eat one.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Babe, take it easy. I know you can’t wait for Jay to spank you or rip your clothes off, whatever you two get up to. But don’t kill yourself over a man.”
“I can’t wait to see him, madam dirty mind.” She thought of yesterday morning when he called from Enugu. She wanted to thank him because her sister said he had given her more money than she hoped for. And yet all he wanted to do was tell her how he couldn’t wait to unwrap his Christmas present. “Christmas is like seven days away,” she had protested. “Besides, I will probably be in my uniform when you see me on Monday.”
“Get your spare uniform out,” he said something in Igbo that he had told her before whilst his body was pressed to hers. Words that were rapidly spoken. Latching on to each other’s back like spoken poetry. Like the words belonged together and were supposed to be spoken to her. Just her. “I’m going to be yanking your uniform off you, Onyinye. Then I will carry you to my bed.”
Biba appeared to shiver. Isio placed the bag back on the table and helped her zip up her summer jacket. Then she pulled a chair from the next table so she could sit with her. The canteen was empty apart from canteen staff and the American radiologist that liked to stare at her.
“What’s wrong Bibs? Is it the baby?”
“The baby is fine.”
“Don’t worry then. Don’t let this whole biz with Chib bother you. He is not going to be a good dad anyway. You don’t have to tell him until you are ready. Jay will understand. It’s not my secret to tell.” It wasn’t hard for her to imagine helping out with this baby. Picking him or her up from school. Kissing the baby’s head, the same way she would kiss its cousin’s head.
“The scan revealed I’m too far gone.” Biba patted her flat stomach. “It isn’t Chib’s baby.”
“Habiba. What do you mean? I don’t understand.”
“Get with the program. I’m pregnant with someone else’s child.” She shook her head and slapped her legs together. “The other man I slept with, I can’t even tell you who he is. I can’t. I would rather raise this child on my own.”
“Is he married?” Isio realised she had yelled her question when the American radiologist looked up from the Critical Care Journal he was reading.
“Why did I have to get drunk?” Biba grabbed her head with her hands. Not caring that her long nails were nearly digging into her face.
“Who is he?”
“Let’s just say his babe would never forgive me.” She picked up her bag from the table and hopped off her seat. “Let’s go, your man is waiting.”
“No. I’m done. Let’s go meet the guys.”
“Where is my Mrs?” Obinna resisted the urge to close his eyes.
They were in a luxury, stretch Limousine and his luggage were in the boot. They had had to charter the luxury car for their meeting. And although the men, a couple of Chinese diplomats decided not to invest in their new project, he felt as if he had won something valuable.
He was about to see Isio.
“Biba is here too. So maybe your chick dey wait for her.”
“Why is Habiba here?” Obinna asked. “You gave her something? An itchy Christmas present?”
“Your head is not correct, dude.” Idriss topped up his glass cup with another bottle from the bar and sat back. “Habibat and I are just friends.”
Obinna saw him shift forward and shook his head as Idriss proceeded to use the blank TV screen to check his face. “You are in trouble even if you don’t see it. Seriously player, she is your daughter’s age.”
“You are the one in trouble, chief.” Idriss combed his hair with the tip of his finger nails. “You are the one who is rushing into a relationship with a girl you don’t know. And for a guy that’s been burnt before, that’s never a good idea. Na to kuku dey go crazy when she starts to sell your properties from underneath you .”
“I know Issy,” he did not like that the window in the driver’s partition had been left open. “We are good together. What do you and Habiba have in common again?”
“The sexy selfies she sends me at night. We have that in common. I like them.”
The driver closed the partition window. And the moment before, it came back to him where he had seen him before.
He was the driver that drove him to the airport. His greying hair shorter, the Bentley he drove having morphed into a Stretch, he did not beat himself up for not recognising him.
Rufus, he said his name was. And as he helped him with his bags whilst Isio was busy telling him she would miss him on the phone, he had commented on this. “You are very lucky sir, your wife really loves you.”
Obinna glanced at Idriss’ blank face and wished he had been able to speak to Anu when he was in Ribble Greaves. But Anu had been so busy and at times distracted. He knew her former lover was back in the country and Idriss wasn’t happy that his wife didn’t tell him. He knew too that Idriss had considered hiring a private investigator to track his wife’s movements.
“Baba, have you tried talking to your wife? Like really talking. Not your type of talking. Anything is better than cheating.”
“Don’t judge me, chief.” Idriss passed him a can of fizzy, energy drink. “You are not the one who has a wife that’s not interested in doing her husband. A woman that leaves the house and doesn’t even tell me where she is going.”
“How long has it been? The no sex ban? Shebi, you said na three weeks.” He didn’t want to address the part about Anu keeping secrets. He wouldn’t be able to defend her and he liked her too much.
“Dude, it has been nearly five weeks. And it feels like five years. Haba!”
Obinna saw Isio coming out of a building with Biba. “They are coming. Don’t forget your role tonight. You are not there to hammer Biba, abeg.”
“I know. My job is to get Habibat on side. Sneak out the ring. Tell her about the surprise engagement party and about the arrangements.” Idriss grinned. “Calm down. Friday night will be lit. Why won’t she like it, when she finds out you are dashing her five percent of your shares in Aspire.”
His friend was staring at him again. Miles had stared also when Obinna told him he was giving Isio some of his shares. He ignored the driver asking them something through the intercom and clambered out of the Limousine. Isio was rushing towards him.
He imagined her in his arms. Her naked body underneath his and he knew he wanted to be this excited for the rest of his life.