Kenny clutched her phone in bed. The house was conveniently dark and quiet. She had crawled out of bed only a few times. To empty full bladders and make a cup of tea that she tipped into the sink.
She had not been to work and she could not see herself attending tomorrow either.
It had started with his short message that he couldn’t come to her house on Sunday. I will call you tomorrow, he wrote.
On Monday at work, she found out he had gone to Coventry. He accused her of revealing his mother’s secrets. Of not wanting to be loved. He didn’t listen to her, talking over her. It ended with her falling to the floor. Her hopes crashing with her.
When the tears finally stopped, she called his phone. It had been switched off.
Later, a message from him came. She swiped to the right and tapped on the message icon to read the message again.
I wanted to love you. I wanted to show you if anyone deserves love, it’s you. But the truth is, you only deserve what you will accept.
We are done. Yes we are. Somehow, I can’t believe you’d go blabbing about my mum knowing how much she means to me. To John of all people.
But I believe you are scared of this. Of how I feel about you and knowing you are falling deeper every day. So, you do what you’ve been doing from day one, push me away. And so, that’s it. I’m out. I’m never coming back from Coventry. Don’t contact me. I hope you let yourself fall in love one day. I hope you will be happy.
Yesterday morning, the skies did not brighten. It yielded yet again to the bitterness of winter. Foggy outside. Cold inside her room. For the first time since she qualified, she called work to tell them she was ill. And it hadn’t been a lie because her legs would not hold her up in the bathroom.
Sister T’s strong-willed voice did not come on the phone when she called her. Thinking of Cindy, the girl she would have spent part of her morning with, did not lift her from the abyss she had fallen into.
Cindy cried on Monday during their session. She had picked at her nails as she told her about her uncle and how he came into her room whenever his wife was at work. How her mother begged her not to tell her school friends so that no one would laugh at her. Her tears came with sweat that seemed to come out of every pore.
She couldn’t be sure what triggered her own emotions. Why the empathy she had been trained to use as a tool turned into weighty despair. Trapping those emotions before they flooded her mind, she forced herself to be alert to nothing else but Cindy.
Cindy cleaned her face with the scented tissues Kenny provided. Tucking her hands under her jumper, she thanked her. Smiled the kind of smile that involved the whole face. The smile would have lifted the heaviness that pinned her down ordinarily. But Cindy had opened the door to her own memories. They refused to be shaken off.
Cindy’s story was similar to hers. Her uncle spoke Yoruba as he attacked her. He threatened to go after her sister. And although Cindy’s uncle attempted to attack Cindy’s sister and was caught, the girl had worn her guilt around her neck like Kenny since that day.
Kenny tapped on her phone’s screen to accept the call as soon as the phone rang. It wasn’t because she wanted to speak to Lola. It was the thoughts in her head she wanted rid of her. She felt for her ring on her finger. Letting her index finger caress it as her cousin went on and on.
She wanted to say something. But she couldn’t reassure her cousin when she didn’t feel reassured. She wanted to ask too why she kept mentioning John’s name as if it was meant to appease her.
“I don’t know why John would say anything. I’m sure he didn’t mean to say anything. He is not normally like that.”
Kenny reached for the phone and ended the call.
She couldn’t tell if she had been asleep for long. It was raining outside. Light drizzling. Goose pimples had appeared on her arms. If Tony was with her he would have blamed it on the cold weather.
A voicemail from her mother was waiting. Worry evident in her tone.
“Iya mi, ki lo de? Taye said you are feeling down. She said she can feel it. Please my dear, if it’s because of Anthony, dry your tears. It is not by force. God will provide you your own husband. I promise you, iya mi, I won’t trouble you about this marriage thing. We will give it a month. I’m sure Brother Mathew in church is single. I can ask sister mi. She will know. If it’s not Brother Mathew then that new brother that jumps and screams when he is praying. But please, don’t worry. I will know if you continue to be sad o. I will just ask your sister when she comes back.”
Taye and Kenny had always shared a subconscious connection. Even when they had not spoken for a year. This was why the gap between them hurt her even more. She had felt it when Taye started to fall for Mat. Felt this sudden fear the day Taye started having labour contractions. She had called Mat when she couldn’t reach her twin and it was Mat that raced home and found his girlfriend on her knees at home.
Kenny would later find out the heavy, painful twinges of labour had come on quickly and her twin had been unable to find her phone.
That evening, Taye would make her cry. When Kenny suggested coming with their mother to the hospital, she would reply with the casualness of someone in a routine conversation. “Don’t worry Kehin, let mum come on her own. I’m tired.”
She heard it again. The loud knock she thought she heard before. It was coming from the front door. She went to the door hoping it was the post man. She could collect the post by opening the door slightly. As long as it wasn’t anyone she knew.
It was Sister T. Kenny stood in the doorway, unsure of what to do.
“I have been out here for ages,” Sister T shook off rain water from her umbrella. “Are you going to let me in?”
She stepped aside for her. Sister T charged ahead off her, straight into the kitchen. Kenny thought of something to say but the first thing she thought of were excuses about the cups and spoon in the sink.
“We all leave one or two things in the sink overnight.” Sister T dumped her umbrella and bag on the table, washed her hands and filled the kettle with water. “Why don’t you go and shower. You need to get ready for work. I will make coffee.”
“Yes. It’s almost midday but I’m sure you can still see one or two clients.”
“Do you want to lose your job too?”
“Did Anthony not tell you what I did?”
Sister T pointed at the fridge. “Is there milk in there? Should I make you toasts as well?”
She stared at the woman. She didn’t seem angry. Pointing at the fridge as if all that mattered were the drinks and toasts she wanted to make.
“You need to eat, babes. Do you think Tony is starving himself in Coventry? Of course, he isn’t. I bet he is eating and sleeping well. Here you are, starving yourself. This same guy will be the first one to notice your boobs and rear shaker are getting smaller.”
Kenny tried to smile.
“Okay, okay. I will tell you what I believe. I would have explained all these to that stubborn dude of yours. If he didn’t get in the car and zoom off to Coventry. Now he is not even picking my calls. You know Sonny can be stubborn like that.”
“Yeah, he is like that sometimes.” She wished the woman would tell her what she knew. The kettle’s blue light had come on, indicating it had started to boil and she was walking towards it. “So, what do you believe, sis?” Her pyjamas were made from cotton fabrics. In bed, they kept her warm. Without her thick robe, they failed to keep her warm out here. She felt draught rush in as gusty wind beat against the kitchen window and craved the warmth from the fireplace in the lounge.
“You didn’t tell Pastor John what I told you. I know that much.”
“No, I didn’t. My cousin could tell I was worried about you so I told her something terrible happened to you when you were young. That’s all I said.”
“I’m really sorry. I had to say something because somehow my face let me down. She could read me. Usually I’m good at maintaining that poker face no one can read.”
“You don’t need to look so worried.” Sister T said. “I knew you wouldn’t have given that man my life story. And I’m guessing you couldn’t hide your worry because you actually care about me and my son. As long as you don’t ever tell anyone where Tony came from.”
“I wouldn’t do that to you. I don’t even understand what Lola said. Or why her husband would approach Tony like that.”
“I know why. Pastor John is a creepy bastard, that’s why.” Sister T opened the fridge, took out the milk pint and dumped it on the kitchen table.
“I know you don’t like him.”
“He is a creep. Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed.”
“No one is that nice and that cheerful. He is so fake.”
Sister T had unintentionally made this known to her once. On one occasion when Kenny was at Tony’s house and John called Tony to see how he was. Two-faced was what she muttered under her breath. But because Sister T liked to make her opinions of people known, she had not worried about this.
“I just didn’t like him when I met him.” Sister T fetched two cups, a spoon and the coffee and sugar jars. “I didn’t know why. Maybe it was the shiny shoes or that stupid smile. I even thought it’s because he keeps interrupting your uncle with his silly phrases during sermons. At least now I know why my spirit didn’t agree with him.”
“He snoops.” She heaped several spoons of sugar in her cup of coffee and stirred rather vigorously. Pushing the other cup towards the edge of the table whilst frowning. “Here is yours, babes.”
“I didn’t know you take sugar.”
“I don’t. Thinking of your cousin’s husband has left a horrible taste in my mouth.”
She picked up the spoon and stirred the cup again. A few more drops of milk. Another spoon of sugar and then more stirring. Her lips were pressed tightly together and when she parted them to taste her coffee, she grimaced.
“Looks like it’s too sweet.” Kenny wondered what it was John did to Sister T. If he had tried to get too close to her and she had realised. “Did he try something Sister T? I know some of the girls in church fancy him.”
“Me and that goat. God forbid bad thing.”
“I was only asking.”
“And nothing else came to that dirty mind of yours?”
Her eyes reflected her amusement as she shook her head and raised her cup to her mouth again. She looked even younger today with her short hair and droopy earrings. Her youthful humour and charm merely appealed to Kenny before. She appreciated it much more these days and had actually come to see the woman as a friend.
“Things were getting on top of me so I called your uncle one day. You know the man is hot, married or not…”
“Eew, that’s my uncle.”
“Calm down, it was just a one second crush.”
“Woman, thou needs deliverance.” Kenny contorted her face and also squinted her eyes playfully. It was quite common to see women in church laughing too loudly at her uncle’s jokes, pushing their chests out. Hips swaying from side to side.
The younger women would openly flirt with Tony and even Mathew who sometimes appeared wary of women. On Nationality Day, both Mikky and Priya begged him to have their country’s dishes. The crafty man combined Kenyan and Mauritian rice and meat dishes. Appearing not to mind the attention as Nkiru bent her rounded body to serve him homemade non-alcoholic wine. If he had known Mama Nkiru’s prayer point was that God should provide her a son-in-law that would be responsible for Nkiru’s seven sisters, he wouldn’t have enjoyed the moment that much.
Even John had his admirers. Sister Gloria and her sisters. They praised him even when he sneezed. Gawked even if he was merely scratching his head.
“Anyway,” Sister T adopted a tone she rarely used. “I told your uncle about my past that day. Pastor John was with him when I arrived. He left the room when your uncle asked him to excuse us. I heard the door slam shut so I thought he had left us.”
“You think he didn’t leave?”
“Now, I know for a fact he stopped by the door to listen to us.”
“Why would he?”
“I don’t know why. All I know is… since that time he has been different with me. He looked uncomfortable for the first few weeks. Like he didn’t know how to greet me. Then he started acting all friendly. Even offering me a lift one Friday night saying it’s not safe on the streets at night. I didn’t need friendship from someone like him so I shut it down. I’m sure you find him creepy too.”
She didn’t respond. Struggling instead to understand how John could have fooled Lola for this long. She wanted to ring her and warn her. She would have, if she thought her cousin would believe her.
“You need to go and see Sonny.”
“He is not picking my calls or the house phone. My adoptive parents are still in Florida and I can’t take time off work. Please go and see him. Your sat nav will take you straight there.”
“I will shower and get going. I should probably pack my new undies as well. I can stay the night.”
“Too much information, young girl. He is my son, remember?” Sister T giggled. “I hear the tiniest, the better. So take the tiny ones. Anyway, go to work first. You have abandoned work enough for him. If he is serious about you, a few more hours won’t matter.”
Kenny drove to the address from work. She found the house because a picture of it had been ingrained in her head. Sister T’s direction skills proved clearer than the sat nav’s.
The house was beautiful. Bigger than the kind of houses in London. She imagined coming here for weekends with him. Pregnant with their child, feet aching and swollen.
The house itself was tucked in the middle of a quiet close. Flanked by free-standing residential buildings. Unlike those houses, there were no signs of life in the middle one. Lights were off. Curtains down.
Tony’s jeep was parked in front of the garage and when she went to it, she noticed that the house had what appeared to be an annex. She walked through the pathway garden to get to it, peering to see if she could spot him. She didn’t have to peer through the door’s glass panel. The vertical blinds were open. Tony was sitting in an armchair. In a large room with large fixtures and furniture like in a hotel room.
His head was on its side. As his lips were parted, she assumed he had seen her. Her face started to crease in a smile. Then she saw the reason why his lips were parted. The one with long hair and wide hips knelt between his legs.
His hands had reached out to grab Sammy’s head, expletives about to roll of his tongue when he saw Kenny. For a moment, he had believed she wasn’t really there. That it was the practised way, Sammy’s mouth glided down him that was doing this to him. But then, he saw her eyes and he realised she was really there, watching his childhood friend take him in her mouth.
“Stop …” he gasped. It was supposed to sound louder. “Get off, Sammy.”
She drew her head up and licked her lips. “You want me on top, giddy bear?”
“No. Get off, my babe is here.”
Sammy rose. She walked to the door without bothering to put on her tee-shirt. Her strapless bra and knickers were not pulled back in place either. “I don’t know what you think you saw. There is no one at the door.”
He cursed when he saw she was right. Without bothering to button up his jeans, he fished out his shoes from underneath the bed. Unable to believe he had let Sammy kiss him and then unbutton his jeans.
He had grown up in Coventry worshipping her. Watching her with eyes that said so much more. They didn’t let go of their friendship when Tony and his mum moved to London. And each time they got closer, one of them was in a relationship.
“You said you and her were over.” Sammy’s tone was harsh. Her dark-brown eyes were moistening. She bore the same expression she did when her cousin died. “Talk to me, giddy bear?” She had nicknamed him giddy bear because of his quietness when he was young. “Did you not say you two were done?”
“So, why do you look so worried?”
“Sorry. I need to go after her.”
Kenny was in her car and turning around when he saw her. She stopped the car. Her face was almost blank. Eyebrows arched. Head and neck tilted to the side, the way they used to be at the beginning. When she looked at him like someone she would like to step on.
“Kehinde, I wasn’t expecting you.”
“I’m sorry about what you saw. Please babe. It’s been one hell of a day for me.” He thought of the quickest way to explain that he had attended a job interview that day. He had applied for the assistant head teacher job – the day he arrived initially at Coventry – and believed he could get it. The interview panel had offered him the role of a teacher instead. Teaching sciences, focusing on Biology and animal science. On a temporary contract. Without the benefits and plump salary that came with his job as head teacher in London. He had pictured himself wheezing whilst holding a furry animal and said no.
Sammy was waiting on his doorstep with cans of beer and chicken pie when Tony returned to the house.
“I didn’t know you do one night stands.”
“Sammy came over because I was a having a bad day.”
“Sammy? The one that calls at weekends? I thought you two were just friends.”
He had forgotten Kenny would have been present when he picked up Sammy’s regular calls. As she didn’t seem bothered, he had not felt the need to hide the calls from her.
“Yes, we were. This isn’t what it looks like, Kehinde.”
“It is exactly what it looks like.” She pulled her engagement ring off her ring finger, threw it at him and sped off.
Lola could not tell how long she had been on the floor for. She couldn’t be sure. The sun stayed below the horizon stubbornly. The same way her limbs would not help her up.
It happened after she screamed at John. When she told him she was going back home.
This house had not felt like her home lately. She couldn’t be sure when it stopped feeling like home. It had happened gradually. Like his kisses.
They had stimulated her on their wedding night. Softer than Omar’s. Yesterday when he kissed her, it lacked the intimacy and flare present before.
She remembered now what might have triggered John’s easily fuelled anger. Even before she asked him why he talked to Tony. Omar had called her. She had seen the missed calls and meant to clear them off her screen. Wondering then, why Omar would call her. They had not spoken in years.
Her husband had walked into the room and picked up her phone to use it. When he returned it, he had avoided looking at her. If she had known he had seen the missed calls, she wouldn’t have confronted him about what he said to Tony.
Lola heard a quiet sound that seemed to have come from downstairs. She thought of the baby inside her and started to call out for her husband. “Johnny, please come up if you can hear me. Please, I’m sorry. I need to go to the hospital. Please. Don’t let our baby die. I need your help. Please.”
“Iya mi, sa nu mi. Don’t kill yourself over this man. I don’t want to lose you.” It was her mother. Reassuring her that Tony and her would be fine whilst blaming her for her reaction.
“Have you dried your face like I asked? Don’t forget to put lipstick o. I know Tony. He will be on his way now to apologise. Don’t do shakara when he comes.”
Kenny stared at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. She had not wiped her face because her mother wanted her to. But because she wanted him to know she had not crumbled because of him.
Her phone had started ringing when she exited the roundabout before Trafalgar Square. She had maintained her composure until she reached her street. Ringing her mother back whilst unlocking the door, her emotions bubbled over.
“Can I speak to my sister?” Kenny asked. “I could do with speaking to her.” To stop herself from taking back what she asked, she placed the phone next to the soap bar.
“Taye is a bit busy, my dear.” Her mother announced a few seconds later. “I will tell her to ring you later.”
“Don’t worry mum. It’s cool.” She had expected it. Her twin was either too busy or too tired to speak to her. She had felt sorry for Mat last month as he told her, your sister is feeding Poppy. You know she likes to do it herself. Sorry hun.
Kenny had been grateful to him. For trying. For being there to apologise. It had been different when Taye lived in a students’ accommodation and the phone would ring and ring. And at times when her reluctant voice answered it was like speaking to a bored stranger.
“Iya mi, when he comes, please beg him on your knees, okay? If he doesn’t come tonight, go and see him tomorrow.”
The sound of a squeaking door followed by footsteps forced her to think of what she would say to Tony. Her head was swirling. She knew she wouldn’t be going on her knees like her mother suggested. She knew too, she wanted him back. But he wouldn’t have gotten that close to Sammy if he didn’t like her.
“He is here, mum. I have to go.” She ended the call, picked up the phone and proceeded into the living room.
There was a man with greying hair, dressed in buba and sokoto, waiting. He was peering down at her graduation photo on the table. Even before he turned round and said her name, she knew who he was.
“It’s me, Kola. Uncle kolawole,” he spread his arms wide. “Come and give your uncle a hug, Akehinde omo uncle.”