Thanks to everyone reading and especially those who have been commenting. I’m so sorry that I haven’t been able to respond. Getting time to respond or write these days has been something else. January and February have been so hectic. I will get to the comments, I promise. Thanks for reading and for your patience. Have a fabulous day.
“You are Uncle Kola?” John asked.
Kenny stayed behind John. Between John and the half-opened door. The firm courage the person at the door was supposed to bring in, missing.
She didn’t want John in her home. She didn’t want John looking at Uncle Kola with eyes that told her they knew each other.
“What do you want?” John’s voice was harsh. Unusually harsh. “What do you want here?”
Uncle Kola opened his mouth briefly then sat back down. He glared at John. A menacing glare that was supposed to intimidate the younger man. Years ago, when she was a teenager, Uncle Kola would have pummelled him.
John did not seem intimidated. He strode over to him and clicked his hands. “Get up and get lost.”
“Where do you know him from?” Kenny asked. Wanting to know if she would be running into Uncle Kola in her cousin’s house. At the same time, the idea that he could be in Lola’s life nauseated her.
“Do you want me to tell her?” Uncle Kola was smirking. Bouncing one of his legs.
“I don’t care who tells me.” She didn’t have to pack her response with hostility. It came out, coated in it. “I don’t give a damn.”
“This man knows me very well.”
“He is one of the doctors I saw at the hospital,” he gazed at . “I’m not very well, Omokehinde Oluwayemisi.”
“They said it is cancer. I said I reject it. Cancer is not my portion. God will not allow it.”
He was scrutinising her with his eyes. To check his news affected her. In the same manner, his persistent cough did. She used to run into the kitchen to get him water whenever it started.
That repetitive cough did worry her. She remembered sobbing when their mother told them he had to go see a doctor. She remembered her mother burning the yam she was cooking for their dinner that day. The unfamiliar raising of her voice. Taye’s indifference. The phone ringing twice, because his wives were worried.
She had cared those days. For he was merely a normal uncle to them then. One who came home with boiled sweets and sausage rolls that he said were tastier than gala.
“Even if I believe you have cancer…”
John tilted his head down slightly in a nodding gesture.
“They said it is cancer and it’s everywhere.” Uncle Kola slapped his legs together.
“So? What are you doing here? You think I care?”
“I wanted to see you and your mother.”
“You mean you wanted free medical care?”
“There are good hospitals in Ghana and Spain, you know. Very good ones.”
Kenny forced sounds that were supposed to sound like spontaneous laughter. The dread that made her want to run out had started to lift. It was watching him that did this. Seeing him moving his restless legs and staring at her as if she was a different woman to the girl he left behind.
“I wanted to talk to you all,” the smirk on his face had started to wear off. “I promised Moji I will clear this up.”
Moji, Uncle Kola’s eldest daughter had been raised in Wales. She had migrated there with her mother. Shortly after her mother married the Ijaw pharmacist she met whilst working in Rivers State.
Moji – who was eighteen at the time – insisted that her father should be imprisoned for what he did. She fell out with her father’s wives. This was after Kenny’s paternal grandmother took police officers to Uncle Kola’s house and the wives refused to tell them where he was.
Moji decided to speak to her father a few years ago. This information came from Sister Yemi. But because Sister Yemi liked to spread news with the frequency she breathed in air, fabricated or real, they had not believed her.
“So, you are here because Moji won’t let you into her life completely?”
“She asked me to talk to you.” He rubbed his legs and sighed. “I know the way I acted was not okay. But you have to understand, some of the things that happened were misunderstood.”
“I tried to kill myself because of you.” She yelled because it was easier to yell. “I could not be alone with a man for years. One day at the lecture hall and I suddenly realised I was on my own with a male lecturer, I flew out of there. He was coming towards me and I lost it.” She didn’t add that she sprained her ankle. That it took months before she could go to the lecturer’s lectures. But Uncle Kola had started sweating and his legs were even more restless. She decided she didn’t have to.
“You are not the only one that suffered. I have never met Mojisola’s children. My son, Bosun has not let me visit him since he got married.”
“I was a child! Whose fault was it then?”
“You were always nice to me.”
“What about Taye? She was never nice to you. If it was my fault that I was too sweet to you, what about Taye?” Her throat was hurting from suppressing too much. Her eyes were struggling to keep her tears in. In addition to this, the painful cramps in her stomach were now coming in intense spasms.
“I did some things that were wrong.”
“I know …”
“Go back to Moji. You are not going to get the apology or whatever it is you seek. It is up to her what she chooses to do with you. Not my problem.”
“You were so nice to me,” he shook his head. Following a deep, inarticulate sound, he covered his face with his palms.
She didn’t believe he sought her forgiveness. Although she knew he was desperate to completely reconcile with his daughter. He talked about her everyday all those years ago.
John’s eyes communicated his impatience when he met her eyes. He had brought his phone out of his pocket and was pointing at it.
“You have to believe me,” Uncle Kola uncovered his face. I need you to know I want to clear things up. I cared about your mother. She was so good to me.”
“John, call the freaking police.” She would have put her hands around his neck and squeezed until he choked. She would have done it to silence him. If it didn’t mean having to touch him.
He had succeeded in breaking into pieces the tiny part of her life that he left whole. Her certainty that her father was a good man. A faithful husband. Now the suspicion that marred her childhood, that Uncle Kola and her mother were lovers sat in her lungs like pebbles, limiting air going in.
“Get him out of here. Please. I don’t want to see him.” She started to screech, stopping when she felt someone grab her from behind. Even without the familiarity of his aftershave and the way he grabbed her, she would have known it was him.
She turned to Tony. He knew what she needed. That she wanted him to stand beside her and hold her. Even when John mumbled that the man sitting on the chair was Uncle Kola and Tony nostril’s flared as he let out a swear word, he held on to her.
“I will call the police.” John pointed at his phone as he walked towards the kitchen.
“What exactly do you want here?” Tony did not let Uncle Kola answer. “Why are you here? Why, scum?”
Uncle Kola stared at him and looked away. Seeing Tony so upset reminded her of his frustrations. Of her tears. Of those lonely days when she wished her sister would ring her.
Her tears fell quickly. Tears that poured because the crushing weight of despair that weighed her down for years was lifting. Nothing she did encouraged him. Not her kindness. Or her questions about Nigeria and his children.
It wasn’t you, it was him. Those kinds of words had been thrown around by the woman she saw for a year. Despite believing it, when it came to the girls and women she counselled, it had always been hard to accept. And Mrs Roland said it would be harder because of her guilt. The guilt she wore around because of what he did to her sister.
She hurried to a corner of the room because she didn’t want Uncle Kola to think he had made her cry. Not again.
“Are you okay?” Tony followed.
She was nodding when Uncle Kola stood up and bolted out of the room. Tony shouted at him to stop. He started to hurry to the door, shouting for John at the same time.
“Stay here, Anthony.” She grabbed his hand and held on to him. “Don’t go after him. Please, stay here.”
“I can’t just let him escape, babe. He tried to ruin your life.”
John ran out of the kitchen, the phone to one ear. He was shouting at someone on the phone. Something about a criminal escaping. He glanced at them and sped through the front door.
“He didn’t ruin my life,” she took one of Tony’s hands in hers. His palm was damp. He was shaking his head.
“I have to go and help John. Let the police take him away.”
“What does it matter? He is dying anyway.”
He rolled his eyes. “You know you can’t take whatever rubbish he spewed as gospel. The man is evil.” He continued, even though she had opened her mouth to say something. “He will say anything so you feel sorry for him. Don’t believe the bastard.”
Sometimes he was like this. Especially when they were talking about something to do with her life. Fiercely argumentative.
“John confirmed it. He recognised him from the hospital.”
“Is that what John was doing here?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know why John was here. I don’t know anything.”
“Okay, it’s okay. I will get you a glass of water. Calm down, you are trembling.”
He came back with the glass of water and even though she sat down and drank it, her heart continued to race.
John came back moments after, breathless. Sweat dotted his forehead. He looked like a man who had just been given frightening news.
“It’s your cousin,” he panted. “Daddy said she collapsed.”
Kenny’s hand went to her mouth. She had known something was wrong with Lola. Her beautiful, lively cousin had not been acting like herself for months. Cutting back on work hours. Barely leaving the house.
“Don’t worry, you know your cousin will be fine. Daddy said she is better already.”
“What’s going on with her?”
“She has been crying because of all the wahala between you two. This is why I came to see you. My wife is not the same without you.”
She did not like that he stared directly at her and that his gaze lingered. Like someone who wanted to make sure the information he passed across was understood. Someone passing on more information than they voiced.
“Why don’t you stay here,” his grin was wide. “Wait for the police. They are on the way. I will tell your cousin you send your love.”
“I will tell her myself. We will call the police on the way. They will understand my cousin needs me.” Kenny glanced quickly at Tony. He was nodding in agreement.
This was one of the reasons she started to fall for him. He understood the importance of family to her. He refused John’s offer of a lift to the house, barking that they didn’t need one. And in the warm ambience of his car, after he had put her seat belt across her, she told him she was glad he came. He needed to hear this. She wanted to tell him.
For before he arrived, she had felt as if she was on her own with Uncle Kola. Frightened at some point. Almost as frightened as she was all those years ago, when she pinched herself to stay awake at night. Having John there helped uncurl her tongue but there were more questions she wanted to ask. It would have been easier if it was Tony there with her. Not John.
Tony sensed it when she started to pull away. It was shortly after they arrived in front of Lola and John’s house, when they saw John dashing into the house. When Kenny ignored his suggestion that he should go in with her.
“I should come in, babe. She is your cousin and I care about her.”
They had chatted as if nothing had changed until his phone started ringing. They had held hands whilst at the traffic lights. Then his phone interrupted them.
He had known it was Sammy but because he wasn’t Dare who could chat on the phone with women in the company of another, he had let it ring off. She had not spoken to him since.
“I don’t have to come in,” he undid his seat belt and stretched. “I will stay here and wait. Then I can stay with you at the house. Or you can come to Coventry with me.” He thought of adding that he had nothing else to do. But it wasn’t true, the grammar school head teacher job, Sammy begged him to apply for was waiting. The deadline looming precariously. Nine in the morning, letters in bold, at the bottom of the email read.
“I’m fine to stay by myself,” she mumbled.
“I’m sorry about what happened. I still can’t believe it happened.” His hands went to his head. She did not look at him and he wasn’t sure if she would ever be fine with him again. “It meant nothing.”
“I was so down, babe. I thought I had lost everything. You know what my job was to me. But I’m not trying to excuse what I did, I messed up. I just need you to know nothing was going on with Sammy. It was a one-off.”
“So, why is she ringing you then?” She put her hand up and spoke quickly to prevent him from interrupting her. “You don’t do one-night stands. I know you. So, please don’t tell me you feel nothing for her. There has to be something deep down.”
“There is nothing.”
“I don’t have time for this anyway.” She dropped her phone in the car’s glove compartment, slammed its door shut and undid her seat belt. “I’m going to go in and see my cousin. Then I have to find a way to ask Jackie for a DNA test.”
She did not sound like she did during her rambling moments. Yet, he believed, her uncle turning up had affected her more than he thought.
“What are you talking about Kenny?”
“Uncle Kola suggested my dad fathered Jackie,” she laughed a bitter kind of laughter. It didn’t rise from the belly. More like forced sounds that came from the throat. “There is more, Uncle Kola made it sound like there was something going on between him and my mum too.”
“Don’t you dare let this man do this to you. Can’t you tell he is trying to get under your skin?” He reached for her but she moved closer to the door. “He is not happy that you are fine. That’s all there is to it.”
“What is fine about my life?” She shook her head and laughed again. “What is fine about a woman that can’t let her gorgeous man touch her?”
He heard her say something about damaged goods as she alighted the car. He wanted to go after her, to hold her and tell her nothing was wrong with her but his phone was ringing again.
It rang off. Then a swoosh sound announced the delivery of Sammy’s preferred mode of communication, carefully typed words.
Sorry for stalking you, giddy bear. I just wanted to apologise for how I reacted. Please don’t forget to apply for that job we talked about. If you need someone to drive you on the day of the interview, I’m all yours. Hope Kenny forgives you. I’m here for you if you wanna talk xxx
He was not surprised to see Kenny come back to the car, worse than she left it. Appearing like someone with many reasons to cry.
“You can go. I’m staying with my cousin,” she announced. “I’m not leaving her alone with a man that’s trying to poison her.”
He had not really cared about John since they met. Disliking him fiercely since his spiteful comment when he went to pick up his mother from the church. But as uncaring as he believed the young pastor to be, John loved his wife. Holding the car door open for her in church, watching her if she wasn’t beside him.
“Poison? What poison?”
“I think that’s why Lola collapsed. I told her she needs to go to the hospital…”
“Start from the beginning.” He tried to grab one of her hands. They were trembling.
“My aunt and uncle were in the kitchen. Whilst John was talking to them, I went up to see Lola. You know why?”
He nodded. She had been worried on the way down. Worried that John would not leave Lola and her on their own.
“I knew she would open up to me.”
“Of course she did. She told me they had a slight row because of what he said. She said she told him she was going home to my uncle’s. Then he made her a cup of tea and she started to feel faint. She said it happened so quickly.” She waved one of her hands and pointed at the house as if she could see John from the car. “See, I was right. That man is evil.”
“Did she actually tell you he has been mistreating her? Did she?”
Her high-pitched voice broke. Dropping to a quieter one as she tried to speak quickly. “Not really. But I can tell.”
“You can tell what?”
“That she wanted to tell me more. That she is frightened. I can even bet deep down she knows he put something in her drink to make her sleepy or something. So that she wouldn’t be able to go.”
“And why would he do that, Kehinde? Why would he drug his pregnant wife? Why?”
“Maybe he didn’t mean to hurt her. He wanted to stop her from going and he drugged her so she would sleep for ages. It’s all cleverly planned by him, can’t you see. That’s why he came to the house. So that no one will suspect him.”
“To what end? Can you hear yourself?”
He stopped when he realised he had shouted his questions. She was staring at him and when she said sorry, her voice was barely audible.
“This is the last thing you need. I finally feel like I’m free from Uncle Kola and I’m obsessing about my cousin or the fact that Jackie might be my sister.”
“And everything else,” he took her hand in his and stroked it. “We can keep an eye on Lola. You know if she is not ready to leave him, painting him as a bad man will only cause trouble between you and her. John will not take it lying down. And the whole Jackie issue should be left alone. She has a father. She has Lola, their brothers and your aunty. Leave things as they are.”
“You are right.”
Her eyes were sparkling. In the manner they did whenever she wanted to kiss him. She seemed content despite everything.
“I’m always right. Like when I first saw you and I knew we were gonna get together.”
“Yes, when you thought I was normal. I bet now you are thinking, I can’t believe I found this crazy girl in church.”
He narrowed his eyes at her. “Crazy girl with a raving family.”
“You still put a ring on my finger.”
“You mean the ring you threw in the middle of the road?”
“Don’t worry,” she placed a hand on his leg. The one nearest to her. “You will find it when you look properly in the morning.”
“Find what? You will get on all fours and find it yourself. Why else do you think I want to take you to Coventry.” He kept going because she giggled and he had missed seeing her this happy. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t joking when he said he wanted to take her to Coventry. “I don’t care if your knees start hurting. All I care about is my money. So, you are coming to Coventry with me.”
She was giggling, eyes twinkling and stroking his leg. Nothing like the girl she sometimes became. The one spun around in the midst of her family’s chaos. And even though the moment was brief and she looked anxiously at Lola and John’s house when he suggested taking her home, he knew they would be fine.