Obinna was sat on the armchair when she came back in. There were snacks on the table – a bowl of popcorn, chocolate biscuits and two doughnuts. A bottle of Fanta on her favourite puff. One empty glass cup sat on the stool beside him. Next to it, a cup of pineapple juice for him.
“I thought you were gonna go to the shops?” Isio did not hide her disappointment. It came out, attached to her words as they left her mouth. “This friendship thing isn’t gonna work if you don’t do your bit.” She picked up the remote control from the table and pointed it at the DVD player to eject the film he had slotted in. A thriller. One of those with Bruce Willis and guns. The kind of film he liked. The kind she avoided watching.
Although she watched a few with him at the beginning of their relationship. Smiled like a school girl. Listened happily to his commentaries on the films. Today wasn’t going to be one of those days. She buttoned her nightie. She had left the lone button undone after her shower.
She was not sure why.
Bolaji’s job? Her sister’s call?
Her sister and Obinna did not stop talking. Even when Isio ordered her sister to stop taking his calls. But it had surprised her to hear Obinna helped her sister’s fiancé get a senior executive job in a large firm.
“Bola is so happy,” her sister had prattled on. “He said you don’t have a choice. You must marry Obinna. Or else, he will never speak to you again.” And when she tried to interrupt her, Elohor would not let her. “Don’t argue with us, woman. Do you know how bad things are in Nigeria? Or have you forgotten how long I have been looking for a job for? Abi, you want hunger to finish us because you are forming Miss independent?”
“I will go and buy what you want,” Obinna said. He did not look at her or stop tapping swiftly on his phone. “Let me just finish with this work business.”
“Work?” She took out the DVD, put it back in its pack and threw it on the floor beside the cabinet.
“Yes, sweetie. I have to deal with this.”
“Why don’t you go home? You are clearly busy.”
“I want to spend time with you.”
“I will be in my room watching something interesting if you need me.” She waited for him to respond. When he didn’t, she picked up the bowl of popcorn and took it to her room. Slamming the door did not trigger a response either.
She felt like taking the bowl back and emptying the content on his head. Why did she shower and spray on her Ralph Lauren Romance when she could have opted for an early night?
She was considering telling him to leave when she heard him shouting at someone on the phone.
Isio went to the door when she heard him calling the person on the phone a scheming liar. And because it worried her that it was Chib on the phone, she opened the door and walked towards him slowly.
She linked and unlinked her fingers. Obinna, who ended the call, when he saw her, stared at her with probing eyes.
“I heard you on the phone.”
“Yes. We should probably talk about it.”
She wondered if she had misheard him. But because he patted the puff in front of him and asked her to come to him, she went over. Trudged over like a woman about to give birth.
He was kneading the sides of his head when she positioned herself down slowly in front of him.
“Jay, I know you are angry.”
“Angry, no. Disappointed, yes.”
“You should try to calm down. People do stupid things all the time.”
He stopped rubbing his head and glared at her.
“You are not perfect. You don’t expect others to be.” This statement did not slither out easily. Everything about him was the way it had always been. Perfect. Intoxicating. Despite his sullen mood at times and what happened last year.
“I don’t know what you overheard,” he searched her like someone that could get answers by merely gazing at their subject. “That idiot has put me in big trouble. I have paid back money that I did not take in the first place.”
“Chib took your money?”
“Idriss, not my brother. Why would my brother take money from Aspire?” He seemed to realise his tone wasn’t helpful, he put one of his hands on top of hers on her thighs and started to explain. Drawing breath slowly. “Idriss took some money out of Aspire Development three years ago. I was company director then but I was actually in Nigeria at the time. When I came back, I realised he had taken our investors’ money. Borrowed it like he said. I also realised he took the money out in my name, forged my signature and everything.”
“Yes. Luckily, no one suspected anything, so I thought he could transfer the money back quietly. He said he needed more time. I wasn’t bothered about it until last December when this government body got in touch with me to say they are investigating me for embezzlement.”
“Who told them?” She pulled her hands out from underneath his because she suddenly felt the need to wrap them round herself.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I put the money in using untraceable roots because Anu assured me the case would go away without proof.”
“I didn’t think she was like that.” She had imagined Anu standing up to her husband. Kanyin described her as fiercely stubborn one evening. And every time Obinna talked about her, praise followed lavishly.
“Well, the woman is something else. I love her to bits. But when it comes to that Idriss, it’s like her brain ceases to function. She would forgive him anything.”
“Tell the people investigating you the truth. You didn’t take that money. It’s not fair you have to shell out and pay it back.”
“It’s only half a million.”
“Pounds?” She shrieked.
“Calm down, it’s only money. I don’t care about the money.” He reached for her hands and squeezed them. “I can’t tell them it’s that stupid clown. I lost my brother and he is the only connection I have to my bro. So, I’m keeping quiet. Hopefully, these people will go away.”
“What if they don’t? What if they arrest you?”
“It won’t come to that. I’m safe, sweetie.”
“You don’t know that. Things can get ugly. They take fraud seriously here.” She wanted to tell him off for retaining his confident look and for his composed manner whilst dealing with her questions. Beneath his poised exterior though, were signs she recognised. The firmness of his hands around hers. Gazing at her as if he couldn’t let go. “Let me give you back the money for the calendar. You can put it back into the company account.”
“No. I can’t do that. You were paid for services.”
“Which I didn’t render…”
“Talk to Austin, then. We are looking for someone to come and train our staff in first aid and stuff like that. Shey, you can help? We will pay for your stay in a hotel in Ribble and Manchester when you travel down there. I will be around. We can spend time together.”
“I’m not sure I can deliver trainings, Jay. I’m not that experienced…”
“You are,” he interrupted her again. “You can do it. You are a brilliant nurse and some of those guys don’t even know if people have two or four lungs.”
She smiled and thanked him, even if she knew why he wanted her working for Aspire.
They decided to watch a film. The A-Team, his choice.
She struggled to follow the storyline and ate only one piece of the pizza he ordered. The chicken wings and spicy pasta she took in the kitchen for Biba as Obinna was not very hungry either.
“Are you still worrying?” He asked behind her.
She did not take her eyes off what she was doing. Even though she wanted to stare at him and ask her questions. If he did not tell her about his financial difficulties because he thought she would leave him.
“I thought we are now telling each other everything? Or I imagined that one.”
“So, why didn’t you tell me then?” She flung the torn wrapping, she had taken off the pasta bowl in the bin. “About the money business.”
“It’s no big deal. I have lost money before.”
“You thought I was not gonna stand by you, didn’t you? You thought I was gonna leave you because of money.”
“No,” he thundered. “I didn’t think that. Not for one second.” He rushed over to her and pulled her forcibly to him. “I will always regret what I said to you.”
“I get it, you are sorry.”
“Yes, because that thought never crossed my mind. I didn’t tell you because of my own insecurities and I know it was wrong of me to propose to you without telling you what I was battling with.” He stroked her head. His fingers lingering around her chin. “I hate messing up. I hate feeling like a failure or admitting I failed.”
“You are a successful man.”
“Thanks, you know how to flatter me,” he kissed her forehead and drew her even closer. Leaning his head against hers. The hands around her clutched her tighter. His face was bright as they ended the hug. “I should probably go before I do something that will earn me a slap.”
“You should,” Isio said. She led the way when he continued standing on his spot, staring at her face. Concentrating too much around her lips. “Come, James. You need to go.”
“Hope you know I won’t be able to drive?”
“You will cope.”
Isio was happy to see Kanyin and Austin walking towards their door with bags of shopping. It meant that they did not have to endure the awkwardness of choosing between kissing on the cheek or hugging again.
“Boss,” Austin greeted Obinna. “If only you bring this big smile to work.”
“Why is your wife carrying three bags and you dey hold one like say you never chop this evening?” He teased him back.
“He is carrying the bag with my juices and washing powder. The bag is heavier than these ones.” Kanyin defended her husband after greeting them. “The man knows he doesn’t have a choice.”
Whilst the men teased each other a bit more and took the bags inside the flat, Isio asked her friend how she was.
“I’m fine. Not as fine as you, sha. Or your Jay. He is smiling like someone who knows he is getting it soon.”
“Please, calm yourself.”
“You think we didn’t hear you two arrive ages ago. FYI, Austin thinks you will surrender to him by next week.”
“We are just friends.”
“Keep deceiving yourself. You two will kuku wake up in bed together and then realise like my hubs says, two people in love can’t be friends.”
The next few days did not bring her closer to him. He had arrived home after their evening together to find Anu and her children waiting for him.
“That fool has been texting her PA,” he ranted on the phone. “And he is telling her nothing happened. That he was only chatting to the girl because he got fed up of sharing Anu.”
“What? What is wrong with that man? Is he saying she is having an affair?” That was all she could ask because he had to answer his other phone.
The days that followed saw her doing early shifts at the hospital and preparing for her interview. Yesterday, she went to see her mother, an uncomfortable evening, that made her yearn for him. Her mother seemed more like a stranger to her. She filled each pause with words. Talked about Isio’s half-sisters with a passion she tried to hide.
When Isio arrived home after her interview, she walked past Kanyin’s apartment without stopping even though she heard Biba’s laughter as she walked past to their door.
She showered and crawled into bed without moisturising. Obinna’s voice at the door forced her out of bed. Wrapping a towel round herself, she went to the door to let him in.
“You didn’t get the job? Sorry sweetie.”
He lowered his neck to kiss her, but she moved out of the way.
“I’m tired, Jay. Can we see tomorrow or something?”
“I can’t leave you like this.”
He followed her into the bedroom, took off his suit jacket and hung it in her wardrobe whilst she climbed back in bed.
“Thanks,” she said when he picked up her ironed uniforms from the side and hung them in the wardrobe. “I don’t even wanna wear them anymore after today’s awful interview.”
“Let me help you feel better,” he rolled up his sleeves and grinned as he approached her. “Shall I make you something to eat?”
“Can you come join me? I need you next to me.” The request had tumbled out before she could stop herself and because he did what she wanted, she did not feel the shyness that sometimes followed demanding for attention like this.
“Sorry I haven’t been there for you much this week.”
“You have been busy with Anu. I understand. When is she going back home to her house or is she staying with you to stop Idriss from harassing her?”
“Something like that. Also, she wants to see her lawyers whilst she is here in London. Then I will drive her home. Hopefully, I can talk to Idriss soon. He needs to back off before Kanyin and the rest of the kids know something is up.”
“Let me guess, Anu doesn’t want anyone to know.” She could hear the lack of empathy in her voice. The hesitation in his tone as she kissed his chin. She felt sorry for Anu. Yet sharing him with Kelly and now Anu had started to take its toll.
Obinna took over from her. He led with his mouth and hands. Positioned her flat on the bed so he could kiss her properly.
He moaned her name when she started to touch him. Still, he did not move his hands downwards when her towel came off. He ended their second kiss and buried his face in the middle of her pillow.
“Don’t worry if you don’t have protection. I will get the morning after pill tomorrow.”
“It’s not a good idea.” He raised his head and covered her partially with the towel. “You are not yourself at the moment. I can’t take advantage of you. You should use this disappointment you are feeling to apply for other jobs.”
“I’m fine,” she lied. “Take advantage of me.”
“Let’s wait until we have decided we want to be together.”
“Let’s not. Are you deaf? We have broken up.” Her explosion surprised her also. She did not apologise. He stared at her for a while. Then he went for his jacket.
The slight kreen sound of her door announced his departure. She typed a short message to him after a while. A short apology. And because she did not want to ring him like she would have done in the past, she got dressed and went across to Kanyin’s.
Her friends were in the kitchen. Biba wore a summer dress that showed off her swell. Kanyin, who was getting drinks out of the fridge, smiled when she saw her.
“The quiet one appears. What happened?”
“Bibs said you didn’t get the job.”
“Don’t talk about that either. I have just tried to hump Obinna. The guy practically fled.”
Austin, Ekong and a tall man, she had not seen before, came out of one of the rooms whilst her friends laughed. The tall man looked as amused as them.
“Sorry, I brought this guys home to help me paint the spare room.” Austin grinned. “We did not hear anything about any humping o.”
“Leave the girl alone.” Tall man said. He approached her and stretched his right hand out. “My name is Lucky. I’m Ekong’s brother.”
She took the hand. “I’m Issy.”
“Beautiful name for a beautiful girl.”
“Doc, leave am.” Austin said. “Your brother needs his job. Issy is with your brother’s boss.”
Isio smiled when she saw Lucky staring at her. She had gone into the kitchen to help Kanyin and Biba had left for the toilet. The men were now in the living area chatting.
“Stop staring at him,” Kanyin wagged a finger at her. “The baby will be disappointed. Aunt Issy is supposed to be the good one.”
“I will start to be good again when Biba gives birth.”
“Who is talking about Biba’s baby?” She rubbed her stomach and winked at her. “Yes, hubs finally put one in. I’m going to be a mum, babe.”
Isio rushed over and hugged her friend. She did not know what to say when Kanyin apologised that it would be another reminder of the baby she lost. So, she told her how she felt. “I’m so happy for you. You deserve this.”