Toni had become aware of the oldness of her home on the day she and Andre found the perfect house. An estate agent had called Andre the evening before while both of them sat on the floor in his office, trying to figure out what to do with a problematic client whose company was throwing in a good sum into Covet.
“Oga Andre, you go like this house. Na wetin madam say she want. Her complete specification.”
“Which time you wan come my office tomorrow?”
“Anytime, bros. Anytime.”
Toni was always fascinated by the fact that Andre spoke Pidgin English better than she did. One couldn’t pick out his French inflection whenever he went all Nigerian. It often left Toni amazed at how much he could be anything he desired, just to get what he wanted.
“I hope the house no too cost sha?” Andre asked the agent.
“The area nko?”
“Close to una office.”
Andre stretched on his back to rest his head on Toni’s thighs as he brought the call to an end.
“Greet madam for me.”
The ‘madam’ title left a weird feeling in Toni. Her singularity had been zapped out of her in a flash. Everyone these days referred to her as Andre’s possession. It put her in a state of pride on one end, and nakedness on the other. She felt exposed. And the fact that things were going at a speedy rate didn’t help either. Now, this was no fault of Andre’s. She had gotten them there all by herself, having finally fallen into the person that brought her completeness into loving a man. She surprised herself with how much she gave back. The house had been her idea. Her rent was almost due, as was Andre’s. She posited that it was best if they got a bigger house for themselves and the kids. Andre went along with the plan and contacted his real estate agent. The agent’s call the evening before left Toni anticipating. The following morning, they were both standing in what she was certain was their new home. After a short tour around the six-bedroom space that came with a large compound, a swimming pool and a ‘his and hers’ boudoir separated by a wall, Toni looked into Andre’s eyes and flashed a charming smile in anticipation of his approval.
“But it’s expensive,” he complained. It turned out that the agent had lied about the price of the place.
“It’s just the first year. Next year we’ll pay way less.”
The agent, standing in a corner, nodded.
“You want it?” Andre asked.
“There are still other houses to look at. I’m not in a hurry.”
“But I want this one.”
“It’s too big.”
“The kids would love it. Ruby gets her own room. The boys share one. We have our space and a little extra for guests.”
“You really want this?”
“Yes. Stop asking.”
Toni widened her smile but contained her excitement. On her bed that night, she began to think about how things were falling apart in her present home. The lower part of the walls was peeling off; there were leaking faucets, creaking doors, dying flowers in the verandah, and the bedroom she shared with Leticia had suddenly become too small for them. The house seemed to be telling her that she had outstayed her welcome. When she shut her eyes and her mind ruminated over the events of the day, she stumbled into one thought, and then to the next, and to another, until she came into worrying about what had gone wrong with her period. It was delayed by eleven days. She was not the type to be late. Her cycle was always on time. But whenever it chose to be late, it always tried to make a statement. Hence, Toni didn’t bother about the fact that she could be pregnant.
The following day was spent in a sea of office work. On her way home, she received a call from Leticia, asking her to purchase a home pregnancy test.
Toni stood before the shelf in a popular upscale pharmacy which was a short distance from their house. There were various home pregnancy tests to choose from. It was while trying to pick the one Leticia asked for that she mused on the possibility of being pregnant herself.
“Naa,” she said almost out loud, drawing the attention of a man standing a couple of feet away from her. She smiled to herself, tossed two pregnancy test kits into her shopping basket and walked to the aisle where sanitary towels and tampons were displayed. At home, she delivered Leticia’s test kit and kept the other in her handbag.
When morning came, she was burning with a sudden desire to try out the test, thus she picked the kit and went to the bathroom for her first pee of the day. Following the instructions she found on the pack, she ran a quick test. Two minutes later, she was staring at a blue line that clearly indicated that she was pregnant.
Toni laughed in disbelief and ran a second test. She was presented with the same result. Sitting on the toilet seat, she held the test stick for a while, wishing the blue line away. But it remained there stubbornly until she began to panic.
“Fuck,” she finally muttered. She got off the toilet seat, confused, refusing to accept the test results. She thumbed on the flusher just as Leticia entered the bathroom. At the sight of her, Toni hid the home pregnancy test.
“Hey,” she said, aiming for the washbasin. Leticia walked past her to the bathtub, plugged the drain and turned on the tap. Toni hid the test stick in the drug cabinet above the washbasin and glanced at Leticia. She found a red stain on her pajama pants. Toni’s mood dropped. She watched Leticia sit on the floor and pull her knees up.
Leticia looked at her. Toni saw tears filling her eyes.
“You think maybe God is punishing me?”
“Punishing you?” Toni repeated. “Why?”
“All the married men I slept with. I’m sure somebody’s wife cursed me.”
“Please, don’t think like that.”
“Then why can’t I get pregnant? What’s wrong with me?”
“Nothing.” Toni walked to her and sat on the toilet bowl. “You’ll get pregnant. Stop stressing.”
“Maybe I’ve aborted all the babies I’m supposed to have. God is punishing me.”
“I don’t know much about God, but the little you keep drumming in my ears says that God is merciful and he’s kind and he’s a father. If we’re to go by that, I don’t think he’s punishing you for what you did in the past.”
Toni’s words didn’t help. They seemed to have done more harm than good. Leticia made a hollow with her arms over her knees and buried her face in a sob. Toni sat beside her.
“Leticia,” she called gently, hand stroking her back. “It’s going to be fine, sweetheart. By this time next year, you’ll be holding your baby in your arms and I’ll be telling you ‘I told you so’. Oya say amen.”
“So stop crying. Just sit in the tub and take the day off work. Okay?”
“You want me to call Dapo over?”
“He’s busy. Just leave him. I don’t want to depress him with sad news this morning.”
“Okay, darling. You want me to stay at home with you? I can handle the office from here today.”
“No, I’m fine. I just need painkillers and a depressing movie.”
“Aiit.” Toni rose up. “Let me iron what I’ll wear and come and shower.”
She began towards the door but Leticia’s next words stopped her.
“This life is not fair. When I didn’t want the babies they came. Now that I need them, they’re not here. It’s ironic to think that some chick out there who doesn’t need a baby is probably just finding out that she’s pregnant.”
Toni felt a sting of guilt. Unable to respond, she hurried out of the bathroom. A while later, after dressing for work and dropping the kids off at school, Toni sat in her car and allowed back in the reality of her present condition.
She was apprehensive, confused, and elated all together. But basically, she sympathized with Leticia. How was she going to break the news to her? How would Leticia take it?
Toni heard her phone buzz. She picked it from her handbag. Pascal was on the line. He was calling to inform her of a scheduled meeting with Rita Harrison.
“Call and cancel,” Toni instructed. Lately, the woman had been a bother. She was requesting Toni’s services, even though Toni had made clear that she had her hands full and couldn’t take on another client. She knew Rita was only trying to make life difficult for her. Imade was still on his mission to divorce her. Toni surmised Rita was angry with her for not convincing him to quit on his plans. She sensed danger ahead and was doing her best not to run into it.
“This is the second time you’ll be canceling, Toni,” Pascal reminded her.
“I know. Just do as I ask.”
“I’ll see you in a bit.”
Toni grunted as thoughts of the workload waiting for her filled her head. And then she remembered the pregnancy. Andre would be delighted. To tell him now or not?
She wasn’t sure. She gave her car life and set it rolling down the street.
Christie took her eyes off her laptop and fixed them on the door with a frown, wondering who dared to barge into her office. She had ordered her assistant not to let anyone in. She needed an hour or two of silence.
Walking in like he was a crowd, Cyrus Junior had his phone stuck to his ear in a loud phone call while trying to ensure that the bouquet of flowers and plastic bags he was holding with the other hand did not fall to the floor. Christie drew away from her creative silence. She let down the lid of her laptop as he approached her desk.
“Let me call you back,” he said into the phone just before he lowered the flowers down on Christie’s desk.
“Hi CJ.” She pushed her chair backwards. “What surprise have you got for me today?”
Cyrus Junior took out a single rose, rested his bum on her desk and handed it to her. Despite feeling some annoyance over being taken away from her solitude, she smiled and accepted the rose. But a different type of feeling came on her as she inhaled the scent of the flower.
“To the only chick in my life.”
“Cyrus?” Christie found herself blushing.
“I brought salad for lunch. I know you’re on a diet. So what’s happening?” He hopped off the desk, wiping sweat from his forehead. “You guys really need to fix the elevator, mom. I can’t be climbing all those stairs.”
Christie stood up. She walked to the door and opened it. Her assistant came to her at the nod of her head. She handed the flowers to her with instructions on what to do with them. She returned to the office to find Cyrus Junior gazing curiously at a new painting on the wall. It was the only gift from Raji she kept, given to her the year before on her birthday. It was supposed to be impersonal, nothing amorous or with meaning, but it was one of those artistic pieces that left its beholders seeing different things. For Christie, she saw was a mix of colors Raji had thoughtfully picked to calm her, being that he was the only person next to Folarin that understood her moods and what worked for her. It was also inspiring for her creativity. But Toni had walked into her office on the day it was hung, took one look at it and said, “Why are two people fucking in that painting?”
Christie’s eyes had popped out before she sent them into a staring exercise. Try as hard as she did, she didn’t see what Toni saw. Toni took the pains to outline the headless bodies of a man and a woman standing, with the man’s hand over the woman’s chest. Christie saw it but lost it in the synthesis of colors. She never asked Raji about it. Folarin was aware of the painting, having given her permission to use it in her working space. If he saw something other than colors, he didn’t say.
“Do you know that there’s a guy and a chick in this painting, mom?” Cyrus Junior was saying now.
To avoid him taking the time to explain, Christie agreed with him.
He looked at her with a smile. “You’re so beautiful.”
She tried not to blush this time. The feeling that passed through her earlier returned. It was one of concern. Cyrus Junior was going through a major heartbreak, having lost his baby and his relationship with Lily. The girl had callously dumped him the moment she left the hospital. Christie had watched him mourn outwardly for just a day and from then on, he acted like nothing had happened, suddenly projecting his emotions on her. He pursued her with expressions of affection and little thoughtful gifts. She was indulgent at first, understanding that he needed to let himself feel something else. But with time, she came to discover that she was his escape from pain, and it wasn’t necessarily a good thing. In fact, it troubled her. She didn’t want him ending up with the notion that she was the only female he could trust and rely on. Her dream was to see him in a happier and better relationship in the future. It was unhealthy to be fixated on her.
“Yeah?” His eyes were back on the painting.
“How is Lily these days?”
He looked at her again. “She’s good.”
He refocused on the painting.
“I don’t want to ask you how you’re doing because you’ll lie to me and tell me you’re fine. But you’re not fine.”
Christie exhaled. This had been his way since his breakup with Lily. He would talk to no one about it. Today, Christie was determined to break into his pain.
She strolled back to her desk. “Your dad gave me my first real heartbreak.”
Christie rested her bum lightly on the desk.
“It felt like death. When I left the house, I didn’t just leave to let him have his space. It was too painful to be in the same place with him and not do the things we used to do. It was agonizing to be ignored by him, to know that he could live well without me. So I ran away. I had to escape because I couldn’t take it. Shattered was too small a word to describe what I felt. I threw myself into work and into Tamilore and church activities, just to survive. I was dying slowly. And then he came and buried me by telling me there was some other woman… It was the worst thing. At that point, I had nowhere to run to, so I confronted reality, accepted it and learned to face your father again. It was then I found healing.”
“Cyrus, I know you are dying inside.”
“Mom, I am not.”
“Then why don’t you look into my face and tell me that?”
He turned. “I am not, and if you think you’re going to give me some pep talk to help me get over shit, forget it. There’s no use. Lily’s a hoe. She cheated. She has a boyfriend,” Cyrus revealed. “Some other dude was laying pipe on her and I didn’t know. He’s probably the one that got her pregnant.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, CJ.”
“Her parents were not the reason why she killed the baby. She did it for him. He didn’t want it.”
“How did you find out?”
“She called me on Christmas day after I sent her a screenshot of chats she had with the guy that my friend got from the guy’s cousin. She confessed everything.”
“Sorry? Mom, I’m stupid. I’m totally sped. Lily fucked me over and yet when I was talking to her that day, I kept begging her to come back. Like who is that dumb?”
“You’re not dumb.”
“Let’s just not talk about her abeg. I’m so over her.”
Christie was happy he had opened up, but sad to learn that Lily was not the person she thought she was. Christie wasn’t going to push the boy into saying more. She took her seat and picked her lunch, noting Cyrus Junior bought something for himself as well.
“Come and eat.”
He returned to the desk. When he leaned on it, he asked, “When you cheated on dad, what was your reason? Why?”
Christie took a break from her pack of salad. Her story with Raji was not a book she wanted to open ever again. Being around him and having no ill-feelings towards him was difficult enough. She didn’t want to go back to memories that made her cringe.
“I…cheated because I could.”
“That’s not an answer, mom.”
For the first time, Christie wasn’t bursting with pride over Cyrus Junior’s audacity to speak to his parents boldly.
“The truth is when someone cheats, they always want to give some excuse, blame it on their partner… It wasn’t that for me. Yes, I wished your father wasn’t what he was at that time. Yes, Raji had suddenly become attractive. Yes, I was going through a phase in my life, looking for excitement and adventure. But none of those were good enough reasons. I didn’t know that then, but when I was caught, I had to face the truth.”
“And what’s the truth?”
“Lust. I lusted after what wasn’t mine, not caring how it’ll affect others. I relied on never being caught, so it was a case of I won’t be hurting anyone who didn’t know what I was up to. I was carried away by my own selfishness.”
“Lily said it was my fault she cheated. I was always busy in school, hanging out with the guys or watching football… Mom, I was there for her. I spent on her. What the fuck did she want? To stay in the hostel with her or hang with her and her girls?”
Christie, having opened the door to his emotions, relaxed and began her lunch.
“The guy she’s talking about, he’s in three hundred level o. He doesn’t have her time. He’s popular, contesting for director of something.”
“It’s not about either of you guys, CJ. It’s about her. You should not compare yourself to anyone.”
“I’m trying to get why she had to do it. She could have just told me she wasn’t feeling us again and walked away. I wasn’t going to force her to stay.”
“But you spent on her, didn’t you?”
“I’m so over falling for a girl. I’m done. They can all go and fuck themselves.”
“Don’t talk like that.”
“Seriously, I’m done. They’re the same ones that will come online and start tweeting that men are scum.”
Christie noticed that his eyes had gone red and the veins on his neck were pronounced. “Calm down, CJ. You’re going to be fine. Just stop using me to hide from your pain.”
“You’re the only female I can trust.”
“Didn’t I fail you in the past? I was hardly there when you needed me.”
“But you always showed up and you always left me in the hands of people that took care of me. You were there, mom.”
Christie felt a lump in her throat that wasn’t salad. She swallowed but it remained. It brought burning tears to her eyes.
“CJ…” She put the lid over her salad. “I… I’m sorry for the times I abandoned you, for when I took one look at you after you were born and all I saw was your father, for the times I pushed you away for no fault of yours, for finding it hard to bridge the gap between us, and for waiting this long to say this. You deserved better than I gave you, Cyrus Junior. And you’re a bigger person for refusing to let me stay away from you, for breaking the walls I put up against you. I’m so sorry for all I did.”
“Awww. Can I hug you?”
Christie laughed. He normally didn’t need to ask to do so. He was bursting with hugs these days.
When he went to her chair to express his emotions, she tried to control hers. But it was hard. The moment he put his arms around her and rested his chin on her head, Christie felt the tears again. This time, they forced their way down. She clung to his arm that was gently put around her.
“I love you,” she whispered.
“Me too, because you’re the best mother in the world, Christina Adediran.”
She laughed. The boy had some guts calling her by her first name. But he was Cyrus Junior, a product of three men whose lives had affected hers. As much as she hated to admit it, he had some parts of Solomon in him. And then, Cyrus and Folarin. Both were as expressive as Solomon had been. It wasn’t surprising to see the boy love her the way he did.
There was a gentle knock on Christie’s door. She tapped Cyrus Junior’s arm away as her assistant thrust her head in.
“Mr. Kouassi is here.”
“Give me a minute and then let him in.”
Christie wiped her tears and attempted to make her desk clean.
“You want me to go?” her son asked. She didn’t want him, but she looked at him apologetically.
“It’s cool. See you later.”
She nodded. “That thing you were saying about being done with girls… I hope that’s a joke?”
He gave a snort, walking to the door. “I was just kidding. Girls are everywhere.” He spread his arms out as he walked in a backwards motion. “They won’t just leave me. So many to pick from.”
She showed relief. It only occurred to her after he left and Andre walked into her office that Cyrus Junior was making allusions to now being a player. Christie found a new thing to worry about.
It was strange to Lade that she found herself doubled over, retching into her toilet bowl while the woman who was carrying her child was crouched beside her in concern. It was she who was un-pregnant that bore the pains of the first trimester whereas the pregnant one was doing just fine.
“I need to go and see the doctor abeg,” Lade lifted her head, rubbing wet eyes brought on by excessive gagging.
“I’m not stopping you o, but trust me he’ll tell you that you’re suffering from sympathetic pregnancy. Just relax. You’ll be fine.”
The surrogate mother was fast turning into Lade’s closest friend. They spent the bulk of their time together. She followed Lade out whenever the latter wasn’t busy. She was a beautiful, intelligent mother of one who had lost her husband just a day after Lade lost her own baby. Their individual losses had been an initial bonding ground for them. The relationship budded from then into something deep and meaningful, something Lade had been warned to avoid by the surrogacy agency. They assured her that it was going to become difficult for the surrogate mother to cut off ties after her work was done. But Lade had been stubborn, refusing the option to have the lady live on her own.
“I want to watch my baby grow,” she had told Tayo in defense. “To experience everything again.”
It was now ironic that she was literally living through the pregnancy with a nasty spell of morning sickness that enjoyed lasting through the entire day.
“I’ll just go and let him prescribe something to stop the symptoms.” Lade dragged herself up, flushing the toilet.”
“You want me to come with you?” the lady asked.
“No, don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”
The lady gave Lade some privacy as she endured a cold shower. When she brushed her teeth, her gums bled. She smiled as she watched the mix of blood and paste circle down the drain. She felt lucky to have a taste of motherhood once more. Her anticipation for the baby was one she couldn’t contain. Tayo was less excited, but she didn’t mind. She knew he was occupied with work and some other woman. She wasn’t concerned with his love life. She hadn’t physically been with a man since she left him. She occasionally made out with him, but that was all they did. Lade had her own future love life to look forward to; but right now, all she wanted was to hold a baby in her arms once more.
She came out to the living room, dressed for her hospital visit. Her car was in good condition and parked outside, but like many Lagosians, she hated to drive. She had called for an Uber earlier, and was now heading out of the house.
Tayo was on the phone with her, teasing her over her sympathetic pregnancy. He wanted to know if it was okay to drop by after work to check on her.
“I’ll be alright,” she said. “Go and meet your girlfriend.”
“What girlfriend, please?”
She laughed as she approached the cab waiting outside her gate.
“The one that keeps giving you bite marks on your neck and ear.”
“Didn’t I tell you that it’s village witches?”
“I swear. I sleep and wake up and the marks are there.”
“You can lie!”
She entered an impressive red Toyota Camry and took up space in the backseat. The driver waited patiently for her to conclude her call with Tayo before he spoke to her.
“Hi,” she responded to his greeting, hoping he didn’t recognize her without her sunshades. Her last big movie released five months ago in which she played a supporting role, was making waves. She was still engaged in active promotion for the movie and this left her in the news now and then. She was the sort of celebrity to keep her business off social media, but Toni had made it hard for her to go unnoticed. Her contract with Guru & Monet was renewed and she now appeared on billboards and social media. However, Omolade was not moved by the stardom. She kept herself grounded and stayed away from the limelight as much as she could.
“Can I start your journey?” the Uber driver asked.
“Sure,” she replied, putting on her sunshades. She didn’t want to take chances.
“Any type of music you would like to listen to?”
“Nope. Just play anything.”
The car slowly began to move. Lade took out her phone to engage in some chat with a friend. Just as she started, she heard the opening notes of Sauti Sol’s Isabella. Lade smiled. She hadn’t heard the song since she tried to kill herself. She hadn’t even listened to Sauti Sol since then. The song brought good and bad memories. Manny was in jail, to be released sometime soon. Sule, her silent but well-informed cabbie, was now out of the shores of Nigeria. She missed them both, weirdly. Her loathing for Manny had died after she survived her suicide attempt. She hated to hold grudges.
“So you like Sauti Sol?” she asked the cab driver.
“Sauti what?” he replied.
“The people singing. Sauti Sol.”
“Oh. Those guys that sang with Yemi Alade? The Kenyans?”
“You don’t know them?”
“No. I’m just playing a collection of African music.”
Omolade took a moment to stare at him. He was young. Nothing else about him struck her. She went back to her phone and remained there until the cab stopped outside the hospital. She thanked him for the ride, walking away.
Her appointment didn’t take more than an hour. She was soon done and was on her way out when the Uber driver entered the reception.
“You forgot your power bank,” he said. “It fell on the floor.”
Lade was temporarily distracted by his looks. It wasn’t that he was so fetching that she became unfocussed; it was that she was having a rare moment of being hit by what it was that hit people who claimed to have experienced love (or some form of infatuation) at first sight. Maybe in the initial stage, such left them speechless. For Lade, she couldn’t speak initially. She felt her hand move to accept the power bank and her lips let out a ‘thank you.’ It was only after he had turned away that she came to.
“Take me back home,” she said.
She followed him out to meet a setting sun and a huge electronic billboard which towered over the vicinity. It seemed it had just been recently erected.
The Uber driver stopped and gave her his attention. “Your face is familiar.”
Lade tried to figure his age, but couldn’t. His appearance gave the impression that he was in his late twenties. Something about him reminded her of Dapo. But Dapo was more handsome and had needy, penetrating eyes that friends of hers found attractive. This man before her, he had curious eyes with laughter beneath them, like he was just going to burst into laughter for no reason at any time. But he hadn’t seemed that way earlier. He had been quiet.
“My face is not familiar,” she responded to his claim. “You mistake me for someone else. I get that a lot.”
“No. I’ve seen you somewhere before.”
Lade broke into sudden laughter. It was ironic that the billboard hovering over them was presently displaying pictures of her in a Guru & Monet ad.
“What’s funny?” he asked with a smile.
And just as he turned, the ad disappeared. Lade followed him to the car.
“Back home, you said?”
“Can I begin the journey?”
The car came alive, as did Sauti Sol’s Isabella.
“This song again?” Lade asked.
“I’m sorry. The collection has been playing since. I’ll put something else.”
“Um…actually, let it play. Put it on repeat until we stop.”
He looked at her with a curious smile. “Seriously?”
“Yes.” She smiled back. It was a flirty one. It had been ages since she flirted, since she had been Isabella. “I hope it’s not too much to ask? Like you won’t want to claw your eyes out listening to the song over and over again?”
“If it becomes too much, I’ll just leave the car moving and jump out of it and leave you and the song alone.”
Lade laughed. He laughed too.
“What’s your name?” she dared to ask.
“Cruz. Nice to meet you, Cruz.”
And thus, Cruz led her on a smooth ride to her doorstep.
“I think I’ll now throw away this CD,” he commented. Lade chuckled.
“Thank you, Cruz.”
She alighted from the vehicle and began in. But he stopped her when she opened her gate.
“I remember you now!” He was grinning. “Omolade AKA Isabella James.”
“You caught me.”
“You’re more beautiful in person.”
“So they say.”
“So can I call you?”
“Erm…I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Lade bit down a smile.
“You only live once. I didn’t say that. Sauti Sol did. And me I wanna have some fun.”
She laughed. “Oya add the part where it says you want to spend all your money on me because you can’t take it when you’re dead.”
“Ah. I no sabi the song reach that side o.”
She held her chest in amusement.
“So can I call or you’re too much of a superstar for me to slide into your DM?”
She blushed. “You can call.”
He picked his phone. “Give me a minute to save your number. It’s 08035896247, right?”
The pedestrian gate was opened for her from within. The moment she walked in, her phone rang. She answered the incoming call.
“Hey, Isabella,” Cruz spoke. “Do you wanna come out and dance with me tonight? The stars look beautiful outside. So, so beautiful.”
Lade was blushing again. “I’ll dance with you when you get ingenious with your own lines and not Sauti Sol’s.”
“Okay, ma. Let me park and compose lyrics for you. I’ll call back.”
Lade didn’t take him seriously. Still amused, she made her way into the house.
There was something rewarding about having a big sister. Toni was a special kind of sibling to Dapo. She didn’t bug his life daily, but whenever she bothered to drop into his existence, she did so with a sense of entitlement. Today, she barged into his office almost at the close of day and demanded his audience, not caring to know if he had important things to do. She then proceeded to state her reason for visiting.
“Of course. Why else would you be here? Your baby brother doesn’t even exist to you.”
Dapo had his chair shifted backwards and his feet placed on his desk.
“Your WCW’s period came this morning.” Dapo showed no reaction. “She’s depressed. She believes God is punishing her for her past sins.”
“I’ve told her it’s not true.”
“I need you to step up your game, Dapo. First of all, stop talking about having kids. Babies come when they want to come. You should concentrate on making Tisha happy.”
“I’m doing everything, Toni.”
“Take her on a baecation. You’ve never done that before. During Christmas you sat your asses down here in Lagos. What’s wrong with you sef?”
“I had work.”
“Take her to some exotic place, take her mind off the pressure of getting pregnant, make her happy again. See, Tisha has this thing where she starts to act crazy when she’s been in pain for long. You don’t want her to get to that point.”
“Let’s hope she doesn’t.” He put his legs down. “I’m thinking we should just get married. That would keep her distracted.”
Toni beamed. “I love you. You know that?”
He winked. “When are you getting married sef?”
Toni frowned. Dapo laughed.
“I’m asking on mommy’s behalf. When’s it going to happen?”
Toni stood up. “Maybe never.”
“Stop saying shit like that.” Dapo went on his feet as well. Toni gave him a smile as he went to where she stood. “Andre is a good man. You don’t get his type around here.”
“Then make him happy.”
“Are you throwing my words back at me, young man?” She pulled his ear.
Dapo pecked her cheek, putting his arm around her waist. “Come and be going, big sis. I still have work.”
He escorted her out of the office, all the way to the parking lot. After she was gone, Dapo returned to his desk. He was lost there until 6 p.m. When he was finally done, he left the office and drove to Leticia’s. She was alone when he walked in. She was spread out on Toni’s favorite couch, head on a pillow, arms clutching a teddy bear. A Mariah Carey song was playing.
Dapo stooped before her and touched her cheek. She opened red eyes.
“It’s very dangerous to leave the front door unlocked.”
“You have been crying.”
“Your eyes are swollen. Talk to me.”
“My period came.”
And just like he showed no reaction when Toni told him earlier, he did the same with Leticia. “So?”
“So, I’m still not pregnant.”
“We. We’re not yet pregnant. And that’s okay, Tish. I’m sorry for all the unnecessary pressure I put on you to have a baby. It shouldn’t be that way.”
“It’s also my decision to have a baby.”
“And you will. We will.” He held her hand. “Right now, we should just concentrate on ourselves and on planning our future together.”
“What’s a future without kids?”
“They will come, baby. Stop stressing.”
“God is punishing me.”
Dapo watched her eyes go moist. He freed the teddy bear off her hold and lay beside her. She turned to her side to accommodate him. He allowed her cry, but not for long.
She rose up abruptly.
“I need to go and see someone.”
“A friend. I need to drop a message with her.”
“No, I have to go there. Please, come and escort me.”
“I’m tired, Tish.”
“Is it far from here?”
“Oya, let’s be going. What’s this message you want to drop sef?”
“It’s a package.”
Dapo waited while she wore her clothes. It didn’t occur to him that she didn’t pick the aforementioned package for the friend until they drove to the destination, which was an impressive house in a quiet estate. His mind still didn’t register that she held nothing in her hands when she entered the house after waiting a while for the gate to be opened for her. Dapo didn’t have to wait too long, though. She soon emerged, bearing what looked like a smile of satisfaction.
“Who lives here?” he asked.
“And you don’t think I need to know who this friend is after dragging me here in the name of delivering a package you didn’t end up delivering?”
“Okay, I lied.” Leticia fastened her seatbelt. “There was no package and there was no friend. My ex lives here.”
Dapo looked at the house as if just noticing it was there. “You brought me to your ex’s house? For what exactly?”
“I went to see his wife to apologize for all I did to hurt her, whether knowingly or not. I asked her to forgive me and pray for me if she ever cursed me while I was dating her husband.”
Dapo was stunned. “This ex is the Covet guy? The Igbo one?”
“Yes, Izu. Just spoke to his wife. Turned out she never cursed me. She wasn’t so happy I stopped by, though.”
“Tisha, tell me you did not just do what you just told me you did.”
“I feel some part of the burden lifted off of me. One down, four more to go.”
“Leticia!” Dapo tried not to shout. He was losing his calm.
“Dapo, please, don’t get angry with me. I know it doesn’t make sense to you, but I have to free myself from the guilt and from any curse laid on me.”
“Nobody laid shit on you.”
“How do you know?”
“I slept with people’s husbands. Do you know how it hurt the marriage? How the wives felt knowing that the man they love is with some other woman?”
“Or maybe they never knew. You now want to go and shatter their bliss. Are you thinking at all?”
“I have to do this.”
“No, you don’t. And if you insist on doing it, don’t drag me to shit like this again. This is really stupid.”
She started the car and drove them home. Neither of them spoke until they were in Toni’s bedroom.
“I’m sorry for calling you stupid,” Dapo apologized.
“You didn’t. You said what I did was stupid.”
“Dapo, I’m rededicating my life back to God,” she said with a plain face, hands clasped in front of her.
“And what does that mean exactly? Aren’t you a Christian? Don’t you go to church regularly and pray every morning and night?”
“It’s not enough. I have to live a pure life.”
Dapo’s annoyance returned. “I know where this is going. Just end it right there.”
“No more sex until we get married, DP. This is not to force you into walking down the aisle with me. I just need to cleanse my life and do things right. The way God wants me to do them.”
“Whatever. I’m going home.” He started towards the door.
“Dapo, I’m sorry.”
He gave no response. Not even when she ran after him, calling him back. He entered his car and sped off into the night.
It was one of those long, brainstorming sessions that ran into the night. Andre, Toni and Christie were present with a creative team, trying to put together a campaign for a major client that was threatening to fire them. The session came to a close a few minutes after 3 a.m.
Since they had used the floor on the building solely for Covet’s late night meetings, which was basically an apartment with furnished bedrooms, Andre felt it was best to sleep over. But Toni was bent on spending the night on her bed. They had a little argument about it. She won, however, with a few soft kisses on his lips.
“I’ll drop you at home and come back. You know I can’t share that bed with you and Tisha.”
“Thank you.” She kissed him again.
“You’re such a diva, Braithwaite. What’s so wrong with sleeping here, though?”
“Can you just drive me home?”
He swore in French and got a smack from her as they made their way out from the building. As expected, the streets were empty on their drive to Toni’s house. Most of the traffic lights had switched from the default red, yellow and green to blinking yellow lights. Gunning down Ozumba Mbadiwe street, Andre let out a few yawns. Seated beside him, Toni was busy with her phone. He glanced at her.
“Who are you chatting with this night like this?”
“Nobody.” She looked up suddenly. “Stop.”
Andre stepped on the brakes, halting the car’s movement under a blinking yellow light. “You know we really don’t have to stop, right?”
“Shhh.” She put her finger to her lips. “Wait for it.”
“Wait for what?”
Toni pointed up and ahead of them where an electronic billboard owned by Covet was erected.
“Yeah, that’s ours. What’s up with it?”
Light filled Toni’s eyes as she pointed. “Look.”
The screen lit up with the picture of a baby’s overall, and on it was written the words, ‘Enfin bref, ja pense être enceinte de toi’.
Andre squinted hard as he read out the words in English slowly. “Long story short, I think I’m pregnant with your child?” He looked at Toni in confusion. “What’s this? A new ad?”
She giggled, hand over her mouth.
“I don’t understand,” he murmured.
She giggled harder. His eyes went to the billboard again. More confusion on his face.
“Who is pregnant with whose child?”
“You’re so dumb, Frenchie.” She took his hand off the wheel and placed it on her tummy. His jaw plunged.
“We’re having a baby?” he asked in French.
“Oh, I’m so dumb.” He hit his forehead on the wheel. “How didn’t I get it? I’m so sorry, ma chatte.”
He leaned towards her and laid his lips on hers, but it was not to kiss her. “You’re keeping it?”
“I won’t touch it even if I was offered the world, Fabrice.”
“Don’t I just love you, you this annoying, stubborn, sexy, beautiful woman?”
He kissed her, smiling in-between.
“Can we now turn back to the office? I badly need to pee.”
He made a U-turn back in the direction they came.
“So, I really need to ask,” Toni said, “how did I get pregnant, Andre?”
He began to laugh. It was low at first, and then he laughed so hard, tears came to his eyes.
“How did I get pregnant?”
“I don’t know. You saw that I never came inside you.”
“Honest. Maybe this withdrawal method thing is crap at the end of the day. I’ve heard how it’s failed many people.”
Toni held a suspicious stare, but it was a weak one. He pinched her nose and then sent his hand down to her tummy.
“So do you feel like your world is falling apart now that you’re carrying my child?”
“No, I feel like hitting you because I know you’re so going to gloat over this. I hope you’re happy you won.”
“I am. You have no idea how fussy I’m going to get from now on.”
“Please, don’t. I don’t want to feel different.”
“Keep talking to the wind there. I own you now, ma chatte. You have officially become the Frenchman’s property and you’re going to have a taste of what it means to be loved senseless.”
“Oh, go away.”
Toni smacked his hand off. He smiled at her but she was looking out the window. He returned the smile to himself, pleased over how his covert plans to get her pregnant had worked. In fact, it had worked faster than he had anticipated. The next step was to have her bear his name.
“Whatever evil you’re planning there won’t work,” Toni said as she stretched out her legs on his laps. Andre flung his head backwards and laughed vigorously.
WCW – Woman Crush Wednesday
Baecation – vacation for a couple
Oui – yes (French)