Sometimes when I finish a series I come up with a spinoff just to keep the memories going for a while. I never publish them as ebooks. Just read and enjoy. Tonight, we’ve come to the end of Dear High Mistress. Thank you for being here as always.
Enjoy this episode. Good night.
Biyankavitch comes up tomorrow .
Leticia and Dapo were the first house guests to drop in for Toni’s housewarming get-together. They were at the door at exactly twelve noon. Toni responded to the ringing doorbell with a fussy Jozi in her arms.
“Hi guys,” she greeted, face bearing a tired smile. Leticia swept in with a housewarming gift. Dapo had in his hands a crate of wine.
“DP, you’re looking frosh,” Toni complimented, accepting a peck from him.
“So, me I’m not frosh abi?”
Toni frowned. “When you didn’t come with my mangoes.”
“I didn’t find them.”
They walked to the kitchen.
“Why is this boy crying sef?” Leticia frowned at Jozi. She tried to touch him but he screamed.
“He hasn’t seen his mommy.”
Toni responded to the confused look on Leticia’s face. “It’s a stuffed toy. Please, don’t ask. I’ve spent the last eternity looking for the thing. The day has not even started and I’m already tired. Duke jumped from the top of the bunk this morning and sprained his elbow. Ruby has diarrhea after staying up late with Andre and drinking God-knows-what. I’ve been up since five. Please tell me motherhood gets easier.”
“Josiah, abeg go down. I can’t be carrying you like this.” Toni let the boy down and he screams got louder. She lifted him up again.
“You’re spoiling him.”
“What am I supposed to do? Spank him?”
“Like yeah. You know he can’t try this with Andre. Where’s that one sef?”
“He went to get chickens. Live chickens.” Toni let out a sigh. “Just because he promised Ruby he’ll slaughter them like Mark used to.”
Leticia shook her head in a laugh. “You guys will be alright. So, how can I help?”
Dapo stood beside her. “Yeah, let’s help.”
“Just assist with the curtains in the living room.”
“Why hasn’t the décor company done anything here?” Leticia inquired.
“I discovered Andre paid them without asking me, I got angry and scolded him and asked him to withdraw their service, and here we are.”
“You see yourself?” Leticia scolded.
“I know. I feel really stupid right now. Sha help me with the curtains, and if you can, the entire décor.”
Leticia placed both hands on Toni’s cheeks. “Breathe.”
“I can’t do this,” Toni let out in frustration.
“It’s just a day. By evening we’ll all be gone and you’ll be resting…”
“No. The kids, daily stress, living with a man… I can’t do it. I am not domestic. I’m losing my mind here, Tish.”
“No, you’re not. One stressful day cannot spoil your entire life. So, breathe.”
“Good. Now, let it out slowly.”
“Good girl. Keep doing that all through the day, okay?”
“Now, take that bawling brat upstairs or Aunty Leticia will spank him.”
“Stop it, he’s not a brat.”
Toni carted Jozi away as his wails increased, almost drowning the sound of the ringing bell.
Leticia hurried to the door. She opened it, welcoming Lade and Vera.
“Hi superstar.” She gave Lade a warm hug and did the same with Vera. “How are you ladies doing?”
“Where can I put this?” Lade asked about a basket of pastries she had brought along. Leticia pointed towards the kitchen.
“I heard the house needs some decoration. Can I help?”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s nothing major.”
The doorbell went off again. Leticia dashed for the door and let Khanyi in.
“Good afternoon, Tish.” She went into the house, bearing a fancy foot mat.
“That’s perfect right there.” Leticia pointed at the floor where she stood. Khanyi dropped the mat at her feet. “Sweet.”
“Upstairs. She’ll be here in a bit. I love your crop top, by the way.”
“Oh.” Khanyi blushed. “Thank you.”
Leticia put her arm around her waist, guiding her to the kitchen. “I can’t get over your ass.”
The Adedirans arrived next, along with their daughters and a set of expensive china dishes. Pascal and Tochi followed. Raji and Salma arrived last. Salma, with the kids. Raji alone. The house soon became a buzz of activities, with each guest working under Leticia’s direction to decorate the living room while Toni was asked to take two hours of rest. When she finally found her way downstairs, she felt refreshed and in a better mood, although still bushed. She beamed appreciatively at the sight of her improved living room. Leticia’s version of the design had turned out better than what she had in mind. She slipped her hand into hers.
“What will I do without you?”
“It better be suicide. I don’t want to think you’ll continue living when I’m no longer in your life.”
Toni rested her head on her shoulder. “You know what I’ve come to learn since I got serious with Andre?”
“That I actually need people. That I can’t do everything alone.”
“I always told you. Want to know what me I learned?”
“Dapo is addicted to my nipples.”
“Eww! That’s my brother.”
“Yesterday, he slept with one in his mouth.”
Toni pushed her away. “I just can’t with you.” She started in the direction of the kitchen where Christie was making a phone call. At that moment, Daisy burst into the house.
“Y’ello! We’re here!”
She had shown up with her clan. The boys in matching outfits and her daughter, wearing something similar to what she had on.
“Fuck me sideways,” Toni muttered.
“Hi everyone!” Daisy greeted with a wide smile. In her usual fashion, her outfit showed more skin than was considered decent.
“You invited her?” Leticia asked Toni.
“Bitches! I am here o!”
“Bitches?” Christie who had just put her phone down and taken out roast chicken from the oven, stopped to ogle Daisy.
“Ignore,” Toni whispered to her.
“Oya, boys, go and play outside, let Mommy and Kayin hang with the ladies,” Daisy instructed her kids and then waltzed towards Toni. “As nobody thought to invite me, I self-invited.”
“Did you self-bring a housewarming gift, at least?” Leticia probed.
“I wanted to but since it was last minute, I couldn’t.”
“Hi Daze.” Toni managed a welcoming expression.
“Don’t ‘hi Daze’ me. You’re supposed to be more than a friend, considering we share blood.” She poked Toni’s tummy. “You’re carrying Kayinsola’s cousin.” She looked at her baby. “Tell her, Kayin. Tell your aunty she’s not nice to you.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t invite you.” Toni handed Christie a dish for the chicken. “It skipped my mind.”
“I forgive you and that’s because your house is to die for. Where’s Tayo? Has he come?”
“Let me use your restroom. I need to change this poo-poo baby.”
Toni gave her directions to the guest bathroom.
“I’ll be back. Mmm! That chicken smells so good!”
The ladies held silence until she was gone.
“There’s always that one person in the family that nobody wants around,” Leticia quipped. Christie laughed.
“I’ll kill Tayo. How could he have told her about this and then given her directions?”
“Maybe he casually mentioned it.”
“Yeah, while banging her ass. Lade should better not see that baby.”
“Where’s she sef?” Leticia peeped into the living room.
“She’s outside. Maybe I should just take the baby to Ruby. She loves babies.”
“Good idea. Or we just say the baby is Dapo’s. Lade would be disappointed, but it’s better than knowing Tayo betrayed her. At least that was the initial plan.”
“Lade will still know.”
“She’ll believe us if we lie to her. It’s better that she’s mad at Dapo than at Tayo.”
“Can you ladies fill me in?” Christie requested.
“Abi o,” Khanyi looked from one friend to the other. “You’re just whispering.”
“Long story,” Toni answered.
“Long day ahead.” Christie pulled a chair. “You better start talking now.”
Leticia tugged up her jeans, wiggling her bum. “Let me do the honors. So you know Lade was married to Tayo, right?”
“So last year, they got divorced due to irreconcilable differences. I forgot to add that while they were married they had a baby who passed away.”
“Long story short,” Toni cut in. “Tayo and Daisy have been fucking and they have a baby that looks exactly like the one he had with Lade. Now, the problem here is that he’s having another baby with Lade via a surrogate.”
“The pregnant chick in the living room?” Christie asked.
“Yeah. She’s carrying their baby.”
“And Lade doesn’t know that he already has one with Daisy?”
Khanyi gave an uncomfortable pose as her eyes lifted up to the entrance of the kitchen. Toni and Leticia turned to find Lade glaring at them, aghast.
“Tayo is the father of Daisy’s baby?” she asked.
Toni dropped her stare.
“No,” Leticia replied hastily. “Not Tayo. Dapo. Dapo’s responsible for that child. They had a fling and she got pregnant and…”
But Leticia’s fib had come in too late as Daisy reappeared with the baby. Lade went stiff, making a slow turn to give the child an intense, concentrated stare that lasted long enough to have Toni going back to her previous mood.
“What’s her name?” Lade’s voice was a harsh whisper to Daisy.
“Kayinsola,” Daisy answered. “Look, Lade… I didn’t have anything to do with Tayo until you guys broke up.”
Lade looked at Toni. “You didn’t tell me.”
“I…we just found out recently.”
“And still nobody told me and you wanted to lie to me about it.”
“We’re sorry,” Leticia responded.
“Good afternoon, ladies.” Tayo’s sudden appearance at the backdoor brought on fresh edginess to Toni. She prepared herself for drama, but Leticia put her hand in hers and tugged her.
“Let’s leave them to talk.”
One after the other, the ladies made their exit. In the living room, Toni politely asked Daisy to leave.
“Toni, we’re family,” Daisy protested. “My baby, yours and Lade’s… We’re all connected.”
“And that’s true, but right now, Kayinsola is a sore reminder of a painful past to Lade. You need to leave. The boys can stay. Leticia will bring them to you.”
“Please, Daze,” Leticia added.
For the first time, Toni felt bad over asking Daisy to leave her house. She watched her pick her bag and then followed her when she went outside to call her sons.
“You don’t have to, Daisy.”
“I want to.”
“The boys are having fun. Leticia will take them home to you later.”
Daisy ignored her and forced her sons away from the other kids and into her car. After they were gone, Toni allowed herself a glass of red wine to uplift her spirit. Tayo and Lade were still in the kitchen, their voices now loud enough for the other guests to hear.
“This is a disaster,” Toni mumbled, at the same moment Jozi, who had been asleep upstairs, broke into a cry. She ran up to his bedroom and discovered that he had peed on the bed. She tried to placate him, but he kept with his cries. When she made to lift him out of the bed, he pushed her away and began kicking her hands. Toni finally snapped and lost her patience with him. She dragged him out forcefully, held him by the hand and smacked him several times. It wasn’t until she saw terror in his eyes that she realized what she was doing. She took her hands off him as if he had electrocuted her and sat gawking in guilt as he howled.
“You did the right thing.” Andre’s sudden presence and voice coming from behind her gave her peace.
He walked into the room, gave one look to Jozi and pointed him in the direction of the bathroom. The boy stopped crying instantly and did as he was ordered. Andre stooped before a teary-eyed Toni.
“I’m going to be a bad mother.”
“No, you’re a good mother, ma chatte. A wonderful one. I was waiting for the day you’ll put the fear of God in that boy.”
“I didn’t mean to hit him.”
“You didn’t do a bad thing, Tone.”
“Shhh… Just stop stressing, go downstairs and have fun.”
“I’ll handle it. Go downstairs.”
“Okay.” Toni rose up. “Please, don’t smack him again. He’s just a baby.”
“Baby, my ass.”
Toni made her way to her guests. The caterer had just arrived with the food and with the help of Leticia, served it in dishes.
“Lade left,” Leticia announced. “I tried to make her stay but she was very upset.”
Toni refused to let the news disturb her. She spied Tayo in a corner, his head bowed over his phone. She strolled to him.
“I don’t want to hear how terrible I am.” He put his phone away.
“I’m not here to tell you that.”
“I know. Don’t worry about her. She’s fine. She’s just mad at you.” Toni sat beside him. “And I just want to know how you’re doing these days, work and all.”
“That’s good.” She patted his hand. “Always take care of yourself.”
“I will. Did I tell you about my trip to Dubai and the import business I want to do on the side?”
“No, you did not. Tell me.”
Toni sat more comfortably and listened to her brother talk about his business life. When food came, Dapo and Raji joined them. They expanded the discussion to other matters and soon got everyone engaged. The conversations continued long after the food ran out. Andre’s pastor dropped by at sunset to bless the house. Toni hadn’t objected to him coming over, but she hadn’t prepared for a manifestation of his nosy interest in her relationship with Andre. He wanted to know, after the prayers, when she and Andre would make things official.
“We’re taking things slow,” Andre replied immediately, putting his arm around Toni’s shoulder.
“Well, you better hurry up and do the right thing. God’s plan for couples is marriage alone. Nothing other than that. So you have to take this thing seriously.”
“Thank you, Pastor,” he said dismissively as he guided the man out the door. “I’ll see you after church tomorrow.”
Upon his return, Andre came in with Lade and Cruz. She had an apologetic expression when she sauntered towards Toni.
“I’m sorry, Aunty Toni. I needed to cool off.”
“It’s fine, hon.”
“Not like the weather sef allows anyone to cool off.”
Toni smiled. “Who is he?” she inquired, referring to Cruz.
“His name is Cruz. My boyfriend,” Lade answered shyly.
“I hope you didn’t just materialize him after your fight with Tayo?”
“No. We’ve had a thing for a while now.”
“We’ll talk about him later. Come and introduce him to everyone.”
The evening wore on quickly. Salma announced first that she was leaving. She took her children along. Folarin and Christie followed. Tochi and Pascal had a match they had to see. Raji stayed back for drinks with Andre and Dapo. Tayo had somehow slipped out, unannounced. Toni had noted how quiet he had become at the arrival of Cruz.
“So, now that we’re just family, I have something to say,” Leticia announced.
“She considers me family,” Raji commented, raising a glass to her. She grinned back as the living room came to a hush.
“So, Dapo Ogunfuwa and I are expecting a baby in seven months.”
Dapo, seated with his back to a wall, took his eyes from his phone which had gotten his attention for most part of the evening, and rested them on her. “Sorry, we’re what?”
“This is not a joke?”
Dapo tried to smile but his eyes moistened, instead. He put a hand over them. Toni got infected by his emotions as well and drew a serviette from a pack to dab at the tears that ran down her cheeks.
“I didn’t mean to make you guys cry,” Leticia said, giggling. “It’s supposed to be a happy thing nau.”
“Of course, Tish,” Andre commented. “Congratulations.”
The felicitations poured in over Leticia and Dapo. He was still dumbstruck. Eventually he let down his hand and moved to where Leticia sat.
“I know we didn’t struggle like most couples, but the struggle wasn’t any less real.” His hands closed in on hers so tenderly. “I watched you starve yourself, cry all night, blame it on your past… I had my own moments too, doubting if things would ever work out. You don’t understand how this is the best news ever, Tish. You keep giving me life. I can’t even start to explain how I feel.”
He appeared to have something more to say but he remained silent and left adoring eyes on her.
“Having witnessed this wonderful moment, I think it’s time to take my leave.” Raji stood up. Andre arose with him. Lade, Cruz and Vera also announced that they were leaving. Andre and Toni walked them to their cars, and after their departure, Toni went back in the house while Andre remained outside to have a word with a nosy neighbor.
The sounds of giggles from the kitchen drew Toni there. Leticia and Dapo were in each other’s arms, whispering, kissing and laughing in-between. It was too private a moment to interrupt. She dragged weary legs upstairs, checked in on the sleeping children and then finally dropped her weight on her bed. Andre came in a little while.
“Dapo and Tish are sleeping over,” he revealed. “I let them have the guestroom.”
“I doubt that they would do much sleeping tonight with the way they were kissing in the kitchen.”
Andre lay on the bed. “How about us? Any much sleeping tonight?”
Toni tucked a pillow beneath her head. “If you give me your cutest expression, you might just get laid.”
“My grown ass is not cute.”
“Okay o. It’s you who doesn’t want mommy’s touch.”
“Are we now going to start having infantile sex because you’re pregnant? I don’t want to hear ‘who’s your mommy?’ when my cock is all up in your pussy.”
“Your language is nasty, Frenchie.”
“Me, I’ve told you my own. In short, when is this baby coming out sef?”
The look on Andre’s face put Toni in serious laughter.
“I’m now a clown,” he grumbled in French as he planted a kiss on her breast.
“You’re just annoying, Fabrice.”
“It’s better than being cute. We have a whole Ghana-must-go dedicated to cute things you bought on impulse.”
“They’re for the baby.”
“Pink handcuffs and male g-strings are for the baby?”
This time, Toni held her tummy as she laughed. Andre continued to amuse her by expressing his disapproval over cute things in French.
“It’s you that don’t want chatte this night, Fabrice. Me, I’ll just go to bed.”
She pecked his pouty lips thrust out at her in mock anger.
She turned away. She felt his finger poke her arm.
“How about this?”
Toni went back to her initial position and found him trying not to smile. She took his arm and placed on her waist, moving closer. “That’s more like it. In the words of your pastor, let’s take this thing seriously.”
It was on the morning of Christie and Folarin’s renewal of marriage vows, while applying her makeup, that Salma came to the conclusion that her kids needed to see a child psychologist. The word ‘depression’ had hung heavy on her from the moment her sister mentioned it casually after Salma complained about the children’s collective mood swing.
“Children suffer depression too. Abi, you don’t know? Just take them out a lot since they are on holidays. It will uplift their spirit and they’ll soon forget.”
“Forget Raheem? How?”
Her sister had not had an answer for her. A sad Easter had come and gone. Deejah, Leelah and Fahad had had to watch their brother leave them.
“Canada is only a flight away,” Raji explained for the zillionth time while buttoning Raheem’s shirt that morning. But he could have been speaking to a wall for all the kids cared. Parting with Raheem at the airport had been so heartbreaking that people gave them audience, took videos and shared on social media. Afterwards, Salma and Raji sat morosely in the kitchen, blaming themselves for the drama that had transpired.
“We shouldn’t have allowed them come to the airport,” Raji whispered. “The goodbyes could have ended in the house and Comfort and Raheem driven to the airport alone.”
“But they had begged and cried. Were we to ignore them? Didn’t you see how Raheem was hanging on Fahad as if to life?”
Hours later, Salma found Fahad barfing in the front porch. He had fallen ill, and Leelah too, a day after. Deejah escaped the spate, but sat glumly all day, crying. In Canada, Raheem had a hard time accepting his reality. He became rude to Comfort, threw tantrums and couldn’t keep down anything he ate.
“If he doesn’t adjust after his first term in school, I’m bringing him back,” a weepy Comfort told Salma over the phone. “It’s been four days and I can’t cope. This is such a bad idea.”
Salma felt her pain. Everyone had advised her to let the boy stay and visit during the holidays, but Comfort had been adamant and Salma supportive of her decision. She had put herself in her shoes, wondering how she could ever willingly stay away from her own kids. Thus she cheered Comfort on her decision. Now, they shared the same pain.
Fahad and Leelah eventually got better, but their moods did not improve. It was at this point Salma called her sister and complained. The response she got wasn’t what she expected, but the mention of depression stuck with her. She continued to watch them and to do everything to bring them back to norm, but all she tried fell short. Not even the Skype sessions they had with Raheem helped. The moment each call was over, Deejah would burst into tears and drag her siblings back into sadness.
Salma was exhausted and felt conspired against. Last night she walked in on them speaking in hushed tones in the living room, but when she requested to know the topic of their discourse, they each got up and went upstairs. She was certain they were punishing her and Raji for letting Raheem go. The plan was to call Raji for a talk after she returned from the Adediran’s wedding party. She knew he would kick against talking to a child psychologist, and tell her the solution was to simply bring Raheem back home. Nonetheless, she would try. She was on the verge of breaking down.
Continuing with her makeup, Salma tried to force in sunny thoughts about the wedding party. But it was hard, even with the genuine happiness she bore for Folarin and Christie. She figured that the moment she got to the party, the ambience would raise her spirits. She loved Yoruba parties and was certain Folarin would make this one a celebration to remember.
There was a faint knock on her door that made her halt her activity. She knew it was Deejah knocking.
The girl peeked in.
She walked in. “Mommy, I can’t find my storybook.”
The child loved to read. She had a collection of storybooks Salma couldn’t keep up with. But there was the one that nobody touched, gifted to her by Raheem on her birthday. Deejah went everywhere with it.
“You can’t find it?” Salma asked eagerly, pleased that she was needed. The children had largely acted like she did not exist over the past few days. “Where did you keep it?”
“I kept it under my pillow. I can’t find it. Come and help me. Please.”
Salma didn’t ask any more questions. She took her hand and led her to the bedroom she shared with Leelah. Salma began a vigorous search for the book that lasted a little more than five minutes. But she did not mind. She stopped, however, to fan herself, feeling her makeup go moist. She turned on the air conditioner.
“Are you sure you kept it here and not in the kitchen or Fahad’s room?”
“Let’s go and check the kitchen…”
“No!” Deejah shook her head in a manner that showed she was deeply upset. Salma suspected she wasn’t far from tears.
“Okay, it’s fine. No need to cry. We’ll keep searching.”
Salma continued for longer until Leelah burst in with the said book.
“Dee-dee! I saw your book!”
“Where did you see it?”
“Under the sofa, in the sitting room. You can tell me thank you.”
Deejah took the book without a smile. “Thank you.”
“No thank you for me?” Salma asked, rising up from the floor where she had been on all fours.
Deejah walked out without a word.
“You girls can have cookies if you want to!” she said after the girls. “Ask Aunty Sukura to give you some.”
Salma went back to feeling drained. She was somewhat glad that the kids would be off her hands for a few hours. Sukura was Comfort’s maid who had cared for Raheem since he was a baby. She was now part of the family and worked fulltime for Salma, although she didn’t live with them yet. Comfort had let her have her apartment until the rent ran out.
Salma returned to bedroom where she concentrated on getting dressed for the wedding. This took an hour extra, and just when she was about to pick up her purse to leave, she heard Raji outside her door, asking to be let in.
“Come in, Raj.”
He entered the room and halted when his eyes fell on her. The instant expression of adoration that filled his face caused Salma to smile.
“You like?” she asked.
“You’re so beautiful, Sal. I’m actually breathless here.”
Her smile deepened. “Thank you. You’re not doing bad yourself.”
“Merci.” They had on matching attires, in keeping to the aso-ebi of the wedding.
“So what’s wrong with your phone?” Raji inquired. “I tried calling.”
“My phone?” Salma threw her eyes on the bed. “I left it… Where did I leave it? Why were you calling sef?”
“Fahad called me and said your phone was bad and you needed me to come pick you for the wedding.”
“Fahad called you and said my phone was bad?”
“And you should come and pick me?”
“Yeah.” Raji began to look confused. “What’s going on?”
“My phone is not bad.” Salma moved towards the bed. “I left it here. You tried calling it?”
“It was switched off.”
“Are you serious? What is your son up to?”
“I’m guessing you didn’t tell him to call me.”
Raji was amused. He burst into a short laugh.
“You’re laughing. Didn’t I tell you getting him a phone was a bad idea?” Salma picked a pillow.
“He’s eight years old. Wait…you’re saying he made the whole thing up?”
“My phone is not bad and I didn’t need you to come pick me up. And this one that I can’t find the phone, I think he took it. Can you help me call it?”
“My phone is downstairs with Leelah.”
“Raji, I am seriously tired of these children right now. I’ve had it up to here. We have to do something about their behavior.”
The door made a creak. Salma and Raji turned and watched it slam shut.
“Fahad?” Salma went towards it, but stopped moving when she heard the familiar sound of the key turning in its lock. She checked the lock and discovered the key had been taken away.
“Fahad?” she called again. She tried the door handle.
“We’re locked,” she told Raji, stunned.
He began to laugh again.
“It is not funny. I’ll kill these children.”
“Easy. I think they’re just playing a prank, which is a good thing considering they’ve been out of sorts recently.”
“We don’t have time for a prank. We have a wedding to attend.”
“Relax. Sukura is downstairs. We can get her to open the door.”
Raji pulled off his cap and went to the east window that faced the backyard. “Sukura!” he called. “Fahad?!”
Salma moved to the opposite window that looked out to the entrance of the house. She hissed. “They just left with the driver to Saida’s.”
“Yes. I called her the other day and complained about their behavior. She suggested they needed to see a psychologist, but she also asked me to bring them over so they could spend time with them Abdul. I felt this was the best day to take them over. I didn’t know they were going to lock us in before they left.” Salma slouched. “I’m tired.”
“Sorry.” Raji went behind her and put his hands on her shoulders.
“Leelah is with my phone.” He maintained his amusement. “What are they up to?”
It was at that moment Salma saw a piece of paper poking into the room from beneath the door. It was addressed to her and Raji in Fahad’s writing.
“Raj, they left a note.”
Her fingers trembled as she unfolded the paper. Fahad’s jumbled writing was scrawled over the page. Salma read:
Dear mommy and daddy,
We are sorry for lucking you inside your room…”
“He spelled locking as lucking. Like good luck,” Salma commented.
“Please dont punish us. we just want you to stop fighting. daddy please come back. we dont like your house.we miss you like we miss Rahim. we dont want you to go to canada so stay inside and talk to mommy in a nice way.say your sorry too so that mommy will allow you come back home. two of you are in the nutty room.aunty Suku put food and water for you in the closet. dont be angry with us.we love you.
“Is this for real?” Salma felt annoyance while Raji saw the humor in it.
“It’s ingenious. I never knew my kids were this brilliant.”
“Did you put them to it?”
“No. I’m just as much a character in this game as you are.”
“This is ridiculous. I’ll flog the nonsense out of all of them, especially Fah’d. And nobody will stop me.”
“Can you imagine the nonsense?” She tossed the note away. “And of all the days the gateman had to go visit his family!”
“Calm down, Sal.”
Raji picked the paper, read the note again and smiled proudly. “I love these kids.”
“Of course you do.”
His face slowly became serious. “We never really asked them how they felt about the divorce.”
“Hm?” Salma was making an attempt to force the door open.
“Don’t. You’ll spoil the handle.”
“Why did I leave the spare key downstairs?” She hissed.
“We never asked them how they felt about the divorce. We just told them what was happening and forced them to accept it. We forced the divorce on them without asking to know how they felt.”
“They cried, remember? Fahad wouldn’t talk to either of us for days?”
“Yeah, but they never expressed their hurt. We didn’t give them the chance to. And now, Raheem is gone and they are beginning to get scared that I might leave too. They’re having a crisis of trust, Salma. Our children are scared to lose us.”
Raji’s word sank into Salma painfully. She abandoned the door, took off her gele and slipped out of her shoes. She sat on the dressing stool.
“Everything now makes sense. The mood swings, the illness, the tears… They weren’t just missing Raheem.”
Salma and Raji stayed quiet for a long time, each pondering on the present situation, going deeper into thought as the minutes passed.
“I could jump down the balcony and get downstairs and get us out of here,” Raji spoke up. “I have the spare front door key in my car.”
“Jump down the balcony? Are you serious?”
“In my day, I was a Romeo. I did a lot of jumping from windows. Of course, it was much easier than climbing up.”
Salma shook her head.
“Let me have a look.” He opened the balcony doors and stared downwards. “It’s not far.”
“Raji, please don’t.”
Raji disregarded her warning and hurled himself over the railing.
He made the jump. Salma dashed to the balcony. She found him leaping around in pain.
“What is wrong with you?!”
“I’m not as young as I used to be.”
“That’s not what I meant!” she screamed back. “Do you want to break your legs?!”
Raji limped to his car, got out the key to the house and unlocked the front door. He managed upstairs with the spare key for Salma and came down again because it was as far as he could move. He collapsed on one of the couches until Salma came to him.
“You’re a very annoying man, Asepita.” She pulled a stool and sat. She took off the shoe and sock on his left foot.
“You know this leg has issues and yet you jumped on it like the mad idiot you are. When will you grow up?”
“Just help me reset it like you used to.”
Salma gave the foot a couple of clockwise wiggles and then, in one sharp movement, jerked it downwards. It made a cracking sound and his ankle went back into position.
“Thank you.” He dragged her towards him unexpectedly and placed a kiss on her lips. She gave him a painless slap.
“Get up, let’s be going for the wedding, abeg.”
Salma went back upstairs and returned, dressed as she was before. She handed Raji his cap and a fancy walking stick.
“You still have this?” he asked.
“I still have many things of yours, including your meddlesome children.”
Salma felt some sort of guilt as she recalled Fahad’s letter. She and Raji were palpably disregarding the children’s wishes. She wasn’t sure what Raji’s reasons were. But for her, she feared that if she gave the idea any serious thought during the course of the day, she might find herself committing to Raji. Over the past few weeks, she had been on the verge of needing him. It was scary.
During the drive to the party, Salma played music loudly in the car. Raji knew better than to engage in a conversation with her. He maintained silence on his end until they arrived at the venue for the wedding party, having missed the church part which had lasted only an hour.
Familiar faces, good music, great cocktails and an air of revelry had them forgetting what had transpired earlier. It wasn’t your average wedding party. Folarin went all out to make Christie happy. He had voiced his heart to Raji the weekend before, stating that he was going completely broke after the whole thing was over. When Raji asked why he was doing it, his answer was simply that he wanted to start all over again with Christie.
“And I think you should do the same with Salma. For the sake of the kids.”
Raji sat now, stirring his drink as thoughts of the children came back to mind. Folarin and Christie had just been called to the dance floor. The music was old school soul, an Al Green classic that Christie had always loved. Memories of the night Raji spent with her in Amsterdam were brought to mind. Raji recalled how she had been so embarrassed afterwards that she left the hotel to a lounge, and he went looking for her. When he located where she was, he saw her seated alone at a table in a corner, face washed with tears.
“I came here to escape, but someone at the bar seems to want to punish me. The song playing right now is the same that played on the radio on my first date with Folarin.”
Folarin’s name was the last thing Raji wanted to hear, but he obliged her.
“I didn’t even know the song, but he did, and he kept singing it all the way.” She looked at Raji. “Why did we do what we just did?”
“I don’t know. It just… It happened, I guess. But sitting here, listening to this song isn’t going to make you feel better. Let’s get back to the hotel.”
Christie remained on her seat as the song played again and again until someone behind the bar got tired of it and switched to something more upbeat.
Watching her and Folarin now, Raji smiled. Her head was resting on his chest, her eyes shut. When she opened them, she looked at Raji and grinned.
“Do you and Salma have your own song?” she had asked him that night as they walked back to the hotel.
“Are we supposed to?”
“Not really. Let’s Stay Together is not even our song. I’m sure Folarin has forgotten it played on the radio that night. Do you remember that he borrowed your car?”
“He took me out on the best date of my life that night.”
Raji realized her eyes had gone wet again. She stopped abruptly. “Let’s not do this again. I can’t hurt Folarin. It’ll kill him if he finds out.”
“He doesn’t have to.”
“Stick with Salma. Be faithful to her. I’ll do the same with Folarin.”
And then she left him standing alone as she hurried back to the hotel.
With all that had transpired between them and everything they both had fittingly suffered for their act of betrayal, Raji felt he had gotten the short end of the stick. But again, he felt it was justified. Folarin had always been a better man than he. A better husband. If fate had tied him to Salma, he would have loved her better than Raji ever would. And it was this person Raji wanted to become. His heart was genuinely interested in doing good, but he feared that he bore an imbecile somewhere within that liked to screw things up. This had been his reason for staying away from Salma lately. He wasn’t sure where the self-doubt was coming from. Maybe it was because Salma gave the impression that she was into Maliq or it was simply because all Raji had done had been met with disappointment. He just didn’t have the push as he used to.
Heaven Sent by Keisha Cole came on and he watched the lovebirds fall into their bubble. Knowing them well, if the DJ didn’t change the genre of music to something upbeat, they would forget that they had an audience. They were so into each other these days, it left everyone around them envious. Raji, inclusive.
“Does this song spark up any memories?” Salma cut into his thoughts.
“Hmm?” He looked at her in distraction; and also with intensity when his eyes and brain agreed that she seemed to have gotten more gorgeous since they walked in.
“The song? Heaven Sent?”
“Um… Kendra something.”
“Yeah. I remember it. 2009, 2010, right? It was the jam then.”
Salma turned away. Raji went back to watching Folarin and Christie. He was so invested in their dance that he didn’t realize Salma had slipped away. It was only when the DJ began to play trending Nigerian songs and Raji was moved to spray the couple with some naira notes did he realize someone else had taken Salma’s space.
“Hi,” the lady smiled.
Raji didn’t respond. He looked around, rising up.
“The lady that was here, where did she go?”
“What lady?” the stranger beside him replied.
Raji picked his walking stick and began searching for Salma. He walked to the table where Andre and Toni were seated. No one had seen her.
“Salma?” Leticia, just joining them from the dance floor, asked. She wiped sweat off her forehead. “I saw her heading out when I was going to dance. She said she was going home.”
“Shit. I mean, thanks.”
Raji hurried towards the exit, ignoring Andre’s inquiry about why he was limping. When he got outside and to the parking lot, he realized that his car was gone.
“Come on, Sal.”
He made a 360 turn but saw no sign of her or his car. He headed for the gate where he pleaded with a security guard to find a cab for him. The man disappeared for a bit and came back with a rickety yellow cab. Raji paid him some money. He got into the cab and gave him directions to Salma’s. When he got to the house, he met it locked. He concluded that she had gone to her supermarket, but he was tired from moving about with his sprained foot, and so he sat at the entrance, shielded from the sun.
Salma didn’t show up until about a couple of hours later.
“You know you’re selfish, right?” He was angry at her.
“How?” Salma slammed the door.
“How?! You left me at the reception, took my car without a word and drove off to your boyfriend’s!”
“And why wouldn’t I when you were staring at Christie and wishing you were Folarin!” Salma marched to the front door barefooted, holding her shoes. “You didn’t even know when our song was playing!”
Raji pulled himself to stand. “We have a song?”
Salma unlocked the door and got in. She dumped his car key on his palm. “Just go home, Raj.”
He took her hand. “We have a song?”
She threw her face away from his penetrating gaze.
“I was seriously thinking about us getting together and making the kids happy but you were so into Christie, you didn’t know I was there.”
She snatched her hand away and ran upstairs. Painfully, Raji made his way up. He walked in on her undressing.
“Go home nau.”
“That thing you said downstairs, that you were considering us getting back together, is it for real?”
Salma sat on the bed. “Yes.”
“There’s no Maliq. I had to let him go almost two months ago.”
“Because I didn’t want to complicate the lives of the children by giving them a stepfather when their father is still alive. I didn’t want to put Maliq through unnecessary meanness from my family and yours because they would never accept him. I don’t like drama, Raji. Having Comfort and her family in our lives is enough complication. No need to add more.”
Raji slowly let himself down on the dressing stool. “How did you feel letting go of Maliq?”
Salma took off the gold rings on her fingers. “It hurt. I really liked him and I wanted something, but at this point in my life, it’s not about what I want.”
“Not exactly. You had your eyes on Christie.”
“I did, but it wasn’t what you were thinking. I was lost in some place.”
“In that place where you were smashing her.”
Raji felt no offense over her words. “Heaven Sent is our song, isn’t it?”
Salma hissed at him.
“2008. I first heard the song in April and I thought to myself that Salma had to hear this song. I played it everywhere I went. Every darn place. Folarin teased me a lot. But the song was you, Salma. I was so in love with you I thought my heart would burst. And then the first day we made love, I played it for you. It was magical. Gosh! I didn’t believe you were a virgin until it happened. And I was thinking to myself that I’ve gotten to a place I can’t get back from. It then occurred to me the enormity of you letting me share that moment with you. That was why I promised to never make you cry.”
Salma laid her head on a pillow, eyes on him. “And yet you did.”
“I’m tired of saying I’m sorry, Sal. I want to show you that I mean my words. I want the type of chance Christie got today. A chance to undo everything.”
“And all I want is a man who would never hurt me or my kids again.”
“I am that man, Sal.” He moved to the bed. “You know I am. You know how badly I want to do the right thing. Just let me in one more time.”
Keeping her face away from him, Salma said, “You’ll move in tomorrow. We’ll announce to our families that we’re giving ourselves another try. We’ll spend quality time with the kids. Your work and my business can never be obstacles. By 7 p.m., we’re both home. We’ll also spend a lot of time with each other. But you’ll stay in the guestroom until you prove yourself worthy.”
“If I suspect you for cheating on me, we’re done. And I will take the kids and all your money.”
“That means we’re getting married again?”
Raji fell backwards in joy, fists pumping into the air.
“You do understand what Insha’Allah means, right? Not my will, not yours. But Allah’s.”
“And this is after you prove to him that you’re a good Muslim.”
“I get it. No drinking…”
“I’m not going to take that away from you, Raji. That has to be your personal conviction. All I want is for you to try to be a responsible man from now on, so that you can hold on to something. Something bigger than you that will always remind you to do good.”
She turned and lay on her back, staring down at him. “Are the terms okay with you?”
“Good. Now, come up here and show me how seriously you want me to be an Asepita again.”
Raji gave a wicked laugh as he moved up to meet her. Slowly, he took off her underwear and then his clothes. When his lips met hers, Salma gave a long, gratifying moan.