Tanko’s shocking return had awakened the entire Bahago family. They had gathered around him like he was the eighth wonder of the world. This was a man that had disappeared and had been buried; five years he was gone, but here he sat amongst them, in flesh and blood. He was not the Tanko they knew, but he was the son and brother they had lost. For Tsakani, he was unreal. This had to be his twin. Someone was screwing with her head. If she could have fainted a second time, she would have, and maybe awoken to find it was all a dream; but not to see his face searching hers curiously as he had done.
But all she could do was take in every detail about him she could absorb, starting from his head to his feet, and then she would stop and shiver. If he looked at her, she would look away. He had vanished from her life with both eyes intact and in an overweight form, but he had returned to her, one-eyed, emaciated, bearing a goatee that had unsightly tinges of grey in it. When he moved his hands, they shook. His voice had lost its deep, rich baritone that used to make her blush during intimate moments. Now, he croaked when he spoke. Slowly and tiredly. Stopping now and then as if to catch his breath. He told them about where he had been. His story made no sense, like the ramblings of a mad man. One moment he was describing the place in which he had been incarcerated, the next he was recapturing scenes from the last movie he had watched before he disappeared.
But everyone had sat in gripped attention, immediate and extended family together. Victoria had not meant to wake the entire house, but she had been too elated to wait until sunrise.
“I think you need to have a good, warm bath, eat something, and then go to bed,” Idris had said. His tone was firm. “It’s a blessing to have you home, son.”
The man patted his shoulder.
“Everyone, go to bed, please.”
It took a little over fifteen minutes before Tanko got some semblance of privacy. Yohan and Apollo had not slept in the house. The Bahagos owned other houses a few blocks away and it was in one of them Victoria had asked them to lodge. Victoria felt it was best to leave them out of it until sunup. Hence, Tanko stayed in the company of Jethro, Bianca and Tsakani after everyone else left the living room. Victoria had been the last to leave. She had sat with him, holding his hands, touching his face. The son she called ‘my boy’. Her favorite child. She could not express her joy enough. One of the maids had warmed a meal for him on her orders. A bowl of washed and cut apples had been brought already, but Tanko declined them.
“I can’t eat anything tonight. Just water, please. I have lived on water and two slices of bread a day for years. Good food right now would be poison to my system.”
Victoria had nodded, maybe a little too much. She was trying not to cry.
“Mom, please, go and sleep. Don’t tell me you’re still insomniac.”
“Go and sleep.”
She nodded again and stood, but not before planting a tender kiss on his forehead.
“I never thought I’d see you guys again.” He tried to smile after she had gone upstairs, but nothing showed. Just a tilt on one side of his face. “Bianca, you haven’t changed. Still a tomboy.”
“Still a girl.”
“Jet, you’re all grown.”
Jethro laughed. Tanko looked at Tsakani. Her head was bowed.
His eyes fell on her wedding ring as he had been doing all through the night. Bianca caught the unspoken question on his face. She took Jethro’s hand.
“Let’s leave them both to catch up.” She dragged him away. “Goodnight, Tank.”
After the siblings were gone, Tanko called Tsaka a second time. She arose abruptly.
“Let’s go upstairs. I have a room all to myself.”
It was with some difficulty Tanko got on his feet. Tsakani walked ahead, her heart pounding with each step. Victoria had just come out of her bedroom with folded clothes and toiletries.
“Tanko, some of your daddy’s clothes should fit. We’ll go shopping tomorrow.”
“Thank you, Mom.”
Victoria looked at Tsaka as if she had something to say, but she walked away. Tsaka, holding the clothes, led Tanko to his bedroom. She opened the door and held it to let him through, but ever being the gentleman, he ushered her in instead.
Tsaka placed the clothes on the bed and proceeded into the bathroom. “A shower or a bath?” she asked.
“A bath. I need to soak and scrub.”
Tsaka clogged the drain and turned on the tap.
“When was I buried?”
He was standing by the door, resting on the doorpost. Tsaka looked up.
“February 20th, 2015.”
“Exactly two years after I left. When did you remarry?”
Tsaka touched her wedding ring.
“Who is he?”
“Do I know him?”
“You have kids?”
“Yes, two boys.”
Tanko entered the bathroom and sat on the toilet seat.
“One of them is yours,” she said.
Scratching his chin, Tanko stopped. “I have a son?”
“What’s his name?”
“Jason. Do you want to see pictures of…?”
“No, no. I’ll see him in the morning, anyways. The younger one, what’s his name?”
“Seni or Abdul. Abdulrazaq.”
“Muslim name. You married a Muslim?”
“I fell in love with a Muslim.”
“You fell in love.”
“Your marriage, is it good? He treats you fine? He doesn’t hurt you?”
“Why are you asking me these questions?” Tsaka’s voice trembled.
“I just want to know, precious.”
Precious. His pet name for her. Sometimes just ‘Presh’. He had not forgotten. Neither had she.
“We’re good. But with you back home, I don’t know what is going to happen to us.”
Tsaka waited for a response but Tanko had gone silent, gawking at the floor in front of him, muttering to himself. It stung Tsaka to see him in that state. It was clear that a lot of things were wrong with him. She wanted to hear his story in details. Not the nonsense he had shared with the family earlier. She wanted to feel his pain. But at the same time, she wanted to be as far from him as possible. If he could disappear again, it wouldn’t hurt her so badly. She had buried and mourned him. She could cope without him.
“The bathtub is full.” She turned off the tap. “Tanko?”
He was still muttering to himself, now rocking back and forth.
He looked up at her. He seemed haunted. But he straightened up.
“Your water is ready.”
He got on his feet. “Thank you.”
And before she could turn away, Tanko stripped in front of her. His body made her gasp. Scars from cuts and burns covered almost every place his clothes had shielded. Tsaka tried not to look but the scars held her.
“Who did all this to you?”
Tanko gave no answer. He entered the bathtub and submerged himself beneath the water. Flat, he lay as he went under until his face disappeared. He remained there for so long, causing Tsaka to dip her hand in to check on him.
He came up for air. “I’m fine,” he answered calmly. “Can you scrub me like you used to?”
“Tanko…” she protested.
“I’m still your husband.”
She sat on the bathtub and did as he requested. Tsakani was a woman who enjoyed taking her time to do anything, a behavior that used to tick Tanko off back then. But tonight, he sat patiently as she washed him. The water was a deep brown, almost black, after she was through. She asked him to go under the shower for a rinse.
“Brush your teeth too,” she instructed. Her nightie was wet. She needed to change.
She left the bathroom to the bedroom. When she shut the door, Tsaka fell to the floor in tears. Her emotions were plagued with troubling thoughts. They were so heavy she didn’t even know which one to dwell on. She cried for a while and forced herself up. It was while taking off her nightie that Tanko emerged from the bathroom. Tsaka covered herself with the nightie.
“It’s not like I’ve not seen all that before,” he said.
“Stop talking like that, Tank.”
She disappeared behind the closet door and came out wearing a t-shirt and pajama shorts. She found him dressed in his father’s pajamas, lying in bed in a fetal manner.
“I’m going to Bianca’s room,” she informed him. “Good night.”
“Please, stay. Come and lie down with me.”
“Please, Tsaka. Hold me until I sleep. You don’t have to stay.”
She dithered, and then climbed on the bed with him.
She spooned him, her small arm finding his bony structure. It brought a lump to her throat. Back then, he used to be so chubby her arm ended on just one side of his tummy.
“What happened to you, Tank?”
He gave no answer. In a short while, she felt his flat tummy rise and fall in steady breathing. It was a good time to leave the room, but Tsaka stayed, and moved closer, placing her hand on his heart. Behind him, she cried silent tears, asking God why he had brought him home. What was she supposed to do with him now?
Suddenly, Tanko jerked up, throwing her hand off.
“Tanko?” She sat straight. He looked at her as if she was a stranger. When she touched him, he shuddered away. “Hey, it’s fine. You’re okay. You’re only having a nightmare.”
“I’ve killed people.” He began rocking backwards and forward again. “I killed them all. I killed them. I killed them. I killed them.”
He broke out in a wretched cry. She tried to hush him but couldn’t. Victoria and Idris barged in. None of them could calm him.
“Get Debbie!” Victoria ordered. “Quick!”
Tsaka ran out and knocked on a door at the end of the hallway. Debbie, Apollo’s wife, opened the door.
“Mommy’s calling you. It’s Tanko. We don’t know what’s wrong.”
Debbie followed her.
“Do you have anything to sedate him, Debbie,” Victoria asked above Tanko’s wails.
Debbie dashed out and returned with a syringe and a vial. She was a pharmacist and part-time nurse. She always came for family gatherings equipped with medical care, especially for the kids.
Tanko was held down and a needle sent into his vein.
“It’s not so strong, but it will keep him calm. He may still be awake. It should last until we’re able to get him to see a doctor.”
“Thank you.” Victoria sat beside her son. Idris and Debbie left. Tanko curled himself up again like a baby.
“He’s going to get better,” she assured Tsaka who nodded.
She rubbed his arm tenderly. “And you?”
“How are you taking all of this?”
Tsaka shrugged. She didn’t have words for how she felt. “I’m fine.”
“You’re not. And soon, it’s going to get worse. You may feel like you have to choose between him and Pero.”
“I don’t want to.” Tsakani felt it would rude to remind her that Pero was her husband. But Victoria, in her all-knowing way, already read her mind.
“You’re there thinking Pero is the one who deserves your love and attention, but you know you can’t leave Tanko now. You know he needs you.”
Tsaka bit her lips and freed them. “Am I supposed to dump Pero?”
“No. You’re not supposed to do anything you don’t like. And I know you love both men and it would be hard for you, at first. But with time, you would adjust and find your way through.”
“Mommy, what are you saying?”
Victoria stood up. “I’m saying you have two men in your life. You won’t be the first woman to have your heart divided. Gird up for what is to come.”
“Mommy, I can’t. As it is, I can’t even tell Pero that Tanko is back.”
Victoria gave her a hard stare. “You will have to, and he will accept it. I don’t know how that’s going to play out between you two, but you see my son, here, the last thing you will do is abandon him.”
“Mother, stop,” Tanko said. “Good night.”
Victoria kissed him again and walked out.
But Tsaka couldn’t. The woman had driven her into tears once more. Tanko rested his eye on her.
“I see you still cry at every little thing.”
“Stop talking to me.”
“Come and lie down, Tsaka.”
“Leave me alone.”
He didn’t ask her again. His eye closed. She stayed by the window and expended her heart until a headache plagued her. She walked slowly to the bed and sat. Tanko took her hand. He drew her to him. She lay, facing him.
“Please, don’t go. Please, please, please…” He held her hand to his chest and fell asleep.
Tsaka stayed awake until morning.
I had witnessed a lot of things in my few years of living. Things that could leave the average person shocked. Things eyes would view and the mouth could not utter. They hardly left impressions on me. But this…this was new to me. It left me with my jaw almost hitting the floor.
Archibong and Muna. How long had this been going on? How long had my sister been abusing my best friend? I watched them both struggling at the front door. He wanted her out of the house; she wanted in. Archie’s head jerked to the left to avoid an oncoming assault from Muna’s fingernails. He had already acquired some scratches and a finger in his eye a few minutes ago. But Muna wasn’t done with him. She flung both hands at his head numerous times, hitting and scratching. Archie’s arm, lodged beneath her breasts, clasped her tightly as he tried to get her out of his house.
I had arrived over ten minutes ago after I got a phone call from Archie, telling me he needed to see me. I had heard him heaving over the phone and known immediately that something was wrong. Arriving at the house, I could hear Muna screaming. I had dashed to the door, thinking I was coming to save her, but I stopped in my movement when I saw her hurl a broken figurine at him and threatening to kill him. It seemed like a joke at first, until I saw the mess of broken property in the living room and Archie, trying to dodge the things she threw at him.
“You called my sister?! So that she’ll do what?! Stop me?! You’re mad, Archibong! Bianca, don’t you dare interfere in this! It’s between me and my man!”
Her man? I had almost laughed in disbelief. Who hit their man? Who tossed stuff at their man to physically hurt him? Who acted like a rabid dog, attacking their man? I had known Muna was treating Archie like shit, but this was not what I imagined.
“Archie, what’s going on?” I asked.
“Stay out of it, B!”
But he had called me over. What did he want from me? I stood in silence, watching their drama. He instructed her to leave a few times and each time he did, she hurled something at him. Somehow he managed to grab and restrain her. Now, he was pushing her out the door.
“Muna, I don’t want to hurt you.”
The words were spoken through clenched teeth, and in a broken voice.
“Muna, please stop it.”
Under grunts and heaves, they thrashed against each other. Archie was much stronger, but he expended his strength minimally at Muna. It would take just one forceful lurch to have her out the door. She was delicate, physically. It was easy to hurt my sister.
She let out a scream of frustration that weakened her and gave Archibong the chance to shove her out. He then slammed the door against her, locking it altogether. He breathed heavily, chest rising and falling.
“Archie!” Muna shouted. Her fists hit the door. “Archibong!”
He backed away, still breathing hard.
“I’ll kill you, Archie! You must be out of your mind to cancel the wedding! You’re crazy!” Her voice thinned out as a cry followed. “After everything you’ll do me like this?! After the plans we’ve made and the money my family has spent for this wedding?! You want to walk away?! Are you fucking crazy?! ARCHIE?!”
She thumped on the door continuously until the thumps became weak and she broke down in tear-jerking cries. Archie’s heart went out to her, from what I saw on his face.
“Don’t open the door,” I advised. But I guessed he knew the script too well. Her tears were a ploy to lure him out. He remained standing with his breath now steadied. He waited until her act was over.
“I’m sorry, baby.” Her tone was changed. “I’m so sorry. You know I love you, right? I’m sorry. Please, open the door, Archie. Please, hon. I’m sorry,” she sobbed. “I’ll do anything to make you happy. Okay…I’ll sign the prenup. Please, open the door.”
He continued to wait, but while he did, he looked at me.
“I didn’t want you to see this, but it was necessary that you did. I’m done with your sister.”
I couldn’t speak. Muna hadn’t gone quiet. She begged until it seemed she was out of breath. The act didn’t get his attention. I was certain he knew she would come on again. And shortly after, she did as he had expected. His silence had reawakened her rage. When we heard her scream out threats, Archie shook his head in disappointment.
“I love her,” he told me. “So much that I have denied my own happiness to please her. How we have gotten to this point still baffles me.”
“I’m not joking o! Come out now!” Muna kept on.
Archie walked to the window that was nearest to the front door and looked out.
“Come and see.”
I followed him. Muna was holding a metal rod and stomping towards his car. The gateman stood nearby with his hands over his head in disbelief. He tried to jump in her way to stop her, but she swung the rod in his direction and he leapt back. Archie turned on his phone’s camera and began recording a video of her.
“I don’t want to do this, but nobody would believe me if I don’t.”
Still yelling at him, Muna lifted the rod and butted it into the driver’s window, shattering it in pieces. The car’s alarm went off. Archie’s head dropped. I looked at him. I felt his pain.
Muna went to the next window and shattered that one as well. The gateman lowered himself to the ground, stupefied. Muna carried on with the other windows and then the headlamps. She went on with the body of the car and when she became exhausted, she dropped the rod. Archie ended the video. He turned off the car’s alarm and picked her handbag and shoes from the living room. He left the house and walked to where she stood. She was staring at his car in remorse, like one having just been exorcised of many demons.
“Here.” He dumped the items on the ground. “Go home.”
She seemed speechless. “Archie…” she called him. He ignored her and went back into the house. Minutes later, we heard her car leaving the compound.
Archie’s eyes did a lazy sweep of his living room. The place was a mess, with shards of glass and items littering the floor. He took photos. I volunteered to help him clean up. It was while we were at it that I realized that he had a thick piece of glass stuck in his upper arm. I mentioned it, he stared at it, and continued cleaning. I drew closer to him and jerked out the glass.
“For fucks, sake, Bianca!”
He was angry, and from what I saw, embarrassed. Blood was flowing from the cut. It appeared to be a deep gash.
“Let me dress it for you.”
“Bianca, leave me the fuck alone!”
He tossed the broom in his hand to the floor and sank into a couch. His shoulders began to shake. He was sobbing. It was a painfully-beautiful thing to watch. I wanted to hold him, but all I could do was stand and stare. He took off his t-shirt and pressed it to his injury.
“You won’t understand how I love Munachi and how much canceling this wedding breaks me. All the money I’ve spent… Fuck!” He tossed the t-shirt to the floor. His anger was from a place of shame. I knew that type of anger.
He stomped out of the living room to his bedroom, returning afterwards with a shabby wound dressing over the cut and in gym clothes.
“Go home, B.” His eyes wouldn’t look at me. I knew he didn’t want me to go home. He needed me. He always needed me whenever he was going through something tough. He walked past and into his gym. I let him be, continuing with the act of cleaning. After I was done, I entered the gym.
It was now 2:18 a.m. The neighborhood was asleep. No sound was heard. No guard dogs barking. All was dead quiet, as though everyone within a hundred kilometers radius had mutually agreed to go to bed early tonight.
Archibong had his eyes ahead of him as he sped through the world’s most famous jogging paths, which included the Mount Desert Island Half-Marathon route, the Great Barrier Reef and New York’s Central Park, all on his treadmill. The virtual scenery displayed on the massive screens before him gave his mind the distraction he needed. His body was one with the machine, but I was sure his thoughts were in shreds, and his emotions, a collection of several heartbreaks. Domestic violence that had gotten to the point I had just witnessed didn’t start in one day. It had been ongoing. For how long? I wondered.
Like a man escaping from his present reality, he ran as though there was some place he desperately needed to get to. He could have gone for much longer had his right leg not bucked beneath him. He fell and the treadmill dragged him to the floor. I rushed to help him, but he bounded up. His pulse had decelerated, indicated by an incessant beeping from his optical wrist sensor. He helped himself with a waiting bottle of water.
“Thank you for coming, B. But please, go home.”
I ignored him again and followed him as he went for a shower. I stayed in his bedroom until he returned to me. He seemed much calmer, but when I observed his cut and saw that it was deeper, I noticed that his temperature had risen.
“Archie, please let me take care of you.”
He didn’t stop me this time. He got me a first aid box and I stitched him up and put a proper dressing on the affected area. I gave him an aspirin for the fever. He lay on the bed, I lay beside him. We didn’t speak for a while, but my thoughts were occupied.
“Talk to me.”
He didn’t answer immediately, but when the words came, they told of how he looked like a happy man on the outside, the lucky one who was soon to wed a gorgeous and brilliant physicist from a family of renown. Their wedding was the talk of gossip blogs and even in the little circles of the socialites and rich. He and Muna appeared perfect for each other when eyes were watching, but when the lights were out and the curtains drawn, he found himself in a threesome that included himself, Muna and her temper.
There were days when he was lost in the love she poured on him, when she seemed like a lover from a passionately-written romance novel. She was everything he wanted in a partner in those moments, but they were usually the brightest before the shadows dropped. Her anger, erupting over the slightest provocation would come upon him from nowhere, expressed in verbal abuse, and in recent times, physically. Archibong had the scars of her assault as reminders, for inasmuch as he relived the nightmares ever so often, he sometimes felt like he was living someone else’s reality.
Domestic violence was not something that was new to him. He had lived with an uncle who almost killed his wife had she not been saved by Archie himself. He was there when the abuse began and watched it become this huge monster in his uncle’s marriage. The same monster that had come to dwell in his relationship with Muna. As a child, Archie had suffered the pain of the abused, and had vowed not to lay his hands on any woman. But what do you do when you become the victim? How do you fight your way through when you’re weak? When you love your abuser so much you can’t think of a life without them? How do you explain this to someone out there and they would make sense of it?
Walk away. Walk the fuck away, his friend Olajiga had told him the first time he had a front row view of Muna’s anger. At that time she hadn’t begun to hit Archibong yet. They had fought over another girl in the neighborhood who stopped by on most evenings to use his gym. Muna had demanded that she stopped coming over. Archibong had insisted that she would. What came next from Muna was a barrage of insults. She hit him low and dirty with her words, reminding him of his lowly backgrounds and the fact that he had been nothing before his uncle picked him and raised him up. Olajiga, watching television in the living room, heard the entire exchange. That night, he begged Archibong to dump Muna.
“Things like this always never end up well. She’ll get worse.”
“She won’t. She’s just having a bad day.”
“How did you even end up with the wrong sister sef? Bianca is the one I thought you’d date.”
And Archie had smiled silently.
“Anyway sha, walk the fuck away from Muna or she will get physical with you.”
“Physical?” Archie laughed. “Have you seen Muna? If she ever hits me, shame on me. How person like Muna go hit me?”
But it had happened to him like a mad joke the first time she slapped him. His crime was that he had told her to piss off and he couldn’t stand the sight of her after she opted out of a romantic getaway to Maldives, paid by him, with the excuse that had friend was suffering a major heartbreak and she needed to be with her. Words were exchanged; Archie was understandably angry. He wasn’t one to hurl out hurtful words, but on this occasion, he had lost every bit of his patience. In trying to express his anger, Muna assaulted his face with her palm, added some cuss words and left his house.
Archie stood at the spot she had left him for what seemed like a time without end. He hadn’t believed it had happened, yet his mind refused to let go of the moment which came to him repeatedly. Although no one had witnessed it, he became embarrassed, unable to accept that it had occurred. When he arrived at work that morning, he avoided his colleagues and spent time with his patients. A bouquet of flowers came to him during his lunch break. There was a simple note written in Muna’s hand. She was sorry. She had been crying ever since. She wanted his forgiveness.
Alone in his office, Archie laughed painfully at what his life had turned into. He had become the one that got abused, and then roses, afterwards. Maybe, he would get apology sex too. And eerily, that was how it played out when he got home. Muna was waiting outside with tears in her eyes.
“I didn’t mean to, Archie. I don’t know what came over me. Boo, please forgive me.”
Her apologies flowed like a burst pipe. She begged nonstop for more than an hour, until he gave audience to her.
“Say you forgive me. Please, don’t just say you’ve heard me.”
“I forgive you.”
She kissed and hugged him and sobbed until he held her. The sex that followed was fiery, maybe the best they ever had. Waiting afterwards was a meal prepared by her. Archie didn’t talk about what happened after that. He was ashamed and chucked it down to a bad morning. His Munachi was not an abuser. Their love would go deeper. Everything would be alright.
But Muna had only just begun. Although it took a while for her to hit him again, it happened as one would expect of an abuser. She would hit, kick, bite, throw things at him and destroy his possessions just to have her way. The more this happened, the quieter Archie became. He avoided arguments altogether and went out of his way to please her. Sometimes, she appreciated his efforts, but on the days she fell out of her good mood, she showed her disappointment through violence. On one occasion, after being hit by a hand mirror she had flung at him, Archie sat stupefied with tears in his eyes, wondering what had happened to her. He had held a towel over a cut on his thigh and watched her weep into a pillow. In the end, it was he who reached out and consoled her. He explained that she needed anger management. Weirdly, she agreed with him. But on the day they were to visit the psychologist, Muna turned around and blamed him for her issues.
“You always make me cry! There are girls constantly around you! You’re too busy! Never around to spend time with me! And you’re also passive-aggressive! You won’t express your anger, but you’ll be giving me the silent treatment! How do you expect me to be happy?!”
Befuddled, he took her words in without response. That evening, he tried to break up with her. As you might have guessed, it didn’t work. Muna cried herself to a fever until Archie took back his words, but only on the premise that they would both see a relationship counselor together. Muna accepted the terms, and even showed enthusiasm towards the idea. She went as far as attending the first two sessions, but after a minor argument with Archie, she backed out on the deal.
“I don’t have issues. Stop making me feel like I’m this terrible person alone. You’re equally bad.”
It was at this point, Archie sought help from Olajiga. When he opened up on all that had been going on, Olajiga said, “I told you this would happen, Archibong. I no tell you?”
“I know,” Archie responded, hand in the pockets of his scrubs, head bowed low.
“You have to leave her.”
“I can’t, man. Muna’s pregnant for me.”
Olajiga showed disappointment, but insisted, “It doesn’t matter. Your life is more important. That babe fit stab you to death.”
“That babe is carrying my child. I can’t leave her.”
A week later, they lost the baby. The sad incident left Muna shaken and depressed. Archie forgot his pain and nursed her. She became withdrawn after then, calm even. No more assaults. The Muna he knew from the beginning returned to him. Archie felt justified for believing her abusive stage was temporary and for sticking with her all through. He even fancied himself some sort of love cushion on which she had released her brokenness.
Things got back to normal and they began preparations for their wedding. But two days ago, she had slapped him again. And quite easily, the emotions from the past were brought back to life. Just three days to his wedding, Archie feared the worst. Throwing away his pride, he visited his aunt and let out all he had been facing.
“This has to be a joke, Archibong. A huge joke. Tell me you’re lying to me, please.”
He shook his head. The woman snapped her fingers in astonishment.
His head was lowered in shame. He waited to hear her scold him or call him weak. But she stopped speaking altogether and joined him in silence. When he looked up, he saw her crying.
“It’s my fault. I didn’t fight back when I should have, and you witnessed everything. Now, look at you. You think it’s a way of life to be maltreated.”
Archie wanted to tell her it wasn’t her fault. To remind her that she was a hero, and had taken him in and given him everything, even when his uncle threw them out on the streets and none of their rich family members intervened or helped. He wanted to take her mind back to the days when they had nothing and she did everything to put him through secondary school and the university to study medicine. She had been his protector and provider, and had done it at her frailest. She wasn’t the weak one. He was. And this shattered him.
“I love her,” he said.
“My son, I know you do. What’s not to love about Munachi? She’s everything a man wants, but remember that inem asaŋa ye idot. Sweetness and bitterness walk hand in hand. That nonsense love can kill you, my son. Get out now. Nobody will die because you did not marry a Bahago. As for me, I will not support you if you proceed. You will not use my hand to sign your death warrant.”
A confused Archie returned home. On one hand, he wanted to save Munachi from herself. On the other, he wanted to save himself alone.
“I brought up the issue of the prenup my lawyer and I put together months ago. Muna had said she was fine with it, but had always come up with some excuse as to why she couldn’t sign it. I told her that the wedding would not hold if she didn’t and she got pissed, but she didn’t say anything. She visited earlier to drop some things and I reminded her again. That was when the drama started and I called you. She got angry that I did. We exchanged words, she started throwing things around. You saw what she did to my TV. I got it just last week. The car was last month. B, didn’t I do right to cancel the wedding? I know this would incur your mom’s wrath. I know people have flown in from all over and I know I’m going to be the most hated man by this time tomorrow. But…”
He ended with a solemn shake of his head.
“I sensed it yesterday when you came to pick me at the airport,” I told him. “Your middle finger kept tapping the wheel. That finger gets restless only when something bothers you. And you kept sighing. You normally don’t hear it, but I do. You’re doing both now.”
He laughed, turning to look at me. “I did end up with the wrong sister, didn’t I?”
“I’m not saying I suddenly have feelings for you because of what happened between Muna and I today. I still love her like mad and that’s why it’s so hard. But the way I feel about you, B, it’s deep. People always say you should marry your best friend, right?”
“Where is this going?”
“Come to think of it, why didn’t we ever hook up? We were best friends. What happened?”
“You had a crush on Muna, and I…had my men.”
He looked at me with a smile. “You hardly ever smile, but when it happens, your soul shows. It’s something beautiful and mysterious. Bianca, you’re an enigma. Even to me.”
“Dude, stop talking.”
“I actually crushed on you in our early twenties.”
“But your heart was unreachable, frighteningly detached. Now, I want you. But ignore me. I am not thinking straight. My emotions speak for me. This is a just a case of someone being terribly broken and seeking to find succor through physical affection. So, Ignore.”
Ignore? Archie had no idea what he was asking me to do. Ignoring him was the last thing on my mind. Having seen him at his weakest, I was turned on. I wanted him badly. He was probably going to be the last good man I would have before I became Kashimu’s plaything. I knew he was vulnerable right now, and I was going to take advantage of that defenselessness. Besides, this would be a good way to sever what he had with Muna.
“Close your eyes, Archie.”
“Close your eyes.”
“Just do it.”
“The last time you told me to close my eyes you put a snake on my shoulder.”
I covered the space between us. “Do it.”
He finally obeyed me.
“Don’t open them until I say so.”
I rested my palm on his chest and began to run it down his torso. He caught my wrist, opening one eye.
“What are you doing?”
“Didn’t I tell you not to open your eyes?” I took my hand back. He shut his eye. I rested the hand on his body once more and continued down. I pushed through his waistband to find his sleeping phallus. I stopped there.
“Dump Muna,” I told him. “This is the most honest you would get from me about this issue, Archibong. You deserve better.”
He looked at me. “I already dumped her.”
“No. She’ll come back and beg you and sign the prenup and promise you all manner of things and because you’re her broken little toy, you’ll take her back. That’s what victims like you do.”
Archie was looking at my lips as I spoke. Underneath my hand, he grew in length and hardness. He looked every bit like the Archie who, many years ago, lost his virginity in me.
Not long before that, I had returned from Captain’s lair where I was abducted to and given a new life. Idris had enrolled me in a government secondary school to have me write my senior WAEC exams. Archie was the Head Boy in that school. I had been told that he had warned other boys off me. They were planning to make a beeline for me. I was the hottest thing then. The lesbians wanted me because of my tomboyish ways. For the guys, it was a thing of pride to win the attention of a tomboy. But I wasn’t interested in any of them. Archie was in my class. He had the brains I was looking for. Although I had gotten educated under Captain’s care, I knew I needed someone who would sharpen up my mind and prepare me for the exams. Hence, the chemistry between Archie and I came naturally. We soon became friends, and he would walk me home every day, and many times, he stayed until dinnertime. Idris and Victoria didn’t mind. They were happy I had a friend. I had returned to them as a mystery. I kept to myself, never laughed or smiled and spoke only when spoken to. Archie was the one who cracked through my wall and made me human again.
On the day he lost his virginity to me, Idris and Victoria were out of town. It was a Saturday. My elder brothers were also not at home. Muna was in a boarding school. It was just Archie and I. I got some beer for us to drink while we watched a movie. It was his first beer. He was tipsy at the end of the bottle, but his male pride wouldn’t let him stop because he had seen me taken a second one. I tried to warn him but he wouldn’t listen. I got him another bottle. He downed it fast, burped and moved closer to me. He touched me. I didn’t stop him. He kissed me. I didn’t stop that either. Soon, we were making out on the couch.
“I want us to fuck,” he said, “but I’ve never done it before.”
The alcohol made him honest and daring. He was laid over me. I helped him take off his jeans. I pulled off my panty and guided him into me. The whole thing didn’t last two minutes. When he came, he retched and vomited all over my face. Archie avoided me in school for a while until I assured him that I didn’t see him as less because of what had happened. Our friendship got deeper after that, but we never got intimate, until now.
“I want so badly to prove to you that I can do more than one minute and I don’t puke when I cum.” He laughed. “But this is so wrong, sha.”
He brought his face back to mine, and his lips on mine. “I need a reason to leave her.”
He kissed me tentatively, stopped and then covered my lips hungrily, tugging my waist to his crotch. His hand found the arch of my back. He stopped again.
“In my twenties, I had fantasies of you, wondering about your femininity, empty imaginations of the curvy and tender parts of you that you hid underneath your tomboy clothes.”
He lifted the mini jean skirt I had on to explore my bum. His other hand grabbed my breast like a real man would, not like the teenager, who years ago, tugged that same breast so brutally.
I let out a soft, breathless moan. He unbuttoned my shirt. I had no bra underneath. His eyes adored me for a while before his lips tasted my neck, my shoulder and all the way down to my brazenly exposed nipples. His lips on them felt like they could live there until they withered away.
“I want to say we shouldn’t do this, B, but I need you badly. I so need you.” His eyes were looking into mine again. Earnestly. Desperately.
“You’re barking off the wrong tree, Archie. If you want me to agree that this is wrong, then you don’t know me.”
“And our friendship after this?”
“Did it die after that first time when we were hormonal teenagers with unrestrained emotions?”
He looked down at my breasts once more.
“Archie, see this as healing from all the pain you’ve gone through. Unleash your emotions in me. The anger…” I kissed him. “The depression.” Another kiss. “The hurt. All of it.”
The last kiss brought his weight down on my body. He clung to me as our mouths explored each other.
“Can I taste you?” he asked, breathing into my mouth.
“No, let me.”
He turned me around and had me over him.
“You’re so not a boy,” he said. His eyes were glassy with lust. I smiled. His words weren’t new to me. Men who knew the tomboy side of me always marveled when I switched to become feminine behind closed doors.
“This is taboo sex,” Archie said, “and I’m so going to regret it when my head clears.”
My hand took Archie’s rock hard shaft and my lips ministered to it. He swore under a sigh. There was undoubtedly something perverse about having my sister’s man, and unlike him, no regret waited for me after this.