It had been his idea to get married somewhere in France. He wanted a quiet ceremony. Toni didn’t mind. Same way she allowed herself get carried along when he suggested that they were to do it immediately. He made the decisions, from what rings they were to wear, to the guests that were to be invited to the wedding and even the vows they were to say to each other. All she had to do was show up at the venue and become his wife.
And thus, she was there, freezing badly and wondering why everyone else wasn’t. Her teeth clattered when she tried to smile up at Andre. The priest was speaking in French, a language she understood, but for some reason, she couldn’t pick a word he was saying. Everyone else did, and they were laughing to something he uttered. She tried to laugh along. Her teeth clattered still. She thought against it. She was going to laugh later, maybe when they got somewhere warmer.
But the laughter from the wedding guests would not die down. It kept on until the priest asked if she would take Andre to be her lawfully wedded husband. Somehow, he had uttered that in English.
She looked at Andre, handsome as ever, smiling back at her.
“Say yes,” he muttered.
She opened her mouth to speak and it was only then it occurred to her to have a peep at her wedding gown. She stared down, and to her horror, the bottom part of the gown was gone. In embarrassment, she looked at the crowd. They were pointing at her now, still taken by amusement.
Toni didn’t wait one second. She put her feet into motion and burst into a sprint; but the faster she ran, the louder she heard the voices of the wedding guests in her head. They seemed to be running after and mocking her.
Toni woke from her nightmare with a wheeze. Her head, laid on the pillow, instantly began to throb. It took a few seconds to recover from the dream and to recall where she was. After a long yawn, she lifted her head to find Andre seated on a chair, sipping from a cup and staring at her.
“Bonjour,” he said.
She gave no answer. A bursting bladder sent her to the bathroom. Afterwards she stood before the washbasin to rinse her mouth with some mouthwash. She returned to the room and sat on Andre’s laps, curling herself up on him.
“Still sleepy?” He rubbed her thigh.
“We slept quite late. Maybe you should catch up on some rest.”
“Let’s do that together.”
She could tell that he was dressed to leave.
“I wish I could, minette. But I have a girlfriend to break up with and a son who’d be wondering where I’ve been.”
“I’ll go home, do the needful and come back here, say nine?”
“Sounds great. I have to dash home to check on the kids too.”
“I’ll pick you up at home.” He was rubbing her bum now. “So about last night and earlier today…”
“About last night…”
“You said yes to getting married to me and having my kids. Was that the alcohol talking?”
“I wasn’t drunk, Andre.”
“So you meant all you said?”
“Let me see your face.”
Toni sat straight. Andre held her waist and helped her straddle him.
“What’s the caveat?” he asked.
“I really want to spend the rest of my life with you, Fabrice…”
“The marriage part… It scares me.”
“What if I say we don’t have to rush into it? That we can take our pretty, little time, enjoy each day as it comes?”
“I’d like that.”
“So, it’s okay to get you a ring?”
“A very expensive one.”
“Ah. I hope you don’t like public proposals, though?”
“No. Not my thing.”
“Perfect. And babies? You want to get pregnant anytime soon?”
“Nope. But if it happens accidentally…great. If not, let’s leave babies for 2019.”
Andre fostered a mischievous grin. “Accidentally, you say?”
“Given that your withdrawal game is ace, that’s never going to happen, right?”
She kissed him.
“I should go before we start again this afternoon.”
“Don’t go,” Toni begged. He stood up, carrying her along, her legs wrapped around him.
“Tisha brought you a change of clothes and makeup and all. I’ll be sending Tochi to come pick you up.”
Toni didn’t care for what he was saying. Her eyes were fixed to his lips as he spoke. When she couldn’t help herself, she took them between hers.
“Antonia…” he murmured pleasurably. “Stop making a man hard.”
She clung to him until he got to the door. He let her down.
“I love you, Braithwaite.”
“Call me the moment you become girlfriend-less.” She left a peck on his chest. “I love you too.”
He left the suite. Toni leaned on the door after he was gone. She fought the thoughts trying to barge into her mind. They were not healthy thoughts. She was sure they were responsible for the nightmare she had.
But some part of her glowed with the sensuous exhilaration of having surrendered completely to Andre. That part of her threw her back on the bed in abandon and she lay there, staring at the window closest to her as a curious evening sun crept in as if wanting to know why she felt amazing, just lying there and doing nothing at all. Last night, after almost eight months of being away from Andre, she fell in love with him again. Her body and heart tumbled right into him totally, and now she felt complete like a single ripple in an ocean. Single and yet whole. The feeling was remarkable.
Her troublesome will still held out, still watched her and Andre from a corner, waiting for one little gap through which to pull her back to sense. But she was determined to be sold out this time. If there was one thing she learned while away from the Frenchman, it was that one had to pursue their own happiness at all cost.
Toni rang the restaurant up for her first meal for the day. When it arrived she was already bathed. She ate leisurely, wore her clothes and dialed Tochi who had rung her up earlier to tell her he was waiting. Toni picked the overnight bag Leticia had left for her and found her way out of the hotel. Tochi was seated in Andre’s SUV in the parking lot. She was not in the mood for his company; hence, she dismissed him and took Andre’s vehicle.
“Just know that I didn’t miss you,” Tochi grumbled.
“I love you too,” she said and kicked off the engine.
Toni hit the road soon. She turned on loud music to shut down her mind. It seemed to be working until Leticia’s call came through.
“Oya, start giving me details.”
“Details…” Toni found herself blushing. “We fucked and talked and talked and fucked.”
Toni giggled. “There was something really special about last night and this morning. It didn’t feel like the past. It was really different. Apart from the sex, he proposed.”
“Are you serious?”
“He’s proposed to me a lot, Tish, but this was different. I said yes.”
“I said yes.”
Leticia screamed for a long time. “You really said yes?”
“Yes to spending my life with him, yes to having his kids.”
“I’m tearing up right now.”
“He’s going to get a ring. Tish, I’m scared.”
The thoughts she had kept at bay came down suddenly. Toni began to think of the many possible things that could go wrong in her relationship with Andre.
“I think I might have committed myself to him too fast.”
“Toni, don’t start.”
“What if he cheats? What if it doesn’t work out and he dumps me?”
“Toni, please don’t tow that path. Stay in the light, honey. Don’t listen to those voices. It’s your village people at work.”
“I’m really scared. I lose all control when I’m with this guy. It’s like I can’t think straight again. How do I just completely give up myself to one human being?”
“Toni, please nau. I’m begging you. Stop. Just think happy thoughts. Think about Duke’s cute smile. The way he crawls up on you and places his head on your chest. Or that day he called you mommy? Only happy thoughts, girl.”
“I’ll try, but seriously, I’m freaking out. Maybe I should see somebody. This can’t be normal, can it? I think I’m commitment-phobic. Is there another word for it?”
“There is. It’s called village witches! They are after you, Toni Tone! Receive your deliverance in the mighty name of Jesus!”
“Mad woman.” Toni laughed. “So what have you been up to all day?”
“We had a wedding at church and I was one of the maids of honor.”
“Oh. Like how many times have you done that, though?”
Toni gave a mocking snort.
“Anyways, bride was giving attitude and sending us up and down like we were her slaves. Somebody that we saw with our own eyes leave spinsterhood few hours ago o. She’s now forming married woman status with us. Me, I just left them there.”
“Where are you headed now?”
“Reconciled with Dapo yet?”
“Nope. I’m going to Daisy’s.”
“Please don’t tell me you still want to go and see her.”
“Unnecessary drama, Tish. Don’t do it.”
“I have listened to you for a week but I’m done. She has to explain to me why she was so quick to jump on Dapo’s dick the moment she heard we were having issues.”
“First of all, you guys were not together. Second, Dapo jumped into her vagina as well.”
“She was my friend and neighbor. What type of ratchet behavior was that? Nah. She’ll hear from me in a few minutes.”
“You’re really going there?”
“Tish…” Toni shook her head. “Just make sure it doesn’t come to fisticuffs because that person was raised by wild animals.”
“Same as me. We’ll wild it out if it comes to that.”
“Just be careful.”
They talked some more and then Leticia rang off. Toni resumed her music, but a little less loud. Leticia was always a mood lifter. Yet Toni couldn’t help wondering what she had gotten herself into.
Andre hated breakups. He had had quite a few in his life, and all of them initiated by him. He hated when a woman cried because of him. It always left him feeling less human.
As he alighted from the cab that brought him home, he conjured up his opening line to Camille. He was ready for the tears and insults. He just wished there was an easier way to execute his mission.
He walked in. Camille was seated, all dressed up, a bag waiting by her feet. Andre shut the door and strode towards her. He could tell that she knew what was about to happen. He didn’t know how but he could see it in her eyes.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“Don’t act like you don’t know,” she replied in French. “I’m going home.”
“Any reason why?”
He saw hurt in her eyes. “Are you going to stand in front of me and pretend that you didn’t spend the night with your ex? Andre, her birthday pictures are all over Instagram. I followed the hashtag #Tonis35th and got all the details. You threw a party for her after kissing me here and telling me you’d be right back.”
“Let me finish.”
“I’m sorry. Go ahead.”
“I know you told me that you still have feelings for her. I know you said you’re taking it slow with me and there are no guarantees, but did you have to disrespect me that much? Why didn’t you just end things before going to have sex with her?”
“I am very sorry. I…”
“You have no excuse.”
“You’re right, but I am sorry. You’ve been good to me, Camille. You put up with my detachment. You never complained. You were there when I needed you. You took care of Jozi. You don’t deserve to be treated the way I’m treating you now.”
“I wasn’t looking for a husband. And I’m still not.”
Andre saw hope in her eyes. He crushed it. “I’m looking for a wife.”
“And she’s not me.”
He was silent.
“I understand.” She pulled herself to her feet. “I…”
She shook her head as if warding thoughts away.
“I wish you the best.”
He knew she wasn’t going to cry. Camille had an aversion for tears.
“A kiss?” she requested. Andre turned his eyes away. “Wow. Okay… I’ll see you then.”
She picked her purse and paused a little. “This is very painful. Yesterday morning, by this time, you were kissing me. And now, you won’t even look at me.”
“Camille, please… If I touch you or kiss you or do anything…it would hurt more. And I don’t want to be that guy that says one thing and does another.”
“I don’t blame you. You warned me so many times in the beginning and I felt like I could handle this day if it ever comes. I didn’t know it would hurt like this. Take care, Andre.”
“Let me call a cab…”
She picked her bag and hurried out of the house. Andre didn’t feel any sort of relief at her departure. He hated that he was breaking her heart. To lighten his mood, he walked to Jozi’s bedroom. The boy was playing with the neighbor’s kid. Andre watched them for a while before retiring to his bedroom.
“That’s your ex-boyfriend’s ride,” Imade stated when Toni pulled up in the driveway of her new home. He was waiting outside, just returning from golfing. His caddy was with him, carrying a cart bag that seemed bigger than his diminutive size. Imade nodded at the boy who disappeared as Toni came forward.
“You spent the night with him?” Imade asked.
“You chose him over my planned birthday getaway?”
“So, what’s exactly going on between you two?”
Imade’s lifted his brows. “Interesting. Just one night and you forget that he left you feeling like shit. You can’t remember all the tears…”
“Imade, Andre and I are back together for good. I just want to let you know. Thank you for being there. This house and the Maserati… I can’t take them.”
“Then sell them.” Imade’s face had gone icy.
“Does that matter to you, seeing that you’re glowing with all the goodness of whatever it was you enjoyed last night?”
“Let’s not make this difficult.”
“Scarlet, it’s fine. We still have a working relationship, right?”
“Good. I’ll see you in my office on Tuesday.” He began to walk to his car with the arrogance of a man who felt like he could walk back into her life whenever he decided to. “My offer still stands.”
“That’s never going to happen.”
“Never say never, Antonia.” He got into his car and honked for his caddy. Seething in annoyance over his attitude, Toni returned to Andre’s SUV and drove away.
Daisy’s home was a three-bedroom structure somewhere in Maryland, Ikeja. It had only occurred to Leticia when she pulled up in front of the place, how close it was to Dapo’s house. Her head began to conjure up unpleasant scenes that included Dapo and Daisy. Through the week she had wondered how many times Dapo visited the serial baby mama to check on his daughter. She had also wondered if there was more to his visits. Daisy was dangerously sexy and only a few men have been known to escape her wiles. Leticia had always counted Dapo as part of those men. It broke her that he was just another name ticked off the seductress’ list.
Leticia put a leash on her emotions as she stepped out of her car and walked in through the gate.
Daisy’s sons playing outside sprinted up to her and she lifted them both in a hug and left kisses on their foreheads. She recalled the many nights she had babysat them much to Toni’s annoyance while Daisy went whoring. She couldn’t believe that the gratitude she got in the end was Daisy’s blatant betrayal.
“Tish mama! You just dey slay anyhow these days o!” Daisy called from her front porch. She was seated with the little one. “Which wind blew you to our side today, babe?”
“The wind of trouble.”
“Trouble keh. Oya come and gist me. I’m all here for it.”
“Let’s enter inside and talk.”
“I’m even cooking beans sef. Let’s go to the kitchen.”
Daisy led her in. The house was in disarray, which wasn’t something new. Daisy was a walking hurricane. Tisha picked up a couple of toys on her path as she followed her to the kitchen. Daisy passed the baby to her and rushed to lift the lid off her pot of beans.
“So what’s this trouble that blew you my way, Tisha mama?” Daisy asked, pouring a cup of water over the simmering pot of beans.
Leticia stared into the baby’s face, noting the striking resemblance she had with Dapo.
“I’d like to know why you went after Dapo when he and I broke up briefly last year.”
Daisy covered the pot and turned around. “Dapo?”
“Yes, Dapo. The father of this baby.”
Daisy crossed her arms in a troublesome manner.
“Is there a rule that says I cannot fuck with the man you’re no longer fucking with?”
Toni’s warning was recalled and Leticia held back a nasty retort as she placed the baby in a rocker beside her. She straightened her dress and then faced her friend.
“Daisy, I have been nothing but kind and sweet to you. Even from the first day. Even when Toni didn’t want you in the house, I let you in. I was there for you financially and emotionally many times. I have never asked you to repay a kobo of the cash I have lent to you. I have never betrayed you; not once, Daze. But you get a little chance to be used by the devil to stab me in the back and you go in hard with all you’ve got. You were fucking my man next door, Daze! Just right next door! And you got pregnant by him and kept it from me and had his baby! What did I do to deserve that type of wickedness?!”
A look of pity that infuriated Leticia more fell on Daisy’s face. “Calm down.”
“Calm down?! After you’ve done the deed?! Calm down?! After you’ve had a baby for him?! I have to live with the fact that this little angel here who came through dubious means would be part of my life! She would be my man’s first child and I have to love her even when I hate her mother! I will have to put up with your spiteful ass for as long as Dapo is in my life! And you’re here, telling me to calm the fuck down?!”
Daisy spread out her arms as she moved towards Tisha. “Seriously, calm down.”
Leticia backed away. “Don’t come near me.”
“You’re hurting, baby. Come let me hug you.”
“Come nau! Ah! You need my hug. Come.”
“Daisy, I swear, I’ll give you a dirty slap that will reset that stupid cunt in your brain!”
“Shooo? Na wa o. You dey vex.”
“You haven’t seen the half of it!”
“It’s unnecessary because my baby is not Dapo’s,” Daisy revealed casually. “She’s Tayo’s.”
Leticia baulked. She gawked at the baby and then and Daisy and back at the baby again. “Stop lying.”
“I’m not. She’s Tayo’s.”
“I don’t understand. Dapo told me…”
“So what’s the truth then? You were sleeping with both brothers?”
Daisy laughed. “I never slept with your precious baby boy. That one resisted me like I was the devil. But Tayo fell and fell really hard. Actually, he came to me when Lade dumped him. He was heartbroken. I was there for him.” Daisy pointed at her baby. “She was the result of lonely nights.”
Leticia dragged the only chair in the kitchen and sat numbly.
“I honestly didn’t want to keep her. Everyone thinks I like being called a serial baby mama but I didn’t want her on my résumé. I didn’t even tell Tayo when I found out I was pregnant. I was extremely broke then and trying to finesse some money from him to do a D&C. But that guy has one kind of sixth sense like that. He picked out that I was pregnant and begged me not to abort. I was like no, I’m done. He begged and begged and even brought Dapo to beg. I agreed under the condition that they will get me this bigger house and a car as well. They now also pleaded with me not to let anyone know that it’s Tayo’s baby. Reason that if it reaches Lade’s ear, she would be devastated. So, Dapo took responsibility by name, and even the finances because Tayo was really broke then.”
“I’m still finding it hard to believe. I want to see her birth certificate.”
Daisy left to her bedroom, returning with her baby’s certificate. The name of the father listed was Tayo. Leticia’s eyes remained on the certificate for quite some time.
“If I confirm this story and it’s true, I would owe you an apology, Daze.”
“Start apologizing now. And if you have been harsh to Dapo over this, go and say you’re sorry. He’s such a good guy. He was even mad at Tayo for having anything to do with me because his allegiance is with Lade.” Daisy rolled her eyes. “ All I’m saying is that he loves you. I can’t say he can never cheat on you, but I know that he didn’t cheat on you with me. And that should count for something.”
“I still don’t know what to say.”
“That’s because you’re sitting there and thinking that Dapo called me and told me to lie about who Daisy’s real father is.”
Daisy picked her phone and passed it over to Leticia. “Scroll through all the pictures. You’ll see Tayo playing with her. And you’ll see pictures of me and him. If you see Dapo there, please call us both liars.”
Daisy’s words turned out to be true. Leticia flipped past pictures until she came to recent ones in which Daisy and Tayo were in intimate positions.
“Wait…. You guys are still together?”
“You and Tayo?”
“Like right now?”
“The same Tayo who is expecting a baby with Lade?”
A look from Daisy that bore sadness didn’t escape Leticia’s eyes.
“I have accepted my position in his life, Tish. He’s not back with Lade but I know he loves her. Me I’m not looking for marriage or else I would have weakened their bond long ago. So, I just adopt a sit-down-and-unlook attitude. I’m too old to be fighting for a man. Let him enjoy, as long as he cares for me and his baby.”
“You want to say you’re sorry now?”
“No. Until I get to the bottom of this.”
“Oya go. My beans is done and I’m not giving you.”
Leticia tried to laugh but couldn’t. She left the house, stunned and relieved. Her next destination was Dapo’s home; but she met an empty house when she got there. She reached his line and he gave her directions to his friend’s house.
“Why don’t you just come home?”
“It’s Sope’s sister’s traditional wedding. I can’t leave. Just drive over. It’s not far na.”
Leticia followed the directions given to her. She found herself on a street on which several cars were parked. She was forced to leave her car at a distance and walk all the way to the house in her heels. Dapo was waiting at the gate with a friend. He looked tired but he wore a smile when he took her hand and guided her into a massive compound in which four separate houses stood. It looked like a mini court. A rectangular space between the houses where the party held was covered in a canopy. A Wizkid song was playing that put Leticia in a dancing mood, but she held her calm until Dapo brought her into one of the houses and to a bedroom that looked like it belonged to a female. Leticia asked no questions. She accosted Dapo the instant the door shut behind them, pinning him to the wall and kissing him passionately.
“I thought we were fighting,” he said. His hands had made themselves comfortable on her bum.
“We are. I’d like us to talk about the baby,” Leticia said straightaway.
Dapo pulled back a little and let his eyes do the work of admiring her body. “Can we first talk about how sexy you look?”
Leticia hadn’t set out to look sexy. She was in her bridesmaid dress. Nothing so glamorous. But Dapo was always in the habit of falling in love with her style, even though at the moment, it was he who looked scrumptious in his agbada. But she paid him no compliments as she took to the bed.
“Still angry at me?” His voice was quiet in the way she liked. It bore a certain characteristic of helplessness, accompanied with a needy expression that always turned her on.
“Stop doing that.”
“Anything you want to drink?” he asked, heading for the door.
“Just a chapman…if they have.”
“I’ll be right back.”
He left the room and she was alone in a party mood and the loud music from outside. It was now Davido singing FIA. Leticia kicked out of her heels and set her body in rhythm to the beat.
She soon got carried away and didn’t hear when Dapo slipped back in. He stood by the door, smiling and taking silent pictures as she danced. She eventually saw him, but it didn’t stop her. She danced until the song ran its course and switched to another.
“Why did you stop?”
Leticia took the glass of freezing berry juice he came with.
“They didn’t have chapman,” he apologized.
After a long sip, she sat on the bed. “What’s the name of your baby with Daisy?” she asked.
“What’s her birthdate?”
“Um…she’s about seven…eight months?”
“You’re not sure?”
“She’s your baby, abi?”
“Tish, I’m tired. I haven’t slept since…”
“You don’t know how old your baby is?”
“Leticia, where’s this heading?”
“Whose baby is she, really?”
“You slept with Daisy?”
“I already told you.”
“Told me what? Say the words again. I want to hear you explain how you fucked Daisy.”
“Because I’m just from Daisy’s. She told me everything. The baby is Tayo’s. I just want to know if she’s telling the truth.”
Dapo disrobed, taking off his agbada. He was left with the kaftan beneath it.
“She wasn’t lying.”
“So can you explain to me why you had to lie to me that you slept with her and got her pregnant?”
“I felt really stupid over our fight or rather about slut-shaming you. I wanted to share something damning about my past too.”
Leticia’s eyes went wide in wonder. “Are you alright? You could have just told me you slept with a hundred or more girls, Dapo. Why lie about something you never did?”
“I didn’t want you to feel awful alone.”
“Did it occur to you before you opened that your mouth that your fake revelation was going to hurt me or were you just deliberately trying to add more salt to the injury you already created?”
“No, no. I seriously wasn’t thinking. And if you had noticed that morning, I was drunk. It was supposed to be like ‘okay, I have a dirty past too, so don’t feel bad about yours.’”
“Dapo, for somebody that is constantly smart and can calculate huge figures in his head, that was a very stupid thing to do.”
“It’s noble what you’re doing for Tayo but coming to lie to me about it? Did you think the truth would never come out?”
“I only realized it after I spoke. In my head I was saying like, ‘Dapo, wrong move. Shit! Wrong move.’ And I could have confessed right at that moment but you asked me to leave and…”
“Seriously, Dapo.” She shook her head.
“I just had to say something to make you feel better.”
Leticia sighed, feeling her confusion and annoyance melt away. “You have a lot of growing up to do.”
“Stop saying that.”
“Toni’s going to laugh so hard when I gist her this.”
“Don’t. The fewer people who know about Kayinsola’s paternity, the better.”
“Sorry, Toni has to know. Besides, Tayo should just tell Lade the truth.”
“Not now. She’s in a very fragile place.”
“But your brother sef…”
“Yeah, he messed up.”
“And you’re taking the blame for it.” Leticia looked at Dapo flatteringly. “It sort of makes me like you more.”
“He’s my brother. Kayinsola’s family. But let’s all keep that on the down low. Am I forgiven now?” He pleaded with a boyish grin that showed exhaustion at the same time.
Leticia got off the bed and walked to him. She put her arms around his neck. “Let’s go home. I’ll run you a bath, cook something nice for you and we can cuddle and sleep.”
Dapo slept off in Leticia’s car, his chair reclined, as she drove. When they got home, he spread out on Toni’s bed and continued sleeping with Toni lying beside him, laughing out loud as Leticia relayed the details of the evening to her. Andre dropped by a while after and dinner was had in a hearty atmosphere. The children were put to bed afterwards. Toni left with Andre and Leticia snuggled up beside Dapo.
“The prenup,” he slurred.
“What about it?”
“Let’s trash it.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. And about the number of girls I’ve had sex with…”
“I don’t want to know.”
He raised a thumb. “Wise woman. What you don’t know won’t kill you.”
Dapo smiled his way back into slumber.
Salma wasn’t sure how she felt when she stood before Maliq’s door, waiting for it to open. She hadn’t been particularly happy to learn from the hospital that he had walked out of his ward and told them he was leaving, despite the fact that he still needed treatment. The doctor attending to him advised her to bring him back as he felt his health was threatened outside the walls of the hospital. Salma had been tired from attending Toni’s birthday party the night before. She hadn’t partied in a long time and was dragged there by Raji whom she suspected didn’t want her to spend the night with Maliq. Suffice to say, she had a good time at the party and had even danced with Raji without him having to beg her for it. Something about the party put a lot of people in a romantic mood. It reminded Salma about the days when Raji was crazy about her and all they had was each other.
But she had turned him away at the door after he brought her back home last night. Her thoughts were occupied with Maliq at that ungodly hour, bursting with the temptation to drive to the hospital to see him. However, her eyes shut when threw herself on her bed they didn’t flutter open until twelve noon the following day. She drove to the supermarket first, spent some hours with the new manager she just hired, and was only able to leave the place when darkness fell. Now, she was holding her breath outside Maliq’s door and wondering why she felt so deeply for him.
The door opened. He stood before her, shirtless. His right hand was in a sling and the rest of his body showed signs of bruises that were healing. But in Salma’s estimation, he still looked like hell.
“Hi.” She was smiling. He was not.
“What are you doing here, Salma?”
“I came to check on you and to ask why you left the hospital.”
“I left because I was tired. I am fine. Anything else?”
The coldness in his tone put her off balance.
“Can I come in?”
There was some hesitation before he let her in. She walked into his apartment. The lighting was dim, although the walls were painted in a bright shade of green. The living room was a small rectangular space on which one end held a fridge and on the other, the furniture, consisting of double two-sitters facing each other with a small glass table between them. On the table, pieces of gold jewelry were laid beside an electronic gold scale.
“You sell gold?” Salma asked.
“There’s a lot of things about me you don’t know, Salma. Sit down.”
Salma took one of the couches, her eyes adjusting to the shadows in the room. Maliq sat on the other couch slowly. She could tell he was still in pain.
“Why did you leave the hospital without waiting to be discharged?”
“It was unnecessary to stay there longer. I can’t imagine the bills you and your husband were accumulating.”
“Can you stop calling him my husband?”
“He is what he is.”
“Maliq, we’re divorced.”
“And yet he was the first person you called when your stuff went missing.”
Salma tried to give a response but he shut her down. “Look, whatever it is we thought we had, it’s all over. That night never existed, Salma.”
“We had something?”
“I felt something for you, but not anymore. I’ll appreciate it if you stayed away from me completely.”
His words pierced and shocked her at the same time. Maliq was a man she hardly knew. He led a reserved life even though he came off as a sociable and open person. She was just getting to realize that he had only shown her the parts of himself he wanted her to see. And just as he had told her earlier, it appeared there was a lot more she didn’t know. As she stared at him now, she burned with the need to understand him better. Even with all that had happened, she was still drawn to him.
“I was born in a rich family. We were so rich we had policemen as our guards and our dad bought cars in our names while we were still kids. We spent all our holidays outside Nigeria. My dad rolled with politicians back then. I was too young to know what exactly he did, but old enough to know we were wealthy. But one day, he went to sleep and never woke up and that was how our fall from grace started. While he was alive, he was mean to his family members. He cut them off financially, asides his mom. My mom, on the other hand was nothing but an illiterate alhaja who sat at home all day and spent her husband’s money. Hence, when his relatives came to get their pound of flesh by taking everything he owned, she couldn’t fight them. Friends helped for a while but things crumbled eventually. She sold everything we had that my uncles hadn’t taken, but it was not enough to sustain us. My dad had not invested in anything at all, apart from a couple of houses which were sold off to pay for my grandmother’s healthcare. That one died too, eventually.”
“So sorry to hear that.”
“All my mom was left with was her gold jewelries. I was seventeen then and had just gotten admission into university. She called me and handed every single piece of gold she had to me. I was to sell them and use the money for my tuition and to feed my siblings. That was how I got introduced into this.” Maliq pointed at the gold pieces before him.
“In school I got into all sorts of small-time businesses to survive. Any legit thing you can think of, I did it; even okada work. That was how I survived through school. I graduated and served but jobs were hard to find. My father’s name couldn’t open doors for me, so I had to start hustling again. But everything I did either ended up in the hands of my younger ones or with my twin who was battling with kidney disease. I was able to raise enough to send him to India but he died a day after the surgery.”
“Allah sarki,” Salma muttered. “So sorry.”
“His death broke me, Salma.” Maliq looked into her eyes and she saw his pain. “It took a while to get back on my feet, but I did, and this is me today. I’m not where I planned to be, but I know I’ll get there, which is why I won’t take any distractions from anyone. You were a distraction, Salma. A breath of fresh air. But I wasn’t after your money. I really liked you.”
“Now, I feel nothing for you.”
She almost shivered at the coldness in his stare and words. “You are still angry at me.”
“No. You did what you had to do, and now I’m doing what I have to do. Stay away from me, Salma. I’ll also stop seeing you as your hairstylist…”
“This is not fair.”
“Fair? Are you serious at all? Do you know what the police did to me? Where they took me to? What I saw?”
“I’m sorry nau.”
“You are, I know. But you have no right to talk about what’s fair or not. Please, stay away.”
Salma felt tears gather in her eyes.
“Maliq, I really like you, and this is huge for me because I have never expressed myself to any man the way I did with you. You’re also my breath of fresh air…”
Maliq stood up, making her words trail off. “Have a nice day, Salma.”
“You’re…asking me to leave?”
Salma picked up her pride, pulled herself up and walked to the door. She had a few words to say, but couldn’t bring them to her lips. She held Maliq’s eyes one last time. She found nothing in them. He opened the door and escorted her out.
“My regards to the children.”
Salma sauntered to her car, heaving. She fought the tears as best as she could until she was in the warmth of her bed. She released her heartbreak on her pillow. The tears came in torrents. Deejah walked in asked why she was crying. Salma pulled her to the bed and cuddled her. The child’s fruity scent brought her comfort. She nuzzled her face in her hair.
“Let me sing for you?” Deejah asked.
“Yes.” Salma snuffled.
The tiny slaps Christie received on her face drew her away from a five-hour sleep. She opened her eyes to see Tamilore staring at her curiously.
“Tami…” She yawned.
“Mama.” Christie got another slap on her lips. She held Tamilore’s hand and kissed it.
“You smell like baby shampoo.” She touched her hair. “Your hair’s all wet. Your daddy bathed you already? We love him so much, don’t we?”
The tot looked around in search for Folarin and then began down from the bed. Christie stretched before putting her feet to the floor. Her Bible was spread open beside her pillow, a page from it squeezed. Definitely Tamilore’s doing. Christie closed the Bible and struggling with heavy eyelids, she staggered to the bathroom for a leak. Upon return, she was greeted with the presence of Folarin and Vanessa. They were in some kind of argument about Vanessa’s ballet performance at her school’s upcoming end of year party.
“I don’t want to do it anymore,” the child whined and looked at Christie. “Mommy, tell him.”
Christie lifted her hands, freeing herself from the argument.
“Your school is relying on you,” Folarin said with his stern voice. “It would be a shame for you to turn them down.”
“Ballet is for babies.”
“And you’re one heck of a beautiful baby.”
“You dance really well, Tife, and you used to love ballet.” Folarin’s voice was gentle. “What happened?”
“What happened is that she needs to get dressed for church ASAP. Nessa, find that your sister wherever she is and drag her here.”
Vanessa was glad to be off Folarin’s attention. He always seemed to have time for her every morning.
“Can you never do that again?” he said, annoyance in his voice. Christie looked at him with an apologetic smile.
“And try to get into our arguments sometimes. Pick sides.”
“Pick your side, you mean?”
“Aren’t we a team?”
Christie kissed his shoulder as she walked past him to the closet. “Always, baby.”
“That child is growing really fast. I’m scared.”
“It’s this simple. If she doesn’t like ballet, she likes something else. Ask her what it is she likes instead of forcing her to keep doing what she doesn’t like anymore.”
“But she looks really cute in ballet.”
“Chief, she’s no more five years old…”
Tamilore toddled into the room with a yapping toy dog.
“Maybe you need to start grooming someone else for ballet.” Christie laughed.
“This one that has bow-legs.”
“But she likes dancing na. Baby girl, dance for your daddy.”
Tamilore let out shrill laughter and began an offbeat sway.
“Na so! Natural faaji, baby! We don’t need motivation.”
“Oya, take all my money put am for your head o,” Folarin sang. “For your head o. Mama mo. Oya take all my money put am for your waist o. For your waist o…”
Lily made a sudden appearance at the doorway. She pushed the door in with one hand until it slammed against the wall. Folarin stopped singing, Tamilore fell to the floor and Christie looked up. Lily was clutching her tummy with her other hand.
The girl opened her mouth as if to speak but no sounds came out.
“Are you okay?”
She gave a slow shake of her head. “I’m sorry.”
“Lily, what did you do?”
“Please, don’t tell CJ…” She winced, slipping to the floor at the same time. Folarin dashed towards her first and held her up.
“Can you walk?”
“The blood is a lot,” she cried.
“She’s bleeding, Chris. Get my key on the table!” Folarin dashed out with Lily in his arms while Christie slipped on a sweater over her nightie and picked Tamilore off the floor. She slowed when she walked out the door. There was a line of blood droplets Lily had left all the way from the guestroom. Christie wondered where Cyrus Junior had disappeared to.
“Christina!” Folarin shouted.
Christie put a sprint in her legs and dashed outside.
Images: @bombshellss, @iamhannalashay