It wasn’t light streaking into the room that woke Biba up. It was the familiar voice of the woman by the door.
She winced as she woke completely. Realising that the taut body next to her had not been imagined. That the time when he pinned her hands to the bed and he teased her with his tongue had not been induced by the copious amount of wine she consumed. He was next to her and she was sure the voice she heard belonged to his wife.
“Wake up,” she slapped his chest. “Anu is here.”
She did not wait for him to open his eyes. She jumped out of bed taking the duvet with her. The dress she had on last night, her double-strapped, jewelled sandals and her underwear were strewn all over the room. She was bent double extracting her clutch bag from underneath the bed when the door flung wide open.
Her relief when she saw Ikumapayi at the door lasted only briefly. He marched towards her, snarling at her, ignoring Idriss who had hurried to the door to close it.
“Iku, what is this?” Idriss yanked a towel from one of the two recliners in the spacious room and covered himself. “What are you doing?”
“The housekeeper let me in but that is not the point.” He pointed at her. “What is this ashewo doing here, baba? On a day Miles was supposed to bring Anu back to surprise you.”
“What? Iya yi is here?”
“No, the doctors advised her not to fly.”
Biba shuffled into the bathroom with her things, the thick duvet trailing after her. She shut the door and sank to the floor.
“You dey fall my hand, ogbeni.” She heard Ikumapayi say. “What if Anu had come home? What if Kanyinsola came in here? Or have you forgotten she is your daughter’s friend?”
“Yes, I know she is my Kanyin’s friend.” Idriss did not sound like his usual confident self. “This is why I started to be nice to her, jare.”
“Your head is not correct. How does you want to be nice to her lead to you and her on the bed? Shey, na sleepover she dey do for inside here, ni? Abi, this is how to treat a girl that calls you uncle?”
“You know I’m no saint.”
“Even a mugun can see that. And you know I don’t have a problem with that. Sugbon, no be for your home. Hotels are cheap. You even have properties everywhere. Why here?”
“I don’t know.”
“I know you like to dey just enjoy yourself anyhow when you are worried. I know it’s because of Anu. Just chill, dude. She will be fine. Okay?”
There was a moment of silence before he started again.
“I will take her through the side entrance and drop her far away from here. So that she can come back later and pretend she went home with one fool like that. Don’t mess up, idi baba, Anu needs you. Don’t mess up for the sake of a useless girl like that. A girl that belongs in the gutter.”
Biba’s eyes stung with tears. She looked around the room. At the big bathtub which looked like a jacuzzi covered in thousands of pink crystals. At the round ceiling lights and porcelain tiles. Was it wrong of her to want nice things for her children?
She let the duvet slid down and dressed slowly. She would get a job or two. Her children would not suffer.
Ikumapayi did not stop the car until Biba started to see road signs pointing towards Birmingham and Wolverhampton. He stopped her in front of a deserted cab station. The only person there, a man, squeaked when he spoke.
“No taxi for two hours,” the man said.
She had decided she would hate Ikumapayi for the rest of her life when he took out a fat envelope from inside his pocket. “That’s from my pal. Go back to the house and pretend nothing happened. Stay away from him and in a day or so, go back to London. He doesn’t need you.”
He drove off, leaving her sat on the creaking bench at the cab station. She wrapped her poncho around her tightly.
She checked her phone for Happy New Year messages even though she did not expect her father and half-siblings would have remembered her. There was one. From her son and his father. The man at the cab station passed her a packet of crisps some time later. She ate it in the cab and fell asleep not long after.
When she woke up, the driver told her they were nearly there. The journey back to Ribble Greaves did not feel long. In the car with Ikumapayi, he had made it unbearable so that she had thought they travelled for longer than they did.
The housekeeper was the only one about when she arrived at the house. She told her Kanyin, the children and their father were in the living room upstairs. She ran herself a steaming bath and fell asleep afterwards.
Obinna shut his eyes briefly as the cold breeze hit his face. He wanted to savour the fascinating feeling of being in his own home. Of having his daughter in her own room. Being able to gulp down beer and light up his cigarettes.
Ikumapayi, who was walking round the room, had a phone pressed to the side of his face. He was talking to his wife, grinning for Obinna’s benefit every now and then.
Obinna had opened the window for him. After he saw that sweat had pooled around his face. He had shut the sitting room door, to keep his mother and daughter’s voices from filtering in.
The man strolled about steadily. He had become larger since they first met. When Emeka brought his lanky Idanre friend home.
Having Emeka’s friends around them after his death helped them a lot. Especially him. His brother’s death was like having a significant part of him slashed off without warning. The part of him where the slice came from had never healed. It hurt at times. On days such as today. Emeka would have called him in the morning. They would have talked for half the morning. Work abandoned. His brother was the only one he abandoned work commitments for. Kelly did say that once or twice.
“My wife say make I greet you.” Ikumapayi said as he put his phone away.
“Tell her I send my love too,” Obinna replied. Beaming because he knew Ikumapayi’s wife would never have said make you greet him. She was the type that would sendher love. The type that hugged even if she had only seen the friend a few days ago. Even if her fiercely jealous husband was beside her.
“Keep your love, ogbeni. This is how you were telling Isio you two are just friends. You don dey knack am before she open eye.”
He came to stand behind Obinna who had picked up his phone from the stool. It had beeped and announced the presence of a message he had been expecting.
“Who you dey text again? Shebi, you said you no dey harass Isio anymore, ni.”
“It’s not Issy.” Obinna showed him the yes please he had typed in the message bar of his phone. “It’s Ezinwa. Ezinwanne if you prefer the full version.”
Ikumapayi narrowed his eyes at him.
“Ezinwa is the girl I found through the cleaner at Aspire. She will be here taking care of things, looking after Bell. Especially when I’m busy.”
“Does this girl have a man? You know some of our girls get sharp brain and thirsty mouth.”
“What does having a man have to do with this?”
“She go see you, fine dude with plenty money and start to want you o. You know two women are already fighting over you and you no even like the attention.”
He shook his head. “It won’t be like that. Boundaries will be in place. She will stay in Chibuzor’s old room. But she will only sleep over when I’m not here.”
“Not like Issy that dey sleep in your room, abi?” Ikumpayi laughed. The wobbly bit around his upper belly jostling about as he sat on the armchair and reclined.
“My girl is different. I knew she was special.” He walked to the window and shut it. Remembering the first few conversations with Isio triggered sensations that he had not felt for a while. “I knew my mother wanted me to get with Issy. Of course, she was clever enough to say she only wanted me to employ her for Bell. The thing is, even before I met Issy, I was actually sold. There was just this connection between us on the phone.”
“Kelly is a bad girl sha,” Ikumapayi sighed. “Na something this real she come pour sand in.” He sat up. “Just make sure that next time you feel like you can’t trust your girl, remember that the reason you are like this is because of Kelly. So, stay away from Kelly. If Issy is be the special one like you say.”
“Yes,” he picked up the stool, took it over to him and sat on it. “This is why I need Ezinwa here. She is gonna help me get my girl back.” He did not need to tell him about the wall he had erected between him and Kelly. Even yesterday, when she wanted to come over to see their daughter, he had said no.
“How? She be babalawo pikin?”
“If she is here, I will be able to take Issy on romantic dates. She can come here after work and just chill. None of that pressure of worrying about Bell or my mother. Plus,” he tapped one of his leg with his fingers. “Ezinwa will be able to take Bell to see her mother. I don’t have to see Kelly ever again. So, I can put distance between us and if Issy sees that…”
“She go come back.”
He nodded. As eagerly as he did yesterday night when he spoke to Miles and they made arrangements that would restart his relationship. Miles was enthusiastic. Contributing his jet for the course. And his fast knowledge of cities considered romantic in Europe.
“I’m planning on taking Issy on a trip of a lifetime. A cruise trip to Paris or Bruges. A week-long stay at this beautiful spa hotel. Flying across the glacier in Switzerland. Dinner in Vienna. Of course, we will be flying around in Mile’s Bombardier Challenger. I plan to make it special but I will also go at her pace.” He had placed an order for a white-gold ring last night with a radiant stone. Simply styled. Exquisite still. The type of rings she preferred.
He did not tell Ikumapayi about his intention to propose again. He was not sure she would say yes.
“And she will just gree for you like that?”
“I will say we can call it closure. Different rooms, single spa treatments and massages.”
Ikumapayi smirked. “Closure ko, opensure ni.
“I want my girl back and I know I will have to grovel.” His house lacked the warmth it once had. Her laughter, her humour. Even his mother walked around slowly. If Annabel did not want Isio in their lives, she certainly didn’t seem happy now. He was not sure the expensive trips would make Isio’s eyes light up again. But he knew she would be happy that he had taken time off from Aspire and all his other projects for her. “So, if she says yes to the trip, we will be gone for at least two weeks. Please keep an eye on Bell and my mother. You know Idriss don get job
“Yes o. You need to talk to him because I know he listens to you. That Biba or giver or whatever her name is will finish him. That kind of a girl knows how to play even a big man like Olowo Baba.”
“I will talk to him.”
“Please o. Now make I go eat Mummy’s food. I no wan waste away like you because of a girl. You know I like my food.”
Ikumpayi did not leave until he had consumed almost half of the food his mother prepared. He was scraping food off the plates and placing them in the dishwasher when his mother toddled into the kitchen. Her eyelids were swollen. She yawned as she passed him a blue envelope with Isio’s address on it.
“Mama, what is this? I thought you were going to bed.”
“Your daughter wants you to post that card to your fiancée. She wants to thank her for visiting her at the hospital.”
He narrowed his eyes. “I didn’t know she visited her in hospital. Kelly didn’t say anything.” Isio didn’t say anything either. She had merely stayed quiet when he accused her of not caring.
“You expect Kelly to tell you something good about the woman that wants to take her place?” His mother shook her head, came over to where he was by the sink and took over what he was doing. “Let me warm up some ofe onugbu for you, Obi m. You look like they just released you from prison.”
“I’m fine, Mama. I ate some of the turkey and rice.”
“Is that not the turkey I saw your brother’s friend move from the centre of the table to his plate? And he was even asking for more to take home. Ah an, that man can eat.”
His face lit up in a smile. His mother was right. Ikumapayi did not like turning down food. The last time he came to see them at Aspire and they had some food delivered to the main office, Ikumapayi had nearly gotten into a fight with Austin over a pork pie.
“Your wife will come back to you,” his mother said. “Just give her time. But, make sure you beg her to get everything off her chest. Don’t just kiss and make up like you children of nowadays do. She has to talk to you. Don’t cover it all up. These things have a way of boiling over in marriage. You know she is quiet and quiet people like your father can keep things inside.”
He did not have to wonder if his mother was talking about his relationship or her marriage. She scraped the dishes as if she intended to dig holes in them. She washed the cutleries over and over, glass cups vigorously.
“Married life is not easy,” she said. “Especially for women. No one warns you that a man that is chasing you up and down when you were young can become your enemy in old age.”
“You and your husband can still be fine, you know. The man is mad about you.”
“It is too late. Decades of fighting for what?” She finished filling the machine and slammed its door shut. “I found out last year through one of his friend’s wife that your father thought I did something really bad. Something that I would not think of doing.”
He wondered if this was what his father accused his mother of when he was young. “What did he say?”
“I can’t tell you. It is that bad.”
“Yes. The type of thing that would have made my mother call on her chi.” She went to the dining table and sat on the chair he vacated earlier. Her sighs were long and heavy with meaning. “The point is I didn’t do anything. I chose your father despite the maltreatment I received at work. I nearly lost my lecturing job but I did not even let it beat me. Women go through that kind of thing in Nigeria a lot. Then this evil vice chancellor that was chasing me set his eyes on a student. I was free again to do my job. No more harassments.” She sighed again, “What pains me is, I had no idea your father believed I did him wrong all this while. He never even asked me. Not once. So, he kept quiet and punished me for what I didn’t do.”
He hurried over to her and hugged her. She held on to him tightly. When she let go, he kissed the top of her head. Her hair was still short. Clumpy black. Nothing like the long hair she had plaited for her when she was in Enugu.
“You know your children love you. Even Chibuzor with his big head.”
“He is a mummy’s boy.”
“As long as you know I love you more. You are my number one.”
“Ah, it’s the love of your life you love most,” she smiled and linked hands with him. “Don’t worry, we will get her back. Even if I have to go and pray at MFM, she is coming back.”
“I’m tired of not having her here,” he said.
It was almost dark when Biba woke up. Kanyin and her father were downstairs at the main entrance. Kanyin had her coat on. She looked up when she saw her.
“I came to check on you,” she said. “You were sleeping. Are you okay? Partied hard last night?”
Biba turned her right hand downwards for the thumbs down sign. She did not look at Idriss on the way down and when she joined them, she greeted him in Yoruba. Using the same polite prefixes, she would have with her father or uncles.
“Bawo ni,” he replied with a grin that was too friendly. One that Kanyin, who was taking her phone out of her parka coat, did not notice.
“Babes, are you okay? Have you seen Issy?”
“No,” Kanyin shook her head. “She told Jadesola she was going out this afternoon. Something about going to meet a friend.”
“She doesn’t know anyone around here.”
“Exactly. Now, her phone is going to voicemail and it’s getting too dark out there.”
“We are going to go look for her,” Idriss said. “Come with us. I’m sure she is just lost or something.”
Biba started to glance at her phone every few minutes when they had been driving round streets with old Northern-looking houses, abandoned office buildings and closed shops for a while. She frowned when she caught Idriss watching her in the rear-view mirror.
If his daughter had not been with them she would have lashed out at him. She wished she had not come with them.
“Daddy, stop,” Kanyin called out when they drove past a church. “I saw her sitting on top of a car. It looked like one of Obinna’s cars.” She glanced behind her and smiled. “Looks like our babe was making up with her Jay.”
Biba laughed. She stopped laughing when Idriss reversed the car and she saw the man holding Isio. It was Chib and his lips were pressed to hers.