Isio did not tell Obinna she had been discharged from the hospital. She didn’t tell him either, she was going to Ribble with Kanyin and Austin. They had decided to spend the rest of the festive period with Kanyin’s family.
The last time she saw him, his neck carried his head like it was a weighty load. It was the day after she blamed him for the baby. The day he told her what she expected to hear. “I’m not walking away, Issy. I will wait for you to forgive me.”
When she went to see Annabel, he wasn’t there. Kelly was rearranging books and magazines on a table.
“She is asleep.” Kelly did not take her eyes off the books and magazines.
Isio shifted from one foot to the other. The books and magazines were familiar to her. Annabel carried a few at a time with her when Isio first started looking after her grandmother.
“I like reading,” she had said when she asked her why she carried books and magazines with her everywhere. “I like to know what’s out there. Daddy says I’m not too young to plan for my future.” She was reading a college brochure and even though she had downloaded the online version, she said the pages of the bulky brochure were easier to read.
Kelly fussed over them as if she knew how important they were to her daughter. Her face showed no expression when she glanced briefly at Isio before going to her daughter. “She is going to be fine. James and I will look after her.”
“I’m sure you will.” She had risen from the hospital chair beside the bed she chose. Careful to avoid looking at the girl’s puffy face. At her dry lips, the drip stand beside her and the sats monitor.
“You don’t have to worry about her. I will tell her you came.”
“Thanks.” She had glanced at her watch at that moment. “I need to go, actually. My friend will be waiting.”
She found herself explaining quickly that her friend was waiting for her. That he was desperate to get home. This wasn’t true. Before Austin picked up her bags and took them into the lift, conversationally, he had informed her he didn’t have to go back to work.
“Do you know about our son that died?” Kelly asked.
Her mannerisms and intonations were faultless. Flawless just like her long hair, glossy skin and oval face. It amazed her that Obinna had gone from someone as beautiful as Kelly to her. Someone who did not work in a hospital. Or have scars on her body.
“He looked like his father.”
“I’m sorry about your son.” She didn’t think it was right to tell her Obinna had left nothing out about his life.
Well. Almost nothing.
“I know, I haven’t been very nice to you. I deserve everything that is happening to my daughter.”
“No one deserves this.”
“I do,” Kelly’s eyes were focused outside. It had started to snow. Light snowflakes that melted when they hit the ground. “This is my chance to make it up to my family now.” She held her gaze. “James said you lost the baby so you know how it feels. I have lost a child. I don’t want to lose another one. Let me be a mother to her.”
Perhaps it was because she was angry Obinna told her about the baby or because she reduced her to someone that had taken over her family, she did not feel the constant need to be kind.
“I didn’t take your family from you, Kelly. You walked away.”
“I didn’t just walk away,” she appeared to be struggling not to get emotional. “James and his family were a pain. Don’t be fooled by all the glitzy romance. The guy is stubborn, he will only do what he wants.”
What Isio wasn’t fooled about was what the woman had not said. That she loved Obinna. Her eyes widened whenever she said James. The hand on her chest spread out flat.
“But I need to be here for our daughter. Even the doctors said she needs me.”
“It’s your time to walk away. Do the decent thing.”
“He won’t let me go. So, don’t blame me. It’s nothing to do with me.” Ending their conversation the way she wanted because she was tired of her, she had hurried out. Noting that Kelly’s face was no longer forcibly blank.
She picked up her American Journal of Nursing from under the table. She had planned to take it with her to Ribble. Hoping it would help her decide what route to explore with her career.
It didn’t help her. She started to think of Obinna and his family again. Annabel, especially. She was reading George Orwell’s Animal Farm when Isio started nursing her grandmother.
And whenever she left the room to check on her grandmother, she would find her stuck on the same page.
“It’s okay to be scared.” She said one afternoon, tired of seeing the girl fiddling with notepads, books and battering her Ipad. She had gone to sit with her. It had been easy because those days Annabel looked at her with friendlier eyes.
That evening, they stayed with her grandmother in her bedroom. A tame smile appeared on Annabel’s face and as she chatted with her grandmother about her father’s obsession with work, it grew wider.
That evening was the first time she heard her father’s voice. This was why everything from that day stayed with her.
He had rung his daughter from outside the country and his voice had been thick with worry for his mother. It was assertive when he told her not to call him Mr Okadigbo.
“We are friends,” he said as their conversation continued. “My girls tell me you are wonderful, so we should definitely be friends.”
She had giggled, fidgeting with her hair and the plastic apron she wore when Mrs Okadigbo was at her weakest.
“Thanks darling. And apologies about my brother. Apologies in advance. We tried to leave him back home but no one wanted him at theirs. Even our father dodged that bullet. My uncle left town and our kind cousin, a pastor, suddenly stopped picking his calls.”
“It’s fine,” she had continued giggling, looping a plait from her head round a finger. “Mummy and your princess are so nice to me.”
“I will remind you that you said that.”
That night, in the shower she had thought of him and that voice. She wanted to meet him. She wanted to be his friend.
She was researching career options for nurses when he arrived. He put the groceries and take-away chicken he bought in the kitchen. He asked about Biba, who had not called since she left in a taxi yesterday evening. She answered in short phrases and would have continued to be fine with his presence if he didn’t pass her, her ring and a certificate of Aspire Development shares.
“You don’t seem to be listening,” she placed the cup she wanted to serve his drink in down and sighed. A long sigh. “I’m done with us.”
She left him in the kitchen. When he came out, he was holding two glass cups. One for her. It contained the cranberry juice his mother recommended for her. He had served himself sweet pineapple juice. He drank this whenever he came round. But it had surprised her that he bought a pack of this with her grocery shopping.
“Here sweetie,” he placed her drink on the table in front of her. “Mama said it will help you flush out everything.”
“She said she called you.”
“I got her message,” she picked at her nails. At the fuchsia nail polish that had been applied on the day of the party. It had started to peel off at the hospital.
“Ifeanyi sends his love as well.”
“I have left the ring in the kitchen. I know you are not ready to put it back on.”
“I’m not putting it back on, full stop…”
“Technically the ring belongs to you. The shares are yours too.”
“I don’t want shares in your company. I don’t want shares that I didn’t buy.”
“I have left the shares certificate and ring in the kitchen.”
You called me a gold digger. She wanted to scream at him. You made me feel like I’m trash. Just because you lived a better life than me. Just because you come from a better background than me.
“I can’t see you anymore,” she said instead. “You have to sort your life out. I have to be a better daughter to my mother. A better sister to Lohor. I want to go back to the university…”
“You can do all that in my house.”
“Whilst your wife is coming every day to beat me up?”
“She is not my wife,” he raised his voice.
This startled her. He rarely raised his voice. He placed his cup on the table, stood up and went to stand by the window. Neither of them spoke for a while.
Her stomach hurt. She thought about the water bottle Kanyin brought over this morning before she left for her hospital appointment and decided to go and get it in the kitchen. She would fill it up and lie on her bed.
“You need to go, your daughter needs you.”
“You care about my daughter now, do you?”
She stared at him because she didn’t understand why he was now frowning.
“You left the hospital without even bothering to see her.”
She did not expect Kelly would have told him she visited Annabel. Why would she? But his accusatory tone surprised her.
“Sorry, please ignore me. I’m stressed over Bell, that’s all.” He sauntered back to the centre of the room towards her, settling in front of her. “Remember when we started dating and I told you I have trust issues?”
She nodded and shifted to the back of the armchair because she did not want him taking her hands in his.
“I will work on my issues. I have to make myself better for you.” He knelt on one knee and touched her right cheek lightly. “I have to make myself better because a perfect woman like you deserves someone that’s cut above average at least.”
“I don’t love you.” She shut her eyes almost immediately. She had practised saying it yet nothing prepared her for the way his face fell. When she managed to look at him again, she thought of that night and focused on the varied emotions she experienced. It was easier to continue hurting him from then on. “Maybe I was attracted to you because I needed a father figure in my life. I don’t know. All I know is, I’m not in love with you. This is not what love feels like.”