Enjoy this long episode, fam. For those of you always shouting that it’s too short, I hope you don’t complain about this one o.
Follow me on instagram @moskedapages. At 12 midnight today, I will drop a post there. Make sure you don’t miss it.
Eighteen hours. That was the duration of time it took him to answer her questions, and she had asked many of them. She was rather calm in her manner, not showing any form of emotion. And to him, that wasn’t a good sign. Leonel knew Kyenpia too well. He knew he was screwed. If she forgave him, it would be a miracle. He was prepared to be up a gum tree for a long time.
He didn’t let the issue bother him, however. He preferred to fix his mind on the good, as Idara had taught him, recalling the priceless moments he experienced over the past two days. One of them was when he reunited with David in London on Monday. That morning, just half an hour after 5.00 a.m., he stood at the arrival lounge at the Gatwick airport, hiding behind a hooded sweater and dark sunshades. With a pacing heart, he watched the passengers just arriving from Lagos fill the lounge. It took a while before he spotted David, who was wielding a backpack and holding a phone to his ear.
Leonel suddenly felt exposed. He cast a glance over his shoulder, wondering if he was being watched. Coming out here was stupid, considering the fact that Captain’s enemies had lost their minds again and were presently shadowing Kyenpia and the kids. This also meant that they could have their eyes on him, although there was no evidence to prove that. Attention was the last thing Leonel needed. A simple video of him and David together could offset the balance of things, if it got to the wrong hands.
“Stupid,” he muttered, turning around. He hurried off, walking briskly to the short-stay carpark where his car was waiting. He got in and the chauffeur in front turned to ask where David was.
“On his way,” Leonel replied. Heart still racing, Leonel tapped restless feet in the back of the car as he observed everybody in the carpark. No one could see in; the windows were tinted.
The chauffeur’s phone rang and Leonel listened to the man describe to David where they were located.
“I think I’ll just stand outside until he comes,” he said after he was done with the call.
He stepped out of the car. Minutes later, David approached them. Leonel watched both men share a handshake. Leonel exhaled, rubbing his palms together. He wasn’t ready for this.
“Where are we headed? Knightsbridge or Chelsea?” David asked.
“Chelsea,” the chauffeur replied, opening the backdoor on the right side of the car.
Unable to hold himself any longer, Leonel stretched and pushed the door out. “Yo, wannabe!” he called.
David dropped his burly frame down, a frown already on his face. He had a good stare at Leonel before instructing him to take the hood off. Leonel let the hood fall and David straightened up. Leonel laughed silently, knowing the exact expression that was scrawled on his brother’s face.
David dropped down again. “What sort of fuckery is this?”
“Get in jare.”
“Leo, what’s this?”
David got in, shut the door and angled himself to have a better look at Leonel. The chauffeur waited outside.
“First of all, how is this even possible?” David asked.
“I’ve missed you, man.”
“Afam, answer my question. How did this happen?”
“I wish I could say I was behind my being alive, but….” Leonel shrugged. “I was in a coma somewhere in Israel. From coma to vegetative state….”
David’s frown got uglier. “Captain.”
“You already know what he’s capable of.”
“I got better, but I’ve been struggling. Long story, though. How is Peggy? How are the kids…?”
“How is your wife? Ever think about her or you’re on this side of the world debasing yourself?”
Typical David. He wasn’t the type to be given into excitement so quickly.
“Which one is debasing again?” Leonel laughed. “You won’t even let me give you the full story?”
“Leo, this is fucked up. You’ve been alive this whole time?”
David went silent. Leonel asked the chauffeur back in.
“Take us home.”
David’s silence continued, with his eyes still on Leonel, as if he was staring at a stranger. Leonel understood that he was trying to grasp everything.
“Wow!” he finally muttered. “How the fuck is this you? Dude!”
“Come here, asshole!” Leonel drew David towards him and hugged him, holding him tightly.
“I fucking buried you and Ramsey, man.”
The mention of Ramsey’s name brought pain to Leonel’s chest. Their half-brother had been wild, funny, spoilt, fashionable and bisexual. They had loved him that way, save for Captain, who was homophobic. He had made his life miserable, and Ramsey, in turn, stopped caring to have him as his father. His mother, fondly known as Aunty Judith, consistently did her best to ensure that peace was maintained between them. Her efforts never worked, though.
David pulled away from Leonel. “Ramsey, did he…?”
“No.” Leonel shook his head. “Just me.”
“Hopeful thinking.” Sadness covered the light in David’s eyes. “I was holding him when he stopped…breathing. Bullet went through his neck. Another in his chest….”
David looked away for the first time since entering the car.
“I’m sorry you went through that, and through everything else.”
“Save your sorrys for Kyenpia.”
“How is your baby girl? Cute as hell. I saw her pictures on Instagram.”
“Fuck you, please.”
“She looks like us. Finally! One of your kids takes after you.”
“You know what I named her? Take a wild guess.”
“Yeah, we call her Lio. After you. I named her after your dead ass. I wanted to keep your memory through her. But I’m changing her name.”
“Don’t even try it. That baby’s mine for life.”
David smiled, scratching his head as his eyes took their time on Leonel. “Tattoos?”
“How are you doing, though?”
The question bore meaning. David suspected that something was going on with him.
“Mm-hm,” he answered in sarcasm.
“I’m good, really. Don’t worry about me.”
“I’m happy to see you sha. Fool!” He slapped the back of Leonel’s head. “Very happy. Welcome back, Leo. You always fight death. I don’t know how you do it, but you beat that bitch all the time.”
Leonel bumped the fist he offered. David sought silence again, looking out the window.
“Are you good?” Leonel asked. David looked at him.
“You’re an idiot, you know that? How could you be alive this whole time?”
Leonel laughed and took in the scolding that followed. David continued in this manner, reprimanding him one minute, and the next, telling him how much he missed him.
But David’s day was only about to begin. Leonel gave no hint as to what he was to expect when they arrived at their Chelsea home. He let the script play out on its own as David walked in and found Emem seated in the living room. He stopped dead in his tracks at his first glimpse of her and remained that way until she went to him and touched him. Grasping both of her hands, he trembled, shaking them, unable to speak. Her slim frame held him in a soothing embrace. She shed tears for both of them because he was still too shocked to express his emotions.
It took a while to get him to accept his present reality. Many times, during the course of the day, he told Leonel and Emem that he was sure he was dreaming. When Emem asked if he was upset with both of them, he shrugged.
“Waste of emotions. If you know what I’ve been through this past year, you’d understand my joy. I can’t be mad at two of you.”
They spent the day together, talking mostly about their future. Leonel and David wanted Emem to return to Lagos with them, but she didn’t think it was wise.
“I’m done with that life,” she expressed. “This is my home now.”
“Come and spend Christmas with us,” David pleaded. “And stay some more. You owe us, Mom. Aren’t you tired of hiding away? Please, don’t be selfish.”
Emem nodded, touching his face. “I’ll think about it,” she mouthed.
By 10.00 p.m., Leonel and David were back at the airport, waiting to get on a flight to Lagos.
“Kyenpia isn’t going to forgive you,” David said. Leonel looked up from his phone and stared at him. In just a few hours, the lines of stress and tiredness were gone from his face.
“What are you staring at?” David asked, looking up ahead.
“I didn’t mean to cause you or anyone else any pain.”
“It doesn’t matter anymore.”
They talked about the present security danger surrounding their families. Unknown men had begun to hover around them again. David told Leonel that he had changed the soldiers guarding Peggy and the kids because he couldn’t trust anyone.
“Captain’s an asshole. He knew about this, and didn’t tell me,” Leonel said.
“How did you find out?”
“Gramps. He’s been on my neck to come home since he discovered I was alive. So, when he called me up and told me Kyenpia and the kids were not safe, I thought it was a trick to get me to come back. But he sent evidence and I had to move fast. I fired her security detail, except the guards at the gate and Clarence because I didn’t want to spook her. Once I get home, I’m firing everyone asides Clarence.”
“So, you weren’t going to come back if this didn’t happen?” David asked.
“I was. I just wanted to be done with therapy. I was messed up, Dave…”
“It’s no excuse. And I’m not having this talk with you again. I trust Kyenpia to show you hell.”
It didn’t feel like hell right now. It felt more like solitary confinement. Kyenpia hadn’t spoken to him since he responded to all her questions, but it didn’t matter that she wasn’t speaking. He loved her silence as much as her words. He was gratified just observing her. She was still as beautiful as the first day he met her. Last night, she had undressed in front of him, as if he hadn’t been there, like she was all alone and he was part of the furniture. She peeled off one piece of clothing after another, unveiling a body that bore the marks of motherhood. She was now curvier, having fuller breasts, and her tummy moved each time she moved. Fresh stretchmarks were etched on her bum. He felt a stir in his pants when he imagined his fingers tracing each mark.
She had worn a button-down sweater and a pair of striped thigh socks to bed, because the weather was freezing. In the dark, she lay, staring at him while he spoke to her about his ongoing struggle with Dissociative Identity Disorder. She uttered not a single word after he was done. Her eyes shut in sleep, but he stayed awake for hours, watching her, longing still, to lift her sweater and get obsessed with her stretchmarks.
She was awoken by one of the twins. Seconds later, the other burst into a cry. Leonel followed her to the twin cot in the corner of the bedroom where the boys lay. When he reached for the bag that held their formula, Kyenpia stopped him. She wanted to nurse them. She sat on a single couch and stretched out her legs on a stool as she commenced. Her silence continued. Leonel had many things to say to her, but he needed her to unleash her anger first. It was yet to come. He could see it in her eyes.
He let her have the room to herself and went into the living room where he tried to catch some sleep. When he opened his eyes, it was morning and Eliana was staring curiously at him, just as she had done the day before when David returned to the suite with her. The moment had been hilarious, as Leonel recalled. She kept looking from one man to the other. Her eyes eventually settled on Leonel’s arms and she put out a hand to touch his tattoos. She flinched at first, but settled her hand on his arm and took his eyes.
“That’s your daddy, Liana,” David explained. She looked at David. “You have two daddies.”
“Two,” she repeated. Leonel didn’t think she understood what David meant. Her eyes fell on his arms again. He lifted her up into a hug that came with multiple kisses, but her hand remained on his tattoos, just as they were doing now.
“Hey, Em.” Leonel sat up. She looked up at him with round, wide eyes. She was sipping something from a cup and was being noisy about it. “How are you?”
She kept staring. He lifted her off the floor and onto his lap.
“So, you’re two now?”
“Two,” she said. It seemed to be her favorite number.
“You’re so big. I’ve missed you like crazy, sugar. Well, I’m back now and we’ll have a lot of fun.”
Her eyes went back to the tattoos. He got on his feet, carrying her along. Kyenpia was in the kitchen with the twins and Nelly.
“Good morning, Mr. Leonel,” Nelly greeted as he walked in. Kyenpia, whose back was to him, went stiff.
“Good morning, Nelly. Could you please ring room service for breakfast? I want coffee. Black, with no sugar or cream. Sunshine, what should they get for you?”
“I already ordered,” Kyenpia replied, still backing him. “Elem, time to have your bath. Come down.”
“No.” She put her arms around Leonel’s neck, holding him tightly.
“Let me bathe her,” he said. He took Eliana out of the kitchen and instructed the nanny to bring a change of clothes for her. He then carried her to the bathroom where he bathed and changed her. Her breakfast was waiting when they came out. He returned to have a shower and came out to sit with Kyenpia at the table. It was eight o’clock and she wasn’t speaking to him.
“Kay?” he called. She stood up from the table and went into the bedroom. Leonel sat with his laptop after having his cup of coffee. He made a video call to Jaiye on the laptop, via Skype.
“This is a prank, right?” Jaiye said, following a long moment of gawking into the screen. “You’re saying you’re not David?”
Jaiye got up and moseyed around for a bit.
“Jaiyesimi,” Leonel called impatiently.
Jaiye returned. “How is this even possible?” He laughed, shook his head and laughed again. “No na.”
“Jaiyesimi, you’ll have time to be shocked later. Right now, let’s talk business. It’s the end of the year. I heard most of our branches are fully booked?”
“Yeah.” Jaiye’s shock was still palpable.
“On record, no rooms available. But we have a few to spare.”
“Not as much, but a lot better than the other months.”
“Send me a full rundown of all our activities from now until the 31st. I can’t believe you guys slept on Fiyin’s proposal. We should be doing an unveiling for the show by now. Timing has to be strategic.”
“I have begun working on it…”
“Too slow. Anyhow, I want to see the accounts. Email me the statements.”
“And keep this to yourself.”
“Nothing for now. I’ll be expecting those emails.”
“Sure thing. But for real, Leo…”
“Yeah, it’s me.”
“Gaddem!” Jaiye laughed again. “You’re a badass! We need to talk, man!”
“We will. For now, don’t let anyone know. I have to run.”
Leonel hung up. He walked into the bedroom. Kyenpia had just bathed. The scent of her soap was in the air and Leonel paused for a second to breathe in. This was part of the little things he had missed about her. It was never enough just to imagine.
“I know you’re mad at me,” he said, moving towards her. He stopped her on her way to the closet. She kept her eyes on his shoulder, away from his gaze. “I am sorry…”
She stopped his words with a hand over his mouth. “You’re not allowed to get away with the evil you’ve done by just saying you’re sorry. Shut up.”
She let her hand down, resting it on his chest for a bit before continuing her walk to the closet. She changed into warm clothes. Leonel’s eyes followed her as she went out to the balcony to sit and stare out. He let her be for a while, then went after her and sat in front of her.
“Heartbreak is too trivial a word to explain how I feel right now,” she told him, tapping her chest. “It hurts like mad, Leonel. You ghosted me.” There was caustic laughter in her voice. “What did I do to be treated that way?”
“I only wanted to get better, Kay. I was a mess, losing chunks of time. It was hardly ever me. I wasn’t good for you that way.”
“Says who? You were always good for me. Always enough.”
“Yes! I wanted you the way you were, Leonel. All of you! But God forbid that you show me your ugliness and allow yourself to be emotionally vulnerable with me. You gave me only half of you. And that hurt me in your absence, knowing that you didn’t see me as enough to take every part of you in. But Anna knew everything! She knew you, Leonel!”
“That’s not true. She did not.”
“You have no right to tell me what’s true or not! Everything about you is a lie! Your death and your life, all lies!”
He bent his head.
Her tears pushed through. “I wasn’t enough.” She sniffled. “Have you any idea what you did to me? Physically, emotionally, psychologically, you wrecked me, Leonel. I lost my fucking mind. Ishi was the only thing that kept me sane. Not even the kids, not my friends… Just Ishi. Without him, I would have taken my life. I hope you’re happy that I fucked him like I would stop existing if I didn’t feel him inside me. I hope you’re happy to know that he had me in a way that only you have.”
Leonel straightened up and rested his back on his chair.
“And I hope you know that my body still smells of him, even as I sit here with you.”
Her words drove a sword through him. It had been torture to watch videos of her and Ishi, even though he had persuaded himself that it didn’t hurt as much; but hearing her speak about it was worse.
Kyenpia covered her eyes with the sleeves of her sweater. The cold December wind blew over her hair, forcing strands of it to settle on her face. She sniffled and put her hair back in place.
“Why are you back, though? What if there was no threat on my life and the kids’? Would you come back? Or would you stay with Brisa Bautista, screwing her every night and telling yourself that Spirit is doing it?”
“I’m back because I want to be here.”
“Stop lying!” Kyenpia screamed and knocked off a glass of water on the table in front of her, sending it towards Leonel. He flinched as droplets of water hit him and the glass fell to the floor.
“What do you want from me, from the kids? Why are you here, Leonel? Go back and remain dead! We don’t need you! I’m fine without you!”
“I’m sorry,” he said in remorse.
“Stop saying you’re sorry! It doesn’t undo what you’ve done! God, Leo! I died every day in your absence! To wake up was torture! To sleep was the same! I had nightmares! And the kids? So many times, I couldn’t connect with them! I just wanted them gone, so that my life would cease to exist! And this made me feel like the worst mother on earth! I struggled every single day, but I had to be strong, to show the world that women don’t fall apart when their husbands died! I had to make sure that the wolves did not steal what you left behind! I was forced into shoes too big and heavy for me, but you were out there, lying down on some therapist’s couch, talking about your pain! Fuck you, Afam! Fuck your very existence!”
Her pain shattered him. “I’m sorry.”
“Did you for once think about me?”
“Every day, Sunshine. Every day.”
Kyenpia left her seat and went towards the edge of the balcony. She clutched the railing until her knuckles went pale.
“I can’t even express all the thoughts and emotions I’m feeling right now. It’s a different type of pain. I don’t know how to process it. Maybe I’ll get over this soon. Maybe it will take some time. I don’t know. But all I know is that…” She gave her head a shake and huffed. “All I know…” She stopped again to wipe her eyes. “All I know is that I don’t feel for you the way I used to.”
She looked at him.
“I resent you. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy you’re alive. I’m happy your mom is alive too, and I can’t wait to see her.” She turned fully. “But I resent you. I am bitter. So, so bitter, that I have to find a therapist and seek healing. I don’t want hate to eat me up because I’ve suffered enough.”
“What I will not do is kill myself because of you. No, I won’t. I’ll seek help through therapy and we’ll pick up from where we stopped. Of course, I do have the right to wake up tomorrow or sometime in the future and feel differently about you and end this thing we have. But I know that our friends and the Igwes won’t let me have peace. And of course, I can’t live without you, Leonel. You know that. That’s why, for now, despite everything, I want to continue with you. If it doesn’t work, I’ll walk away.”
“I’m not relinquishing the hotels or your money to you. No, Leonel. You work for me now. I’m your CEO.”
“I’m fine with that.”
Kyenpia wiped both eyes together. “Your return from the dead is going to be a media sensation. We’ll milk it for all it’s worth. You have to come up with some lie about where you’ve been. I would have helped, but I don’t know how to be duplicitous like you. There will be photo shoots, a press conference and interviews…”
“I don’t care for all that.”
“You have no choice, Leonel. You cannot just wake up from the dead and think you can continue life as if you never left. You owe people an explanation, and you’ll do everything to keep your brand going. Your return has to be gainful for Charybdis, Léon Hotels and your image. I’ll stand by you, the loving wife, supporting you and all that bullshit. Nobody will know what’s going on inside. Not the outside world, not our family, and especially not our friends. We have to be perfect for the camera. Does that work for you?”
“It had better.” She strolled towards him and dropped both hands on the armrest of his chair, leaning into his face. “If you cheat on me again, Leonel, I will take everything that belongs to you, including your kids, and walk out of your life for good. Is that understood?”
He was silent.
“Thank you for ruining my vacation.” She straightened her posture. “Please, arrange for a plane to take us back to Lagos.”
Leonel exhaled when she was gone. He had expected worse, having prepared himself to lose her. This was a good start, and he was sure he would win her over. But more importantly, he was proud of her. She had grown from the woman he knew. He loved the person she had become, and this was why he would do everything to keep Spirit away from her.
Jaiye counted the four empty cans of beer on his table. For a while now, he had been reshuffling them in different positions, just to give vent to the restlessness in his mind. He then switched to counting them, knocking down each one he counted and lifting it back up.
Leonel’s return was not good. Not good at all.
“Fuck,” he muttered in a slow manner.
Was life ever going to give him a break? Why was he always one day late to his dreams? He had worked so hard to be here, just to have it being snatched away from him again. His father would laugh in his face and tell him that he had warned him this would happen.
Those Igwes are devils. They won’t let you grow beyond their feet.
Why couldn’t the universe just give him the damn things he wanted? He couldn’t even get the one woman that kept him restless at night!
“Fuck this shit.”
He picked his phone and made a call to the accounting department, leaving them with Leonel’s instructions.
“Sir, I can’t do it all today,” the accountant complained.
“Get me somebody who can then. And know that that person will take your job when they’re done.”
He cut the line, picked his car key and suit and left the office. The new COO emerged from her office next door. Back when things were still good for her, Jaiye had seen her as bitchy because she had treated the likes of him like trash. But a bad marriage that lasted two years and terrible investments had knocked her off her status, leaving her broke. Jaiye had had perverse pleasure in visiting her and offering her his position a couple of weeks ago, following Kyenpia’s announcement to him that she was leaving. He had been tempted to offer his penis, as well, but these days, he was behaving himself because of Fiyin, who had occupied his reasoning faculties, making it hard for him to carry on with other women.
He gave Zara a deal she couldn’t refuse. He knew it was better than her hoping to rebuild what she had lost in an economy that was quickly burning down. His paramount pleasure was to hear her call him ‘boss’ and watch her become deferential to him. Back in the day, when she was in charge of her own hotel, she had kept her sights on Leonel alone. Lesser beings like Jaiye weren’t even worthy to hold her handbag.
“Good morning, boss,” Zara greeted. She was still as beautiful as he had known her. Slim and tall, with the type of skin tone women spent thousands to achieve.
“Morning, Zara.” Jaiye began walking towards the elevator with an air of significance.
“I thought maybe we could…”
“Not right now. I have a meeting. When I get back tomorrow.”
“It’s about the reality show.” She followed him. “I think this is huge and we should be on it straightaway.”
“Same thoughts here.” He stopped in front of the elevator and pressed the button going down. “Why don’t you immediately start working on it? Fiyin has already gotten two brands on-board. Let’s bring our lawyers in to tidy up the T’s and C’s, then you and Fiyin can make them sign. My idea is that we come up with a launch party during Christmas or at the end of the year.”
The elevator opened.
“Oh, and Zaf Mobile reached out,” Zara said. “Did you get their email?”
“I did, but I haven’t read it.”
“They are offering fifty million to do a takeover of our elevator display screens…”
Jaiye laughed. “A takeover for fifty? Are they mad?”
“I can speak to them to give us something higher.”
“No, Zara. We do not turn our hotels into billboards for brands. They can’t take over our elevators. They know better. They should come up with something that benefits us.”
“How about Habibi Motors?”
“Fuck them and the two sorry ass salon cars they brought here. Tell them to take those pieces of shit back and send SUVs for the managers and assistant managers here, Abuja and Kano.”
“That’s six cars for just banners in our reception areas.”
Jaiye scratched the back of his neck smugly and slipped into his suit. “This is Léon Hotels, Zara. You can’t compare it to what you had. We do things a little differently around here. We don’t rush brands; they rush us. So, call them and tell them that they can go fuck themselves if we don’t get six cars. Zaf Mobile too. A hundred million for fifteen seconds visuals. No takeovers. In fact, make it hundred and fifty. They will price it down to hundred. Anything else, Zara?”
Jaiye pressed the elevator button a second time and focused his eyes on Zara’s bum as she walked away. The elevator door slid open and he went in. The display screen was showing a preview for a movie that was out in the cinemas. Jaiye had planned to go see it with Fiyin. It still embarrassed him how she had humiliated him in front of her friends, but it wasn’t as annoying as the fact that she turned down his proposal. And the cheating thing… Who the heck did that Bosco guy think he was?
The elevator stopped on the first floor and the door opened. Fiyin was waiting outside. Upon seeing Jaiye, she hurried off. He went after her and stopped in front of her to halt her movement.
“I’m ready to pick your calls now,” he said. “I’m ready to talk.”
“I only wanted to say I was sorry.”
He looked at her freshly braided hair. He loved her in braids. Today, she wore contact lenses, giving her a feline appearance. Her makeup was on point too. It was perfect for the fitted black t-shirt she wore, tucked into high-waist acid wash jeans, accessorized with black heels. Jaiye wanted so badly to take her into the nearest room, undress her and do nasty things to her.
“Apology not accepted. You slapped me, Fiyin.”
“I didn’t mean to.”
“Okay, here’s what…” He moved closer to her. “We’ll have dinner tonight and talk…”
“I’m sorry, I can’t.”
“You can’t be serious, Fi. You owe me.”
“I don’t owe you anything. We’re over. Isn’t that what you said on Saturday?”
“You slapped me and I was pissed.”
“Well, I’m maintaining the energy. We’re done, Jay.” She made to walk away, but he snatched her hand and brought her to his body. He kissed her, meeting resistance on her end. He stopped.
“I’m sorry.” But he kissed her again, getting her cooperation this time. “Just dinner. I just want to talk, baby. If you’re going to dump me, at least, do it classily.”
Fiyin gave in.
“Can I come pick you up at eight?”
She nodded and turned away from him. He kept his eyes on her until she vanished from sight.
Yenkat felt a familiar type of emptiness when she entered Polaris’ bedroom. It wasn’t the type she got whenever her friends were occupied with their men and she was left to her own company. This one was the ugly monster that showed up on the occasion and threatened to pull her under in pain. It was here this afternoon, leaving her emotions in a black hole.
Polaris was gone. Last night, Yenkat had received a late phone call from Omar. He informed her that Star was in town and wanted Polaris to spend the holidays with her. He apologized for the impromptu notice. Yenkat said she was okay with the plans, adding that it was a good thing that Star was making efforts to remain in Polaris’ life. But the truth was that Yenkat was mad at Star for coming to take Polaris from her. The first thing she did when morning came was to ask Oyin to pack a bag with Polaris’ things. She then sat Polaris on her lap and explained to her that Star was coming to take her away for a while. The child, of course, didn’t understand a word she had said. She was more interested in Yenkat’s gold necklace.
Star arrived as promised, sweeping in with her purple weave, heavy makeup and multiple piercings. To Yenkat, a mother never looked so irresponsible. She judged everything about her, especially her dress, which was a second away from exposing her bum. When she stooped to hug Polaris, Yenkat could see that she wasn’t wearing anything underneath. She shook her head and watched in jealousy as Polaris hugged her. Star had been faithful in keeping the connection with her child. She video-called Yenkat twice each week to speak to Polaris. Sometimes she sent videos. Yenkat had not felt any sort of resentment towards her until last night. It was painful to watch her take Polaris away.
She drove to work with tears held up in her eyes. In her office, she let them down. She stayed in until she accepted that she was unable to do any type of work for the day. She then returned home. The first thing she did was walk into Polaris bedroom. She hunched down and picked a toy at the doorway. It was one of the girl’s favorites. Yenkat hugged it to herself and looked around forlornly. What was she going to do with herself if Star decided she wasn’t bringing Polaris back? How would she cope?
Maybe it was time to end this constant agony and visit the fertility clinic Kyenpia referred her to, to commence the IVF procedure that would lead her into motherhood. Kyenpia herself had done it, and had explained the procedure to Yenkat in detail. Doctors had told Yenkat that it was the only solution to her situation, after diagnosing her with unexplained infertility. A doctor in the UK, during her last series of tests, had advised her to return with her partner, to rule out that the problem wasn’t from him since everything seemed okay with her. The doctor had been the fourth doctor Yenkat had visited. She hadn’t told him there had been others.
Her pregnancy struggles started years earlier, when she got involved with the son of a notable politician who proposed marriage to her. Yenkat hadn’t loved him. She was marrying him for his wealth. At that time, she had little to her name. The man’s family was not impressed by her, but the man himself was convinced that Yenkat was the one. They had a little problem, however. Yenkat hadn’t gotten pregnant since they began dating. The man who was older and in his mid-forties, was desperate to replace the only child from a previous marriage whom he had lost in an accident. After a year went by without Yenkat conceiving, despite deliberate attempts, he took her to a doctor to run fertility tests on her.
And that was how her nightmares began.
With Obidan, a few years later, the situation had been much the same, and even more painful, because he wasn’t as supportive as one would expect a husband to be. He had blamed her infertility on her career.
“How will you get pregnant when you can’t stay one place? Always jumping around from here to there like a man!”
On one occasion, he had added that she was indeed a man. But when she finally got pregnant, he switched back to being loving and sweet; only to return to the monster he was after they lost the baby. Such was the emotional turmoil Yenkat had faced from her men, which was a reflection of the type of pain she suffered internally. Some days, she felt good with herself; other times, she felt less than a woman. The thing with unexplained fertility was that no one told you what the problem was because they didn’t know themselves. So, all she could do was wait and hope that somehow, a miracle would happen, just as it did for Kyenpia. But miracles didn’t happen when one didn’t have a man who could offer unprotected sex. With Omar, they had used condoms. Not that she had thought anything would happen if they went bare. It was just her default mode to play safe. Besides, the need to be pregnant had considerably died down with the coming of Polaris. Now, however, her mind was returning to thoughts of having a baby. She didn’t like to be the woman whose biological clock was ticking. But it was. Next year, she would turn thirty-five, reducing her chances of a risk-free pregnancy.
Yenkat pressed Polaris’ toy to her tummy as she went to her bedroom. She laid on the bed with her heels on, thinking of how to call Kyenpia and ask her to speak to Bem on her behalf, concerning a possible IVF procedure. Paternity of the child would come from a sperm donor. She didn’t know anyone who was eligible enough to father her child.
As Yenkat lay there, mulling over these things, Oyin attended to a visitor at the door who asked to see Yenkat.
Oyin knocked on Yenkat’s door and informed her of the lady’s presence. Yenkat sprang up, her mind recalling the annoying woman who had claimed she was pregnant for her late brother, Dashe. She had also claimed Yenkat owed her four million naira.
Yenkat left her bedroom in annoyance, but she relaxed in her movement when she walked in on Jenifer holding a baby.
“Good afternoon,” Jenifer greeted.
Yenkat’s eyes rested on the baby. He was a boy, chubby, and with a head full of hair. She had seen an image like that before, almost a replica of it. Her mother had hung it on the wall of their living room, next to hers. That image had been the first photo ever taken of Dashe. According to their mother, he had just been three months old then.
“Do you remember me?” Jenifer asked.
“Yes.” Jenifer smiled. Yenkat didn’t recall if she had smiled the last time she was here. She looked the same, though, save for the clothes and a different hairstyle.
“Sit down,” Yenkat offered. Jenifer sat, placing the baby on her lap. “Is this…?”
“Yes, he’s your nephew.” Jenifer looked at the boy. “I named him Dash.”
“Dash,” Yenkat repeated. Dash was adorable. Yenkat couldn’t take her eyes off him. “How old is he?”
“Five months.” Jenifer bounced him on her lap even though he wasn’t making a fuss. Yenkat wanted to tell her to stop doing that, so that she could take in every detail of him. “See, I came to apologize for the way I spoke to you the other time. I was pregnant, sad and broke. You didn’t deserve to be spoken to that way.”
“Dash and I decided to stop by today and say hi. Do you want to carry him?”
Jenifer took Baby Dash to Yenkat. “Dash, say hi to your aunty.”
The moment Yenkat’s hands touched the boy, she felt some sort of peace. “Hi,” she cooed, smiling at him. He smiled back. “Awwww.”
“He loves smiling.”
“How are you, Dash?”
“He’s fine. Em… I have to run out and get his diaper bag from the car.”
“Okay,” Yenkat answered in distraction. She was fighting the urge not to kiss Dash all over his face. He was the cutest little boy she had ever carried. She heard the door close and she brought her forehead to his. “Hi, nephew. Your daddy was an asshole, but I miss him.” Dash smiled. “Yes, I do. I’m so happy to meet you. We’ll be good friends, won’t we?”
She kissed his forehead and rested him on her chest. He smelled like the good things in life, the way all babies did. Everyone knew of her obsession with carrying babies just to sniff them. Dash was an overload of that baby scent.
Yenkat kissed Dash’s forehead. She would ask Jenifer to stay the night. Little Dash was too precious to part with so quickly.
Leonel hadn’t been able to get Brahm to fly them out of Jos to Lagos, but they promised to have a plane sent down the following day. Kyenpia had been okay with the arrangement when Leonel told her. She had tried to express more of her anger at him, but the execution came with stress. What good would it bring her? Her intention was not to make him feel like shit by being unnecessarily irate. She only wanted him to pay for what he had done to her, and this couldn’t be accomplished if she drove a wall between them.
Tonight, she watched him put Eliana to bed. The child had spent the most part of her time with him, following the patterns of his tattoos with her fingers. She had not cared for the numerous toys he had bought for her; she was fascinated by him in a way Kyenpia found cute. Leonel himself was obsessed with her more than he had been before he left. The twins charmed him as well. Kyenpia had observed him all day, and the way he bonded with them.
“They look just like David and I,” he told her earlier. “I’ve shown you a couple of pictures of us as babies, haven’t I?”
Kyenpia didn’t give him a response. She knew he wasn’t expecting any from her. Having said her mind in the morning, she had kept her lips sealed throughout the day. But her eyes hadn’t left him. She thought he was the most gorgeous man she had ever seen. Watching him move about the suite revived memories from their good days, when she had fallen so deep in love and would waste hours, gazing at him with love-struck eyes. Standing outside Eliana’s door now, she wondered if it would feel the same if he kissed her.
“Goo nai…” Eliana said to him. Kyenpia moved away from the door, unnoticed.
The penthouse suite was quiet. The twins were with Nelly and the nanny in a different suite, on the floor below. Kyenpia wondered if it were a good idea not to have them here with her. What would be her escape from Leonel’s overwhelming presence in the middle of the night when insomnia consumed her?
“Do you want something to drink?” he asked as he came out to the living room where she was seated. “Hot chocolate, maybe?”
She didn’t reply. He went into the kitchen and came out with a mug of hot chocolate. “There you go.”
Kyenpia accepted the drink from him. She was hungry, actually. She hadn’t eaten anything since having breakfast.
“You’re so stunning,” he complimented, worshipping her with his eyes. She looked at him and looked away. He sat with her until she finished the drink.
“Thank you,” she muttered and took the mug to the kitchen. When she returned, he was not in the living room. She went to the bedroom and found him out on the balcony. He was smoking a joint. It was crazy how much she had had recollections like this of him, wishing to wake up in the middle of the night and see him in this manner. Crazier were the feelings she had borne all day, the almost uncontrollable urge to bury his sins against her and start afresh with him.
She missed him… His banter with her, the way he made her laugh in the same measure he annoyed her, his cockiness, sweetness, compassion, passion, naughtiness… Kyenpia wanted him and it annoyed her. It was taking the restraint of a thousand godly nuns to keep her hands to herself.
His phone began to ring. She said nothing of it to him, but he hurried in and picked the phone, sitting on the bed beside her. It was a video call from his mother. He took the call, bringing Emem’s face up on his screen.
There was silence on the other end that left Kyenpia curious for a second or two until she remembered that Emem communicated via sign language. Kyenpia was tempted to turn around and watch the exchange, but she stayed still, facing away from Leonel. She listened to him, taking note of the joy in his voice. He told Emem about the children, the twins, especially.
“Kyenpia?” he asked. “Yeah, she’s here. You want to see her?”
Kyenpia raised her body and shook her head.
Leonel moved closer to her and put his arm around her, bringing her face into Emem’s view.
“Mom, this is Kyenpia.”
“Good evening, Mommy,” Kyenpia greeted with a smile. “Wow! You’re so beautiful.”
Emem wasn’t what she had imagined her to be. She had that retro, classic type of look.
“I’ll translate,” Leonel said. Kyenpia nodded, watching Emem’s fingers move swiftly. “She says ‘I am so happy to hear your voice. How are you doing?’”
“I’m good. How are you, Mommy?”
“I’m great. But you… You’re amazing! Just look at that hair!”
“Thank you, Mommy.”
“Are you happy to see your husband?”
Kyenpia looked at Leonel briefly. His finger was beginning to draw circles on her upper arm.
“Yes.” Her answer was genuine.
“Bless your heart,” Leonel interpreted. “Although I know you’ll feel some bitterness inside. It’s normal to feel that way. I just don’t want you to let it come between you two. What he did was selfish, but it was from a place of love. He was afraid too. He didn’t want to become the person his father was. Please, forgive him, Kyenpia.”
“I know, Mommy.”
Emem went on. Leonel gazed at Kyenpia as he put her expressions to words. “He loves you deeply, crazily and stupidly, and he will die again before he would hurt you.”
Emem was laughing. Kyenpia looked at Leonel with a curious frown. “Did you add yours?”
He didn’t give an answer. “Mom, Kay and I want you over for Christmas,” he said.
Emem stopped laughing and sighed.
“Same with Dave and Peggy. We’re the only ones that matter. Your grandkids need to see you.”
She responded with rapid movements of her hands.
“Yes, I know,” Leonel countered. “But you are not with Captain. You’re with your sons. Mom, we’ve spoken about this over and over. I will personally come pick you up. I’ve booked a flight for us for the 20th. No more excuses.”
Emem sighed again, smiling. She mouthed the word, “Okay,” blew a kiss and added, “I love you both.”
She waved and the screen went blank. Leonel’s arms remained on Kyenpia. She moved away from him and left the bed.
“I have a couple of things for you,” she told him as she reached into her handbag and took out a small jewelry bag. She walked to the bed and handed it to him. He drew open the drawstrings of the bag and turned it over. His platinum wedding band and gold rosary fell out.
“The day they cremated you, they brought them to me.” She sat on the bed. “Pops said that it would take a lot more to melt gold and platinum. He likened you to both metals and said some profound thing about how you could never die. How could he have lied to me like that?”
“It’s his way.”
“And yours? And your mom’s? And Igwe’s? And Mama Jams’? Seems like the only honest person in your family is David?”
Kyenpia wasn’t angry anymore. It was more of a head thing. She was tired of the different thoughts and questions clashing in there.
“It was never supposed to be this way…” Leonel muttered.
“I was ready for uncertainties when I married you, but not ready for what you did to me…”
“It wasn’t that I could leave where I was to come home to you, Kay.” His voice came with some brokenness. “I told you I was messed up. For a long time, I had to deal with physical pain as well. Then mentally, I just wasn’t there. My brain kept resetting and…” He heaved. “I know that nothing I say can make things right. For the zillionth time, Sunshine, I am sorry.”
He picked a lighter he had placed on the bed and got up to leave, but Kyenpia stopped him. She held out his wedding band.
He stretched out his left hand and she pushed the band over his fourth finger. When she tried to take her hand away, he held onto it. He sat on the bed again. His stare was piercing.
“I have said all there is to say, and I won’t repeat a word of it unless you ask me. But this isn’t about me, sweetheart. It’s about you. I want to hear your story too. Tell me everything. Every single thing I missed. Even the parts with Ishi in it. I want to hear it all. Let me take away the pain as much as I can, because more than anything, that is why I’m here. Don’t shut me out, please.”
It was hard not to see his honesty. His eyes were a deep shade of bareness. He was vulnerable and fierce at the same time.
“I just want to sleep,” she murmured, extracting her hand from his and moving farther into the bed, away from him. She felt the necklace underneath her and drew it out. “Take.”
Leonel reached for it, but repeated his earlier action of holding onto her hand.
He moved towards her and lowered over her body until his lips touched hers. There was still that fierce look in his eyes.
“All your terms, I agree to them. Take my money, take everything from me, I don’t care. But you see that part when you’ll be my partner only out there, but remain a stranger here to me? Fuck that shit. I didn’t come back so that we’ll live separate lives. That’s not marriage to me, Elizabeth, and I’m not taking that. I respect your need to heal; I’m going through my healing process too. However, these demons that constantly try to tear us apart, we will fight them together. And it will start with you and me, making every effort to ensure that things work. If you want to leave me with the bulk of the work at the start, I am happy to do it. You can join me later. I will not give up on us.”
His breath was warm and nostalgic. His body was hard against hers. He was putting her in a difficult situation.
“Okay,” she said in response to him. “You can go now.”
But he ignored her and pushed his hand underneath her, going all the way down to her waist. She didn’t see his kiss coming. She couldn’t stop it. Her lips did that thing where they naturally responded to him. They even kissed him back, in a poignant manner, as if unsure and sure at the same time. But her lips were just one part of her. The rest of her was suddenly realizing that the one who could move her world was finally home. It was a mixture of emotions and physical reactions to him; and if Kyenpia wasn’t careful, things were going to happen faster than her brain could swing into action. No man was able to set her on fire the way Leonel did. Ishi didn’t even come close.
But just as she thought of escaping the moment, Leonel rudely withdrew his lips and body from hers.
“This is me doing everything to make things work,” he whispered. “Thank you for participating.”
He left the bed and went out to the balcony. Kyenpia’s faculties returned to her, bringing some sort of irritation. She threw a couple of pillows to the floor in annoyance, and then drew the blanket to cover herself.
Leonel was a serious problem.
®Sally Kenneth Dadzie @moskedapages