“Darling, is Junior my son?
Richard posed the question before his wife’s eyes opened. He saw her rub her eyes and her body move under the duvet in a way that could only signal she was waking. He reached for the base of the lamp on their bedside table and switched it off quickly; praying that his wife’s mind had not registered the ridiculous question his mouth asked, against his will. He rested his pounding head on the pillow, his rigid back turned to her.
“What did you just say?
“Oh no, she heard me.” Richard cursed himself for choosing to believe the words of a near stranger. He sat up, focusing his eyes on everything in the room but her.
“Look at me Richard Rotimi Iretioluwa”
Richard had never heard his wife speak to him like that before, but he knew he deserved worse after what he found himself asking her: a partial resultant effect of sleep teasing and licking him for three solid hours without claiming him. He starred at her. She was now sat up, her neck twisted to his side of the bed. Sleep had completely left her eyes, which had seemed sleep deprived, a few hours ago when she picked him up from the airport. She had promptly blamed her tiredness on their three children and laughed in that affectionate way of hers- that he loved- when the twins protested, blaming it on each other.
When he kissed her, he remembered cooing “You look beautiful darling, as always”, because she did and all he had needed was simply to see her beautiful face to cast the ridiculous lies the near stranger fed him to the deep void of his unconscious self. As a therapist, he believed in the sanity defensive mechanisms such as repression and transference provides the mind. Until, starring at Junior for ages whilst they all ate their supper, worry had started to gnaw at his insides again.
“Is Junior my son, Eniola? Richard asked again, his eyes now on his wife of sixteen years.
Eniola’s hands appeared from under the duvet cover and wrapped themselves around Richard, as if all he needed was for her to swathe him like a newborn to soothe his fears.
“I am your wife…I am your..wife..Eniola’s voice thinned and waned until it failed her but she continued to speak with her fingers which jabbed him hard on his bare chest and neck, until she seemed to find her voice again as tears found her eyes.
“Richard…I love you. What are you asking me in the name of God! Of course Junior is your son. Where is this coming from” She let go of him, her face still close to his. A faint whiff of her natural perfume caught in his nostrils. Her nightwear had shifted a bit, revealing a generous amount of cleavage. Richard knew she would have longed to have him back. They had never been apart for that long. He wished he had never gone to Nigeria in the first place because he would not have had the misfortune of meeting the near stranger if he hadn’t.
“Do you know a man whose name is Gbenga? Gbenga Pedro? Your brother introduced him to me in his office” Richard continued after seeing the fleeting fret that passed her eyes before an exaggerated blank expression darkened her newly shaped eyebrows. “Your brother said you guys grew up together in Abeokuta. He was your brother’s best friend. So, you know him, right? ”
“No, no.. I mean yes…. but not that well. I don’t know him that well. He was my brother’s friend, not mine. Besides, I haven’t seen him for decades” Eniola’s voice had suddenly grown louder, her arms waved about as if his words were indeed physical thumps. Richard clasped his head in his sweaty palms, he had eaten barely a couple of mouthfuls of the jacket potato and baked beans that his wife served them for supper but now it sat heavy in his abdomen.
For the first time since he qualified as a psychotherapist in 1999, he wished he did not have an overactive listening skill. He found himself observing not just her verbal responses but her body language as well. Each signal so far, he knew, was telling him what his ears did not want to hear.
“You are the man I have given all my early adult years to. The only love of my life’’ Eniola grabbed her husband’s sweaty palms. “Please my husband, stop this. Your words are killing me”
He despised the impact of his words on her. Ironic, that the day of their wedding he promised to shield her from sadness and tears. Seeing her in tears thrashed him from the inside. They were enough to make him want to stop. But, he didn’t.
“What is the name of the first man you were with? Richard asked harshly before continuing when she gawked at him. “You were not a virgin on our wedding night Eniola, so I presume you dated someone before me, which is odd because I have heard you tell the women’s group in church how you were a virgin until you married your Mr right. I don’t care about the past. But I have a right to know if it infringes on our present and future babe. So, tell me and I promise I won’t be mad. Was it this Gbenga you were seeing before me?”
Eniola withdrew her hands from her husband’s but not before he had seen her face give him the confirmation he did not want. At the same time he recalled the words that had simply grown wings and followed him around like an affliction since the near stranger uttered them back in Ola’s Lagos office. Eniola’s brother, Ola had left him with the near stranger in his office to go to his colleague’s office. When the diminutive man grinned at him bearing stretched, fading tribal marks and brown stained teeth, Richard expected small talk, definitely not what followed.
“My man, you know I saw your son, Junior’s photo the other day. Ola showed them to me. The boy does not look like you at all. Haba, you are very tall and big, whereas he is small and frail. You must be very worried my man, considering the fact that Enny went straight from my arms to yours. But, I don’t blame her sha, a London-based man or a Lagos-based man”, just like that, the near stranger got up and left the room, despite his smallness, he walked away like a giant would, each miniature step of his, trampling over Richard’s life, leaving visible paw marks.
Richard turned to his snivelling wife; he did not speak as loud as he wanted to, more in fear of waking their children than of the migraine carving his head into a million fragments.
“When you went back to Nigeria after I proposed and you called me to say you were not sure about marrying me anymore, Were you with him?”
Richard leapt from the bed as soon as he saw her guilt ridden face. Strong overpowering emotions were pulling him apart, but rage above all others, was what transported him to the door. It had engulfed him so ruthlessly that he knew he had to put miles between himself and his wife. Without turning, he roared when he heard the soft uttering of the first syllable of his Yoruba name.
“No, Eniola. Don’t. Just let me be”
The kitchen’s rustic oak floorboard oddly enough did not feel cold against his clammy skin. Nearly two hours after he went into the kitchen to find a temporary cure for his migraine, Richard was still there, sat on the floor in his shorts. Stratford was yet to spring to life but he could tell that it would not be long before their milkman started making his first delivery round. He did not need a watch to tell him he had spent the whole night awake and that sleep would not come anytime soon. Soft pattering of the drizzling of rain beat the kitchen windows, failing though, to sip into him and calm his intense despair.
When he heard the door, he wiped his tears with the back of his hands. Richard knew, she had never seen him cry before. He saw that her eyes bore a semblance of his own distress as he looked up to address her. For the first time since he had known her, her pain did not rip him to tiny shreds.
“Sweetheart please, she started, “I know Junior is your son. We can do a DNA test, if that is what you need to prove…..
“Junior is my son as far as I am concerned, Eniola, I don’t need a test to prove he is my son. No test can change the bond I share with him. I love that boy more than I love life itself. It feels like yesterday Eniola, when I held him for the first time in my arms at St James hospital. That was the day I truly became a man… ” He paused to catch his breath, glancing at the small space between his bent legs as if the floorboard possessed an inkling of how to proceed in such circumstances.
“I will take the children to my parents’ house tomorrow after school. I am sure mum wouldn’t mind looking after them for a few days. When I get back from work, I don’t want to see you here”