Desola’s heart weighed heavier than the foodstuff tucked in the blue and green bags she got from the African shop close to the train station. She needed her sluggish feet to speed up. But somehow, the grief and shock of Eniola and Pastor John’s death had affected her legs. She walked past people, cars and shops without taking them in.
She felt emotionally battered. How could Eniola be dead?
Eniola was only in her late thirties. She had everything to live for. Her children topped that list. It was obvious to everyone that Eniola loved her children. Shock had paralysed Desola when she found out. No one in church could explain why Richard and his wife travelled to Nigeria, in the first place. No one knew why Richard’s father left for Nigeria two days later to join his son and daughter-in-law. And then Agnes broke the news to her and Grace that, Eniola and her father-in-law had been shot dead by armed robbers in Nigeria.
She was on her way to Richard’s house to check on him and the children. Agnes, Grace and Mrs Bradshaw, from the church had taken it in turns to cook and run errands for the family. Richard arrived in the country two days ago but Desola was yet to see him. She had spent the past few days tending to his sister-in-law whose tears still gushed like a downpour. She wasn’t looking forward to seeing him. What was she supposed to tell him to numb his grief ?
Richard’s mother and his father-in-law were yet to come back from Nigeria. She knew Richard flew back home against his family and in-law’s wishes. Desola couldn’t blame him though. His children were inconsolable when their grandmother broke the news to them. And then, they were passed on to her sister in Enfield. Left alone with someone they didn’t know whilst their father buried their mother and grandfather in another continent.
Desola arrived infront of the Iretioluwa’s house. A sort of weakness gripped her from the inside. She put her phone in her bag but before she could press the doorbell, the door flung open. Taye and Kenny stood at the door. Taye, a few feet behind her sister. Her eyes wide but vacant. Kenny’s face was sad. Her dejected look clawed at Desola’s heart.
The children wore fairy dresses with ketch-up stains on. Their cornrolls had come partially undone on their heads, leaving messy thick curls where there were once straight lines. Desola swallowed the lump in her throat. Eniola’s children were already looking motherless when their mother was still fresh in her grave.
“Hello aunty.” Junior piped when he got to the door. He helped Desola with the shopping bags.
“Junior, how are you? Where is your dad?” Desola asked, conscious of the girls shrinking behind her.
“Dad is cremating Taye and Kenny’s fish fingers in the kitchen.” Junior said and then took the shopping bags to the kitchen.
A burning smell welcomed Desola into the lounge. It wasn’t as tidy as she remembered. She bent her knees and gathered the girls in her arms. Kenny’s weak smile warmed her heart.
“Let me go and help daddy with the fish fingers and then I will do your hair. Okay?” Taye managed a half smile. Desola put the TV on a children’s channel before going into the kitchen. Junior came out as she went in. She saw Richard chucking burnt fish fingers in the bin. He was unshaved, leaner and dark cycles ringed his eyes.
“Desola.” He murmured.
He put the oven tray on the hob and went to her. She let him hug her, struggling with the tears that were threatening to force themselves through her eyelashes. They stayed like that for a while. When she looked into his eyes, she noticed the pain evident in them. He pulled away from her when she asked how he was.
Richard fished out a pack of fish fingers from the freezer. Desola went to him and took the pack out of his hands.“Let me do this for the girls. Then, I can make you and Junior something to eat. Anything you want.”
“Ok. I will be upstairs if you need me.” Richard said without turning to look at her. He stepped out of the kitchen.
Desola noticed that Junior had put her shopping bags on the kitchen surface. She had purchased a big yam from the African shop to cook Richard and Junior asaro. Eniola had often sworn about the ability of asaro, when it came to bringing back her men’s appetite.
Hours later, after she had plaited the twins’ hair and given them a bathe, she read them bedtime stories and watched them drift off to sleep. Downstairs, she found Richard on the sofa, asleep. His head was perched on the arm of the sofa. She covered his long mannish legs with the twins’ Peppa Pig blanket and switched off the TV. She told Junior whom she found in the conservatory on his iPad, that his father’s supper was in the microwave before leaving the house.
Few days later, the twins turned up at Desola’s flat with their dad. Richard needed her to look after them. They had refused to go to their childminder’s house and he was due back at work that morning. The children were asleep on her bed when Richard came back at nine pm.
He followed her into the hallway, speaking quietly so as not to wake his children.“Sorry darling, I went to the restaurant after work. I had a lot of things to sort out.” Richard raked his hand through his hair. He leaned against the wall and rubbed his face to prevent another yawn.
Desola wasn’t expecting him. She had already changed into her night dress. His daughters had expressed a willingness to stay overnight. She had called him at seven to ask if that was okay. Perhaps the dozen of Haribo sweets, Jelly and Thorntons luxury chocolate she fed them had helped them decide they wanted to stay.
“I said it is okay for them to stay tonight Uncle Richard. And any other night they want to.They have really enjoyed their day, anyway.”
“I need Junior to concentrate on studying for his GCSE exams which are coming up soon. That is why I need someone to help me with the girls. I don’t know why they don’t want to go to their childminder’s house anymore. She did the school pick up and holiday childcare,” he moaned.
“I can look after them until they are ready to go back. I am on holiday from uni, so I can help.” She told him.
Richard grabbed her nearest hand. “Really? Thank you Desola. You are an angel, believe me.” Desola saw something in his eyes as he let go of her hand. A new sort of sadness? Acceptance? Whatever it was, it was different from what she had seen in his eyes before.
Perhaps because one of his fingers traced the inside of her palm before he let her go or perhaps because despite his grief, his face was still as handsome as ever. She found herself remembering their kiss. Her eyes went to his leaner stomach and the black belt around his midriff.
She forced her offending eyes to the floor and her mind to a boring church service. How could she covet him when his wife’s spirit was probably still hanging around. She shuddered when a thought hit her. His late wife’s ghost could be beside him, giving her dirty looks.
“I have so much that needs sorting out. My father’s house, the restaurant, the church, the flat….unfortunately, I am not sleeping at night, so I am exhausted.” He sighed. “How can I sleep when I know someone murdered my wife and father?”
Richard stared at Desola’s shocked face. “What sort of armed robbers kill people without taking their money? Desola, I forced my wife to go to Nigeria with me because her ex started to wag his tongue. He was telling everyone that he is Junior’s father. I wanted us to talk things through with him. I didn’t want the whole world….especially our church members to find out. My father wanted us to keep Junior’s paternity a secret too. That was why he followed us to Nigeria.” He rapped his fingers on the wall. “I am absolutely sure that her ex sent those men to kill her. They were not armed robbers.”