Desola’s plan to rid Richard off her life, like cancerous cells started to birth holes, when she saw his daughters. They hugged her, refusing to let go despite her pleas. She didn’t want to infect them with the influenza virus; she knew she was still infected with.
Everytime she spoke to her sister, she was left with this heavy, unshifting weight around her neck. She promised herself that the weight would feel lighter, if she didn’t have the issue of seeing Richard- every time he dropped off his daughters- to deal with. In church, her duty as the Sunday school teacher in charge of the children meant she didn’t see him, that much.
However as soon as the university semester ended, she found herself looking after his daughters again. Things were different now though. He had started paying her. She cared for the children in her home. At times though, she would dish up some leftover food and hand it to Richard for Junior- to give him a break from the restaurant’s food. The boy was busy writing his exams. She didn’t want him to fail.
Grace would then point out, how she was taking care of their father by her actions. “Very soon dear, he will start to bring you his laundry.”
That Friday evening, she took the children to Richard’s mother at the restaurant, as planned. Their father was in Scotland on a Pastors’ weekend retreat. Desola had honed and trimmed the words in her head. If she told his mother, she couldn’t look after her grandchildren anymore; she was bound to take her seriously. She had tried to have the conversation with Richard. Everytime, he would remind her that the girls loved her. How could she think of deserting them? In truth, Desola wasn’t sure of how she was supposed to stop caring.
Grace was at the till, cashing up when they arrived. Richard’s mum, Mary was doing the fridges and freezer temperature checks in the kitchen. Mary held her hand in the kitchen, as soon as the twins had disappeared with their cakes, into their father’s office.
“My daughter, every time I want to thank you for everything you have done for my son and my grandchildren, the words don’t come. In my heart my daughter, I know words are not enough.”
“Uncle Richard is paying me, ma. You don’t have to thank me.” She said.
“No, you do it from the heart as if they are your children. That is why they like you so much. When they come to my house, it is always Aunty Desola this, Aunty Desola that.”
Guilt ripped Desola’s heart apart. How could she abandon his children?
“They have suffered enough ma. That is why, I try to do my best when they are with me.”
Mary’s face fell. “Agnes needs lessons from you. Did my son not tell you what happened when we went to her flat for dinner?”
Mary’s voice reduced to a whisper. “She cooked us Cameroon dishes. The stew tasted of peanuts and mangoes. I was prepared to manage it, Desola. But she served Taye and Kehinde, the same green stew as us, saying the children have to get used to her as their future step-mother. Kehinde put a spoon of the green slimy stew in her mouth and threw up all over Agnes’ posh dining tablecloth.”
Desola stifled a chuckle, when Mary told her it was God that helped her swallow the stew. There was more in the pot, which they got served after Agnes cleared the table. Mary told her, she would have spat it at Agnes if Richard hadn’t given her a stern look. Mary got the rest of the story out between her sighs and exclamations. Desola noticed Mary’s eyes watching her, behind her glasses. That was when, Desola realised that the older woman was studying her- as if to decipher hidden meanings behind her smiles.
That night, she had a dream, stranger than all the other ones she had ever had.
Eniola came to her bedroom and held her by the wrist. Somehow, they ended up in Nigeria.
Desola recognised the aerial view of Abeokuta: the old school buildings and Olumo Rock, standing tall, when she saw them. They were in Abeokuta, the town where they were both born. From where she was, she could see the Ogun River. The river appeared calm until she saw a boy in it, flapping his arms about.
It was Junior. His body was rapidly disappearing under water. Eniola pointed at him. She looked distressed but no words left her mouth. Desola woke up and despite praying for the safety of Junior and his sisters, she could not go back to sleep after.
Desola’s restlessness had not shifted when she went to see Ife the following morning. It took her a while before she noticed that, Ife seemed off with her. She didn’t ask what prompted the frostiness. Not even, when Ife served herself a bowl of chin–chin and turned on her laptop.
“The twins told me they stayed here four weeks ago. You didn’t tell me, when we spoke.” Desola said, instead.
“Do you have a problem with me seeing my sister’s children? Or, do you just want to keep them to yourself?” Ife’s eyes dug deep into her.
“I don’t understand you, Ife. I am not stopping you from seeing your sister’s children. You know, I started helping Daddy Junior because he needed help. You were so down after Sister Eniola’s death. Someone had to help him.”
“So, now it’s Daddy Junior you are calling him, as if you are Junior’s mother? Tell me babe, are there no other ways to help him that does not include warming up his bed?”
“Do you think I haven’t seen the way he looks at you? Walls have ears Desola. People are talking in church. And, we all have eyes. Quit whatever you are doing with him. He is marrying Sister Agnes. She is a born again Christian.” Ife’s eyes dug deeper. “I am sure, you don’t understand what it means to be properly dedicated to Christ. If you did, you would never whore yourself so willy nilly.”
Desola wanted to scream at Ife and tell her, it happened once. She slept with Richard once. When it came to mistakes, her friend too had made a few. Wasn’t she, the same friend that snatched her boyfriend and declared him the love of her life? The relationship met its death, when Ife found her boyfriend in bed with his own cousin.
“Don’t be angry with me. I thought I should warn you like a good friend would. I don’t want my brother-in-law to hurt you. He will play you babe. I know he ain’t a player, but you are simply too gullible. He has had a freaking time of late. Don’t let him take the mickey out of you. You are fabulous girl. Show him, you are.” Ife slapped her arm playfully.
Desola did not smile.
“Another thing I need to talk to you about babe, Daddy told me that Brother Alex has asked him some personal questions about you. You know Brother Alex, don’t you?”
“Ofcourse. What does he want?” Desola asked.
Brother Alex, a young man around the same age as her, had recently become some sort of apprentice to Richard in church.
The Brother Alex, whose dainty steps reeked of faith and grace. The Brother Alex, whose fasting showed more in his shrunken cheeks and jutted collarbones – was asking questions about her.
Ife’s eyes narrowed, “Why do you think a man asks questions about a woman?”
On Monday afternoon, Desola left the flat at half past two, to go and pick up the twins from school. She needed the walk and fresh air. The grin that Brother Alex gave her on Sunday, as he mounted the pulpit had left her apprehensive. The last thing she needed, was another man of God looking at her like Richard once did.
Desola did not expect to see Richard’s car downstairs. She didn’t think he was back from the Pastors’ retreat. He was on his phone in the car. He finished his call and wound down his side windshield, when he saw her approaching. He looked well groomed in a grey suit that made her wonder, if he had a special place to be later. Images of him and Sister Agnes cosying up together in her flat, knocked her sick.
“I came back two hours ago. How are my children?”
“I was just about to walk down to the school to pick up the twins.”
“This early?” He checked his watch. “That’s fine. I have really missed them. Why don’t you jump in the car, I will give you a lift down. We can pick them up together. Then, you can come with us for dinner. Do you like Chinese?”
A better idea came to her mind. A logical one.
“Why don’t you go and pick them up on your own. They have missed you. Junior is tired of his grandma’s house and he is ready to come home. They can have a good time with their dad tonight.”
His face contorted in a frown.“I don’t bite sweetheart. It’s just dinner with my children.”
She didn’t respond.
“Has this got something to do with Alex’s call to me on Saturday about his interests in you? Don’t tell me, you are thinking of taking him seriously.”
His voice became louder. “You don’t even know him, Desola. How could you be thinking of marrying him? The man is on a student visa. He shouldn’t be thinking of settling down yet. And, how do you think this will be for me? It will be awkward for me, full stop. I work with him in church. We pray and fast together. You’d better tell him no. He hasn’t found a wife.”
She moved a few feet backwards when he stepped out of the car. She had never seen him like that before. His hands moved about as if he was back in church.
He thrust his neck forward.“I have known you for a few years, sweetheart. Alex is not the man for you. Please tell me, when he asks you, your answer is going to be no.”
“We both know it’s none of your business, Pastor.” It was the first time, she had ever called him Pastor.
She started to walk towards the entrance of the building.
“Don’t you dare walk away from me. Desola!”
He was too late.