Desola walked to the front door with her eyes half-closed. Every time she opened one, the other would force itself shut as if in defiance to her. Sleep deserted her when she saw Richard and his daughters at the door. The girls were in school uniform, their eyes as tired as hers.
“It’s five past seven in the morning.”
“Sorry, I know it is early but I have initial assessments to type up at work. I have a few sessions to prepare for too.” He told her.
His daughters hugged him and walked into the lounge with her. She served them frosties in pink and yellow bowls and switched on the Television for them before joining their dad in the hallway.
His back was on the wall. Her hands went to her dressing gown to double-tie the dangling robes. She didn’t really want to ask him what was wrong with him. Why he was heading for work in jeans and a tee-shirt.
He took out an envelope from his pocket and passed it to her. “Wages madam.”
She looked in the envelope. “This is more than what you pay me.”
“I know it is. I added a bit extra because last week you mentioned you are behind on your rent.”
“I don’t want you to pay me what I haven’t earned.”
He straightened up. “Please take the money. I am doing it for the girls. You can’t take another job because the hours you care for them are all over the place. Eniola would not forgive me if you can’t look after them because you are homeless.”
She walked him to the door. “Thank you. I suppose you don’t want me homeless, so that I don’t end up seeking shelter at the church.”
A frown darkened his face. “I have been suspended by the church committee Desola.”
“What? Why would they do that?”
He saw worry in her eyes. Concern for him that was not evident in Agnes’ voice when he rang to tell her after hearing the news.
His voice reduced to a whisper. “According to them I am having an affair with a church member.”
She raised her head up so she could look into his eyes. Her voice was softer than what she heard in her own head. “Well, are you having an affair?”
“No, of course not,” He brought his head closer to hers. “I think they mean….you. Someone has said something about us.”
“But there is no us. You are with Sister Agnes.”
Bit by bit, he told her about Agnes finding out about Junior’s paternity. He ended with the worst threat of all- Gbenga’s intended visit to the UK. He left for work after she tried to reassure him that Agnes wouldn’t spill her guts about Junior. Richard made it clear he couldn’t risk his son’s wellbeing on a maybe. He would marry a thousand Agnesses if that would guarantee his son’s happiness.
Richard acknowledged the security man’s, “Good morning Doc” when he got to work at Camden’s adult mental health community service. He had a few sips of the coffee he made himself in the service’s kitchen. As soon as he logged on into the borough’s veltrix system -having settled into his office- his phone started to ring. It was a tearful Agnes on the phone.
“I saw your car downstairs when I took the bin downstairs. You were parked downstairs for more than thirty minutes. I am not stupid. You were with Desola, weren’t you?”
“Calm down Agnes. I was dropping off the children. Please stop crying.” He tried to calm her down. However, the more he spoke, the more hysterical she got.
In the end, he put the phone down, telling her he would ring her later because he could hear the clicking sound of the receptionist’s shoes signalling her arrival.
As soon as Richard arrived at the flats car park just before three, he knew something terrible had happened. His mother’s car was parked haphazardly- in the flats’ car park- as if she was in a rush. He checked his phone and saw that Grace had called him twice. His mother, thrice.
He had put his phone on silence and in his bag during a cognitive behavioural therapy session with a client because he was worried that Agnes would ring him. He got out of the car and rushed into the building.
When he walked into the flat and saw his mother and Grace sat together on the sofa, his heart leapt out of his chest.
“Where is Desola? Has something happened to her? Mum?” He barked.
“Please don’t get angry Pastor Richard…..” Grace started.
“Is she ok?…and my children?”
He heard a sound from Desola’s bedroom and went in. He stopped at the door when he saw her with his daughters. They were on the bed. Huddled together like penguins.
Kenny was asleep. One of Desola’s hands was cradling her. Both Taye and Desola had red eyes.
“What happened?” Richard asked, hugging Taye and then Desola.
That was when he saw it. The large bruise on Kenny’s face. It looked as sore as her swollen lower lip.
“What happened to my daughter Desola?”
Desola’s tears started to run. “I am so sorry. I….took the girls to school this morning to drop them off at school. Sister Agnes came out of her classroom… she went crazy and attacked me. She said I stole you off her.”
“What?” Richard asked, unable to take in what Desola was telling him.
“Kenny was clinging to me. She pushed Kenny out of the way. Kenny fell and….hit her head. The school nurse said she is fine but…..”
“Agnes did this?” He asked, enraged. Desola had a deep scratch on her neck. But it was the bruise on his daughter’s face that ripped him apart. Grace and his mother came into the bedroom. Richard was already on his way towards the door.
“You have to warn her to stay away from Desola.” Grace spoke first.
“We don’t think she intended to do it. We took Kenny to A and E and the doctor said she is fine. The headmistress called the police. They arrested Agnes….. I think she is back home now….but Rotimi, we have to leave this to God.”
Richard wasn’t listening to his mum. He headed for the front door. He sped upstairs, so that when he heard the lift opening downstairs, he was already in front of Agnes’ door. Her door was locked. He took her spare key from under the floor mat where he remembered she kept it and unlocked the door. As soon as she saw him, she ran into the kitchen, her face was wet. Her hair was a mass of messy curls that seemed as if someone decided to leave it half-done. She raised her hands in the air.
“I am sorry. Please. I was just angry. You promised to marry me.”
“You need help woman. You attacked my daughter because I refused to marry you. What the hell is wrong with you?” He raged. More tears poured from her eyes, mixing with her sweat droplets.
“It is Desola’s fault. She seduced you.”
He moved towards her, his right hand middle finger pointing at her. He was boiling and struggling to get enough air. He could hear what sounded like Sister Grace’s voice with his mother’s at the door. But he wasn’t done with Agnes.
“The next time you come anywhere near my family, you are dead.” She winced when he moved closer. “Look at the state of you. You should look in the mirror. Do you honestly think any man in their right frame of mind would go anywhere you. I don’t think so woman.”
Snot ran down her face. “You asked me to marry you.”
“I was grieving for my wife,” he yelled. “I wasn’t thinking straight.”
She curled up in a ball.
“Now, listen to this, If the police don’t press charges, I will make sure you lose your job. I am going to push for the school’s Chairman to get the police to charge you so it shows on your crb check. You can kiss goodbye to your teaching career.”
Having said that, he left her flat.
The following day, Richard burnt his fingers on the oven pan as he grilled potato smiley faces and fish fingers for his daughters. He was preoccupied about what to say to Agnes having decided to apologise to her that morning after his mum called him to let him know the school had suspended Agnes without pay. The police were pressing charges too despite Desola and him insisting they didn’t want that to happen. He had decided his actions had triggered Agnes’ mini breakdown. It made him unhappy that his mistakes might wreck her life. He decided if he avoided Kenny’s bruised face as he walked to the door, he might be able to walk to the block of flats to go and see Agnes. After apologising to her for messing her about, he could get on with been a good father to his children.
He phoned his son after serving the girls’ dinner.
“Come home son. I need to go out as soon as I have eaten. You need to look after your sisters.”
“Ok, I will dad.” Junior told him.
Then, Richard heard a voice that sounded so much like James’ – Agnes’ son. Fear gripped him. He had warned Junior to stay away from Agnes. The whole block, if possible.
“Where are you Junior? I told you to stay away from the flats. Get back home now.” Richard ordered.
He was at the front door when his son arrived. The boy seemed fine and apologised to his dad for taking too long to get back. The twins had already finished their food. Richard retreated into the kitchen to warm up their dinner.
As he scooped jolof rice into two plates, he heard his son come in to get their cutleries. Richard noticed that the girls’ voices were coming from the first floor.
“Have your sisters gone to their bedroom to play?” He asked without turning.
“Yeah.” Junior’s voice was different. “Your children are upstairs step dad or is it Uncle Richard you want me to call you?”