Richard decided that it would be best for his mother to have the twins at her house, after a livid Junior tried to tell them that their father wasn’t his. When Richard and Junior were alone, Junior wouldn’t speak to him, apart from the occasional, ‘ Tell me who my real father is.’ Richard would insist they talked first. Each time it resulted in Junior acting like a seven year old, running up to his room and locking the door behind him.
Richard did not think he could feel any worse, but he did when his devastated father-in-law turned up on Saturday morning in his security guard’s uniform. He had just finished work at Canary Wharf. Junior had called him and informed him that Agnes told him he wasn’t his father’s son.
Elder Iwoye sank into a chair in the conservatory whilst Richard paced. Junior’s discovery had taken him to that acidic place – the place he found himself last summer, when he discovered that Junior wasn’t his. And he was left consumed by a quiet, unyielding rage that threatened to wholly engulf him.
It took a while before Elder Iwoye’s lips opened.“Why didn’t you tell me, my son? How could Eniola have done this to you?”
“Please Daddy, wa, I am sorry I didn’t tell you. I was just trying to keep our secrets. That was why Eniola and I went to Nigeria. Please don’t blame her,” he insisted, his eyes on the door. The last thing he wanted was for Junior to overhear his grandfather badmouthing his mother.
“I pushed for your suspension because I was suspicious about everything going on. The way you sent Eniola packing, the way you two dropped everything and went back home, your closeness with Desola after Eniola died.” Elder Iwoye’s pale eyes held his. “I had no idea that the smell reeking all over the place was coming from me, Rotimi.”
Junior pleaded with his granddad to let him stay with him on Sunday. Richard agreed. But, despite having the house to himself for the rest of the weekend and having time to reflect, he still had no idea what to do next. On Monday, his mind drifted as he attended to his clients at work. He was angry with himself for asking Agnes to marry him. What the hell was he thinking?
He had heard that she had gone to stay in Kent with her cousin. He had also heard about all the disastrous relationships that preceded theirs and the young, immigrant men who, upon arriving in London, used her to find their footing in the city, and then left her to settle down with younger women.
It angered him that he had to sit through Mr Ramsbottom’s story of how he got duped by his Chinese pen pal, and Miss Hagreaves’ hurt that her plant had died, when, in fact, he was going through worse than them. He heaved a sigh of relief when his last session ended.
When Richard drove into Stratford Road from Heys Lane, the number 25 bus was on the other side of the road. He saw Desola get off. It had started to rain so she pulled up the hood of her jacket. He smiled. Seeing her eased his headache a bit. Then he saw Alex getting off the bus. Alex put up his umbrella and caught up with Desola. She was laughing. Alex was laughing too. For a moment, he pictured himself running across the road, taking the umbrella from Alex and whacking him with it to wipe the smug look off his face.The lights changed and he had to keep driving. He knew she wouldn’t have noticed him because he was in his father’s old Mercedes. He drove past the train station and the shopping centre. He was nearly home before he decided to turn the car round. He found her on the main road about to turn into St Aidan’s Street.
She was dripping wet. No Alex in sight. He tooted his horn and stopped the car a few feet away from the new bus shelter. She ran towards the car as soon as she realised it was him.
She brought the rain into the car with her. But it was her smile that got him. “Thank you. I didn’t recognise the car.”
“It’s Dad’s.” He glanced at her before continuing the journey. Dripping wet but somehow she still managed to look striking. She was mopping her face with the sleeve of her cardigan having taken off her dripping jacket. Her smile warmed his heart until the image of her and Alex walking together popped back into his head like a cruel snapshot.
“Where are you coming from Desola?”
“Uni,” she piped.
Liar, he wanted to yell at her. Why would she get the bus from the university when it was cheaper and quicker using the underground? And, did she just happen to run into Alex? He parked the car behind Emeka’s Jeep in the block’s car park. When she asked how Junior was, he insisted that they go upstairs to the flat. They were quiet as the lift took them upstairs.
She went into her bedroom to get changed whilst he settled on the sofa. His feet tapped on the floor mindlessly until he heard a buzzing coming from Desola’s bag. She had left it on the sofa when she disappeared into her bedroom. Her bag was open and he could see the screen of her smart phone. Alex’s name was displayed on the screen. Suddenly, he wanted to make his excuse and leave. Her reappearance didn’t help him. He felt utterly alone. The same, sinking feeling he felt a year ago when he thought he was going to lose everything. Except this time, he knew he would.
“Do you want me to make you something to eat, or would you prefer a drink?”
He shook his head.
Desola decided to make herself a brew. From the kitchen, she watched his body language and decided it wasn’t the best time to tell him about Alex. She had decided to go to Dalston after lectures to get his mum an African-made lotion she wanted. Mary had her hands full with the twins. She got the bus on the way back from Dalston because she wanted to sift through her university emails and respond to a few. Moreover, she didn’t fancy walking to the train station in the rain. When she saw Alex on the top deck, she had expected him to ignore her. But he hadn’t. She sat next to him and they started to chat. Alex told her he was worried that it looked like he’d had something to do with Richard’s suspension but his hands were clean. What worried him now, however, was that Richard might ask him to repay the loan he gave him for his university fees. Having eight siblings and an ageing mother back home meant paying Richard back wasn’t feasible.
Desola left her tea on the kitchen surface. Richard was rubbing his face with both palms as if trying to ward off tiredness. She pulled the kitchen stool towards him, placed it in front of him and sat on it.
“Junior knows you love him. He will come home from his granddad’s as soon as he gets over the shock.”
Richard sat up. “His father says he is coming here soon. Junior hates me. I’m sure that as soon as his real father arrives in the country, that will be it. I might as well kiss goodbye to my son.” He looked away from her. But not before she had seen the sadness written on his face.
“Are you really sure he is coming? I mean, can he afford to leave his work and his family to come here for a few months?” It dawned on her that she didn’t really know anything about the man that supposedly fathered Junior. “You haven’t really told me much about him apart from the fact that he is from Abeokuta. Does he still live there?”
Richard didn’t answer. Restless feet in designer shoes tapped without rhythm on the flooring.
She let a smile dance on her face. “I saw the girls this morning with Mum. They said they miss me. I miss them too.”
He frowned. “It isn’t just them, you know. It isn’t just them that need you. I need you too.” Their eyes met. “You are pulling away from me Desola.”
Her hands rubbed her thighs.“I just don’t want to put any pressure on you about where this is going when you have so much going on.”
“Then, don’t put any pressure on me. Just be there.” A light pause added volume to the tense atmosphere. “Come over tonight.”
Her response was slow. “Sister Grace said I need to give you time to get sorted before I jump into your life.”
“Seems to me like you want to keep your options open,” he raged, determined not to tell her that sex was the last thing on his mind. But it would help him sleep better knowing she was in the guest room. In his house. In his life.
“I don’t understand you.”
“You want to keep your options open with Alex. I don’t blame you.”
She grabbed his hands. “Don’t be silly, Richard. I don’t like Alex. I love you. I just don’t want it to go wrong again. If you care about us then you ought to understand. You love me too, don’t you?”
She let go of his hands, when she noticed an answer wasn’t forthcoming.
“Well…” he paused. “I’m sure I’ve never used those words exactly.”
Desola got up quickly from the stool. She had never moved that fast before.“I want you to leave.”
To her utter horror, he stood up and headed for the door.
The following week was the beginning of the children’s school holidays. He had booked the first two weeks off as annual leave to spend with them. He had the three of them in the house with him and between worrying about Junior and caring for the girls, he had no time to think of what to say to Desola. If only she’d given him time to get things straight in his head and not bombard him with questions.
On Thursday, he confided in his father-in-law after Elder Iwoye informed him the committee wanted him back as Pastor. Richard told him that any man off the street could have done a better job as Our Angel’s Pastor, even with their hands tied behind their back. He didn’t think he could continue in his role anymore.Whilst discussing what the future might bring, they started to talk about Desola. Richard thought it was ironic that Eniola’s father was pushing for him to do the right thing by Desola.
“You can’t stop living your life because of your children. And you don’t want to wake up one day, ready for a love life, when your belt can’t hold your stomach in anymore.”
Grace and Desola did not come to church on Sunday, so he drove round in the evening, wondering if the bouquet of flowers and box of luxury chocolates would cut it this time.
Grace took the chocolates and flowers from him.
“Desola has gone to Nigeria.” Her face stayed straight as if it was forced.
His rehearsed apology left his head. “Is everything okay back home?”
She didn’t respond.
“Do you know when she’ll be back?”
Grace snorted, “Who said anything about her coming back?”