It was his warm hirsute skin against her bare back that woke her up. She buried her face deeper into her soft pillow, promising herself that his tricks wouldn’t work this time. In all the time they had been together as man and wife- seven months and a few days – he’d never hurt her as much as he did yesterday. Humiliation stung more than she thought possible when her husband didn’t turn up to the party that Sister Grace and his mother organised to celebrate her graduation. They were all at Naija Spice restaurant hoping the cold wind would drag him in. It didn’t.
Junior’s repeated calls had gone straight to voicemail until the teenager quipped, “Dad has done a runner, Dee.”
“Sweetheart, I’m sorry. I know how hard you worked to graduate from uni. Sorry, I missed the party,” Richard apologised.
She tugged at the hem of the duvet cover and pulled it to her neck, unable to believe that he thought pleading with her and trying to bed her would be enough this time. It wasn’t the first time he’d vanished for ages. But yesterday was important, Ife was there and it was their chance to prove to her that they hadn’t made a mistake by getting married. Desola remembered what the date was yesterday, but it was too late to stop the women’s plans.
“Yesterday was the two year anniversary of her death,” she turned round to face him and continued, despite seeing the sadness that crossed his eyes before he swapped his dark expression for an attentive look.
“I just thought that you would want to be with me and your children. I know it is still hard for you… but I am your wife now. It hurts when you let everything else come before me. I think… yesterday confirmed to everyone that you don’t care about me.”
His brows edged closer to each other, “What has Ife been saying about our marriage again?”
The last thing she wanted was a lecture from him about how to keep their marital issues between the two of them. The past few months had taught her that he lived in fear of what third-party meddling could do to their marriage.
“Ife is not the one that failed to show up yesterday,” she shot at him, her voice a simmering whisper because she didn’t want the children, especially the twins, to hear them. Ife’s words to her yesterday had been overheard by Junior.She sieved the words in her head, pulling them apart to examine them for traces of bitterness.
“Bestie, we both know Uncle Richard would never have dreamt of doing this to my sister.” Ife had rolled her eyes and raised her jewelled wrist in a manner that usually gained Desola’s attention. “He would have been the first to arrive, Desola. Time to lay down the law with him. Leave him if he doesn’t play ball.”
Richard stroked her neck. Her shoulders were hunched. She’d been in bed, asleep when he got back at one in the morning. He hoped she wouldn’t ask him what time he got back. And more importantly, where he was.
Pastor Iwoye told him yesterday evening that he would have to tell his wife the truth. It was that besotted look in her eyes that attacked his courage. And confirmed to him that he would never be able to tell her because he knew if she found out, she wouldn’t recover from the blow.
Intense eyes stared at her until her barrier crumpled. His lips closed over hers. They kissed, as if the last time they kissed was months ago, not early that morning after she’d given him a wet shave in their en-suite bathroom. That kiss though, had not led anywhere because he told her he needed to get ready for work.
His hand travelled to her backless nightdress to take it off. When she rasped his name as his lips trailed her neck, he decided to interpret it as a moan of approval, not what he knew it was. He’d taken off her nightdress before she spoke again.
“Richard, you need to get the…”
“Let’s live in the moment. Relax babe.”
“No, I told you I’m not ready.”
Richard pulled away from her and left for the bathroom. He was about to step into the shower when she caught up with him.
“We agreed that we will wait for a while before we have children together.”
He turned off the shower. “Sweetheart, you said you want us to wait. I have waited and I say we are ready to go.”
“I’m not ready, Richard. I have just finished my degree and I need to be looking for work not trying to get pregnant.”
“You know I am fine to provide for us all. You don’t have to work. Besides, who knows what will happen tomorrow .”
She went to him and put her hands in his. “Please honey, I just need a year or two. I’m only twenty four and I want the twins to get used to me as their step-mum before we add another one to the mix. I also want us to get to know each other.”
“Babe, I don’t want my child in nursery when I have become a pension earner. I think it will be hard pushing a pram with my zimmer frame.”
She laughed her usual soft laugh which melted the ice left. He smiled and led her back to the bedroom.
The girls’ loud singing woke them around ten. Richard jumped off the bed and into the shower, after asking her to make him coffee and a spicy chicken sandwich to go. His wife donned her dressing gown and hurried to the kitchen. She could not help wondering why he needed his coffee flask if he was going to the restaurant and then the church to do some admin work. During the days she worked at the restaurant, jars of the dark-blend versions were delivered by the supplier monthly and the church too had a usable kitchen.
She packed up his things and took it to the car for him, placating her mind not to drain itself with worries. She was about to get out of the car when her eyes caught the Milton Keynes County Council parking ticket peeping out from under the front passenger seat of his car. The only person they knew in Milton Keynes was Agnes, his ex. Her legs were wobbly as she hurried back in, fighting to bury the discovery in the deepest part of her mind.
That evening, whilst the girls were in bed and Junior at his friend’s in Ilford, she tucked into ice cream and strawberries with Sister Grace.
“Desola, is everything okay with you and your husband? The way you are waffling down your dessert is worrying me.” Sister Grace smiled to trim off the seriousness in her tone.
Desola sighed. “Everything is fine, Sister Grace.”
“My dear, I know his busy work schedule must be tough on you but at the end of the day, he loves you.”
The ice cream started to taste sour in her mouth.
Her older friend continued, “Well, now that your circumstances have changed, he will be home more often, won’t he?”
“What are you talking about, Sister Grace?”
“Desola dear, you do know you are pregnant, don’t you? You carry food everywhere with you these days as if you are eating for five.”
Desola stared at the melting ice cream as if she could blame it for the extra folds of fat she now wore like an extra layer of clothing. She had suspected for a week or two she’d taken in.
“He will be happy dear,” Grace voiced. “Do the test to confirm it and tell him.”
As soon as the woman had left for home, Desola checked on the girls. Perhaps because of the hug that her friend gave her before she left, peeing on the white stick- Richard bought her when they got back from their Dublin weekend break- was not as daunting as she expected it to be. The weekend at Dublin was several weeks ago- the only time they were unprotected. She remembered the casual way Richard mentioned that he might have forgotten to pack the condoms in the hotel lobby and how he told her the next morning that one night wouldn’t be enough to get her up the duff. He bought the kit when she moaned that she felt sick a fortnight later but it never got used because they both got busy with life’s daily routines.
Desola was still staring at the double pink lines when Richard came back from work. Perhaps because she couldn’t match the joy on his face – and because joy could not describe the emotions she felt – she started to cry. He helped her up and kissed her.
“Please don’t cry. This is great news, sweetheart. You have made me….. the happiest man on earth.”
Although his wife and daughters had made him his favourite English meal, Lancashire hot pot with a Nigerian twist- red chillies – he wasn’t hungry. He got ready for bed slowly. It wasn’t only the good news that had filled his stomach. The problem he knew could rip them apart weighed heavy on his mind. Tonight though, he didn’t want to think of anything but their happy news. His fingers were playing with her hair when he fell asleep.
A while later, Desola was about to turn off the bedside lamp when she saw that his phone that he’d put on charge was vibrating. It was an outside London number. She guessed it was his cousin in Kent ringing him. She crept out of the room with the phone because she didn’t want to wake him. As soon as she tapped the phone screen, the caller started to speak. It was a woman’s voice. A very familiar one.
“Hi, it’s me. Did you get home okay?… Can you hear me?”
Desola grabbed the banister to steady herself. She’d recognised the voice. It was Agnes.
The voice pressed on. “Oh, you are at home and you can’t speak. It’s okay. I will text you tomorrow…”
“What do you want with my husband, Agnes?”
The line went dead before Desola was offered an answer.