When his wife snapped at him for the second time that week, Richard guessed he’d done something wrong. What worried him was that he couldn’t undo what he’d done. She had become frosty with him after finding out about the baby. He had enough on his mind and the last thing he wanted was the silent treatment now being dished out like cold pap.
To thaw the ice, he left work after his morning therapy sessions on Friday, and drove back to his house with a box of her favourite white chocolate selections and cupcakes. He found her upstairs in their bedroom surrounded by the contents of his bottom drawer.
It was clear to him that she’d been going through his things. It wasn’t the guilty expression plastered on her face that confirmed it, but the framed photo of him and Eniola that she was holding in her hands. He’d put the framed photo under piles of documents in the bottom drawer of his oak-wood chest months ago, determined not to disrespect his new wife by having a photo of his dead wife on the bedside table. He wished he’d bothered to put it in the box in the spare room; in the box where he’d saved some of her sentimental valuables for their daughters.
“Why did you marry me, Richard?”
To his surprise that was what came out of her mouth. No apology sufficed.
“I am beginning to wonder the same.”
He headed back downstairs to the kitchen where he’d put the cakes and chocolate. She followed him, her feet thudding louder than usual.
“I bought you chocolate and cakes to placate you when I haven’t done anything wrong. Except… you are blaming me for getting you pregnant. I know you don’t want a baby yet Desola, but the baby is there. You should be happy, not sulking like a teenager.”
Desola saw the chocolate selections and cupcakes on the kitchen worktop. Her lips parted to say something. But they closed again. She didn’t feel that she’d done anything wrong either. If she hadn’t thought he was up to no good, she would never have started looking for evidence. The idea that he could have been having an affair with Agnes sounded laughable to her now. But Alhaja did tell her all men were cut from the same cloth. This Richard was different to the happy, loving man she had married. He was hiding something. And she’d managed to work herself into a state, so that by the time she started rummaging through his things, logic had been unseated by feelings.
“Why were you going through my things?” He asked, resisting the urge to shout. Instead, he tugged at his tie.
“Where do you disappear to every evening?”
“I am a very busy man. You knew that when you agreed to marry me. I have a demanding job and the restaurant needs me too. I can’t run a business from home …”
Yes, the restaurant. The same place she thought he was yesterday. That was until one of the staff called the house line to speak to him about wages. Desola wondered if her father was right afterall. She’d found the evidence in her husband’s things.
“How can we work when you are still carrying your dead wife’s photo in your wallet?
“And what about the framed photo hidden between your things…..enh?” She raised her voice because he was staring at her as if she’d lost the plot. “Why can’t you get over your dead wife?”
“You can’t just expect me to erase all memories of her like she didn’t exist. This is a woman I really love…”
“The truth finally comes out,” she snapped.
He realised how she’d interpreted his statement. The pain in her eyes thrashed out his anger. He reached for her and grabbed her before she could get away from him. Slowly, he turned her around to face him.
“I am fine, Richard. I just feel ill, that’s all. It’s the baby… not you.” Her tears left the confines of her swollen eyelids.
“I meant I loved her, sweetheart. Past tense.”
She forced a smile and nodded. As soon as he let go, she took dainty steps up the stairs.
Richard could not stop in the house. A missed call on his phone screen from Pastor Iwoye reminded him of where he had to be. He drove down to Our Angels church. He had promised that he would see Agnes before she left the country. He knew, if he stayed at home, he would end up doing what he didn’t want to do.
Telling Desola about his worries was simply no option. How could he do that to her? She would never recover, which was why he’d decided to shoulder the burden of carrying the weight by himself- to spare her.
When he got to the church he found Agnes with Pastor Iwoye. Her luggage was inches away from her. Sitting on top of one another as if they were canned sardines.
“Are you taking the contents of your flat to Cameroun, Agnes?” Richard joked.
Agnes laughed, claiming she’d only packed ‘a few things’. Pastor Iwoye was in the lobby when Agnes told him about Desola picking up the phone when she called him on Saturday.
“And you are just telling me now?” Richard asked. His wife’s sullenness suddenly made sense.
“Sorry. I didn’t want to get you in any more trouble by ringing your phone.” Agnes lowered her gaze to the bag on her laps. “I wish I could be brave enough to apologise to her and Junior before I leave for Cameroun.”
“Don’t worry. I think apologising to me is enough. The truth is…” Richard straightened his neck, “I wronged you more than you wronged me. I proposed to you knowing how I felt about someone else. You would never have ended up in a psychiatric hospital if I…”
“I was already losing my grip on reality years before you asked me to marry you,” Agnes interrupted. “I think I just became someone else after my husband died. For years, I cried myself to sleep and ate sleeping pills as if they were sweets. But every Sunday I came to church, smiling, pretending everything was fine, burying myself in other people’s business.”
“I am so sorry I made things worse for you. I feel responsible.”
“Is that why you came to see me at my sister’s house in Milton Keynes on Friday?” Agnes asked.
“It was good to see you and Pastor. But you don’t have to feel sad for me. My son is happy with my sister in Milton Keynes. I’m going home to get my life back on track.”
A while later, Richard helped Agnes get her luggage into a taxi heading for Gatwick Airport. He apologised that he couldn’t drive her down to the airport. He didn’t tell her it was because he had an appointment to attend.
She hugged him just as she was about to get into the taxi.“I’m sorry.”
He could tell she wasn’t apologising about what went wrong between them.
Agnes blinked away tears. “I know you have cancer.”
Richard started to speak just as she continued.
“I heard you talking about it with Pastor when you came to see me. My nephew’s baby monitor was on when I went upstairs.” She patted his hand lightly. “May God be with you and keep you safe Richard.”
She’d jumped into the taxi before he could think of something tangible to say.
Desola was curled up on the sofa watching TV with the girls when she decided to get a hot water bottle to nurse her belly. She’d had stomach pains that radiated from her lower belly to her back since three pm when she left for the twins’ school. The pain had been so bad that she’d nearly called her husband. Until she remembered the way they left things.
She remembered his words, his coldness. And the way he walked away afterwards. The same way he walked away from her to be with Eniola in her dream last night.
“Are you okay, Mummy?” Taye’s voice brought her back to the present.
Desola’s hand was now on her stomach. The pain in her belly had worsened considerably. She felt dampness between her legs that made her start to really worry.
“I am okay, girls. Back in five minutes.” She left them to go upstairs.
In the bathroom, she spotted the evidence needed to confirm that she had miscarried. Her body was trembling when she dialled her husband’s number. Her tears finally set themselves free for the third time that day when he didn’t pick up his phone. Junior was still at college. She called him, hoping he would hop on the first train back home.
Richard saw Desola’s missed calls when he left the consultant’s office but he decided to drive home. He needed to clear the air and he wanted to do this whilst she was in his arms. She would forgive him for keeping her in the dark if he explained.
When he first found out that he might have stomach cancer, he’d confided in Pastor Iwoye because he didn’t want his wife burdened with the worry. He’d promised to protect her from harm when they got married. That was why, when he went to the hospital for his endoscopy late Friday afternoon; he tried his best to hide his discomfort after the procedure so that the doctors would discharge him early. He didn’t want to miss his wife’s graduation party because he knew if he did, she would guess something was wrong.
Hearing the news from the oncologist that it was stomach ulcers that were causing his symptoms and not stomach cancer brought briskness to his steps. He walked faster, wanting to leave behind the pervading hospital smells and gloomy faces. Happy that he wasn’t taking bad news home to his wife.
He was navigating his way out of the hospital’s wet car park when his phone started to vibrate. He couldn’t find his handset but he picked up the phone as it was Junior ringing him. The boy was not the type to ring unless the situation called for it.
“Son, kilode? I’m driving…”
“Dad…” Junior started, “you have to come home. Dee is not well. She said something about stomach ache…”
Richard stopped the car a few metres away from the parking meter. He remembered he would need his credit card for the machine. He pressed the phone to his ear with his shoulder whilst trying to search in his wallet for his credit card with his left hand.
“The ambulance is here. Meet us at the hospital. Our neighbour says she will look after the twins,” Junior told him.
“I will meet you at the hospital… but Junior…” Richard was about to ask which hospital the ambulance was taking her to, when he noticed in his rear view mirror that the mangled grey Fiesta behind him was going too fast for a car heading towards the barriers. In the split second that it took him to decide whether to swerve to the left or right and collide with the grey hospital building or the life-sized NHS sign, the Fiesta had driven into him causing his car to skid forward.
A memory came to his mind as he fought to regain control of the vehicle. It was the look on Desola’s face- the morning after their wedding- when he told her he would never leave her.
The car smashed into the barriers, forcing the shutters open. The impact of the crash threw his body forcefully forward. After veering off the lane, the car came to a screeching halt and into the path of the vehicles driving into the hospital’s car park.