Horns were blaring as the pink convertible driving towards him stopped inches from his car. The front airbag had inflated, saving his chest from hitting the steering. A mousey-brown-haired man in a male nurse’s uniform jumped out of the Fiesta which was now at the foot of the mammoth NHS sign. The man took quick strides to the car. Richard opened the door. His head had stopped spinning but his heart was yet to stop propelling against his chest.
He stretched out a shaky hand when the younger man got closer.
“I’m fine, mate. Are you hurt?”
“I’m sorry. My brakes failed.”
The man jumped into the front passenger’s seat before Richard could stop him. “Please don’t move. I need to makesure you are fine. Does it hurt anywhere?”
Seeing the phone on the floor of his car reminded him he was speaking to Junior when the crash happened. He told the young nurse- who kept fussing over him- he had to go to the A&E. His shoulders and ribcage hurt but all he wanted to do was be at Desola’s bedside.
After waiting for the hospital’s security man and then the police, he half-ran, half-bolted to the emergency department. He hadn’t seen an ambulance arrive so he was surprised when a female nurse showed him to a cubicle. He rushed to her when he saw her. She looked completely down in the dumps. Her eyes were vacant of their trademark sparkle.
“I’m sorry, babe.”
He flung his arms around her, unable to continue with the apologies because he’d hoped he wouldn’t be too late. But she was already in a hospital gown. He knew what that meant.They had lost their baby.
Junior’s face was wrought to an apprehensive version of itself when Richard saw him in the corner of the room. The teenager insisted he had heard a bang before his father’s phone went dead. Richard told them a car had ran his off the road- but reassured them that it was simply a minor motor accident. Although his limbs hurt as if he’d fallen down a flight of stairs, he kept nodding to confirm he felt fine. But because Desola’s eyes were examining him, asking him questions that her lips did not mouth, he asked Junior to go and get them some grapes and juice.
He started stroking the hand he held in his as soon as it was only them behind the curtains of the cubicle.
“Why do you hide things from me, Richard?” She made an attempt to sit up; her hands didn’t grab the arms he offered her for support. Eventually her head slumped back on the double pillows.
“I know, Richard. I know. I just don’t understand why didn’t you tell me?”
“I was only trying to protect you, sweetheart.” Richard wondered if she’d opened his letter from the hospital or perhaps she’d clawed out fragments of shredded paper from the shredder. “I just couldn’t tell you Desola. I couldn’t say the word cancer.”
“Cancer?” She was sure she’d heard him wrong.“What are you talking about?”
“I thought you knew about the hospital appointments?”
“Please, don’t tell me there is something wrong with you. I can’t lose you…I really can’t.” She sat up as tears started welling up in her eyes.
Slowly he explained about his near-cancer diagnosis. He’d spent a lot of time away from the house to prevent failing her. He didn’t want her worrying about him. And that was why he did everything in his power to makesure she didn’t find out.
She then explained what she knew and how she found out he’d gone to see Agnes.
“I had to ask for her forgiveness. My actions nearly ruined her life.” His face creased as a thought occurred to him. “Please don’t tell me you thought I was having an affair?”
When she didn’t answer but instead looked away from him, he pressed on. “Why would I cheat on you with a woman that is nearly twenty years older than you? Babe, I don’t notice other women because I have you. Even when you are not with me, you are always here.” He tapped his chest.
A smile hovered on her face until the shrieks of a baby from outside the cubicle drenched her again with the crippling sadness her face had been saturated in when he walked in. Tender signs of recovery dissolved like smoke wisps. She withdrew her hands from his. He watched her turn her back on him and started to wonder if he had been too late with his declaration.
That evening he drove his wife back home because the nurse in charge informed him there were no vacant beds in the EPAU and gynaecology ward upstairs. She asked him to keep an eye on Desola but to also prepare her for the following days’ inpatient appointment.
The girls were dressed when Richard got back the next morning after picking up the courtesy car from the garage. Junior was tiptoeing to the dining table with cereal boxes and bowls. He was glad that Junior had kept the girls quiet to let his wife sleep. He’d told Junior what was going on late last night before going upstairs. Her eyes were closed when he got to their bedroom after midnight, but he could tell, perhaps because of the gentle rising of her chest, that she wasn’t asleep.
Upstairs in the bedroom, the curtains were down. The room was dark, permitting the air of sadness that sat in the room like a stale smell.
“Wake up, babe. We have to go to the hospital.”
“I don’t want to go. I want to keep my baby for just one more day.”
He got under the duvet and wrapped his arms around her. Parts of his body felt stiff and parts that were not stiff were sore. He’d woken up with muscle aches in his upper frame. But what hurt most was seeing her broken.
“I wish we didn’t have to go too but we have to. Come on, I will run you a bath. We will face it together.”
Junior was due to leave home minutes later to catch his train to Edinburgh for his university’s open day on Monday. He hugged Desola as she apologised because they had all planned to go together. Richard, her and the girls were going to stay in a hotel after touring the university grounds on Saturday with the rest of the parents and relatives. And then, they were going to come back to London with Junior on Monday evening.
“I can’t believe you will be starting uni in January Baba oko mi? Who will help me with my heavy shopping now?” Desola fussed over Junior.
“Ma worry, you can command your hubby to help you with your shopping,” Junior said, grinning at his dad, a few inches away from them. “I will be back every fortnight Dee with my dirty laundry. You forgot to show me how to use the washing machine. Another thing I will be back for is a pot of your delicious jolof rice.”
Desola hugged him again as the boy started laughing. She felt like she was going to cry until Richard asked his son to let go of his wife.
“I’m still alive, son,” he added.
The couple were in Grace’s flat later to drop the girls off. Her mother-in-law was busy at the restaurant but she’d promised to come down to their house later. What surprised Desola at the flat was seeing Pastor Iwoye there. There was a look on his face that she couldn’t place. She’d intended to ask her friend when the women left the men in the lounge so they could talk, but all Grace wanted to know was how she was feeling.
“Countless women have faced this before me,” Desola told Grace in the bedroom she used to sleep in.
“What matters dear is that your husband loves you.” Grace hugged her. ” The girls and Junior love you too. Don’t let what has happened make you forget.”
She looked away from Grace, round the room where she had shed tears of unrequited love and a broken heart. Two years on, and the same man that stalked her sweet dreams and nightmares was still there, except what he felt for her was still as blurred as the first day he kissed her.
She had worked something out last night though as she listened to Richard from the top of the stairs telling Junior that he and his sisters would always come first. No one would come before them. It had occurred to her that he married her because he needed a wife, not because he wanted to love again.
“Maybe this is what we get for how we got together in the first place, Sister Grace. Maybe…. I will never be able to have children… but I will be fine because I have experienced what it feels like to be called mummy by those two girls. Even if this is the end for us, I will always love those kids.”
She ignored Grace’s question asking her what she meant and left the room. Richard was ready to go, so she followed him downstairs.
He couldn’t think of anything to say to ease the thick tension between them until they had reached the hospital and picked two seats at the end of the empty waiting room of the EPAU reception area.
“Pastor and Sister Grace, eh?”
“What?” She turned her head to him. “He likes her?”
“Yes… and I think they will be great together.” He sighed because that was the first time she’d smiled since yesterday. “I will help him get his act together. I know what it feels like to be so blindfolded by love that you stop reasoning like a sane mind.”
“Do you?” She lowered her eyes to his hand that had reached for her smaller ones resting on her thighs.
“I know it doesn’t look good that you found that photo of Eniola in our bedroom and the one in my wallet…”
“Richard, it doesn’t matter…”
“The truth is, Junior bought me that wallet before we flew to Nigeria. He stuck his mother’s photo in it. Remember I came to Nigeria with the Mother’s Day present the twins bought you. I think Junior wanted to do something… to remember his mum somehow for Mother’s Day. I didn’t think it would be nice to take the photo out.”
“Sorry, I didn’t know.”
“No, I am sorry. Sorry for not shouting how I feel about you from the rooftops. But, you know, I have been burnt before.”
“Is that why you are punishing me, Rotimi? You won’t let me in because of what she did to you? Mama Junior made mistakes. So did you.”
“I let you in a long time ago.” He moved his face towards hers. She barely had any make-up on but she looked beautiful; sad but alluring. It was when he saw her hug Junior that he realised that her decision to wait a while before getting pregnant was as she said – for his children’s sake. Especially Junior, who might feel as if he’d been replaced by the child Desola would bear him.
“I love you.”
It was his turn to wait now because she didn’t jump for joy like he’d imagined she would.
“You don’t have to say that because of what I’m going through at the moment.” She paused before continuing harshly. “You can’t keep dishing out your love in small doses when it suits and then taking it back with your actions. Anyway… I can’t do this right now.” She jerked her head away.
For minutes she stared ahead defiantly. Until she remembered the jug of water on the table beside her which the nurse had asked her to drink before she sat down. The water tasted odd. She saw a vending machine at the other end of the waiting room and asked Richard for some money. He passed her his wallet. She walked away after mouthing ‘thanks’.
A wince didn’t escape her lips when she opened the flaps of the wallet because she’d promised herself it wouldn’t hurt this time. Instead, she exhaled softly and walked back to him – because tucked inside his wallet was a photo of them together. It was the one that was taken by Fausat shortly before their nikkah.
“I love you, Mr Iretioluwa.” She kissed him whilst holding him tightly.
“I love you more, darling wife.” He said after managing to tear his lips away from hers. “I fell inlove with you a very long time ago. It took me a while to realise it and then say it but I promise you I won’t stop saying it from now on.”
He continued, “There is no reason to keep worrying about what I had with Eniola. I loved her but she is my past now. But the children…”
“I know. I will help you keep memories of her alive. The girls will not forget their mother.”
“If you stop worrying about her she will stop appearing in your dreams and scaring you.”
They both chuckled.
He gasped when she hugged him again. She asked what was wrong. After he had explained that his seat belt restrained him too tightly when the accident occurred, she kissed him and told him he should have mentioned he was in pain.
“I just wanted to be here for you hun. I’m fine only if you are.”
Her palm touched his face, tracing the contours of his fine cheekbones. The feeling was back in the pit of her belly. She knew she would never have left him. They were joined together by that which she couldn’t put a name to.
Inside the dimly-lit room, he held her hand as the sonographer put gel on her exposed belly. He was kissing her hand to reassure her when he noticed that the sonographer’s face had frozen midway in conversation.
“Would you like to know what you are expecting dad-to-be?” the man asked.
“What? The baby is fine?” She half-shrieked the question, so that Richard had to rephrase it.
“Yes. Sixteen weeks and kicking just fine.” The sonographer grinned at Desola. “These two boys are going to be as big as their dad.”
Richard grabbed Desola’s hand. He was trying to say something but the words were not coming together in his head. She was laughing. Her eyes were happy again.
“I didn’t think I could love you anymore but you keep doing this to me, Adesola Aisha Iretioluwa. Thank you for saving me and making me a better man.”