She let him kiss her. But it was her body, not her mind that responded to the hand that pulled her closer and cupped one of her bottom cheeks. He tasted fruity. Her back was on the shutters, his slim body on her right. The pregnancy bump was like a rock between them -seeming bigger than she’d ever thought it was. His lips were on her neck when he said her name. It sounded like a question than a moan.
Pero realised he found her beautiful. She’d seen his eyes straying to her face a few times before. But they couldn’t do that to Camille. She remembered how Camille showed her teenage photos of herself before she’d had to have urgent total hysterectomy aged nineteen to prevent cervical cancer from killing her.
Although, she was the one who pushed him away, he was the one that apologised before hurrying back into the house. Pero stood there for ages after he walked away. She knew she was to blame.
When he touched her, he’d woken up feelings that only Taiwo had ever made her feel. Before she left the country, Taiwo her boyfriend had written to her saying goodbye. She had walked down to his flat that evening and insisted that once she reached the UK, she would save up and he would join her. His reply had been short but thoughtful.
“Pero you have two brothers, four sisters and a sickly mother to think of when you get over there. I have five sisters and a step-brother myself to support on my civil servant salary. Let me not add my own wahala to yours baby.” With that, he had kissed her for the last time.
But here she was, heaping more problems on her supple shoulders. Although, nothing told her Emeka saw her as more than a vessel to sprout the saviour of his lineage, she had started to feel something for him. Something she couldn’t name.
Wake up you stupid girl, she told herself as she walked to the back of the house. Pregnancy hormones had clouded her brain. A temporary madness.
The kitchen door was unlocked. She walked into the house quietly, intending to creep upstairs to the guest room. But then the kitchen door made a loud squeaky sound.
“Pee darling, is that you.” Camille’s voice had come from the lounge.
Today, she didn’t feel the slight irritation that usually accompanied Camille’s shouts of Pee. She shuddered at the thought of what the baby’s name would be shortened to. Emeka had hinted that his parents would be giving the baby a significant Igbo name. She had thought then that if the baby got named Nnamdi, he would probably have to endure his mum calling him Nini or Nene for the rest of his life.
When she walked into the lounge, they were sat together. His eyes didn’t meet Pero’s when Camille asked where she went.
Emeka shuffled closer to his wife. “It was my fault babe. Pero came out……..”
“I went for a short walk.” Pero interrupted after deciding he looked too guilty to be allowed to speak. His face was like that of a criminal ready to confess everything.
She had thought he would be able to handle it. That a man like him would have come close to cheating before. But she was wrong.
Behind the locked door of the guest room, she paced the rugged floor. She was wondering when Camille would come into the room to throw her out when pain started radiating from her back to her stomach.
In the hospital, she avoided the gas and air so that she wouldn’t blurt it all out to Camille. But later on, as Emeka and Camille cooed and aahed over their baby and the nurse tried to get her to breastfeed their son, Camille didn’t want to let go. And much later, when Camille thanked her with tears in her eyes and a smile that creased her brows, Pero wondered if she knew.
When the hospital discharged her and the baby, she’d expected they would let her come home with them. But they dropped her off at home instead. Nothing prepared her for the emptiness that gripped her. They had all said all she would contribute would be her eggs and womb. Nothing else. They told her too she wouldn’t miss what she didn’t want. They forgot to tell her that every time her breasts leaked milk, she would feel as if someone was ripping something precious away from her and she would cry all over again. That even Emeka’s call to check on her and see if she needed him to do her food shopping would leave her feeling raw, angry. Used. And that when his doctor-friend turned up with groceries, painkillers and ointment on Thursday, she would leave the shopping untouched after he left. Wanting to feel physical pain for a bit longer. It was better than the pain ripping her heart to fragments.
Logging into her bank account later and seeing they had put the rest of what they owed her into her current account didn’t put a smile on her face. A faint smile came days later when she sent the money home and her mother called in tears to thank her. To thank her for ensuring that her brother and sisters wouldn’t have to miss breakfast and lunch again. And that Kemi, her immediate sister would be able to enrol at the university. But it was the news that her mother would be starting a catering business with Mama Akpan with the leftover that thrilled her most.
It wasn’t until the day they had to register the baby’s birth that she saw Emeka, Camille and their son again. They had named him Chidi and Kelechi after his late grandfather.
She went in to the registry office with Emeka to sign the birth certificate and that was when she asked if their son was being looked after.
“Yeah, he is Pero. And I know Camille is keeping him all to herself, but she is grateful for what you did. We both are.”
“But… I’m also sorry,” he added, without meeting her eyes.
Pero realised then that her son- their son – would be fine. Perhaps Camille changed towards her because she wanted her son to know only one mother.
The next time she saw Emeka was four weeks later when he darkened the door of her bedsit with the parental order form he wanted her to sign. She had turned the form round, expecting it to be more than a page because surely signing one’s child away would need more than a few lines.
Days later, she walked down to the family court with the document. For a lawyer, she thought he seemed uneasy in the court room. She didn’t look at him as she signed the paper. And later, when he dropped her off on her street and asked when she was going back to Nigeria, she told him next month.
As she walked away from the car, cradling the photo of their son that he’d given her, she reassured herself it wasn’t a lie. She had decided not to go back to Nigeria because she knew she couldn’t just tuck her almost flat stomach into her jeans and embrace the life she once knew. Instead, she would go down South or East but not home. Not just yet.