I know you killed Jennifer.
This was the text message that Niyi received last night. The first thing that popped into his head this morning. It played on his mind most of the night. Sleep evaded him for hours, the same way that misery stalked him after Jennifer died: slicing past the barriers he created between himself and those unwanted feelings. The feelings won. Whipping him to almost submit into the cosy arms of the distractions that had saved him in the past.
As he navigated his way into the Manchester United Football Park searching for a spot to park his BMW, he knew that was the last place he wanted to be. Even without the messages that had started coming more frequently than before, this week was always supposed to be hard. Jennifer was due to give birth to their baby this week.
He signed in at the reception for the conference but minutes later he was squirting water on his head in the gents. As he dabbed the water off his face with paper towel, he caught a glimpse of his face in the mirror. He didn’t like the torn reflection staring back at him.
“You have blood on your hands.” He said to his reflection.
As Sade knocked on her friend’s door, she wondered if the day could get worse.Work was where shame found her and ripped her to small strips this afternoon. Ben and Kogi, the Ugandan temp were behind her in the staff room when she bent down to pick up her gym bag and she heard a slitting sound from between her legs. She hadn’t needed Ben and Kogi’s laughter to confirm it was her pants that had ripped, revealing the not-so-glamorous shorts she had squeezed her thighs into that morning.
As she wrapped her cardigan round her waist, she couldn’t help but wonder what she had seen in Ben anyway. With the body of a teenager, his head bore the appearance of that of a mangled scarecrow that was put together in a hurry.
The door flew open. The look on Peju’s face confirmed to Sade she had known it was her at the door.
“Please Peju, don’t let this break us.” Sade started, wondering if it would be wise to move closer to her friend. She had heard stories of women who attacked other women because of their men. A tale about a woman who pepper sprayed the eyes of the woman that smiled at her husband during a wake keeping.
“My children are home.” Peju said, not moving from the door. Her arms were folded across her middle.
“So, when do you want me to come back then?”
“Come back for what? I said we are finished.”
“It happened before you two started dating.” Sade said in a voice as soft as her attitude to life. A voice as lenient as she was with Femi all those years ago when he lapped up her cooking, undressed her in his shared campus accommodation and called out Peju’s name as he collapsed on top of her.
She had known then she didn’t want to lose either Femi or Peju’s friendship. And she had thought she was doing the right thing by helping her two friends get together. He was the student union president. Peju was the stunning BME club secretary. They were a match. Sade was the outsider. The shy and implausibly reticent outsider.
“I am sorry I didn’t tell you.” She said as soon as she realised her friend had taken a vow of silence. “You two were so good together. How could I have ruined that?”
“Do you honestly think I would have become this close to you if I knew you were bedded by my husband? Abi, I would have left my son with you whilst I was in the maternity ward giving birth to his sister?”
“But Peju, it didn’t mean anything to him.”
“What about you? Did it mean anything to you?”
Sade didn’t know what to say. She opened her mouth and closed it again. Tears had gathered in the corner of her eyes. Dredging up all those memories she had buried and sealed was killing her. Slowly. Each blow cutting deeper than the last.
“So all this while, I was telling my secrets to a woman that loves my husband.” Peju was no longer calm. She let go of the door and walked to Sade whose heart had twisted and turned again.
“Get this into your head. You are dead to me. I don’t want you to call me or come to my house again. If you do, I will rip you apart.”
Sade’s eyes let go. The tears gushed now. And they gushed for a few different reason but mostly because in her friend’s words and eyes – where she had known nothing but kindness – was now venom she had never thought herself capable of causing.
“Just so you know, I’m not threatened at all by you. Not at all.” Peju screamed, pointing at her friend. “What would my Femi want with a fat barren woman like you?”
When the door slammed shut, Sade continued standing there, blinded by her tears and drained by something heavier. That was why when a car turned into the close and parked in front of the house, it took her a few seconds to realise that the car wasn’t Femi’s. It took even a while longer before she recognised the man alighting from it.
Niyi saw her and stopped. Her hair was big, hanging loose around her face. Her tunic failed to hide the rise of her chest. She looked different but she was still the same girl.
“Sade…” he murmured, covering the distance between them in quick strides. She said something he didn’t catch perhaps because of the barks sweeping through from next door or perhaps because her shoulders were heaving. Before he could ask why she was crying, she had edged closer to him. He wrapped his arms around her.
She was the one that walked away all those years ago. The only woman that ever made him doubt his attractiveness and charm. She was shorter and curvier than he remembered but the cold climate had served her well, gifting her with skin that made everything else immaterial. Her soft floral perfume called out to him, urging him to hold her for a little longer.
Peju crossed her legs and uncrossed them a few times. She sighed and huffed until her husband had to look up from the sports page he was reading. He had arrived home to find her in the lounge slicing all the photos of their university days into tiny ribbons that blew round the room like wedding confetti. That was when she blurted it out. “I know”, she had screamed.
Femi had pulled her to himself and apologised over and over until her shoulders relaxed. Peju had thought it was possible to ignore the way her mind kept inviting the revelation in to taunt her. She had thought she could throw away the bath water without the child.
Cutting Sade off would ensure the survival of her marriage. So, why did she still feel like scratching Femi’s nose off his head? Why did she feel like grabbing that thing between his legs, twisting it and then watch him scream like a girl.
“I’m going to bed. Please take the couch.” She said, without looking at him.
“I have apologised several times …”
“And I have heard you.” She jerked her head towards him on the end of the lounger. “Sade is the one at fault here. Thank God she has her pretender eyes on someone else now.”
Femi continued staring at her.
“I saw her get in your brother’s car before you arrived. Common slut.” Peju did not like the way Femi tried to return his eyes to the newspaper he was reading. It was obvious to her that the news bothered him.
“Maybe, he will teach her a lesson or two. The sort of lessons he taught his dead fiancée.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Femi barked. “Jennifer was very troubled. You can’t believe anything she told you.”
“So, you expect me to ignore the screams I heard when we spent Christmas with them in 2012. What about all the things she told me, the bruises on her back and the fact that she died after Niyi called you to tell you he wanted out of their relationship.” Peju rose. “I am not a fool Femi and I’m sure you know what your brother has done. You disappeared to London when he called you in the middle of the night. And was it not two days later that you called me to say Jennifer had had a nasty accident?”
She raised her palms upwards. “Please God, I have no part in what they have done.”
As she walked up the stairs, he was silent – the sort of silent mood he embraced every time she mentioned Jennifer.
Sade took her eyes off her lime and soda for a few seconds to drink in Niyi’s beauty. He didn’t look a day older. Nothing was different, except the trim stubble on his face that spread out stylishly like stalk residue on a field after a crop harvest. The seasons had been kind. She looked away when his eyes caught her in the action.
A blonde girl in a group at the bar was staring at Niyi. That was the third time she had noticed someone staring at her companion since they walked into White Bull Pub.
“So, are you going to tell me why you were crying?”
She returned her gaze to his face. “I told you…I have hayfever.”
“Yeah I believe you, exactly the way I believed the pack of lies you told me when you burnt my school uniform all those years ago and you said that was the normal design. I had a black iron shape in the middle of my shirt.”
Niyi’s tone was slightly admonishing but he was smiling, playing with his half empty cup. She smiled and tried to fight the force that kept pushing her to continue gazing into his eyes. Doing what she did with Femi had closed that door. How could she flirt with Niyi after sleeping with his brother?
“I haven’t forgotten what a terrible liar you are.” He chuckled. “Do you remember how you managed to be placed at the bottom of the class once and you decided to hide your result card and tell your mum you came second!”
“You told me to lie to my mum. I came 22nd not the bottom of the class, by the way.”
“You and Femi begged me to help you. I had no idea though that the real result would slip out of your mouth when Mama arrived from Osogbo.”
Sade laughed again. She stopped laughing when she caught sight of her wrist watch. Niyi told her he will take her home. They would continue their chat over something not brewed from caffeine.
“I don’t think I can.” She tucked a braid behind an ear lobe. “Not a good idea anyway.
”Niyi held her eyes for a while longer than necessary.“Why not? What do you think I will do to you?”