“Did you ever miss me?”
She heard his question and decided to ignore it. Pretending that the soft humming and hissing of the last Clitheroe train had crushed his whisper on its way to her ears.
They were standing on the balcony of her flat. Her eyes were fixed on the tall, octagonal Jubilee Tower barely visible in the distance. This was where she stood every evening when the quietness inside drove her outside. The view was breath-taking because the last light of dusk had descended over the hills. She imagined the locals, in their time, would have utilised a long summer day like this. A chance to walk the moors and climb to the top of the Lancastrian tower to appreciate the views of Morecambe Bay, Isle of Man and the striking peaks and valleys of North Wales.
For her, the view was a weapon. A weapon to distract her mind from where it wanted to thread. She wanted him to know what it felt like when he ignored her and chased others.
He didn’t move from where he was beside her. His face was so close to her, she could feel his breath on the back of her neck. He would be gone in a few days. And they probably wouldn’t see each other for a few years. No point getting too attached.
“I’m sorry for not ringing you enough.” Niyi told her. He didn’t need to meet her eyes to know she was angry. Could he overstress his annoyance too for the way she turned him down in Portugal?
“Which time are you apologising for Big Bro?” She turned to him.
“I’m sorry for every time I let you down. You know how it is, life pins you down with so much stress that you forget everything else.”
Her eyes shone with bewilderment. Surprised that he grouped her with everything else. The small things that don’t matter.
Despite her hurt, she looked stunning. Her hair was down, illuminated by the big silver hoops in her ears. His heart raced faster every time his eyes shifted to her legs – left exposed by the red shorts that hugged her ample rear. He wanted to hold her in his arms and apologise again but he could tell that her heart had already shut its door to him.
“You just stopped caring when you moved to Portugal. Still, I found a way to call or write you. Even when things were hard for me.” Sade corked her head away from his view again, trying not to think of the surgical procedure that changed her life forever and how her tears flowed when the several calls she made from her hospital bed yielded no result. Femi too, tried to reach his brother. And, it was during his visits to the hospital that he persuaded her to stop waiting. “Big Bro has changed.” Femi told her in between trying to persuade her to try the grapes he brought.
Back at the university, Femi nursed her until the bond between them grew. They kissed one evening in their study pod at the library. Convinced that Femi was the brother for her, she had let the new waves of feelings soak her. And it wasn’t until the night that Femi took her innocence that she found out he had fallen for her friend, Peju.
“I should have called more often but I got caught up in something in Lisbon.” Niyi said, pronouncing the last word Lisboa.
“I can’t tell you.” He told her in exactly the tone he had used when they all came over to Lisbon to see him. She had danced with him at Braga de Bonito, linked hands with him as the fado rang low and turned him down when he asked her to come up to his hotel room.
“I’m sorry for bombarding you with questions. I know how much you’ve done for me. You were the one that pushed me out of mourning all those years ago…”
“Don’t.” Niyi put his hand on the hand nearest to him.
Sade was thirteen when her parents died. Mama, Niyi’s mother had asked her to move in with them but nothing prepared them for how consumed with grief she would be. Femi and Niyi were left with the job of coercing her to drink pap because nothing appealed to her guts. Mama too was as raw as her, sobbing into her wrapper in the evenings. Sade’s mother was her best friend. They became friends when Sade’s father brought his young bride to the city where he lived. Sade’s homesick mother had taken a liking to her neighbour, a native of Osogbo like her. Sade’s grandmother – bereft by the death of her son and wife because a taxi driver had decided to drink too much ogogoro – would have taken her to Osogbo if Mama hadn’t insisted it would affect her education.
“Sorry I didn’t come to Jennifer’s funeral. I couldn’t get time off work.”
He let his hand press against hers. “I hoped to see you. Thanks for the calls and card.”
“Femi told me you and Jennifer were rowing. You were going to go your separate ways.”
“Well…you know me. The women that love me end up despising me.”
They stared at each other for a while. She tensed up. Dazed by the re-emergence of those familiar butterflies in the pit of her belly.
He grabbed her waist and pulled her to himself as soon as he sensed she was going to turn away from him. She knew what he was about to do – and desired him as much. The moment she had waited for since the onset of puberty had arrived but she feared the intensity of it would overwhelm her.
He kissed her.
Not with the gentleness she’d always imagined he would taste her, but with the urgency of fervent longing. He backed her against the wall and kissed her again. Softly, this time. A moan escaped her lips as his head sank lower.
He lifted his head from her neck as his palms cupped her face. “I want to be with you.”
“No. I can’t. You are seventeen years too late.”
He opened his mouth to say something. She got there first.
“I don’t want to ruin our friendship. You are like a brother to me.” Saying that was better than telling him about her night with his brother.
His shoulders dropped. “Oh. I guess I got it all wrong.” He backed into the apartment.
Seconds later the front door slammed shut.
She didn’t expect him to call her the next day. That was why when he turned up the next morning shortly before she was due to leave for work, surprise muffled her voice. He drove her to work, explaining to her he would like them to be friends again. He would be staying up North for a while as his friend, Andrew wanted his help with his business. She agreed they should be friends again.
A couple of her patients that day remarked about the cheeriness of her greeting. At lunch time, she chatted with Niyi on the phone, refusing to admit to him when he asked her what lunch would be – that it was usually a double whooper cheeseburger with a mountain of fries and a chocolate cake desert.
The happy mood eased her into the rest of the week. Constant still, when Femi called her to invite her to Niyi’s surprise birthday meal at an Indian restaurant.
“I don’t think Peju will like that.” She insisted.
“You have to come. Big Bro will be disappointed if you don’t come.”
“Okay then. I’ll try to be there.”
Niyi lightened up when she arrived at the restaurant on Friday evening. The evening dress she had on hugged every inch of her. Her hair was tossed back, directing attention to her cleavage. The dress amplified her curves in all the right places, driving his excitement to his groin even though she was three seats away from him.
“Our Sade is always late. Imagine arriving after the celebrant.” Femi turned to his colleague – whose name Niyi couldn’t remember.
“I came straight from work.” Sade said before turning to Clara to ask if she could take a look at the menu.
Niyi noticed the small fleeting looks Peju gave Sade when she joined them. He noticed that Peju didn’t return Sade’s greeting too. He was wondering about this when a text came in from Andrew, his friend.
“I need to pop outside ladies and gents. Andrew is lost. Excuse me.”
Niyi got up and hurried outside of the restaurant. He paused on his way to the car park when he heard the click clack of heels behind him. He turned, hoping it was Sade.
“Hi Big Bro,” Clara smiled. “I thought I would come out to help you. I know this area like my designer shoes.”
Her hands were on her hips – as if she wanted him to notice them.
“Come on, you need me.”
Niyi resisted the urge to tell her the first thing on his mind. Turning away from her, he concentrated on his search.
” We can get a drink or two later to celebrate your birthday.”
“No thanks. I’m busy.”
“I don’t like sleeping with women my brother has bedded.” He felt obliged when a questioning frown pushed her brows together. “I know you are having an affair with Femi. He admitted it when I confronted him.”
“You don’t know shit…”
He saw Andrew’s Cayman Porsche and waved. Clara had no choice but to go back in as he advanced towards his friend’s car.
Back inside, he introduced his friend to the rest of the group. Their starter came shortly afterwards but the chaat tasted like warmed lettuce in his mouth. Clara’s eyes followed his every move. Peju’s eyes were busy too, following Sade. She was rude every time the latter tried to hold a conversation with her. That was why he asked his sister-in-law to come to the till with him, explaining to everyone he’d decided to order the triple coloured rice with their order.
“Why are you treating your friend like that?” He whispered as soon as they were away from their table.
Peju shook her head. “We are not friends Big Bro.”
“Well, she is mine. Please treat her with respect.”
From where they were, their table was visible. Sade eye’s caught his. He noticed the worried expression on her face.
“Perhaps, I need to tell you what my so called friend did to me.” Peju smiled a smile that didn’t reach her eyes.