Sade slipped into the shopping centre, her bag in one hand and the other hand pressing her phone to her ear. She knew her smile was too wide but Peju happened to be on the other end and the lady was in vocal mode.
“Why didn’t you tell me he was here?” Peju asked. “I opened the door to your flat and my brother-in-law was standing right there…starkers! I would have seen it all if he hadn’t covered his winky quickly with his hand. Sade are you still there?”
“Did you get the atarodo you wanted to borrow,” Sade managed.
“What?” Peju squealed. “You expect me to still go into your kitchen and retrieve what I wanted after seeing Big Bro in all his glory? Sade, I saw him with my koro–koro eyes.”
Sade had forgotten that he was at her flat when Peju asked if she could go round to hers to pick up some scotch bonnets she wanted for her cooking. She guessed he had been on his way to the bathroom when her friend let herself in.
Niyi had turned up in the middle of the night after weeks of avoiding her like an infectious disease carrier. She had seen him only once since he got back from Nigeria: at little Koye’s birthday party. Although, his tone had a genuine ring to it every time he called to say he was busy at work in London, she knew he could have come down if he really wanted to.
“Did he sleep in your bed?”
Peju’s giggling voice dragged her back to the present.
“He slept in the baby’s room, gossip girl. He is here to finish putting the cot together and do the other jobs.”
“Maybe you should talk to him about things whilst he is here, ore. This coming and going will confuse the child and what happens when Big Bro meets a girl like Clara in London. One of those desperados that will get belle before they go on a second date…”
“Let me call you later please.” Sade mouthed as soon as the figure in a short black dress stopped in front of her.
Clara looked slimmer. Her make-up had been perfectly etched on as usual. A smile that Sade didn’t doubt its genuineness played on the edges of her mouth but her eyes spoke of a different emotion. One that Sade couldn’t name.
“Sade, so it is true you are pregnant?” Clara’s tone didn’t ring with its familiar brashness. “I called your phone several times. I sent text messages too. Did you get my Christmas card?”
Sade felt the urge to wrap her bump with something. To protect her baby from this woman. Her eyes gazed ahead, past the heads of busy shoppers in the mall.
“Are you still angry with me Sade? Please babe mi, I never planned to hurt you. Niyi was shouting at me and it slipped out…”
“What about Peju? Did you plan to take Koye and Kunmi’s dad away from her?”
“Aah Sade. Did Femi move in with me? Shebi, he was only with me to get what his wife wasn’t giving him regularly. Peju deserved what she got if you ask me. But you…I…”
“Forget it Clara. You did me and Niyi a favour. I’m actually in a rush to get back…”
“Darling, we should meet up, I have missed you.” Clara pouted “Do you remember James that I was seeing some months back? His wife is our new director.”
“James? The Igbo one or the Urhobo one?”
Sade knew which James her friend was talking about. Yes, the latter had dated a few James and at least two Johns but only James Addo’s wife had a career in finance management.
“My James from Accra,” Clara lowered her voice as she moved out of the way of a group of school girls chattering animatedly. “His wife is making my life a misery Sade. That woman treats me like a door mat, sending me on errands to the coffee place and soup shop. Right now, I’m on my way back to work to finish the stupid unnecessary report she asked me for in a hundred copies. Babe, we need to meet to talk.”
“See you later Clara.” Sade headed towards the alleyway entrance of the mall carrying her weight with the sort of speed that disappeared with her first trimester.
Trust Clara to seek forgiveness and friendship for her own benefit alone. She had seen Clara since Niyi found out thanks to the mouth that wouldn’t hold back. Once, on a cold day, on her way from work when the struggles of morning sickness, seasonal flu and a broken heart – that reeked of permanence – curved her back low. Clara had driven her Toyota Camry past her because there were no work worries that needed off-loading on her mind then.
Sade headed straight to her bedroom to get changed into her nightdress as soon as she got in, even though she could hear the soft drilling coming from the baby’s room.
She walked to the lounge after and packed her frame on the sofa.
Niyi walked in much later, dressed in sky-blue jeans and a blue vintage tee-shirt bearing a wide grin. “Why didn’t you call me to come and get you?”
“I got a taxi from the mall.” Sade said, remembering why she had gone to the mall in the first place. “Niyi, I forgot the hard dough bread you wanted.”
“I have eaten darling. Your freezer is stocked as if you are preparing to host a pack of starving teenagers.” He sidled in beside her, lifting her feet up to rest them on his thighs. “Do you want me to warm up something for you to eat?”
Sade shook her head. He raised an eyebrow because a big smile was spreading rapidly across her face. It lit up her eyes, leaving tickles at the tips of his fingers and toes.
“Peju said she saw you naked.”
“Why didn’t you text me to say she was coming round? I was in the shower when I realised I didn’t have my shaving foam. I walked out of the bathroom to get it and found her in the hallway, mouth wide open. I didn’t even know she has a key…”
“I gave her a spare key because you did your disappearing act…”
His mouth opened to interrupt her. She noticed the way his head tilted backwards as if he had been accused of a serious crime.
“Yes, I know your work is very demanding. I just don’t want to push this baby into the world without any painkillers, abeg. That is what will happen if we go with your plan to call you at work. By the time you get here, the baby would have started walking…”
Niyi rubbed her feet. “Relax, it won’t hurt that much.”
“I will listen to you when you experience labour pains…”
“As long as you continue with gentle activities. Even the ones that you have closed the door to. I’m advising you as a doctor babe.” He lowered his gaze to her legs.
“Do you expect me to be dating around with this huge belly?”
“Who said anything about dating around? You better not let any man near my child. If you ask me nicely, I will willingly volunteer my services ma’am.”
She ignored the twinkling of his eyes as his fingers trekked to her lower legs, sending exhilarating sensations to parts of her that had laid dormant these past months.
“Is the pretty nurse that you are messing with refusing to be serviced?”
“What nurse?” Niyi grinned. “Looks like Femi is telling tales again. I think he heard me telling Andy about the young student nurse that keeps bringing me coffee. He probably didn’t tell you she happens to be my boss’ daughter and she was probably in her mother’s stomach when I was in med school.”
“Keep your hands to yourself then.”
“Are you jealous?” Niyi continued his journey on her legs with his middle finger, going slightly underneath her nightdress this time.
She cooked up a frown stern enough to stop him from playing with her. Both the physical and psychological games. “I’m only worried about your job.”
“Cater to me then.”
“You can’t push me away and expect me to be good.” With one swift movement, he was astride her, holding the edge of the sofa to stop his frame from resting on her. “I have missed you.”
She didn’t respond.
Niyi observed the way her eyes held his and the way her body slid down to fit neatly underneath him. He took that as an invitation to kiss her.
Sade woke up to find herself alone on her bed. The excuse in the note on the pillow next to hers broke her into equal halves.
Sorry. Gone to play golf with Andy. The note read.
She got out of bed and covered herself with her dressing gown as the reason why she had woken up became clear: gentle knocks coming from the front door. She hurried to the door, hoping it would be him there.
Her smile disappeared and morphed into a polite expression when she opened the door to Andrew.
“Did I wake you?” Andrew piped. He looked immaculate in a tailored baby-blue suit that didn’t look like his golfing kit.
“No Andrew. Good morning.” Sade greeted.
The awkward silence between them forced her to say something quickly. “Niyi is on his way to your house.”
“I thought he was here.” Andrew told her. “What are you doing home? I’m sure he said you would be at work today.”
Yes, Sade was supposed to go to the surgery to help the practice manager with the filing system but Niyi had persuaded her to send a text to say she couldn’t go in last night.
“Has he finished the baby’s bedroom? I was here yesterday for a while.”
Sade stepped out of the way and invited Andrew in – perhaps because his announcement had forced a lump down her throat. Or perhaps because the gel in his air and the gloss on his lips made her uncomfortable. It wouldn’t have mattered if he hadn’t come down to see her man – alone – dressed in a suit that would attract the most heterosexual male.
She told herself off for going down that route again. And as Andrew gushed about the arty wallpapers on the wall and the cuddly toys in the cot, she allowed her shoulders to relax.
“I think you are amazing, you know.” Andrew turned to her, “The way you have accepted Niyi’s orientation.”
“I don’t understand.”
Andrew put his hands in his trousers’ pockets. “I’m surprised you are fine with his bisexuality. Clearly, you adore him.”
That was the last sentence she heard before Andrew gave her a warm hug and left.
By that evening, the heat in her room had maximised. At the same time she felt cold. Her eyes refused to shed tears that threatened to come when she called Peju lamenting about her life spiralling out of control. Although Peju was in Birmingham at a cousin’s wedding, the latter had urged her to tell her what was going on. “Is this because of Big Bro Sade? Please don’t kill yourself because of a man. That child you are carrying is worth a thousand Niyis.”
The things she wanted to tell her friend had weighed so much on her tongue that she’d chosen to go to bed instead. Her body was freezing, so she’d turned the central heating on to the maximum. But now she had started to feel dizzy too.
Her eyes flickered open when she felt someone’s hand tap her. Even though the room had been thrown into near complete darkness, she could make out his familiar features.
He had a cup in his hand. “Get up. Drink this.”
The anger in his tone startled her. She tried to sit up and found that her vision was blurry. He helped her into a sitting position with his free hand. Sade could smell drink on him. Smoke too.
“Peju called me. You switched off your phone, so I came down. Why the hell are you endangering my child’s life?”
Sade could hardly believe her ears. What would they qualify his actions with?
“Your blood sugar must be low Sade. Starving yourself is not good for the baby. Drink this.”
Niyi held the drink close to her mouth. She swung the cup away from her face with her left hand. He moved back but not in time to avoid getting drenched by the drink.
“What is wrong with you?” He peeled off his shirt and dropped it on the floor.
Sade turned her back to him as if his half-naked body repulsed her.
“Is this because I left this morning? You are doing this because I didn’t stay to cuddle you or something?”
She yanked her head back towards him, so that he had no choice but to put some distance between them.
“Don’t flatter yourself. I couldn’t care less if you left straight after. I’m mad at you because you lied to me.”
Niyi got on the bed next to her and placed one hand on her right one slowly. “I have never lied to you…well, not on purpose.”
“I can’t believe I let you put me at risk. You took me to bed knowing what you’ve been doing behind closed doors. If you have infected me Niyi…”
“What the hell are you talking about? What did I infect you with? A cold?”
“Andrew told me that you are bisexual,” she shrieked.
Niyi stayed quiet. His quietness added to her grief. The tears started gushing now.
“We have had this discussion before.” He said finally. “Quit acting crazy, it doesn’t suit you.”
The bitterness in his voice sprang higher with each word. At the end of his sentence she had struck his face with her hand. He grabbed her hands as she started to tussle with him.
“I know you’ve slept with men. Admit it. That’s all I want! I will go back to Nigeria Niyi if you don’t tell me the truth. You will never see your child…”
“Yes, I have.” He said, matching her tone. “Three men. In Portugal. Happy now?”
He didn’t let go, although she had stopped trying to free herself.
“I don’t understand,” she panted. “You said you are not…not like that…I don’t understand.”
He pulled her body closer as if he needed to hold on for support. “I never said it was consensual.”
“You are saying that you were…”
Sade knew what he was saying. Rape was the word that her head searched for. The word her mouth couldn’t say.