“Am I okay to make myself a cup of tea in your kitchen?” Cindy, the police liaison officer, asked. She had a tender smile on her face. “Shall I make you one, too?”
Abike nodded, partly because the woman’s answers to her questions had been unhelpful and partly because she wanted to be on her own for a while with nothing but her own thoughts for company. Her perfect life was turned upside down last night, as if it were a pile of dirt that meant nothing to no one.
As the police officer walked into the kitchen, Abike wondered what she would tell her children. This morning, they had left for school with the knowledge that their playful stepfather had been arrested.
“It is because of something minor,” Abike told Foluke as she pulled and twisted her divided hair curls into thick plaits.
“Don’t worry, Mum,” Foluke had whispered, meeting her mother’s gaze in the mirror. “I’m sure he will be back home with us soon.”
Abike had forced her face to relax. It wouldn’t do any good to let the children see how worried she was. And that was how they left for school – without the knowledge that she’d brought a paedophile into their lives.
It was at church where she met him. Ironic that she’d started going to church to seek salvation. Marvin appeared tall and well-built. He was far better-looking than any of the men that friends like Mosun had introduced to her in the past. The memory of one had elicited a chuckle.
The man – a bald, lumpy polygamist – was bold enough to tell her he couldn’t date westernized women because of their overreliance on kitchen gadgets and takeaway joints. He loved his food freshly cooked, freshly seasoned. London women didn’t like ruining their nails cooking every day. Could Abike cook for him every morning, noon and evening? Abike’s laughter had rung so loud and long that Mosun ran to her side wanting to know what was wrong.
That was one of the reasons she didn’t wait long enough to hear Marvin say more than ‘good morning’ to her. He would be like the others who expected her to abandon her beloved children and run around to tend the almighty in them. Mosun persuaded her that eight years spent mourning had to be the maximum. She knew of a woman back home who moved in with her new man as soon as her forty-day mourning ended. Another woman had packed her things as soon as they told her that her husband had fallen off his Okada.
She agreed to give Marvin a chance because he and Leke hit it off during the Church’s Youth Club event. Mosun said she knew Marvin well too, flashing cosmetic-cleaned teeth when Abike agreed to go bowling with him. Bowling today and cinema next month was treading softly.
But her mother had a different idea. She wanted her married and happy again. A longing that, Abike guessed, became pressing when she announced she had started to date someone.
“An unmarried woman cannot truly claim to be happy, my daughter.”
Abike knew her mother’s moan on the phone about her stiff back and the fits of coughs that kept interrupting their conversation, was a well-thought-out plan by her to secure what she wanted: a new son-in-law.
“You know when our women live on their own,” her mother began, “people think that they are jumping from one man’s bed to the other. This is what your father’s people will start to think, my daughter. A woman your age cannot exist without a crown.”
A woman’s husband was considered by her mother’s generation as the wife’s crown. A man – no matter how irresponsible or immature. It didn’t matter if that man became a bone in her neck or worse, a threat to her safety. Just like her uncle was to her late aunt. The day he threatened to cut her with a machete, she’d left him, only to be frogmarched back there by her mother, Mama Iseyin. She was to ask for forgiveness. No one ever found out if she got the chance to ask for forgiveness before he locked her in their bathroom. Neighbours reported hearing her screams and his vows to make her unrecognisable; he was tired of having a woman other men stared at. He succeeded. Mama Iseyin refused to believe her daughter was the mangled corpse lying unclothed by the river bank, where he’d dumped her before hanging himself.
That was why, that evening, Abike listened to her mother, holding the phone with her right hand, twirling her braids with her left and not saying yes or no to the issue of marriage. Her elders were not always right. But she hadn’t anticipated what spending one evening every other week with Marvin would do to her.
He would turn up to fix unhinged door knobs and tend her front garden. By the time he asked her to marry him, she realised with a thud that she’d started needing him.
“Leke has a male role model at last. You would be stupid to say no,” Mosun told her once or twice.
His mother introduced her to her bingo friends when they drove down to see her in Liverpool. Every conversation ended with her needing to meet her grandchild soon before her ‘clogged plugs caught up with her’. She’d joked that her £4.77 a day cigarette habit wouldn’t let her live past her sixties. So they signed on the dotted line in a registry office on a cold, wet Tuesday morning.
Yesterday, the police ransacked her house and carted away her husband’s laptop, smartphone, cameras and his desktop PC. They refused to tell her which child it was as if her knowing could make the situation worse.
Last night, huddled in the corner of her unlit sitting room, she spotted a police forensic van in front the building opposite. The building that had housed Leke’s eleven-year-old friend since the girl turned one.
Tania’s lovely personality was what made the girl her favourite amongst her children’s friends. The girl’s mother was kind too.
Why would Marvin rape a girl that was young enough to be his daughter?
She had moved her head from side to side when they came in yesterday, fighting their words from settling in her head. Today as the police liaison officer took a seat next to her on the sofa, she was more than adamant to refute their claims.
They were all racists, she told herself. Unwilling to give one of their own a chance. And yes, he was one of their own because despite having a Grenadian father that bore a shade of brownness similar to Abike’s late husband’s, Marvin was very much British. In his walk, his accent, his Britishness stood out.
He participated in local politics, steering friends to vote for The Labour Party. Since moving into her area, he’d volunteered as one of the borough’s young adult mentors for the community development pilot scheme. He would stop to chat with their neighbours and hold the lobby door open for pram-pushing mothers.
She ignored the police liaison officer as she pointed at the steaming cup of tea in front of her. The woman was holding a cup with TOP STRIKER on it in bold lettering; a cup her children bought him last Christmas. The ‘striker’ part referring to the football skills which Leke and his friends loved.
“He didn’t do it,” Abike mouthed, without turning to meet the woman’s eyes. “He wouldn’t assault anyone. Especially not a child.”
A sound chimed. She recognised it as her doorbell when her companion said something about the door and walked towards the entrance.
“It’s the DCI,” the lady announced as she opened the door.
A mousy-brown-haired detective, clothed in a grey suit, and the senior detective from yesterday walked in. He had introduced himself to her yesterday as the others ransacked her house.
“Have you released my husband?” she asked in response to their ‘good morning’ which was neither chirpy nor gloomy.
The senior detective, Mark Strong sat close to her on the sofa whilst the junior detective planted himself between the DVD rack and the vast shelf in the room.
“My husband is innocent. Why would you believe the words of a silly…child that he molested her? Maybe she has a grudge against him because I know Marvin wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
DCI Mark Strong crossed his legs and cleared his throat. His face wore a grim expression, the type reserved for serious announcements.
“Mrs Hayes, I’m afraid we have charged your husband on one count of grooming a child, two counts of rape and sexual exploitation of children through sharing of indecent images. I’m sorry to have to tell you this but we found a lot of pornographic images of children on his laptop.”
“I don’t understand. My husband wouldn’t hurt anyone.”
The tears that had collected in her eyes started to journey down her face. Her voice failed her. She suddenly became aware of the lack of oxygen in her lungs. The rest of her body too seemed to be struggling to adapt to the shock attacking her. “You have the wrong… man. He is a kind, gentle man.”
“Mr Hayes has already admitted to the charges of the original assault. The rape of the young girl he was arrested for yesterday.”
Abike clamped her hand on her mouth. They were all looking at her. She gestured towards Cindy whose face did not hide her feelings like the male officers. A woman would know these things. Did Marvin look like someone that could commit this sort of crime? Cindy stood there, offering no response, watching her like the men were.
Her limbs started to tremble. Her head was in on the ploy too, seeming to have forgotten how to control her movements.
“Whilst investigating the case, your husband’s DNA came up as a match for the sample on a teenager that was assaulted in a park almost ten years ago in Liverpool. Your husband has denied culpability for that crime. His bail hearing is in an hour but we are sure it will be denied.” The DCI paused as if the right words had deserted him. His eyes were on Abike’s quivering face. “I know this is hard for you but we now have to look at his relationship with your children, especially your daughter…”
She could hear his voice whirling in the background. But a scream had started to pierce her eardrums; one she only realised was coming from her mouth when Cindy put an arm around her.