The thought of her daughter carrying her husband’s child even for a second filled her mouth with raw bile. This was what gave her the strength she needed to get off the floor.
Doctor Rose was waiting for her at the nurse’s station. They met each other halfway.
“I have been looking for you. Are you okay, Mrs Hayes?”
“Is my daughter okay?”
“Yes she is. You ran off earlier before we could finish our discussion.”
Doctor Rose’s voice had a lilt to it that was soothing. Abike wished they were having a different conversation. Any other sort of chat but this.
“My daughter is too young to be a mother,” she whispered. The last word did not roll out as easily as it should have done.
“No, she won’t be.” The doctor smiled. “Not yet anyway. The test came back negative.”
“Foluke is not pregnant?”
“Not according to our tests.”
Abike grasped the doctor’s hand closest to her. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
“You can take her home soon. Her blood sugar was on the low side, perhaps because she was too worried to eat. But her physical health is fine.”
Foluke and Abike spoke to a female detective at the station the next day. Her daughter’s spell at the hospital no longer worried her. What worried her now was the look that crept into her daughter’s eyes as she spoke about Marvin. “He told me he loved me,” she had insisted at the police station. “He didn’t do anything wrong.”
Abike waited until Leke left the house with Wale on Saturday before broaching the subject. The air in Foluke’s room became tense in minutes. Although, it wasn’t as edgy as the tone that Abike’s voice now adopted. Her daughter’s stubbornness to see sense had started to bother her.
“I promise you, Mum, he didn’t make me.”
“What he did with you was wrong, Foluke. He took advantage of you.”
“I’m old enough.”
“You are a thirteen year old child. He is your stepfather.”
“He said that I am the one he loved from when… he saw us in church.”
“Stop talking. Ma soro mo.” Abike switched to Yoruba. It seemed the only natural thing to do. She needed to scream, to vent and rip Marvin into small pieces that no doctor would ever be able to put together.
For now she needed to be a mother. She hoped her eyes would not let her down as she reached for her daughter’s hand. Foluke opened her mouth to speak and then closed it.
Abike’s her heart was still beating; the sudden tiredness that had weakened her limbs was coursing through it, strong and thick. She wanted to tell her they had spoken about it enough. Knowing the details wouldn’t be best after all.
“I’m sorry, Mummy. Please don’t hate me.”
“I couldn’t possibly hate you. I love you,” Abike said, moving closer to her daughter on the bed. Her vision was partially blurred with unshed tears, her voice shaky. She wanted to give in to the emotional tiredness draining her but nothing would stop her from being a mother to her girl again. “No one can come between us, I promise.”
Foluke flung herself in her mother’s arms. They held each other as if they wanted to dissolve in each other’s embrace, sobbing for what seemed like ages.
“Maybe I should have tried harder to stop him.” Foluke said a while later. She withdrew from her mother and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. She looked frail, hunched over like a woman who had endured decades of hardship. “But after he came to my room the first time and he did… what he did and said I was his girl, I didn’t think I could stop it. He said he would tell you I caused it, that you would hate me.”
“I’m so sorry, Princess for bringing that man into our lives.”
“The other time he did it was when the school was closed for the strike. He gave Leke money and asked him to go and play at Tania’s. He told Leke he wanted to help me with my school work.”
“When did it happen… the first time? Where was I?”
“You were here, Mum. It was the day when you went to that conference in Edinburgh.”
“I was here” Abike said as if she was asking her daughter a question.
She had taken one of the peak trains back to London with Greg and Susan from work after the Edinburgh conference. She recalled telling them on the way back that spending the night away from her children was no option. She recalled too how Marvin had given her two pain killers that evening because her back hurt from sitting on the train for hours.
“How could I have failed to protect you? I was here, I should have known.”
“He was always cool with me. That was why I didn’t think he would do anything bad when he came to my room. And then he told me not to tell anyone.”
“That was why you didn’t tell me?”
“Yeah. I also didn’t want you to be disappointed, Mum. I didn’t want to let you down.”
Abike shook her head. “You can never let me down.” How could the girl have forgotten how she won a prize at almost every end of term ceremony at her primary school? How she brought her nothing but joy and how she could read whole story books before she’d even started primary school.
The bigger question in her mind though was how she could have kept the abuse from her. They were close. They talked about everything; books, school and rubbish friendships. The Edinburgh conference was seven months ago. Seven full months.
“I’m tired, Mum. Can I go to bed now?”
“Of course, darling.” She kissed her daughter on the forehead and helped her pull the duvet cover to her shoulders. “Good night, Princess.”
She knew something was wrong when a sound woke her up from her nap. She couldn’t remember falling asleep on the sofa. The lounge had been thrown into near darkness thanks to the bleak weather.
Getting up slowly, Abike called out her daughter’s name as her tired legs carried her to the latter’s bedroom.
The room was empty. The pair of pyjamas that she wore earlier lay crumpled in a heap on the floor with her pink duvet cover.
She decided to go after her daughter after seeing the words Configuring Windows Updates on the screen of her laptop. The girl couldn’t have gone that far.
Hartley Street had always been a safe haven. Their ‘safe haven’ became less of a haven when some permanently hooded yobs moved into the tower block on the estate.
Leaving her only daughter wandering around the estate in her vulnerable state was implausible.
Abike picked up her phone where she’d left it earlier – on the table and locked the front door. Dialling Foluke’s number on the way, she decided to take the stairs down so as to be able to stay on the phone if her daughter did pick up.
She didn’t see the dirty skateboard in her way until her right foot landed on it. That was why her body wasn’t prepared for the fall that followed.
The phone dropped from her hand as she started to tumble down the stairs. The landing had never seemed that far down. And her body was hurling towards it at full speed.