She crawled into bed hours after the funeral, too tired to feel anything. Wale and Mosun’s quiet voices were audible from the lounge; reaching her in calming bursts.
They were the ones who begged her to go to bed. “We will tidy up in here,” one of them said. “You haven’t slept for days,” the other echoed.
It was true that sleep had deserted her for about three days. They had sedated her at the hospital and she had slept after it happened. Getting home however, her loss fully engulfed her.
It was everywhere; in the children’s hushed voices when they spoke to her. In the way Mosun jumped up every time Abike wanted anything at all. And when she locked herself in the bathroom and caught sight of her flat stomach in the mirror.
Abike was in bed when the house phone rang. She heard Wale’s voice address the caller. Although she couldn’t hear the conversation, his tone was hurried as if he wanted to get off the phone.
Pulling the duvet cover aside, she got off the bed and found her dressing gown slung across the only chair in the room.
She wrapped it round her body, over her nightwear and after locating her house slippers, plodded into the hallway
The children’s bedroom doors were closed. Her ears caught the familiar voice of Sam Smith as she walked past Foluke’s bedroom. Music had become the girl’s shadow. Her purple headphones worn like a pair of earrings. They were hardly off these days. And when they were, the girl avoided her, choosing to run errands or do house chores. Anything that put a wall or two between them.
Wale and Mosun were at the front of the lounge. He was leaning on the door whilst she was standing close, one hand holding her bag, the other supporting her chin as if her head would roll without support.
“What’s going on?”
They both moved from their position when they saw her.
“She was about to leave,” Wale said, opening the door.
“Yes, I have to go.” Mosun darted forward and hugged Abike quickly. Her friend was gone before she could stop her.
“What is going on, Wale? Please don’t tell me I’m tired or something like that. Something is going on.”
He turned his back on her and proceeded to lock the door, draw the curtains before turning back to her. He hadn’t shaved for a few days. A factor that made his slim frame seem as if he had intentionally neglected himself, making him look like what Saheed – who detested shaving – would have looked like if he was still alive
She didn’t feel sorry for him though. It was his fault if he felt burdened; after all she had told him from the start that there was no reason for him to feel obligated.
“We will be fine if you go home tonight.”
Wale pulled out his black bag from the back of the sofa and retrieved a toiletry bag and towel from it. “I will go home when you have managed to get a whole night’s sleep and you have eaten.”
“I can cope, Wale. I know you feel like you owe Saheed but I’m used to being on my own.”
He dropped the towel and bag on the sofa. “This is not normal day-to- day stuff. You have endured some terrible things these past few days. Let me be there for you and the children. You know how close me and Saheed were.”
The day she met Saheed at a Lagbaja concert in Stratford, Wale’s name had cropped up a few times even before she agreed to date him. It was during their first date in a restaurant overlooking the River Thames that he told her although Wale and he were cousins; the man was closer to him than his own brothers were. They had grown up in the same house sharing uniforms and school books.
“I’m not sure it is fair to keep you here.”
“You are not keeping me from anyone.”
“Tell me what you and Mosun were whispering about then. I’m not bothered if you and her are doing the dirty behind your wife’s back…”
Wale smiled. It wasn’t his usual scornful smirk. “Your friend is not my type. I assure you.” After a short pause, he continued. “The police want to speak to you. That is what I have been keeping from you.”
Abike glared at him. Earlier, she had spotted Cynthia, the police liaison officer, at the funeral service talking to Wale.
“I’m sure there is nothing to worry about. After I have taken Foluke to her counselling session tomorrow, I will drive you to the police station.”
When social services first got involved, and Wale told the practitioners at the multi-agency meeting they attended, that Abike and the children would always have his support, she had told him – in polite sentences that dragged so as not to sound too rude – that they didn’t need anyone. She had catered for the children on her own for years before Marvin came along. Right now, she decided that having him around wasn’t a bad idea, after all.
“The police can ask me whatever they want. I’m not worried.” She sat on the sofa next to his bag. “Thanks for staying. What would I have done…enh?”
“If you want to thank me, let me go get a shower and get out of this frosty suit.” He tugged at his tie. “Then I will warm up some meat pies and make you a nice cup of hot chocolate. We can stay up and chat, I know getting you to go to bed will be like asking your children to throw away their phones and iPads.”
It wasn’t the sun rays filtering into the bedroom that woke her. It was the sound of the front door slamming. Abike got her dressing gown and hurried to her ensuite bathroom.
Wale’s head was buried in a newspaper spread across the centre table when she got to the family room.
“Why didn’t you wake me, Wale? It is nearly midday.”
“You were tired.”
He grinned but not before she had caught the worried expression on his face. He tried to fold the newspaper before she got to him.
“No. Don’t try to hide it please. Let me see it.”
The headline on the front page of the East End Telegraph read “Predator Moonlights as Community Volunteer.” Abike winced when she saw Marvin’s name and their area named on the blurb of the front page.
“These journalists have finished us, Wale. Everyone is going to know who we are.”
“They haven’t mentioned your name or Foluke… or Tania’s. Read the second page. They have mentioned only Marvin’s name.”
“And his surname,” she wrapped her arms around herself as the chilly weather dug into her flesh. “People that know me… my colleagues, church members, will work it out quickly. People will…”
“You will change your name if you have to. Move away from here, you and the children.”
“I can’t let them see this.”
“Relax. They are in Harlow. I drove them to Fausa’s house this morning. She will look after them. I called the school and the therapist too.”
Abike turned the page and craned her neck towards the paper. The part about a reliable source telling them about Marvin’s habit of spending hours on his laptop at night caught her attention. The next line read “his wife, name withheld, was suspicious of his behaviour.”
“The wife told the source that the alleged spent more time on his laptop than he did with her,” she read out. “Marvin Hayes who is facing four charges of rape, two of grooming and sharing indecent images of children spent hours every day online.”
Abike picked up the pages, rolled them into one and flung the newspaper across the room.
“The only person I told about Marvin’s obsession with his laptop and the computer was Mosun. My best friend.”
Wale didn’t speak. He shifted uncomfortably on the sofa.
“You know something, don’t you?”
“Yes, Abby. She told me last night that a journalist approached her.”
She hurried to the house phone, remembering that her friend told her yesterday she had booked the next few days as annual leave from the school.
“Don’t do anything silly, Abike. She told me she didn’t say anything. They offered her money, she still turned them down.”
“Mosun can tell me that herself.” The phone rang for a while. Her friend didn’t usually take this long to answer her calls.
Eventually, her voice came on the line. Her hello was shrill; more of a whisper.
“How you dey ore mi?”
“What the hell did you tell the journalist about me?”
Mosun’s explanations, in a barely audible pitch, went on until she felt the need to put the phone down. What was the point?
“Abike, temi ni kan, I promise I didn’t know they were going to print everything I said.”
“Did they pay you? Did they?”
“They gave me three hundred pounds but I only told them your side so people will know that Marvin is the criminal here.”
“I hope the payment is worth our friendship.” She slammed the receiver back in place and ran to the bedroom, ignoring Wale’s outstretched arms.
The bed felt comfortable. She wanted to stay there all day and ignore the knocks on the bedroom door, except this time the tone of his voice worried her. The doorbell had rang a few seconds ago, too.
Pulling her tracksuit out of her wardrobe drawer, she got dressed slowly.
Outside, Wale was standing with the DCI and another familiar detective.
“I know this is bad timing, Mrs Hayes,” DCI Strong walked towards her, “but we need to ask you a few questions down at the station.”
“Does she need a lawyer?”
Abike could hear Wale’s voice. She found her own, even though it didn’t sound like hers.
“I’m not going anywhere with you people. I haven’t done anything wrong and I’m tired of all this. All I did was marry the devil’s son.”
“I am sorry for this then.” DCI Strong closed the gap between them. “Mrs Hayes, I am arresting you for perverting the course of justice…”