“How much did we drink last night?”
Abike pulled the cover from her head when she realised it was Wale speaking. A half-naked Wale clad in his shorts. His jeans and shirt lay crumpled on the bedroom floor with what she recognised immediately as her pyjamas. A moan escaped her mouth when she peeked under the duvet cover and saw the pair of matching rosy-red underwear covering her intimate areas. She might as well be naked!
“What did you do to me?” She pulled the duvet cover around her and jumped off the bed.
“That, my darling, should be my question.” He rose and picked up his shirt from the floor, buttoning it whilst trying to examine her partially hidden face. “Not that I’m complaining. Feel free to join me in bed anytime.”
“What? I asked what the hell happened.”
“You really don’t remember?”
“Wale?” she screamed, glaring at him. Perhaps it was too late to avert her eyes.
He pulled up his jeans quickly, wearing a new expression on his face. Fear. It didn’t help her. Anxiety, in strong dosage, gripped her. He had been her rock these past few days; she trusted him. Was this his intention all along?
“You called me. I was on my way home, Abby. You… said you were sacred. You didn’t want to be alone…”
“So, why were you in my bed?”
“We decided that I would sleep here. You said you would be fine in the living room. That’s all I remember. You must have joined me in the middle of the night.”
“Why would I do that?” Did it somehow escape him that they were practically related, that she was once married to a man he called Brother.
“I don’t know,” he scratched his chin. “Perhaps because we kissed?”
“I kissed you last night… when I came back. You were sad about recent events and it just… happened.”
She pulled the duvet tight round her body. “Did we? I mean… did you take advantage of me?”
“No.” He frowned and started to gesticulate with his hands. “You honestly think I would take advantage of you? Abby… shebi you know me.”
“I know you. Really? I am almost naked. You jumped into my bed because I asked you to? Why on earth would you do something like that?”
“Because what?” She struck thin air with her hand whilst her left one gripped the cover harder. “You saw your opportunity to assault me and you took it, the same way you men always do.”
Wale’s face fell. He looked like he was about to collapse. “I didn’t touch you. I’m not Marvin. I’m not like those men.”
“You need to go. I don’t think I want someone like you anywhere near me.”
He said something about having to go home to prepare for work. His tone was low when he said he would check on her later. She knew, hoped he wouldn’t.
“It is the school holiday, we might as well stay here with Auntie,” Foluke had whined on the phone when Abike called yesterday. The bleak hovering layer that forced her to sleep during the day and pace the flat at night seemed to lift that moment. Her children had been gone for two weeks. Yesterday afternoon, one of the practitioners working with her daughter told her Foluke seemed a lot better at her auntie’s house.
This same yesterday, Mosun had called to let her know before the school closed on Friday for the summer term holiday, that Wale attended a meeting with the school’s head teacher. Mosun’s voice was scathing when she added that Wale asked the head teacher about changing the children’s school and what steps this would entail.
“How can they change your children’s school, Abike, my bestie? How can you let Saheed’s people squeeze you out of your children’s lives?”
She had decided to go to her sister-in-law’s house. Her children were coming home. To the flat their father called home before his death. That was why she arrived at Harlow train station in a calm mood, despite feeling overwhelming emotions that seemed far from calm.
But now, as she stared at her children laughing with their older cousin, Fausat and Wale through a window, her repressed emotions leapt to the surface. Walking round to the front of the semi-detached new build, she rapped her knuckles on the door; hitting it with the rawness and loneliness that had consumed her over the past few days.
Thrown from the past few weeks’ chaos into lonely days and afternoon nightmares that left her clothes damp with sweat, she had not slept in two nights and it seemed now that her tiredness had morphed into something else. Something unrelenting.
The crippling fear that someone would hurt her children kept her awake. The realisation that she couldn’t trust anyone wasn’t helping. She thought people like Marvin were the ones to shield her children from, not someone who seemed nice on the surface like Wale. A man bent on taking her children away from her. Was this his plan after she foiled his advances?
He was the one that came to the door.
“Abby… what are you doing here?”
“My children are here. Aren’t they?” She pushed past him to get into the hallway.
“Wait. They are fine here.”
Without waiting for him to catch up, she pushed the door to the living room open. The house had not changed much since the last time she was here. The stark difference was seeing her children in Fausat’s living room looking comfortable. The way they did at home. Their cousin was with them. She tried to find the girl’s name. It was lost like most things she had tried to recollect lately.
Fausat stood up, walked towards her and halted before she reached her. Abike ignored the woman’s greeting and hugged her son whose bottom seemed to be glued to the sofa. Foluke’s eyes were on her. Abike followed her daughter’s eyes to the dishwater and coffee stains on her top. Her physical appearance no longer bothered her. Nothing much bothered her these days, anyway, except her children.
“Are you okay, Mummy?”
“How can I be okay? Enh?” Abike wiped sweat off her forehead with the back of her hand to stop it from travelling into her eyes. “You and your brother should be at home with me. Not with these people.”
“Fausa is doing a good job with them.” Wale’s voice came from behind her.
“Are you trying to say I’m not a good mother?” Her tears were back again. Falling quicker than they had ever done. She didn’t turn to face him, but fixed her eyes on her children instead. “Go and get your things. You are coming back to London with me today.”
Foluke had started to cry too. “I don’t want to go back. My friends don’t understand.”
“One of her close friends told the others at school,” Fausat said. She pulled Foluke gently into her arms.
“Okay, we can deal with that. Just come home.” She tugged at her son’s shirt and tried to pull him up with it, letting go when the boy shrieked in pain.
Everyone seemed to be talking at once. Foluke’s mouth was opening and closing but it was her eyes, haunting and accusing, that got to Abike.
She ran out of the room, choked. She would have kept running if Wale didn’t call for her to stop.
It was dark outside. She couldn’t remember checking the return train timetable. Although, she remembered being at the train station, her memory of the train journey from London, too, was vague.
“Abby, please stop.”
She wiped her face again, wanting to look defiant to him. Yet, the tears would not stop.
“Let me drive you home.”
He reached for her hand. She had slapped him across the face before she realised. A strong slap that would have left a mark if he were shades lighter. She started to run again. Glad that, this time, she didn’t hear his footsteps behind her.
The one thing they don’t pass down about childrearing is the only thing she needed desperately – how to help her daughter forget. Forget completely. And how to get the good lives they once had back. Funny how she thought once or twice that life was hard back then. How her car breaking down would have resulted in her ranting about not earning enough money.
She had gulped down a bottle of red wine but her mind felt clear. The wine did not help her forget. The round and lumpy painkillers that she’d popped in a small heap on the table would.
Her last conversation with the police liaison officer came back to her. How she’d laughed when the woman suggested one-to-one counselling and family therapy. Her people would never talk to strangers about their family matters. It was fine for her daughter. But she was supposed to be the mother, the stronger one. The one strong enough to fend off storms heading for her children. The way her mother and even Mama Iseyin, her grandmother, would defend their young against anything.
She thought things couldn’t get worse when they arrested Marvin.
But they had. She had expected old friends on social media to send her messages. Didn’t expect them to ask whether her husband had touched her daughter after they pretended to be messaging out of concern. Didn’t expect either, that some of the mothers she’d chatted to regularly at the school gates would now see her and cross the road.
When she saw Peter earlier, on a rare visit to the shop, he told her there was a rumour going round that she had known all along. That she’d pointed out young girls for her husband on the street. He reminded her that it was her idea to have Tania sleep over at her flat once.
“I am not a monster,” Abike had yelled.
“It doesn’t matter, Peter yelled back. “What matters is I can’t bring my daughter back home because you are still here. Why don’t you just go away? Preferably where there are no children.”
She picked up the painkillers and swallowed them, forcing them down with the milk in the clear glass on the table.
The irony was like a joke that wouldn’t draw laughter. She had dragged herself out of bed after days of not eating and walked to the shop to get milk and cornflakes.
I will pull myself together for my children was her mantra.
Now as sleep claimed her, she hoped her children would be better off without her.