“What did you just say?” Niyi asked, wondering if she was still drunk.
Sade clasped her arms around her. “I…want to know if you like men too. Don’t get me wrong… I’m not homophobic. I just don’t want to be with a man that…prefers men.”
Niyi sat up straight. “Look at me Sade. Do I not look turned on enough?”
She turned to him and saw the evidence that the tautness of his jeans failed to hide. Slowly she turned her face away and shrugged.
Clara didn’t say he didn’t like women. The inclusion of men too on the menu was what bothered her. `
The conversation had to change. Threading on that current path would lead to him asking who her source was. Sade didn’t want Peju getting in trouble with him.
Niyi grabbed one of her hands. He moved closer to her so that he was nearly skin to skin with her. “I am really into you. I would like to spend the night with you but I want it to be special. I know you want me…”
“Hey, I’m not that easy.”
“I know,” he grinned and then wrapped his arms around her waist.
“I believe this thing between us is going to happen and it will be for keeps. We will be together in twenty year with half a dozen children. If you let us, we can leave our past behind and forge a new future.”
Sade sighed. Her dreams were coming true. His muscled body was hard against her satin dressing gown and his top half, bare.
So why did she feel this looming dread hanging over her like a duffle.
Why didn’t he tell her all those years ago before desperation and depression drove her into the arms of his brother?
She knew the truth had to come out and that it wouldn’t be easily stomached.
She started rehearsing her speech in her head. Moulding words together that would ease his anger.
“What is it lover?” Niyi held her tighter. “I know Femi has probably told you some of the things that happened between me and Jennifer.”
“Why do you think she killed herself?” Sade asked before she could stop herself. Although she felt him halt against her, an apology didn’t leave her mouth. It hadn’t made sense when she found out.
“I don’t think she wanted to kill herself. All she wanted was a fix.”
His tone was curt but she couldn’t stop there.
“Did Jennifer know she was pregnant? It is just that… a mother will do anything to protect their child. I have never heard of expectant mothers overdosing on heroine before.”
Niyi pulled away from her, resting his body on the sofa.
“Sorry. I’m only trying to understand.”
“You will never understand what it feels like to crave something Sade. Jennifer tried to quit dope. She tried.”
“What about you Niyi? Are you still sober?”
“I haven’t had a drink in eleven months.” He sat up and moved closer. “I am no saint but I have cleaned up. Do you think we can make it work?”
“There is something you need to know.” She knew it was better to tell him now about her night with his brother.
Doubtful he would be willing to forgive easily, the words got stuck in her throat. Her heartbeat raced until all her rehearsed phrases muddled into the sort of gibberish nonsense expected from her older patients.
“I can’t have kids.” She said instead, taking her time to explain how a laparoscopy procedure to laser endometriosis led to major surgery. Her throat hurt as she spoke but what hurt most was his silence. “The surgeon told me when I came round. Now you know, I don’t expect you to stay.”
He rubbed his face. When he returned his gaze to her, he seemed tired. Exhausted. “You had those surgeries when I was in Lisboa, didn’t you? When you couldn’t reach me?”
He hugged her and she cried.
Not for the children she couldn’t have but for how dreadful those quiet days and nights were for her. Arching for him and hurting from her diagnosis, she never thought her recovery would be this: his acceptance.
The next few days were easier. Happier too. He travelled all the way back to East Lancashire after a project review meeting on Thursday in Scotland to spend the evening with her. And it was whilst they were culled up on her settee that he wondered what he would do when his annual leave ran out. London didn’t appeal to him anymore the same way that the streets of Lisboa had bored him to near death five years ago.
Andrew had offered him a job. An unexpected email rattled him on Friday, making Andrew’s offer of a job even more tempting.
Both men were at a restaurant, waiting for their lunch when his phone vibrated. He knew it was his boss ringing him. He let the phone ring, concentrating on stirring his tea.
“Como voce esta?” Andrew asked.
“Fine Andy.” Niyi sighed.
“Don’t mess up that gorgeous face with worry lines.” Andrew winked and raised his wine glass to his mouth.
“Whoever is sending me those dodgy text messages is trying to take me down Andy.”
“Did you get another message?”
“No.” Niyi stretched as if stretching would untangle the lifelike worry that gripped him from the insides.
“Apparently the Director received an external complaint from my old practice in Essex. The complainants are claiming when I was their doctor, I treated their daughter whilst under the influence of alcohol. The partners at my old practice decided to pass the complaint to my new boss.”
“That’s fucked up mate. But you are not practising as a doctor currently, so you have nothing to worry about.|”
Niyi gulped some of his tea. “I’m a department manager. I can’t work with the NHS anymore if my license is taken off me. Even if they don’t sack me, this can still ruin my career.”
“Do you think the same man sending those text messages has done this? Why would someone go through all that trouble to wind you up?”
Andrew kept talking but Niyi had stopped listening. He knew who could go through all that trouble and perhaps some more to spite him: it was the same man that loved Jennifer more than he could possibly do. Akpan. His former friend and colleague at Essex Health Centre.
Sade’s happiness took a nosedive – a few days after Niyi left for London – when Clara rang her and poured out warnings that seemed to have come out of Peju’s mouth. Warnings about Niyi’s violent streak. About the purple bruises on Jennifer’s body.
It was her day off, so she’d promptly got dressed and paid Peju a visit at home, announcing her arrival with knocks that could have woken a corpse.
Although her friend seemed surprised to see her, Sade didn’t give her a chance to offer a greeting.
“This has to stop Peju. That man worked his butt off for several years to pay for your husband’s education. It is thanks to him that Femi is the man he is today because I swear if it wasn’t for Niyi, your husband would be slumming it in Gbogan or Ogbere working as a brick layer…”
“I guess Clara told you to be careful with Big Bro.”
“Stop spreading lies about him. I know Femi doesn’t put his foot down with you but Niyi is your brother-in-law and you are supposed to respect him.”
“I told Clara what I saw when we stayed with Big Bro in London. That’s all.” Peju moved out of the doorway, to her friend on the porch. Her voice did not rise as high as Sade’s. “I hate to tell you this but I saw serious bruising on Jennifer’s back when we stayed with them…”
Sade shook her head.
“I walked in on her in the bathroom. When I asked her, she didn’t deny he did it to her. I know you like him but I can’t watch you get in a relationship with him.”
“Peju, I have known him all my life. All my life!”
“You and he barely spoke for years ore mi. I don’t even understand how you are not suspicious about the way his fiancée died.”
Sade was sure her age had caught up with her. Ageing her eardrums to match the rest of her body. “What is wrong with you Peju?” She didn’t wait for Peju to answer her, turning on her heels and walking as fast as she could away from the house.
Perhaps because sleep failed to come that night, she booked herself a standard class ticket on a Virgin Train Pendolino to London the next day. She needed him. His strength. She kept telling herself that tiny doubts had started manifesting in her head because her enemies –who masqueraded also as her friends – planted them there.
Sleep came early that morning. She welcomed the calmness, telling herself she would ring him as soon as she woke up.
Sade didn’t wake up until the afternoon. She raced to the bathroom after hurling her things into a small weekend bag that Clara bought her last Christmas. She promised herself she would ring him on the way.
I hope he likes surprises, she muttered when the train arrived in Euston, Central London. To calm her nerves, she travelled to Grays via the London Underground, changing to C2C Trains at Fenchurch. A black cab ferried her to his house from the station.
She found his house with ease – having been there once with Femi, when the three of them attended a wedding in Essex. A polite knock brought footsteps to the door quicker than expected.
Sade smoothed her face with a smile, hoping he would be happy to see her.
The door opened and the smile disappeared.
Niyi was at the door. A blonde woman in a black dress was standing a few feet behind him. The woman moved towards him as he asked Sade a question that weakened her legs even further.
“What… are you doing here?”
Sade noticed the roundness of the woman’s belly. She noticed the wedding ring that shone as much as the blue gleam of her eyes too.
“Andrea, this is Sade.” Niyi turned to the woman. “She is my sister.”