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The silence was death. It ran in Jimi’s blood like cold poison but it didn’t seem to faze Marie.
Jimi placed her under his microscope, watching her every move, looking for something that would connect him to their past. If there was a spark, he was ready to let it catch. If there was a smile, a word, a look that could resurrect the warmth in him without turning him into a fool again, he was set to go for it. But Marie offered nothing. She just sort of fell into a routine and went about her life like a zombie. She came off trying too hard. Her presentation was flawless and Jimi felt he was living with at a Stepford wife. Eight days they lived as a family with Kiki, and Marie was perfect. All Jimi saw was a woman who could be anything she wanted to be at any time and it was scary. The more she tried, the scarier he got.
But he failed to see the worry in her eyes, the crestfallenness each time she waited for him to warm up to her and nothing came. She knew she was trying too hard but that was all she had in her arsenal to get him back.
Already, she was walking on eggshells with his family. Not all of them took her story in well. Jude and Sesan welcomed her back with open arms but for their sisters and half-sisters from Alhaji’s second wife, the story went down as smoothly as a cactus with them. They made it clear that she was not forgiven, not even with the fact that she was related to them by blood. Nnenna took the news harder than everyone else. She showed them five letters Marie’s mother had mailed to Alhaji between 1981 and 82, inclusive of pictures. She admitted that she had never shown them to Alhaji and posited that if she had, Marie would have doubtless been taken in and none of the present drama would have occurred. Nonetheless, she expressed her resentment and unwillingness to accept her into the family once more. Her reaction wasn’t what Jimi expected and in his stubborn nature, he reacted in defiance and asked Marie to remain with him until they worked something out.
But empty days went by and the magic he was looking for never came. The bleakness sapped him of energy and of soul and he felt his strength leave him by the day.
On this particular afternoon he lay shivering on Terdoo’s bed. He had refused to sleep in his bedroom since Marie’s return. He just couldn’t picture himself getting intimate with her, not when Terdoo was a constant feature in his thoughts.
He rose from the bed and shut the windows, hoping to stop his shivering, but nothing helped. He was catching a fever and with the way it was coming down on him, he knew it was one of the really fierce ones.
He lay back in bed and hurdled under the covers. There was a soft rap on the door and then he heard it creak open.
“Jimi?” Marie called. He let out his head and stared at her. She looked gorgeous in a pair of jeans and a yellow top that complimented her complexion. Her lips, typically, were parted to reveal her gap tooth that disappeared when she began to speak. Her voice droned off in his ears; he wasn’t listening to her. He was looking into her, searching for the woman he fell in love with and married.
“So, uhm…if you think this can ever work, I’ll be in Jos, waiting – as planned.”
He caught only the last words.
He went under the covers again. Seconds later the door shut. The minutes passed by and he felt his fever rise, accompanied by a familiar faintness. He struggled out of bed and headed out of the room. As if on cue, Kiki broke into a cry when he passed her bedroom, waking up from her afternoon nap which he was certain she just went into. He lifted her out of her crib and settled her on the floor with him as he felt a dizzy spell coming over him. He took out his phone from his combat shorts pocket and called Nnenna.
“Mom, send Sesan to come pick me. I need to see the doctor.”
“I think I’ve gone anemic again.”
Nnenna sighed and her voice came out like a grunt. Jimi knew what was coming next.
“You’ve not been eating well, abi? You want to kill yourself, this boy!”
Jimi felt his head throbbing at each word she uttered.
“Just wait there. I’m coming to get you myself. Me and you have serious talk.”
She hung up and Jimi put his phone away. He lay flat on the floor, staring up at the ceiling as Kiki climbed over him and began playing with his face. The room rocked and the floor swirled under him. He felt his vision dimming and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He passed out.
Jimi stared away from the doctor standing before him. She was smiling as she took his blood; her presence made him uncomfortable. So he stayed his eyes on the plasma TV hanging off the wall facing his hospital bed. He already knew the tests the doctor would have the lab run but he obliged her as she spoke. She seemed to want to engage him in conversation.
“We’ll do a blood cell count, check your serum iron level, ferritin level, hemoglobin level, serum transferrin receptor level, transferrin iron binding capacity…”
Jimi’s mind wandered off to Terdoo as it had developed the habit of doing since she left. So far she had made good on her word and refused to take his calls. Her silence was killing him. He desperately wanted to hear from her.
“… and finally, a bone marrow biopsy.” The doctor was done. “Any questions?”
“No.” Jimi still kept his face away.
“Okay, then. I’ll come get you for your biopsy. Hope you’re not afraid of needles.”
Jimi could hear the obvious flirting in her voice and it amused him. Women hardly hit on him. He wasn’t Idris Elba but he wasn’t unsightly either. His introverted nature always drew women to him but whenever they got close, he put out an aloof air that often drove them away. The doctor was one of the few that ventured close enough to make a move.
She patted his bicep gently and squeezed to feel his muscle, while assuring him that he would be fine. Then off she went, shaking her backside, leaving Jimi with an amused face.
Jimi had almost forgotten that Nnenna was in the room with him. She was seated on his left.
“Who is shameless?” he asked her.
“She, of course.”
“Come on, mom.”
“Did you see her cleavage? She was throwing it in your face.”
“Like you didn’t see.”
“Anyway, let’s forget her. About that talk I told you we were going to have…”
Jimi sat straight, lifting a leg to have a better reclining position.
“Terdoo called me yesterday,” Nnenna began. Jimi said nothing. “She told me everything.”
Jimi was tempted to ask what ‘everything’ meant but he had a pretty good idea what she was talking about.
“Didn’t I raise you better, Olujimi?”
“What did I do now?”
“You slept with a woman you’re not married to.”
“Ah. The sex talk.”
“Yes, the sex talk.”
“I thought we had that when I was twelve.”
“Clearly, you didn’t hear me well that day. So let me repeat. Your body is for your wife alone.”
“My wife who left me and followed another man?” Jimi’s tone was acerbic.
“That’s not my point. I didn’t raise any of you to be behaving irresponsibly. Sex is for marriage alone.”
“Sex is for adults, mom, and I’m a grown ass man. Let’s talk about something else, please.”
“Don’t let me land you a confusing slap now.”
“So I was saying, the poor girl is devastated because she thinks you’re getting back with Marie.”
Jimi rolled his eyes. “But I called her and she was mad at me and told me off. Since then I’ve been calling and she won’t answer my calls.”
“So that you’ll tell her what? That you’ll have her as a sidechick?”
There was laughter from Jimi. “Who taught you about sidechicks?”
“Sesan,” Nnenna replied through pursed lips.
“So what do you want to do now? Terdoo is in love with you but you have Marie back home. What is your plan?”
“I don’t know, mom. To be honest, I don’t.”
Nnenna sighed. “But why did you even go and sleep with Terdoo na? Ehn, Jimi? Didn’t you know it will complicate things?”
“Let’s not get things confused here, mom. I really like Terdoo. It wasn’t just a fling. I was willing to commit to her but Marie appeared from nowhere, after she told me she wasn’t going to bother me again.”
“Then divorce her.”
The ease with which Nnenna said the words shocked him. He was seeing a side of her that rarely showed.
“No. No divorce yet. I need to take time out alone to set my priorities straight. I told Marie to go to Jos and give me space. But mom, I’m surprised at you,” Jimi said, picking his fingernails. “You’re not telling me to stick with my wife, to forgive her and forget the past like you did with Alhaji.”
“I’ve been through what you went through. Believe it or not, I once loved Alhaji with the type of love you and Marie shared but he went after money and I ceased to exist. Other women came into the picture and he did what he did without remorse. And it was I who was forced to forgive, to forget, to change my religion just to keep my home and children. And did he change? No. He didn’t.”
Nnenna drew closer to Jimi.
“I know Chimarya grew up with no values. No moral obligations. She has very little conscience. To her, the ends will always justify the means. If you want to stand the risk of living that type of life with her again, then you should do so because you want to, not because of any type of obligation. For me, it was too late to back out and frankly, I had no other option. My family already had issues with me for marrying outside my tribe. But for you, you’re still young. You should make the right decision.”
“And the right decision is Terdoo?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Thanks, mom but I think I can handle things myself. Just don’t interfere.”
Nnenna lifted her hands. “My hands are off the whole thing. I won’t even mention it again.”
The doctor returned and she poked in her head.
“Mr. Bahaushe, are you ready for your biopsy?”
Jeffery’s excited scream tore into Terdoo’s ears as he hopped high in the air and made a dangerous landing on her bed that almost had him to the floor. He was caught in her arms and she dragged him off the bed.
“How many times will I tell you to stop jumping on my bed? Don’t you listen?!” She smacked his lips and held his hand in a tight grip. “Sit here!” She pushed him into a chair. “If you move, I’ll spank you senseless this evening!”
She picked a toy plane off the floor and stormed out of the room. Outside her door, she collided with Liam.
“I’m sorry,” she muttered and continued off to Jeffery’s room where she dumped the toy. When she stepped out, she ran an eye over the traveling bag that was leaning by the front door.
“So we’re all set to go.” Liam said “The flight’s leaving by 10:45. We should be heading to the airport now. We have a three-hour head start.”
“Okay.” She turned away and started for the kitchen but Liam called her back.
“You’re sure you don’t want us to stay back and spend Christmas with you?” he asked.
“You’re asking me that now, Liam?” Her tone was crusty. “It’s three days to Christmas! Your entire extended family is in Dublin, waiting to see Jeff and you want to deprive them of that just because you feel sorry for me for the reason that I have no man in my life to make my Christmas wonderful? You want to step in and save me?”
“Whoa.” Liam chuckled. “Calm down, Teddy. I was just asking because you’ve been carrying this sad face for the past few days. We can stay back…”
Terdoo let out her frustration with a released breath. “You’re not forcing me, Liam. It’s just that…”
“Jimi hasn’t called,” Liam completed her sentence.
“Yes.” She released another breath and leaned on the wall behind her, crossing her arms. “You think he’s chosen her?”
“Frankly, I’m yet to recover from the fact that she staged her own death. That’s gangster, mehn. But if he chooses her over you, he’s not worth the stress, Teddy.”
“I know I told him not to call or text but I didn’t think he’ll take me serious and now nine weeks have passed…”
“You were actually counting?” Liam snorted. “You’re so in love.”
“Mommy?” Jeffery poked out his head from her bedroom. “Your phone is ringing.”
“Bring it to me.”
“You say I shoo not go anywhere.”
Jeffery retreated into the room and returned with her phone. The Caller ID indicated it was Nnenna on the line. Terdoo clicked the answer button.
“Alhaja, good evening,” she greeted in a cheery voice and headed off to the kitchen.
“Daddy, I can jump high. Come and see.”
Jeffery ran back into Terdoo’s room and resumed what he was doing earlier while Liam cheered him on. Laughter from father and son filled the quiet apartment and gave some form of comfort to Terdoo who was in tears at that moment, having just ended the phone call with Nnenna. She watched Jeffery from the kitchen; his leaps into the air played in her sight in slow motion. She was too dazed to move a muscle. The phone remained by her ear until Liam came in.
“Is everything okay?”
She put the phone down and stared at Liam.
“Jimi has cancer. He’s been diagnosed with lymphoma.”
It was at that time she let out the tears that had been threatening to spill.
Terdoo lay on her couch, hugging tight a silky pillow as she watched two of Jeffery’s toy robots dance offbeat to the tune of Mariah’s Carey’s club version of Joy to the World. The silky pillow, the robots, Mariah Carey’s voice from the home theater system and a half-consumed plate of cereal were Terdoo’s only companions for the night. She had cried till she was empty of tears. A few times she attempted calling Jimi but she remembered Nnenna had advised against her doing that because of the state he was in. This only heightened her depression and kept her awake all night. The morning came with the sound of her neighbor hammering something next door. She pushed her pillow away and forced herself to her bathroom where she had a shower. Upon her return, she discovered her phone ringing. She didn’t recognize the number but she took the call.
“Tay, it’s me, Marie. You heard what happened to Jimi?”
“Yes.” Terdoo’s voice was drowned by Marie’s sobs.
“Where are you now?”
“Can you come to Jos now?”
“Okay. Okay. Lemme me come and meet you in Abuja so we can talk.”
“Just talk to me on the phone nau, Marie. No need for all this traveling.”
“On the phone. Okay. Okay.” Marie began to hyperventilate.
“Breathe, Chimarya. Calm down.”
“Okay. I’m calm. I’m-I’m-I’m calm,” Marie stuttered. It took a long while before her breathing became leveled.
“Oya, talk to me.” Terdoo walked to her center table and lowered her weight on it.
“Tay, I can’t do this.”
“You can’t do what?”
“Stay with Jimi.”
Terdoo cocked her head to one side and narrowed her eyes in disbelief. “Marie, did you just say what I heard?”
“Yes, Terdoo. I know this is supposed to be where my love is tested but I can’t.”
“Jimi needs you. He is sick. He needs you! You want to walk out on him now?”
“What do you want me to do?!” Marie screamed. “I can’t take care of myself well! I can’t even take care of Kiki when she has a fever! I don’t have any of those…of those nurturing, motherly instincts!”
“Don’t you love him?”
“I do! But can’t you see that I’m bad luck?! What do you think the Bahaushes are saying about me right now?! They’ll say I came back and he got worse and caught cancer! They hate me already! What do you think will happen if he now dies?!”
“HE IS NOT GOING TO DIE!” Terdoo growled in a voice not like hers.
“If I stay with him, he will!” Marie insisted. “I am bad news, Tay! I faked my own death, then went to the other end of the world and was sleeping with another man with Jimi’s baby growing inside me while everyone was here mourning me! I didn’t give a shit when I was doing it! That is just the plain truth!”
“But you’re back. And you’ve changed.”
“How do you know I’ve changed?! How do you know I’m not going to walk out the door the moment things begin to heat up?! I’m a drifter, Tay! Do you know what that means?! It means I don’t have a home! And that’s because I didn’t grow up in one! I grew up with men that treated me like a boy and used me to dupe people! There was no mother to teach me to wash or to clean or to cook or to take care of a sick person! No mother to clean my tears when I was crying or to tell me about boys! The only mother I had was Alhaja and now she hates me!” Marie cried. “She hates me.”
“Aww, Marie. She doesn’t…”
“The future is bleak for me and Jimi, Tay! I wish it was different. I wish I could reverse time back to when I had him and had everything. But even then our marriage was a lie! I lied to him the entire time and he was in love with that lie! And now that the truth is out, it’s very ugly! If there’s anything I’ve learnt from this whole mess is that love is sometimes not enough! There has to be trust and sacrifice and truth. And sadly, I don’t know what those mean. They’re just words to me.”
“So you’re just going to go like that?”
“No. No, I’m not going like that. I’m leaving him in your hands.”
“You love him! And maybe he loves you, I don’t know. But he said you’re a real woman to him and that sex with you is better than it was with me. So stop acting all sanctimonious like you give a shit about me! You don’t! You want me gone! You want my husband! You’ve always wanted him! So, enjoy!” She laughed mirthlessly. “Take him! Take him…and take care of him!”
The line went dead and left a disconnected tone in Terdoo’s ear. She was kicked in the teeth by Marie’s behavior but the feeling passed away fast as she rushed into her room and set about getting ready for her trip to Lagos.