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There was no sign of Jimi’s car when she arrived at the house. Having been delayed at the airport because all the morning flights were booked, she got into Lagos in the afternoon.
Jimi’s gateman was happy to see her and got into a chatty mood. He informed her that Jimi left the house the previous evening and was yet to return. He handed her the keys and she let herself into the house. The place was shipshape and she noticed the curtains and furniture in the sitting room had been changed to match her favorite color. She once mentioned to Jimi how much she loved green. She wondered if she was the reason why the new décor was in green and black. Her eyes picked out other changes as well. Gone was Marie’s photo on the wall and the little frames that held their wedding pictures. Recent photos of Kiki and landscape paintings were erected in their place.
Terdoo kept her box by the door and went to the kitchen to for a glass of water. While she drank she amused herself with a food roster stuck on the fridge, written by Jimi himself in a terrible handwriting. When she had sated her thirst, she picked her handbag, locked the door behind her and found a taxi to Nnenna’s house. It wasn’t a distance and she arrived there in ten minutes. She could tell that most of the Bahaushes were present with the cars parked outside. Her tummy did a little churn; she was worried that something had gone wrong. She took unhurried steps to the front door and knocked.
“Come in!” A chorus of familiar voices answered and erupted in laughter afterwards. With a cautious smile, Terdoo walked in and got a celebrity’s welcome from Jimi’s siblings, their spouses and relatives. There was not a single soul in Nnenna’s sitting room Terdoo didn’t know. The only strange persons present were the newborn twins in Nnenna’s arms. Terdoo knew at once that Jude’s wife had just put to bed. She shared a few hugs around and ended up sitting beside Nnenna who placed one of the babies in her arms.
“You came.” The look in Nnenna’s eyes was one of surprise.
“Haba, Alhaja. How can I hear that type of news and not come? Where’s he?”
Nnenna replied her in a low tone. “He’s at the back with Sesan.”
“How’s he feeling? How bad is it?”
Nnenna smiled. “He’s fine. There’s something you should know sha…”
Terdoo recognized the look in Nnenna’s eyes. It reeked of mischief.
“He doesn’t have any lymphoma.”
“Hmm? But you said…”
“My dear, I just wanted to know between you and Marie who truly loves my son. He was wasting time in choosing.”
Terdoo became a little uneasy, though she put up a smile.
“That’s what any smart mother would do. Wouldn’t you do the same for Jeff?”
Terdoo nodded. It was all she could do to show she was polite.
“I knew you’d understand.” Nnenna went on, “but you love Jimi, don’t you? I’m not imagining things here, am I?”
“I love him.”
“Then you have my blessing, my dear. He’s a better man now. He prays five times a day, goes to the mosque regularly, takes care of Kiki all on his own, cooks all his food and he finally started his own film production company. Imagine. A whole Jimi.” She smiled proudly. “Only a good woman can make a man become better and it’s all because of you.”
This time, Terdoo smiled from the heart.
“Go and see him. He doesn’t know you’re here.”
Terdoo passed the baby in her arms to its mother and walked to the kitchen. She stopped at the door and spotted Jimi, Jude, Sesan and a couple of their cousins in an argument about football at the backyard. Not wanting to intrude, she made her way to Jimi’s old room and dialed his number. After the sixth ring, he answered.
“Finally, she calls.”
Terdoo found herself grinning at the sound of his voice. It left a warm sensation in her.
“So you took me seriously when I said you shouldn’t call?”
“Didn’t you hear yourself the last time I called? The way you snapped at me?”
“Oya, I’m sorry.”
“Did you miss me?”
“I did.” Terdoo answered, playing with her hair.
“So much that I can come all the way to Lagos to see you.”
“That’s interesting. So, that means you’re spending Christmas with him?”
“Him? What him?”
“The him standing at the door?”
Terdoo made a sharp turn to the bedroom door and saw Jimi leaning on the doorpost, looking casual but yummy in a pair of chinos and a checked shirt. He stepped in, kicked the door shut and with counted steps made it to Terdoo who was more than desperate to have her hands on him. She locked him in a tight hold, went on her toes and presented her lips to him with feverish anticipation. He was slow with his kisses, refusing to be drawn in too prematurely. But he was no match for the force of magnetism between them. In seconds, his kisses became more fervent and his hands began an obsessive possession of her body. They ultimately ended up on his bed.
“I thought I was losing you,” Terdoo muttered, allowing him space between her legs.
“Now why would you think that?” Jimi questioned as his fingers began undoing the buttons of her rebel-washed shirt. She shrugged in answer to his question.
“Were you ever planning on getting back with Marie?”
“Tido, you know how to kill a good mood o. What you just did now is like having a sumptuous, tempting plate of rice and then someone goes and pours maggots all over it.” He kissed the cleft of her breasts and buried his face there.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“Yes, I wanted her back at some point.”
“So when did you stop wanting her back? Two days ago? Yesterday? Never?”
The door burst open and Nnenna appeared behind it. Terdoo sat up, pushing Jimi away from her. She turned away to button up her shirt.
“Not in my house, you two. Olujimi, outside. Now.”
Jimi got off the bed and followed Nnenna out to the corridor.
“You better not do any bad thing under this roof.”
“So…I’m going to the place now.”
“Okay. I’ll catch up with you in like thirty minutes.”
“Because you’re busy doing what?”
“Mom?” Jimi laughed. “Calm down.”
“My friend, this is not your house. Carry your indiscretion somewhere else.”
Jimi went back into his room. Terdoo had made herself decent and was sitting at the edge of the bed.
“Let’s go home,” he said.
He stretched out his hand and Terdoo took it. He stopped for a moment to look into her eyes. She waited for him to say something but he was silent. On their drive home she told him about her new life in Abuja and the progress she was making. He talked of the challenges he encountered learning to take responsibility as a father and a pseudo-bachelor. It was the first time they were having a real conversation and it was refreshing. Jimi’s attraction to her grew by the minute as little quirks about her came to the surface; like how she went over the top about long words, picking out syllables in a slow manner, or how she gesticulated a lot while she spoke. She, on the other hand, was just discovering that beneath Jimi’s introverted nature, lay a true Lagosian and a very crazy one. In the distance between Alhaja’s house and his, he had driven in a lawless manner to beat phantom traffic. But Terdoo wasn’t complaining. Somehow she was fascinated by that part of him. It gave her a glimpse of the man she had come to love in their private moments.
He asked after Jeff and Liam and she spoke about them with pride and a tinge of envy, explaining to Jimi how much the two had bonded in the past weeks.
“Jeff doesn’t even like sleeping at my place again and keeps telling me ‘I like daddy more than mommy’. He’s so mean.”
“Maybe you should have another one.” Jimi said, running his finger over Terdoo’s earlobe as they waited for the gateman to let them into the house.
“Maybe we have another one already.”
Jimi’s eyes shot out. “For real?”
“Yep. And her name is Kiki.”
He laughed. “You’re joking now. Wait till you start puking every morning.”
Terdoo shook her head at him and accepted the kiss his lips were offering before they stepped out of the car. They entered the house as sane human beings but the instant the door shut behind them, they went at each other like ravenous creatures. They baptized one of the new sofas with a quickie. Terdoo wanted more after they were done but Jimi had to honor an appointment with someone. He hurried into his clothes and dashed out of the house with a promise to Terdoo that he was returning shortly.
Marie fiddled with the pen in her hand. She made it do a dance over the papers in front of her on a table before she put down her signature in fields marked as required. She gathered the papers together and pushed them away from her. She straightened her back and sat upright on a richly upholstered chair that matched the dark chocolaty brown of the table. The décor around her was one of class and taste – an expensive VIP booth in a classy restaurant somewhere in the heart of Ikeja. But the atmosphere was stiff; hostility was the air delivered to her by Nnenna who was seated in a chair facing her. Her veil was taken off and Marie was given a full dose of her anger.
“Mommy, you’re sure he’s coming?” Marie stared at her wristwatch. Nnenna answered nothing.
They went on in silence for a few more minutes until a waitress appeared and ushered in Jimi. Marie stiffened the moment she saw him. He sat beside Nnenna and went through the papers on the table.
“All signed,” Marie murmured.
“You’re sure the court won’t need me around for the whole divorce process?”
“No,” Nnenna butt in, “we’ll handle it on our end.”
She reached for a small Ghana-must-go beside her chair and tossed it at Marie.
“Twenty-five million. Plus the other five I gave you before you got married to Jimi, everything amounts to thirty million. This one is your divorce settlement from Jimi. The five million is all you’ll get from the Bahaushes in the way of any inheritance. Now let me remind you that I blocked your mother from Alhaji and I’m blocking you from him now. I want you to disappear completely. Don’t come back again.”
“I’m leaving, today,” Marie informed them, her eyes on Jimi.
“Good.” Nnenna stood up and slipped on her veil. “You’re from a cursed family, Chimarya. Dauda ruined Alhaji and ran his business to the ground. Then came Laraba whose aim was to destroy my marriage altogether. But I knew the scam from the start, from the moment they made Alhaji their mark. Dauda was the catcher and Laraba was the shill, the convincer. And she did convince Alhaji well, just like you tried to do with Jimi. Only that whatever plans you had didn’t work because I always pray for my children. Almighty Allah will not let them see anything evil. So carry your bad luck and go somewhere else, biko. And my dear, I beg you to test me and try to be stubborn by showing your face around Jimi again. Just try. Then you will taste firsthand the dangerous combination of Yoruba and Igbo wickedness.”
Jimi put his hand on Nnenna. “It’s okay, mom.”
Nnenna picked her handbag and exited the booth. Jimi leaned back on the luxurious chair beneath him.
“So I guess you’re not dying,” Marie stated. “Nice one.”
“You really were going to leave me in my darkest hour, Chimarya?”
“It’s not like that, Jimi. I…”
“I’m tired of the lies, Marie.”
“I’m sorry. I tried. I tried to be different with you, to change but I couldn’t.”
“I wanted us to be a family again, Marie, but maybe my heart is not that big enough. Maybe it’s too broken to be fixed by you. I still feel something, though. Is it love? I don’t know. But it’s still there. You changed my life, you made me feel things I’d never felt before, you gave me confidence and I’ll be forever indebted to you, but only to the person you used to be. This person here, with me now, I don’t know her. You’re a total stranger and that’s why I don’t want to ever see you again.”
“But you do understand that I tried, right?”
“I do. I get that it’s nothing personal, that you’ve been doing this and I was just another mark. I just wonder how your second husband feels right now.”
Marie inhaled, exhaled and straightened out her dress, a sign that she wanted to leave. Jimi felt something painful stab his heart. Somewhere in him, he wished it didn’t have to end the way it was going to. His love for her was undeniable but he knew it wasn’t in his power anymore. She wanted to be free and that freedom was what he was painfully giving her. The money had caused a dent in his finances but he wanted her to have it, considering the fact that the EFCC had taken all she had. He hoped that one day she would be brave enough to look inside her and find the person he fell in love with, the person who chose him despite his flaws and loved him just the way he was.
“Take care.” Jimi rose up and so did Marie. She proceeded to stand in his way.
“Marie, don’t do this. Please…” he pleaded but she ignored him, pressed her body into his and wrapped her arms around him.
“You no longer have my mumu button. You know that?”
“You still have mine, Jimi.”
“I can’t cheat on Terdoo.”
“You take things too seriously, Jimi. I’m not asking you to do anything. Just kiss me.”
She didn’t even give him a chance to respond to her request. She stretched up and planted her lips on his, sending a desperate tongue into his mouth. Her action got him angry and he forced himself away from her and hurried out of the VIP booth. He had no idea she had slipped a note into his pocket.
“So, is it snowing there?”
“No, it hardly snows in Dublin during this time, so the weather is pretty cool.”
“Oh, okay. Nice.”
Terdoo placed her laptop on her chest and leaned back on what was going to be termed ‘the lovemaker’ by her and Jimi in the future. It was the coziest of the new sofas.
The front door opened and slammed shut. Jimi walked in, lifted Terdoo’s laptop off her chest and gestured that she sit up.
“Why?” she gestured back.
“Radiation,” he whispered. “Save the Double D’s.”
Terdoo laughed silently and Liam who was on Skype with her flashed a curious face.
“Are you in…Lagos?”
“Yeah.” She held back a smile.
“And Jimi’s there?”
“Am I to say hi or what?”
“No, it’s cool.”
“So how is he feeling?”
“Okay. Cool. Hey, Jeff! Come say hi to mommy.”
Terdoo heard a screech and a ‘yaaaaaayyy!’ that increased in volume until Jeffery appeared on her screen.
“Yes, my love. How are you?”
Liam whispered something in his ear.
“Mommy, Nollaig Shona Duit.”
Jeffery repeated his words.
“What does it mean?”
“Merry Christmas,” Liam responded. “In Irish.”
“Oh, okay. Merry Christmas to you guys too.”
“Mommy, daddy has a geh-friend!” Jeffery announced and ran off. Liam’s face returned to the screen.
“Already?” Terdoo was amused by the news.
“Uhm…just some family friend who won’t leave me alone. Flat nyash tins. Not interested. By the way, is it just me or Jeffery likes to pair adults up? He’s just been here for a few hours and thinks our next door neighbor, a lorry driver, is my grandma’s boyfriend.”
“Yeah, he’s quite the matchmaker.” Terdoo’s eyes caught Jimi’s buzzing phone on the floor and she passed it to him. He answered the call, heading to the kitchen. It was one of his sisters calling to ask if she could have Kiki at her place for Christmas. Jimi declined and permitted only an overnight’s visit. After a little gossip about extended family members, Jimi put an end to the call and opened his deepfreeze.
Terdoo entered the kitchen, ending her connection to Liam. She creased her brows when Jimi started taking out soup items from the deepfreeze.
“What are you doing?”
“I want to make ogbono soup for you. Heard it’s your favorite.”
Terdoo chuckled. “Interesting. Who taught you how to make it? Google?”
“Pshaw. How hard can it be?” Jimi examined a mold of diced frozen okra. “Shey you don’t mind if I put this in.”
“Good. So you can help by cutting the ugwu for me.”
Terdoo walked to the sink and set about doing what she was instructed to do while Jimi began defrosting the items he got from the freezer. Subsequently, he produced a bottle of wine and two glasses.
“I just went to see Marie and had her sign divorce papers.” He popped open the bottle of wine and watched as the trapped vapor escaped into the air. “I also gave her an insane amount of money as divorce settlement.”
“Why are you telling me?” Terdoo kept her focus on the vegetables in her hands.
“I need you to know that I’m dedicated to you, to us.”
“Okay.” Terdoo returned to him with a bowl of picked and washed vegetables. When she went for the chopping board hanging off a top counter, he caught her hand and held her.
“I’m sorry about the whole lymphoma thing. I just wanted to eliminate Marie from my life and I didn’t know how to.”
“That’s not fair. I cried all night.”
“I’m sorry.” He kissed her and handed her the chopping board.
The next hour went by with Jimi making his soup and taking breaks in-between to talk to and make out with Terdoo. When the soup was done, he gave her room to examine it. She had a taste and shut her lips tight to keep from laughing. Jimi looked at her face.
She shook her head. “Nothing.” Suppressed laughter brought tears to her eyes. “It tastes…terrible!”
At this point, she let the laughter rip. Jimi smiled. Something about her laughter made him feel at peace with the world. He didn’t bother that he made the worst soup in history as he took her in his arms and kissed her; then hoisted her up over the kitchen counter.
“Stay. I’ll be right back.”
He left the kitchen and returned with a gift bag.
“I just cooked a terrible soup that looks white but I can make it up to you with the things I have in here.”
He dipped his hand into the gift bag and got out a small black jewelry box. He had her open it to reveal a diamond ring.
He took out a second box and she opened it, revealing another ring.
“Be my best friend forever – with benefits, of course.”
He took out a third jewelry box and she got yet another ring.
“Be my long distance girlfriend. Or don’t.”
He dipped his hand in one last time and brought out a box different from the others. When she lifted up the lid she saw nothing in the box.
“I know. It’s deliberate.” Jimi cleared his throat. “And it’s because I don’t know what to call this thing we have but I’m hoping that it doesn’t end and that it goes beyond our past relationships. I know I haven’t said the words ‘I love you’ and it’s not because I can’t say them. But don’t be worried. I’m committed to you all the way and when your love starts to weaken, I’ll pick it up from there.”
“Then I’ll keep this until you find the perfect ring,” Terdoo said, shutting the box in her hand. “Come closer.”
Jimi took a step towards her.
He turned and she hopped on his back.
“Now, take me to my room.”
Jimi carried her to her bedroom laid her gently on the bed. They spooned and talked and snacked on chin-chin until darkness fell. Jimi, once more, found himself being pulled in by Terdoo’s maturity. She had a calming aura about her, a sense of ease and assurance that told him his future was secure as long as she was in it. The nights that followed went by the same way and as more days flipped over, he became more addicted to her presence in his life. They spent their excess time with friends and family. It was inarguably the best Christmas holiday in both their lives. Terdoo wasn’t enthusiastic about her two-week break coming to an end, although she couldn’t wait to see Jeffery again.
On the day before she left, she was cleaning Jimi’s closet and stumbled upon Marie’s note. Scrawled on it was a number to call, a date and a specific time. Terdoo stored the details in her memory and kept mute about the note. When the morning came and she had to rise early to prepare for her trip, Jimi was up with her. Having just concluded his morning prayers, he dressed up and waited until she was set to leave. He was moody on the way to the airport and all attempts to make him smile were unsuccessful.
“I have a feeling I’ll lose you,” he confessed eventually as they waited for her flight.
“Jimi, we have weekends we can spend together.”
“I know, I know. Don’t mind me jor. I’m just spoilt. You spoilt me.”
Jimi held her hands in his and squeezed.
“I think I love you.”
“I’m not sure that I do but if I can feel this way when you’re going away then I…”
“Hey. Stop abeg. Don’t say it.”
And so he didn’t say it. He massaged her hands instead and kissed them from time to time. They both had their heads hunched as they listened to music from his phone. When it was time for her to leave, saying goodbye was difficult. Jimi hugged and held her for a long time as though his existence depended on it only because he was too shy to kiss her in the open. He delayed her until she became the last person to board the plane. After she was gone, he remained in the airport for a long time.
Although she got into Abuja early, the day went by very fast for Terdoo. She cleaned her apartment, did some laundry and followed Liam’s driver to the airport to pick Liam and Jeffery. After dropping Liam at his place, she returned home with Jeffery and soon after fell asleep. Her alarm woke her up by 5:15am. She groggily left her bed and went to get her phone which she left charging in her sitting room. The first thing she did was dial the most recent number stored in her brain. It rang out the first time but on the second ring, it was answered. No one spoke up from the other end.
“Marie, I know it’s you.”
A sigh. “Tay, what’s up?”
“Look, I get that you don’t understand the concept of boundaries, that somehow you think all territory is fair game…”
“You mean, Jimi?”
“I mean, the father of the child I’m carrying now. Yes, Jimi.”
Marie didn’t say a word.
“Leave him alone, Chimarya.”
“So you guys are serious.”
“Yes, we are.”
“Well then, I’ll stop playing games. Congratulations.”
Terdoo terminated the call and left the sitting room. Something Liam told her about exes being like herpes followed her back to bed. It bugged her for a while but the comforting presence of the child growing in her kept her peaceful.
Her mother once told her there were no assurances in life, that even the sun was known to be reticent sometimes at the break of dawn. Terdoo hadn’t taken those words to heart at first but after her experience with Liam, she fell into the understanding that human nature was by default wired to fail. But still it was difficult to accept it, especially after having found love again. Hence, she kept her faith stubborn and was willing to let hope in, to give Jimi a chance to prove his worth. Yet she planned to keep the news of the pregnancy away from him until she could no longer hide it and he was fully into her, all on his own, without feeling any compulsion to commit.
And so she closed her eyes and said a prayer, knowing that back in Lagos, Jimi was up and praying as well. If there was any assurance, it was that their future was now in better hands.