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Daybreak appeared and found him wide awake. His eyes were heavy from lack of sleep but that didn’t bother him. A stabbing conscience did. It was the reason why he was still awake and why he probably would not find sleep anytime soon.
His phone alarm made a racket and he turned it off, stirring the sleeping woman beside him. She lifted her head off her pillow for a few dazed seconds and rested it back. But a hand and a leg went for his body and held him. The hand then worked its way down to his boxers but before it could gain access to his privates, he stopped it. A second attempt was made and was met the same reaction.
“Stop it na,” Jimi complained but he owner of the hand ignored him. She left her side of the bed and climbed over him. He didn’t stop her this time. He merely stared at her as she stretched and yawned. Following that, she continued with her previous act of arousing him.
She left fluffy kisses in places on his body no other woman knew. His initial weak resistance came to nothing the instant she locked her lips in his. From then on, he acted on his own accord as he turned her around and had her on her back, settling between her legs. He kissed her like one under a spell, his conscience fading with each muffled moan that escaped her. Before long she went wild in his arms.
She was a whole lot different from the other woman in his life who was miles away in Abuja. This woman enjoyed the thrill of frenzied sex while the other was more of a slow, gentle but passionate lover.
Both women loved him. Both of them he wanted. He didn’t know how to let go of either, especially Marie who showed up at his doorstep every night and left by morning. His attempts to stop her were always met with strong resistance.
Her reasons for clinging to him were simple. She still loved him. Life without him was not the same. She had, in clear terms, told him she was willing to remain in the shadows as his guilty pleasure. She was never letting go.
“Mr. Evru and Miss Kpandegh, it is my pleasure to let you know that your son, Jeffery is back on track. He gets along better with his friends in class now and also responds to his teacher. He’s a bright, sweet child. Whatever you two seem to be doing is working. Please, don’t stop.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
“When the psychologist is done with her assessment, we will send you a copy and fix one last appointment with her.”
“That would be good. Thank you ma’am, again.”
“As I said earlier, my pleasure. Have a great day.”
“Yeah. You too.”
The sound of a disconnected phone line disquieted Liam’s hushed office and left a smile on his face. Unfortunately, the smiling bug didn’t infect Terdoo who sat in silence. Her expression was passive, leaning more to the frowning side.
“Heard that?” Liam grinned. “Good news. Jeffery is back on track and adjusting well.”
“Yeah, because we have been spending almost all of our time together and pretending like we’re a family.”
Terdoo’s tone drained Liam’s smile.
“Teddy, come on. You and I know we’re not married or anything like that but we’re talking about our son here. He wasn’t coping well in school because of us but now he is. Isn’t it good news?”
Terdoo turned her face to the window and whisked away curly hair that was getting in her eyes. “How long will the farce last?”
“Jimi and I are together. Me and you, we don’t exist. Jeffery needs to know and accept that. All these Montessori schools and their wahala sef. So what if the boy was struggling in class because his parents aren’t together? He has to adjust. I didn’t grow up with my dad even though he was alive and well. But I survived…”
“Don’t you want something better for your son?” Liam was getting irritated.
“Something better is not me spending every evening with you and you showing up at my doorstep by 7am to wake Jeffery up. We cannot keep up with that. He has to know that there isn’t going to be ‘us’ as a family. It just isn’t going to happen.”
Liam was cut by her words. He said nothing in reply to her and leaned back on his chair. Something was off with her. It was responsible for her erratic moods, intermittent terse manner and her general appearance. She wore more makeup now, which he suspected was an attempt to hide whatever was eating at her. But she was radiant these days; her skin glowed and her body was fuller. He wished her face could reflect the beauty he saw on her body.
“Teddy, are you okay?”
Terdoo looked at him, eyes away from the window she had been staring out. No, she was not okay. She was pregnant for a man she wasn’t sure was ever going to love her. Unlike most pregnant women, she didn’t suffer from morning sickness in her first trimester. But her moods always got affected, taking her from heights of happiness and plunging her to depths of depression in seconds. Add that to the fear of not being the center of Jimi’s life and one had a highly strung Terdoo.
“I’m fine, Liam.” She tried to sound normal, even happy. “Why shouldn’t I be?”
“Something’s going on.”
“Nothing is.” She pushed out a smile. Someone knocked on the door and Liam invited the person in. It was his secretary. She poked in her head to remind him of a board meeting.
“Ready for this meeting or you want to be alone and brood over what it is you have been brooding over for the past two weeks?”
Terdoo stood up. “Of course, I’m going for the meeting.”
The conference room went into pin-drop silence. Not a soul stirred and all eyes avoided Terdoo. In her opinion it was a lot worse than staring at her. She prayed to vanish from the scene, particularly away from Liam’s blazing grey eyes.
Why had she spoken to him the way she just did? All he wanted to know was why one of the clients handled by her had been disappointed by her performance. But her response not only shocked him and those in the conference room, it shocked her as well. She didn’t know she was that angry. She didn’t want to blame it on the pregnancy but the truth was she couldn’t control her emotions any longer. Physically, she was doing well but emotionally, her moods were in a constant rollercoaster.
Just before she had snapped at Liam, she had been excited after an SMS came in from Jimi informing her of his much desired visit to Abuja. How she had switched from that happy person to the monster that jumped down Liam’s throat was unexplainable.
“I think you’re under a lot of stress, Miss. Kpandegh,” Liam said to her in a bossy tone. “I’d advice that you take the rest of the day off.”
Terdoo didn’t want the rest of the day off. She needed work to keep her mind occupied but she couldn’t disrespect Liam any more than she already did.
She got off her chair and left the conference room. Back in her office she sat behind her desk and decided to listen to music from her phone to calm her. Melancholic notes of soul music put her at ease in no time. She didn’t know when she drifted off.
The whining of her door several minutes later brought her awake. She sat up and rubbed her eyes as Liam walked in.
“Hi.” He didn’t have a friendly look on his face.
“Liam, I’m so sorry. I don’t know what happened to me back there. I just lost it.”
“Is this about Jimi?”
“Jimi?” She yawned. “No.”
“Don’ let what happened in that conference room repeat itself again. Our friendship and the fact that we have a child together do not carry over to this environment.”
“I don’t want to…”
“As your boss I’m ordering you, Miss. Kpandegh. Go home.”
He opened the door and left the office.
Terdoo went home, ate something light and slept off.
Jeffery returned from school a few hours later. Liam was with him. Terdoo dragged herself out of bed and made lunch but Liam refused the meal. He sat and watched them both eating, his eyes never leaving Terdoo.
“Won’t you go back to the office?” she asked when she couldn’t take his scrutinizing stare anymore.
“I’m spending time with my son, Teddy.”
Terdoo let the matter rest and continued her meal without speaking, except to answer Jeffery’s questions over something he had learned in school. After lunch, she sent him to have a nap and asked Liam to leave.
Liam sat stubbornly on her couch, refusing to budge.
“William, please leave. I need to be alone.”
“You know how I feel about you, right?”
“What’s this one again?” she whined, pulling up the long worn-out tube dress she was wearing.
“Sit down, let’s talk. I’m very worried about you.”
Terdoo sighed and sat in a chair facing his.
“I hope you’re not stupid to believe that Jimi loves you.”
“Liam, can you give it a rest? I know you don’t really like him but what you’re doing now is so below you.”
“I’m only concerned about you and Jeffery. About what tomorrow holds for you both. If anything affects you, it affects him as well.”
“Meaning when Jimi dumps you…”
“What is your own, Liam?!”
“I’m just letting you know that when that happens, I’ll be here waiting.”
Terdoo hissed, tugged at her dress, pulling it up as she got off her chair. She walked to the door and threw it wide open.
“I just have this funny feeling…”
“Be going o, William!” She hissed.
Liam stopped by the door. “I hope you’re not pregnant sha because that would be just plain idiotic.”
She threw her face away and once he stepped out she slammed and locked the door.
Jimi left his camera running on the dining table. He sat behind it and watched as it recorded Marie singing to and dancing with Kiki. The excitement from both mother and daughter was contagious and he caught himself smiling along, even while he kept a conversation with Terdoo via BBM.
–So how is Jeff doing now?
–adjusting well. the psychologist says he’s doing gr8. We spoke to his principal today.
–that’s good to hear. Howz Liam?
–fine I guess. I miss u, Jimi.
Jimi looked up at Marie who winked at him. He went back to pinging Terdoo.
–I’ll be there next tomorrow Insha’Allah. Send me a selfie.
–will do so soon. Lemme give Jeff dinner
Jimi sent her a ‘kiss’ smiley and she replied with an ‘eyelashes’ smiley. The conversation was ended and he went back to Marie and Kiki. Marie was tired from holding Kiki for too long, so she placed her on the floor and ambled towards Jimi. She turned the camera to face them both and sat on his laps.
“Let’s leave Lagos and go somewhere else like maybe Ukraine or Switzerland or Denmark,” she purred in his ear.
“Chimarya?” Jimi wasn’t smiling. “We have to end this.”
“You’ve started again. I already told you that I’m not trying to take Terdoo’s place nau…”
Jimi shook his head. “This isn’t about Terdoo. It’s about my family. They will never accept you back.”
“That is why we should take Kiki and go away and start our lives afresh.” She pulled the collar of his t-shirt together and tried to kiss him but he rejected her parted lips.
“I have my life here.” His hand naturally found the small of her back beneath her t-shirt and rested there. “I just started my production company. I have Terdoo and my family…”
“Afraid of what?”
“Your family. You think if you get back with me you’ll lose them. You’re mostly afraid of Alhaja. She is controlling you, Olujimi.”
Jimi scoffed, took his hand off her and pushed her away. Marie lifted herself and sat on the table, facing him.
“Alhaja has been controlling you all your life and you feel indebted to her because she adopted you…”
“She is my mother, Marie, blood or not. Where is this coming from?”
“I’m just telling you. Would you have thought of divorcing me if she didn’t put the idea in your head?”
“Yes. It was what I wanted.”
“Then what have you been doing here with me this past week?”
Jimi was annoyed. He stood up and walked to his bedroom. Marie followed him.
“Last night you told me you love me.”
Jimi turned around. “Of course, I love you. I always had, Chimarya. But everything is screwed up now and not as easy as ABC! I have you here and have Terdoo there…”
“You don’t love her!” Marie screamed. “It is me you want, Jimi!”
“But Terdoo’s good for me. Are you good for me? Or you just want to keep torturing me? Because I know one morning you’ll wake up and leave this house and not come back.”
“I want to stay.” Marie took steps towards him. “Make me stay.”
She held his hand and placed it over her tummy. “Stop using a condom and get me pregnant and I swear the urge to leave you will go away.”
“We already have Kiki, Marie. If she’s not enough to make you stay, another child won’t. You don’t really need a reason to remain here with me. You just want to replace the boy you carelessly lost, someone you can take away with you when you’re done with me.”
His words couldn’t be disputed. They left her feeling raw inside and dug up the memory of their lost child. It was one loss she had never grieved over. Somehow that fetus was more connected to her than Kiki ever was. From the moment he began kicking, Marie had planned their future together and she had imagined it without the pain of her past. Her son was to be a reminder of the love she shared with Jimi, her savior from the world she knew and grew up in. She made promises to him, sang for him, felt his tiny feet each time they pressed hard on her tummy and she even dared to pray for him. His death was supposed to have broken her down but she had not let it. Now she felt the pain coming over her in full force.
“Marie, I think you should leave,” Jimi told her. “And this time for good. I can’t…I can’t keep doing this.”
He went around the room, picking up her things as he spoke.
“As it is, I cannot tell Terdoo about us. I have to lie to her and you know I hate to lie. I don’t know how I’ll manage.”
“How about me? How do I manage?”
“You will survive, Marie. You always do. You’re Superwoman.” He laughed sarcastically. “I mean, after all the fraud you committed, they could only pin the Brazilian guy’s own on you. Somehow you escaped the rest. And now EFCC calls you to consult for them. Come on, Chimarya, you’re already living a charmed life. You don’t need me.”
He dumped her things on the bed.
“Pack and leave.”
She took a step towards him and held him. He saw the anguish in her eyes and felt what she was going through but it was too much for him to bear.
He kissed her, despite that, and tasted the saltiness of her tears but when he let go, he made a silent decision never to return to her.
“I have to do right by Terdoo, Marie.”
Marie clung on more tightly, her head to his chest. He gently but firmly pushed her away from him. A screaming Kiki gave him reason to rush out before his resolve weakened.
Terdoo stepped out of her bathroom, cussing. Her eyes stung under the assault of her shower gel. Foam and water dripped off her body, leaving wet patches on the floor as she hurried toward her ringing phone. Whoever the caller was they had been at it from the moment she got into the bathroom. Their relentlessness had paid off. Only two people bugged her that way – Liam and her mother.
When she picked up the phone from her bed she saw that it was her mother. Her annoyance came down a little and she took the call.
“Tay, wetin dey do you for head? You no wan answer my call?”
“Mama, I dey baff,” Terdoo explained.
“Okay. Oya sorry. Go baff finish. I go call back.”
“No, you don already call na. How you dey?” Terdoo headed out of the room.
“I dey o. How my husband?”
“Jeffery dey sleep jare,” Terdoo replied as she got into the kitchen and picked a mop.
“I hope say hin don dey chop well-well.”
“Yes, hin dey chop now.”
Terdoo stopped by at Jeffery’s room, opened the door, turned off the lights and shut the door again.
“Mama, I dey hear oyinbo dey talk for the background. Where you go dis night?”
“Na why I been call you na. I dey… I dey erm… I dey William mama house.”
Terdoo stopped at her door and her face gathered in confusion. “Which William? Jeffery papa?”
“Ehn. Na there I dey now.”
“Wait o, mama. You leave ABK, travel come Abuja and you no come my house, you go Mama Liam house? I no understand wetin dey happen.”
“Allow me make I land na…”
Terdoo was pissed. “You don already land. Wetin carry you go there?”
“Na wetin I wan esplain to you. Allow me make I talk jor.”
“Na serious matter carry me come here. Just go finish your baff come meet me.”
“Mama, wetin dey do you na? Tell me wetin carry you come Abuja.” Terdoo began to get uneasy. “Anything do Liam?”
“No. Hin dey fine. Dis one na between me and his mama. Just dey come. My credit don finish sef.”
The old woman hung up and Terdoo stared at her phone nonplussed. Nonetheless, she rinsed her body, dressed up and went to her neighbors. Explaining that Jeffery was all alone, she left a spare key with them. Then she rushed out to the street and hailed the first cab that drove by.
Terdoo had never seen a pair of old women so fidgety. They sat beside each other, hands to their laps and fingers restless like they were both acting out something rehearsed.
“Mama?” Terdoo called in impatience and looked at Liam’s mother. “Mom?”
“Make she tell you,” Terdoo’s mother said. “The English too mush for me, abeg. Sistah, tell am.”
On a good day, Terdoo would have laughed. Last she remembered her mother disliked the woman beside her. Only God knew what Liam’s mother did to erase that animosity and turned her into one of her ‘Sistah’ pals. But whatever it was, she knew the answer lay behind what they were about to tell her.
“Terdoo,” the Irish woman moved forward until she was on the edge of her seat. “My late husband did something very irresponsible with his wealth just before he died. This was right after he spoke to you that night.”
“I know you think he willed everything to Liam.”
“That was what he told me he did.”
The woman shook her head. “He did but there was a condition attached.”
“Unless you get married to Liam… the money cannot go to him. It will remain with the bank until Jeffery turns eighteen.”
Terdoo wasn’t sure she understood the old woman properly. She asked her to go through it once more.
“Liam’s father wanted you two together and that was why he did what he did. Liam cannot touch that money without you, my dear.”
“Does Liam know this?”
“He does but he doesn’t want to talk about it. The last time I brought it up he had a fight with me. And that is why we called you here.”
“Wh-wh-why are you telling me this? Mama, na wetin make you leave ABK come here? How dis one take consign me?”
Liam’s mother looked at her ‘Sistah’ as if to say ‘your turn’.
“My pikin,” Terdoo’s mother pleaded, “abeg, consider William. Consider am…”
“Consider wetin, mama?”
“Una don already get pikin together,” the woman continued. “Na the reason why hin papa say make una marry so dat the money go stay with you and William and Jeffery. If not e go dey for bank for the next thirteen years.”
Terdoo wanted to scream and tell them she didn’t care if the money burned to the ground but the respect she had for her mother put a lid over her anger. She listened as they both pleaded, trying to make her see good reason why she needed to stick with Liam. None of what they said made sense to her. She kept her head down and tried to think of it logically but all she saw was her arm being strung to get married to the man that had hurt her years ago.
“Mama,” Terdoo raised her head, “I no fit marry Liam. And the reason dey simple. As I dey sit here now dey look two of una, I get belle.”
She looked both women in their eyes to make sure the news had sunk in well.
“Who give you belle?”
Terdoo rose up and looked at Liam’s mother. “I’m sorry, mom but I love the father of the child I’m carrying. I can’t get married to Liam.”
The glum, stunned look on their faces didn’t make her feel good but there was nothing she could do. She told them she had to rush back home because Jeffery was left all alone. Telling her mother it was okay to spend the night at the Evrus’ she walked out of the living room. She stepped out to a small, dark hallway and saw Liam standing alone.
They were no words from either of them at first but Terdoo gathered up her nerve and spoke.
“You were listening?”
“I just got in. But I heard enough to get the gist.”
“I’m sorry, Liam…”
“So you’re pregnant.”
“Yes.” She lifted her chin a little in defense.
“Congratulations… and good night.”
His back left the wall and he turned away from her, starting towards a door that led to another wing of the house.
Terdoo watched him until he disappeared. She felt sad, guilty and frustrated. Sad because she knew his dreams and knew he needed that inheritance to make them come true. Guilty because once those dreams were hers as well but she gave up on them. And finally, she was frustrated because the pendulum of fate was swinging her way again and placing a man’s future in her hands and there was nothing she could do about it.