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Terdoo rubbed inflamed eyes. They burned in their sockets, reminding her of her need to rest. Kiki was getting agitated in her arms; it was way past her dinner time. The tiny whimpers she let out added to Terdoo’s exhaustion. Every other sound around her gave her the same feeling, causing some form of weakness in her. But nothing weakened her like stepping out of the airport and finding William waiting for her beside an SUV. Sesan and Jeffery were with him as well. Turned out her brief bathroom break hadn’t been so brief. Somehow Liam had found a way to conjure up an SUV and charmed Sesan again just as he had aboard the flight from Lagos.
Terdoo put on her ugliest frown to ward him off but she couldn’t beat her exhaustion. It showed in her eyes and weighed down her shoulders; she knew Liam was going to work her well in that angle. He was familiar with her weaknesses. And he was one of them. Even after six years.
Sesan walked up to her and drew her aside.
“So, he said his family has this guest house in Jabi or Kubwa or is it Nya-nya? Wo, I no know all dis Abuja names. But hin no go mind if we stay there for the night. For free.”
“Why you dey do me like dis, Sexy? This guy’s my ex. You heard the whole story…”
“Terdoo, dis one na simple matter na. If the guy wan play maga for one night, be his guest. Hin don already pay our tickets come here. It’s awoof galore. As for the money wen Alhaja give us, we’ll split am fifty-fifty. I gas to buy that mixer for my studio.”
“You think I send you and your studio? If you want to follow him, you’re on your own. Me and the children will find one cheap hotel somewhere but for me to enter that motor, lai-lai.”
“Terdoo, you sef! You too dey form. Just hear him out. Just today. After that, nothing again. Sharply by early mor before hin wake up, we go just clear. And guess what.”
Sesan leaned in closer. “He said if I can get you inside that SUV, I get twenty grand.”
“No, na maga hin be. Just enter the SUV and 10k is yours.”
Terdoo was not compelled by the money but by Sesan’s relentless approach. It fingered, without mercy, another weakness of hers. She was generous with her yeses. She had not yet learnt to say no and not feel bad doing so.
“Okay.” She gave in and looked at Liam and Jeffery. They had fallen into some form of communication, Jeffery being cautious, his eyes always darting towards Liam’s maimed leg. This wasn’t the way she wanted them to meet but damn Liam and his forceful ways. For a passing second, she wished he had died in the accident. All she saw in her near future was drama and he was smack in the middle of it.
“Liam, you can go now,” she said, approaching him. “This is ridiculous, really. You’ve made your point. It’s time to leave.”
Liam’s fingers curled and uncurled around the grips of his crutches as he gave Terdoo his cutest of smiles. She stared back at him with an angry face.
“Just this night, Teddy.”
She looked at Sesan and he raised ten fingers in the air, reminding her of what she stood to gain.
Liam placed a steaming mug of spearmint tea on a stool beside Terdoo and settled in a seat facing her. She was uncomfortable with the living room they were in. It reminded her of Liam’s mother. Everything in it was aesthetic but lacking of comfort, just like the Evru family home. But perhaps it had been the people in that home that had stripped it of all its warmth and not the décor.
“Why did you come into my life, Liam?” Terdoo’s heart beat fast as she threw the question. Knowing Liam’s imposing nature, she didn’t want whatever dialogue they were about to have to be spearheaded by him.
Before he answered her question, he stared at his fingers as if inspecting them for dirt. Then he directed his stare at her.
“I did you wrong, Teddy. But I didn’t know it then; I thought I was making my mom happy. It took the death of Briana for me to realize what I’d done. Before the accident though, she went through the same thing you faced. My dad suddenly developed an interest in her and one day touched her improperly. She told me about it and said she didn’t want to stay with my family again. They were leaving Lagos and moving to Benin. I didn’t want to go with them, so I asked my boss to transfer me to Ibadan and he agreed. Briana and I were just going to check out our new house there when the accident happened.”
“So your dad touched her and she told you and you believed her, no questions asked.”
“Why didn’t you believe me when your mom accused me? Because I was poor? Or because you were already in love with Briana?”
“My mom told me lies about you, Teddy, and I listened to her. I shouldn’t have. She accused you of cheating on me with Emmanuel.”
“Emmanuel was my friend. He lived down the street. He was the only companion I had. Every time you were at work, the house was uncomfortable for me. Your dad was always trying to touch me and your mom gave me hell.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“How was I supposed to speak bad about your parents, Liam? I was not trained like that. Look, all this is in the past.” Terdoo shifted in her chair tensely. “Let’s not go back there. I just want to know what you want from me now.”
“I want you back, Teddy.” Liam sounded earnest. “The accident screwed me up. First I was in a coma for almost a month and then I woke up not remembering anything and that lasted for several months. Then one afternoon, from nowhere, everything came back. It was a nightmare; it affected me mentally. I had to be flown to Ireland for better treatment. I was in a wheelchair for five years and I was miserable, hating and pitying myself and attempting suicide a couple of times but most of all, regretting what I did to you. I had no idea my mom was back in Nigeria with her brother trying to get Jeffery. She saw my case as hopeless. She thought I was done for and there was no one who would inherit my father’s wealth. He had fallen ill and his brothers were circling around his estates and businesses like vultures and that was why she wanted Jeffery. I’m so sorry for all she put you and your mom through, Teddy. I didn’t know she was stalking you guys like that. It was my uncle that went to Abeokuta to find your mom this morning. It wasn’t me.”
Terdoo stared down at her laps. “Two months after Jeff was born I got admission into OAU but I couldn’t go.”
“But when he turned one, I went for my HND to compliment the OND I already had,” she said with a sense of pride. “And then last year I enrolled in LASU for my post-graduate and now I’m done. So, you see, we don’t need you in our lives, Liam. I survived all you put me through. Jeff and I don’t need you.”
“Teddy, I got off my wheelchair because of you and Jeffery. They said I wasn’t ever going to walk but I got up and fought because I wanted to see you again. This is one of the happiest days of my life. You can’t understand how I feel.”
Liam stood from his chair and moved to her, picking up her tea and sitting on the stool to face her.
“I still love you.”
Terdoo turned her face away.
“After all you did you just want to come back and gloss things over like that? You want me to forget?” She faced him again. “I had Jeff alone in a hotel room, Liam. A hotel room. I was in labor when your mom told me to leave the house. I told you I was having cramps but you stood there and watched as she kicked me out!”
“I am so sorry, Teddy.”
“I don’t want to hear!” Her eyes became misty and she stood up. “I can never forget what you did! Never!” She sniffed. “It will always be that big wall standing between us.”
“I can break that wall, Teddy.” He stood up and with the support of his crutches, moved towards her. “I can make up for all the pain and lost time. Please, just let me in, one more time.”
Teddy shook her head. “I can’t.”
It was hard to fight her eyes away from him. There was still a fire burning somewhere between them and she had to quench it.
“There’s someone else,” she said, the image of Jimi coming into her mind.
“And Kiki’s yours?”
Terdoo’s lips did a slight tremble before the lie came out. “Y-yes.”
“I see.” Liam scratched his chin. “But Jeff is my son and I want to be in his life, to be a better father than my dad was. Besides, I’m not the heir to the Evru wealth; he is. My dad signed it all to him in his will because he thinks I’m impotent. But I’m not. And I want to have more children. With you.”
“What’s your problem? Are you deaf or what? I said there’s someone else, Liam.”
“So, how about Jeffery? He deserves a better life. He’s supposed to be in school now.”
“Yeah, thanks to your uncle appearing in ABK uninvited. My mom had to run. We’ve been running from you guys.”
“So you’re moving him to Jos now? Is it safe there?”
“Liam, don’t question my decisions. You can’t just walk in again and dictate how I take care of my son.”
“Our son. All I want is to be part of his existence.” He took her hand. “Will you let me take care of him?”
Terdoo gave up. “Yes, I will… but not today abeg. Not now, Liam. When I’m ready, you’ll know.”
She said nothing further and disappeared through a door behind her before he caught the flood of tears that were threatening to expose her fragile state.
“Banana! Banana! Aunty you go buy banana?”
“Sweet orange, uncle!”
“Groundnut! Aunty, groundnut and banana!”
“Pear! Big-big pear! I go give you six. Just bring two hundred naira.”
Terdoo jolted up from her sleep at the bursting noise of highway hawkers. They swarmed around the cab she was in like bees. Her little eyes popped open and she looked about, her face portraying her alarm. The cab was parked by a sidewalk under a tree and Terdoo could see the driver hurrying into the bushes to take a leak. As much as she could, she took in the environment and became awed by the huge lumber trees that rose high and stretched ahead, flanking the highway before them. It was her first journey to Plateau State and she could tell straight away by the scenery and weather that this part of the country was different from any other she had been to.
“Where are we?” she asked Sesan. He was in the front passenger seat.
“This place is called Forest. See the big trees and how they are arranged? If you go back, you’ll see them better.”
Sesan let down his window and plucked a banana from a bunch that was shoved in his face by a smiley-faced girl with massive breasts.
“Ah! Oga, you go pay o!” she said to him, pushing away another girl who was trying to get him to buy quail eggs.
Terdoo yawned and ignored the other hawkers. They were persistent and jostled each other for space at the car windows. Kiki had woken up, startled, but the moment she was cradled in Terdoo’s arms and her pacifier shoved between her lips, she became calm.
“Mommy, I want orange,” Jeffery announced, pointing at a hawker by his window as he rose to a kneeling position.
“You can say please, Jeff, and stop pointing at the woman. It’s rude,” Terdoo reprimanded. Her eyes studied the oranges Jeffery wanted but she didn’t find them satisfactory. She called to an older woman with smaller oranges.
Jeffery pouted. “Buh I wan dah one.” He did a 180 and watched as his choice oranges left on a tray.
“They are big but I don’t think they’re sweet, darling.”
“Buh she said sweet orange. This whooman dint say sweet orange and I don’t like her.”
“That’s not nice, Jay.” Terdoo looked at her son, amused.
“She’s doing like dah whooman dah came with dah man.”
“What woman and what man?”
“Dah man na.”
Sesan turned his attention to the backseat.
“What man, Jeffery?”
“The one daz in dah car daz following us from Abuja.”
Terdoo’s eyes contracted as she lifted herself slightly and turned around to have a good look at the rear. She saw a couple of vehicles parked behind them. One was filled with passengers buying fruits from hawkers; the other had just a man behind the wheel. An old man.
Terdoo rolled her eyes. “Jeffery, what did I tell you about lies?”
“I’m not lying! He’s following us in dah black car with dah driver.”
“What car?!” Terdoo was getting impatient. “Point at it.”
“Buh you say I shoo not point.”
Jeffery pointed at the empty vehicle with the old man who was wearing a hula and absorbed with a chewing stick between his lips.
“He’s inside the car, mommy. At the back.”
Handing Terdoo his bunch of bananas, Sesan said, “I think he’s referring to Jude Law.”
“Your ex. Quote and unquote, his father.”
“What?” Terdoo looked behind her again and lifted Kiki off her laps. “Sesan, please hold this girl for me. I’m coming.”
She got out of the car and hurried towards the black car Jeffery had referred to. Her eyes fell on the backseat and found Liam stretched out on it, engrossed in his phone.
“What’s the meaning of this?”
Liam let the phone down in an unhurried movement and looked at her with half a smile.
“Liam, what’s your problem? From Lagos to Abuja and now to Jos?! I thought I told you to give me time! Why are you stalking me?! Why have you come back into my life to make me miserable? Sit up like a man! I’m talking to you!”
Liam sat up straight and put his phone aside. He asked the driver to give him a few minutes alone with Terdoo. When the old man was gone, he opened the door and invited her in.
“You’re a fool, Liam.”
“I am indeed.”
“Oh, you want to follow me and get to know you’re son, abi? Be my guest. In short, a room is reserved for you where I’m going. But you have only three days!” She raised three fingers in the air. “Three! After that you are gone! Then you will grovel and beg and if I decide to let you see him again, you’ll see him! But don’t even think you’ll try to get back with me. The moment you try it, you’ll never be allowed to come near us again!”
She stormed back to her hired cab and seconds later, they were on the road headed to Jos.
Marie was gone. Jimi couldn’t believe it. There hadn’t been any signs whatsoever when in the middle of the night he had walked into her room and snuggled under the blanket with her. After sharing passionate kisses, they went into a long talk about the state of things. Jimi wanted her to know she was forgiven and welcomed back into his life. She rejected the idea of being his wife again, stating she was not worthy of him but Jimi insisted that her past was no longer an issue.
They went into kissing again and got a little physical. It was an emotional moment for them both and Jimi was stripped of every resistance he once put up against her. The pain she caused him became forgotten when his lips left feathery kisses from her neck down to the small knob of her belly button. It was at that point he confessed that he had called the cops on her. He was cringing as he spoke, letting her know he regretted calling them but stating it was for her good. All they wanted was to make a deal with her. She would be as good as free if she brought her father and his cohorts to them.
Marie had smiled at Jimi and said she was up for working with the cops, then she ended the topic by asking for a kiss on her lips. Jimi granted her wish and held her as they lay entwined, talking and laughing, reminiscing on the past. It was she who went to sleep first, curled up in a ball like she always did. Jimi drifted off a while later. He was certain things were going to be okay. He slept with no worries, holding on to the kisses they had shared…
The morning came and he found himself alone. The place where she had lain was still warm and there he saw a note.
I’m not coming back, Jimi.
Move on. Tell Kiki I died.
Jimi first began by laughing. He couldn’t comprehend how he had been so dumb to allow himself get fooled by her again. His laughter wasn’t for long, though, as every negative feeling he had towards her in the past returned in a flash. He walked out of the room and down the stairs a man doubly broken. He sought succor in the bottles of beer that stood cold in his fridge.
The cops came and went away, disappointed. Jimi watched them leave from where he sat at the dining area, not bothering to shut the door after them. As the sound of their car faded into the distance, he popped a bottle and burped before his lips kissed it. After a full gulp, he raised the bottle, pushed the sunshades he was wearing to a comfortable position on his nose and made a toast to the empty air, saying things even he couldn’t comprehend.
An hour went by. Not that he was counting; even though his eyes were glued on a gold-plated clock on the wall. He was watching time pass by and thinking how every second ticking away was Marie getting farther from him.
But somehow he didn’t ache anymore. The beer was doing its job and had laid him in a numb state. His hand stretched blindly for his sixth bottle and uncorked it as Sesan, Terdoo and Liam walked into the house. Jimi lent them a lazy eye.
“Olujimi!” Sesan walked over to him. Jimi obliged him a handshake and they went into a hearty conversation in Yoruba.
“Who is he?” Liam asked Terdoo.
“Kiki’s dad. Sesan’s brother.”
With slow steps, Terdoo went to Jimi and stood close by, not interrupting their conversation. But Jimi looked up at her and smiled.
“Hey baby.” She knew he was referring to Kiki whom she had in her arms but it served well to know Liam would misread him.
“Why are you keeping our guest standing? Or half-standing?” Jimi stared at Liam’s legs, his face a picture of mischief. Sesan threw himself into laughter and Jimi fought the urge not to join him. “My guy, come in na,” he called out to Liam.
“Uncle Jimi, can you do me a favor?” Terdoo pretended not to see the beer bottles on the table.
“What?” Jimi could hardly raise his eyes. He burped.
“He’s my ex. My son’s father.”
Jimi lowered his sunshades and studied Liam well. “Oh. Okay.”
“Act as if we’re dating, please, and that I’m Kiki’s mother. Please…”
“Will…gladly…do…that…” Jimi garbled.
Liam approached them and Terdoo placed Kiki on the table. She hurried out to find Jeffery. A guava tree in the compound had gotten his attention on arrival.
“Jeffery!” She called out and Jeffery ran to her, clothes soiled already. She carried him back into the house, following Sesan, who led them upstairs to a furnished but dusty bedroom. She set about cleaning the place immediately and didn’t stop until the turn of another hour when Sesan poked in his head to announce he was taking Liam and the kids out to get something to eat, asking her if she wanted anything. She requested for a coke and followed him out with a vacuum cleaner. As he went down the stairs, she stopped to open up the vacuum cleaner to empty its dirt bag. She hummed as she worked, an old habit of hers.
“I’m supposed to fall in love with you.”
She stopped humming and her hands seized their activity. She turned around to see Jimi standing by his bedroom door, his hands in his pockets, his sunshades gone.
“That was what she told me,” he said. Terdoo was aware he was referring to Marie. She also noted the slur in his tone. He was drunk.
“She said you people entered some form of unspoken agreement to love me in your own separate ways?”
Terdoo pushed a strand of hair off her brows and began detaching the dirt bag from the cleaner.
“She said you carefully planned out my diet; cooked all the meals that I was fooled into believing she did; shopped for my clothes; washed and ironed them, even down to my boxers; organized my entire life?! What the hell did she do for me then?!”
Terdoo stopped moving again and felt the first signs of prickly perspiration in her armpits.
“I’m talking to you, Terdoo! Who was Marie and what sort of games were you girls playing with me?!”
“Nothing, uncle Jimi. Nothing.”
He laughed. “Well, she’s gone. She’s not coming back! Ever! And I hope you’re happy! I hope this is what you wanted because she told me you fought her when she first told you about us! She told me you said you weren’t going to leave my life! Well,” he spread out his hands, “here’s to your wish coming true!” He laughed again. “You have me, Terdoo! Finally, Uncle Jimi is yours!”
“It’s not how you think it is.”
“What I think doesn’t matter! It didn’t to Marie! And I’m sure it doesn’t matter to you too! You’re just like her! All of you women, the same! Evil, scheming, devious beings! But guess what! I hate you all! I hate her and I hate you even more!”
“Jimi…” Terdoo’s voice was scarcely a whisper. The full tone of it got caught somewhere in her throat. She stood up slowly and dared to look into his eyes but he lashed at her.
“Stop looking at me, bitch! Are you trying to jinx me or what?!”
“Just get out from here! Get out!”
Terdoo stood up, the dirt bag in her hand. She turned towards the staircase and took a step or two but turned around on a second thought, marched to Jimi and emptied the bag contents on him.
“I’m not a bitch. If you can’t call your mother that, don’t try it with me.”
She flung the bag on him and walked away.