The kiss came as a shock.
He had not hinted at anything before he leaned over and took her lips. She didn’t gasp or show any form of reaction, good or bad; she sat there, tilted her head up and allowed him do things to her mouth only her husband had ever done.
“Raji…” she managed to say when he eventually stopped. They held a silent stare before he moved away from the couch. Embarrassment had taken over.
“I’m sorry, Christie. I’m so sorry.” He ran a hand over his forehead. “What just happened here?”
You kissed me. You, my husband’s best friend, kissed me. You, my business partner and friend of fourteen years, kissed me.
“Christie…” He looked at her with shame-filled eyes. “I didn’t mean to. Your lips… It’s been long since I…”
“Don’t even go there, Raji.” Christie felt irritation creep into her. “You’re going to blame it on Salma’s refusal to be intimate with you and then tell me that my lips turned you on or something stupid like that. And you know what? I won’t listen because what just happened now shouldn’t have happened. Ever! So, pick your car key, put on your shoes and leave.”
Raji exhaled, pushing his hands into his pockets. “At least, allow me apologize properly.”
Christie was on her way to giving him a cutting response, but her phone rang. She lifted it off her lap.
“It’s Folarin,” she emphasized before she answered the call. “Hey, handsome.”
Raji sat on the edge of the nearest couch and got busy with wearing his shoes as Christie spoke with her husband.
“I’m getting better, baby. Just a little pain. Still can’t walk. Raj is taking care of me.”
Raji caught her staring his way.
“He’s here… I should give the phone to him? Hold on.”
Raji walked back to the couch Christie was sprawled on. A bike accident the day before had left her immobile and sore.
She handed the phone over.
“Dude, wetin dey?” Raji felt his throat tighten. Given the opportunity, Folarin would never do what Raji just did. He was a loyal friend, a faithful husband. One of the few, good men around.
“Man, I dey o.” Folarin coughed a little. “Calabar is cold. I’m seriously considering coming back because of Christie’s accident. If it wasn’t for the kids and my mom…”
“Abeg, enjoy your holiday. Your wife is fine.”
“You’re sure? How’s the leg?”
Raji gave Christie’s injured leg a glance. It wasn’t as swollen as it was yesterday. “A lot better.”
“She doesn’t want me back, but Christmas dull as she no dey here. Momsi just dey give me nightmares for this place.”
“I swear! Like say make I just gag her, lock her for hotel room, fly back home.”
“She still dey disturb you over the whole pikin issue?”
“Azzin! I don tire! Any fine girl that passes by, she goes ‘Folarin, this one won’t be a bad idea. She looks fertile. Just go and make your move. Or do you want me to help you?’ And I’m like shebi dis woman don craze. Help me find another woman? I have a wife at home, for God’s sakes! What did Christie ever do to her?”
“She’s just being a concerned mother.”
“My guy, I don tire.”
“Take it easy with her, dude. She’s desperate for more grandkids. That’s how mothers are. Just dey follow her small-small.”
“In a way I’m glad Christie didn’t come along or she would have upset her terribly. But how is she? How’s she coping with the pain?”
Raji’s eyes fell on Christie. She was more than doing okay now. She was twirling the ends of her hair around her fingers while pursing the lips he just kissed. His tummy churned as his mind rewound back to the moment he had been inappropriate with her.
What demon had taken over his mind?
“Your wife is fine.”
Except that she suddenly became a distraction after fourteen years and now, I can’t get her out of my mind.
“Abeg, take care of her well. I’ll be back earlier than planned. When is the meeting with the clients holding?”
“On the twenty-seventh.”
“Please, if she can’t make it out of the house, those oyibo bastards should shift the meeting to January or do like everyone else and talk to her via a video call. They already ruined her Christmas. They should meet you guys halfway.”
Raji was touched by Folarin’s love for Christie. He wished his wife, Salma, fussed over him that way. He couldn’t even remember when last she told him she loved him. Her last words to him before she jetted off with their three kids to her hometown for the holidays were, ‘Screw yourself if you find nothing else to screw!’ She hadn’t let him hug or kiss her. She was carrying a three-year grudge that left her angrier by the day. Everyone knew his marriage was in shambles. Salma was hell on earth; still he loved her ─ or so he believed.
He wasn’t so sure now, after kissing Christie.
“Just enjoy your holiday, guy. Take it easy with Momsi.”
“Thanks, man. Abeg, hand the phone back to Christie.”
Raji did as was ordered. The look on Christie’s face spelled that she was still upset with him. He walked to the door and stepped out to a moonlit night. His car was cold when he got in. He sat in silence, Christie on his mind. He regretted his actions but couldn’t stop recalling how soft her lips had been.
His thirst for her had started as something harmless. Christie’s accident left her unable to care for herself. It was only natural that he babysat her. This included spending every second with her and carrying her every time she needed to move about. There had been intimate moments that came off seemingly harmless, particularly for her. But for Raji something had started to build up. For the first time he noticed what looked like a birthmark that sat between the cleft of her breasts, and how soft and unblemished her skin was each time he touched her. It wasn’t that Salma paled in beauty―in fact, she was more gorgeous―it was that Christie was something fresh and new. Even her voice and laughter, which had been a huge part of his life over the past fourteen years suddenly became stimulating. He realized, in the short hours spent with her the day before, that he wanted more. He had carried her scent into his thoughts and lay on his bed most of the night, imagining what it would feel like to kiss her.
Ergo, when the kiss happened, he wasn’t essentially acting on impulse. It was an expected outcome from a man full of desire. And now, he wanted more, even though he knew he would probably burn in hell for trying a second time.
Stop it, Raji chided himself, hitting his head on the headrest. The devil pushing him to lust for his friend’s wife needed to be exorcised. Feeling like shit was not enough. He had to nip that desire from the shoot before it took over him entirely. It was a good thing Christie was a woman with strong values. He had never been so grateful for her unwavering devotion to God. He would rely on her to keep his lust in check.
He started his car just as he heard the call to prayers from a mosque nearby. For the first time in a while he was going to miss Salat. He felt crappy and just to punish himself, he dialed Salma’s number. He needed to hear her nag a little.
The meal was terrible. A spiteful look that came with a twitch of his upper lip said all there was to say. He didn’t have to utter any words to her. But the morning wouldn’t go well if he didn’t leave an insulting remark.
“Can’t you do anything right, Lade? Anything at all?”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
He spat into a napkin and slammed it on the table, making her flinch. He pushed his chair backwards, picked his car key and stormed out of the house. There was killing silence that followed his departure. Omolade sat before the dining table, eyes glistening behind a thin film of moisture. The green and purple curtains in the sitting room became a mix of abstract shades in her sight. Every other thing became fuzzy, including her mother-in-law who was seated opposite her.
You have done it again, Lade. You have succeeded in letting the devil use you to infuriate your husband.
“Interesting!” Her mother-in-law exclaimed. Omolade lowered her head.
“Is this how bad it has become?”
“This is how Tayo treats you now?”
Omolade’s lips quivered against each other.
“Are you sure you did nothing to him? Because that person that walked out of here just now is not the son I birthed. What did you do to him?”
Huge teardrops hit Lade’s hands rested on her lap.
“I asked you a question, darling.”
“I did nothing.” She looked at her. “He’s just stressed at work.”
“Work? This is beyond work. Something is awfully wrong somewhere.”
Lade braced herself for some tongue-lashing from the old woman, but the shrill tone of her ringing phone gave her the escape she needed. She jumped up and hurried off to her bedroom. A pink space, which was the only sanctuary she had in the house, drew her in. Her phone lying on the bed revealed that a friend was calling. She sighed before she took the call. She waited for sadness from the other end to pour in.
“Lade?” A woman with a deep voice spoke in a gloomy tone. “My dear, I just heard o. It was Tamara that was telling me just now. You know I flew in yesterday ─ only for me to come and hear this devastating news. I am so sorry, dear.”
“It’s okay,” Lade replied as she sat on the bed. “How was your trip?”
“Forget the trip abeg. Talk to me. What happened?”
Lade blinked, forcing down more tears. This was what she hated about these phone calls. They were the same with the visits. Everyone wanted her to recall the horror of losing her child.
“I don’t know, Titi. She was healthy, she was fine. I had just fed her and I entered the bathroom to have a shower after placing her on my bed to sleep.” Lade gave her friend the shortened version she shared with everyone else.
“When I came back, I noticed something odd about the way she was lying and so I checked and discovered that she wasn’t breathing.”
“I rushed her to the hospital but there was nothing they could do. The doctor said she suffered from Sudden Infant Death syndrome.”
“Which one is that one now?”
“I don’t know. But what did I care? I just wanted my baby back.”
Titi drew in a sniffle. “How can a baby just go like that? It’s not like you don’t have experience with kids. You raised your sister’s children and nothing happened to them. No, Lade, this was an attack.”
Lade stayed silent.
“Ah, God! It’s not normal nau. At all!”
The silence was maintained from Lade’s end as she listened to Titi sob. Her own pain was still too raw, even though five months had passed since the shattering incident. She had heard all sorts of theories from sympathizers, witchcraft being the most prevalent, but none as crushing as her husband’s.
“You killed your own child, Lade,” Tayo had said with tear-filled eyes. “Your negligence and straight-out stupidity killed her. How can a mother be so careless?”
Unfortunately, she was yet to find an answer to that question. It was something she asked herself each morning she woke up and found her daughter’s empty crib staring back at her.
I should have put her in her bed instead. I should have burped her a second time. I should have laid her on her back or side.
“Kai! This is so painful! So, so painful!”
Lade heard Titi blow her nose.
“Take heart, dear. God knows best and he will expose the person behind this wicked act soon. They will know no rest until they confess. You just take solace in prayers and God’s words. You will smile again and God will bless you with more children.”
Lade almost laughed at the last bit. More children indeed. If God wanted her to have more children he wouldn’t have taken her baby or let her suffer four miscarriages over the course of two years. God’s face was certainly turned away from her.
“I’ll come visit you after the holidays, dear. Merry Christmas, by the way.”
“Wish you same.”
“I’ll be praying for you. It is well.”
If she got a naira note for every time she heard someone tell her things were well, she would have put together enough paper for fuel with which she’d set herself on fire. Death would be much sweeter than the present life she lived. But she was too much of a coward to cross the line.
The phone went dead and silence filled her ears once again. Overwhelming sadness took over and she slipped to the floor to weep. Maybe she had to stop taking these phone calls from sympathizers. They didn’t make her feel better.
The tall frame of her mother-in-law standing by the door drew her attention.
“May I come in?” the old woman asked. Lade nodded, wiping tears off her face.
With slow steps, Joyce walked into her late grand-daughter’s nursery. She observed the little space with a sad air.
“This is the first time I’m entering here. She used to sleep in that bed?” Joyce pointed at the crib.
“Yes. But sometimes…”
“She liked to sleep with you on your bed.”
Joyce’s eyes were now resting on the small adult bed that had been Lade’s comfort for more than a year. She walked to the baby’s crib and stared into it as if expecting to find someone there.
“You must think I’m a bad mother, Omolade.”
Lade shook her head.
“I was not here when my granddaughter was born, I didn’t show up when she died…”
“No, Mommy. It’s okay. I… we understood. You were ill, hospitalized…”
Joyce looked up. “It’s that what Tayo told you?”
“Yes. He explained everything to me, so please don’t feel bad about not being here. You are here now and that’s all that’s important.”
Joyce went back to staring at the crib while Lade remained standing, not sure if she should give her privacy or not.
“For how long?” Joyce’s voice was a hush.
“Mommy, you said…?”
Joyce stared at her. “For how long has this been going on…you sleeping here, Tayo treating you unkindly, blaming you for the death of Ife? How long?”
Lade was caught off guard by the inquisition. Joyce was someone she was yet to understand. Apart from her British accent, chic sense of fashion and scholarly airs, the woman had a skill for knowing things she was not supposed to be privy to.
“Sit down, Omolade.”
Joyce strode towards Lade. Both ladies sat together, facing each other.
“Losing a child always take a toll on a perfectly healthy marriage. It can tear a husband and wife apart. The pain can be unbearable and I understand what you must be feeling right now ─ you and Tayo. But there’s something else I see. Something neither of you can blame on Ife’s passing.”
She rested her hand on hers.
“Talk to me, Omolade.”
Lade averted her gaze. Joyce put a finger beneath her chin and pulled her face back into the conversation.
“What has that monster of a man I call my son been doing to you?”
Lade sucked in her breath. She tried to pull her face away once more, but Joyce wouldn’t let her. She fixed a firm stare in her eyes.
To be continued…
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