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She came to him at night. After one tap on his door, she entered his room.
“Manny, I think I’m having a miscarriage.”
He jolted out of bed.
“It’s happening again,” she mumbled, her eyes going wet.
“You feel pain?”
She nodded. “There’s blood too. And it’s a lot.”
“Are you sure?”
“Manny, I have lost four pregnancies before. I know what’s going on. Please take me to the hospital.”
“Okay.” He tapped the pockets of the jeans he had fallen asleep in. “Erm… Let me get my key and we’ll be out of here.”
He went back to his bed and picked a t-shirt. When he returned to her, he found her crouched on the floor, crying.
“Lade, please get up.”
“Why me? What have I done to God, Manny?”
“You’ve done nothing, baby. This is not your fault at all. I’m sure your body is still reacting to Tayo’s brutality to you.”
He scooped her up. She opened her mouth to speak but a groan came out. She put her arms around him and clutched him tightly.
“You’re going to be fine and when you’re ready God will give you as many children as you want. Maybe you were never meant to have Tayo’s kids.”
His words drove her further into weeping. He didn’t let her dwell on it. He led her out of the room, feeling relieved that the anxiety he felt over what he had done was finally over. The baby was being washed away along with her past with Tayo. Things were going to be fine, he assured himself.
Toni jerked up when she heard her phone ringing. She couldn’t remember raising the volume of her ringtone to beep that loudly. The darn phone had a mind of its own these days.
She reached for it and saw that it was Izu calling.
“What the heck?”
She tapped the answer button.
“This better be good.” Her voice carried as much surprise as annoyance.
“Sorry for waking you up, Toni, but I think you need to come get your friend.”
“What happened to Leticia?”
“I can’t speak over the phone. Just come. I’ll text my address.”
A dead tone hit her ear. Toni brought the phone to her face in puzzlement. She dropped down from the bed and went for her track down. Slipping a sweater over her nightshirt, she rushed out of her house. She drove to Izu’s. It was a big compound in Osborne Estate in Ikoyi. A gateman let her in and she parked her car behind the unimpressive car Izu had gifted Leticia.
When she stepped out, she noticed one of the backdoors of the car open, and she walked to it. There, she saw Leticia dressed in nothing but a shirt, buttoned poorly. She looked and smelled like she had been drinking. On the floor was a puddle of vomit.
Leticia gave her just one look and tears slid down her eyes. “He dumped me, Toni. You were right… I should have listened… He dumped me. There’s another girl.”
“After me and you fought yesterday, I did the D&C and went to work. After work, I came here to see him but there was another girl, wearing his t-shirt and eating the food I cooked for him. Can you imagine?”
Toni sat in with her.
“And so I called him and he now started shouting on me and told me I was stressing him and he was tired of me and it was over between us, that I should return the car. I was so upset, so I went out to drink and I think I got a little drunk. Sha, I drove back here but he won’t let me into the house, so I stayed outside here.”
“What happened to your clothes?”
“I took them off at midnight and cursed him.”
“You don’t understand the pain, Toni.”
“I do, babe. I do.”
Toni moved forward and held her. “Shhh….stop crying.”
“I can’t. It hurts like hell.”
“Then let it all out, luv.”
Leticia cried dejectedly, stopping at intervals to either curse Izu or reminisce on the good times they had. Toni was patient with her and at last she brought the waterworks to a stop.
“Let’s go home,” Leticia said.
“I need to see the bastard.”
“Please, don’t,” she begged.
Toni helped her out of the car. She doubled over and threw up a second time.
“I don’t feel well.”
“No, I’m having cramps. I need to see a doctor.”
“Okay, we’ll take you to the hospital.”
Toni helped her into the back of her car and stopped for a second to look at her. It was hard not to be emotional at the mess that was staring back at her. Leticia was more than a friend and sister. Being the eighth out of eleven children, she had gone through a rough life. Her parents birthed more children than they could handle and abandoned them to fend for themselves. Strangely but true, Leticia was the most successful amongst her sisters. The first, at the age of thirty-nine was a smalltime fruit vendor back in their village. The other two, refusing to ‘stoop’ that low, made their living by having children with different men. They would then leave the kids in the care of their old mother whose constant prayer was that one of them would have the decency to bring home a husband and not another pregnancy. Yet she would take whatever cash they handed down to her and ask God to bless their hustle.
Leticia was the only one who had worked hard to secure herself an education and a job. But at the end of the month, she sent more than half her salary home. Toni basically took care of her feeding and clothing without grumbles. She knew Leticia would do much more for her if the tables were turned.
“Toni, can you play Rihanna for me, please?” Leticia stretched out her hand, giving Toni her phone. “Play Love on the Brain.”
Leticia was a Rihanna addict; she could listen to all her albums on repeat throughout the day and never get tired.
Toni selected the requested song and played it.
“I’ll be back.”
She rummaged through her glove compartment, looking for something.
“Toni, what are you doing? Leave him alone. Let’s go.”
Toni found what she was looking for and shoved it into her sweater pocket. “I’ll be back.”
She marched to Izu’s front door. For a couple of seconds, she forced out heavy breaths to calm herself, and then she banged on the door with her fist.
The door opened. Izu stood before her, tall and imposing. Both of them sized each other up.
“Hi Antonia,” he muttered.
The response he got was a rupture of pepper spray in his eyes. He bent over in a grunt, covering both eyes as he coughed and gagged. A girl, probably the one Leticia spoke about, ran out with nothing but a G-string on. Toni was tempted to bless her with her own dose of pepper spray but she held her peace.
“Baby, what happened?” The girl hurried to Izu but he pushed her away.
“Get me water!” he shouted. “Fuck!”
As the girl dashed out, he followed her, cussing with each step. Toni made herself comfortable on a sofa and waited.
It took exactly fourteen minutes for him to return. He had a towel over his face.
“You’re not gone?”
“I’m not quite done with you,” Toni replied, noting the irritation the pepper spray had inflicted on him. “I have a rich reservoir of fuck-you’s.”
“I get it. You’re angry over how Leticia and I ended things but pepper-spraying me is not the way, Toni. We could have just talked.”
“Now, we can talk. By the way, milk works well on pepper spray irritation.”
“Toni… I have nothing to say about your friend. Leticia got pregnant on purpose to trap me and I was having none of that.”
“She got pregnant on purpose? You told her you didn’t like condoms!”
“I know but she told me she was on the pill and then next thing she comes to me, flashing her teeth and telling me she’s carrying my baby. We never planned for a child. What we had was a basic sexual relationship in which I met her financial needs and she gave me her body whenever I wanted. I thought she understood that.”
“She loved you and you told her you loved her right back! You made her feel special! You made her choose between you and her commonsense, between you and her fiancé! If you knew you were going to chicken out the moment responsibility came, why lead her on?! You screwed her head, Izuchuckwu! And I hate men like you! You’re filth!”
“Calm down, Toni.”
Toni shot to her feet. Izu stepped back.
“If anything happens to my friend—if anything—you will wish you never met her.”
She stomped to the door and stopped, turning around. “And lastly, for making her go through the physical and psychological pain of abortion, you owe her a financial apology. You do not break a girl’s heart and leave her pocket empty at the same time.”
Toni flung the door open and left the house. Leticia was still the way she left her when she returned to the car. She was singing along with Rihanna, her voice sounding more like a moan. As Toni drove out of Izu’s compound, she called her doctor to inform her she was bringing Leticia in to see her. After the call, she drove in silence but her thoughts were loud and depressing.
She was mad at herself for what Leticia had become. Things had not always been this way with her. Like Toni, Leticia once believed in love but after a failed relationship that almost had her at the altar, she adopted Toni’s lifestyle. And Toni being who she was, spurred her on, going as far as introducing married men to her. She did nothing when Leticia became promiscuous. As long as she was making money and not getting involved with her men emotionally, it was fine.
Tears swamped Toni’s eyes as she sped past a traffic light. She tried hard not to cry, so she tuned her ears to Rihanna, fully listening for the first time, Love on the Brain. After a minute or so, she decided the song was depressing. But Leticia put it on repeat and continued singing along.
The pain that yanked at Toni’s heart was the same she felt when Andre told her about Anouk. It was cold, sharp and merciless. It left her in shivers.
How could she undo the damages she was responsible for? And how many more women out there had she helped destroyed with her ideology?
She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand but it was pointless. The tears were on full gust. She let them be. If no one would tell her the truth, her conscience would. Maybe it was time to start listening to that annoying, small voice.
Mosunmola loved to cook at any time of the day. Be it as early as 5am or 11pm at night, she would head straight to the kitchen or preferably outside to the backyard to whip up whatever she hungered for. She would do it so effortlessly and with a smile on her face that one would wonder if she got paid cooking for a household of more than twelve people.
This morning Folarin caught her in one of her cooking moods. It was jollof rice on the menu. The big compound that housed her matrimonial home and the adjoining flat where her husband’s younger sister and kids lived had this huge space at the backyard where they both did their cooking. Mosun had claimed the space this morning and was stirring the communal pot of jollof rice she was preparing for everyone.
“Don’t you usually do this earlier? It’s almost ten,” Folarin commented.
Mosunmola gave no response. She was angry at him. So angry she wanted to use the ladle in her hands on his head. And she would have, if he wasn’t her elder brother.
“Why are you still vexing? I explained everything to you…”
“You explained that you want to ruin your marriage!” she almost shouted.
Folarin reached forward and stopped her.
“The food is done.”
“Leave it, egbon. I’ll do it myself.”
Folarin let her be. He sat on a small, wooden stool, away from the smoke of her cooking and watched her. Every movement was done in anger. He had just opened up to her about Christie’s infidelity and the plans he had, which included bringing another woman into his life. Mosun received the news with shock at first, over Christie’s behavior, and then anger at Folarin’s intentions.
Mosun had been the only one in the family who readily accepted Christie when Folarin first declared his desire to marry her. There had been another girl primed for him by his mother but Folarin had defied her wishes and married Christie without the family’s blessing. Although he later apologized and reconciled with them through Mosun’s help, the old woman and the rest of the family remained unfriendly towards Christie.
“You will never be good enough for her,” his mother would often say. “Her money will make sure she remains the man in your marriage.”
Folarin would ignore his mother’s words because he understood where she was coming from. They were a family of proud people. They didn’t have much but they carried themselves like royalty. Christie’s status was a threat to her influence on her son.
But the good thing was that the sting of her disapproval and constant verbal taunting on him and Christie was not taken by them alone; Mosun always supported them. She alone understood how they felt for each other and how Christie’s wealth meant nothing to Folarin. She had been there from the start and it was for that reason it hurt her that Folarin was taking a dangerous path to punish Christie for her infidelity.
“And while you’re doing all of this, where will Cyrus and Tife be?”
“Cyrus will go and stay with his dad while Tife comes here.”
Mosun nearly dropped the plate she had in her hand to the floor.
“Folarin, what is wrong with you?!” she asked in English. Their entire conversation before now had been in Yoruba as was the norm.
“Stop shouting nau. Just help me out. Nessa will be glad to stay here with her cousins.”
“Na wa o!”
“This is for good. It will either tear Christie and I apart or bring us back to how we used to be. But besides that, she must feel this pain she’s causing me. Just do me a favor and not tell anybody.”
“You know I won’t but other than that, I don’t support you at all. Not even a bit.”
Folarin forced his favorite sibling into a hug. “I love you.”
“Carry your love and go jare.” She tightened her wrapper around her waist. “Food is ready. Will you eat?”
A while later, after Mosun had served breakfast to her family, she sat with Folarin in her sitting room and he gave his honest version of what he felt went wrong with his marriage.
“Covet Advertising was initially my idea. I started my writing career as a columnist with Vanguard while Christie worked with an ad agency, although I had trained as a copywriter, if you remember.”
“But I saw us as much more and I felt it would be better if we began something together. However, being a proud man, I didn’t want her to be the sole investor. I told her to give me some time. I didn’t tell her why I needed the extra time but I was pursuing a loan then. Raji had just finished his marketing course in Harvard and returned when I went on this short work-related trip to Cameroon. By the time I came back, Christie told me how two of them had put their finances together and registered Covet as an ad agency.
“Mosun, you don’t want to know how emasculating that felt. She had taken my idea and gone ahead with it behind my back along with my friend just because they had the means and I didn’t.
“Suddenly, my life as her man became overshadowed by people and activities from the advertising world and her circle of friends. And I’m not just talking about the average Johns. I’m talking big names. Christie and I went from normal to high end in a wink. She became an overnight sensation, she and Raji. People dubbed them the ‘advertising couple’. I tried to keep up but the bigger she grew, the more inconsequential I became. It was hard but I had to accept that she and I didn’t belong in the same league.
“We changed houses in a wink. She bought the house we now live in without consulting me, got me a brand new SUV and changed my entire wardrobe. We had a fight about that. She said she had an image to uphold and she would not have her man as less. It was shocking to have her say those words because this same Christie didn’t mind my financial status when we were dating. She didn’t care that she was richer. I used to give her money and she enjoyed taking it from me but suddenly, I was not enough. I had to be chiseled to fit into her world.
“Even Raji too. My relationship with him suffered. We were thick as thieves in school…”
“Everyone knew that, Fola,” Mosun cut in. “I remember Mommy used to say about him that she gave birth to a son she didn’t carry for nine months.”
“Exactly. You know how we used to be. But Covet drew us apart in terms of status. Nothing changed for us as friends outwardly. He still came over to the house (because he was a bachelor then) and we still hung out but that disparity was clear when we were in public.
“So I just shrunk. I felt useless. And because Christie was constantly at work, doing long hours, I stayed home with the kids on most nights. I gave up my social life, what with being a father and having a nine to five and making sure I lived the superior lifestyle that conformed to Christie’s image, I abandoned the Folarin you used to know.”
“Why didn’t you tell me all of this, Fola?”
“Like you didn’t have your own problems to deal with. I pretended a lot, I was willing to do anything to keep us together. I kept the fire burning and I think in her own way, Christie did her best. I won’t come here and tell you that she didn’t try. She did but somehow we couldn’t get back to what we used to be and I just wasn’t enough as a man for her.”
“So, Mommy was right.”
A sound interrupted them. It was Mosun’s youngest daughter needing help with water. Mosun called an older child to help out.
“Did you ever speak to Christie about these things, Fola?” she asked after the children left.
“No.” Folarin leaned back, stretching out on the couch they both were resting on. “She was having the time of her life, living her dreams. Knowing who she was and how much she loved me, telling her how I felt would have made her slow down for me. I didn’t want that. She deserved to live the life she wanted.”
“While you stayed in the shadows?”
“I became comfortable…safe…afraid to start again. But now, when I think about it, I think I was being a coward. I should have kept my space in Covet. I should have followed my own path.”
“But you’re doing that now. It’s not too late to start all over.”
“And I meant concerning you and Christie.”
Folarin looked at his sister.
“Please, forgive her.”
Mosun sighed. She was going through a hard time with her husband as well, having almost lost him due to certain bad decisions she made. She didn’t cheat on him but her attitude had almost broken her marriage. They were in the process of reconciliation.
“Christie loves you. She’s messing up, yes, but she’ll soon come to realize her mistakes. What is love without forgiveness?”
Folarin looked elsewhere. “It would have been easier if she was sleeping with a stranger. Not Raji. Not so close to home. It’s more painful than I’m showing.”
“So you’d rather bring in another woman…”
“Mosun, whose side are you on?”
Mosun stared at her food on her lap, cold, untouched. Her appetite was gone.
“After all these years, I feel like I don’t know my wife,” Folarin said. His eyes were glued to an old portrait of his family hanging off a wall facing them.
“And it’s not just the cheating. Christie doesn’t talk about her past at all. I don’t know anything about her family apart from the fact that her parents were strict and they kept her enclosed as a child. But something terrible happened to her. I know. It’s there in her eyes but she won’t tell me. And she’s so scared of her brother. He bullies her. He appears twice a year, doesn’t stay more than an hour and leaves. And after that, Christie will go into depression. Something is just off about her relationship with him.”
“Then talk to her.”
“I will, when the time is right. Not now. Now, only God can save her from what I’m planning for her.”
“Afolarin!” Mosun groaned.
“My mind is made up.”
Mosun pushed her meal away and covered her face with her wrapper.
“You’ll just make Mommy’s predictions come true. Please don’t make them laugh at you.”
Folarin didn’t have an answer to give. At that point, shame meant nothing to him.
Toni hated hospital waiting rooms. She felt that no matter what one’s reason was for waiting, there was always going to be bad news in the end. Perhaps she had watched too many movies with tragic endings or maybe the setting of a hospital didn’t just suit her.
But she waited this morning, showing no signs of impatience as she usually did, even though her doctor was taking too long.
It was just an abortion for God’s sake! What could possibly have gone wrong?
From the corner of her eye, she spied the doctor coming out from the door she led Leticia through eons ago. The woman, dressed in her white coat, came with an apologetic smile.
“Toni, I had actually finished with Leticia a while ago but I had an emergency to attend to.”
Toni forced out a smile she was sure displayed her desire to slap the woman.
“Leticia is fine. She drank too much alcohol and became dehydrated. Combine that with a medical procedure and heartbreak and she’s sure to feel off. I have put her on liquids and painkillers and she will be well by evening.”
“Do you want to see her?”
The doctor turned around and Toni followed her. They went up a flight of stairs to a quieter part of the hospital. Leticia was in a ward with two other ladies. She was sleeping.
“I think you should go home and bring her a change of clothes and some food. Something light. Fruits too.”
The doctor left and Toni sat beside Leticia, not sure of what to do. Was she to play her some music or pray for her or just sit there?
She stayed around for a while and when it didn’t seem like Leticia was going to wake up, she took the doctor’s instructions and went home. There, she had breakfast and cooked for Leticia. On her way out of the kitchen, she saw a post-it note on the wall beside the door. It had a smiley face and beneath it the word, SMILE, was boldly written by Andre. He had explained to her that he had many of such notes around his house to help him during dark days.
“A smile always helps,” he had told her. “Either that or a cuddle.”
Toni touched the note but couldn’t smile. She hated to admit that she missed him. He had stayed with her only a few days but had left his mark in her space.
She went to her bedroom for a shower and subsequently left the house. Leticia was still asleep when she returned to the hospital. Toni dropped the food she brought for her and left a note, promising to return after running a few errands at the office.
Christie was breaking Raji’s heart – and hers also. She had known ending things with him would be difficult but not this much. He had never looked so sad, although it was hard for a stranger to tell since his features remained the same. He was good at controlling his emotions.
But not her. She was falling apart. She still wanted to hold on. In spite of everything, things were good between them, even better than when they had started. Yet outside it seemed like dogs were hounding her. Eyes that knew nothing judged. Voices that were not aware gossiped. It was all in her head but no less real than his touch.
She wanted her husband back even though he never left. There was a whole universe of space between her and Folarin despite the fact that they slept on the same bed each night. And it had occurred to her just last night while staring at her idea board when she couldn’t sleep, that they had drifted a long time ago. Long before Raji became a distraction. How easy it was for them to say the right words of affection to each other, go through the motions of living as husband and wife, have amazing sex and yet lose each other over time.
Was there a way she could get back to him? And could she scale through this heartbreaking moment with Raji without bleeding more than she already was?
“You look like shit, darling. You should go home.”
Christie lifted her head from her hands where she had hidden it to avoid seeing the pain she was causing Raji. She looked at his face; it was still passive. He was busy with his laptop on her desk.
“You heard all I just said, right?” she asked, hoping he would nod and smile and say he was fine with them splitting up.
Instead, he kept on with whatever it was he was doing, leaving her feeling awful. Probably she had chosen the wrong time and place for the discussion. Hurting a man in one’s office during work hours was probably not a smart thing to do.
He left her desk where he had been working to where she sat and pressed a kiss on her forehead, resting his lips there.
“You want me. You really want me. Don’t let go just yet.”
“Raj, something bad is about to happen. I feel it.”
“Stop having bad feelings.” He touched her chin with his finger. “Have good ones. Me. You. Us. Do you know how jealous I am of Folarin?”
Christie pushed back.
“I want you to go home and rest. When your head is cleared up of whatever stress you’re going through that you won’t talk about, we will talk.”
“I don’t want to talk, Raji.”
He took her hand. “We have to, Christie. Come away with me this weekend to Abuja.”
“I can’t. I have a meeting with this Italian furniture company there.”
“Perfect. We will meet and talk and end things properly. The way you’re ending it is just wrong. You do realize we work in this same environment, right? And a split will affect our jobs. I don’t want us to be enemies. I want us to end things on a high note as adults and work on a plan to keep communicating as partners. Besides, I just want to hold you one more time, darling. You still drive me wild. Please, don’t say no.”
“It’s a one day meeting, Raji. I fly in Saturday morning and by evening I’m back in Lagos.”
“Then let me spend that day with you, Christie.”
Raji’s hand was moist in hers but more than that, it shook. Those were the only external expressions of his heartbreak. And there was also that avoidance of her eyes because he didn’t want her to read his agony.
“You really love me, Raji?”
It wasn’t a question. It was an affirmation of a fact that she was just coming to accept as truth. Raji was silent but both of his hands tightened around hers.
“And you’re selfish too.”
“I know,” he answered.
“Fine. We’ll meet in Abuja and talk but until then, please stay away from me. You make it difficult.”
He didn’t seem relieved.
“You can go now,” she said to him, taking her hand away. She stood up from her chair and in trying to push it backwards, Raji trapped her by the waist and enclosed her mouth in a kiss she couldn’t resist.
There was a quick knock and they separated but Cyrus Junior, who just walked in, had unfortunately caught them.
“Oh my God,” Christie murmured, her head down. Killing silence dropped over the room.
The nineteen-year-old swung his eyes from his mother to Raji, then retreated from the office. The silence continued after he left because Christie had blanked out under the weight of the shocking moment. It took a touch from Raji to restore her, and then she stared at him as if he was some alien just dropped down from space.
“I’ll talk to him,” he said, turning towards the door.
But Christie sped past him and dashed out of her office. She was relieved to find Cyrus Junior seated in one of the waiting chairs in her PA’s office, reading a magazine.
She forced on a composed air, praying he didn’t notice how much she was sweating or the tears that were dancing around her eyes, waiting for permission to cascade down.
“Cyrus, you want to come into my office for a word?”
“No.” He stood up and directed his eyes to the floor as Raji walked past. “I’m just from an interview with a website I want to intern with. I lost my own copy of the house key. I came to get your own.”
“Come and collect it.”
The boy followed Christie and once both of the were behind earshot in her office, she launched into a long narrative of jumbled words to explain why he had caught her and Raji kissing.
It was the first and only time
They were not having an affair
It sort of just happened
She loved her husband and would never hurt him intentionally
No, nothing would come out of the kiss
No, she never cheated on his father either
Please, he should tell no one
Did he think less of her?
Would he shut her out?
Would he hate her now?
Cyrus Junior gave no answers. He simply rose from the chair she had pushed him into and stretched out his palm for the house key.
She placed the key in his hand and held him but he moved away from her, giving her a look of disgust before he walked out of the office.
“Cyrus!” she called out weakly.
The door shut silently but in her head it was a loud bang. She dumped her weight on her couch and punished herself mentally.
“I’ll talk to him, Christie. I’ll tell him I forced my lips on you and you had nothing to do with the kiss.”
“I told him that but he didn’t believe me! He thinks I’m a slut! My own son thinks I’m filthy!”
“He doesn’t. That boy adores you.”
“You see why we should stop? I told you about the bad feeling I was having but you didn’t listen! What if it had been Folarin or Salma that walked in?!”
Raji took the space beside her and placed his hand on hers. She tried to withdraw it but he held it bound.
“Christie, calm down. Cyrus saw nothing but an asshole who calls himself his father’s friend kissing his sweet mother. I am the one he will hate, not you. I will play this into your favor. Relax.”
Someone knocked on the door again and this time, Christie moved away from Raji.
Toni walked in.
“Hi Toni.” Christie smiled, showing too much teeth. There was something calming about Toni’s presence.
“Good morning you two.”
“Morning, Antonia,” Raji responded.
“I hope this is a good time?”
“Okay. I came to talk about Nkechi Ebute. I was just told by Izu that we are about to hire her.”
“Yes.” Raji shoved his hands into his pockets. “Obviously, you missed the meeting. Nkechi is bringing us every single account she was handling back at DFL.”
“I was in the hospital and missed the first two hours of work. Certainly you guys could have waited for me to come back before taking such a huge decision.”
“We’re sorry, Toni.” Christie cleared her throat. “I think we got carried away by her offer.”
“She has nothing to offer, Christie. Just mouth. And you guys fell for it! You didn’t wonder why DFL fired her even with her husband as senior partner?”
“Actually, she told us everything. It was about the Musta account. Her husband found out about her shenanigans, got angry, called the Musta bosses in Finland and pulled out of the campaign and then back at the office, he reported her to management and insisted that she be fired.”
“All thanks to you,” Raji answered, his eyes showing a sparkle.
“Oh. I see.”
“Toni, you may not want to hear this but Nkechi delivers,” Christie pointed out.
“By sleeping with potential clients. We have a good reputation to uphold here. Nkechi will ruin it. She can’t close her legs.”
“We have spoken to her about that and she assures that she will behave. Now, you just need to calm down and let’s see what she will deliver. She is with us based on contract. If she does well and doesn’t leave the scent of sex on anyone’s trail, we’ll retain her.”
“She will mess up. I just know it. She will.”
“Just do us a favor, Toni.” Raji let out a hand from his pocket and straightened his tie. “Try to accommodate her.”
“I’m making no promises.”
Toni went for the door handle.
“I’ll see you ladies later.” Raji opened the door and walked out.
Christie went to her desk. She sat on her chair and caring that Toni was present, let out repressed tears. Toni, who was on her way out, turned around.
“Christie, are you okay?”
Christie shook her head.
“You want to talk about it?”
Christie nodded, tears hitting her desk.
Toni stepped out of Christie’s office feeling a hundred times worse than she went in. Christie had managed to scar her for the rest of the year with her miserable story. Her own troubles became small in her eyes and she had this sudden desire to call her parents and tell them how much she missed them. She was remorseful for the way she had treated them over the past months. They had nurtured and raised her with love and were nothing like the wicked people Christie’s parents had been.
Not to even speak of the demon that was her brother!
It had taken willpower not to cry when Christie spoke. Toni had been transported back with her to that house and that room that locked her away from happiness and kept her in with darkness.
How did she survive through the years hiding such a secret? Then there was the affair with Raji to kill herself over and her son on the other end, catching her right in the act. Could a woman’s life get more complicated?
“Ma, your phone has been ringing.”
Pascal, Toni’s assistant, came hurrying towards her with her phone.
“I thought I told you to start addressing me as Toni, and not that ‘ma’ you keep calling,” she said, snatching the device off his hand.
“Yes, you did.”
“Effect changes immediately,” she added, walking away from him as she attended to a call from Leticia.
“Abeg, come and carry me from here. You abandoned me. And what type of peppery food did you cook?”
Toni sighed happily. Her friend was back in the land of the living.
“I’m on my way.”
“Buy ice-cream when you’re coming. And peppered chicken too.”
“Is that all?”
“And maybe a car, to replace that Izu’s jalopy.”
Toni laughed but she left a mental note to go asking around for the price of a new car. Leticia would die with surprise on her birthday.
“Um… Tish,” she called, cutting Leticia from a rant about how she hated needles. “I have to go. Someone’s calling me.”
Toni ended Leticia’s call and accepted Manny’s. Her spirit having been lifted by Leticia’s present health status, she smiled as she pressed the phone to her ear, anticipating to hear some more good news. She couldn’t wait to meet her biological mother.
“Hey, Toni. What’s up? I hope you’re not busy.”
She stopped walking. His voiced sounded jumpy.
“Okay, good. Good.”
“Manny, are you alright?”
“Yeah, yeah… I’m good… No, not so good but I need you urgently. Please. Can you hurry here?”
“What’s going on?”
“It’s Lade… I mean, Isabella. She needs you like right now.”
“Talk to me, Manny. What is going on?”
“You have to tell me what is going on before I get to wherever it is you want me to get to.”
“We’re in the hospital. She’s been b-b-bleeding since morning and they’ve done everything to stop it but they can’t,” he lamented.
“She had a miscarriage…”
“She was pregnant?”
“Yeah. But she’s dying, Toni. They need to operate on her right away to remove her womb to save her, and the doctors need someone from her family to sign the consent form.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Just come. I’ll explain when you do.”
“But I’m not related to her…”
“You are! You’re her husband’s sister…”
Toni almost choked. She blanked out for a few seconds as Manny muttered disjointedly in the background. Clearly he was having something close to a panic attack.
“Manny, talk to me.”
“Her immediate family is far away and her husband can’t be reached. You’re all she has… Please, just come.”
“Okay. Where are you?”
“LUTH,” Toni repeated.
Now, she choked. She once lost a colleague in the hospital due to negligence.
“Manny,” she forced in a firm tone, “pull yourself together and stop panting like a bitch this moment. Can you do that?”
“Yes. Yes, I can.”
“Good. I’m on the island and I might take a while to get to where you are, so I need you to march straight to whoever it is that is demanding to have a family member present and tell them you will sign that consent form yourself and they will do whatever it is they have to do to save Isabella’s life. Do you hear me?”
“Do you hear me?”
“She needs you to be strong. So be a man and do what needs to be done. I’m on my way.”