The Fourth Finger – 17

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Catch up on previous chapters HERE

All seven of them were seated. Not a sound was heard. Christie’s face was buried in a silk scarf. If she could have hidden her entire self in it, she would have.

Her sins were about to be laid bare and there was nowhere to run. She had no idea what Folarin had in the recording he wanted to show to their friends but she guessed it was evidence of her affair with Raji. It had just occurred to her that no matter what happened now, two days later or twenty years on, her imprudence was never going to be erased. History will have it that she cheated on her husband.

She watched helplessly as Folarin pointed a remote control at the TV on the electronic stand before them.

Unable to hold her shame in any longer, Christie immediately fell on her knees in front him and blubbered.

“What’s going on?” Bernadette asked. She was sitting beside Izu, heavy with child but lacking that tired look most pregnant women bore. She had been curious as to why Folarin would invite her and Izu to their home on a Monday morning, but when she asked Izu earlier he had muttered a curt ‘I don’t know’.

Seeing Christie on her knees now, she came to the conclusion that something bad was about to happen.

The day before, following Salma’s breaking news to Raji, Raji called Christie who was still in Abuja.

“Darling, Christie, don’t panic but we’ve been made.”

The phone almost fell off her hand.

“Made?”

“Sal and Folarin know about us,” Raji revealed.

Christie gasped, and then her muscles went lax. Her tummy churned as electricity surged through her entire body. She almost urinated on herself.

“Salma just told me.”

“Oh God.”

“Christie, calm down.”

She blacked out and shut his voice off. The phone then slipped off her hand.”

She began to wheeze.

“Madam, your phone.”

A stranger handed over the phone to her. She was standing in the departure area of the domestic wing of the Abuja international airport, about to leave for Lagos. Raji’s call gave her an instant tummy ache, which drove her to a nearby restroom. She began to weep from the toilet stall, and continued until her plane touched down in Lagos and she lodged in a hotel.

She switched off her phone and stayed up all day and night, crying. When daylight came on Monday morning and she turned on her phone, a barrage of text messages from Salma kept the phone beeping. There were insults in every line; Salma called her names she never imagined calling her worst enemy. But for every message, she sent back an apology.

There were texts from Raji too. He was mostly worried about her, telling her to stay strong; the worst would be over soon. He still loved her.

Then Folarin’s call came in. It took courage to swipe her thumb over the answer button. Tears she believed had gone dry gushed out with fresh vehemence. When he hung up, she buried herself under the sheets and bawled until she was out of strength.

Between summoning up the nerve to leave the hotel and trying to ignore work-related phone calls, her ex, Cyrus, texted:

CJ is here. He’s talking about getting an apartment off campus. Did you guys talk about this? And did you have a fight? He seems pissed at you.

Christie immediately rang Cyrus.

“Morning Chrissy.”

“Morning, Cy.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah. Just waking up.”

“Okay. So CJ came in yesterday with some of his stuff. Says he doesn’t want to stay at yours or mine. He wants his own place.”

Christie gave a long sigh. “Oh God, help me.”

“What’s going on, Chrissy?”

“Cy, I screwed up and I’m about to lose my husband.”

“What did you do?”

She answered his question in bits, but telling him the entire story of her infidelity with Raji.

“Wow, Chrissy. Of all the things you do to a man, you go and sleep with his friend. How do we get you out of this one now?”

“I don’t know.”

“And then there’s CJ on this end.”

“I’m so messed up right now, Cy. I feel like dying.”

“You will not die, Chrissy. You will survive this. Where are you?”

“In a hotel in Ikeja, close to the airport.”

“Text me the address. I’ll come take you home and give you a good head start with Folarin. I don’t advise that you face him alone.”

“Okay.”

“But you don’t love Raji, do you?”

“No, Cy. It was just… I don’t know what it was… I can’t believe I really did what I did…”

“Stop crying, Chrissy. Just wait for me.”

Cyrus disconnected the call and emptiness descended on her. She waited for more than an hour before he showed up. On their way to her house, she didn’t talk much about the affair, and Cyrus didn’t pester either. They conversed about their son, instead.

“We should let him have the house,” Christie proposed.

“I thought we agreed that he could do whatever he wanted when he turned twenty-one.”

“He’s old enough, Cy. His mates are either staying on campus or living in their own apartments.”

“Are you letting him bully you into giving him whatever he wants just because he saw you kissing Raji? What else is he going to ask for? His own local government?”

“Cyrus, please I have a headache. Let’s not do this today.”

“Settle your issues with your husband and all three of us will sit and have a word with CJ.”

“That’s if I’ll have a marriage by then.”

“You will. Have faith. God will save your marriage.”

Christie looked at him. He rarely talked about God and faith. Maybe it was a good sign.

“By the way, does Folarin know about CJ’s paternity?”

“No.” Christie kept her face to the window, concluding Cyrus was going to scold her. But today he was gracious.

“Talk to him. Tell him everything. He’s your husband, Christina.”

A cloud covered the sky and brought shade to Christie from the unfriendly sun reflecting on her face. She shut her eyes for the rest of the journey. As they neared her home her pulse quickened. She clutched the door handle and released deep breaths.

When they got into the compound, she almost passed out.

“Everyone’s here,” she whispered.

“Everyone?”

“That’s Raji’s car and that’s Salma’s and Izu’s.”

“Let’s go in.”

Cyrus clasped her hand, letting go only when they entered the sitting room. After tense pleasantries, Folarin made it clear to Cyrus that he wasn’t invited.

“I told him to come,” Christie replied quickly.

“Fine, then. I think he’ll enjoy what he’ll see here today.”

They sat, and just like everyone else seated, they waited for a speech from Folarin but rather, he chose to entertain them with a recording.

Bernadette, for the second time, demanded to know what was going on.

“Berna, just watch the video,” Folarin replied.

She was about to discover that Christie had not heeded to her advice to stop sleeping with Raji.

“Folarin, please don’t,” Raji implored. “Whatever is on that DVD is not something everyone needs to see. We can talk about this. Me and you. Just us. Don’t do what you’re about to do.”

Folarin stubbornly pressed his forefinger on the play button and the television came on. Christie’s face filled the screen. She was frowning lightheartedly into the camera, and then the shot panned away, revealing her legs spread-eagled. She was nude save for a bed sheet barely covering her body.

“What’s this nau, Folarin?” Bernadette glowered. “Turn it off.”

Cyrus eyed Folarin. “Fola?”

Raji’s face came into the camera next as he lay over Christie and kissed her neck.

Bernadette’s hands went to her mouth in a gasp. “Jesus! Christina! Raji!”

Bernadette’s exclamation was the last thing Christie heard.

She zoned out – her weak heart incapable of handling any more of the humiliation. She withdrew into some safe place to protect herself from what was to come. Zoning-out was something she had mastered in her teenage years. Whenever she couldn’t handle any situation, she would extract herself and literally become unresponsive to the world around her.

Ergo, she disappeared from her present situation. There were raised voices and forms moving around; she even saw someone standing over her head. The person was yelling in a harsh tone. She also picked another sound like a crash.

But they were all like faint echoes. She was long gone. The scarf covering her face hid her shame and gave her solace until gentle hands helped her up and took her away.

She only came to when she felt a splash of water on her face.

She inhaled sharply.

“Hian! How can somebody faint and their eyes be very wide open?”

Christie wiped the water off her face and saw Bernadette hovering over her with a hand on her waist and the other holding a bowl of water.

“Madam, you never wake? Abi make I pour more water?”

Christie realized she was in the Uchendu residence and Bernadette was her sole company.

“I’m fine,” Christie mouthed. She went for her scarf again but Bernadette snatched it from her and sat on a chair facing her.

“Christie, as your friend, I want to let you know that I am very disappointed in you. In fact, I am more than disappointed. Which kind of sex is worrying you that you’ll be sleeping with your husband’s friend like that? I thought it was just that once! How did you allow devil use you like this?!”

Christie began to cry.

“It is not a crying matter o! Biko-biko! Folarin almost killed Raji! He’s in the hospital in critical condition! All because of you and you’re here, crying! Didn’t I tell you to not do it again?! Didn’t we pray about it?! Why did you go back to him! Why, Christina?!”

Christie was unable to speak.

“He broke his fingers! I have never heard human bones crack in my life before until today! I was so scared that he would die that I peed in my pant. I cried and begged but your husband was not listening to anybody. Worst part was that Izu and Cyrus were just there watching everything without doing nothing! I don’t know if they were doing guy code or something else but they refused to step in until Folarin smashed Raji’s face into the TV and broke it. Raji passed now out and that was when they decided to do something.”

The scene was returning to Christie in bits. Folarin had been brutal. The bone-cracking part was real. Christie recalled hearing it as well.

“But will you blame Folarin? Raji refused to apologize or accept that he did anything wrong. No! Oga was there talking rubbish about how much he loved you and didn’t feel sorry for what happened between you two, but he was rather sorry for how Folarin and Salma felt. If you see the uppercut your husband landed him ehn! Me sef I felt it. And I think he should have reserved some slaps for you too. That your private part would have closed with lock and key by force!”

Christie was still speechless. Bernadette was angry. She talked a lot when she was. Soon, Bible verses were going to follow. And Christie wouldn’t have minded. She didn’t care what anyone did to her then. She deserved even worse. If Folarin shared the compilation video of her affair with Raji to the world, she wouldn’t care as long as she didn’t lose him. He was all that mattered.

“Go back and beg Folarin. Beg him until you can’t beg anymore. Use his family and your pastor to beg him. Use God to beg him! Do everything you can to have him back to you. Men like him are hard to find!” Bernadette shouted, clapping with every word uttered. “Thank God for a faithful husband, Christina! Go and do thanksgiving for Folarin!”

Christie sniffled.

“You sef you know my own shameful story. I married a dog in human clothing but I can’t complain because for better, for worse. All I can do is to keep praying for him. The other day a friend in my church said she was led by the spirit to buy me War Room. I thanked her, took the DVD home and dumped it with the two that other people gave me to watch. Everyone kuku knows my situation. Izu’s tales have reached their ears there in Houston. I heard his latest girlfriend works in Covet. I refused to ask for the details because I cannot kill myself in my young age. My own is just to pray. One day, God will change him.

“And God can change your husband’s heart too, Christie.”

Christie nodded. It was all she could do. She was drained of energy and signs of a fever loomed.

“Have you eaten?” Bernadette asked.

“I’m not hungry.” Christie stood up but felt a wave of drowsiness. She masked it with a stable gait. “I’m going home.”

“No. I suggest you stay here until he calms…”

“He won’t do anything to me. I need to go and speak with him.”

“Okay, dear.” Bernadette sighed silently and got to her feet to hug her friend. “But at least call your driver to come get you.”

Christie shook her head. She didn’t feel she deserved any luxury or anything good in her life until Folarin forgave her.

“I’ll use a cab.”

***

 “I am sooo late for work, Andre.”

“Mmmm…I know.”

Andre’s lips were between Toni’s. His beard tickled her chin as his tongue dug deep into her mouth.

“Oh, you’re such a tease,” she moaned, pushing him away with a weak nudge to his chest.

She was desperate for his touch. Her body ached for him but he had made good his word not to sleep with her. It didn’t hurt so much at first because her mind had been occupied with thoughts of her family. He had consoled her that Saturday evening until the tears stopped, then they both stretched out on a sofa. The radio was on; the lights off. Spooning, they talked deep into the night. She slept first and woke up to find she was alone, covered in a bedspread. He was outside, having a phone conversation with someone. She joined him. He made space for her between his legs and she shielded both of them from mosquitoes with the bedspread.

The sheer feel of his skin over hers made it hard not to think of anything other than having his body against hers. Even when the mosquitoes found their way beneath the covering and began biting them, she didn’t feel anything; she just wanted him. All she had were memories from their long Easter weekend and she replayed every moment in her head while he kept on with his conversation. So lost she was in her thoughts that she didn’t know when he ended the call. She was only aware when his hand mistakenly brushed over her breasts.

“Where were you?”

“Lost,” she answered.

“Can I find you?”

She stretched up her neck to look into his face. He pecked her lips.

“Antonia, I’m crazy about you.”

“No, you’re not.”

“When I started investigating you over that whole Anouk’s murder saga, I really hated you, especially after I found out what you did when no one was looking. But my hatred led to obsession and with obsession came intrigue. I wanted to know more about you. I had known everything else except what made you tick, what was inside you. And so when the opportunity presented itself and that parcel for you from that Sylvester guy came in, I told my boys I would handle the delivery.”

“And arrogant, little you came into my life.”

“Am I little?”

Toni laughed.

“Why don’t we go in and find out?”

Andre skirted her subtle suggestion and continued. “I didn’t think you’d let me into your life or we’d get to this place where we’re comfortable with each other. So, yeah…I like you, Antonia, and I think I’m comfortable enough to give you a pet name.”

“Oh, come on!”

“You’d like that? Something French and exotic?”

How about something French and hard?

“But I’m thinking I could go Yoruba and call you the name your mother named you at birth.”

“Arinola? I don’t even know what it means.”

“I think it means born in the midst of wealth.”

“Oh. The irony. They were really poor when I was born.”

“It was a prophetic name. Look where you are now. She must be proud of you. Ever think of seeing your dad?”

“Not yet. Let me calm down from this present happiness first.”

She kissed his chin.

“I think we should go in before mosquitoes eat your beautiful ass.”

They strolled into the house and he offered her his bedroom.

“Go to sleep, Tone. I’ll take the other room.”

She was disappointed but she said nothing to avoid coming off as desperate. She did give him a kiss, though, and he lingered, by seizing her waist and heaving her body into his. It was clear that he wanted her as much as she wanted him with the way he buried his face in her neck. But he stepped back the instant her hands traveled down his chest.

“Goodnight.”

He turned away and she was left at the door with raw desire and nothing to do with it. The next morning, she was up early but was surprised to find him all dressed up. He told her he was going to church. To her it was him basically telling her she had overstayed her welcome. He could call her ma chatte or Arinola but he was yet to fully let her into his life.

“I’m going home.” She went tiptoe and kissed him. “Thank you for last night.”

“Anytime,” he said in French.

They made no promises to see each other later. She got into her car and headed home. Lade was alone with Manny when she got in. Leticia had gone to church.

Toni watched the couple for a while, noting how Manny literally worshipped Lade. Sometimes Toni felt he tried too hard. She was sure Lade loved him but didn’t feel it was the type of love that would push her into making any commitment. One thing was obvious, however – they had been intimate with each other. Toni wondered if Tayo knew.

Toni left them in the sitting room and went for a shower. After that, she made lunch, coming up for air some minutes after 11am. She had been in a culinary mood and somehow ended up making two separate dishes. It reflected the way she felt about Andre. She desperately wanted him one minute and the next she was willing to live her life like he never existed.

Sex had always made things easy for her. It kept her in control. She didn’t know what to do with a man who only wanted to talk or engage in something less stimulating. Andre was making her feel less than her usual herself.

Leticia came home and life returned to the house. Manny left not long after, then Tayo visited. He came with flowers, unsure if Lade would love them.

“You could ask her but she’s napping.”

“Well, if she doesn’t like them, I do.” Leticia took the flowers to the kitchen while Tayo informed Toni that Dapo was in the car.

“What’s he doing outside?” she asked. “Tell him to come in.”

“He’s making a phone call.”

Toni was excited about Dapo’s visit. Lade had said many wonderful things about him; how he was the more expressive and jovial one, and how he had a huge heart. Toni prayed they all turned out true.

“Toni?” Tayo called as they both sat on one of the three-sitters.

“Yeah?”

“Lade wants us to split. We didn’t have a court marriage so she thinks a divorce would not be necessary. She wants our families involved, though, to officially call things off.”

“And you, what do you want?”

“I don’t want her to leave. I need another chance. Please, talk to her.”

“Me?” Toni smiled. “I am the last person to advise a woman to stick to a man who abuses her.”

“I’ve changed.”

“How so?”

“My dad’s death gave me perspective and I’ve been falling since. Every day, I crash. When I think of all I did to her and…”

He stopped, shut his eyes.

“I want to take it all back. I want us to start again. I’ll support her with her career. I’ll do anything and everything just to see her happy. No one deserves to go what she’s been through.”

Toni felt his anguish but at the same time she understood where Lade was coming from.

“Love her from a distance, Tayo. I know you don’t want to hear this but don’t ask for a miracle now. And a miracle would be having your wife back. No, dear. That ship has sailed. Lade is all about her future, and the best you can do for her is to be there as a friend, waiting for the moment she would need your shoulders to lean on, because Nollywood will try to fuck her up and she will need a friend. If you’re consistent with your love and not shoving it in her face, trust me, she’ll come looking for you.”

“But there’s that Manny guy. He’s everything to her these days. He got her to the place she always wanted.”

“Well, you have to lie on the bed of nails you made.”

Tayo dusted his shirt with both hands. Toni noticed it was an expression of frustration. He had done it twice already.

“But don’t stop with the flowers. Or short texts to check up on her once in a while. Buy her a special chair with her name on it, one of those types directors like to sit on. That’s a way of saying ‘I support your career’.”

Tayo showed gratitude. “Thanks, Toni.”

“You’re welcome, baby brother.”

“Can you not call me that again?”

They both laughed.

“Okay. How about aburo?”

“No. Not that either.”

Someone knocked on the door.

“He’s here,” Tayo announced, getting up. Toni also got to her feet. Excitement wouldn’t let her stay still.

Tayo went to the door, opened it and let Dapo in.

Toni fell in love at first sight. He looked a lot like her, blotchy eyes, nose and height. He even had her well-defined brows that never needed reshaping.

“Dapo, meet Toni. Toni, this is Dapo.”

There was silence at first but Dapo shocked her as he hurried over to where she was and embraced her so closely she almost stopped breathing.

“I’m so sorry I didn’t look for you. So, so sorry,” he apologized, pushing Toni to the brink of emotions.

“It’s okay.”

“Please forgive me. Forgive Tayo. Forgive all of us. We’re sorry.”

“It’s okay, Dapo.”

He finally let her go, but held her hand, gazing into her eyes. “You’re so beautiful.”

Toni laughed, and made to wipe her tears but he stopped her. She realized Leticia was taking pictures.

“Allow me.” He took out a hanky from his pocket. “From now on, I will be your knight in shining agbada.”

They all laughed.

“Yes ke. As long as I’m near, not even tears will come out of your eyes.”

He put the hanky to her face and when he was done wiping her tears he hugged her again.

“So happy to finally meet you, sis.”

When they separated, Toni noticed Andre standing at the door. Leticia had let him in.

“Hi everyone,” he greeted. Toni walked over to him for a kiss.

“You didn’t tell me you were coming,” she whispered.

“Just wanted to surprise you. Are these your brothers?”

She nodded.

“See your smile. You’re so happy.”

“Come, let me introduce you.”

Toni dragged him in. “Andre, meet my brothers, Tayo and Dapo.”

Andre shook hands with both of them.

“And guys, this is Andre. Andre is erm…”

Toni looked at him, not sure of how to address him.

“He’s her man,” Leticia helped out.

“Tish?”

“Your boyfriend?” Dapo asked.

“If boyfriend means I exclusively get to kiss her in places no other man does, yeah,” Andre answered.

The emphasis in his tone was not missed. Toni got his message loud and clear.

“So, guys, food is ready,” she announced, changing the course of discussion. “There’s white rice and stew and there’s swallow.”

“Alright!” Dapo clapped his hands. “Which way to the kitchen?”

Toni looked at him with a smile. Lade was right about him.

They had lunch with the exception of Lade who was still asleep. Toni’s hardly-ever used dining table came to the rescue. After lunch, they spent more time in conversation until the evening drew near. Andre announced then that he was leaving. Toni walked him to the door but had a strong urge to follow him home.

“You want to come with me?”

As usual he read her mind, and he didn’t let her give an answer as he took her hand and dragged her out of the house.

They spent the evening at some bar close to his house where they kissed shamelessly, tipsy on cocktails. When she told him she wanted to leave, he didn’t let her. They sat in her car, talked, then made out, but when she begged him to go all the way, he stopped. He drove her to his house instead where they had more wine and fell asleep.

She woke up late on Monday morning. She was planning to sneak out of the house without waking Andre up but she saw him in her car, legs stretched out on the dashboard.

He let her in and launched into another kissing session.

“I’m late to work,” she repeated for the third time, and only then did he listen.

“Are you still seeing Sylvester?”

“No. We broke up.”

“What happened?”

“He drugged me.”

Andre sat straight with a frown. “When?”

“This was since last year, before I met you. He drugged me and I woke up not knowing if anything had been done to me. I asked him and he swore that he did nothing, that it was his fetish to drug women.”

“And you believed him?”

“I didn’t but I stuck with him to get the truth, and I eventually did. I gave him a dose of his own medicine – literally. I drugged him with something they call Kava. It’s a plant that is a sedative and anesthetic. I gave it to him and by the time I interrogated him, the truth came out. He had drugged me to run tests on me to know if I was a compatible kidney donor.”

“What?!”

“Apparently, he had kidney disease and was looking for a donor.”

“What?!”

“And he tested me without my consent…”

“So that he can take your kidney without your consent! And yet you risked your life by being around him?!”

“Well, his plan didn’t work.”

“What if it did?!”

“Andre, calm down. Nothing happened to me.”

“Because you were lucky! Other people get killed! He could have killed you!”

Toni didn’t retort. She understood his anger.

“It astonishes me what you women do to yourselves, how you put your lives in danger with these men you know absolutely nothing about!”

“Andre, it’s okay. I’m here, I’m fine.”

“For how long? Today it’s Mark, tomorrow it’s some chief or alhaji or some other fool who has plenty of money! And you’ll just stupidly follow him and leave your life in his hands until something bad happens to you!”

“Okay, Andre, you have to stop now.”

“No, you stop and give your life some meaning! You could get hurt sleeping with these men.”

“Stop, Andre. You just called me stupid and made me look like I’m a hoe.”

“And what’s the difference between what you do and what a prostitute does?”

Toni’s eyes turned red on instant. He had given a low blow.

“Please, leave my car. I have to go to work.”

“You don’t like hearing the truth.”

“Leave, Andre.”

He hesitated.

“Andre…”

“Okay, I’m sorry. I spoke out of turn.”

“Andre, leave.”

“Toni…”

“Leave!”

He opened the door and stepped out. He had barely moved away from the car when she screeched out of the vicinity.

***

Folarin had known Salma was going to speed up their plans. Raji’s hold on her emotions was potent. Folarin imagined he had said something stupid and she blew up in his face, exposing everything.

Nevertheless, he wasn’t mad at her. In fact, he had delayed too long, postponing the inevitable. The plan he had set for Christie and Raji at the hotel in Abuja didn’t quite work as he had envisioned. And he was happy that it didn’t. It would have been torture to see them have sex yet again. The other videos collected from their rendezvouses in their favorite hotel in Lagos had tortured him enough.

It had been easy to pay someone in the hotel to plant a camera in the suite they always used. Same way it was easy to arrange the weekend getaway for them. The hotel in Abuja, being in a barter relationship with Covet, was only too glad to have Mr. and Mrs. Asepita for a weekend at a reduced fee. When Folarin told Christie he was going to Port Harcourt a week before, he had actually traveled to Abuja to make arrangements for the romantic getaway she would have with Raji, knowing Raji would not refuse such an offer and would most likely take Christie along.

Folarin explained to the hotel manager that he was a friend of the Asepitas and was returning them a good turn for kindness shown to him over the years. However, he didn’t want his name mentioned; he would reveal this personally to the couple later. The hotel was to take all the credit.

The manager smiled. She was happy with everything Folarin said. Maybe a little too happy. Her eyes couldn’t stop staring at his tattoos. Before he left, he told her a friend would be spending a night in the same suite a day before the couple arrived. He explained that she was a popular travel and hospitality blogger from the United States wanting to do a review of the hotel. Again, carried away by Folarin’s charm, the manager agreed to let this blogger friend stay the night for free, as long as she gave a good review.

The plan went well. The lady flew in from the US to Abuja, enjoyed the luxurious suite for just one night, planted a hidden camera and took a flight the next morning to Lagos just before Raji arrived. Folarin had her lodged in a cheaper hotel close to his house.

After the drama that saw Raji in a critical state in the hospital on Monday morning, he drove back to the hotel to see her. She was the one Mosun didn’t want around him. When she opened the door and let him in, she gasped at the sight of the cuts she saw on his face and also his bruised knuckles.

“Larin, what happened?”

“I did what I told you I was going to do.”

“You hit your friend?”

“He’s not a friend, and no, I didn’t hit him. I beat the shit out of him until he passed out.”

“And you’re proud of yourself.”

“Not really.”

“Where’s Christie?”

“A friend took her away. They were scared that I’d hit her too.”

“Were you going to?”

“No. No, I could never touch her.”

“Awww.”

“She was on her knees the entire time and I didn’t even notice because I was so mad.”

“So, what next, now? We still stick to this your silly plan?”

“It’s in phases. I went through all the pain for Salma. Not necessarily for Christie and I. Salma can’t get out of Raji’s manipulative clutch without evidence of his cheating. He has the money and connections to keep her miserable in that marriage. But with all I’ve done, she can ask him for anything and he’ll give her.”

“I’m more worried about you and Christie.”

“We’re fine.”

“I know but I’ll just reiterate that couples therapy works. I don’t know how y’all do it here in Nigeria but trust me, it’s better than you showing me off as your girlfriend. But anyways, I’m all packed and ready to go, if you are, boyfriend.” She chuckled. “Just give me a minute to put up something on the blog.”

She sat on the bed and picked her tablet, going online. Folarin waited.

Savanna was a bucketful of sunshine, and sometimes he didn’t understand her energy, but she was perfect for giving Christie a dose of her own medicine. Other than that, she was a great business partner. He had met her in Cameroon eleven years ago. She visited to experience Africa for the first time and to do a review on the Mambila Plateau as a holiday spot, but other than that she was going through heartbreak. After her Mambila tour, she ended up in Cameroon, which was close by and met Folarin there. They had fallen in love with each other’s literary skills and bonded on a professional level. But they became friends and he helped her heal from her pain. Upon her return to the US, she assisted in getting Folarin a spot at the New York Post where he was allowed to contribute twice every quarter at a good fee.

Through the years they communicated but only as friends. Christie was aware she existed in Folarin’s life and had always been jealous of the relationship they shared. But what Christie didn’t know was that Savanna was a lesbian, secretly married to a Nigerian woman whose parents were bound to murder her if they knew of her fondness for women.

Savanna’s sexual orientation and Folarin’s aversion to it had never stopped them from being chummy. He took her as she was, gay and all; he was not the type to judge. This made partnering with each other easier, as they had already begun working on a travel blog together, using Savanna’s connections as a seasoned blogger to source for financial partnership from brands for an upcoming tour of Africa.

Folarin had planned to take Christie along on the tour before he found out she was cheating. He was going to suggest that she take a month off to join him on his project. It was to rekindle their honeymoon days.

“You can still ask her to come with us when you guys make up,” Savanna suggested, head away from her tablet.

Folarin cast a frown. “Are you going to screw this up, Sav? Tell me now. I don’t want you exposing everything when you get bored.”

“Hey, I’m the one who’s going to be stuck in Nigeria, playing fake girlfriend to a man who is mad in love with his wife. I might just lose it.”

He knew she was kidding but it was good to check in on her once in a while. She sometimes got emotional and lost her cool.

“Be good.”

She smiled. “I pwomise.”

Folarin walked to the door and opened it. “After you, girlfriend.”

“Take my luggage. Or don’t Nigerian men have manners?”

He shook his head.

***

Christie came back home to an empty house that held echoes of the terrible morning she had. She longed to call Mosun to ask how Vanessa was doing but feared that Mosun was already aware of her indecency with Raji and would scold her.

She chose rather to clean the mess from earlier, even though she was quite weak. When she came to a spot where she saw a small pool of Raji’s blood, she paused and went through the events again. She was all out of strength but she managed through the cleaning and afterwards fixed herself a meal of fried eggs and sausages. Next, she had a bath and sat through a long phone call with her PA. She also spoke with Izu who gave her news that Raji was doing okay and might be discharged the following day.

“He was asking after you,” Izu added, just before she rang off.

“Tell him to stop.”

She put her phone away after the call. She had no idea where Folarin was or what she was going to say to him when he returned. Yet, she waited patiently until she heard the familiar sound of the front door. With a pounding heart, she left the safety of the bedroom. But when she neared the sitting room, she heard the sound of laughter from a voice that was alien to her. The voice carried an American accent and called Folarin ‘Larin’, a name he didn’t like.

Christie came out to the sitting room. Then she saw the woman behind the voice. She bore a face that was familiar, and in all ways more striking than hers.

Folarin turned in Christie’s direction.

“Hi Chris. I thought you’d be at work.”

Christie plastered a flat smile on her face.

“Well, it’s good you’re here because I want you to meet Savanna.”

The name struck a chord in Christie and she was forced to remember the woman that took most of Folarin’s time online.

“Savanna Dunn.”

“Hi.” Savanna waved.

“Sav, meet my wife, Christie.”

“Hello.” Christie’s voice was rich with aloofness.

“Sav will be staying here with us for a while.”

Christie kept mute, although she wanted to ask why he didn’t opt to have her in a hotel. She also wanted to know how long she would be staying. And what her reason for visiting was. And why on earth her hand was around his waist.

But she maintained calm and welcomed Savanna warmly before telling Folarin that she needed to speak with him in private.

He followed her into the kitchen.

“Chief, I thought you wanted to talk, to hear my own side of what happened between me and Raji,” Christie said, taking out a First Aid Box from a top cabinet.

“To hear you say that my friend fucked you like you’re some sex slave?”

Christie cringed.

“Or how he choked you, slapped your ass around, pulled your hair like…”

“Please stop,” Christie begged. She half-filled a bowl with warm water and brought it to him. “Let me dress your wounds. Roll up your sleeves.”

He looked at her.

“Please.”

She placed the bowl on the kitchen table and he dipped both hands into the warm liquid, which she made antiseptic after folding up the sleeves of his shirt.

“I’m sorry for everything,” she told him.

“Shut up.”

“I really am…”

“Christie, please, shut up.”

“Let me explain–”

“There is nothing to explain.” His voice was low but harsh. “You carried on an affair with Raji for three months and lied to my face. No long explanation there. No justification for what you did either. And I’m not going to give you the opportunity to say you’re sorry because it makes things easy.”

“It doesn’t.”

“You enjoyed everything he did to you, Chris. And I want you to live with that memory while I move on with my life.”

“Move on?”

“I’m moving on with Savanna.”

“You and her are…?”

“Fill in the blank space, Christina.”

He took his hands out of the water and shook them.

“Folarin, you’re just doing this to get back at me and I…”

He walked out while she was still speaking and it felt to her as if he was walking out of her life.

Christie dropped into a chair before the table. Savanna’s voice broke out in laughter.

She’s mocking me. She has taken my husband and she’s mocking me.

Seconds later, Folarin was laughing as well.

Christie hurled the bowl of water to the floor and cried.

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