Tired after her long meeting, Christie arrived at the hospital to visit Bernadette and her baby at exactly 7pm. A nurse at the reception, upon recognizing her, presented a perky smile.
“Mrs. Adediran, longest time! So nice to see you. How is the family?”
“And Boluwatife? Last time I saw her, her front teeth were out.”
“She’s all grown now.”
“Aww, my love to her. You’re here to see Mrs. Uchendu, right?”
“Well, she is not out of surgery yet,” the nurse replied.
Christie put out a confused face. “She had a caesarian?”
“Yes but she’s still in the theater. There was a little complication and they had to wheel her back in.”
“Complication? What happened?”
“Nothing serious. It will be sorted out. The baby is fine, though. You can go and see him. It’s not visiting hours but just because it’s you, I will let you in.”
“Our new private wing is that white building on the right as you walk it. When you step out, follow the path on your left and you’ll see a small gate. Enter there. The baby is with his dad.”
Christie thanked her again and began heading out, not catching when she added that Folarin was also around.
There was a slight drizzle when Christie stepped out. She docked from it on her way to the ward, lucky to get in before it became a full downpour.
“I’m here to see Mrs. Uchendu’s baby, please,” she said to a nurse at the front desk who also recognized her.
“Second to the last door on your right. Please, you can only stay for fifteen minutes, ma.”
Christie followed a long corridor that led down to double doors opening into another part of the hospital. She came to the door described by the nurse and found it ajar. Walking in quietly, her face came to a smile. But it swiftly vanished when she saw Folarin alone with the baby. He gave her a glance and turned back to the little boy whom he was rocking.
“Good evening, Fola.”
“Hey, unfamiliar person.”
His response caught Christie on the hop and she studied him for some seconds, unsure if the ice had been broken or he was being unpleasant.
“Waiting outside the operating theater for his wife.”
Christie took a seat. The room was below normal temperature to keep the baby protected and it caused her some discomfort but she didn’t mind. The sight before her was a pleasant diversion. Folarin seemed to have fallen in love with the bundle of adorability in his arms. Christie soon found herself infected with the same bug. It brought memories of Vanessa’s birth and how he had been so obsessed, staying awake on many nights just to watch her sleep, fussing over every little movement she made and worrying himself to silliness if something felt different about her. It had been an amazing time for them as a couple but it didn’t last long. Christie was quick to return to work, an act, which she presently regretted. Time had passed so fast and she was just realizing she had missed almost every major milestone in Vanessa’s life.
“You want to hold him?” Folarin asked. She shook her head. She was already in an emotional state and was fighting to keep it together. One touch of the Uchendu baby was bound to mess her up.
The door opened and a stretcher carrying Bernadette was wheeled in by two nurses as Izu followed behind.
“Hey, Christie,” he greeted and stopped for a hug. “I didn’t think you’d come, busy madam.”
“Well, I’m here, and I’ve seen baby. He is so gorgeous. Congratulations.”
“Thank you. But this is the last, abeg.” He shook his head, his eyes on his wife who was being taken off the stretcher to the bed.
“Madam here went through hell. If no be for God…” He tsked. “But sha we no do again. Four children don do me. I pass the baton to you guys. Abi Chief?” He threw his head at Folarin but found him distracted with the baby.
“So did Raji show up for the meeting?” Izu inquired.
“And he’s phone’s still off?”
“I didn’t bother to check again. You should try and call him.”
“I will. Thank you so much for coming. Berna will be glad when she wakes up. She kept asking after you, saying that if you were here and you prayed, things would go well.”
Christie smiled. Once upon a time, she was a prayer warrior, heading an intercessory group in her church called the Gap Partners. Their specific duty was to stand in the gap for others through prayers. It was highly believed then that God had a special liking for Christie. Whenever she prayed, he answered. But these days, the story was different. She didn’t have the fervency she was known for and doubted that God would answer her as he used to.
“Sir? Madam?” one of the nurses called, referring to Folarin and Christie. “Please, we would ask you to excuse our patient and her baby so that they can rest. Visiting hours are over. You can come back tomorrow morning.”
Folarin placed the baby in the nurse’s care and stood. After farewells were made, he started out, Christie following closely behind. Out in the open air, the weather was back to normal with little trace that it had rained. Christie was tempted to follow Folarin to his car but she held back, unsure of what his reaction would be. She preferred to approach him in the confines of their home.
She walked to her car and got into the backseat. Her driver was asleep. He jolted up at her entry.
“Take me home, Abraham.”
“Okay, ma. We’re done for the night?” He yawned.
Christie tried her best not to be unhappier than she already was. Getting Folarin’s attention was exhausting. She closed her eyes and rubbed tears of frustration away.
“Abraham.” She heard Folarin’s voice and a tap on the hood of the car. “Take my car home.”
She nudged up and looked out. He was standing outside. Abraham promptly obeyed his instruction and they switched places.
“What’s going on?” Christie asked.
“Relax, madam. I’m taking you home,” Folarin retorted.
“Then let me come to the front.”
He started the car and Christie kept mute as he navigated it out of the hospital premises. He was quiet for a bumpy stretch of time until they were trapped in mild traffic.
“I think it’s time we revisited that talk of having another baby.”
“We should get pregnant again. It’s about time.”
Christie held her breath. She didn’t want to believe that he had finally spoken to her and was moving past the chasm between them.
“You heard me?”
And just like that she broke down, days of accumulated emotions coming to an end. She left where she sat and went behind his seat.
“I’m so sorry,” she cried in relief. “So, so sorry, chief.”
She coated his face and head with wet kisses.
“Go back to your seat, Christina. You don’t get to gloss things over with kisses.”
“I know, and I’m not trying to…”
Christie gave him some distance but stayed where she was, managing through silence until they arrived home. Abraham had just parked Folarin’s car and was leaving the house when they drove in.
“Go in and make sure Vanessa’s asleep,” Folarin instructed Christie. “We have to talk.”
Christie entered her house, emotionally elated, yet a little apprehensive. The new maid she had hired to clean and look after Vanessa after school hours was waiting with a frown. Christie was three hours late. To avoid explaining herself, she counted some money and pushed into the woman’s hands for the extra hours.
“I’m sorry,” she apologized.
The woman masked on a smile. “Boluwatife just started sleeping.”
“Ma, some people brought some things from your office. I kept them in front of your room door.”
“Is the American woman around?”
“Alright then. You can leave. Thank you.”
The woman made her exit and Christie hurried to her bedroom. As directed by Toni, she had planned for a romantic setting with the items delivered to her from the office but the hospital visit and ride home with Folarin had put a twist to the whole arrangement. She shoved the items aside and opted for a shower instead.
When she was done, she dashed out to answer her phone, which she realized had been ringing. When she saw it was Mosun calling, she cringed. She had totally forgotten to send her driver to get her mother-in-law.
“That’s how you didn’t come to pick Mommy,” Mosun complained.
“I’m sorry. I’ll come and get her tomorrow morning. And you’ll come with us too, abi? It’s my birthday.”
“I know. But I have to travel to Ibadan to see my friend that gave birth.”
“Okay. When you’re done, you can come. There’s no party, though. I’ll bake a cake and cook some rice and chicken.”
“I’ll be there.”
“Okay, Mosun. Thank you so much for your patience and for taking care of Nessa.”
“Tife’s my child. Don’t thank me abeg.”
“Just reconcile with your husband.”
“I will. Goodnight, Mosun.”
“Sleep well, dear.”
Mosun rang off. Christie took a peep outside and saw that Folarin was still seated in her car. It was now almost 11pm and she was worried about him.
She entered the kitchen to boil a pack of spaghetti and while it cooked, she microwaved some gizzard stew prepared the day before. Just as she was done cooking, she heard the front door close. Abandoning the meal, she left the kitchen to the sitting room. Folarin broke his steps when she came into view. Clad in a silky kimono from Toni’s romance package, her delicate parts were barely covered. She saw that Folarin’s attention was well arrested. A look of desire she was acquainted took over his facial features, slowly erasing the cold expression he had carried for days. It was the only green light she needed to make her move. She walked to him and without being asked, rested her head on his shoulder.
“Folarin, I’ve done everything I can to get your attention but nothing has worked. I went all out today, put myself out there, exposed everything just to say I’m sorry but you didn’t pick my calls or call back…”
She paused, noted how he didn’t hold her.
“You don’t know how happy I am that you finally spoke to me but I’m still scared. I don’t know what else to do. I had planned to seduce you this night, with candlelight, rose petals everywhere, wine in a bucket of ice, a collection of our favorite songs together… But I don’t know if you’ll care. I don’t know…”
Her voice thinned out.
“I don’t know what you want, chief. If you want us to work this out, then please…”
He stopped her with a sudden grasp of her waist that brought her body closer into his. Then he squeezed her as though he wanted to absorb all of her into him.
“I am so sorry,” she sobbed.
“Shh…Christina. It’s okay,” he whispered into her ear as he inhaled the minty scent of her hair. “God, I’ve missed you.”
His arms around her tightened in a pacifying embrace, stilling the tremors her tears brought as his lips grazed over her neck, traveled to her cheek and stopped to feel the ampleness of her lips.
“I know you want to talk,” he said, “but first…”
He kissed her lower lip, then took much of her mouth in a greedy, yet affectionate manner. He worked her tongue in a rhythm that was new to her and pretty soon the intensity between climbed went out control. So strong was the urgency that they didn’t quite make it to any of the sofas. Christie dragged him to the nearest wall where she let him kiss her further. His fragrance after a long day of work, which was often of leather and something fruity, mixed with the scent of his masculinity, drove her over the edge. They took their fiery seven minutes past first base and went all the way, right there on the wall.
One of the things Folarin had missed about her was their quickies. It used to be a thing with them at the early stage of their marriage. While normal couples had quickies mostly because of time constraint or instant desire, he and Christie had them for fun. They would literally starve themselves of normal, long-winded sex just to feel the thrill of a quick shag in the most unusual of places.
It took Folarin heartbreak over Christie’s affair with Raji for him to realize she still enjoyed being wild in bed but also relished emotional moments at chosen times of the month, owing to her menstrual cycle. During such days, she was more nurturing and sensitive while her wild days left her in the full bloom of her creativity.
It had been painful for Folarin to accept that along the years he had been complacent with just giving her some part of him, never trying to go further, even when they shifted and grew from what they used to be. It was also difficult for him to accept that he exuded bitterness in a passive manner each time he felt belittled by her status. This had pushed her farther away from their union and into her career where Raji was a constant.
When Folarin embraced these truths, it was easy for him to see that her actions were never done in spite but rather as a result of carrying a heavy crown. She had needed a man to ease the load sometimes, but he hadn’t been there. Rather, he asserted his manhood by satisfying her in bed and paying the bills, leaving a gaping hole that grew wider between them.
This wasn’t to say he didn’t do his best as a husband and a father. He knew he aced his duties, but he knew he could have done more and gotten off his ass when the opportunity to excel in life came knocking so many times.
It was this deep soul-searching and acceptance of truth that gave him the strength to forgive Christie, in anticipation of starting together on a clean slate.
“This feels like falling in love with you again,” he told her when they lay on their bed much later, following a second round of yet another quickie and a meal of Christie’s spaghetti and gizzard stew.
As they listened to a collection of songs that had helped Christie heal over the past week, they had a quiet heart-to-heart to thrash out their issues. The conversation was hard on both of them with unexpressed issues brought to the fore and resolved. Concessions were to be made and difficult decisions taken for their marriage and home to heal. Folarin unapologetically told Christie that trusting her again would be challenging. She took his words bravely, but cracked when he let out the news that he would spend close to four months away from her traveling around the continent.
Her reaction was a mixture of happiness and sadness. She was happy for and proud of him, but was sad that he would be away for so long.
“How do I handle CJ and Nessa all on my own? I suck at being a mom.”
“You’ll do great, Chris.”
He kissed her navel and left the bed to pour himself a glass of wine. He stood by the window, staring at the dogs howling outside. The temperature of their bedroom was subzero but he didn’t notice. He was nude and Christie thought he looked regal. Her eyes followed the familiar tattoos from his back to his arms and to his chest where she found a new one she didn’t recognize.
She walked up to him.
“You have a new tattoo?”
Her finger caressed the pattern of an infinity tattoo with an anchor looped to it. It also had the word ‘family’ written on one end.
“What does it mean?”
“Those are two tattoos actually,” Folarin answered, his gaze on her. He craved to feel the smoothness of her skin beneath his lips in an unrushed session of lovemaking.
“The anchor symbolizes my faith, which I had to renew when I found out about you and Raji and lost my mind. The infinity is about what we share, you and I, and the children. It symbolizes limitless love. I inked it on when I was most tempted to leave. It helped me stay back.”
Her eyes wandered into his and caught the blatant need in them. It was a reflection of what she wanted. She went on tiptoe just as he lowered his head. Christie sucked in her breath the moment their lips met. But Folarin stopped.
He devoured her mouth, burying his fingers into her hair. He took her to the bed and laid her on it. At a slow pace, his lips caressed every bit of her. He particularly drove her wild with kisses along her spine, starting from the cleft of her bum up to the fine hairs on her neck. By the time he propped her tummy up on a pillow and slid into her, she was already near orgasm.
But he tortured her with slow thrusts, bringing her to the brink many times and plunging her down. He made love to her in different positions, with adoring words that made her cry and laugh at the same time. When she finally came, it was with a gush of emotions. They both slumped into a heap. She dug into the bed covers as sleep took her but Folarin reached in and held her.
“Happy birthday, Christina.”
She had hardly heard him. Her eyes were shut in sleep.
The morning was a lazy one for Andre and Toni. After picking Toni from the airport at 4am, Andre took her back to his house and they goofed around in the kitchen while fixing a meal that ended up tasting awful. They settled for wine and snacks instead, making out and taking photos in-between. Afterwards they made love and Toni fell asleep, waking up two hours later. An unusual sound drew her to the sitting room. When she strolled in there, she discovered it was a video playing on Andre’s laptop The face of Andre’s late wife, Anouk, drew her in and she moved closer.
But she saw that Andre was not watching. He was lying on his back on one of the couches, eyes closed but fingers drumming the air.
He opened his eyes. “You’re awake.”
“Yeah. You’re watching videos of Anouk.”
“I…found them in my laptop.”
“Are you okay?”
“I am. Just thinking that it’s time to let her go.”
He took Toni’s hand and heaved her over his body.
“I’ve been so obsessed with getting justice that I haven’t really said goodbye. And it’s been three years – of anger and pain and…”
His voice broke. She looked at him. His face showed no emotion. Just a parting of his lips to let out air.
“Anouk deserves her justice, Andre.”
“She has gotten it. She’s resting. And it’s time for me to let it rest too.”
Toni placed her head on his chest. She didn’t think it was time to tell him that she had something up her sleeve for the animal that murdered Anouk. It was all going to become known soon.
“I’m sorry for your loss, Fabrice.”
“You’re helping me forget. Thank you for being in my life. It was very lonely without you.”
His trimmed fingernails harmlessly scratched her back.
“Let’s go out for breakfast. There’s a joint down the road…”
Toni lifted her head.
“I don’t do bukas and roadside food,” she informed him with a straight face.
“I’ll teach you.”
“Your parents spoilt you a lot, Tone. And yet they taught you how to smoke.”
“Yeah, the smoking thing is a family tradition. And it’s ironic that my biological mother who has never held a cigarette in her life has lung cancer and no one in my foster family even has a mild cough.”
“Life is strange sometimes.”
Her face turned sad.
“So, on the topic of you being spoilt, you’re saying you’ve not traveled on road before, you drink only bottled water and you’ve never worn anything secondhand?”
“Yep.” Toni responded to the change of topic favorably. “Aje butter to the core.”
“Well, then one day, you and I will hop into my car and travel anywhere you choose by road, eat roadside food, shit in the bushes, drink sachet water, and if you get food poisoning I’ll be by your bedside in the hospital until you get better.”
“Aww, that’s romantic.”
Andre shut his laptop and pulled her up for a kiss.
“Let’s go and eat.”
They got into his car and made it to an eatery that was just opening its doors for the day. A typical red and yellow space welcomed them in. They made their orders and sat in a place where they wouldn’t be bothered much by people coming in or out.
Towards the end of their meal, Toni received a call from Dapo. Because her hands were busy, she put him on speakerphone.
“Hey, sis,” he greeted. “Morning.”
She smiled. She loved being called ‘sis’. Her foster siblings had never addressed her in that manner.
“Are you coming home today at all?”
“Yes, I am.” She looked at Andre who was shaking his head in disagreement. “Much later.”
“Okay, I want to speak to you about something. Is this a good time?”
“Go ahead.” Toni dipped a piece of chicken into some hot sauce and waited.
“Em…so, I like Leticia.”
Toni’s hand stopped moving.
“I think she’s an amazing person and I’d like to get to know her better.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes, I am.”
“She’s seven years older than you, Dapo.”
“I know, I know. But that doesn’t mean anything to me. I like her.”
“In the space of just one week?”
“How long does it take to like someone? I liked her from the first day and I think she feels something for me too but she doesn’t want to pursue it. She’s playing the ‘aunty’ card with me.”
“Toni, I’m only telling you this so that it doesn’t come as a shock if something happens between us.”
Toni put her chicken down. She had lost her mood to continue eating. Andre held back laughter at her facial expression. She stoned him with a soiled serviette.
“And I think she’s scared of what you’ll say,” Dapo went on. “So, I need you to let her know, whenever the discussion comes up, that you’re okay with it.”
“But I’m not.”
Andre whispered, “Don’t do that, Tone.”
“Tish is a hoe,” she whispered back.
“You said?” Dapo asked
“Dapo…” Toni sighed. “I’m sure this has to do with some strong sexual chemistry between you two…”
“No. I like her.”
Dapo stopped there. He didn’t say any more.
“Well, you’re both adults, so…”
“I’ll be good with her. I don’t go into relationships easily, and I’m there for the long haul.”
Toni felt sad for him already. Leticia was going to chew him up and spit him out. The worst thing a man could ever do to himself was to fall in love with her. She would make him a doormat.
But Toni couldn’t tell Dapo this.
“Thank you, Toni.”
“Earlier on, at the airport you were telling me something about Lade? I was too tired to hear.”
“Yes. She’s in a mood. But I think you should come home and talk to her. She won’t talk to anybody, not even Tayo.”
“I don’t know. Just come home.”
Toni became restless from then on, unable to finish her breakfast. Andre took her home and on their way into her compound, they saw Tayo driving out. He let down his window as Toni walked to his car while Andre searched for a parking space on the street.
“She won’t talk. She’s been crying. She hasn’t slept…” Tayo sighed. His eyes were tired. He looked like he hadn’t slept as well.
“Where are you going?”
“I want to buy bread and eggs to make breakfast for her. She hasn’t eaten.”
“Let me talk to her.”
Toni made her way in without Andre who was easing his car into a parking space in front of her neighbor’s gate.
She walked into the house. It was quiet at first but she heard the voices of Leticia and Dapo. Toni figured they were in Leticia’s bedroom. She planned to speak to Lade but felt it was better to get proper information on what led to her present state of mind. Hence, she strode to Leticia’s bedroom and fell upon a scene that made her uneasy. She stood for some time and neither Leticia nor Dapo were aware of her presence. Both half-dressed and lying on Leticia’s bed, they were making out intensely.
Toni withdrew quietly and went knocking on Lade’s door.
“It’s me, Lade. Toni.”
The door opened. Lade emerged from the dimly lit bedroom and clasped her hands around Toni. A low whimper broke out from her throat.
“It’s okay, darling.”
She held her until she stopped crying. By now, everyone else had congregated. Toni guided her into her favorite red couch in the sitting room and pleaded with her to talk.
Lade heartbreakingly recalled the events of the previous day and what Lulu had divulged to her about Manny’s devious actions. Her story left everyone cold except Tayo, whose anger started at a low and boiled over by the time she was done speaking.
“I knew that guy had nothing good up his sleeves!”
“Did you ask him if he really did it?” Toni questioned Lade.
“He and I spoke last night. At first he denied but when I threatened him that I was holding a bottle of insecticide and I would swallow it if he didn’t tell me the truth, he confessed that everything Lulu said was true.”
“Aww, baby.” Toni held her in a cuddle.
“Give me his address, Lade.” Tayo came forward.
Lade sat straight. “Tayo, no.”
“Lade, I wasn’t making a suggestion. Give me his address!”
“Tayo, calm down. I don’t want any violence–”
“Omolade, what are you talking about?!” He towered over her and Toni. “You’re my wife! He hurt you and me together! He killed our baby! It is not your fight anymore! It’s mine! Give me the bastard’s address!”
“Tayo,” Andre called. Tayo looked at him. He made calming hand gestures. “We will handle him in an appropriate way.”
Tayo took off his face cap and ran his hand over his head.
“Tayo, chill.” Dapo leaned back on his chair. “We can get him anytime. Right now, Lade is more important.”
Everyone’s eyes focused on her.
“How are you feeling, dear?” Leticia, teary-eyed, asked.
Lade shook her head. “I’m still in shock that somebody who said he loved me would do that to me. I can’t get over it.”
“You will. In time.” Toni patted her head and rested it on hers. “One day, you’ll go through the morning and night and the next morning without remembering any of this.”
She rubbed her back. “We’re all here for you, sweetie. Mommy sends her love. She’s responding to treatment and once she completes it, she’ll come see us.”
Tayo stretched out his hand to Lade. Anger was still marked in his eyes but he seemed to have eased up significantly. He pulled her up and steered her to her bedroom.
“Tayo will kill that guy,” Dapo stated.
“Not before I’m done with him,” Toni replied. She couldn’t understand why she was calm. It was probably because she wanted to hear Manny confess to her all on his own.
“The moment Tayo leaves here,” Dapo continued, “Manny is finished. The only way to save him is to have him arrested now.”
“Then we shouldn’t waste time.” Andre stood.
“I will handle it, Fabrice. Just leave Manny to me.”
“We’ll handle it together,” Dapo said.
“No. Everyone should relax. I know Manny personally and I will take care of this. Trust me.”
Andre took her hand. He brushed his lips on her cheek. “I’ll dash to the mainland, fix some things and come back soon.”
She walked him to his car. When they stepped out, she threw her arms over his shoulders and drew herself up for a kiss that lingered. After his departure, Dapo also announced that he was leaving. He promised to return by evening. Toni observed how Leticia pretended not to have heard him but a sideways glance from her gave her away.
As she withdrew into her bedroom, Toni went after her.
“He’s still a boy, Tish.”
Leticia spun around, startled by Toni’s presence.
“Dapo. That’s who I’m talking about before you start acting like you don’t know what I mean. I saw you guys touching yourselves in this room a short while ago.”
Leticia leaned on her dressing table and tried to maintain a carefree appearance. Toni wasn’t moved by it. She gave her a stern face.
“I don’t know much about him but I know you and how much of a slut you can be.”
Leticia stopped smiling.
“And also how fragile you are. If it so happens that one of you is there for the just sex and the other is in for real, it’s going to end badly. And I don’t want to be involved. So, please, just keep your shit away from me. I don’t want you to come and gist me about my brother’s whatever or how he did what to you. And please, don’t moan loudly like you always do whenever something is happening to you. Just keep your shit out of my life.”
“By the way, I’m disappointed.”
“I like him, Toni, and I want something serious to happen between us.”
“You have a problem. A guy fucks you and you start loving him. Izu has not even been exorcised from your life yet.”
“Dapo and I have not had sex…”
“Yet,” Toni completed. She slammed the door on her way out.