Christie woke up alone and with the sun in her face. The room was bright with daylight. The shades had been drawn apart and she couldn’t remember doing so. She lay in bed for a while, allowing the goodness of the previous night soak into her core, leaving her face in smiles.
But the day held long activities for her, so she turned off the air conditioner and placed her feet on the cold floor quite begrudgingly. She had woken up a couple of hours ago to use the toilet and when she returned to bed to lie down with her backside to Folarin’s crotch, they made love again and fell asleep exhausted. Now, she felt sore and tired.
She went for a leak, came back to the bedroom and saw that there was a ring box on her dressing table.
A grin spread over her lips.
Folarin always made her birthdays special with gifts, dates and getaways. She could never predict what he had up his sleeves every time her birthday was around the corner. She knew today was going to be special like the others.
She went for the box and saw that it was resting on a handwritten note. She picked up the note and read aloud.
I know you’re a little sore 😉
But I know you want more…
Happy birthday, pillow lover. May God give you many more years and keep me by your side to continue spanking that lovely ass.
So, I ran out of ideas on what to get you this year. You have everything money can buy. Apart from me, of course. I was thinking that maybe, in the light of recent happenings, we could start all over again.
Look inside the box.
Afolarin Richard Adediran
Christie chuckled. She could never understand why he always signed his full name on notes he wrote to her. But she thought it was cute.
She opened the box and in it, found a dazzling ring with ten small diamonds and a big one in their center, marking the eleven years they had been married. Tears flooded her eyes.
Folarin had been too broke to afford a classy engagement ring for her when he wanted to propose years ago; rather he saved up money to buy a gold wedding band and made a promise to get her the ring of her dreams.
And here she was, years later, staring at the most beautiful ring she had ever set her eyes on. She knew it had cost him a fortune but to her, it was beyond the price tag. The thought behind it overwhelmed her, and as she slipped the ring on her finger, she began to cry. She couldn’t comprehend how he could still love her despite what she did. She fell on her knees to thank God for restoring her marriage. Then she thought of Raji, and prayed for him too, asking God to make things right for him and Salma.
While she was still on her knees, Vanessa knocked on the door and walked in.
“Happy birthday, Mommy.”
Cyrus Junior strolled in next and they both came bearing gifts. Christie quickly wiped her tears and invited them over.
“Open my own first.” Vanessa stretched out her hands to Christie who took the carefully-wrapped box the child presented and opened it. Inside, she found a pair of baby shoes.
“Nessa?” She laughed. “What’s this?”
“My old baby shoes.”
“And what are they for, sweetie?”
“For the new baby.”
“What new baby?”
“You’re going to have a baby.”
“Are you serious at all?” Cyrus Junior asked.
“Nessa, sweetheart, for me to have a baby, I have to be pregnant and I’m not pregnant.”
“If I have faith, I can ask God for anything and I will have it. I’ve been asking God to give you another baby.”
“They don’t drop from the skies,” Cyrus Junior muttered.
Vanessa rolled her eyes. “I know how babies are made, oversabi.”
“Oh,” Christie mumbled. “Yeah, we have to have that talk. But not today. Today, we’ll have fun.”
She drew Vanessa over and kissed her forehead.
“Thank you, luv.”
“And here’s mine.” Cyrus Junior handed over an envelope.
“You didn’t even wrap it,” Vanessa commented.
“Be nice, Tife.” Christie opened the envelope and pulled out two tickets for an Asa concert.
“For you and dad.”
“CJ, this is so thoughtful. Thank you”
She hugged him as well.
She rubbed his cheek.
“Thank you both for these.”
“Aunty Susan is waiting for you in the parlor,” Vanessa announced.
Susan was Christie’s assistant; she had asked her over to help with shopping.
Christie followed the children out, gave Susan a list of things to buy at the mall and instructed Cyrus Junior to drive her there. Vanessa begged to follow and Christie obliged. After they left, she went back to her bedroom for a shower. On the washbasin was a sachet of her contraceptive pills. She picked it and tossed into the bin with the full intention of making Vanessa’s prayers come to pass. She felt it was time to slow down from years of hard work and enjoy her family. A baby would win back Folarin’s love and heal their home.
She had a shower, slipped into a long-sleeved top and a jeans skirt and went out to the kitchen. The maid was already at work. They exchanged greetings and Christie sat down for breakfast. While she was eating, she heard a knock on the front door. As she walked out to the sitting room, familiar voices that put her tummy in knots drew her to the door.
She opened it and let her estranged mother-in-law and troublesome sisters-in-law into the house. The three women were Christie’s nightmares in the Adediran family. But she showed no sign of hostility as she greeted them and offered seats.
“We should sit down,” the one called Aunty Tinu muttered.
“You know we’re not strangers here, Christie,” Aunty Remi, the nicer of the sisters, added with a smile.
Christie didn’t respond. She saw that they had come with trouble and she wasn’t going to indulge them. They had also brought polythene bags of foodstuff from the market as was their usual custom. They would cook up a storm for Folarin just to spite her.
“Where’s your husband?” Tinu asked. “He’s refusing to pick our calls.”
“He went out. He’ll soon be back.”
“We heard it’s your birthday today,” Remi mentioned.
“We want to use your kitchen if you don’t mind,” Tinu announced.
“Please, go ahead.”
“But don’t think we’re cooking for you oh. We’re cooking for our brother.”
Christie let out a patient smile. “It’s fine.”
She noticed her mother-in-law had been unusually quiet, but her eyes were trained on her.
“So up till now, you’re still being stubborn, refusing to get pregnant again.”
“Mama, not now.” Remi took her hand but the woman snapped it back.
“What type of nonsense money are you pursuing that you cannot make your husband happy by giving him the child he’s been asking for?”
“Mommy, we’re planning for a baby.”
“Planning for a baby keh. You do not plan for a baby! All you have to do is lie down there and let your husband do his work. What is so hard in that?”
“Trust me, a baby is on the way, Mommy.”
“And you’re still flat like an ironing table. God will expose you soon.”
Christie didn’t have to ask her what her last statement meant. The old woman believed Christie was suffering from secondary infertility as a result of multiple abortions she had done during the course of her marriage simply because she was more dedicated to her job than to her home.
She had run into that conclusion all on her own. It usually didn’t take her much prodding to repeat it to Christie’s hearing.
“If you won’t give him a second child, allow another woman do it!”
She hissed and said something in Yoruba, which Remi didn’t approve of.
The women entered the kitchen. Christie, out of respect, followed them in and asked to help pick some vegetables. They ignored her as much as possible, conversing with themselves. She was glad when her phone began to ring.
She left the kitchen to answer the call. Izu was on the line.
“Christie…” His breath was heavy. “I’m not calling with good news o. They found Raji a few hours ago.”
Christie froze. “What do you mean by they found him?”
“Folarin didn’t tell you?”
“Tell me what Izu?”
“Raji had gone to the site of the new complex he’s building. And they suspect he climbed the last floor and fell into a hole they had started drilling for a borehole.”
“Oh my God.”
“There was nobody on the site, so he was there all through yesterday…”
“Oh God. Is he okay?” Christie held her breath.
“He’s in critical condition. He broke his neck.”
Christie’s legs could not hold up. She sat on a stool. “Can he walk? I mean, will he be able to walk?”
“Yeah. But the problem is not even that. It’s that they’re not sure he’ll make it.”
Christie felt like someone had stabbed her.
“Folarin was here in the hospital a while ago. So he didn’t tell you?”
“Well, now you know. Raji had so much alcohol in his system that he kept waking up during surgery.”
“Just pray for him.”
Izu’s line went dead and she wasn’t sure she said a proper goodbye to him. Her mind had been on the harsh words she uttered to Raji the day before. She concluded that he definitely hurt himself because of what she told him.
She was barely recovering from the breaking news when a rude knock came to the door. Someone was hitting it with their fist, nonstop, and loud enough to rile her. She opened the door and at the sight of Salma’s angry face, she knew her hell just got hotter.
Salma pushed Christie off her path as she charged in and then swiveled around to face her. “Shey you’re happy?! You’re happy that you’ve killed him, Christina! You’ve killed Raji for me!”
Christie moved backwards a little.
“First, you broke my marriage up with your vagina and now you’ve killed my husband! I sha hope you’re happy! You’re here, looking so pitiful but inside you’re a demon! God will punish you, Christie!”
“Salma, I’m very sorry but let’s not do this here right now. My in-laws are around.”
“You think I fucking care?! My husband’s gone because of you and all you think about is saving face in front of your in-laws! Do you deserve to have in-laws or even a marriage in the first place, you shameless ashewo?!”
She offensively got all up in Christie’s face, so close that Christie could feel the heat of her breath.
“Telling me about in-laws as if I give a shit! For the record, I’ll say it let them hear! You had an affair with my husband, turned him into a drunk and now you’ve killed him!”
“DON’T TALK TO ME! I HATE YOU!” She jabbed her chest, pushing her backwards. “You killed him! You heartless witch! I confided in you as a friend! You let me cry on your shoulders! But you screwed my husband to death!”
“I didn’t mean to hurt Raji in anyway, Salma,” Christie sobbed. “Or even you.”
Salma threw her head to the side as if stung by Christie’s words. She went mute for some seconds, staring at her with enough hatred to stop Christie’s heart from beating. Then, from nowhere, she laughed loud and angrily, but the laughter brought moisture to her eyes.
“You never meant to hurt Raji,” she repeated and spat on the floor.
“YOU DIDN’T THINK OF HIM! You were busy thinking of your pussy! Just you and your pleasure! Not him! Not my marriage and how you were destroying it! And definitely not me!”
“Raji became a drunk because of you, Christina… Something he has never done before! You were supposed to be his friend! You were supposed to help him become a better man but you destroyed him!”
Christie tried to take in deep breaths to pacify herself but her tears wouldn’t let her.
“He never loved anyone but you! And I wished there was justice in the world so that I can take Folarin from you too and then you’ll know how it feels to have your friend stab you in the back by sleeping with your man! In the end, it’s you who get to keep your home and your husband while I lose everything!”
Christie lost her strength and rested her back on the wall beside her. If there was anything worse than death, it was what she wished herself.
“Your pathetic face and tears cannot change anything! And don’t think you can mistake me for Folarin! I will never forgive you! Dirty slut!”
Salma stormed off the same way she came in and a sudden fever claimed Christie’s body. She stood shivering as her mother-in-law appeared before her. Christie desired to bolt out of the sitting room but she found that she couldn’t move her legs. She remained rooted to her spot until the old woman spoke and dropped the last straw that broke her.
“You are not fit to be anybody’s wife or mother. You are a total disgrace to womanhood and I will not have you near my son or granddaughter as long as I live. Now, if you know what is good for you, enter your husband’s room, pack your things and leave this house.”
Christie heaved. “Mommy…”
“Leave before I open my mouth and curse you.”
Christie forced strength into her legs and walked to her bedroom. The need to hurl herself on the bed and weep was strong but she didn’t want any more drama with her in-laws. She picked her wallet, removed the engagement ring Folarin had given her and wrote down a note beneath the one he had written.
Your mom was right about me. I am sorry and I love you unreservedly. Please, forgive me for all the pain I caused. Tell Salma I’m sorry.
Christie locked the bedroom door and took her walk of shame out of her home. It seemed too much of a cliché Nollywood scene to her but it was her reality and no one could have scripted it better. Fate was serving her the Karma she rightly deserved.
She handed the bedroom key to the maid, leaving instructions for Folarin. Afterwards she picked a cab outside the house. She was too broken to cry. She sat in and gave the address of her family home to the driver.
As the cab journeyed there, Christie, in habit, lost herself in a cocoon to help ease her pain. She stayed there until she got to her destination. Her family house towered above her intimidatingly as she stood before it. The huge trees, flowers and colorful ambience gave her no sense of peace. She instantly felt confined but she trudged in.
Quietness met her when she entered. The house was clean as she expected it to be. She was paying someone good money to keep it in order. Left to Solomon, it would have been sold long ago. She hadn’t been able to bring herself to let go of the memories trapped within the walls, unpleasant as they were. It was her history and she planned to keep it for as long as she lived.
“Welcome, ma,” the someone whom she was paying well, smiled as she entered.
Christie didn’t smile back. She entered the kitchen and washed her hands. The front door had been a little dusty. Afterwards, she climbed up the stairs and went to her bedroom. The space choked her upon entrance, throwing sad memories at her.
She took it all in as a form of torture. She could have gone anywhere else but she chose her past and the pain it brought.
Christie lay on the ground and her mind went back to Raji and how she was responsible for what had happened to him. She thought of Folarin too. She didn’t deserve him or the kids. In fact, she felt she deserved nothing good, not even the right to keep breathing.
She rested her eyes on the west window that had the huge mango tree where she once plucked unripe mangoes. The tree still stood strong and tall but the branches leading into her room had been chopped off.
Christie watched the leaves sway to gentle breeze, dancing slowly as if to a rhythm. It mesmerized her and soon her sight became blurry. Tears rushed down the sides of her face in full force. She could hear her phone ring but it sounded like it was coming from some other place. She cried, her chest expanding and contrasting at the intensity of each moan. But a sound outside her door abruptly cut her short and she quickly wiped her eyes. Seconds after, the door threw open.
Christie turned and saw Solomon standing at the doorway. He regarded her with a quiet stare before giving her the creepy smile she had seen on many nights in her past.
“Hi baby girl. Happy birthday. I always told you you’d come back to me,” he said, shutting the door.
Christie lay back again and closed her eyes for the inevitable. At this point she didn’t care anymore.
Lade, sitting at the dining table, looked out the window forlornly and watched Tayo drive away from the house. She had been unresponsive to him after breakfast, saying nothing when he held her and told her he was sorry; not even when he took the blame for what Manny did to her. His words had had no effect on her. She sat in one stiff position throughout and when she saw that he wouldn’t leave, she confessed to him that she had slept with Manny. As expected, Tayo was peeved. However, he kept his lips sealed, picked his cap and marched out of the house.
Lade entered her room, picked a half-consumed bottle of yogurt and slugged it down like one taking alcohol to drown her worries. When the bottle emptied, she poured in some water, swooshed it around and sent it down her throat again.
On her thigh, her phone vibrated. She attended to the call with a calm voice even though it was Manny on the line. He was returning the numerous calls from her he had missed. The truth was that they hadn’t spoken as she had related to Toni earlier. In fact, his phone had been without reach because he was out of town for a couple of days.
“Hi baby. I just came in. Saw all your calls. How are you?”
“I’m missing you,” she said in a needy tone but with the iciest of faces. “Can I come and see you?”
“Sure babe. Call a cab and hurry over. I so want to kiss you.”
When he was off the line, Lade dialed Sule and told him she needed him to take her somewhere. Sule explained that he was busy but she pleaded, telling him it was an emergency.
“Are you at home?” he asked.
“I’m at my sister-in-law’s.”
“Text me the address.”
Almost an hour later, Sule was waiting outside. Lade took the back door without informing Toni or Leticia she was leaving the house. When she entered Sule’s car, he gave her a warm smile.
“It’s been a while, ma’am.”
“How have you been, ma?”
She looked into his quietly-intrusive eyes staring back at her in the rearview mirror.
“That’s good to hear. So, where are we going?”
She read out Manny’s home address. The car engine kicked off to a low hum.
“There’s some water on your seat, ma, if you’re thirsty.”
Lade stared in suspicion at a small bottle of water beside her.
“You want me to play something for you?”
Sule smiled. “Not even Sauti Sol?”
Sule navigated the car onto the street and Lade relaxed, even though her heart was unrested. Her deepest pain was the regret she felt over her relationship with Manny and how she had trusted him, believing he loved her. She had been too quick to run into his arms and quicker to sleep with him. The disgust she felt for herself was tantamount to the hatred growing in her heart for him. It was overwhelming and she didn’t know how to contain it.
Sule parked outside Manny’s house. Manny, who was waiting by the gate, paid the cab fare and led Lade in.
“I ordered some food for us.” He left a peck on her neck. “But first how are you healing?”
He touched her tummy.
“I’m getting better.”
“So, you want to eat?” He went for her handbag but she clung to it.
“I just want to keep it for you. The way you’re holding it like someone wants to steal it… Relax, girl. You’re home. Let me change my clothes and we’ll watch a movie and eat. Hope you like Chinese?”
He disappeared into his bedroom. Lade walked to the home theater system, connected her phone via Bluetooth and set Sauti Sol to play, particularly picking ‘Isabella’. Manny returned, wearing a jalabia.
“You and this song…”
“Sit down, Manuel.”
“Ooooh, she called me Manuel. I’m in soup.”
“Okay o.” Manny sat on a leather seat facing her, placing a throw pillow between his legs.
“I want you to listen to this song, Manny. It means a lot to me. And it’s not just because the title’s my name. It’s that anytime I listen to it, I think about us because I found you at the time when my life fell apart and this song brought me closer to you. You turned everything around for me, Manny.”
“Aww, baby. I’ve not even started. I’ll spoil you rotten.”
“Please, stop talking.”
“Okay,” he whispered.
Lade replayed the song from the beginning, took back her chair and faced him with empty eyes.
Manny marched to the home theater system and turned it off.
“Lade, you’re scaring me with that look in your eyes. What’s going on?”
“Manny, I trusted you in a way I had never trusted anyone before, so much that I cheated on my husband with you. I gave you my body. I believed in you and all your promises…”
“Lade, which one is this one nau?”
“To me, you were freedom. You were real love. You were my future, my dreams… But Tayo warned me about you. He told me you didn’t have any good intentions for me. He warned me.”
“Omolade, can you please, make sense?”
“You gave me abortion pills, Manny.”
He cocked his head in a dazed expression. “Abortion pills? Wh-what are you talking about, Lade?”
“You slipped abortion pills into my yogurt the night I lost my baby.”
“Why would you think I’d do such a thing? Where did you get that thought from?”
“So you’re denying, Manny.”
“Denying what? I don’t even understand what you’re saying.”
Lade opened her handbag and pulled out a small, plastic bottle. She began to unscrew the cover. “Do you know what this is?” she asked.
“Lade…is that Sniper?”
“Oh, so you know poison. I’m not surprised sha because you’re an expert in the field.”
Fear fell on his face. “What are you trying to do?”
She held the bottle to her mouth, standing up. “If you don’t tell me the truth, I will drink this Sniper.”
Manny shot to his feet. “Are you crazy?!”
She gave him some distance. “Tell me the truth, Manny! Did you kill my baby?!”
“No, I did not! No! Lade, please throw that thing away! It will kill you!”
“What’s the difference between it and what you gave me?!You’ve killed me already. Let me just kuku die.”
She raised the bottle a few inches away from her lips but only just to let Manny have a good look as the poisonous pesticide made its way into her mouth.
He tore towards her but she dashed out of his reach. He could see that she hadn’t swallowed it yet. She made threatening motions to take another swig if he came closer.
He stopped. “Okay, okay, okay. I did it,” he confessed. “I did it. I just wanted you to be free of Tayo and have your life. I didn’t know things were going to turn badly! Please, Lade! Please, throw the Sniper away and spit out the one in your mouth. Please…”
Tears slipped from Lade’s eyes. Helplessly, he watched her throat move as she sent the poison into her body.
Manny lurched forward just as she went for a second gulp. He knocked her and the bottle down but ensured that she didn’t have a fatal fall. She dropped into his arms and started to cough.
“Why, Lade?! Why?! Why?! Why?!”
Speckles of blood came with each jolting cough as the pesticide worked fast, bruising the tender membranes in her mouth.
“Leave me!” She fought his hands off her body.
“You must be fucking crazy!”
She managed out of his grip and aimed for the door but he knocked her down again. He secured her by her waist in a tight hold. She struggled but couldn’t break free.
He dragged her to the kitchen and forced palm oil through her mouth in copious amounts. She eventually stopped fighting and fell limply in his arms. Shortly after, she vomited. He lifted her up and hurried out of the house. By the time he laid her in the backseat of his car, she was beginning to bleed from her nose. With hands soaked in palm oil and blood, he dialed Toni’s number as he drove out.
She answered upon first ring.
Manny, unable to speak, burst into tears.