The Fourth Finger – 5

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Catch up on previous chapters HERE

He was in a good mood, manifest in his kisses and the soft nibbles he left on her ear. Lade squirmed and giggled at the lunch table, hardly eating her meal. Tayo was halfway with his and suggested they moved to the bedroom.

“I have ten minutes to spare.”

Her smile was wide. He dragged her off her chair. The moment they got into their bedroom, he was all over her; but with each kiss and touch, her conscience stabbed her.

On Christmas day, she had let another man do the same things Tayo was doing to her body.

Here’s what happened:

Tayo had abandoned their date in the middle of the movie they were seeing and told her he needed to catch up with the friend he had met earlier on their way to the mall. Lade was not happy about the development. Leaving a peck on her cheek, he gave her permission to make the most of her day. Her curfew was 9pm. When she was done and ready to get home, she was to call the Uber driver who had chauffeured them earlier. The guy would take her home, granted he was not busy on another trip.

At first, Lade did not desire to take the bait, but then she remembered how her past Christmases, before she met Tayo, were always fun with friends. Each year, someone organized a party; particularly, a guy called Manny whose full name was Emmanuel. His birthday was on Christmas day. It was rare not to have him throw a party.

But it wasn’t Manny she called when she was through with her movie. She had done well to pretend Manny did not exist over the years. He used to have a major crush on her before Tayo came into the scene, but she chose Tayo over him because Tayo was more focused and embodied the goals of the type of man she wanted in a husband. Manny was fun and wild, and showed no signs of settling down. However, her decision to pick Tayo, as she was later told, had broken Manny’s heart. He had shut the door on her since then.

Enduring the movie, which suddenly became boring, Lade phoned a friend, Lulu. There came a loud scream at the other end the moment Lulu heard her voice on the line. Next, she informed their mutual friends who were with her that Lade was on the line and wanted to come over for their annual party. They hadn’t seen her since they paid her a condolence visit over the death of Ife. Before then, none of them bothered turning up at her door because of Tayo’s cold attitude towards them.

She wanted to make it up to them, she told Lulu. What could she bring to the party?

They wanted more drinks. It was a good thing she was at the mall. Lade went to pick some liquor.

“And a gift for Manny,” Lulu added. “That’s the only way you can get back in his good graces.”

“Manny?”

“It’s his birthday, silly. Abi you’ve forgotten?”

No, she hadn’t. She was just hoping that somehow he wouldn’t be there.

Lade ambled around the mall for a while, wondering what she would get for him. She finally settled for an Eau De Toilette gift set. It cost her some good money and she knew Tayo would question her about her bank transaction details since her notifications also got into his email box. He had linked her email account with his a few days after their wedding and since then, had access to all her messages.

After shopping, Lade dialed the Uber driver, whose name was Sule. He came to get her in less than ten minutes. They had a hearty conversation about the economy on their way to Lulu’s. When he dropped her off, she told him to come back for her when the clock struck half past eight. She gave him one of the drinks she bought as a Christmas present.

With her veins bubbling in excitement, Lade entered Lulu’s house. She received a cheerful welcome with hugs and kisses. The party had not yet begun. The girls were preparing small chops and catching up on their lives that had been taken over by work and men. Lade joined in but soon after, the conversation centered on her and why she abandoned them. She gave them long explanations, none that painted Tayo in a bad light, but her friends did not take kindly to her reasons. In the end, it became a ‘bashing Tayo’ affair, and all Lade could do was sit and take it all in. It hurt that they had unkind words to say about him, but she knew they were right. Tayo deserved it.

The party kicked off by six and soon people began to troop in. Manny came in at a quarter to seven and upon sighting Lade, gave a wink. From where she stood in the room holding a glass of wine, she smiled back. Through the course of the party they exchanged flirty glances, but didn’t have the chance to talk to each other until a while later when it was almost time for her to leave. She had walked up to him and pulled him away from a group of girls who didn’t seem too pleased. He dragged her towards Lulu’s bedroom, but was too impatient to get behind closed doors before he held her in a tight hug.

“God! I missed you, Lade.”

She wanted to echo his words but she held her tongue.

“I got you something.”

She handed her gift.

“That’s sweet, baby. Thank you.”

He barely looked into the gift bag. His eyes were on her. Unexpectedly, he put his hand behind her head and gave her a kiss.

Initially, she pushed away from him, but when he didn’t budge, she settled for the kiss. The same hand that pushed him off found its way around his neck. Perhaps it was that she had taken too much wine. Or maybe Manny looked handsome in the dim lights of Lulu’s house. Or probably all the bad talk about Tayo had left something in her that steered her emotions towards Manny. She didn’t know, which was responsible for her misbehavior, but she was certain she didn’t want Manny to stop kissing her.

“Why did you marry him, baby?” Manny paused for a second. She pushed him into Lulu’s room and shut the door.

“You knew how much I wanted you, how much I loved you. Why did you settle for a man who treats you less than you deserve? He cut you off from everyone and even from your dreams. You could have been a mega superstar now. Why did you do this to yourself, Omolade?”

Tears burned her eyes.

“I’m not letting you go again,” he said. “Not now that I have you in my arms after all these years.”

“Manny, I am not leaving him.”

“You will. I’ll make sure you do.”

His lips found hers again. They went further than the first kiss. Manny’s hands toured her body and she responded, even though her commonsense was against it. To some extent, what Manny did to her was beyond sexual. It was freedom and rebellion. It was new. And she loved it.

She only snapped back to reason when his hand went between her legs. She pushed him away.

“I have to go,” she said, noting that Sule was calling.

“When will I see you again?”

“We can’t…”

“I just have to see you again, Lade.” He kissed her palm and held her fingers between his lips. “Should I call you?”

“No. I’ll call instead.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

They kissed once more. He walked her outside where Sule was waiting.

“I’ll miss you.”

She gave him a hug, but he went for one last kiss, which she couldn’t stop. On her way home, guilt began to settle. She carried on a phone conversation with him under silent tears. He hung up only when she got to her doorstep.

That night, she dreamt about him. The seed had been planted, and although she never called him after that, she couldn’t stop thinking about him. Not even at the moment when her husband was doing the same things Manny did to her. She felt guilty, but somehow her excitement was heightened. When Tayo went into her, she imagined how it would feel to have Manny instead.

Tayo made love to her in a hurry. He had a flight to catch.

“I’ll be back during the weekend.” He pulled up his trousers. “You want me to get anything for you?”

Lade shook her head. He had been too nice lately.

“So have you seen your period yet?”

“No.”

She guessed this was his reason for being nice. He probably thought she was pregnant.

“You think maybe you’re carrying?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do a test. I’ll transfer some money into your account. Go and do a test. And if it’s positive, immediately register for antenatal. We don’t want to go back to the days of miscarriages… That reminds me. You withdrew some money on Christmas day and you never told me what it was for.”

“I bought a birthday gift for Lulu,” she said with a straight face.

“Her birthday is on Christmas day?”

“No. I had missed it, so I thought to get a gift.”

Tayo scolded her with his eyes. “You know how I feel about your friends. Just one day with them and you’re spending close to fifty thousand. Please, sweetie, stay away from them.”

Lade gave what looked like a nod. Tayo kissed her forehead and took her hand.

“See me to the door.”

Lade took his bag. They walked out of the room and found Joyce having lunch.

Lade knelt to greet her. Tayo didn’t as much as acknowledge her presence. It was something Lade witnessed all the time, but was yet to get used to.

“You’re traveling?” Joyce asked Tayo.

“Yeah.” His response was taut, naturally.

“Safe trip.”

“Thanks.”

A cab was waiting outside to convey Tayo to the airport. He gave Lade a quick hug and reminded her to take the pregnancy test.

Lade watched until the cab drove away before she went back in.

“When is your husband coming back?” Joyce looked up when she approached her.

“Weekend.”

“I hope to be gone before then. I’ve overstayed my welcome.”

Lade paused at the news. “You’re leaving?”

“Yes, I am, darling.”

“Mommy, we’re happy to have you here.”

“Not Tayo. And not you too. You no longer talk to me.”

Lade slipped into a chair opposite Joyce’s. She felt terrible for the way she had been avoiding her. It was done under Tayo’s instructions, never intentional.

“Mommy, you are my mother and I will never deliberately do anything to hurt you.”

Joyce studied her with shrewd eyes. “So you’re saying Tayo told you to avoid me?”

“No! No, no, he would never. It’s just that Ife’s death still affects me…”

“Oh shut it. I know Tayo told you to stay away. Stop covering for him.”

“I am not.”

“Stop it. Stop making excuses. Tayo is what he is. He has always been that way and it’s time you realized that and stopped punishing yourself for not being the perfect wife for him.”

Lade gave in. “Yes, ma.”

“It’s all my fault, though.” Joyce lowered her eyes to her meal. “He is what he is today because of me. I was never there for him and even when I was, I did disgraceful things. And he has not forgiven me or all the women in his life who are completely innocent of my crimes.”

She looked at Lade.

“You inclusive.”

Lade dared to ask, “Mommy, what did you do?”

Joyce dusted breadcrumbs off her hands before going for a fresh slice of bread. She took a tiny bite and set the bread down. Lines appeared on her forehead. Her upper lip twitched. Lade waited, but nothing came. Joyce dug a spoon into a bowl of beans porridge.

“Mommy?”

Joyce set her gaze on her, the brown of her eyes matching the sweater she had on. These days she complained about the weather. It was always cold even though it was always hot.

“I was a bad mother,” she revealed. “I lost a daughter and lost my mind and abandoned my sons. I’m here to make restitution, Omolade, but Tayo’s heart is made of stone.”

She picked the slice of bread again. Somehow, Lade knew that was all she would get from her.

“You can go.”

Lade pushed back her chair and went to her bedroom. Sadness was threatening to rest on her, but the sound of her ringing phone disrupted the imposing mood.

Lade glared at the name on the screen with some apprehension. Was Manny timing Tayo or what?

With a slightly-trembling hand she took the phone call.

“Bad time?”

Lade sat on Tayo’s reading chair. “No.”

“Happy new year, madam. So this is the call you said you’ll call me?”

“Manny…” she sighed, her fingers digging into her hair. “You know I can’t be calling you…”

“Why are you so afraid of him like that? Is he God?”

“I…” she started but lost steam to continue.

“Me I want to see you. It’s been two months too long. I can’t get your taste out of my tongue. Imagine if I tasted elsewhere.”

“Manny?” Lade literally looked around, afraid that Tayo was hiding somewhere and listening to Manny’s words.

“I want to see you. Give me a day this week.”

“I can’t.”

“Baby, please.”

“Stop calling me that.”

“Just give me a day.”

Lade ran through her schedule for the day. “How about today?”

“Today?” Manny’s tone brightened. “You’re not pulling my legs, right?”

“I can squeeze in some time for you later.”

“Great.”

“I’m supposed to go somewhere. When I’m through, I’ll call you.”

“That’s fine. I’ll be expecting your call, baby.”

“Bye.”

Lade threw her phone on the bed and began slapping herself mentally for what she was about to do. Nonetheless, she abandoned the self-chastisement and walked to the wardrobe to pick something to wear. After long deliberation, she chose a top and a pair of jeans. She didn’t want a repeat of what Manny did to her the last time when she had worn only a dress.

***

Confess your sins one to another and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

The Bible verse replayed in Christie’s head many times.

Prayers. That was what she needed from a trusted friend who was also a dear sister in Christ. She was desperate to cry on her shoulder, to hear her say, ‘I understand and you’re going to be fine, Christie.’

And thus she contacted the one person she knew she could rely on. Her name was Bernadette. She was Izu’s wife but was nothing like him. The world was tired of wondering how both of them ended up as husband and wife.

“You slept with Raji?” Berna’s face was a mirror of disgust. Christie’s internet connection was a bit slow but nothing could mask Berna’s judgmental expression.

Christie knew this would come. In fact, she wanted it. Berna would be mad, Berna would scold her, Berna would shed some tears for her and finally, Berna would advise and pray for her.

So she sat there Skyping with her while management held a closed doors meeting elsewhere in the building. Berna went through the motions that Christie predicted and finally came to tears. She called out Bible passages.

“Read and meditate. The Holy Spirit is with you. He will guide you. Don’t give up on yourself because God won’t abandon you, sweetheart. Okay?”

“Yes.” Christie nodded with dry eyes.

“And finally, don’t ever make the mistake of confessing to Folarin. You will just kill him.”

“I won’t tell him anything.”

Berna added a few more words and they prayed together. After the last ‘amen’ Christie felt better.

“Okay sister in the Lord mode deactivated,” Berna smiled. The internet connection was clearer now. “So, tell me, do you feel something for Raji?”

“I don’t know, Berna. I have loved Raji as a friend and brother. I can trust him with my life and it hurts me when someone hurts him. If you’d asked me a few months ago, I would have put a name to my feelings towards him but now, the lines are blurred.”

“Was the sex emotional, intense?”

Christie struggled with memories of that night in Amsterdam. Raji had been more than she had expected. He gave her a whole new definition to sex.

“It was intense and physical together, Berna. But there was something else that I can’t explain. And that’s what scares me. Raji satisfied a need Folarin is yet to meet. In just one night.”

“Do you want me to be brutally honest with you, Chris?”

“Yes.”

“This whole thing did not start when Raji kissed you on Christmas Eve. No, it started six years ago when he was cheating on Salma and only you knew about it and you hid it. Somehow both of you created this atmosphere for hiding immorality and that seed never died. Today, it has culminated to this affair you’re having.”

“It’s not an affair, Berna.”

“Call it whatever, it’s an extramarital affair.”

Christie didn’t argue.

“I feel like slapping Raji.”

“Why?”

“He worked his charm on you.”

“He did not. I consented, Berna. Stop making it look like he manipulated me.”

“Then you don’t know Raji. He’s very dangerous.”

And what about your own husband? Christie wanted to say but she kept mute. She was in no place to speak about Izu. There was a time that she did, when she was upright with God. Then she used to beg Berna to divorce Izu. Now, her moral high ground had caved in and she saw no end to her fall.

“Just stay away from him,” Berna added.

Stay away from Raji? Christie laughed silently. It was like staying away from her own shadow. Everywhere she turned he was there. With Covet, they were tied to each other for life. It was either she ran away, or gave into him.

“Baby, I gotta run.” Berna puckered her lips in a kiss and logged off. Christie stared at the blank screen and felt the sadness returning.

A chat from Raji popped in.

Ready for pizza?

She was hungry, and in honest, she craved to be with him. The need was overpowering. She felt helpless to stop it.

She ignored the message and cleared her desk for the day. Her eager-to-please assistant walked in just as she was leaving.

“Ma, Mr. Asepita stopped by earlier and says I should tell you he’s waiting in his office.”

Christie itched to correct her wrong use of the past and present tense. The girl had a habit of mixing both.

“And the files from AAAN[1] came in.”

“Drop them in my office.”

“Yes, ma.”

Christie left some last minute instructions with her and headed towards the marketing wing. When she walked into the larger ante-office that held junior staff, she immediately sensed something was off. They had that peculiar manner that indicated they were pretending to be busy. She wondered why, but not for long. Out of the blue, she heard Salma letting out insults in the quiet of Raji’s office.

Christie hurried in. Salma was in a rage. The beautiful floral-print dress she had on, which embraced her perfect curves looked like it would rather be elsewhere than her body. One side of the dress had slipped down exposing the strap of her bra and swell of her full breast but it was the least of Salma’s problems. She was at this point, cursing Raji who sat with his characteristic calm behind his desk, staring at her with silent eyes.

“Your cheating dick will shrivel, Raji Asepita! You will die between a woman’s legs! All the pain you have caused me you will feel it a million times!”

Christie came forward. “What is going on?”

Raji was quick to answer. “Sal is accusing me of cheating on her.”

Christie’s tummy whined.

“I’ve told her that it’s not true but she doesn’t believe me.”

“He is lying, Christie! I can see the signs! They’re all so familiar! Just like when he was with that dirty Comfort of a human being!”

“Wait, even if I was cheating, you think bringing it to my office is the best thing to do, Sal? This is my workplace. My business!”

“I don’t care! I’ll burn down this whole building if I have to!”

“Sal,” Christie called. “Calm down. He is not cheating.”

“Help me tell her, abeg.”

Salma ran her eyes from the top of Christie’s head to her feet. “Of course you would know.”

“What does that mean?” Christie forced annoyance into her tone.

“Didn’t you cover up the other affair he had with Comfort? What stops you from doing the same now?”

“So you’re insinuating…”

“I’m not insinuating anything, Christie!” She pulled up in front of her. “I am telling you to your face that you are as duplicitous as he is! You know he is cheating but you will cover up for him! You’re a disgrace to womanhood! I regret ever making you my friend!”

Words were zapped out of Christie.

“Leave my office,” Raji instructed Salma, his calm lost.

“Or what?”

“Don’t push me, Salma. I’ve had enough. Don’t push me. Get out.”

“It’s okay, Raji,” Christie begged.

“I’m going! I’m going.” Salma pulled her dress over her exposed shoulder.

“I didn’t come here for drama.” She rubbed wet eyes vigorously. “I just came to drop the divorce papers. Please sign them so we can begin proceedings.”

“Divorce papers?” Christie was aghast. “Salma, no nau. It has not reached like this.”

Salma heaved a couple of times and her fuming exterior gave way to abrupt tears.

“I’m sorry, Christie. I didn’t mean those things I said.”

“No, it’s fine. You have every right to feel the way you do. I should not be trusted.” She caught Raji’s eyes. He showed no sign of being bothered by what was going on.

“Haba, don’t talk like that.”

Salma produced a hanky from nowhere and began to blubber. It was a sight too pathetic for Christie to ignore. She encircled her in a hug. Salma shook, her luscious body also comforting Christie who was on the verge of tears herself. Her heart broke with each jerk Salma gave.

“Let me be going,” Salma said after a while, pulling away. “Thanks, Christie.”

Christie wiped away a solitary tear that Salma’s hanky had missed.

“I’m sorry for what I said earlier.”

“It’s okay.”

“You and I will talk. I’ll call you this night?”

Christie nodded. She was too afraid to reply her, scared that her voice might, on its own, expose her.

“My love to Folarin and the kids. And please, talk to Raji to sign the papers.”

“You’re joking,” Raji answered. Salma straightened her posture and left. Christie felt a shiver as her knees gave way. She found the nearest chair, which was a couch and collapsed into it. She began too weep, being unable to express how guilty she felt. Raji was by her side in seconds.

“We’re not getting divorced, Christie. Stop crying.”

But his words only fueled the fire as Christie completely fell apart. She lost herself in his arms. He let her cry for as long as she wanted, only because she felt good to hold.

“You’re not responsible for Salma’s actions. She is just being Salma. She will calm down. When I go home, she will throw a bigger tantrum but we’ll go back to the way we were. All of this will go away, I promise. So stop being a baby about it. I’ve had enough drama for today.”

Christie agreed with him. Their employees were out there, probably creating versions of what they thought was going on with Raji’s love life. Christie didn’t want to be a character in the story.

“We have to end what we started in Amsterdam, Raj,” she told him.

He handed her some tissue.

“We already have.” He apprehended her eyes in an affectionate gaze. “I don’t want to hurt our friendship.”

She knew he was lying, but she said nothing. She just wanted to be somewhere else; her need for him had mellowed under Salma’s drama. She longed for Folarin instead.

“I’m going home, Raj. I’ll relax, have a hot bath, watch TV with the kids, make love to Folarin and come back tomorrow refreshed. Covet needs my creative head in the right place.”

Raji smiled. “You’re so badass sometimes it’s scary.”

Christie stood. “See you tomorrow.”

She allowed him a peck on her cheek before she made her exit. In the elevator ride down, she got a text from Salma.

Raji is sleeping with a married woman, Christie. I know you know who she is. Please tell me or I’ll divorce him.

Christie locked her phone screen and leaned on the elevator wall, hating herself.

You’re wrong on this one, raj. It’s so not going away.

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