“So you’re just answering my calls abi?” The familiar voice on the other end accused Uyi and he frowned. His car parked outside the gate of his former house and he killed the engine.
“Madam, what’s your problem? Don’t you know when someone doesn’t want to have anything to do with you at all?”
“Hi Uyi…” Vivian’s voice was very low. He could hardly hear her. “How are you doing?”
“Come, what’s your problem? Why are you calling?”
“We need to talk.”
“First, where are you?”
“I’m in Abraka.”
Uyi was relieved at the news. “So what do you want?”
She went silent and Uyi thought the line had gone bad.
“Uyi…first, I’m sorry about the Edet incidence.”
“And I’m sorry for the other times too.”
“There were other times?”
“Yes. In the past.”
But Uyi already knew about the other times. Vivian, in school, had been his girlfriend in his third and fourth year but she had been on and off. She claimed she had a marine husband that usually got jealous whenever she got too close to him, so she would break up and disappear for weeks and return with new clothes and lots of money. Uyi knew she was sleeping with rich, married men for her upkeep but he never complained because he had his own affairs on the side. There were a couple of girls who slept with him for the academic assistance he offered them. Hence, he never complained about Vivian’s runs; he never even mentioned it.
“I’m sorry. I cheated on you a lot. I’m so sorry,” Vivian’s low, depressing voice continued on the other end.
“Is that why you’re calling? Okay. I forgive you. Now, can you hang up?”
“Uyi, there’s more.”
“I think I’m HIV positive.”
The words, initially, were slow in coming but with Vivian’s silence on other end playing like an ill-omened soundtrack, they fell upon Uyi loud and clear.
“What HIV are we talking about here? The real one or…?”
“I’ve been really sick and I’ve treated myself and treated myself and nothing!” she whined.
“Did you go for test?”
There was a break before she answered.
Uyi hissed. “And you’re disturbing me?”
“I remember we went bare twice and I don’t know if that’s enough for any of us to catch it but please go and test yourself – for us.”
“Are you high? I should test myself for you. It’s as if your marine spirit has started disturbing you. Look, don’t call me again.”
He rung off and refused to give second thought to the conversation they just had. He got out of his car, greeted the gateman and walked in. There was loud music coming from the house and Uyi prayed he was not walking into a party. Gratefully, he wasn’t. There was no one in the sitting room when he entered, just Rihanna’s voice coming from the home theater system. Uyi let down the volume and was following the whiff of fresh baking when Temi appeared from the kitchen with a spatula and a scowl.
“Who is reducing my Rihanna! You guys will not leave my music…”
She drifted off when she saw Uyi, and a grin drove away her scowl. With a shriek she ran to Uyi and hugged him tight.
“Of course I did.”
“I’ve missed you.” She pecked his lips and for the first time, he felt himself move back when her lips touched his.
“Guess what!” she said excitedly.
“I baked my first cup cakes ever! And they’re to die for!” She took his hand and led him into the kitchen. “Come taste!”
Spread out on the counter was a tray of cupcakes and Uyi’s mouth watered as he saw them. He reached out his hand for one but Temi slapped it with the spatula, picked a cupcake and fed it to him and he took a big bite.
“Mmmm…lovely. Really nice,” Uyi said with a mouthful.
“Yay!” Temi danced a little and began putting away some of the cupcakes in a bowl padded with newspaper. “This is yours. And I have to hide it from Peter and Ovie.”
“Where are they sef?”
“In Peter’s room.”
“So you guys are getting along?”
“Yeah. But they’re bad boys, Ovie especially. He’s always bringing different girls. Peter brought only one but he keeps trying to hit on me.”
“Hey, I made soup and stew for you that you can use for the whole week.”
Uyi smiled. “You shouldn’t have, Temi.”
“It’s the only way I can say thanks for letting me stay here. At first, I was mad at you for boning my side but I’m cool with it now and I want to say thank you and also ask for a favor.”
Temi bit her lip and straightened her t-shirt. “My birthday is next week and I’d like to hold it at yours.”
“Yes. Your house is big and though I haven’t been inside, I know it would be perfect for my birthday party. Please say yes.”
“Temi. How do you know my house?”
“Ovie took me there once after work. So please, may I?” Temi put her arm around him.
“You know I have a mad, jealous girlfriend, right?”
“Well…she tweeted that she would be out of the country for a whole month…”
Uyi laughed. “Ah, Taymee! You’re one dangerous babe. You’re following Damaris on Twitter?”
Temi blinked her eyes rapidly as a yes and Uyi laughed again.
“I’d love to say yes, Tems but Dami will still find out.”
“Okay, what if I convince Peter whose birthday is the upper week to do his party with mine?”
“Come on, Uyi.” She rested her head on his shoulder. “Say yes.”
“Yay!” she hopped up and down excitedly and squeezed Uyi tight and left a peck on his neck. “So where did madam travel to?”
“Uhm…she just needs to be alone for a while,” Uyi replied, walking towards Peter’s room.
“Trouble in love zone already?”
“No, no. She’s just…taking a short holiday.”
Dike sat in his car and breathed in the evening air. There was something good in the way the gentle breeze blew over him but he couldn’t tell what it was. He was tempted to believe that it was because he was going to be sitting in the same space with Kachi in the next hour to work at their marriage; but they had been in such meetings and nothing came out of them. Their families, friends and even church leaders had tried to help them patch things up but they had given up due to Kachi’s cavalier behavior over the whole issue. Now it was their friends, the Enenches’ who were trying to pull the strings together one last time. Dike wasn’t hoping for anything good to come out of it but it was the Enenches’ wedding anniversary and he was honored that they would sacrifice their evening for them. But more than that, he just wanted to see Kachi’s face. The mere thought of her brought affectionate memories he thought he had left behind. He still constantly heard her voice in his head. She haunted him like a ghost in his home, his head and his heart, but he was past the tears and the unbearable loss and all that was left was just a numb pain that dulled his days.
He peered into his wristwatch. It read that he was a full hour early. It was enough time to tuck Travis in bed before Ene’s dinner was served.
He picked his phone, lifted the anniversary gift he bought for the Enenches’ and got out of his car.
There was an insane silence brought by weighty tension in Uyi’s car. The car was parked outside a private clinic somewhere in Wuse 2 and all the five individuals in it stared at the entry doors with some form of apprehension.
Ovie spoke first.
“Uyi, you know say you fit just turn this car round make we dey go house.”
“No, OV. We’re doing this,” Temi, seated beside Uyi, replied.
Peter agreed with her. “We’re here already. No harm in trying.”
The silence came on again and was dragging for two extended minutes when Murphy blurted out.
“My guys, dis na serious matter. Na AIDS oh! No be gonorrhea or syphilis. If anybody for dis car come dey positive, dat person life don finish be dat oh. Make una tink am well before una enter dat clinic.”
“Come on, it’s just a simple test,” Temi countered. “I don’t think any of us is positive but it’s better to be sure.”
Ovie responded to her statement and a mild argument broke out among them; Temi and Peter on one side and Ovie and Murphy on the other, but Uyi was silent. Vivian’s call had rattled him and out of sheer restlessness he had been compelled to share with his friends what she told him. It was Temi who popped the idea of all of them going for the test.
“Okay, I’ll do the test first and once you guys see that there’s nothing to it, you can go ahead,” Temi suggested in a tone aimed at ending the argument but Ovie held his stance.
“I no do! I no go lie; I dey fear!”
“Gbam!” Murphy concurred.
“Alright, let’s deal, OV. You do the test and I cook for you for the whole of next week.”
“Breakfast and dinner?” Ovie smiled roguishly.
“No. Dinner only.”
“So, Tems, you won’t offer me a deal?” Peter teased. “What do I get if I do the test?”
“You’re not serious,” Temi replied and stepped out of the car.
“Uyi, mehn… the cake on this your friend toh bad gaan!” Peter exclaimed, his eyes on Temi’s backside. Uyi smiled absently as he also left the car.
Dinner at the Enenches’ was one meal Dike was going to remember for a long time because Kachi made it. From his first taste, he knew it was her touch. When Ene confirmed it at the end of the meal, he paid Kachi a generous compliment and thought it weird that she replied in a mild tone. The dinner ended, Felix invited them to the poolside and they sat around a table where he poured them each a glass of wine and some fruit juice for Kachi. He lifted his own glass in a toast.
“Fifteen years ago, I married this amazing woman here and she has brought joy and life into my world. I’m a man of few words…”
“No, you’re just shy,” Ene teased and everyone laughed.
“Okay… So, happy anniversary, Enekole, my heart-stopper.” Felix kissed Ene, and Kachi and Dike toasted to them.
Felix continued, “fifteen years ago, on that same day, another man like me met the woman of his dreams too and they fell in love. Though it would take eight more years for them to say their own ‘I Dos’, they were a match made from God and no devil will ever separate them. To Ogbudike and Onyekachi! Please don’t let the love die.”
Ene lifted her glass but Dike and Kachi were unresponsive. The air suddenly became uneasy. Felix pushed himself forward on his chair and was prepared to say something but Ene stopped him with a gentle hand on his.
“I have something to say. Actually, it’s something I must confess. It’s been eating me inside and Felix, I’m sorry; Dike, I’m sorry and Kach, forgive me as well.”
“What are you sorry for?” Felix asked.
“It’s nothing… Oh, how can I say it’s nothing? I’m so sorry, Dike. What I’m about to tell you is a secret I’ve been hiding from you for years. I promised Kach I would never tell you but…”
“Ene, don’t say anything, please,” Kachi whispered.
“Do speak, Ene,” Dike said with his eyes on Kachi.
“Ene, don’t!” Kachi raised her voice.
“I am listening, Ene.”
“I’m very sorry. And I don’t know if Kach and I will still be friends after this but let me just say it out because me I can’t hold it in…”
“Ene!” Felix scolded.
“Okay, okay. So this is the truth.” Ene sighed loudly and turned to Dike. “Kachi never loved you when she married you. She was a hundred percent in love with her ex right up until last year.”
There was a killing silence after she spoke. Felix was wide-eyed, Kachi buried her face in her hands and Dike held a passive look but his right leg had begun to shake as it lay crossed over the other.
“What did you just tell me, Ene?” he asked.
“Did she ever tell you about Leke?”
“You should stop now,” Kachi warned Ene.
“Leke, her ex? The Yoruba guy she said broke her heart?”
“Enekole, you’re disrespecting me. It is not in your place–”
“Let me talk!” Ene faced Kachi. “I cannot stand and watch the two of you separate because of lies! Let the truth be told today! You can hate me tomorrow!”
“Go on, my dear,” Dike begged.
Ene turned to him. “Kachi met Leke when she was in secondary school and they were seeing each other until she met you in 1998, and they continued seeing each other for seven years after that.”
Dike calculated rapidly. “That was until 2005, the year before we got married. You’re saying she was cheating on me?”
“No. It’s not like that. Leke had disappeared before she started with you. Her parents loved you because you were Igbo but they did not want Leke in her life at all. Leke’s parents also didn’t want her because she was Igbo. Well, before you fully came into the picture, she and Leke had plans to elope to the UK and they had even gotten their visas and everything prepared but Leke just got up one day and disappeared with her passport and all the money she saved up. All she got was an email from him telling her to move on and marry you. Of course, she was devastated and didn’t want you but she was twenty-nine and was pressured by her parents, so she accepted your proposal and you guys got married.”
Dike stood up and walked about in slow, aimless steps before he stopped. “You said she was still in love with him until last year?”
“Ene, you call yourself my friend, my friend’s wife, and you never told me?”
“I wonder!” Felix exclaimed.
“Dike, Kachi made me promise.”
“I have known you since secondary school days, Enekole! You should have protected me first!”
“So all this her talk of going to the UK is to go and be with the bastard?!”
“No,” both women responded simultaneously.
“I did not ask you!” Dike cut Kachi an angry tone and walked off, taking to himself. “You’re a fool, Ogbudike! A big fool!”
“Was this the right time to say this?” Felix asked his wife and she pleaded her contrition with worried eyes. Kachi’s face was buried in her hands again and she didn’t respond to Ene’s hand that was laid on her lap.
Dike returned. “So I have been a joke for seven years?!”
“Dike, it is not how you’re seeing it,” Ene sat up. “Let me explain.”
“I’m listening. What’s the worst you can tell me after this?”
“Kachi was distraught when she married you but she hid it well. She tried to make you, her parents, everyone happy but she was dying inside. Leke was the only guy she ever knew, he was her first, so you can imagine what she was going through. I begged her to forget him but she needed an explanation from him and all attempts to reach him failed. At some point, his mother contacted her and they believed he was dead and that even worsened things. But finally, two Christmases ago, she got a call from him and he apologized and told her to move on. It was then she finally let go and began to learn to love you.”
“To learn to love me. Are you hearing yourself, Ene? Did you know what I went through with this selfish, wicked, ogbanje woman you call your friend? Do you have any idea? Nagging was the least of the things she did to me! Kachi didn’t let me touch her from the moment she found out she was pregnant until Travis was a year old!”
“Oh, she didn’t tell you that, abi? Madam, you didn’t tell your friend, did you?”
Kachi stood up and began to walk away but Dike grabbed her hand and forced her back into her chair. “I am talking! Sit down and listen!”
“Dike, easy,” Felix solicited.
“When she finally allowed me sleep with her, the sex was hell. I felt like I was raping her each time! And after a while, I gave up completely! What a fool I was! So she was there wanting her ex the entire time and that was why she couldn’t connect with me?!”
Ene came to tears. “Please, don’t talk like that. She was struggling.”
“And how about me?! How wicked can one woman be to a man, Ene? How wicked?” Dike pulled his chair and sat before Ene. “I didn’t cheat on her because I wanted to. No. When I met Damaris, she was like a breath of fresh air. It didn’t start off as an affair but somehow, I fell in love with her easy spirit and her fun ways and she made me forget and gave me youth. And I fell hard. Then with Temi, it was purely sexual. Living with Kachi at that point was hell and I wanted comfort and I’m a man na, with urges and Temi was there to satisfy them. She also made me forget.”
“How about the woman you took to the hotel? Didn’t you sleep with her?” Kachi fired bitterly.
“Nothing happened, Onyekachi. I was trying to explain but you never let me! She’s a client who is going through a rough patch in her marriage like me and we just wanted to talk. She took me to the restaurant in that particular hotel because her sister is the chef there. We ate, talked and I ended up wiping her tears and patting her back and nothing happened.” Dike looked at Ene. “But with all you told me now, am I not justified for all I did?”
“I’d like to say no but Dike, you’ve gone through a lot and you’ve tried.”
Dike got off his chair again. “I wish you hadn’t told me. The divorce will be over soon and we’ll go our separate ways. She can go back to her Leke and I’ll start a new life but now, knowing this, you’ve just wounded me.”
“I am sorry, Dike. But I wouldn’t invite you guys over if I wasn’t sure that there was a chance for you people.”
“Are you hearing yourself, Ene?!” Dike bellowed. “There is no way in hell I am taking this woman back!”
“Dike, I no like dat kain talk,” Felix stated.
“Dat one concern you. I don talk my own!”
“Dike, Kachi loves you,” Ene emphasized. “Believe me, she does but she is hurt and cannot trust you. When she sees you, she sees Leke all over again.”
Dike laughed in disbelief. “Ene, I am the victim here!”
“No, you both are.”
“Stop defending your friend!”
“She loves you. In fact, it’s because she loves you she’s running away.”
“That’s rubbish! Kachi came to me for almost a month, every single day and allowed me make love to her! For what? To prove that she can give me what I want and then take it all away like that because she has the power?! Or was it to learn skills to share with her boyfriend? Which one?! Then she was giving me crap about separating her heart from her head! What nonsense talk was that?!”
“She was trying to show you how much she loved you; it was a selfless act on her side and she was excited, ready to work things out but then the investigator gave her news of you and the woman at the hotel and everything crumbled.”
“How can she love me and be investigating me?! Utter nonsense, Ene! I’m so glad I’m done with her. I can’t wait for the final order from the court!”
“Thank you for telling me but it is over!” Dike picked his phone from the table and stood over Kachi. “I can’t forgive her even if she comes and grovels! And I am going to court after the divorce to get full custody of the kids! Good night!”
Dike walked away from them, going deaf to Felix’s and Ene’s voices calling him back as he left the house. Kachi tried to keep a dry eye but she fell to pieces and Ene held her.
“I told you not to tell him. Now he hates me.” She sobbed.
“Now he knows the truth and you don’t have to run away again. Give him time to let it sink in and he’ll come round.”
Kachi shook her head. “You don’t know Dike. His pride won’t let him.”
“Have I ever given you bad advice, Kach? Trust me. It will work. Just put away those crazy thoughts of leaving from your head permanently, abeg.”
Felix was still dumbfounded watching the two women. He had never seen Kachi so subdued in all his time of knowing her but it was Ene that scared him most.
“Honey, are there any more secrets you’re hiding?” he asked and Ene smirked.
They had been waiting for more than thirty minutes. The clinic was unkempt and reeked badly of antiseptics. The lab technicians had complained that they were closed for the day but with a little, extra pay from Temi, they agreed to carry out the tests.
“Maybe they’re not doing any test in those labs,” Ovie said. “Dem fit just sit down there dey watch Africa Magic and after, come write say all of us get AIDS.”
Temi laughed hard.
“Temidire and Omoruyi?” A chirpy lab attendant sauntered into the waiting area of the clinic.
“Yes?” Temi stood.
“Follow me. The rest of you, wait. Your tests aren’t ready.”
Uyi and Temi followed the girl into a tight lab where another girl was making a loud phone call. She handed the test results to her chirpy colleague who in turn, handed them to Temi and Uyi.
“Congratulations. You’re both negative.”
Uyi blew out his breath in relief.
“I wish you guys a happy married life. Invite me for the wedding oh!”
“We will.” Temi beamed and locked her hand in Uyi’s.
“How about our friends’ results?” Uyi asked.
“They’ll be ready soon.” The lab attendant walked them out and they headed back to the waiting room, and to their surprise, they found empty seats where Peter, Ovie and Murphy had been sitting.
“Ah-ahn. Where are them Peter?” Temi asked. She strolled to the entrance door and peeped out and saw nothing. She turned to a nurse standing by the front desk, zapping a zit on her face as she peered into a pocket mirror. “Aunty, please where did those guys go?”
“They left,” the nurse replied and Uyi laughed.
“After the extra money I paid. Let me just meet them at home,” Temi grumbled as she and Uyi left the clinic. The moment Uyi’s car was leaving the premises, the chirpy lab attendant returned and ran out, trying to stop them, but she was unsuccessful. She turned to the nurse by the desk.
“Why didn’t those boys wait to get their results?” she asked, spreading out the three papers in her hands. The nurse shrugged and turned to her mirror.
“It’s so sad. And they didn’t leave their numbers.”
“Ehn, it’s their wahala na.”
“No, one of them tested positive oh.”
The nurse abandoned her mirror and grabbed the papers from her. “Which one?” she looked through the results. “Brother Lovehandles?” she hissed. “It’s a fake name na. Who answers Brother Lovehandles? Even the other names are fake. Useless human beings.”
The lab attendant shook her head sadly. “Na wa oh! He will go and spread it to one poor girl now. Hian. May God forgive him.”