//Let Me Stay With You Tonight, Baby//
Although, she ran out of her parent’s house as soon as her father told her Elicia and her were sisters – his words did not stay back at the house. They were as thick as horse whips, forming marks even after impact.
As she headed back to Aspire Estate Agents after a quick shower in her flat, Elicia’s face came back to rest on her mind. It was one thing to turn her back on her father and Aunty Yele – the woman that betrayed her mother. Could she possibly do the same to Elicia? The girl might exist because her father was unfaithful but she hadn’t chosen to come to the world via that route.
Anu sighed. The taxi driver murmured something about the blustery weather. The clouds were swollen earlier. The cooler weather wasn’t unexpected. Some light drizzling tonight wouldn’t be a surprise either. She gazed out of the window absent-mindedly. The last thing she wanted was small talk.
The thought of not having Elicia as a friend had knotted her stomach tight. She remembered how her younger friend deserted her university to spend two weeks with her after her mother died. The way she made rounds of tea to keep her hydrated. The way she dried her tears on the tip of her cardigan, offering no words. It was better than the “God knows best” “It is well” and “ma sunkun mo” that those Nigerian aunties kept repeating whilst gnashing Digestives Biscuits and pocketing Quality Streets Chocolates.
Did Elicia know? Was this why she introduced her to her university friends as her “beautiful sister” last year when she travelled down to see her?
She shook her head in the same way people shake their heads when acknowledging something is not possible. Her friend would not do that to her.
The taxi had stopped in front of Aspire Estate Agents. She fiddled in her purse for some loose change, unable to focus because she’d noticed the lights were on and through the display glass window, noticed that her father’s new business partner had made himself comfortable at her desk.
Anu alighted from the cab after thanking the driver. She drew slow gulps of air on her way to the building, where she’d worked for the past five years. On bleak days and on days when the business really paid off. She worked evenings and weekends, twice as hard as her father’s staff, so that when he made her manager, she knew the post was well deserved.
“Hi,” Idriss closed the office diary in front of him when she walked in. “Your father gave me his keys. I let myself in because it’s nearly…”
“Something came up.” Anu said as she unbuttoned her black leather jacket, biting down her apology. Saying sorry had its uses in the business world. This wasn’t one of those moments.
She was going to fling the jacket on the couch – where clients waited to be seen to – when she noticed the boxes labelled Pizza Hut on the table. He had cleaned the reception table and arranged serviettes, plates, two glass cups and a bottle of non-alcoholic wine neatly on the table.
“I hope you haven’t eaten, Aisha. Let’s eat, it’s late.”
Idriss had left the desk. She could hear his footsteps nearing her. Her heart was doing that thing it had done this morning.
She turned on her heels and started to head towards the kitchen. “I have to wash my hands. Back in a moment.”
“I don’t bite.” He had said when she sat several miles away from him as they settled down to eat and talk business. She had uprooted herself slowly from the stand-chair and sat on the couch next to him.
Right now, gawking at her beautiful face, he wished he hadn’t lied to her. He wasn’t in the habit of hurting women. But this was no ordinary woman. She happened to be the daughter of Alhaji; the man that killed the only woman he had ever cared about. The man that he had always planned to ruin. Fortune had become his when he joined the lottery syndicate at work. His share had been enough to invest in properties, this business and a lot yielding interests in banks.
The girl before him had the sort of aura every woman should possess. She carried herself with confidence too. Perhaps it was this that made her seem prettier than the women he had shared a bed with in the past. With a face that had everything just the right size, full lips that seemed to be begging to be kissed and breasts that were larger than what you would expect from someone her size, she wasn’t averagely blessed. She also seemed like the type that he could have a conversation with. Not like the type of big-weave girls whose current affairs knowledge came from their social media pages.
He needed a clear head to take Alhaji down. He hoped her dress would not always ride up and skim tightly over her curves like it was doing right now.
What the hell? She was bound to get in the way. What did it matter if he had some fun whilst plotting to take Alhaji down? Whatever hurt his princess would affect him anyway.
As she waffled on about housing laws and policies, section this and section that, he couldn’t help imagining her supple form beneath him, her soft voice calling out his name.
“Sorry. I’m boring you, aren’t I?”
“No, you are not,” Idriss shook his head. “I’m fascinated by what you have achieved managing this agency. Your father didn’t tell me you are a gem.”
She didn’t smile but her eyes glittered, the way people’s eyes do when they are having fun. He had turned off the lights after packing away the pizza trays. The display windows made him uncomfortable. She had asked then if it worried him that his wife might drive past and see them. He had shifted on his spot and explained he was yet to be tied down, glancing at her face – which didn’t reveal anything. Certainly not the glee he saw in women’s eyes as soon as he revealed he was yet to settle down. Funny, how the same women did not bother about his marital status when he didn’t have more than his old sputtering Fiat to his name.
“I was just thinking that you look so much like your mum. She was one of a kind.” Idriss said and chided himself. He didn’t normally act like this around women. Even Emeka would preach minimum attention. Indirect compliments. A woman would show more interest if you showed less, his friend would say.
“Really?” Her eyes had brightened again. One hand held the business plan she had given him to read earlier. The other hand was on her thighs. The dress had ridden up again, exposing what she seemed uncomfortable to share. It didn’t escape him that earlier, her suit had covered more of her.
“Yeah. She was lovely. I worked for your father when he had the YP accommodation project. Your mother forced me to eat every time I went to your house. Amala, fufu…I think she was worried I was living on cornflakes and noodles.”
“That must have been the time I was at Glasgow for my first degree.” She stared at the business plan again. She didn’t want to think of her mother. She didn’t want to think of the mangled body she had to identify at the morgue. The lack of an expression on her mother’s often warm face would stay with her forever.
The rawness of her grief surprised her every time Anu thought of her mother. It seemed to intensify as if it were some sort of traumatic physical injury whose throbbing would never abate. Talking about her mother forced her in that place. The self loathing, bitter, variation of her that was left behind after her mother’s sudden death.
Her last conversation with her mother had morphed quickly into an argument. It had escalated from, ‘when do you think you will settle down my daughter’ to ‘I wish God had given me a different child.’ Anu remembered leaving for the gym in anger. That was the last time she saw her mother alive.
Why had she stayed away for so long? Those years she wasted, avoiding home because her parents didn’t want her to get too close to Bradley. Her father had been so disappointed she was dating a non-Muslim. His lack of religion had been what her parents chomped on. Although, it was glaring that his race was what really bothered them. It was obvious with the way they skated around it. Yet, Bradley had been amongst the first lot of friends and acquaintances that deserted her when her grief turned her into a cold, angry woman.
“Alhaji said you are committing haram?” Idriss was staring at her, studying her.
“I’m not seeing Bradley anymore, if that’s what he is getting at. I didn’t move in with him either. I moved out of the house because of my father’s choices.”
“Okay but Alhaji said…”
“I live on my own. That doesn’t mean I’m sleeping around.”
“I’m sure you are not.”
Their eyes locked for a few seconds until her gaze shifted back to the document on her thighs.
“If you were…mine…I would help you change back to your faith first because your devotion would help heal your grief. It is your father’s religion so it should be yours too.”
Anu sniggered. It was clear to her that her father didn’t believe he should share some of the blame for their problems. Idriss was throwing his thoughts her way suggestively but her father’s words littered his sentences. She could almost hear his voice. Aisha, I’m your father so I’m always right.
“You would probably end up with a Muslim brother.” He inclined forward. A mischievous grin that soothed his features played on his face.
“Do you know any nice Muslim brothers?”
“I know me.”
She resisted the urge to laugh, rolled her eyes instead.
He grinned. “I will help you convert back. Insha’Allah.”
She started to chuckle because he had fixed a mock-determined look on his face.
They went back to the hotel straight after attending the auction in West London. Anu kicked off her heels back in her hotel room and tried ringing Elicia again.
When Idriss asked her to come to the London auctions with him, she had quickly agreed, hoping she would be able to meet with Elicia. It had taken two weeks of working together before she allowed herself to feel almost safe with him. The rest of her doubts, she ignored. She could look after herself. She had done that most of her life.
She sighed. The phone was still ringing. Although she had decided that the issue of Elicia and her being sisters should be discussed face to face, this morning she had blurted it out on the phone.
During their conversation, Elicia did not say one word that signalled she didn’t already know they shared a father. Anu had to get off the phone when Elicia said something about, sisters making the best of friends. The girl had known all along and perhaps was an active participant in the conspiracy to cover it up.
Now though as she held the phone to her ear, hoping Elicia would pick up, she finally admitted she might have lost yet another friend. She wished she had given the girl an opportunity to explain this morning.
A quick shower later, her feet started to weigh heavy so she got ready for bed.
Her eyelids were closing to the melting sound of Ella Henderson’s, Yours when the knocks on the door forced them open. She rose slowly and opened the door, knowing it would be him at the door. Since becoming her father’s business partner, his routine had started to become a bit more predictable. With her colleagues, a phone call or text would have sufficed. Idriss preferred traditional contact.
He had changed out of the black suit; he wore this morning into a white shirt and fading sky-blue jeans.
“You are not ready for the restaurant.” He stared at the nightdress she had on like it was some sort of comic costume.
Anu stepped back because she could feel something wrapping itself around her neck. Perhaps the result of that glass of white wine she had in the hotel’s bar before they came up. It would have helped if she’d had more than the handful of grapes at lunch time. And her stomach wasn’t almost empty. The last thing she wanted to do was cry in front of him. She rubbed her temple whilst at the same time trying to search for words to get him out. She had started to feel as if her emotional strength was in question since the day he told her that his mother died unexpectedly too.
That, she had concluded, was his way of letting her know she was nothing but a weak female in a man’s world.
“Are you okay?” He stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. “Is this about what’s going on between you and Alhaji?”
As tears found their way past her coated lashes, he pulled her into his arms.
They stayed like that for a while. With no words. Her slim frame resting on him. His hand on her nape, her face on his chest.
He would protect her against men and foe. Tonight though, he wasn’t sure if he could protect her against himself.
She smelt of sweet-smelling soaps. Of lemon and jasmine. A deep, invigorating, sensual smell. He had taken a perfumery class last year when he thought this could be an interesting area to invest money in.
Holding her felt familiar as if he’d been this close to her before. Tingling sensations travelled down his backbone, making him want to hold her tighter, longer. Except, he would prefer her to be clad in nothing but the delicate scent.
“Aisha, I hate to see you this sad. I wish you would confide in me.”
“I will be fine. Thank you.”
She didn’t look up and meet his eyes with those long, coated lashes. He could sense her regaining her composure. She would withdraw from him soon. Perhaps, claim nothing was wrong.
“Let me stay with you tonight, baby.” The words were out, before he could stop himself.