The Problem Is…
Four weeks had passed since Bradley walked back into Anu’s life. They were former lovers who were now simply friends. That was what Anu said when Idriss asked her what was going on. But she said it without looking at him. Her tone was missing its characteristic conviction too. This was the same tone that her voice had before he bedded her in London. It bothered him. Irritated him, even. He had no idea someone other him could will that much power over her.
As he parked his car on Hazel Drive, knowing the last thing that his heart wanted was the date night that Elicia had planned for them, Idriss felt terrible. His girl friend had arrived from Hertfordshire University yesterday evening, having told him the nights were too long without him.
This was why Idriss planted a grin on his face as the door swung open. It wasn’t Elicia that came to the door though. It was her mother, Yele. She seemed happier to see him today, moving forward to hug him. This wasn’t the reception he got the last time he was here.
That was the same day that Yele found out that he was doing a lot more than offering brotherly advice to her daughter. She had slapped him, leaving his face with lips that looked like they had been stung by angry bees. Her blessing had come in slow, instalments of the odd “greet Idriss for me” that Yele sent with her daughter to London.
“Bawo ni ,” the wings and tail of Yele’s lace dress flanked her sides and back and moved with her as they walked into the lounge.
“I’m fine, ma.”
He caught Yele’s eyes glare at him as he settled in the comfort of the sofa. The fake eyelashes did not mask her disapproval of the “ma” used to address her. It was supposed to be a joke after all he had known Yele for years. Around seven years before meeting her daughter in London. A remarkable coincidence.
“You were on your way out,” Idriss noted. “Judging by the efforts you made, you are off to see Alhaji.”
He smiled too, deciding that his disapproval of the relationship wouldn’t change anything. Having known the woman for almost as long as he had lived in the UK, Idriss knew her quiet stubbornness would shift for no one.
“I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you about Alhaji and I.” Yele said as one of her hands reached for her orange tote bag on the table.
“So, you and him… have always had a thing going on?”
“No. Not always.”
Yele walked over to the sofa and sat on its arm, perhaps because she didn’t want her daughter to overhear their conversation. The sound of a hair dryer humming from a nearby room was all the information he needed that Elicia was getting ready but wouldn’t be ready anytime soon.
Yele sighed. Her petite, young-looking frame fitted the sofa’s arm perfectly, the way it would have when they worked together years ago. It had surprised him when their colleague told him Yele had a teenage daughter.
“I stopped waiting patiently for him when my daughter was still young but he kept trying to get me back.”
“You wanted him to leave his wife?”
“He promised me he would leave her. I was young and inlove. I believed him.”
“Gullible,” he muttered, knowing that their friendship would not drown because of his honesty. Still, she had kept her feelings for Alhaji a secret all these years. Kept it a secret when they worked for Alhaji and he paid them what he called “no pali wages. It wasn’t even a quarter of what the minimum wage was back then. And at times, he withheld their pay justifying his actions on the basis of their lack of respect for him.
“I know you don’t like him very much, Idriss.”
“He is my business partner.” He scratched his stubble whilst at the same time wondering how to convince her she was wrong. Paying Alhaji back in his cruel manner had to be a surprise. An ingenious, crushing hit that would knock him to the floor. “I know he wasn’t very nice back then but Alhaji is a different man these days. It is easier to like him now.”
“I know you like him, I said not very much because you two could be closer especially now that you are back around here again. I remember those days. I remember when me, you and Emeka had to prostrate on the floor to get our wages. When we were all desperate and fed up of living on bread. It was September and I had to beg Yele to manage her shabby uniform to school. I know he is sorry for how ruthless he treated us but you know you Nigerian men hate saying sorry.”
He didn’t respond. The delayed wages that month was what killed his mother. His family needed money back home for her hospital treatment. Money his boss withheld. They couldn’t complain to no one or report him because Yele had no work permit, Emeka and Idriss were on student visas that allowed them to work twenty hours a week – not the ninety hours they were both raking in.
Yele rose, holding her bag in the crook of her arm like a newborn baby. “I have to go. I hope that girl shows her face before you fall asleep. Drinks are in the fridge.”
The first he knew that she was in the room was when the rare scent of Pure Tiffany hit his nostrils. It settled in as she advanced towards him, the clap of her platform heels loud and squeaky. Her long, slim legs shiny. His eyes travelled upwards to the crotch of the black shorts clothing her middle. A white top that was as transparent as the flimsy lingerie –she often wore – covered less than it left exposed. The rich, black hair on her head was held, tight in a simple bun, further augmenting her striking cheekbones and small, narrow nose.
“You are beautiful,” He muttered as she sat on his thighs, swinging to the left and kissing his lips.” You look gorgeous but I’m not sure I can take you out dressed…I mean undressed like this.”
“We are not going out.” She traced his face with her fingers, stopping on his lower lip. “I thought we could stay here. Mummy has left, hasn’t she?”
“I’m glad she is not here to see the trouble you are causing for me. I work hard to show her I respect you…”
“You mean the way you respect me in your bed?”
His face curved in a wide smile. “You should have been christened trouble.” The rousing in his groin would have been visible if she wasn’t sat on him. “Are you going to get dressed?”
“I don’t want to go out anymore. Maybe when I have had my hair done tomorrow. Let me show you my room instead or would you rather stay on this sofa?” Elicia said, swinging one leg over and sitting astride him.
Idriss clamped his hands down gently on her tiny wrist as soon as she started moving her waist rhythmically. “Not here, honey. You know I want to but let’s go to my pad.”
“You never have anything edible in your house. You never had anything in your London home either.”
“I do. There is water in the tap.”
“We will get a takeaway after I have welcomed you back home. You can come like this. Just grab a jacket or something so that you don’t give my elderly neighbour a heart attack.”
“Okay, bf.” Her lips covered his.
It felt ironic that when they met months ago she had been the less clued-up partner. Almost shy. He was the one that taught her how to move her waist in bed. That showed her pleasure could be derived from different angles.
“I’m not very hungry anyway.” She cupped her face with her palms.
“Why? Are you ill?”
Elicia started to play with the charm bracelet on her left wrist. She tended to do this when she didn’t want to tell him something. He narrowed his eyes at her.
“I’m not ill,” she stuttered. “Just pregnant.”
“What? Are you serious? Elicia, that’s not funny!” He was sure she was joking.
When her gaze shifted to his chest and her mouth didn’t move, he supported her body off his bulk onto the sofa.
She grabbed hold of his hands to stop him from walking away. “I’m sorry, Idriss. Please…”
“I told you to take your pills!”
“And I did. I didn’t miss any I swear. It isn’t my fault, darling.”
“This is not happening. You probably did the test wrong.”
“No, I didn’t. I’m sorry, bf. I promise it will be your decision whatever we choose to do…”
He pulled away from her and tried not to watch the tears that now fell like trap drips from her eyes. It was as if the teardrops had been waiting in her eyes. Waiting to be shed.
He needed air. He needed to get away. “Elicia, don’t cry. I need to think, that’s all. I will call you later.” The chaste kiss on her forehead was quick. He was out of the house before she could respond.
Anu took small, measured steps up the stairs of The Canal Club. Kaz had sent her a text to say they were together in the first booth on the first floor, adding that it wouldn’t be nice —to miss James’ birthday celebration. She had donned on her new short red dress and decided to come out after all. But now she wasn’t sure her heels were supposed to be walked in at all. They pinched harder every time she took a step, making her conclude that they were the sort of shoes that were made for showing off sake. Never to be worn or even looked at.
“Hiya,” both Kaz and James shouted as soon as they saw her.
Anu’s greeting died in her throat when she saw Idriss with the pair. She had expected that he wouldn’t come as he’d simply nodded when Kaz told them of the birthday plans.
They all had a glass of something that looked like a cocktail drink in their hands. Her suspicion was confirmed when James handed her a glass.
“Where is Kate?” She asked of their temp because she didn’t know what else to say. Happy birthdays had been said earlier and gifts delivered to the celebrant at his desk. Their new temp was the fourth one in three weeks. The first acted as if she was allergic to any kind of work. She moaned every time the phone rang and carried her legs like someone four times her size. Whilst the second thought nothing of wearing fitted short skirts that were just slightly bigger than belts. Skirts that made Kaz look like a new Christian convert and slowed James’ productivity.
“Kate left after spending ten minutes nursing a glass of orange juice,” James raised his voice over the blaring dance music playing. “I think her bedtime is seven pm.”
“I think she didn’t wanna spend too long with us oldies.” Kaz said.
“Who are you calling an oldie, Kaz. I’m only twenty five.” James curled his lips.
Anu smiled because Idriss was staring at James’ face seeming to be searching for clues that the man was indeed ten years younger than he was. She made use of this to strike a conversation with Idriss when her colleagues left to smoke outside. Laughing, Idriss pointed out that the tell tale signs were there on the man’s face and receding hairline.
She laughed louder than usual. During the pause that followed, she positioned her posture straight, so that he wouldn’t think his baby news bothered her even though finding out had knocked her the way a thunder bolt would.
“I hear congratulations are in order, Idriss.”
“I know Elicia is pregnant. She called me before I left home.”
“She did what?” His voice rose above the music. He rubbed his hands together to calm himself. “Sorry…She only told me this afternoon. We haven’t even discussed it yet.”
“What is there to discuss? You love her. That much is obvious.”
He gulped down the rest of the drink in his cup. Anu stayed silent as he filled his cup again. When did he start drinking like this?
“Elicia is more than a sister to me, if you are not serious about her…”
“I am,” he barked and then engaged her gaze. “I love her although I’m not sure about us having a future.” He raised a hand up when her lips opened to interrupt him. “I’m not proud of what I have done but please don’t judge me. I met Elicia in London and I didn’t know much about her. I didn’t know Alhaji was her father…We rushed things, the chemistry was great.”
His legs were moving, his shoes slapping the floor but it wasn’t a reaction to the song now playing. The almost permanent grin on his face had completely disappeared. The palm of the hand raised beat the other like it was dough forcing Anu to open her mouth.
“You are scaring me, Idriss. What’s the problem?”
The problem is her mother and I slept together years ago.”