//Falling into Bed//
“You slept with your girlfriend’s mother?” Anu gasped.
He had a sheepish look on his face as he raised the glass to his mouth again. For the first time since they met, he didn’t seem that appealing to her anymore. She realised she made the right decision when she decided to pull back from their friendship. She had stayed away from him these past few weeks, taking more of the viewing appointments so that she was seldom in the office when he came round.
“I didn’t know who Elicia was,” Idriss stated. He raised his voice when her face stayed creased. “You know me. Do I look like someone that would go from mother to daughter knowingly?”
“What happened then?”
“I met Yele whilst working for your father all those years ago. We were friends. We fell into bed once but it wasn’t planned.”
“Either you planned it or you simply fell into bed, what matters is that it happened, Mr.”
“My point is,” he leant towards her, “I didn’t know who Elicia was when we met in London. It wasn’t until she showed me a picture of her mother that I realised who she was. By then, it was too late.”
“You didn’t recognise Elicia when you met her?” She screamed her question at him, mostly because the music blaring had turned from loud to deafening. And partially, because he deserved to be screamed at.
“I didn’t meet her when I lived around here the same way I never met you. I was here for five months, tops.”
“I was at uni. Going through a phase of staying away from home but your girlfriend was still at secondary school, living in a flat that you must have visited.”
“I think Yele went out of her way to keep her daughter from me.”
I don’t blame her. I would keep anything that wears a skirt from you too. Anu corked her head to the side to prevent him from seeing what she really thought of him. She hoped her thoughts wouldn’t tumble out too.
“She didn’t even tell me she had a child. I found out through a colleague.”
“Did you ask her?”
“Yeah. She said she had a girl living with her. She swore the girl was her niece. I never saw the girl because she visited me…and she didn’t even talk about her. She didn’t mention her once and I don’t know why she didn’t because we were just friends…”
“Friends that slept together.” Anu regretted her statement immediately.
He picked up his glass. His gaze stayed on the rim of the cup after taking a sip.
Anu raised her hand to his shoulder to pat it, squeezing it instead. “You have to forget it happened. If this gets out, it will ruin both mother and daughter. They don’t deserve that.”
“Can I trust you to keep this to yourself? Please don’t say a word.”
Anu wished he would stop staring at her. Knowing his secret hadn’t changed anything. If anything, things were now ten times knottier than they ever were before.
Reaching for her bag on the table, she got her phone out of it. Anything to take her away from his eyes.
“Thank you,” Idriss said. “Only someone that cares would listen like you have.”
Anu kept staring at her phone’s screen, scrolling through old messages, hoping someone, anyone – perhaps one of those cold callers would ring her. His eyes were on her as if she was a scoop of ice cream he was about to devour.
He sat up, fingered his cup. He seemed to have realised he was making her uncomfortable. When he exhaled noisily, she concluded that he had more on his mind. She wondered if to tell him therapists were paid to listen to dirty secrets like this. Sleeping with three women who all know each other would interrupt with any sane man’s sleep. She wondered if to pretend her head hurt because it was beginning to look like Kaz and James had abandoned them.
“I have a daughter. She is eighteen.”
Anu glanced at the half empty corktail jug.
“I’m not drunk. Just sharing, Anu.”
“I had no idea.” She put her phone on the table. “Does Elicia know?”
“Yeah,” Idriss nodded. “She doesn’t exactly like talking about it.”
He brought out his phone from his jeans’ pocket and tapped on the screen. The photo of a dark skinned, smiling girl with silver hoops lit up the screen when he passed the phone over to her.
“She is beautiful.”
“I think she takes after her mum,” Anu added chuckling.
He raised his hand to take the phone from her, sniggering when she moved back.” Oya, I no play anymore.”
He caught up with her. He didn’t retrieve his phone from her, placing his hand over her hand instead. Their eyes locked for a while.
She pulled away, first. “I need a proper drink.”
“Me too,” he picked up the phone as soon as she placed it on the table. “Your sister… is special. Your father has hurt her enough. And I am not in a position to judge. I would win the worst dad award if there was ever a competition like that.”
“I’m sure you are not that bad.”
“I messaged my daughter in May wishing her happy birthday.”
“That’s a start.”
“A false one,” he winced. “She sent me a reply saying her birthday is in November.”
“I send her money regularly but I think she only takes it because her mother and grandparents want her to. She is not interested in anything else.”
“Try harder,” she said.
He changed the topic, then. He was sure that Kaz and James were seeing each other. She didn’t think it was true. They stayed away from each other at work, talked openly about the people they were supposedly seeing.
When Kaz and James both returned Anu noticed it, two buttons on James’ shirt were undone. Idriss had a knowing look on his face when she Anu glanced at him.
Idriss was still drunk when he got a black cab to take him to Hazel Drive. Elicia came to the door quicker than he expected. She had on a plain nightdress. A white long one, which he’d never seen on her before.
“It’s past midnight,” she said as she held the door open
“We need to talk. Now.” He trudged in and remained standing despite the sofa looking pleasingly unoccupied. His legs groaned. They had been pushed straight to work at five am this morning. Laps on the treadmill first. A long run, shower, Skype and emails, clocking a few working hours by the time he got to Aspire Estate Agents’.
She was watching him. Eyes taking in every detail. His words would be it. Their relationship had lasted this long partially because they were in tune. Elicia always seemed so receptive of his decisions. Quietly submissive. So what was this other feeling that gnawed at him?
“You told Anu? I thought you were going to wait for me to come to you. Now, I’m sure your mother knows too.” He shook his head when instead of reassuring him her mother didn’t know, she stared at the floor. “Are you trying to force a solution?”
“I’m sorry, bf. I needed to talk to someone.”
“We need to sort this out. Tonight.”
“Let’s go to yours, my mum is home.”
“Okay. The taxi is waiting outside.”
He leant on the wall behind him and rubbed his face as she walked away. How would he sort this without hurting one of them? His palms were still on his face when he heard footsteps approaching.
Idriss lowered his hands to see Yele standing in front of him in her dressing gown. She looked more hurt than angry.
“Not here.” He walked outside and she followed. They stopped next to the taxi.
“I didn’t mean to get her pregnant.”
“You were sleeping with her!” Yele’s eyes bulged. She looked like she wanted to scream or scratch his eyes out. The make-up on her face had the opposite effect of what it was supposed to do. The red lipstick mimicking blood. The false eyelashes, the end of a witch’s broom. “What did you expect would happen when you obviously didn’t use protection? Enh, ode buruku. What sort of man takes a university girl to bed without protecting her, anyway?”
“She is on the pill.”
“So what? Did you make sure she was taking them regularly?”
“She is not a baby.”
“She is my baby.”
Her mouth opened to continue and then closed again. Her face quivered and he realised she was really upset.
“I will look after your daughter. You know that.”
Yele tutted and wagged an index finger in his face. “You better do the right thing if you don’t want my trouble. Convince her to abort that thing inside her.”
“Do you think I want you as a son in law?” She moved closer, reducing her voice to a whisper. “I was convinced that you would get tired of her. This is why I stopped complaining about you dating her. That I stopped complaining does not mean I was happy. No way am I going to allow you marry her. No way.”
She marched back in leaving him standing there.
Almost sober now, his mind was running overtime. He wondered if all this would be happening if instead of stopping when he saw Elicia and her broken-down car close to his posh city-apartment he had chosen not to help her. What if he had questioned her properly when she said she was a relative of his friend and ignored his senses that stood to attention next to her. He would have known she was Yele’s daughter. That she wasn’t fibbing to get a lift. It wouldn’t be the first time that a London girl had chatted him up with recycled lines such as ‘I think I know you’, ‘My uncle is your friend’s friend’. What if when she turned up the following day to thank him for the lift back to her campus, instead of inviting her to stay for dinner and then kissing her as he draped her Pashmina scarf around her, he had fought his urge?
Anu stirred her second cup of coffee for longer than was necessary. Bradley had asked her to come for coffee and she said yes because staying at home would have forced her to think.
They were sitting on a table outside the cafe adjoining the town hall. The shops were all clustered around the town hall in the centre of Ribble Greaves, giving the town an ancient feel. This was what drove the younger generations and outdoorsy people to neighbouring cities. Anu liked the quaint lifestyle here. This was why the modernists approach to life in Glasgow and London where she studied did not entice her to stay. Although, at first, coming back home was so that she and Bradley could spend time together in between term breaks but during his second year at University of Leeds, he decided to change to her university. It meant doing an extra year at Glasgow University for him but they were together. Nothing mattered. They spent their Christmas break every year at home in Ribble Greaves and it was on one of those occasions when they walked hand in hand at the arcade that she asked if they could raise their children here.
She knew they looked like a couple to people that walked past their table. She wondered if the ladies that took a second look were jealous of her. Bradley turned heads with his charming features. Yet, he didn’t strut around like he knew he looked better than the average man.
“Do you think you could ever forgive me?”
“What for?” She asked even though what happened between them could never be ticked as one of those minor moments in life to be tucked away like an insignificant memory. Perhaps he realised too that they were not like they used to be. The chattiness and excitement that travelled everywhere with them had disappeared. Along with the friendship they honed for years.
“I left you when you needed me most. I went to live in Yorkshire.”
“You got a new job. It would have been stupid to turn it down.” Anu dropped the spoon on the saucer and watched the slim film of cream on top swirl to form a circle.
“I need you to forgive me. I should never have moved away when you were grieving for your mother.”
Her gaze shifted to his formidable face. A symmetrical face like that on a fashion model. Those blue eyes of his and the shock of black hair used to set her alight. They had met decades ago at primary school. Friends for years before a chaste kiss changed everything.
“I was horrible to you Bradley. I pushed you away. So, let’s forget about it all.” She stared at the busy shops next to Ribble Greaves Town Hall. Using the sight to block out his conversations which were still peppered with apologies.
They talked for a while. He seeming excited, she feigning curiosity.
“I’m really glad Elicia called me. If it wasn’t for her…”
“What do you mean?” Anu sat up in her seat. “You said you came down to see your mum and decided to check up on me.”
“Yeah, that’s true,” he nodded. “But the reason I was worried about you is because Elicia called me to say you were still not coping. She wanted me to come and see you.”
“So, you only came to see me because my… sister called you.” The question had left her mouth even though what she wanted to know was why her sister lied. They hadn’t spoken about her ex in a while. Not that they had spoken much about him in the first place. The bigger proportion of blame about their split did not rest on his shoulders. It was no use blaming him, although deep down she detested his leaving. It was worse than bad timing. Her mother had just died. Still, she held her shoulders high and told everyone what Bradley and her decided to call it – amicable split.
“Please beautiful, I don’t want you to think I came because your sister called. I always wanted to come and see you. I called twice but you didn’t pick up…”
“I know you called.” She took a sip of her coffee and looked away from him.
“When Elicia told me about the whole being your sister thing, I knew I had to come and see you.” He stroked the hand she had on the table with a finger and thumb. “She told me you were missing me too. You know what, I have really missed you. I hope we can get what we had back eventually. If not, I will settle for friendship. I miss us, beautiful.”
Anu got her phone out of her bag after walking Bradley to his car. Declining the offer of a lift because she wanted to spend some time browsing the bookstore on Fleet Street but once there she was scanning her phone for new messages.
“Hi. Finished the coffee date? How did it go?”
The short text was from Idriss. When he called earlier she had told him with a manufactured excitement about the date. The message had come ten minutes ago with one following a minute later, saying “I guess you have decided to elope or something?”
She couldn’t help tapping a quick reply after settling herself in the Non-Fiction aisle at the store. She told him it went okay. It was better than telling him she couldn’t seem to find the feelings she once felt for Bradley. That her head, her heart wouldn’t unlock those feelings.
“Where are you?” His reply came seconds later.
“In your area,” she tapped send and decided to leave the bookstore.
Her phone was still in her hand when a response came. “I’m home. Come over.”
Anu was still having a heated debate with herself when she arrived on his street. Reasons to visit him versus reasons to run several miles in the opposite direction. They were friends, nothing more. It would be like that time she visited Kaz at home when her colleague was off sick. It had turned out that the woman was hiding indoors after a UVA tanning that went wrong and left her several shades browner. She had managed to help her friend feel better about herself. Succeeded in getting her back to work two days later. So, there was nothing wrong with visiting a male colleague at home. His good looks were not something that could charm her like it did other women. She would always be immune to it. Okay, so she fell once. But it was just once. A night now banished from her head.
Anu found the house. It was tucked in a row of detached new builds. He had pointed it out to her once on their way to a work meeting. It had fallen in his hand, a quick purchase after he moved back to the town.
The door was open, so she walked in, happy that her heels clacked clacked on the wooden flooring. Loud enough to drown her heart’s thumps and her head’s disapproving speeches.
She saw Idriss by the lounge window before noticing the person sat on the sofa. It was Elicia.
Her sister had her face in her hands. She turned to Anu as if she had been expecting her. “You need to hear our news. He has asked me to marry him.”