//When the Game Takes the Wheel//
Elicia relaxed her shoulders when her friend put her new Apple phone on the table between them. Since Isoken strolled in a few minutes ago, the girl had updated all of her profiles on social networking sites and forced her to cock her head left and right and pout like a duck to take selfies with her. Luckily, she had applied her liquid foundation and a generous amount of her matte lipstick before opening the door.
She wished her mind would yield easily like her shoulders did. It had refused to settle since Idriss asked her to be his wife three weeks ago. At night, her lies hovered, making sleep difficult.
Getting the proposal was easy. She had set things in motion that Friday night by suggesting that she should bring up the child on her own. His mouth was buried on her breasts as she spoke and he had paused to look at her face. ‘I’m still young. I’m sure I will meet a man that can be the child’s father, bf. Don’t worry about us.’ When he shifted away from her body, she knew she had won.
“Now that you are done, can we talk, Isoken?”
“Are you sure you don’t wanna pose for a ring selfie,” Isoken pointed at the diamond ring on Elicia’s ring finger.
“No,” Elicia rolled her eyes. “I asked you to come round because I need your help.”
“What’s up girlfriend? You got your man. Next week Saturday you will be his wife. I know your moneybag wants a quiet ceremony but we still need it to be exquisite. That is all you should be bothering your head about.” The girl crossed her slim legs. They were longer than Elicia’s. Isoken’s face was pleasant to look at too but she was no match for Elicia’s unique prettiness – a fact that Elicia often commented on. Usually in a mocking, teasing tone.
“Please tell me we didn’t plan all we did months ago, practically stalking the man before he noticed you, so that you can now change your mind. If you don’t want Mr Perfect anymore, girl I’m in…”
“I haven’t changed my mind. I’m crazy about him. And yeah I remember all the money I spent on rent in his posh area and the many lectures I missed to hang out in those joints…”
“What the hell is wrong then?” Isoken pointed at the ring again. “You got the man you have crushed for since you were a teenager. He is filthy rich too.”
“He works like a donkey these days. We haven’t been together for like ten whole days and now he is going to Belfast for a business meeting.”
“What do you mean you haven’t been together, girl?”
“Come on, Issy. Use your head.” She scowled when her friend started to chuckle. “I dropped out of uni for this. What the hell happened to my bf that used to be in the mood like six times a day?”
“Don’t worry,” Isoken uncrossed her legs and smoothed down her dress. “Like you said, he is busy. And you are pregnant, so he probably doesn’t want to bother you. Men get tired too, or do you want him to break his back? Give it a rest and stop disturbing the baby.”
Elicia sat up. “That’s the problem. I’m not pregnant.”
Isoken sprang up from the sofa. A sound that wasn’t English or Pidgin left her mouth at the same time. Her mouth was still curved in an o shape when Elicia opened her mouth to continue.
“Listen, Issy, I said it to get the commitment I needed. This is why I need your help. I need to get pregnant like yesterday.”
Idriss was walking to his car after locking up Aspire Estate Agents on Friday evening, when he spotted his friend’s Range Rover at the top of the street. After lugging his laptop bag in his car, he sauntered over. Emeka was just alighting from his car.
“How you dey, Idriss?”
“Shebi, you are coming to mine later? What are you doing here, then?”
Emeka shook his head. “I promised my babe that I will be home early today. So I thought I would drive by your empire base.”
Idriss looked away from Emeka’s face. He didn’t want to confirm what he suspected. A conclusion he arrived at, not long ago. Emeka didn’t like Elicia. “Why don’t you bring your girl? My girl is around so the two can talk about shoes and make-up whilst we talk serious business or chop serious amount of food. I got the head chef at Spicy Grills to cook up a storm and deliver to the house.”
His friend grinned. One of those exaggerated grins that people dole out before saying no.
“You know you want to. From next weekend, I will be one of those married losers who need their wives’ permission to take a stroll.”
“I want to but… eh…”
Idriss tapped Emeka’s chest playfully. They had been friends for years, having met years before Idriss was confident enough to introduce himself as Idriss with double s to people.
They had managed to stay in touch when he lived in London and his friend survived in the north. He wanted to ask him what the problem was. When he told him about dating Elicia – shortly after finding out she was Yele’s daughter – he had expected that his friend’s quietness on the issue was because he knew of his fling with their former colleague. Except that Idriss could not remember ever dropping hints about sleeping with Yele. It was a secret both he and her had guarded with caution. One that they themselves did not talk about.
So, what problem did his friend have with Elicia if he didn’t know he bedded her mother?”
Elicia had been through enough. This was why he decided to separate her from her father’s sins. What would be the point of punishing her for the actions of a father that was never there for her? If he had known she was Alhaji’s daughter, perhaps he wouldn’t have let things get this far between them. For now, they would live life. He wouldn’t wreck his second chance at fatherhood.
“Come tomorrow then, Emeka. My girl will be around in the evening and we have wedding things to discuss, best man.”
“Well, there is a problem… with that tomorrow…” Emeka cleared his throat, “Uche is going to Port Harcourt next week.”
“So? She is not relocating there.”
“No, but we want to talk about our relationship this weekend. Omo oba, na you cause am. Since Uche hear you got a twenty-one year old girl pregnant and you are getting married, she started to drop all these hints. Reminding me she is twenty-eight next year, cooking egusi every other day and calling me her hubby when we are doing night time exercise…”
“Cut the crap mate,” Idriss snapped. “You are my best friend. My best man next weekend. How on earth do you think I wouldn’t notice you are trying to avoid seeing my fiancée? What exactly is the problem? You like her?”
“It isn’t like that. You have got it all wrong.”
His phone’s ringtone interrupted their conversation. He took the phone out of his pocket to avoid what he thought was coming – his friend confessing to being in love with his fiancée or something much more terrible, that they had dated in the past.
He tapped his phone’s screen as soon as he saw that it was Anu ringing. “Hey, Aisha. What happened to you?” He had expected her to come back to work but gave up waiting about half an hour ago when she didn’t show up.
“Hi, is this Idriss? It’s Bradley.” The voice on the line said.
“What’s wrong with Anu? Is she okay?”
“She wants you to lock up tonight because she is at A &E. She was mugged in town. I have to go, okay.”
The man cut the line before Idriss could ask him anything else. He realised he had shouted his questions when his friend asked what was wrong.
“Can you drive me to A&E? Anu is hurt.”
Anu forced a small smile when Bradley came back into the room. She didn’t feel like smiling. Her kneecaps still hurt from being pushed from behind. She had taken the alleyway behind Saint Peter’s Church, wanting to get back to work before it got dark. Her phone had been glued to her ears as Bradley was on the other end. That was why she didn’t hear footsteps behind her until it was too late.
“I need to cancel your bank cards.” Bradley settled beside her, his elbow digging into the wall behind him. “Was there anything else valuable in your bag?”
“No,” she huffed. “I had some cash but not much. I’m sure he would have taken my phone if I’d let go of it.”
“Please don’t play the hero again.” His voice hummed his worry. A dipping of his baritone voice that she knew too well. “That man could have killed you, over a phone that’s not worth a week’s pay.”
“I didn’t know the scoundrel was trying to get my phone.”
“I was so scared when I heard the scuffle over the phone, beautiful”
“You know I can take care of myself, Brad. Men like him don’t scare me.”
Bradley placed a hand on her shoulder, pausing on the area left exposed by her cardigan. She felt it when a finger wandered under her blouse and caressed the shoulder blade underneath. And when he exhaled loudly, fright and hope were both evident in his sigh.
It wasn’t fright that she felt when the mugger pushed her to the floor. Instead, she had felt helpless as he wrenched her bag from her. The helplessness worsening when the man bent over her.
Thinking the worst, she screamed and tried to aim for his legs with hers. It wasn’t until he had run off, as a couple walking their dog neared them, that she realised he had been trying to get her phone.
“Thanks for dropping everything and driving over.”
“I have known you since we were kids. What sort of man would I be if I didn’t rush over like your knight?” He asked with a small scowl.
“Where did you leave your horse then?”
“I had to leave it in the yard, my lady. I rode the dragon instead.” He bowed mockingly, grinning when his head came back up.
He looked even more handsome with his hair this length. She had gone through all the different phases with him. The tomboy length, laden with extra mousse or gel during his early teens. The short clipped stage a few years later and now the mid-length professionally styled dark tresses that made the colour of his eyes stand out.
“What are you thinking about, beautiful?”
She grasped his hand. It would be unfair to tell him her thoughts had strayed back to those days when they kissed in the shed at the back of his house. That was at least a year before they finally put a name to their friendship; when they hung together like a set of identical twins.
“I’m glad I have a friend like you, Brad.”
“I have decided to move back here,” he announced. “I will drive back and forth for work…”
“I know you said we are just friends but I have missed you.”
She let go of his hand as the young doctor who had attended to her earlier came back into the room.
“Are you still feeling dizzy?” The doctor asked after picking up her notes by the side of the bed.
Bradley turned to the doctor. “She complained of tiredness a few minutes ago too.”
“I want to do some more tests.” The doctor concentrated on her face. “But I need to know if there is anything you haven’t told me. Is there a chance that you might be pregnant?”
She glared at the doctor for a few seconds. She would have kept glaring at him if it didn’t all seem to be making sense. The dizziness, tiredness and the fact that her cycle was late. By a few weeks at least. She had been too busy to notice.
“I can’t be pregnant.”
Anu suddenly felt like lying flat on the bed. It was as if someone had dropped a crushing weight on her head. One that she couldn’t hold up.
She couldn’t be carrying her brother-in-law’s child. They used protection.