//You Are Not Going to Like This//
Anu was still staring at the wall several minutes after her pregnancy test came back positive. The doctor had grinned when he broke the news, meeting Bradley’s eyes as he did so because he assumed they were together.
She remembered Idriss shielding himself before he took off her Victoria’s Secret panties in London. She remembered because she had wondered if to feign annoyance that he brought protection along – because he had planned ahead, assumed that they would sleep together.
So, how could she be six weeks pregnant?
There had been no one else. Bradley and her did not even kiss for weeks before they broke up, so he couldn’t possibly be the father. And she had not jumped in a swimming pool with a barely- clothed man or any of the other myths that her mother warned her against when she was younger.
“I have told your dad to go home.” Bradley’s voice interrupted her chaotic processing.
She turned around slowly; making sure her eyes settled some distance away from his face. “Well… I don’t want to see anyone.”
“That’s the problem, Idriss is still here. Your dad went home but Idriss says he needs to see you. Something about work.”
Bradley rushed to her side. “Are you in pain?”
“No.” She put one hand on the bed to push her body up. Her body didn’t seem to want to move, weighing heavier than it usually did. Bradley slid his hands under her legs and back and half-lifted her into a seating position.
“Thanks.” She rearranged her hospital gown back in place. “You can go home, I’m fine”
“Brad, I need to figure things out.”
“Do you remember when my dad died years ago?” Bradley grasped one of her hands as he sat next to her on the bed. “When that bloody cousin of my dad was nasty to you?”
She nodded. How could she forget Edgar asking her in a voice as loud as a loudspeaker if she spoke English? The way her young mind fought to come up with something witty and insulting. The realisation that everyone in the kitchen were staring at her. Bradley’s mother, Nancy had waved a fork in Edgar’s face and it had taken the intervention of the rest of her husband’s relatives to calm the situation.
Later on, Nancy had positioned one arm around Anu and whispered. “You mean a lot to me.” Anu had wondered briefly if her mother’s warnings that she would end up on someone’s plate for ‘pokenosing in people’s business’ and going in their houses like a fool who had never heard of flesh eaters’ were about to come to pass. Until, Nancy explained that they needed her around. “You put a smile on my boy’s face. And when I see that smile, I remind myself that all is not lost.”
“I am sorry for reminding you about that…man.” Bradley said. “But that day, you didn’t walk out. You stayed. You sat next to me at the church. So, I’m not walking out on you. I’m not deserting you again.”
“This is different.”
“Is the father of the baby able to stand by you?”
She forced herself to meet his eyes, to see the hurt. It was there but his hand held hers firmly.
“He has other commitments.” She wanted to add that they used protection but her mouth refused to voice anything else. Perhaps it would be wrong to discuss something like that with him even though they had always shared everything.
The first person that talked to her about reproduction was Nancy. It happened the day after Nancy walked into her son’s room and found them on the bed. They were both fifteen and were yet to discover their longing for each other was a lot more than friendship so when his mother started the conversation the following day after asking Bradley to go to the shop, the chuckling that followed had been borne out of embarrassment. Later on, she would be glad that Nancy did not ring her mother. Alhaji would not have threatened to ground her and stop her allowance like Bradley’s mother did – when she had the talk with her son – Anu knew, her father would have killed her.
“You have my support. Complete support, beautiful.” Bradley had been staring at the white partition. Gawking at it as if it held answers to her predicament. Anyone observing would have thought her mess was his to bear too.
She started to say but he kissed her on the cheek and rose.
“I need to go and get you some things. They are keeping you here till tomorrow.”
Anu was about to put her head back on the pillow when Idriss walked in after popping his head in first. He rushed over and hugged her whilst mumbling a tired greeting.
“I was worried. Are you okay?” He glanced at the hospital gown on her and the name tag on her wrist. “Aisha, what’s wrong? Did the mugger touch… you?”
“Nothing like that. I am fine,” she forced a small smile that stopped around her lips.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.” She nodded. “Now please let my father and sister know that I’m okay. Brad said Dad was here.”
“I told him to go home that I would wait until they let me see you. Bradley was on his way out and he said I could come in.”
“I just need to rest now,” she faked a yarn, knowing it was necessary to get him to leave. Her false yarn triggered a real one. The news had drained her when it was delivered. The emotional tiredness was worse than a physical one. The type of raw tiredness that draped around her like a thick cloak after her mum left.
His eyes were gawping at her as if she had just survived a plane crash. She didn’t want to be alone with him. Not whilst his baby grew inside her.
“I’m fine. I promise.”
“Okay, then.” He covered her with the white sheet that lay crumpled at her feet. “I will call you later. Please text me if you need anything. Promise?”
She watched as he walked away.
Elicia was staring out of the window, trying to stay calm when her mother got back. She had been at Alhaji’s house for days barely communicating with Elicia who now wished she wasn’t one of those that kept malice. She wished for the ability to yell loud enough for her mother’s brain to kick start back to life. It wasn’t the first time that her mother had dropped everything to run after a man. What hurt was seeing her mother doing it with a man that abandoned them both.
“Thank God Alhaji has finally let you come back home.” She muttered without looking away from the window.
“I have told you to call him dad. You know he is your father…”
Elicia ignored her mother’s rambling. The man wasn’t her dad. Her biological father, yes. But he would never be her dad.
The last time she saw him, he had chatted like a fool, nodding in approval whilst her mother talked to him about the arrangement of the hall for the wedding party. Anyone would have thought he had always been a part of life. That they were a family.
“Are you waiting for your hubby-to-be?”
She turned to her mother who had dropped her bag on the sofa. Elicia noticed that her mother’s bag was substantially smaller than the one she left home with a few days ago. Every time she left for Alhaji’s house, it seemed she left things behind. Perhaps one day the man would wake up to find that she had moved in permanently.
“He should be here soon, Mum.”
“Alhaji said he was at the hospital…”
“I know, he told me he was going to the hospital to see her.” Elicia said as she walked to the sofa to take a seat.
Idriss had sent her a text message from the hospital. But discussing her relationship with her mother wasn’t her style.
What did the woman know about relationships anyway? A woman who could not boast of an engagement or a failed marriage at forty two?
“Are you sure everything is okay with you and your hubby-to-be?” Her mother perched on the edge of the sofa, planting one hand on the rim. “Eli?
“We are fine, Mum.”
“You know you can always change your mind, being a single mother these days is not shameful. You can have the baby and go back to the university. We will make him pay through his nose for the child.”
“I am done with studying. I want to be a wife.”
“One question, baby girl,” her mother began. “I know I have asked you this before but you didn’t tell me. How did you and Idriss meet in London?”
“How do you mean?” Elicia asked in a tone that she hoped showed her lack of interest in the question.
“It surprised me when you said you met him in London. I mean…of all the men you could have met in that big city…it had to be the one man you harboured this big crush for when you were a teenager.”
“I can’t even remember seeing him. I was always in my room back then.” She wished the woman would stop questioning her. Getting his address from her mother’s diary had been easy. Finding him and then stalking him until he noticed her was not as easy.
“Eli, you used to ask about him. Do you not remember?”
“Perhaps I saw him at the window or something. I don’t know, Mum.” That was partially the truth. Her mother never introduced her to Idriss. The first time she spotted him was on her way from school one afternoon. He didn’t notice her in her stuffy, unflattering uniform. But she noticed when he started ringing her mother again two years ago. It would have been hard not to notice as the second time he called, her mother couldn’t stop screaming. Elicia later found out he had sent a cheque for ten thousand pounds in the post to her mother. “All I know is Idriss doesn’t look like any of those tired friends of yours you used to host over here.”
The sound of her phone signalling the receipt of a text message was a welcome interruption. She read the message before tossing the phone back on the table.
“Looks like I won’t be seeing him tonight,” Elicia said, grinning through her announcement to show she was fine with his decision. “He will come tomorrow night.”
“It is okay darling. We have our Leeds wedding shopping tomorrow, so maybe he wants you to rest tonight.”
Idriss tapped his feet whilst waiting for Emeka in his sitting room. Uche had let him in and then rushed upstairs to get his friend. As Idriss waited, it dawned on him that Emeka might not be ready to discuss whatever the problem was. He was about to head for the door when he heard footsteps. He stayed quiet as his friend hailed him.
“My man. What are you doing here?” Emeka chuckled. “Uche dey here naa and it’s very late.” He stressed ‘very’ and winked.
Idriss noticed that his friend was still dressed. The man had changed from the sleek tailored suit he had on earlier into jeans and a plain tee shirt but he was dressed and not in the shorts and vests that he tended to lounge in during warmer seasons – a sign that he would be driving Uche home. Proof that he lied earlier.
“I am going to be straight with you mate,” Idriss moved closer to his friend. “I have known you for years. Before the money, the businesses and fake associates.”
“Friends for life.” Emeka held out a hand to give his friend a five.
Idriss grabbed the hand, lowered it down and instead of the friendly slap expected, held it firmly. “Tell me the truth then. What is going on between you and Elicia? Did you date her or something?”
“Omo oba, wetin be dis?”
“What is going on, dude?”
“Do you think I was born yesterday? Since she came back from London, you have not been to my house once. You don’t even ask how she is…”
“Well, how is she? See, I am asking.”
“Tell me what is going on or I swear this friendship is over.” He grasped the hand tighter. Emeka flinched. His face was always easy to read. Idriss knew the threat to their friendship bothered him.
They both turned to the direction of the voice, to the top of the stairs where Uche was standing. Idriss stared at the girl as he let go of Emeka’s hand.
“Tell me what?”
“You are not going to like this,” Emeka grimaced. “But I have to tell you. Em…”
Idriss could feel a ball of rage curling up inside him. This was one of the reasons he never missed a prayer – to prevent him from exploding because of people’s careless dragging. Why start a conversation if he wasn’t ready to share whatever was on his mind?
“It happened last year. Our American client forced us to take him for serious entertainment in Manchester. We were keen to sign him.”
“We went to a private club my colleague had been to before. It’s not your typical club…but a strip club. Pal, Elicia was one of the strippers there.”