//How to Dump a Stripper//
Idriss had reached his car before his friend caught up with him. Elicia wasn’t a stripper. He knew that. How could his friend try something this revolting? As if it wasn’t bad enough that he couldn’t bring himself to be in the same room as the girl.
“Dude, wait up. I am telling you the truth. Your babe is a stripper.”
His right hand had curled up in a tight fist. If Uche hadn’t come out, he knew where the fist would have landed.
“I saw her even though she didn’t see me. Do you think … I would make something like this up…” Emeka stuttered.
“If you don’t want to end up on the pavement mate, I suggest you drop it.” He got in his car and after revving up the engine, fastened his belt. Uche was standing next to her man as he sped off.
When Elicia got to her fiancé’s house the next morning, she knew something was terribly wrong. His early morning text didn’t worry her: he loved waking and starting the day early. The urgency of the message didn’t bother her either, ten days was a long time for them. She had guessed he wanted her energy spent in his bed before she left for the last of the wedding shopping.
Staring at him now at his dining table looking like he hadn’t been to bed, Elicia started to panic. He was glaring at her, the way he had never done before. She let her gaze flit to the empty bottle of Gordon’s on the table before resting on him.
“Looks like someone decided to party without me.” She reached for the empty bottle, bending low enough for her cleavage to be on show for him, calculating that If he had found out about her fake pregnancy, ending the row that was about to follow in his bed would stand her in good stead of having her wedding on Saturday. “Let me tidy up for you and then I will make you some toasts.”
“Leave the bottle.”
“It won’t take me long, bf.”
“Put the bottle down and sit down.”
She placed the bottle down next to his glass cup quickly and took the seat on her left, the one farthest from him.
“Do you remember when you decided to surprise me and you booked us on that weekend break in an expensive hotel in Paris? Do you woman?”
Elicia flapped her neck like a fish caught on dry land.
“I remember wondering that weekend, how you were able to afford that hotel.” Idriss smirked. “You also lived three streets from me in London at Dewbury Building. A friend told me the studio flats alone cost two grand a month to rent.”
“So? I got grants and student loans.”
He stared at her for a while and then as if he had given up on her, shook his head and sat back in his chair. He didn’t seem angry anymore, just deflated.
Who knew that the baby meant this much to him? She wondered what the fake baby had to do with her phony lifestyle in London.
She tried to think of a better answer to his question about the flat. It was Isoken’s friend, Nneka that told them ‘getting big men require big investments’.
You have to live big and move in the right circle, the woman had said. If you frolic in MCdonalds and Asda, all you will meet are fourteen-shifts-a-week-boys who still send money back home to their relatives and live in bedsits. If you ride first class on Virgin Trains on the other hand, you will meet men that pay the salaries of those kind of boys.
“Have I done something wrong?” She asked him instead. A better answer eluded her.
“That depends on how wrong you think stripping for money is.”
Although the words were uttered without his voice rising, she flinched as if he had barked again.
“Emeka told me,” Idriss rose and pointed a finger at her face. “Do you honestly think I would marry a stripper? A stripper?”
“It wasn’t like that. I wasn’t a stripper.”
“Emeka saw you, baby. Please don’t treat me like a fool.”
“I didn’t strip…” She tried to continue but her words got caught in her throat as warm tears found their way down her face.
They were careful. Isoken wore a purple wig whilst she pinned on a selection of blonde extensions and pink hoops. They had worked only during the week. On quiet Mondays and Thursdays to avoid running into someone they knew.
“We are over if you don’t spill your guts right away.” He was next to her in a twinkle, eyes wild with rage, brows creased with confusion. “Start talking right now!” he ordered, slamming his open palm on the table.
“I was a poll dancer,” she began, pausing as he sank into the chair beside her. His limbs flailed on all ends. He was staring at her as if she had been replaced by someone else. “I only did it to earn some money and pay some of my university fees. You know I didn’t have a father that I could turn to. My mother told me to get the money myself. She used to go away for weeks without leaving any money for food…”
“What happened to earning money the way most people do, by working in a shop or something?”
“I was desperate and I didn’t take off my clothes for anyone.”
“How do you strip without taking off your clothes?”
“I was a poll dancer. There is a difference…”
He jumped off his seat and darted away from her, stopping by the window. The curtains were still draped round it. His back was turned but his pain was obvious to her. She promised herself never to doubt his love for her if they ever got through this. She wiped her face with the back of her hand and took dainty steps to where he was – making sure she didn’t stand too close.
“You were a virgin,” he sighed. “Was that all made up to trap me?”
“No. How could I have faked that?”
“You tell me. You are the one that has been playing me. Acting all innocent and sweet when you are not.”
They were both silent after that, except for her sniffling that dotted the awkward silence. She wondered if anything could be salvaged from this disaster.
“I love you and I know you love me too. Don’t you?”
Another disdainful glance was all she got from him. At that moment, Elicia knew she had never hated her mother more. It was all her fault.
If she had not spent several years working for Alhaji, earning almost nothing, they would have had some money. Maybe not a big trust fund but a bit of savings for her university. Her mother had stayed with Alhaji as an employee even when he couldn’t or wouldn’t pay her, sacrificing her future in the process. She would never have had to do the murky things she did to live in London if her mother hadn’t enslaved herself for love.
“We were really struggling. I had no choice.”
“I need you to go,” Idriss said. “I can’t deal with this right now.”
“Get the hell out.”
Elicia fled. As she closed the door, she heard the familiar sound of bottle smashing against a wall.
If you run too fast in a circle, you might run into the arms of the ones you are running from. That was what Emeka told him once when they were talking about the sort of girls that seemed to be hovering over him like hungry vultures since he became comfortable financially. He ran a good race, dumping gold diggers quicker than he bedded them. So, how the hell did he end up engaged to a stripper?
The knocks on the door got louder, forcing him to haul his weight off the sofa. He stomped to the door, ready to tell his fiancée off like she was a child. She hadn’t stopped ringing and texting his phone since he asked her to leave that morning.
“What do you want?” Idriss said as he opened the door. His rehearsed speech disappeared when he saw Anu on his porch. She didn’t look like the dazed woman he saw at the hospital yesterday. Her hands were flanked around her waist, round a white blazer sitting on top of light blue jeans that fitted her curves perfectly.
“Can I come in?”
He stepped back into the house and turned around. He was conscious of her footsteps behind him. He had worked out that Elicia sent her sister round. Knowing his fiancée though, she probably hid the truth behind their argument from her sister.
“Can I get you something to drink?”
“Elicia came to mine.” She said, after settling herself on his sofa. “I got back from the hospital and she was waiting for me…”
“How are you feeling now?” Despite his anger, he felt himself warm up as he studied her. She looked striking. Her plaits were down, falling around her face and chest like curly tresses. Fixing his eyes on her face, her lips reminded him of that moment he tasted her for the first time in London.
Why did he feel like he was missing something? That just like her sister she was hiding something from him.
“Don’t worry about me. Let’s talk about my sister.”
“It is done.”
“She said you got angry because she went to a club. Seriously? You can only love her if you can control her and she stays at home?”
“Is that what you think of me?” He was busy opening the blinds but he corked his neck sideways to check the expression on her face. She couldn’t have been serious. “You think I’m controlling?”
Why is it that female folk tended to claim men dominated them the minute they had been caught doing something wrong?
He picked up the remote control from the table and switched on the telly. He was scrolling down the TV guide listing absentmindedly when her hand touched his free one. She was behind him, her scent faint, yet familiar. The warmness spreading round his body seemed to shift towards his groin that moment. He moved forward and turned off the telly, cleverly extricating his hand from hers.
“This is stupid.” Her tone was firm. “You can’t break up your engagement now.”
“Stupid will be what I will be called if I marry that girl.” He turned around to face her. “Do you not think she is too young? Immature?”
“You didn’t think that when you were busy sleeping with her! She is pregnant for crying out loud Idriss. What will you tell people? My Dad will kill you and bury your business partnership with you.”
“Can Alhaji force me to marry her?”
Anu shook her head. “But your conscience will not let you live if you abandon her. You will be doing exactly what my father did to her mother. She is very fragile, she won’t survive this.”
He had stopped in all day mulling over his options, shunning food and sleep. Yet the future seemed as unclear as what life was when he moved to the UK with his fishery degree certificate, a list of medicines his mother needed and a copy of the loan agreement his mother owed Alhaja Risi.
“Come to Belfast with me tomorrow, Aisha.”
“I am not trying to play you,” he added quickly, reaching for her shoulders. She took a step backward before he could touch her. “I don’t want to be on my own. I could do with having a friend with me for the two days I will be at that conference. It will be a blast. And you love networking with hardworking people like you.”
“I know you don’t trust me but we can still be friends after what happened in London. Can’t we?”
Anu nodded. “I want us to be friends because… I need my friends at the moment. Especially you.” She linked her fingers, falling into the sort of quietness that ushers in an announcement. She sighed before she started speaking. “I’m pregnant.”
Idriss stared at her for a while, expecting her to start laughing. He walked over to the sofa and sat down when she didn’t. “Wow. That was quick. I didn’t even think you and Brad were together.” He expected to be told about them getting back together. Something vague. Not this. The thought of Bradley’s hands undressing her disturbed him. “So, you two are gonna settle down, then?”
She folded her arms across her chest instead of answering him.
“Tell me, Aisha, are you happy?”
“I will be.”
“Come and sit with me then,” he patted the spot next to him. “Let us celebrate your news. Without a drink by the way, my head is still banging from last night’s drinking.”
“You can be good for once, then.”
She obliged him after making him promise to speak to her sister. They sat quietly for a while – side by side, almost touching but not quite. He broke the silence first. Told her, Bradley would be lucky to have her. She parted her lips slowly and told him her sister would be the lucky one.
Elicia’s face was still radiant when she got to her sister’s apartment the next morning. The two flocked into the kitchen after Anu asked if she would like some toasts.
Elicia had sent her sister a short message last night after Idriss called to ask her to come round to his house. It would have been rude not to let her know that they were on the mend. And, she needed her sister to know that her help would never be needed again with her relationship. Yesterday’s situation was a one off.
“So, did you two make up then?” Anu asked as she washed her hands under the tap.
“Let’s just say I haven’t slept.” Elicia giggled. “The man is a tiger in between the sheets when he is angry. I’m going to be walking funny for days.”
Anu waved the butter knife in her sister’s direction. “Are you trying to make me lose my appetite?” She got the loaf out of the bread tin and switched on the kettle. “I just wanted to know if you two talked. Communication is essential in relationships, baby sis.”
Elicia’s smile thinned. She had expected Idriss to bring up the topic again but he didn’t. She had let things be: followed him to his room and let him undress her, glad that he had called her in the first place and asked her to come over.
Her eyes were avoiding Anu’s tired ones when she spotted the pack in the corner of the worktop. Although they were in a clear white envelope, the mouth of the envelope was open enough for her to see the words Pregnancy Vitamins inscribed on the park. Elicia’s hands dropped to her side as she gawked harder. Her legs would have given up on her if Anu hadn’t called out her name.
“I said do you want jam on your toast?”
“You are pregnant?” Elicia asked before she could stop herself. For the first time since she turned eighteen and decided to steer her life the direction she wanted, she felt completely overwhelmed. She knew who planted a baby in her sister’s womb, confirmed it with her sister’s quietness. She knew that her sister and Bradley were not really back together. They were friends, nothing more. Spotting Bradley last week in the pharmacy, she had questioned him and he told her, they were seeing how things go.
“Yes,” Anu dropped the knife beside the toasts and lowered her gaze to the worktop. “Brad and I haven’t spoken to Dad yet… but it’s true.”
“Ab fab, bae! I am going to be an aunt. Smashing news.” Elicia embraced her sister, wrapping her arms tightly around her.
Inside, she was screaming.
She was quiet when her sister passed her a plate of lavishly buttered toasts. Quiet because she was trying to recollect the name of the pill Isoken put in her sister-in-law’s drink to cause a miscarriage. It would be easy to do the same to Anu. It would either be that or something much more sinister. She didn’t want her sister’s blood on her hands, so she decided to text Isoken as soon as they had finished eating their toasts.
Uprooting the baby would be better than having her sister beaten up.