//Fight to the Death//
The day got worse for Anu after the wedding ceremony, when Chief Obukaite’s short, thick arms wrapped themselves around her waist. If the man’s bald head had reached past her chest, he would have seen that her face was squeezed tight like someone trying to escape from an unpleasant smell.
Her face was still like this when she caught Idriss staring at her across the hall. He was chatting to Kaz and James, judging by the expression on their faces, they were enjoying her predicament. She glanced at her father at the head table. Despite, seating next to Auntie Yele and wearing the same white and gold material as the woman – it felt good to see him that relaxed. Happy. As their eyes met, he smiled. She reciprocated. Things were better between them since she threw herself into the planning of her sister’s wedding like a good sister should.
The smile on Anu’s face disappeared when her dancing partner grasped her tighter. She could not wait for the day to be over. The day begun at five when Elicia called her, hysterical and barely audible because the make-up artist had caught chicken pox. Anu had to materialise a new make-up artist, one that travelled for two hours with two noisy toddlers to reach them. By the time they got to Langley Hall, her sister had drank two glasses of champagne, a caffeinated energy drink and half inhaled, half chewed three Kalms tablets. Despite this, the bridal party experienced Elicia’s tantrums twice, one of them the result of her sister discovering what looked like a minuscule speck on the bottom of Isoken’s skirt.
“Excuse me Chief, can I borrow my sister-in-law?”
She curved her neck to the right to find Idriss standing there and missed a breath. His features stood out in his three piece navy suit, making him look exceedingly striking. She had fought her eyes all day not to wander in his direction. Kaz told her once that a man becomes more attractive when they are no longer available. The woman had never been more right.
He looked like a man that believed there was no one better than him as they walked towards the side entrance of the hall. Chief had let go of her waist reluctantly, his sigh echoing behind them.
“Thanks for saving me.” Anu said when they got outside the hall. There were people in front of the dew pond and some guests were scattered round the colourful flower garden, enjoying the breathtaking view. Her sister wasn’t with the guests as she had expected. “Have you lost your wife already?”
“She left to go and get changed six hours ago. How long does it take you women to get changed?”
Anu chuckled. “Calm down lover boy, she will be here soon. Tell your inner man to wait, at least until tonight.”
Idriss had his back on the wall behind him. Eyes twinkling. “You are such a trouble maker.”
“That’s why you like me.” The statement sounded right in her head. It came out like one of those statements that needed recalling after utterance. The amused look on his face confirmed it.
“Thanks for today,” he said after a pause. “We wouldn’t be here without you.”
When he walked back in she stood there as if expecting something else. She was still standing on the same spot when Bradley came out. He was shaking his head to Ebenezer Obey’s Baby mi Jowo whilst walking towards her.
“I can’t believe you didn’t wanna come,” Anu said. “Here you are dancing juju. Soon it will be Azonto.”
“Bring it on.”
“Elicia is happy you came.” She moved closer to avoid anyone hearing the rest of their conversation. There were people buzzing in pricey outfits everywhere. More guests than they expected had turned up, some driving all the way down from London. “I know you had reservations.”
“I don’t know,” Bradley played with one of the plaits framing her face. “Maybe it’s the age difference between them that freaks me out too much. You know, I have known Elicia since she was just a cute little girl that followed us everywhere.”
“They love each other, Brad.”
“If you say so.”
“He is not a big bad wolf.” Anu wished she could make them like each other. Idriss was fond of dropping unkind comments about Bradley too. Cleverly wrapping those comments with compliments.
“Dance with me.”
Asa’s soulful voice filtered outside from the hall pumping nostalgia in the air. She wanted to dance with him but just like four days ago when he asked if he could come upstairs with her after dropping her off at home, felt like she shouldn’t.
“You don’t dance.”
It was true. He never seemed to be able to move right even when he was really trying. At her fifteenth birthday, her father had cruelly teased him. ‘How can you be jumping around the floor like that? You are supposed to be dancing not doing acrobatics like a pregnant frog whose bottom is on fire.’ That was the last time he tried.
“I can’t dance but I can sway.”
They were still laughing when he pulled her into his arms gently.
“Relax , Eli.” Isoken said as she teased Elicia’s hair back in shape in the bridal suite.
The room looked lovely with the white coat on the walls and the fresh lilies tied with purple bows on the window ledge. Idriss spent quite a lot of money giving her almost half of the day she wanted. Her heart’s desire from her childhood was a lavish princess style ceremony which would involve a pink princess carriage, groomed white doves, butlers and a stylish castle. Two hit-making artistes had joined that list in her head a few months back. This wasn’t the day she planned but getting him was supposed to be the reward for her compromise. Getting him, completely.
“Watching her is killing me,” Elicia pouted as she studied her reflection in the standing mirror. “I can’t relax when my husband’s baby is growing in my sister’s womb.”
“We have paid the men, calm down.” Isoken picked up her make-up bag from the table. “They will do it tonight like they promised.”
“I wish you could have gotten your hands on the pill you used with your sister-in-law.”
“Like I said, that was in Nigeria. If I go round pharmacies here asking for something like that, won’t I get arrested?”
“Okay, Issy.” She adjusted the straps of her dress. It looked exactly the way she wanted but she didn’t feel as special as the girl in her fantasies felt. “Just call Lemar again. He and his men must get that thing out of her belly. I don’t care how many rounds it takes them. I don’t care what happens to her after. All I know is, my children are not going to share a father with anyone else.”
Elicia hung on to Anu in the hallway like they shared a heart. Their guests had all gone, apart from her father’s relatives from Inverness – who were now been walked to their car by Auntie Yele. The last time Anu saw her father, he was talking to Bradley in the hall. Seeing them having a conversation that didn’t seem awkward to onlookers was a new thing but Bradley had promised her earlier that he would get her father on side for her sake. And the baby’s sake too.
“Your husband is waiting.” Anu turned her neck to Elicia. From their point of view, they could see Idriss leaning on the banister upstairs.
“Bae, I can’t wait for him to rip this dress off me.”
“Too much information, sis.”
“He is so gorgeous. A real tiger too. Don’t pretend, I bet you fantasise about him.”
Anu gawked at her sister. “The champagne you drank this morning, can’t still be wrecking havoc.”
“My mind is clear darling sister.” Elicia dropped Anu’s hand as if it was infected. “I’m sure you know how good he is in bed. I know he bedded you in London.” She smirked and then lowered her voice. “I have sent Bradley a text too. The poor man deserves to know you slept with my husband. Thanks for today by the way.”
As her sister sashayed up the stairs, Anu stood there frozen, aware that she had to do something.
By the time, she ran into the hall, having decided to ask Bradley to lend her his phone to get rid of the text, the room was empty of guests.
The manager was there. His lips were moving, his face grinning but her ears wouldn’t take in what he was saying.
Bradley was at the car park beside his convertible when she found him. His head was tilted forward. His eyes were on the screen of his phone.
“Please stop the car, I know you know.” Anu shrieked. “Stop the car.”
They were two streets from her home but his silence had pushed her until she couldn’t stay quiet anymore. How could he be so calm?
He had simply put his phone in his pocket and opened the passenger door of his car for her before driving out of the hotel’s grounds quietly. The way he gripped the steering wheel was her first clue that he knew. That her sister’s text told him she slept with Idriss and he had worked out, Idriss fathered the baby she was carrying.
“What do you want me to say?” Bradley asked as he parked the car in front of Choudhury Off-License.
The shop’s lights were off. Doors closed. The street felt jarringly dark tonight.
“I want you to tell me you are angry,” she had always felt like they belonged together. That they would always be part of each other’s lives and if one of them was to move on before the other that the other would get an explanation.
Bradley stared ahead as if the person that wronged him was outside the car. When he eventually looked at her, his eyes were the only clue that the culprit was next to him.
Idriss wouldn’t be this calm if he were the one in Bradley’s seat. Perhaps that was what drew her to him in the first place. The difference between him and what she had always known. Idriss’ rigidness and stubborn approach to life versus Bradley’s gentlemanliness.
“I’m hurt Anu,” he said finally. “It feels like you ripped the skin off my face. Is that what you want to know?”
“I didn’t cheat on you.”
“No. All you did was sleep with your brother-in-law.”
“You were ready to stand by me. You said you would, even though I told you… I don’t need anyone.” The words came back to her now. It had been uttered on the phone to him a few days back whilst her eyes rolled in their sockets. She told him she wouldn’t be with anyone just to provide a substitute dad for her child.
“That was before I knew who got you pregnant. Things are different now. You should have told me the truth, beautiful.”
Anu swept stubborn braids away from her face. “I didn’t lie.”
“You made it sound like he was someone that didn’t mean anything to you.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “I thought…he was a client that you would never see again. I had no idea he was someone so close to you. Someone you work with. Your brother-in-law.”
“We are not close.” She reached for his hand. He didn’t pull away but if felt odd holding his hand like that.
“I have seen the way you look at him. The way you dropped everything for this wedding.”
“You are imagining things. I did all I did today for my sister.”
“This is a mess. How is Elicia going to feel when she finds out you are carrying her husband’s child?” He rubbed his face with his open palms and exhaled, returning his face to her after a while. “I am sorry, I didn’t mean to shout. Please let’s talk tomorrow morning. I need time to think.”
“I thought you made reservations at Loqicious. Why don’t we talk then?”
“I don’t think that’s appropriate now.” He paused. “I was going to ask you to marry me.”
She didn’t feel the disappointment that was supposed to follow his announcement. It was something that wasn’t relief but akin to relief that washed over her. “I guess that’s off the menu then. Sorry for letting you down.” She grabbed her bags and got out of the car even though she could hear him telling her to wait.
Anu walked on, eating up twice the distance because her heels pinched but mostly because her mind was racing through the day. How could she have been stupid enough to think Elicia wouldn’t find out?
She wondered if to ring Idriss to warn him and perhaps get their father involved, so he could speak to Elicia on their behalf but decided not to. Her sister wasn’t the type to get angry, let alone stay angry.
She was nearly home when she spotted two men at the top of her street. It wasn’t the face caps they wore that made her suspicious. It was the way they were standing around, looking like they had nowhere to go, at that time of the night.
Anu stopped driving after her mother died in an accident. She had lent her mother her car to take to Tesco. The other driver was over the limit on cheap vodka. He survived. Anu had simply refused to buy another car. Tonight, she missed not having a car.
The men were walking towards her, now. She decided to turn around and walk back to the shop. Perhaps Mr Choudury would still be on the premises. Something told her the mugging was what was causing this unnecessary fear but a strange feeling had wrapped itself round her and unsettled her.
When she turned around to head back to Choudury Off-License, the feeling grabbed her tighter. Two men that were dressed suspiciously like the men standing in front of her building were pacing up the street, coming towards her.