//Watch your Back//
Anu’s legs weakened when she saw the two men approaching her. The footsteps of the ones behind her were closing in on her. The street was completely deserted. As it was a Saturday and the three flat buildings on her street housed mostly young professionals and university students – who tended to go out at weekends – she knew screaming would be useless.
She stopped on her spot and started searching frantically for her phone in one of her bags unable to remember if she had dumped it in her handbag or her big weekend bag. By the time, she looked up; one of the men had reached her. She decided to stay as calm as possible.
“Chill,” the man said. She thought he was talking to her until his companion backed away from them.
Anu tried to stay calm but she was sure even people in the next town could hear her drawing in air as if her lungs were packing up. She glanced behind her and noticed that the others had stopped advancing towards her.
“It’s you, innit?” The man asked.
She put a few inches between them whilst trying to maintain her calm countenance. Her heart was pounding in her chest so it surprised her when her mouth worked. “Can I help you?”
“I know you, girl. It’s Lemar, your boy.”
“Oh, hi.” She smiled wider than she’d ever done in her life, despite not recognising the young man. The last thing she wanted to do was smile. It was hard doing this whilst suppressing a gut wrenching scream and a bladder on the brink. His face cap was tilted forward so that it covered half of his face. He had a grey tee-shirt on and black jeans. From his slimness, he couldn’t have been older than twenty. Perhaps it was the white-gold necklace that made her come to this conclusion or the tiny stud on his tongue that glittered when he opened his mouth.
“You helped my mum, innit? That fucked-up housing shit head made her homeless and you helped her get a flat. You cleared it with your pops, remember?”
The horrible smell of beer from his mouth was the strength of a dozen rotten animal carcases. It would have nauseated her if she wasn’t already nauseous from fright.
“I remember,” she nodded rather keenly, although she could barely place the woman’s face. James took over the management of the old council block two years ago. What Anu recollected was the woman’s apologies and gratitude. Apologies when she missed her rent. Gratitude every time she saw Anu. Gratitude that she couldn’t understand because all she did was let the woman live in one of their empty flats for free for a month. They had been unable to rent it to anyone since the area’s school and medical centre were closed down.
“What’s a fine lady like you doing walking at hook-up hour? I will walk you to your building for some bucks. The lads are thirsty.” He pointed at the men, who were now clustered together at the top of the street.
She got her purse out and pulled out all the cash in the note section. He took the money and then pointed at her watch. She followed his eyes to the watch, it was one of the most expensive things she had. A present from Bradley for her twenty fifth.
“Let me hol’ that bling, chick.” His voice was persuasive but firm.
The stale beer smell hung thicker in the air now. She took off the watch and handed it over.
He had disappeared into the night with his friends before her limbs started working again. She ran quicker than she had ever done in her life stopping only when she was safely tucked in her flat, having locked her door and wedged a table in front of it.
Anu woke up to her phone’s ringtone the next morning. She reached for it and tapped the screen. It was Idriss.
“What is it?” His voice had a cold edge to it. “You called last night.”
Yes, scared beyond words yesterday, she had called him .She thought her life was in danger. It had only taken him twelve hours to return her call. What if those men had followed her last night and managed to get in her flat?
She wouldn’t only be dead and cold, she would be the team leader of the welcoming body in heaven by now.
“Aisha, are you okay?” His tone was impatient but now it showed a hint of concern.
“I shouldn’t have called,” Anu said. “See you when you get back on Thursday.” She ended the call and sat up. A small wave of queasiness had it her. Strange, how her pregnancy symptoms like the horrid taste in her mouth, the queasiness, tiredness and stomach ache tended to hit her whenever he was around her or she thought of him.
She stared at the small wardrobe and bedside table in the corner of her room with the folded laundry on top of the closed laundry basket and craved the spaciousness of her bedroom in her father’s house. Thinking of her old room, her old life as always opened the door to those feelings she had worked so hard to contain – the loss of her mother. It was as if mourning her old life had to come with a price to stop her from dwelling.
Her mother would have known what to do about her situation. Anu had never craved more for some wise words. The wise words that irritated her when her mother was alive.
A knock forced her mind back to the present. Bradley came in with a tray, humming a greeting. He had called her last night shortly after she called Idriss, wanting to know if she was fine. When she told him about the incident on her street, he asked her to ring the police. She refused and he drove down, armed with warm hugs and comforting words. He had stayed on her sofa for the rest of the night.
Whilst Bradley set the tray down on the stool, Anu peeked at her reflection quickly in the small mirror at the back of her phone. She was adjusting the arm strap of her nightie when he walked over with a mug.
“Mum swears that this drink will get rid of your morning sickness.” Bradley said as he passed her the cup.
She glanced at the cup disappointed that it didn’t hold her favourite morning drink: strong milky coffee. What stared back at her was a clear, lemony drink that looked like one of those repulsive fruit teas that their office temp, Kate drank to stay skinny.
“This drink doesn’t look like it can energise an ant.” Anu pouted.
“It doesn’t contain twenty spoons of sugar either.” Bradley smirked as he sat on the bed.
She gulped the drink quickly expecting it to taste foul. It didn’t. Instead, it tasted sweetened. He was chuckling when he took the almost empty cup from her.
“Don’t make me anymore concoctions.”
“If you can’t take this nice drink, how are you going to withstand the pain of the six injections the midwife will give you in your second trimester?”
“What injections?” Anu asked .
He had started to laugh before she realised what was going on. She picked up one of her pillows and aimed it at his face. The pillow landed on the floor. She grabbed another one quickly.
“Sorry, beautiful.” He had managed to grab both of her hands with his free hand.
She had forgotten how strong he could be. Perhaps because he wasn’t one to show off. She stopped struggling and rested her back on him. They stayed like that for a while until her thoughts came to the fore.
“How do I clean up this mess, Brad?”
“The baby is not a mess. You made mistakes but you can’t regret making her.”
“We hoped for a daughter first, didn’t we?”
Anu returned to her former position, resting her back on the headboard and pulling the duvet cover to her chest.
“I’m not trying to put pressure on you,” Bradley said. “But if I can make you fall for me again, then maybe there is a chance that we can weather this storm together.”
“I have never stopped loving you.”
“As a friend…” He ran his free hand through his hair. “I meant what we had before your mother passed away. Before you told me to take the job in Yorkshire.”
She fixed her gaze on the laundry basket and wondered if she would need a bigger one once the baby arrived.
“I understand why you broke up with me. It took me a while but I got it in the end. You and your mum constantly disagreed about me. You felt bad and tried to appease yourself by breaking up with me after what happened. What you need to know is… your mum was only trying to be a good wife to your father by helping him achieve what he wanted for you. She would want you to be happy now. ”
“What happened to not putting any pressure on me? I can’t deal with this right now. I am expecting my brother-in-law’s baby and I have thugs after me.”
He reached for the hand nearest to him. “Don’t worry about the thugs. I’m sure they won’t come back. Give the baby thing some time. Elicia and Idriss can’t find out just yet.” He rose slowly. “Come on, let’s get ready, I’m taking you out for brunch.”
Idriss walked back into the honeymoon suite to find Elicia watching E4 in her oversized Mini Mouse tee-shirt. The heart-shaped red box of strawberries half covered in dark chocolate that got delivered earlier with their breakfast was next to her, open and half eaten. Somehow she had managed to get chocolate on the white sheet on the bed.
“This TV channel is for teenagers, baby.” Idriss said as he placed his phone on the coffee table. “You act like a teen sometimes.”
Elicia narrowed her eyes at him. “And you are a male whore.”
Idriss turned around quickly as if she had poured icy, cold water on him. What was she talking about?
He hoped she was teasing him but the way her eyes dug into him as she proclaimed him ‘a male whore’ was enough evidence that she knew about what happened in London.
He had wanted to sit on the bed before. Now, he decided it was probably safer to put a few inches between them. “Baby, what are you talking about? You know I wouldn’t do you like that.”
“I’m talking about Anu.”
“Baby, she doesn’t even agree with me at work.”
“I know you fucked her in London, Idriss.”
She looked like a young girl in mourning. He hated knowing that he had caused her this much sadness. He got on the bed and pulled her into his arms.
“I’m not that stupid you know. It was pretty easy to work out.”
“I’m sorry darling. It was a terrible mistake.”
“I bet she put it on a plate.”
He kissed her forehead. “I swear I will never look at another woman again. We have both made mistakes. Let’s wipe the slate clean.”
“If you cheat on me again, you won’t live to see the next day.”
She started to giggle when he glared at her. “Come here lover boy, I was only joking. Like a girl my size can do damage to this big toned body of yours.” She sat up and started to undo his belt. “Do you want to continue that game we played last night?”
“Oh, yeah baby.” Idriss could barely speak as her wet lips touched his stomach. Warmth rushed to his groin when the lips started to descend lower. Case closed. The half-threat, half joke statement she made earlier had been wiped off his mind. He was in marriage heaven.
Anu stared at the screen in front of her hoping the low caffeine cappuccino she drank earlier would help her concentrate. Ten minutes later, it still hadn’t worked. Her eyes strayed over to Kaz’s table again. Their eyes met briefly. It wasn’t like Kaz to concentrate completely at work. Work for her could only be productive when mixed with fun.
“What is the problem Kaz? You have been quiet since you got back from lunch.”
“Elicia came here when you were out.”
“Did she?” Anu didn’t know her sister was back. Idriss wasn’t due to come back to work until Monday. She hoped her sister hadn’t said something but the way her colleague pursed her lips told her different.
“She told us you slept with her husband.”
Anu’s hand went to her mouth.
“Mrs Philips was here when she announced it too. Mrs Phillips has decided to take her estate somewhere else by the way. She says she can’t do business with us anymore.”
“It isn’t what you think. Okay?”
“You either slept with him or you didn’t.” Kaz rolled her eyes. “The man is hot. I would hop on it if he asked me too but he is married to your sister.”
“I’m not exactly comfortable discussing this with you. Shall we get back to work?” She tried to return to the email she was attending to even though her head now felt like the head of a stuffed doll.
“Congrats with the baby thing by the way.”
Anu stared at her friend. How did she find out?
“I heard you being sick this morning and yesterday after the meeting. I’m guessing Brad is the dad. You don’t have to wait until the delivery to see, do you?”
Anu wished she was one of those bosses who shunned their staff and shut their office door. She was paying the price of her friendliness with Kaz right now.
“You are not going to be like that blonde woman whose baby came out black, are you? The baby had cute curly hair. It would have ended well if her red-haired husband didn’t start asking questions…”
“I get your point, Kaz. Believe me, I’m fine,” she frowned.
“I saw Idriss talking to a strange girl two weeks ago at the club.”
“What girl? You’re sure you really saw him?”
“I did. That man has player written all over him in permanent marker.” Kaz had stopped smiling. “My point is, girl you can get some adventure from him if you like them hot under the sheet. But you have a baby to think of now. Plus, your friend scares the hell out of me.”
“You mean my sister?”
“Whatever. All I know is, the way she came in here when you and Idriss conveniently were not here was pretty calculated. Watch your back, darling.”
Elicia flung the pregnancy test across the room. It took all of her strength to stop herself from trashing her new bedroom. The one Idriss now shared with her.
Why couldn’t she get pregnant?
It was bad enough that her sister was still pregnant. She had wasted her money on Lemar and his men. They didn’t do their job. They didn’t return her money either. Lemar told her to report them to the police before putting the phone down on her.
Elicia decided to have a cup of tea and start planning. She would tell the cleaner to finish early and spend the next hour making her body look the part. Idriss would find her in bed, ready and hungry. Operation making a baby would have to take over tonight. Her major problem, Anu’s baby would not have to wait too long.