//A Shot in the Dark//
Her husband had just left for London to check on the renovation work on his North London house when she spotted her sister through the master bedroom window. Elicia cursed as she ambled downstairs.
Her mother would be at the house in a few minutes. She planned to tell her mother everything so that she would feed Alhaji the details. With her mother’s dramatic pausing and habitual exaggeration, the news was bound to rock Alhaji. But not yet. She wouldn’t tell her mother yet. Breaking the last shred of bond between her father and her sister had to be the final blow because despite Anu’s animosity towards her father lately, the two loved each other dearly.
She had expected Anu and her rounded hips to come to her door soon. To come pleading for a sin Elicia knew her sister wasn’t sorry for. But she expected her still, because despite portraying herself as uncaring and assertive, Anu’s tender heart was her main weakness.
Her sister had the beginning of an apology stationed around her red-painted lips when she opened the door for her.
“Sorry, you can’t stop, mum will be here soon.” Elicia folded her arms across her middle. Her night dress didn’t protect her from the bite of the cold morning weather.
“It’s okay,” Anu pointed to the cab turning around at the bottom of the street. “I asked the driver to wait for me.”
There was a long, awkward pause before Anu opened her mouth again. “How are you?”
Elicia fought the urge to slap the words off her face. The urge to scream at her. Even if Lemar and his men had done what she asked them to and not botched up her plans because apparently her sister did one of them a favour in the past, her problem would still have remained. The change in her sister’s appearance: the way her dresses fitted too perfectly and the shoes that gave her extra inches in height. They were all strong clues that what happened in London did not stay in London. Not for her sister anyway. It had found its way to crawl to Ribble Greaves, causing Elicia’s eyes to stay open whilst her husband slept undisturbed beside her.
“I’m sorry,” Anu said. “I don’t know how you found out but let me assure you it only happened once…I care about you too much and will do anything to rebuild what we had.”
“Did you enjoy it?” The question seating on her lips was different. She wanted to ask Anu if she would abort the baby growing in her. For her only sister. Take a life to save a relationship and a marriage.
“I said did you enjoy it?”
Anu shook her head slowly, in a way that signified confusion rather than in the negative.
“Idriss is a good lover.” Elicia pushed her arms together tighter. “How can I believe that what happened did not sow feelings for you? You see, darling sister that is my problem.”
“I have Bradley. I am not the type to snatch another woman’s man. You know that.”
“You were also not the type to jump in bed with a man you barely know. A man that has a girlfriend…”
“He didn’t mention you. He didn’t say he had someone.”
Elicia’s gaze fell on the dash of red on Anu’s lips. It was the colour of the red sauce that she bought at the Chinese take away place with the spicy pork ribs. Idriss’ face when she served him the ribs with shop-bought egg fried rice had alarmed her but it was what he called her, that hurt. Stupid girl.
How was she to know that Muslims didn’t eat pork?
The taxi driver hooted his horn, jarring her back to the silly, apologetic look on Anu’s face.
“Let’s not ruin our relationship because of a man Elicia. You are my sister. Please let’s put this in the past. I have Bradley. You have Idriss.”
A blast of wind hit them before gusting down the street. Her sister’s blazer blew to the side, revealing the small bump where her flat stomach used to be. The roundness reminded her of what Idriss said last night to her as they lay in bed, limbs intertwined. He wanted to book her an ultrasound with a private company. She thought of an excuse quickly. A clean one about having already had a scan weeks ago. She told him the nurse at the university clinic sent her for one and it showed a normal, healthy baby. That would have been the end of the discussion if her husband hadn’t insisted that he would love to see their baby on the screen.
“Please, will you say something?” Anu pulled the lapels of her blazer together.
“Okay, sis. We will talk soon.”
“Are you sure?”
“Cool. We can go shopping at Mothercare on Saturday, if you want. We can go Starbucks for some cappuccinos and savouries after.”
“Thanks darling. I would love that.”
Her sister kissed her on the cheek and headed to the taxi after saying “see yah”. She waved as the taxi drove down the street.
Anu’s appetite vanished when Nancy turned up at the restaurant. Bradley had driven her to the hospital for her ultrasound scan, held her hand as the sonographer got to work and tucked the baby’s photo in his wallet after. Dinner at their favourite restaurant in the heart of the town centre would have been a lovely crown to the day if he hadn’t announced that his mother was joining them a few minutes before she arrived.
“Are you okay?” Bradley clutched her left hand and rubbed it gently.
His mother was busy cutting into her starter but her eyes strayed over to meet her son’s. Anu nodded and tried to return to her pea soup. It tasted like blended, warmed lettuce. Usually, it didn’t disagree with her tongue.
“You don’t have to eat if you don’t want it. We can ask them to serve our main meals in take-away boxes. I will drop you off home and call a taxi for Mum.”
“Let her breathe, son.” Nancy didn’t look impressed. Her cutleries clashed with the plate. She seemed to be having no luck slicing her breaded prawns.
Bradley’s mother, always caught the look of a demure, soft-spoken woman with her small size and ponytail hair. She spoke like someone unsure of where to direct their words. Paused often and apologised a lot. The opposite became the case when people angered her. This was mostly so where her son – her only child – was concerned.
Bradley’s phone interrupted the uncomfortable air that now hung in the room like murky curtains. Anu gathered her words delicately after he left to pick up the phone. She knew he would be outside for a while. He had been expecting a call from his boss.
“I know this situation must be difficult for you Nancy but I promise you I’m not using your son.”
“There was a girl in Yorkshire.” Nancy put her cutleries down and took a large gulp of her glass of wine.
“He didn’t tell me he was seeing someone.” She had assumed that they didn’t have secrets. It angered her to think of someone else in his bed.
“Poor lass never even got a chance. They didn’t even make it to their first date before he changed his mind.”
“I didn’t ask him to come back. I didn’t ask him to choose me.”
“Choose?” Nancy’s eyes widened.
Anu looked around the restaurant. The occupied tables close to them had people around them that were too busy shovelling food into their mouths. They didn’t seem to be listening to their conversation.
“My son doesn’t have a choice. He is besotted with you. You asked him to leave and he left. His father’s cousin says one bad word about you years ago and the man gets written off. I’m not even allowed to mention his name. You let another man get you pregnant and he comes home to tell me I’m going to be a grandma…”
“You don’t have to be a grandma.” Her eyelids felt weighty with tears. “You don’t have to be anything to the baby.”
“He is all I have left. When I told him he is making a big mistake with you he didn’t pick my calls for a whole week. ” It was Nancy’s turn to get teary eyed. She picked up a serviette and mopped the drops that had trickled down her face. “I like you, love. You know that. You were there for him and me when my Alfred died. I just know this will not end well for my lad.” She picked up her glass and drank from it. Neither of them spoke for a few seconds.
“What do they put in this wine? Good grief, I must be plastered already. You will have to tell that boy of mine to drive me home so I don’t walk head first into a pole.”
“Get him told,” Anu doled out a smile that failed to calm her restlessness. “You know deep down he is a mummy’s boy.”
“No, love.” Nancy shook her head. “He is your boy.”
Anu opened her eyes to find the car had stopped moving. Her eyelids had started to feel heavy after they dropped off Bradley’s mother on the other side of Ribble Greaves.
They were parked in a lay-by on Lancaster road. The view ahead as usual held her captive. An electric view of the Westbrook moorland with the steep-sided valleys of River Irwell and its tributaries. A sight that seemed to stay alive, even at night. It reminded her of the long drives they went on after her parents discovered the love letters Bradley sent her from the University of Leeds during his lone year there. She had kept the letters even after he transferred to her university. She was left angry after her father threatened to divorce her mother if the relationship continued. He had also gone down to Nancy’s work to haul abuse at her. To spite him she met her boyfriend at the town’s shopping centre and they went on those long drives. When her mother’s crying and nagging became unbearable, they had ended their summer break and went back to the university, where no one thought they were odd for loving each other despite their differences.
Bradley’s eyes were glued to the screen of his iPad. His gaze shifted from the screen to her when she called out his name.
“Hey, beautiful,” his eyes lit up in the near darkness. “You fell asleep. Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” Anu stifled a yarn. She didn’t like feeling tired. A symptom of her pregnancy. Feeling energetic to battle her work commitments was her preference.
“I was going through my diary…” He tapped the iPad’s screen. “Do you want to come to my house with me? I can bring you back in the morning. I don’t have to be physically present in the office tomorrow until noon.”
“We have just been to your house to drop off your mum.”
“I meant my house.”
She knew exactly what he meant. House in this instance was the cottage in Yorkshire. The cottage he moved to after getting his executive job up there.
From his flushed cheeks, she concluded that he was angry. That he knew she knew. Yet, when he held her eyes with his, his brows were not arched in anger.
“I don’t think jumping in bed with you will solve anything.” She ignored the exaggerated wounded expression on his face. He wasn’t the type to rush these things. They were both twenty one when they slept together for the first time. “I know you won’t take advantage of me. You are practically a gentleman… but I want us to discuss what we are doing first.”
“We can have that discussion on the way there. Or on the way upstairs…” He started to chuckle.
She aimed a pretend punch at him. He ducked, wagging his finger at her beaming face.
“If you ask me to be honest,” he said after he had stopped laughing, “I want you so much it hurts.”
His blue eyes held an intensity that was new. This wasn’t something they had shared in the past. Their relationship was one that was munched in small doses. It was sometimes as if they crawled with certain steps rather than grab things with all their limbs because they were scared of losing each other. Petrified of that aching feeling that comes with ending up one of a separated pair.
“But, I can wait, beautiful.” Bradley said. “For as long as you want. I guess I would like to know you are sure about us before I make promises.”
“I’m sure,” she sat up in her seat. “I want us to get back together.”
“Yeah, Brad. I know I won’t say no when you eventually get on your knees.”
“Don’t give me ideas,” he chuckled. “I might have a ring with your name on it in this car.”
“Now, you are scaring me.” She was half-laughing as he undid her seat belt and hugged her. When he planted his lips on hers, Anu kissed him back, slowly at first, then passionately. His hands were underneath her blazer when she pulled away and asked him to take her home.
They would be fine from now on.
Anu was watching the documentary, One Born Every Minute when her door bell rang. Bradley had just left for the supermarket. They had both settled down to watch a film earlier and were enjoying the film until she told him she fancied something savoury and meaty to snack on. He claimed he could make her something that would satisfy her taste bud out of nothing after she warned him there wasn’t much in her cupboard. Two minutes later, he trudged out of the kitchen confirming she was right and exaggerating that there were only “two cans of expired beans and a coffee tin dated 1998 in her kitchen.” They had abandoned the film because as he explained her kitchen would have to be supermarket-stocked from now on. ‘Expectant mothers were not supposed to snack on coffee.’ He left for the supermarket after making a shopping list with her. Not long after she spotted his wallet and phone on the kitchen table.
She got up, walked to the door and opened it. She was ready to chide him when she saw it wasn’t him at the door. It was Idriss. Her hi came out barely audible.
“You look surprised to see me.” He said, smirking.
Idriss didn’t look happy. He was dressed in a designer navy-blue suit but his blue patterned tie was warped as if he had started to undo it at some point and changed his mind halfway.
“Are you okay?”
“Am I okay?” Idriss shouted. “You stupid spoilt brat. You will regret doing this, I swear!”
Anu stepped back when he advanced towards her. The back of her legs hit the table. She wanted to ask what was wrong but she wasn’t sure if this was the right time.
“Why did you do it?” He seemed to have realised he was scaring her, stopping a few feet from her. “Why did you go to my house?”
She wondered if her presence at his house this morning had caused some sort of rift between the couple. “I went to your house to apologise to your wife. She knows about us.”
“So, you thought whist you were there that you might as well beat up my wife and cause her to miscarry? Her face is covered in bruises and my baby is gone!”
“Enh?” Her lips were supposed to form something much more tangible. But how could they when Idriss’ words were not exactly clear. “I don’t understand what you are talking about? I didn’t punch your wife. I didn’t even go in, I had a taxi waiting for me.”
“Elicia’s mother saw you do it.” Idriss barked. “She was the one that rushed her to the hospital.”
Anu felt her legs swing back into action when he started to advance towards her again, pointing at her, face severely creased, eyes bulging. She pushed her body through the gap between the table and the wall. This wasn’t the Idriss she knew.
“You are scaring me.” Her brain was clogged up with thinking yet she couldn’t figure out the best way to calm him down.
“Be scared, be very afraid. You and your father are not going to get away with your attempts to ruin my life. Don’t worry, I won’t touch you. I will let the police deal with you like Elicia’s mother suggested.”