//WHAT I DID FOR LOVE//
Her mother was now on the floor, her dressing gown had come undone, revealing her nightwear but she didn’t seem to have noticed. Or perhaps she had noticed but had no inclination to cover herself. Elicia felt sorry for her but it was her mother’s decision to put men before Elicia that led her to Arif Omar’s bed.
Arif , the man that defiled her and yet left her intact for her husband. She could still taste the cannabis smell on his kaftan as he forced her on her front. His assurance that he would leave her a virgin for her husband. ‘Precious one, I don’t want you that way,’ was not enough to assuage her. Nor was it enough to calm the pain that racked her body after he pulled down her shorts.
She thought she would never make it home after his driver dropped her off in a part of Chelsea that was unfamiliar. Each street resembled the other. In her haze, the rows of terraced houses morphed together like they had been conceived by the same architect. She staggered about for ages before a snooty girl in a Lamborghini picked her up.
‘Why did you go alone to dance for him?’ was the first question Isoken asked her when she saw her.
They had a rule at the club. Never entertain clients outside the club and if you must, don’t go alone.
‘Anyway you should be happy he only took your bottom behind and not the cookie jar you wanted to save for your husband. Your man will still find you whole, dry your tears.’ Her friend had filled up the bathtub and continued cleaning the flat as if nothing had happened.
The ten thousand pounds Arif stuffed in her purse before he flung her towards his driver went a long way in healing her but it had failed to be enough when six months later the doctor delivered the blow.
“Do you think if he knew, he would have married me mum? Or you think he would have signed up to a lifetime of wearing condoms with his wife?” Elicia released a jagged breath that seemed to travel all around her body before escaping. She shrugged when her mother didn’t respond. “I got this disease when I turned twenty. Was I supposed to give up on life? On my dreams?” She knelt on the floor beside her as if their close proximity would make her speak.
Her mother pulled Elicia towards her and cupped her face with her hands. “My beautiful daughter, I didn’t say you should stop living your life, enh. Why would I, when every parent dreams their offspring would outdo them? But your husband is not the type that will smile whilst you play with his life. What if he is already infected? What if he passed it on to your sister? All for what, when you could have chosen a man your age that grew up in the UK like your sister. You could have chosen a Naija man that was raised to believe women and men are equal. One of those stupid, young things that will carry your bag and wash your pants. Someone that would be willing to marry you with your status as long as you tell them the truth.”
“I don’t want a man my age. I want love.”
“Well, he didn’t marry you for love. He chose you for all the things he thought you had. The things another man stole from you. Your youth, virtue, chastity. Men like him choose women that haven’t had any taste of life. Young girls who can bend as many times as possible to birth them children. Not damaged ones who might infect their children.”
“And I’m wrong and damaged because I have this virus?” She forced the last word out through a lump in her throat that stayed stubbornly, the way the morsels of fufu her mother insisted she tried as a child stayed.
“You are not wrong and damaged. All, I am saying is your husband will not forgive this. He is not the type. We need to do something before he finds out you have given him HIV.”
“I can’t tell him.”
“We have to do something, Eli. Telling him is our best option.”
Elicia wanted to be held but she had self soothed since she was a child. Her mother’s needs had always come before her love for her daughter. So, she looked away from the face that always seemed similar to hers. The one now stained with tears.
Anu waited to see her father’s chest rising and falling before closing the bedroom door. She could have gone back to the living room after filling the washing machine with his laundry but she’d wanted to check on him again.
They told her at the hospital that he would be fine from now on. The doctor grinned like a new groom as he said so. But if it was left to her, she would have him cocooned and sheltered at the hospital. Another loss would finish her.
She was surprised to find Idriss stretched on the leather sofa in the living room.
“I thought you’d gone home. You don’t have to stay you know, I will stay here tonight and leave when your mother-in-law shows up.”
When he volunteered to give her a lift to the hospital after the day’s work, she had said no despite knowing Bradley wouldn’t be able to take her. He had left for a work meeting in Inverness early that morning. She lied that Bradley would pick her up and was slogging to the train station when Idriss stopped his car beside her. The mischievous grin on his face did not materialise into a question –luckily for him –for she was ready to tell him what he could do with his offer of a lift.
Studying him now though, she felt like asking what was wrong with him. His forehead was caked in sweat. He had undone the two top buttons of his shirt. If she didn’t know better she would have concluded he was ill. He had been quiet most of the day, shunning the large fry-up he ordered at Cafe Moon.
“Do you want me to get you some water? You look like death.”
“No water,” he shook his head gently, managing a small smile. “I have this thing in my throat.”
“You have a sore throat?” She chuckled, “come on shake it off. Only children get days off for sore throat. You men are so lazy.” She moved into the room, choosing the armchair instead of the small space left on the sofa. He had promised to drop her off at home but she now wondered if to call a taxi and let him rest on her father’s sofa. Settling for this latter option would probably bring Elicia’s wrath on them all.
She checked her phone for text messages. Bradley had promised to text as soon as he got to the cottage. A groan from Idriss as he stretched forced her eyes back to him. “I think we have a thermometer in the first aid kit if you are really that ill.”
“Feel free to play nurse,” he undid another button on his shirt. “You can thrust the thermometer anywhere to take my temperature.”
It took a few seconds for the meaning behind his words to sink in. “You are disgusting.” She hoped there was no hint of a smile on her face. Tilting her neck, she returned to her phone.
“Maybe you can give me something to eat. Perhaps some of that stew you made for your father.”
“Do I look like your wife?” Her tone softened when he started coughing. “Okay, pele. Why don’t you try to rest here? Make yourself comfortable. I will get a taxi home. Just promise me you will ring your wife. I don’t want her turning up at mine at midnight.”
“Food please,” he croaked, a sarcastic smile playing on his face. “Shebi, they say you are a good cook. Or you don’t want to cook for me Aisha?”
“I will look in the freezer. If the Tupperwares I put there are still there…”
“Please tell your father I’m here before you go. We wouldn’t want him to think I’m a bugler when he comes down. This thing wey dey knack my body dey enough. You wouldn’t want him to throw that huge centre table on my head, would you?”
“Wouldn’t I?” She regarded him with still eyes before marching out of the room.
Idriss was under a blanket when he woke up. His shirt had become damp with fresh sweat. Someone had put a cushion under his head and his shoes had been taken off. The delicious smell of peppery stew and white rice piled on a plate covered with a see through lid was what had woken him. He wanted to disappear back under the blanket but he knew he needed to beat the illness ravaging him fast. He sat up and took a sip of the glass of orange juice Anu had served him; disappointed that instead of waking up to her, a sticky note that read goodnight, stuck to the side of the table was what he got instead.
His wife was up at the end of that week when he arrived home past midnight for the fourth time that week. His ill health had slowed him down and what used to take him an hour now took two. This was why the apology he was supposed to churn out out out for the sake of peace got stuck in his throat. Tired, stressed and hungry, he started to unbutton his shirt before he got in the bedroom. His wife followed him in. She didn’t help him undress like she usually did, pulling at the necklace around her neck instead.
“Warm up the egusi in the fridge that your mum left for us on Monday.” He didn’t turn to her fully.
“It’s nearly midnight…” Elicia’s hands flew to the strings of her sheer dressing gown. She twirled and tugged at them. “I don’t mind you coming back late…”
“Good.” He picked up the discarded clothing items off the floor after covering himself with a towel. He would put most of the items in with the things going to the dry cleaners tomorrow. It hadn’t taken him long to learn that his wife was only good for bed duties.
“I have to work, Eli. My Ferrari that you drive around, the one you complain it isn’t current or trendy wasn’t free. Your designer gears are not free either. I’m tired, I left this house before sunrise. I want food and rest. I’m still too ill for your wahala.”
She rushed to him and embraced him. “I’m sorry. It’s just that I miss you hubby when you are not here.”
He held on to her with his free hand. Her hands travelled from his upper body to the part that had now started to come alive. The front of his wife’s dressing gown had conveniently peeled apart to reveal the bra and thong underneath.
How could his body respond to her when it had been starved of food and rest? When he would love nothing more but to close his bedroom door on her tonight? He panted when her hands yanked off his towel and started to work on his arousal with the expertise of a masseuse.
“I know you lied.” Idriss pushed her gently off him. He wanted to curse his body for responding to her despite his anger, hunger and ill health.
He was so tired four nights ago when the strange ailment started to ravage his body. He ended up ringing for a taxi from Alhaji’s house as he didn’t want Elicia to worry. He called the same taxi firm they used at Aspire Estate Agents and was glad when he recognised the driver. It was the chatty, Kenyan one that dropped him and Anu off in Manchester when his car stalled last month. The man had waited for the symposium to end and then drove them both to their homes.
His yawns were not enough to shut the driver up. Forcing himself to be polite, he listened to the driver as he explained he dropped ‘his pretty colleague’ off at his house a few days back. A young, beautiful lady answered the door, the driver went on. She seemed angry and refused to let his colleague in. He noted his colleague’s quietness as he drove her back to work.
Elicia’s face was a mixture of confusion and surprise. If he didn’t really know her, he would have assumed the driver cooked up the lies alone in the back of his taxi.
How could he have believed that Anu could hurt anyone? Even with his mother-in-law confirming it, he should have known better.
“Let me tell you how it’s going to work from now on,” he raised his voice, hoping it would silence her snivelling. “I will do whatever I like the way I did when I was single because as far as I’m concerned our marriage is void. Yes Eli. Shebi, you lied that you were pregnant to get me to marry you. I never saw a scan photo. Your belly was even flatter than that of a lizard. Now, you can regret your dirty little tricks. I get to live my life as a free man.”
“You can’t do this,” she tugged at her necklace. Tears had wet her cheeks as she shook her neck from side to side.
“I will do anything I like. I will do anyone I like. You should have thought about that before you made me think you were pregnant and then went ahead to blame your miscarriage on Anu.” He loved the way the mere mention of Anu’s name tore a whimper from her throat. “Tomorrow, I will be back very late. I have a lot of making up to do with your sister.”
“But, you can’t. Not after everything I have done for you.”
“What have you done for me? What exactly? You can’t cook, won’t clean. The only thing you are good at is dancing between the sheets.” He covered his front with the clothing items he was still holding. “Oh, I forgot, you will also get the gold for lying if you enter the Olympics.”
“I protected you … I didn’t tell anyone when I found out. You can’t leave me after I stood by you.” She reached for his hand. “I’m ill because of you, Idriss. You gave me HIV.”