//RUN ANU, RUN//
Anu watched Idriss and Bradley from her spot by her living-room window. They were standing by the front door, occasionally one of them raised his voice. Occasionally too, Idriss slapped the door or wall with his bare palm.
It was raining outside. Soft drizzling pattering that made the evening seem like a normal evening. A normal one in Ribble Greaves. Except nothing was normal about tonight – Elicia’s allegation, Idriss’ reaction, the unexplained miscarriage.
She was sure that Bradley’s early arrival back home was helping the situation. She was sure that had he not come back she would be in a cell in the town’s police station by now.
“Look at her!” Bradley’s cheeks were flushed red. “Does she look like a murderer to you? Please don’t get the cops involved.”
Idriss glared at her for what seemed like a while. His face was raw with fury. Then like someone who wasn’t sure if to go left or right, threw his hands in the air. “I can’t bring back my baby but please tell her to stay away from my wife.”
He didn’t look at her again as he kicked his legs into action. He didn’t say bye either. The door slamming shut was the only goodbye they got.
Anu couldn’t stay upright anymore. It was as if all that made her body stand was zapped out all at once. She was almost on the floor before Bradley reached her. He held her firmly to himself.
“I didn’t do it.” She forced the words out, through the rock solid form in her throat.
“I mean I didn’t touch her at all. I hugged her but that’s it.”
“I believe you.” Bradley kissed her forehead. “I know you wouldn’t do that. Don’t worry, no one that knows you will believe this rubbish.”
“My father will never forgive me.”
“He wouldn’t believe them.”
“That’s if I’m around to explain myself. This is Elicia’s chance to get me away from Idriss.”
“You have to calm down, beautiful.” Bradley said. “Think of the baby.”
“I’m thinking of the baby,” she placed her hands in his and held his gaze. “If I go to prison please promise me you will look after my child.”
Anu felt nauseous as Bradley parked the car in front of her father’s house. The house she called home from age seven when they moved out of the flat on Pendle Hills. Life didn’t feel like they were blessed with opulence all the time but they were happy. Her mother didn’t discuss her father with her but one day she’d overheard her mother and Auntie Yele talking about his affair with his accountant. Once in a while her parents rowed. Once even, her father slapped her mother in front of her. But they were mostly happy.
“Your father has supporters,” Bradley said.
Anu knew he was referring to Idriss’ white Hybrid and Auntie Yele’s orange car parked behind her father’s Mercedes. She knew too that despite what her father said to her yesterday on the phone when he asked her to come round to see him; this meeting wasn’t going to be ‘a father and daughter chat.’
“Remember what I said,” Bradley took hold of one of her hands and squeezed it. “Quick in and out. Don’t fall for Elicia’s trap, she would be hoping you kick off.”
Elicia jumped back on the bed after spotting her sister’s crestfallen face outside. Her mother dropped the pillow she had been fluffing into shape back on the bed and admonished her with her eyes. They were in Alhaji’s house, in the room that once was Anu’s bedroom. Idriss had begged her to come with him as he didn’t want to leave her all by herself at home
“She looks so sad,” Elicia drew a long breath. “It didn’t have to come to this.”
Her mother placed a finger in front of her lipstick-covered lips, making the ssh sound at the same time. She sat next to her on the bed and put an arm around her.
“You need to pull yourself together, girl. Anu is getting what she deserves. Let’s stick to our plan. You saw the way Idriss abandoned everything to be with you. He hasn’t left your side since it happened.”
“But nothing happened.” Elicia used the same tone that her mother did. A whispering hushing tone that sounded like what participants in a coup adopt.
All she had to do last night was change into her fluffy pyjamas, hold her full hot water bottle to her stomach and look distraught. Her mother was the one that narrated the story they had rehearsed and honed to her husband when he got back from London. And the way her mother groaned when she described how they raced to the hospital got Elicia, that in that moment she forgot they were lying.
“What If Idriss calls the police and they question me, Mum?”
“How are they going to know there was no baby in the first place?” Her mother continued when she didn’t respond. “Our evidence is your empty womb. That works for us. Besides, the police will only frustrate her for a few weeks. Hopefully, that thing she is carrying will not survive this stress. All these I have done is for you, Eli. Sharing your man with another woman, especially one that you will see every day is not nice. We would have sorted all this if you opened up to me before now but I’m glad you decided to seek my help yesterday. Please tell me you are ready for the next phase of our plan?”
Elicia shrugged. She crinkled her face when her mother kept staring at her. A small smile restricted by the cut on her lower lip appeared on her face. To make their story believable, her mother had slapped her twice yesterday, leaving visible evidence that they blamed on Anu.
Elicia didn’t feel too bad. It wasn’t as if Anu was a blameless woman they plucked from a commune. She looked around the room. The plush, large room with a king size bed that felt squashy and durable at the same time. At the wardrobe that fitted perfectly with the walls and the tied, pale purple curtains that dropped down like wilting orchids. The room her sister spent her childhood in whilst her mother and her languished away in a tiny flat that wasn’t big enough to house a toddler.
“I’m ready, Mum.” Elicia’s beam spread round her face. “Let’s take my darling sister down.”
Anu fidgeted with her hair. Her father’s eyes were on his phone’s screen. He seemed to be reading whatever it was slowly. Perhaps her waiting was part of her punishment.
When her father asked Bradley to wait in the other living room, then turned to Idriss who was standing beside him and told him the same thing, Anu had expected to have a partial conversation with her father – a one sided dialogue, that consisted of him shouting and her listening. Not this.
“I sent Kaz and James messages this morning,” her father placed his phone on the small table beside him where two newspapers sat side by side.
“You can’t sack me dad.” Anu sat up. The thought of having nothing to do as day rolled into night each day made her even more nauseous. She had never been the type that thrived on idleness, working mostly for the pleasure it gave her. “I know what the law says, dad. You can’t fire me without a single warning.”
“I’m not sacking you.” Her father said. “I want you to reduce the hours you work and do most of your work from home.”
“I need to be there, dad.”
“Only when your brother-in-law is not there on Fridays and Saturdays.” He took of his glasses and placed it on the table. “I told Kaz and James to liaise with you. You are still their manager. But this thing between you and your sister…”
“You mean they have convinced you that I can’t keep my hands off Idriss. I think someone needs to tell my naive sister that her husband is not made of gold…” She trailed off. “Daddy, it happened once and I regretted it.”
His voice was loud enough to keep her quiet this time.
“Do you realise the enormity of what you have done? Do you, Aisha? You Anuoluwapo Aisha Biobaku slept with your sister’s husband. A sister that you senior by eight years. Your own blood. What were you thinking? What gives you the idea that it is even right to talk about it.”
She wondered if her father examined the other facts. She and Elicia did not know they were related until a few weeks ago, thanks to her father. If she had known, he had been busy, she wouldn’t have gone near Idriss. He could be related to her. She wondered too, if her father spared Idriss his anger.
Were men immune to this sort of telling off? Why did the woman always have to shoulder the blame in these types of matters? If Idriss had not pursued her in London with the urgency of a man that hadn’t been with a woman for years, what happened would never have happened.
“This is what happens when a woman old enough to marry refuses to get married.”
Anu begged her lips to stay in place again. Had her father forgotten how he chased Bradley over their garden’s fence when he asked if he could marry her shortly after he finished university?
“Now that Bradley is ready to do the decent thing,” he lowered his voice, “he asked my permission at your sister’s wedding…”
She wasn’t sure if he expected her to confirm it.
“Do it quietly and quickly, Aisha.”
Her father avoided looking at her stomach. Anu had dressed cleverly this morning, choosing baggy layers that fell around her length rather than hug her body. The way her father’s legs were now twitching told her she ought not to have bothered. Auntie Yele had told him. She felt some relief that neither Elicia nor Auntie Yele knew that Idriss was the one that got her pregnant.
She asked to see Elicia. Not because she wanted to but because Bradley advised her to ask about her sister this morning. Apparently her sister was resting upstairs. Her father told her to give it time. That her sister was already coming round. This morning he heard her pleading with her husband to forgive Anu.
Anu couldn’t care less about her sister. What she cared about was her father telling her that he would greet her step-mother for her as she plodded out of the living room. His news weighed down her legs as she hurried down the lavishly rugged hallway. Life around here if Elicia’s mother became her step-mother would not be worth living.
The men were not in the spare living room. They were outside and from their clenched fists and creased faces she concluded that they were having a row.
Idriss seemed angrier than Bradley and he was hurling abuse at his quiet opponent.
“Is that what she told you or what you are hoping happened?” He laughed derisively.
“No. She wanted me the way addicts crave drugs. Why do you think she had me up all night
telling me how she wanted me to take her? I had her again in the morning and yet she wanted
to come back to my hotel room in the afternoon.”
“Stop it.” Bradley yelled. He had seen her. He looked as distraught as she felt when he hurried towards her.
Anu let him lead her to his car like a distressed child. His arm wrapped around her protectively. He had already started the car by the time Idriss voiced something that sounded like an apology.
“He makes my blood boil.” Bradley turned into the main road faster than he usually did. “I’m sorry, beautiful. You shouldn’t have heard that. All I said that got him angry was … he never meant a thing to you.”
“Don’t apologise. You were right. He never meant a thing.” Anu agreed. “I will make sure he doesn’t mean a thing to this little one either.” She patted her tummy. It was a thought that materialised in seconds into a decision. She would move to the other end of the world if this would protect her child.
Elicia jumped out of her car when Bradley’s car arrived on her sister’s street. He parked his car and alighted from it slowly. She strode towards him, determined to embark on the second stage of the plan her mother and her came up with. She had been waiting for an hour for him to get back from work. Yesterday’s two hour wait for him had yielded no result. She’d driven back home, concluding that he had finished work late and headed to his house instead of coming down to see Anu.
“Hi Brad.” She parted her lips slowly to show her teeth. It was a trick that usually worked. Men often dropped everything to help her out the minute she flashed her sheet-white teeth.
He was already heading towards her sister’s building. He didn’t stop or offer a greeting. “Your sister is… asleep.”
“I’m here to see you.” Elicia had to touch the back of his arm to stop him. He recoiled but stopped, his lower lip arched downwards. “I need your help, Brad. We both want the same thing.”
“To keep our loved ones apart. If we don’t, they will get together. I know the baby is not yours. Idriss will work it out when the baby comes out jet-black like him. He will want to be in the child’s life after the mess he made with his first child. How long do you think it will take before your girlfriend and my husband start bonding whilst taking the little one out…”
“Sorry, I have no intention of planning anything with you. I suggest you go home to your husband. You will drive him away if you don’t stop this Eli.”
She had to stop him from getting in the building. Idriss would get suspicious if she didn’t get home soon. He had already called her phone twice, his voice a little impatient the second time. “If you don’t, I will have to tell my darling sister your secret.”
Bradley dropped his hands at his sides. She had his attention now. It wouldn’t be long before the plan that Elicia and her mother spent Friday morning setting in place; all came together like a pot of jolof rice cooked with rich ingredients and a dose of patience.
Anu’s head ached as the ring tone of her phone forced her eyes open. She could have only been asleep for less than an hour as the TV in the lounge was still on. The title song that travelled from the lounge announced the start of Bradley’s crime drama series.
She would have gone back to sleep if her eyes hadn’t caught the notification on her phone’s screen. It was Auntie Yele ringing her. The last time the woman called her was two days before she walked in to find Auntie Yele straddling her father. Anu answered her phone with a tone that bore a hint of resentment.
“It is your father!” Auntie Yele started halfway through Anu’s greeting. “It is the stress that you caused him that has done this. Look what you have done! Aah!”
Anu bolted up. “What’s wrong with my dad?”
“You have killed him.”