Thanks to everyone reading and commenting. I tried to respond with the last two, but something must have gone wrong when I submitted the comments. Knowing me, I probably did something wrong.
Calabar Gal, Dolajiga, Schatzilein, Joenocare, Aum, Tobislim, Loolaluv, Iyanu, Ayo, Louisa and others (forgive me if I left you out), thank you so much for the comments. Jay, if you are still reading, thank you too.
Have a fabulous day everyone.
//BROKEN PROTECTIONS AND TIMELY REVELATIONS//
He opened his eyes to a throbbing head. Having had less than two hours sleep as they had stayed up all night talking, Idriss felt closer to death than he’d felt in days. His wife was holding a tray of English breakfast with piles of toasts that were not burnt when his eyes finally got to work.
Last night, they made a promise to support each other. He begged for her forgiveness and she told him it wasn’t necessary. His love was enough for her. But he couldn’t understand why she wasn’t angry with him.
“You cooked?” Idriss sat up.
“Mum is here.” Elicia placed the tray on the side of the bed.
It made sense. She had her pink, long sleeve pyjamas on. He searched her with curious eyes.
“I didn’t tell her,” she knelt on the rugged floor and rubbed his exposed legs. “I don’t think you should tell anyone either.”
“I have to get the test done as soon as possible. I hate to think of all the women I have put at risk.” When he lived at Donington Flats, before he could afford condoms, he had a new woman at the start of every month. That was years ago and he’d had a few self-requested medical tests since then.
How long ago was the last one?
His mind was clogged up with unanswered questions from last night, stopping this new one from yielding an answer.
“Let’s not worry about the test. Why don’t you eat your breakfast, I want you to stay with me today.”
“I will. Let me clean up in the bathroom, I will try to eat some of this and then you can tell me everything your doctor has told you so far.”
Anu kissed Bradley on the forehead for the second time that night and said goodnight again. Normally he stopped kissing and touching her when she said goodnight and kissed his forehead. It was some sort of silent agreement between them.
Tonight, that agreement seemed to have gone out of the window. Perhaps it was the two hours he had spent with his friends at the pub that had done this to him. She feared he didn’t want to stop at the start.
“Brad…” she moved up the bed, “you promised to wait until I have had the baby.”
“I want you,” he moaned. His hands were on her waist. His legs pressed to hers. His eyes held a strong plea. “I love you. I don’t care that you are pregnant. You look even more beautiful.”
“It matters to me, it feels weird.” She sat up, one hand on her bump as she did so. “This pressure is too much. I’m tired, Brad. I’m tired. You, Idriss and Elicia. I have dad’s health and work stress to cope with too.”
“Wow,” he rolled to his side. “I didn’t think I was adding to your pressure.”
He got off the bed and left the room. When he came back, a couple of minutes after, he looked calm. He placed the half-finished bottle of water his left hand held, on her side table and sat on the edge of the bed.
“I’m taking myself out of the mix. You should be enjoying this moment not worrying about our relationship.”
“What?” He was deserting her again. “You can’t just leave every time things get tough. You said you loved me.”
“Yes, I love you.” He faced her and took hold of her hands. “I love you more than I love my mum… more than I care about my life … and that’s saying something. This is why I want you to be happy.”
“I want you here with me.”
“I’m not going anywhere. Let’s pause the relationship. Our friendship will always be there. You can get with any guy you want, I will always be here, I swear.” He touched her chest and ran his thumb down her breastbone.
She tried to get away from him when he tried to hug her. He grabbed her when he caught up and wrapped his arms around her.
“Don’t prolong the agony, Brad. Go.” She didn’t want him to see her tears. “I lost you when I chose that one night with him. Stupid me!”
“No,” he kissed her forehead, “you haven’t lost me. If we are meant to be, you will come back to me one day. You will be mine eventually.”
She held on to him. The last few months’ turbulence seemed to hit her all at once and a new type of loneliness washed over her. He didn’t seem to mind that her hands held him too tight. She held on, knowing letting go would probably put an end to their decades’ old friendship.
“I understand this must be difficult for you. I have booked you in with the nurse…”
The doctor was still speaking and although Idriss concentrated on the area around the man’s thin lips, the words that came out through those lips did not travel to his ears. He had stopped listening since the man confirmed he had HIV. The face that kept popping into his head was his daughter’s. They spoke more often these days. It had started when Anu suggested he ring her once a week. “Leave a message or send her a text if she doesn’t pick up. She will appreciate it in the long run.”
He had discussed a summer holiday in the UK with her. It seemed the girl would love that. She hadn’t taken to Elicia when they spoke on the phone but he knew she would be able to relate more with Anu, whose Nigerian identity was more grounded than his wife’s.
He jumped up suddenly as Anu’s face came to rest fully on his mind.
How selfish could he be?
Leaving his daughter had plagued his mind when Anu stood to lose more if he had infected her.
“Please, I know you need time but…” The doctor rose.
“I have to go.” Idriss was already walking out through the door. He paced through the health centre’s reception barely able to see anything. He could cope with cutting his own life short. His wife had accepted her fate. How could he possibly expect Anu, her baby and Bradley to pay for his unruly libido?
Luckily, Emeka had parked the car closer to the health centre. He got in his friend’s car and sighed. Emeka patted his shoulder and muttered something about staying strong. Glad that his friend didn’t ask him what the doctor said. Instead, he started the engine. They had driven past the town hall before he realised they were not heading to his house.
“I promised Eli, I would come straight home. I know you probably want me to drown my sorrow…”
“I’m taking you to my house.” Emeka stopped the car to let a pregnant woman cross the road at the zebra crossing. “Anu needs to know.”
“I told you that my wife and I need time with this before I involve other people.”
“You also told me one of the condoms you used in London might have leaked. Abeg, dude you need to speak to this girl. I know you just found out but she is pregnant for goodness sake. She needs to do the test sharp sharp.”
He remembered London. When he withdrew from her, he noticed that the condom wasn’t as full as it should have been. He had been too rough. He would have told her if he hadn’t noticed that shame had crept into her eyes. He had rolled it off and cuddled her instead. He had always been careful since he could afford protection – apart from when he was with his wife. There was no need to; she was as chaste as a nun.
The car was now zooming down Hayes Lane. It wasn’t too late to change Emeka’s plans.
“I will tell her at work tomorrow, Emeka.”
“I have already called her and asked her to meet us at my house.”
“You did what?”
“Dude, she needs to know,” his friend snapped. He fixed his eyes on the road before him until they got to Barnabas Street. “I told her we need to talk about you. You should have heard the way she quickly agreed. Ol’ boy wetin you give am chop in London nau? The girl likes you, no be small.”
“Don’t worry, Uche will hurry there too. She went to do my food shopping but she should be back soon.”
“How long has Elicia known for by the way? You said she goes to the clinic already. Do they refer people that quickly?”
“I guess so.”
“Do you not think it is odd that she didn’t tell you as soon as she found out? She didn’t even want you to tell me. What was that about?”
“Dude, wetin be this?” Idriss asked. “She told me three nights ago. I drove like a lunatic to your house the next day.”
“Sorry o. If you don’t find it hard to believe a woman that lied that she was preggers, let me remove my own. I wish Uche had told me she was suspicious because she didn’t see her attending ante-natal. I wish that girl no start forming nursing confidentiality nonsense with me…”
“I think Eli and I are quits now. She lied to me, I gave her HIV. I won. Case closed.”
He was pacing Emeka’s cosy lounge when they heard a knock on the door. Idriss felt his chest empty that moment. His eyes dug into Emeka as his friend opened the door and greeted Anu cordially.
She looked calm but her calmness didn’t fool him. Her hand shook as she accepted the glass of orange juice his friend produced.
“What’s wrong? Is this because you need more time off work?” Her smile was a bright, alert one.
“I will be right outside.” Emeka said and left the room.
“What’s wrong? Idriss please… Is something wrong with my father? Auntie Yele wasn’t there again when I went round last night.” She placed the drink on the rug beside the sofa’s heel.
“It’s okay, baby.” He knelt in front of her. Her small bump showed in the floral, mesh dress she had on. She looked more beautiful than he had even seen her look. Radiant and Strong. She didn’t look ill.
“Whatever it is, just tell me.”
“I’m trying to…” He looked away from her. Telling her was proving harder than he thought it would be.
“What have you done?”
He opened his mouth and closed it again. All that came out was a groan. Grabbing her hands, he positioned his head straight and settled his eyes on the spot between her chin and lips. “I’m sure there is no need to worry but you should still go for a test.”
“I have HIV.”
She took her hands from his without uttering a sound.
“Anu, I have done some things I’m not proud of but if I knew I had HIV, I would never have put you at risk.”
He got up. She was trying to get away from him, although he couldn’t be sure as her hands had flopped back on the sofa. He tried to help her, she pushed his hands away. He saw the tears as they left her eyes. But he didn’t see her hand coming towards his face when she eventually rose. The slap stung, hard.
“Why, Idriss? What have I ever done to you?” She hit him again and again until her body collapsed against his.
He realised why her body felt heavy against his. She had passed out. “Emeka, please come back in!”
She was lying on the sofa when she came to. He was rubbing her hands, bearing a face that looked as worried as Uche’s and Emeka’s. Anu winced and turned her face away from him.
“Emeka told me,” Uche said. “You shouldn’t have said anything,” she addressed Idriss. “You can’t dump something like that on a pregnant woman.”
“He should have continued lying to me?” Anu couldn’t believe what the woman was saying. “I need to get out of here,” she snatched her hand away from Idriss and sat up.
Uche moved closer. “You don’t have HIV.” She glanced at Emeka whose mouth hung open before taking Anu’s hand. “Do you remember having the infectious disease test? The one I told you is compulsory?”
“Do you remember me telling you they all came back fine?”
Anu started crying again. “I couldn’t remember. I couldn’t think.” She wiped her eyes with her free hand and then turned to Idriss who was squatted to her right. “I guess our daughter is going to be fine…”