//YOU HAVE ONLY ONE SISTER//
The team meeting at Aspire Estate Agents was so short that their new sales negotiator, Adam, joked that it was the sort of quick briefing that should usher in Mondays, a quick one to mark the sad end of the weekend. Anu had replied that Willets, their rivals were still selling and letting more houses than them. The manager at Willets, Jenny, seemed to know her next move before Anu actioned their marketing strategies. She had even placed a whole page advert in the local newspaper that Anu booked for three months service last month, two days after she told the team what they were doing. When they revamped their lettings signs, Willets upgraded theirs. The same thing happened when their new website got a makeover, Willets launched their new one the night before theirs, unveiling a costlier and better version.
If she didn’t know better she would have concluded that Jenny had planted a spy in her team.
Anu turned from the window when she heard her name. Kaz, bent towards the table, was placing a cup of coffee on her mouse mat.
“Are you okay?” Kaz asked, planting herself on the chair in front of the desk. “It isn’t like you to use this office and leave us all out there.” She looked around the room as if to inspect it.
Anu had found herself taking over the office Idriss often used. He’d stretch his legs far or rest them on the other chair. The more she moaned about it, the more he did it. So she stopped.
Her shoulders weighed heavier these days and her head was too frazzled to put up with office chitchat. The day they kissed was the last time she saw him. She had never known his confidence to waver but it did that day when she walked away from him and as days rolled by she guessed his silence was her punishment. Her reward for making him feel inadequate. For making him feel infected.
“How is your sister?”
“Fine,” she replied. She was getting tired of having to tell people that the stranger that attacked her sister barely touched her. That the attacker probably ended up worse than Elicia who had mere cuts to her fingers and a bruise on her neck. “She was only at the hospital for two hours. More from precaution and shock.”
Anu clamped her lips together to stop them from adding that Auntie Yele had dragged her daughter to the hospital to force sympathy her way. People around them knew Idriss and Elicia had separated but apart from Idriss’ close friends, Anu and perhaps Auntie Yele, no one else knew why. Their father’s sighs at the hospital was all he offered on the matter.
“It is really good you went to see her at the hospital.” Kaz said, observing her.
“She is my sister.”
Kaz tossed her neck back revealing the glossy shine of her newly coloured hair in the process. “I’m here on my own on Saturday. Do you think I could go home around lunch time after my last viewing appointment?”
“Do you think they do that at Willets? Do you think they would be that efficient if their agents do as they please?”
“Okay, boss. No prob.” Kaz got up and sauntered out of the office.
Anu trudged to her desk, sat down and picked up the cup of coffee slowly. She savoured the first sip and was about to take another when Kaz’s voice interrupted her.
“A friend is here to see you.”
Kaz moved away from her view, lips turned down. Uche was standing in the doorway in her midwife uniform, a medium-blue tunic and plain black pants. Her lightweight summer jacket hung down her shoulders.
“Please come in Uche.” She smiled a generous smile. One she hoped would stop Uche from mulling over the rare occurrence she observed – her rude behaviour to her staff.
Uche stared at Anu’s stomach as she sat opposite her. “Your belly grows bigger by the second.”
She shook her head and raised a brow. “Stop making me feel huge. It is barely showing.”
“Be saying that until you get to the ward. No one will tell you how huge it is on the day.”
Pulling her suit jacket over her stomach, she cooed to her bump. “Don’t listen to Auntie Uche, she needs glasses. Don’t worry, she is no longer going to be your godmother.” She rubbed her stomach and fixed her a serious look. “If I’m this big now, how big am I going to be in the ninth month?”
“Idriss is big so you will be popping out a whooper, no doubt.” Uche giggled. “Let me stop worrying you.”
“How is Idriss?” The last time she saw him was the night they kissed, the night she found out. Since then, it had become apparent he was avoiding her, declining her calls and asking Emeka to ring in for him when he needed to cancel a work appointment.
“Really? My father said he saw him at the mosque on Friday and he looked really ill. He asked me what was wrong with him and I … didn’t know what to say. I’m so angry with that spoilt girl that calls herself my sister. She told my father she doesn’t know why he left her.”
Uche hissed. “Well, she is back in her mother’s flat.”
“How did Idriss pull that off?”
In the past few days, she had been able to think more clearly about their situation. Her sister would never let go of her husband. He would never move on because she wouldn’t let him go. She loved him in that obsessive, unhealthy way that shouldn’t really be defined as love. Perhaps it was having no father figure that made her like this.
“I guess your guy is more resilient than she would like. He and Iku, their Scotland friend went over yesterday and changed the locks whilst she was out. They dumped her things on the street.”
Anu wondered if Iku had anything to do with her sister’s attack. From the little she had heard about Iku – who was actually named Ikumapayi by his religious parents – he wasn’t a man to be played with. Idriss was considered soft compared to him. And it was the former that told her about Iku, stating that Iku and Emeka were on the extreme ends of the spectrum when it came to manners and behaviour.
“He is not my guy,” she said after a while and then pointed to her cup of coffee. “How rude of me, I didn’t offer you something to drink.”
“He won’t be anyone’s guy when he dies young,” Uche ignored her indirect offer of a drink. “He is not coping. Emeka and Ikumapayi even tried to force him to go to the hospital yesterday. Tests last week showed that his viral load is high.”
“He has a weakened immune system. I’m guessing that’s because he was always busy working. The excessive running and training to look fit couldn’t have helped either. The koko of the matter is, he needs people around him that he cares about so that he can fight this or else…”
“Have you called his daughter?”
“He doesn’t want us to disturb her. Frankly, I think he has given up. If he keeps going this way, he will end up with a serious infection soon and it will be downhill from there. I’m sure you don’t want that. Please go and see him whenever you can.” With that the woman stood up and straightened her tunic before buttoning up her jacket.
Anu walked her to the door. “Thanks Uche.”
“I’m going home when I finish work tonight so I won’t be around. Emeka and Iku have gone to Idriss’ house and flat in London. They are going to change the locks to prevent your sister from moving in.”
“If you go to the house, the spare key is under the flower pot. Idriss might be asleep. He didn’t sleep well last night.”
Anu followed Uche to her car. She waved her off before answering her phone. It had been vibrating inside the pocket of her suit jacket for the past few minutes.
“Hiya, beautiful.” Bradley’s voice washed over her and soothed her fretting nerves.
“Hey. Are you enjoying your week off?”
“I love it,” he replied. “I went to see mum yesterday. She said it has been so long she’d nearly forgotten my name.”
She chuckled. He chatted on for a while. She couldn’t wait to see him. It had been hard for her these past few days without him. Coping with everything was fine. She coped well. The lack of someone to share her true feelings with was what knackered her.
“Wait,” she interrupted him. “You are not calling to cancel tonight, are you?”
“Sorry,” Bradley rasped. “I have a date. She finishes work early tonight and you know how busy I get.”
She could hear him rambling but her legs had started to carry her back to work. She opened the door mumbling polite hmm and yeah as he kept on. She smiled an apologetic smile when she nearly collided with Kaz’s client in the lobby area. Settling on the sofa in the reception area, she worked out that it was the same lady that his mum mentioned a few weeks back.
“I’m happy for you,” she said finally.
“Penny would love to meet you soon. Apparently I talk about you a lot.”
“I can’t wait to meet her too.” Somehow she doubted if the girl really meant this. “I have to go now. Busy, busy, you know how it is.”
She disconnected the call. Her head was in her hands when Kate’s voice mentioned her name. Anu’s eyes followed the voice to the reception desk, where the girl was, telling someone on the phone to ring back in a few minutes. She trudged to the reception desk, carrying each leg with effort. They weighed heavy. Kate had put the phone down by the time she got to the reception area.
“You have had ten more calls since the last time,” the girl said. She picked up a list from her desk. “Tekky called. Something about her return date to work.”
“Not now, Kate. I need you to cancel my afternoon meeting.”
“But Mr Ajay called and he is desperate to talk to you about his new property.”
“I said not now.” Anu shouted. “Can I not get a moment’s peace?” The girl sat back in her seat, lips trembling. Anu looked around to find Kaz’s and the men’s eyes on her.
Kaz hurried towards her. She placed a palm on one of her shoulders. “Are you okay?”
“I need to get out of here. I need to go home.” She edged closer to the reception desk. Kate looked visibly shaken. “I’m so sorry, Kate. I’m having one of those days but I promise, I will get those calls sorted soon.”
“It’s fine.” Kate smiled. “My sister used to throw things at her husband when she was pregnant.”
Kaz giggled. “Tekky used to nag so much that her husband came here to beg Anu to give her some overtime. He said she didn’t even have to pay her. Anything to keep his wife at work a little longer. He didn’t know we were already trying to trick his wife into taking early maternity leave.”
“Boss.” James was standing beside her, holding her bag. “I will drive you home. Adam can attend to my client when she gets here.”
Adam nodded from where he was standing, behind James.
“I promise, we won’t burn the place down,” Kaz said. “We won’t finish at lunch time either. Go home. You need some rest.”
“Thanks.” She said, not daring to meet anyone’s gaze. She would get home –where her parents’ raised her – before letting her tears run free. For now, she held her neck straight like a normal boss would and followed James out.
She trailed her father’s voice to the side door of the house. She would run into his arms, the way she did when she was little. He used to twirl her in the air until she got too big for him. Her mother, who always seemed to have a ladle or duster in her hand, would scold her lightly. She never directed her words at her father. It was always her.
Anu stopped at the door. Auntie Yele and her daughter were standing in the middle of the kitchen whilst her father was leaning on the shining work top. He looked like someone exasperated from shouting at a badly behaved child. Elicia did not look like the erring child. She winked at Anu as she entered the room.
“We were not expecting you.” Auntie Yele said. She took a couple of steps towards Anu as if she was trying to tell her something she didn’t want the others to know. “Your father was just telling your sister she needs to let us arrange a family meeting to sort this mess out.”
“A meeting? With Idriss?”
Auntie Yele had puffy rings around her eyes. Her make-up sat on her face like messy colours of disagreeing shades hurriedly applied.
She touched her hand and looked intently into her eyes in a way people do to pass on a hidden message. “Your sister doesn’t know why Idriss says he is no longer interested in the marriage. I suggested to your dad that we should let him be. If he says he doesn’t want your sister anymore…”
“What do you mean?” Her father straightened. “How can he marry her and then say he is no longer interested. Ki lo de? We want to know. I went to Emeka’s house to talk to him today. Do you know that he didn’t open the door? Do you know that the man is not even well?”
“I’m sure he will be better soon. Please don’t worry,” Anu went into his arms and they hugged. “I have to go soon. I was on my way home.”
“Are you ill?” Her father looked her over.
“I’m fine dad.” She caught the disdain on Elicia’s face as she stepped out of her father’s arms.
“Rest Aisha, omo baba e.”
He had left the room before Auntie Yele sighed. “Please, talk to your sister.” She hurried after her father.
“I’m beat,” Elicia yawned. “I’m gonna hit my bed.”
“You are not going anywhere.” She muttered the words but each one bore the steam of her anger. How could she act as if she had done nothing wrong? “Do you know what you have done to Idriss?”
Elicia stared at her for a while. “Bae, you think I set out to hurt my own husband. No. I didn’t. It just happened.”
“Why didn’t you tell him?”
“You know how stubborn he is. I was scared he wouldn’t understand. I barely saw him anyway. He was always with you at work or with his other women.”
“All this could have been prevented. There are preventative treatments these days. All you had to do was tell the truth.” Anu spoke softly to prevent their father from hearing them. This took its toll on her free hand which she waved about and used to point at her sister. “We both know you were thinking of yourself when you refused to tell him. I hope you will realise what you have done to that man. He doesn’t deserve this.”
“My husband doesn’t deserve this? Are we talking about the same man here? The man who thought it was okay to cheat on me with several women? Gosh.” She sniggered. “You think it was just you?”
“No one deserves what you have done.”
“Well, women like you will stay away from him from now on. I mean, why would any girl want him now? This is a blessing in disguise. It will bring us closer in the end.”
Anu glared at her sister, the way she rolled her eyes and pursed her lips with the casualness of a girl talking about lipstick. She shook her head and started walking towards the door.
“Why do you feel so sorry for the man that put me in hospital?”
She turned around and drew her head back. It didn’t feel so easy to breathe. “Idriss didn’t put you in hospital and you know that. If it was him you wouldn’t have walked away with just cuts. Not that I’m justifying what happened to you.”
“Let’s leave that for the police to decide, bae.” Elicia picked up a banana from the fruit bowl. “He asked his thug to come and threaten me knowing I could be carrying his child. Yeah, bae, even mum thinks I am pregnant.”
Anu decided to leave. Staying here was not doing her health any good. She was beginning to feel whatever it was that Elicia’s attacker felt. She was on the cusp of exploding.
“I’m going to go and see Idriss. I will persuade him to press charges for what you have done to him.” It was her turn to hold all the cards now. She smiled as her sister’s eyes prodded her. “You didn’t know, did you? It is illegal what you have done. Knowing you are positive and infecting someone on purpose. You have committed a crime. I will make sure you get sent down for it. Bye bae.”
She had reached the street before she spotted Auntie Yele’s orange car. It looked like it would pour soon. Anu shook her head when Auntie Yele gestured for her to get in the car. She concentrated on the screen of her phone and hoped the taxi she ordered a few seconds ago would turn up right now.
Auntie Yele parked the car near the kerb and advanced towards her. “Let me take you to wherever you are going, my dear.”
“I’m okay,” she decided not to mask her feelings.
“I’m worried about your sister.” She paused and waited for two women walking their dogs on the pavement to pass before she continued. “She doesn’t understand what she has done. Please help me beg Idriss. He is not picking my calls. You have only one sister. And you know this would never have happened if you didn’t go after your brother-in-law…”
“I didn’t go after him,” Anu screamed. “I didn’t know who he was. I had no idea he was seeing my sister. And I have tried what you all wanted. I’m trying and finding it really hard not to care. Please don’t judge me.”
“I understand your situation.”
“Do you think I never tried too? I tried to run away from your father. I cut him off but that one night followed me everywhere. I have him now but the shame will always follow me. His friend’s wives go the other way when they see me at parties. Eh, I’m paying the price of choosing love above friendship.”
A grey car with the sign, Town Taxi on its body parked behind Auntie Yele’s car.
Anu dropped her phone in her bag. “I will talk to him. Tell her to stay away from him.”
Emeka’s living room was empty. The spare key in her palm dug deep as she checked the bedrooms. He was in the second one. In the one Maher Zain’s song, Ramadan rang out from. Sounding evocative and yet effortless, the way the minaret’s call to prayer did on her Grandmother’s street in Ibadan. She’d downloaded the song for her father last year.
He didn’t look like the Idriss she knew. He was on the floor, leaning on the bed. His neck had tilted right, his head resting on the mattress.
From the way the shorts he wore drooped low around his waist and his hand barely held his prayer beads, it was obvious he wasn’t a well man. His eyes peeled open as her bag, the key and jacket clattered to the floor.
She was on the floor next to him before his eyes fixed themselves on her. The white of his eyes were red. A small rash had formed a cluster on his chest. He whispered her name. A barely audible whisper that seemed to tire him out afterwards. She noticed the whiteness of his tongue as he said her name again and grasped her hand as if he needed to be sure she was really there. He sat up, using her hand to steady himself.
“Why didn’t you call me? I would have come If I knew you were this ill.” She touched his face with her free hand and ran her fingers through his beard. “I’m so sorry. I’m sorry you are going through this. We did this. She shouldn’t be punishing just you.”
“Don’t be.” He forced a small smile. “I’m not dead yet.”
“Have you taken your medication? Have you seen the doctor?”
“Started yesterday,” he grabbed a serviette from the tray on the floor and coughed into it. He tried to reach the bottle on the tray. Anu helped him. She unscrewed the lid and raised it to his mouth. He took a sip of the water. “Thanks.”
She placed the bottle back on the tray, next to the orange that was half-peeled but uneaten. “Have you eaten?”
“No, please. No food. This treatment and my body are not friends yet.”
“So, the meds are what’s making you ill?”
“Let me help you off the floor, Idriss.”
“I want to pray, I don’t want to die an unbeliever.” He pointed at the rolled up Persian rug resting on the wall. “I was trying to get my prayer rug. Besides, it is so comfortable on the floor.”
“I will help you do your ablutions then. I will bring water and towels here if you can’t make it into the bathroom.”
“It defeats the purpose, “he smiled again. “It will be hard for my mind to remain pure.”
She looked away from his eyes. They still dazzled despite the weariness of their lids.
Their eyes met. He raised her hand up to his chest.
“Thank you for coming. You have brightened today up for me. I will beat this, Insha’Allah. Hopefully, I will become a better man through this. But, I don’t even want my friends to see me like this,” He turned his neck to the side and coughed twice. This time it took him a while to get started again. “I don’t want you here. Please don’t be offended. This isn’t fair on you. It wouldn’t be nice for me too. I don’t want you to see me like this.”
She snatched her hand back and got up. “I’m not here because of you. I’m here for our child. So, you will just have to get used to it.”