//GET ON YOUR KNEES, AISHA//
“Have you infected my sister with HIV?” Anu asked Idriss as soon as Emeka and Uche left the room.
Idriss jerked his head in her direction before springing up. He paced to the other end of the room as if she was the one with the infectious disease. “Is that all you are going to say?”
“What more do you want me to say? What do you want me to do?”
“How about, get on your knees, Aisha. Apologise for scheming to take my child away from me.” He gave her a look that he hoped translated as disdainful. “You told me Bradley was the father.”
“You didn’t correct me.” He felt like shouting. Not at her but at someone, anyone. How could he be about to become a father again when moments ago he got his death sentence? He wouldn’t just be leaving his Kanyinsola in this world without a father, he would be leaving a baby too.
“You made my life a misery,” she got up and walked towards him, her hands pressed together. “You mocked me to my boyfriend, making sure you filled his head with what we did in London. You accused me of killing your baby. When exactly was I supposed to share the news with you?”
“I’m sorry,” Idriss managed.
“When was I supposed to tell you Idriss? When my sister became your wife or should I have called you during your honeymoon?”
She wasn’t done. Her eyes held loathing strong enough to wipe out a generation.
“Idriss, you married my sister. You flaunted her like there was no one like her…”
“Are you angry that I chose your sister instead of you? Were you not the one who started playing loved up with your supposed childhood sweetheart first?” He realised his voice rang higher than hers but he needed her to know she was no saint. He could feel his phone vibrating in his jeans pocket. It had to be his wife ringing him. Thinking of how his baby-news would break her, made his voice go even higher. “You have no right to be jealous. You didn’t want to know me after London.”
“You already had a girlfriend,” she screamed and jabbed her index finger in the middle of his chest. “My sister!”
“Come off it, Aisha. I did what most guys would have done trapped in a hotel room with a beautiful girl. Especially one that thinks I’m good-looking. You wanted me too. Stop acting as if I seduced you.”
She shook her head. “I wish I’d never set eyes on you.” Frowning, she marched back to the sofa and picked up her bag. “I’m out of here.”
“And what about my child?”
“In the UK, the man that stays with the mother is the child’s father. So, go back to your chosen life with my sister.”
“Fine, then. I will go back home.”
When Idriss headed out of the lounge, she stayed where she was. She was trying to work out what to do when Emeka and Uche walked back into the room.
“Where did he say he was going?” Emeka asked as he picked up his jeans jacket from the hook.
“Home,” Anu replied.
Emeka had left the room before Uche spoke. Anu inclined her head towards the woman when she realised she didn’t hear what was said. If it wasn’t for her need to be polite, leaving would have been her preferred option. She wanted to crawl into bed, cover herself up and never leave her bed.
Uche patted her on the shoulder. “Sit down, dear. You are trembling.”
They sat close to each other on the sofa as if they needed the warmth from their closeness to get past the last few minutes’ revelations. They were quiet for a while.
Uche ended the silence. “Do you want me get you a blanket or make you tea?”
“No, thank you.”
“Stay here and rest, you are in shock. Besides, he needs you right now.”
Anu folded her arms across her chest. “He is my sister’s husband. A player, whose philandering ways earned him HIV.”
“I think he got it from your sister.”
“Emeka said she was a virgin when she got with Idriss. Perhaps she got it through the use of needles or…”
“My sister is no saint but she wouldn’t do drugs.” Idriss’ friends and associates were as bad as him. Fawning over him and believing his versions of events. The man could wave a stained knife over a dead body and still get away with the crime.
“Idriss is exhibiting symptoms of someone that has been infected recently,” Uche said. “From what I know these set of symptoms starts in the first few weeks after infection. Emeka said he was always careful but most men don’t think to be careful with their wives and girlfriends.”
“How does a virgin infect a player?” Anu was at the edge of the sofa. Her back hurt from the strain but this wasn’t a matter that one could sit back for.
“My guess is she wasn’t really one. I mean… how do you explain this? If Idriss was infected when he got you pregnant, how come you are not infected?”
Anu shrugged. She felt sorry for her child. Its father’s chance of beating this illness with his drinking and hard partying was worse than slim. She imagined the poor mite asking her questions about the father she never met and choked up.
Uche continued. “He can still live a long healthy life if he has the support of people he cares about around him. There are even ways of making babies these days without the negative partner contracting it.”
She gawked at her, “are you suggesting I stick around to help him?”
“Are you comfortable watching the father of your child get ill because this is what will happen if he doesn’t have anyone to support him. If he starts missing his medication, his viral load will become high and that’s how people infect others. This is what I think happened with Elicia. She wasn’t able to take her meds regularly at Idriss’ house because she was scared of him discovering her secret…”
“So, she risked his life instead.”
“Now, he needs you.”
She could feel the skin around her brows crease up. “I’m pregnant. Do you want me to risk my baby’s life?”
Uche’s eyes dimmed. The room’s light which filtered in through the patterned blinds when she arrived had been lost to the weather which had now turned wet and grey. She couldn’t tell if her new friend had now grown tired of trying to help her and Idriss.
“I’m not saying you should sleep with him.” A small smile dotted the woman’s words. “Haba, there are ways of helping a man that doesn’t include jumping in his bed. But I suppose, it will be hard because you and him have a very colourful history.”
“It was just one night.”
“One very busy night,” Uche chuckled as she eyed Anu’s bump.
“Yeah, it was very busy, chick.” She laughed with Uche. And she was content for a while until she thought of her sister. It was the last word she uttered that did it. A word that Elicia phrased most of their conversations with, when she started college in Manchester, years back.
How could she support the father of her child without alienating her sister further? Yes, she disliked what the latter had become but they were sisters. Families were supposed to stick together.
“He is married to my sister.”
Uche narrowed her eyes. “Your sister hasn’t played fair. “ She hissed, “Did she think of all the children in Nigeria whose school fees Idriss pays before infecting him? What about the little boy’s surgery he paid for? A boy he had never met, according to Emeka.”
“I’m guessing you don’t know of his charitable side. This is why you need to spend time with him, so that whatever happens, you can tell your child about her father one day.”
Idriss thanked Sade before disconnecting the call. He and Emeka were sitting in his friend’s car as it had started to rain. From the way, his friend’s eyes scrutinized him, he wanted him to relay the conversation he had just had on the phone word for word.
“Sade doesn’t have it,” he said. “She had a test five months ago.”
“The babe that lived upstairs in London?” Emeka asked.
“No, Zainab is the one you are thinking of.”
“Oh, is she not the one I met in your flat?”
“That was Chinyere,” Idriss was getting frustrated.
“Aah ah, I remember Sade. She be the leepa one you say dey flexible like rubber.”
“That’s her friend. Sade is the one I scored with. The one I was careless with that got pregnant two years ago…”
“Oh, the one that aborted your baby?”
“Yes,” Idriss nodded. “Both Sade and Anu, the only women I have been careless with, in the past two years don’t have it and everything came back negative ten months ago…”
“That was when I had my last test.”
Emeka put his seat belt on. “Uche tell me say this girl she knows faked her virginity for her Jand guy. She poured fake blood on the bed when he wasn’t looking. She also said there are minor procedures girls dey do these days to get it back. And there are fake things them dey wear too. Shey you see where I dey go with this?”
“Elicia didn’t fake it.” Idriss frowned, “naa me a small girl go fool?” The rage he had managed to control inside the house was taking over, consuming him. Over the past few months with his wife, it had dawned on him that she wasn’t as innocent as she had portrayed on their first night together. Yet, he was far too experienced to be fooled. The jagged gasps and her shrinking back that night were not imagined by him. And even if she had tried to pretend, it wouldn’t have put an end to their relationship as he wasn’t in search for that kind of lady.
“Emeka,” he slid his phone in his pocket. “Take me home. I need to talk to my wife.”
They had a plan hatched by the time they got there. His friend would get his things. He would talk to his wife. This wasn’t Nigeria where he could throw her out with nothing, Emeka warned. “You will have to play the fool until you can sell the house from right under her.”
Emeka went straight upstairs whilst Idriss proceeded into his lounge where she often was for a couple of hours in the late afternoon doing her yoga routine. Her rare perfume and enchanting music greeted him as he opened the door.
She was poised on her pink mat, clad in shorts and a bra top. He sprinted to the remote control and turned the music off. It took him all the self-control he had left to stop his hand from flinging the remote control at her head.
“Are you okay, hubby?” She was at her feet, smiling.
“I have HIV, wifey.” He replied in a bitter, mocking tone.
“Honey…” Elicia rushed over and made to hug him.
“If you touch me, I swear you will wish you had never been born.”
His wife didn’t move any closer. Her smile had turned into a partial frown. One of those she doled out as her confused look. She was about to open her mouth when he pointed to the armchair. He couldn’t trust himself to speak. His heart was beating so fast he was afraid it would rip his chest open. His eyes were blazing hot and the warmness from them was spreading to his face.
She took the armchair and he stood by the sofa, fists safely tucked in his jeans pockets.
“I haven’t done anything.”
“Liar!” he kicked the side of the sofa. “Now, listen because I won’t repeat this.” He paused to catch his breath. “I will give you some money. Not much but enough to get you to London and keep you there. I won’t press charges too for what you have done to me…”
“Shut up, Elicia. Don’t interrupt me.” She wanted him to get him angrier. She was succeeding. “I need you to leave this town. I need you to go back to London.”
“You want me to leave so you can be with my sister!”
“I want you to leave because you are suffocating me. I want you miles away from me.” He was shouting yet she seemed so collected. He remembered what would hurt her and he set to work. “Your sister is pregnant with my child.”
She didn’t flinch.
“If she is willing to give us a chance, I will be with her.”
Elicia rolled her eyes. “How is she going to give you a chance when you have a virus in your bloodstream? She is pregnant, remember. What kind of woman will take that risk?”
He sat on the sofa and hoped for strength. Emeka told him on the way down that Elicia’s next move would be to get him to lose control and then she would call the police. He would spend his child’s first year in prison. “I’m not a fool, I won’t touch her” he had assured his friend. Now, he wasn’t so sure. He stretched his legs as his wife waltzed to his spot on the sofa.
“Hubby, darling,” her face was painted with her lost-girl smile, the one she seduced him with, that cursed day in London. She caressed his face until her hand reached the soft, charcoal- black stubble adorning his lower face. “We both have it. Our best bet is to stay together now. I’m sure you know no woman would want to be with you. But I’m willing to stay because I love you. You don’t want to risk confiding in a girl that might run a mile then tell the whole world, do you?”
“How did you get it?”
“A client,” she contorted her face and winced. “He raped me. He attacked me, honey.”
Idriss grabbed the hand now hovering over his belt. He had heard footsteps on the landing and guessed Emeka had finished. He was done. Letting go of the hand, he rose. “I don’t care, wifey. Get your stuff and get out. You have three days. Please don’t underestimate me.”
They got back to Emeka’s house with a suitcase and a travel bag. They both paused at the living-room door when they saw Anu on the sofa. She was asleep, one hand underneath her face, the other over the pink blanket covering her frame. Her plaits were bunched together but a few had escaped their confines, lolling down the side of her face.
Uche joined them in the doorway and took the bag Idris had. “She fell asleep waiting for you.”
He mouthed his thanks as Uche followed her man out of the room. Anu stirred. Controlled by his longing for her, he rushed to her side and whispered her name. She was in his arms when her eyes opened. He couldn’t be sure who reached for whom and he couldn’t think either as he was kissing her and her hands were holding on to him. The desire that coursed through him as he tasted her was new, different from the lustful feelings that hounded him in London.
When she let go of him and started to get off the sofa, he knew he had lost her even before it began. Why would she want him like this? He left her standing there and called for Emeka to take her home on his way to the spare room.
Elicia’s eyes prised open – a few nights after Idriss told her to leave. She had woken up to the sound of strange footsteps. She had locked the doors and set the burglary alarm. It couldn’t be her husband, she had heard he was too ill to even go to work. As the footsteps got louder, she searched for the pocket knife she kept under her pillow last night. Gripping it firmly, she waited.