//THE BABY MAMA’S MAN//
After she spoon-fed him some yoghurt, he fell into unsettled sleep, characterised with muttering and fidgeting. As there was no chair in the room, she had gotten on the bed with him. Closer to the wall than she was to him, she had rested her back on a pillow and spent the last couple of hours sending emails on her phone. She had worked through most of the recent ones, using her screen’s light.
Work, for her, was like a show. It had to go on. No excuses. And so whilst the light of day shifted for sundown, ushering in a cool breeze, she basked in the warmth that getting things done usually enveloped her in.
Perhaps she felt emotionally better having seen him or it was the decision she reached today to stop absolving Elicia of her sins that did this. She couldn’t place it. Her head feeling less frazzled mattered much more than placing this new feeling. This feeling of secured friendship. Of contentment.
She moved close to him. His eyes remained closed for a few seconds.
“How are you feeling now?”
The fact that he stayed on his side told her he was nowhere near fine. She felt his neck and shrank back. “Hey, you are freezing.” She pulled the cover up to his neck. “I tried switching on the central heating but it wouldn’t come on.”
“Emeka did say there was something wrong with it.” He grunted.
“I need to keep you warm.”
“Don’t worry, babe.”
“I will look in the wardrobe,” she slid of the bed, hoping to find something in the wardrobe. The blanket under a pile of folded jeans at the bottom of the wardrobe didn’t look bulky enough but there was nothing else. She took it to him and spread it on top of the duvet cover. Taking off her suit jacket, she got back on the bed, closer to his body than before this time.
“Get under the duvet with me, Aisha. Put your body on mine.”
He clamped his hand to his mouth and coughed a few times. Whilst recovering, he held her eyes with his.
“I’m here because you are ill.” She couldn’t believe the man. How could he try to seduce her with barely any air in his lungs?
“Aisha, I’m only trying to stay warm. I’m freezing. Trust me, I won’t take advantage of you.”
She tugged at her cream top, wishing she’d chosen a long-sleeve blouse and a skirt that reached below her knees. “You can’t take advantage of me. You don’t even have enough strength to chat me up.”
Idriss shifted towards her, so that her head ended up on his chest as she moved in. “Aisha, I have some energy left in me. I always rise to the challenge. Right now actually, I’m already…”
“I’m going to leave if you don’t stop it. Occupy your dirty mind with something else right now.” She raised her head to find his eyes twinkling. She had fallen for his bait. Judging by the wideness of his smile, he was enjoying himself at her expense.
“I wouldn’t put you at risk. Even if you were not carrying my child, I wouldn’t do that to you.”
She placed her head back on his chest and tried to ignore the grating noise that came with every breath he drew. It sounded like grit flying about in winter. “I turned your phone off. My sister kept ringing you.”
“I found a Western Union receipt on the floor too. I have put it in your jeans pocket.”
She tried to resist asking him why he’d sent a thousand pounds to a woman in Lagos. She lasted a few seconds. “Isn’t that too much money for any woman? Even if she is one of your numerous girlfriends.”
“The transfer was sent to my ex but the money is actually for her four daughters. Her husband left her last year. His mistress gave birth to a boy.”
“So, you still like their mother?”
“No,” he rasped, pausing for a while to catch his breath. “I hate children suffering. I hate seeing children that should be in school hawking on the streets.”
“How bad were things when you were young?” He had spoken about hawking to keep his mum alive before, about fetching water for the landlord’s wives to stop the man from evicting them but he told his story in bits and bobs. He would often shrug and change the subject as if they had been talking about less important things. Her questions left hanging.
The hand she had under the cover was now linked with one of his. He ran his index finger down her palm.
“As bad as me shoplifting once, Aisha. It was either that or watch my mother die from hunger.”
“What about your father? You don’t talk about him.”
“His passing was quite traumatic. He was hacked down by armed robbers in front of me one unforgettable Friday night.”
Anu heaved her head up. “Idriss?”
“I was eight. Old enough to understand what was happening. His other wives and my half-sisters were able to lock themselves in the pantry. My mother wasn’t so lucky. The robbers turned on her. I was too scared to help her. I still hear her screams in my dreams. I do. This is why I swore I would protect her for the rest of my life. She was never the same after that night. The other wives remarried but she could barely get dressed most mornings. She sold cigarettes and kerosene in front of the half completed building we moved to after my father’s relatives took over his properties. She did it when she could manage it. She used to say to me, oko mi, I’m doing this because of you. I promised her she would never suffer again when I came here. I had no idea that she would be left to die all alone because of forty thousand naira. The hospital refused to treat her. I begged for money when I found out how bad she was. I swear …”
He withdrew from her and sat up. He was out of the room as soon as she tried to touch him. She heard him clattering about in the bathroom. Something dropping. The gushing of water. Swearing.
He thudded back in the bedroom moments later, drying his face with a towel. He sat on the edge of the bed, his back to her. When she touched him, he didn’t move this time.
“Why didn’t you ask my father for help?”
His shoulders stiffened underneath her hands. “Anu, please drop it.”
“I would have helped you if I was here. I know we would have become friends if we’d met then.”
“I think I should go now.”
His hand grasped her wrist. Softly, he pulled her down on to his laps. “I’m sorry. I know you would have helped me. You are a kind person.” The hand shifted upwards, caressed her back and then dropped on her thighs with the other one. “What are we doing here? Are you here because you are kind or do we have something going on?”
“Nothing can happen between us. You married my sister. Even if you get divorced, my father would never consent to us getting together.”
“Especially now that I have HIV.”
“You will find a good woman one day.”
“I doubt that.” He placed his hand on her stomach. “I want us to be cool with each other from now on. Don’t try to take my child away from me again.”
“If you promise to be nice to me from now on.”
“I will. Trust me.”
She shifted back in bed. “Come on, get back in. Your body is cold again.”
When they got back in bed, he wrapped his arms around her. Anyone would have thought she was the one with the illness, not the other way round.
He dreamt of his mother again. She didn’t scream like she did when the men dragged her to his father’s bed. She seemed to be smiling, watching him and Anu walking on a path. Until he saw Elicia behind him and he dropped Anu’s hand to face Elicia. When he got to her, he noticed that she had grown in size, she was no longer the frail thing he walked away from. Standing as tall as a giant. His mother’s screams reached him in bursts of high pitched wails. Anu had slumped on the path, her bump had vanished.
He woke up to her. To her voice soothing him, her hand pressed lightly on his nape. He had been talking in his sleep, calling out her name. She reassured him. Vivid dreams were a side effect of his treatment. She had researched his prescriptions whilst he slept. In a strong voice, he asked her to hold him. She obliged.
She woke up to his hand underneath her blouse, fondling her. He smelt lovely. A strong shower gel scent. She felt the softness of jeans against the back of her legs when he pressed his body into her back. But the rest of him didn’t feel soft. A mixture of masculine heat and surprising hardness that took her back to that night in London. His lips drew a moan when it merged with the skin of her neck. He was back to his fully functioning self.
It scared her.
“Idriss,” she moaned. “We can’t. What will people say?”
“No one has to know.” He pushed the cups of her bra down and grunted. “Aisha, let me touch you. Let me make you feel good. You know I want you.”
“You left me in the cold last time.”
“Let me kiss you and make you better today, baby.”
“You will leave me again.”
“Let me show you why I can’t. I need you too much, Aisha”
“It’s too dangerous.”
“I will stop. I won’t go further than I need to. I will keep my belt on, I promise. I just want to get close to you again.”
“Please, I …” Anu realised that his other hand had already started unzipping her skirt. The one on her chest was trying to pull her blouse up. She didn’t see his hands move to their targets.
It was beginning to feel good. She could feel herself falling fast the way she did in London. “Stop. I can’t do this.” She spun around to meet his eyes.
He let go, blurted out apologies.
She picked up her bag and with one hand holding her skirt up, rushed into the bathroom.
Once there, she sorted her clothing and packed her bulky plaits neatly with her black ribbon. She would wash her face and use the unopened pack of toothbrush she found in a pink toiletry bag. She had sent Uche a message on WhatsApp telling her she was spending the night and Uche had replied, telling her where to find things. Another chat box had appeared moments later from her.
Girl, you will find protection in Emeka’s room, in the bedside tin. Don’t be caught unprepared. I hear your man is always in the mood, come rain or shine.
Idriss had placed two cups of tea on the kitchen table and some biscuits on a plate when she reappeared. She didn’t look at him until she had sat down on one of the chairs round the kitchen table. The kitchen was minimally furnished, like a normal bachelor’s kitchen.
He was standing by the door. “It won’t happen again, Aisha. I’m sorry. I guess this virus inside me is a big turn-off.”
“It’s not that.” Her gaze shifted to the table. “I can’t see how this will work. I can’t see how my father would agree for you to be with his first daughter after you tried the second one.”
“My heart seems to be beating for you. No one else has come that close for a long time. I know I’m going through a big thing at the moment and you probably think this new me, won’t last but I want to see where this leads.” He knelt in front of her. “Let’s move away. We will go where no one will judge us. Los Angeles, New York or even Lagos. I will set you up with your own estate agency.”
If she agreed to his on-the-spot plan, this would hurt Alhaji, in all areas. Funny, how things were coming together at last. All he sought was to be with her. His mother’s blood seemed to be seeking to avenge itself. Alhaji would lose his favourite daughter.
“The UK housing market is what I know.”
“We will move to London then. I will be a good partner to you. You won’t miss anyone.”
“You are not the type of man any woman should be with, without the support of their friends and family. I need to keep that door open for when you decide to sleep with someone half your age.”
He got up, walked to the sink and started to scrub the only plate in the sink with a metal sponge. Anu sauntered towards him and hugged him from behind.
“Idriss, let’s give it time. If it is meant to be, the silver lining behind this cloud will be upon us soon.”
He dropped the plate and placed his hands where hers were on his chest. “Let’s give it time then.”
They were still like this when Anu heard voices from the lounge. Emeka and a tall, dark skinned man walked in before they could disengage. The man looked similar to Idriss except his face wasn’t as attractive. Whilst the part of Idriss’ face that was slightly bigger than normal – his lips, gave him a sensual appeal that affected her at work when next to him, the big part of this man’s face, his nose, gave him a roguish look.
“Your paddy is alive,” the man said addressing Emeka. “You made me do three hundred miles per hour because of this man? This man that looks like he don enjoy himself tire? Does this one look like he is close to death?”
Idriss let go of her and clicked his fingers. “You better not have scratched my Ferrari.”
“We were worried.” Emeka said. “You should have seen the way Ikumapayi was chanting nonsense in Yoruba on the way, begging Ogun to save his Yoruba brother.”
The men, except Ikumapayi laughed.
Idriss coughed and cleared his throat. He clutched one of Anu’s hands when she stared at him with concern in her eyes. “I’m okay. Aisha.” He pointed at the tall man. “This is Ikumapayi. He is not a nice guy but he will do anything for me. If you and the baby need anything, he is your man.”
Ikumapayi stepped forward and took Anu’s free hand. “You must be …” He winked at Idriss, broke off and started laughing.
“Don’t even try it,” Idriss addressed his friend, giving Emeka who was laughing too a side-way glance. “Say the wrong name and you are dead.”
“I don’t understand.” Anu tilted her body towards Idriss.
“Let’s just say these two crazy men have a terrible sense of humour. This one once met an English girl I was dating in London. He called her Lateefa, on purpose, making it seem as if I was seeing plenty girls. That was the last time I saw the girl.”
“I’m sure your friends have good intentions.”
“Nice to meet you, Anu.” Ikumapayi smiled affectionately and released her hand. “You are beautiful.”
“Can I have my car keys,” Idriss asked the men. “Let me drop Anu off at home. She has to go to work in an hour.”
“No, I will do it.” Emeka said as he zipped up his leather jacket. “Go and sleep or something.”
“He is right.” Anu agreed. “I will come and see you after work tomorrow. Don’t forget to book an appointment with your doctor today.”
“Thank you, Aisha.” Idriss spread his arms.
She went to him, savouring the moment their bodies met. When she opened her eyes she noticed the men had left them to it. He wasn’t letting go. She didn’t want him to either.
Over the next few weeks, he started to look more like himself. She was mostly happy about this but with his improved health came all the things she feared. The self-confidence and charm that pulled women his way returned and it was beginning to seem like the new friendship they had was all they would ever have.
At times watching women around him didn’t hurt that much but at times it angered her so much, she feared she would go into early labour.
This was what she felt on the night of the Norcorp Awards. She had worn the Young Housing Manager of the year and the clubbing celebration that the others suggested had been a good idea until she saw him with the blonde friend of the woman Ikumapayi brought along with him.
She had left the club after telling Uche she was going home. But now as she walked down the lane behind the club –where the Mercedes S Class Limo’s driver had parked earlier— she decided she should have waited for Uche. The latter had told her to wait before disappearing into the midst of fussed bodies on the stage dancing.
The creeping feeling had descended again. This time she was sure. Someone was watching her. Perhaps following her.
It had happened on Monday night too when she was working late, except when she checked the galleria window, there was no one there.
Tonight, her neck wouldn’t turn round to check if there was someone following her. Her legs were moving rather slowly too. The Limo wasn’t there. She decided to race towards the main road.
But then she heard a sound behind her and just as she broke into a run, felt strong arms grab her. She started screaming. A chilling, haunting scream that rose above the low hum from cars on the main road.
“Please, let me go.” The nightmare she had last night was about to become her reality. She had lost her baby after falling in a ditch.
“Wait. Calm down. It’s me.”
The voice stopped her scream but it didn’t steady her heart. It was Idriss. She tried to turn to him but she couldn’t. He helped her. Held her to himself as if his life depended on her.
“I’m sorry, Aisha. I didn’t mean to frighten you. Uche told me you wanted to go home so I followed. Why were you running?”
“I thought someone was following me.”
“Really? Did you see who it was?”
“No.” When she told him about Monday night he had asked if she had seen Elicia’s car in the area. They had ended up having a row. ‘Why would my sister watch me?’ was the question she asked over and over. Her sister seemed to have changed her ways – spending time in London, out of the way, and telling Anu she never meant to hurt Idriss. Anu was hopeful that soon enough her sister would be brave enough to ask him to forgive her, although she wasn’t confident that he would grant that forgiveness.
“Aisha, come to the Limo. You look shaken up.”
“Give me a second. I can’t move my legs yet.”
“You shouldn’t have left without me.”
“You were busy. I didn’t want to ruin your moment with your girlfriend.”
“She is not my girlfriend, Aisha.” He slid one of his hands down her back and scooped her up as if she was in fact smaller than she was. “The Limo is not far. Emeka and the others will come back in the Stretch Limo.”
Elicia watched from the shelter of the bus stop. Her face was wet but she couldn’t tear herself away from them – her husband carrying her sister, the way he used to carry her upstairs. She tried to ignore her pain but since he sent her a message last week, telling her he wanted a divorce, sleep had deserted her. She felt nothing but the gnawing pain of someone ripping something away from her.
Before she left for London, she visited her sister to mend their relationship. Silly of her to think this would prevent the woman from trying to steal her husband.
How could she get him back now?
She pulled out her phone from her pocket and started to type out a text. Only this would put an end to her pain.
I need someone taken care of. Someone that hurt me. I will pay you double what you want. The man is my husband. He abused me and now he is hurting my sister.