“Hey, babe.” Idriss hastened to her side when he saw her. She was on her couch, in the thick dark. Her laptop was on the table next to a large tea cup. He tried to examine her face but she wouldn’t raise her head. “Darling mi, what is it? Why are you not in bed? It is late.”
“Please don’t call me your darling.” She shot him a quick look and averted her face again. “Read this.”
He bent towards her. Something was wrong. As he curved his back, the document on the screen caught his attention. It looked too much like the one page rant he typed up on his mother’s birthday when he first came back to the town. He had visited Alhaji and tactfully honed on her passing. Then he brought up the notion of business casualties. Idriss had hung it there, hoping the man would connect the dots. Instead of the expected apology, Alhaji said he didn’t have regrets. That his family were much more important than the decisions he made to feed them. Idriss had pounced on the first bar he saw and later on, in his drunken haze typed up the fragments of a plan that was coming together in his head.
“I have spoken to my father.” Anu tapped the laptop’s screen to hibernate it. “He wants me to pay you the eight hundred pounds we owe you.”
“He told me his side of the story. He couldn’t pay you your wages. Your mother’s health worsened and she died.”
She shifted to the edge of the sofa, a glimpse of the light from the hallway fell on her face and he saw tears around her eyes. The rest of her face was dry and he imagined her rushing to wipe her face before he arrived.
“And you decided to seduce me to get to my father.”
“Aisha, please let me explain.”
“You also wrote that you would bring his business down. I’m guessing you are the one that has been selling us out to the Willets. What I don’t understand is, how you could have invested that much money in a company that you want to bankrupt.”
She shifted towards the rim of the couch when Idriss sat next to her. One hand was placed delicately over her protruding belly. The same way she placed it this morning. Although this morning she had looked happy whilst she got ready for work, singing as he cooked them breakfast in her flat. They had come back here so she could pick something for work. And she wouldn’t stop beaming smiles his way, praising him for little things such as his decision to wear the company’s red tie. She had picked up her scarf too, wore it around her neck like jewellery, the Aspire logo proudly displayed.
“I can afford to lose the investment,” Idriss said. “But the only thing I stand to lose now is what I can’t afford to lose. It is you, Aisha. Please, let me try to explain.”
“I was angry with your father. I wanted to ruin him.” He took deep breaths to calm himself. The rage that subsided earlier was rearing its head again. He was afraid it would swallow him whole this time, make him unrecognisable. “I wanted to use whatever I could to punish him. I made a decision to go after you, long before I met you.”
“No. I didn’t even know she was Alhaji’s daughter.”
“So, it was just me that you wanted to use and discard?”
“It wasn’t like that. I didn’t plan to discard you. I mean, I didn’t have a proper plan. Or maybe I did and meeting you changed everything. This is why I never really achieved anything.”
“I started to fall for you, Aisha. The more I got close to you the more I wanted you.”
“Blah, blah, blah! Rubbish. How old do you think I am? The only reason you are speaking Spanish right now is because you don’t want to lose your baby. You don’t want me to stop you from seeing her.” She heaved towards the table and pushed the power button of the laptop down. “What you feel for me, is all here in black and white. How you planned to seduce me…your words by the way. Do you want to read it to refresh your memory?”
“I love you.” His voice rose higher than hers. He wanted to hold her hand and make her feel it. He wanted her to see it but she was furiously tapping away on her laptop. “I know what I wrote but things have changed since then. I love you and that is much more important than vengeance.” He reached for her shoulder but she jumped off the couch, leaving the laptop on the table. “I went to your father to ask if I could marry you.”
Anu sniggered. She moved further into the corner of the room where her TV was. She was moving too fast, fidgeting and raising her voice as if she had forgotten about the baby. He wished he had opened his mouth before now. Confessed everything to her.
Why didn’t he heed the warnings of his mother in his dreams where she begged him to move on from his anger? Emeka warned him too. Not in clear, direct words but in the man’s roundabout way.
“Aisha please, you need to hear this. When I lost my mother, I lost everything. I came here to graft and make my mother’s life better. She suffered because of me.” Images of her falling once as they laboured side by side on a building site came back to him. His face felt warm. He touched it and he realised his face was wet too. He tried to continue but he couldn’t.
Those days in the UK were tough. And yet in the beginning, he had been awed by everything he came in contact with –the newness of pound notes, the smooth roads, electricity and water in abundance. He walked around with the gratitude of someone whose life had been transformed. But he soon learned that many employers wouldn’t take on a black man –who had recently arrived from Africa. Especially one whose reference came from another black man, a man who arrived in the country a year before him.
Emeka had taken him to his self-made boss, Alhaji. The man promised to give Idriss the best reference ever written by an employer. All he had to do was work for him for a few months. In the end, Idriss had left with no reference, less than one month’s pay for the five months work he did and anger that nearly ended his life. His dear mother died because he agreed to work for Alhaji.
“She died in agony,” his voice didn’t sound like his. “All alone, thinking I had deserted her. Her cousin said the last time she saw her, she was muttering my name, begging me to come to her aid.”
She came back to the couch and sat next to him. “My father said he is really sorry. I’m sorry too. It’s my fault that he couldn’t pay you.”
“Elicia was really down, depressed. She wanted to go on a school trip and her mother could not afford it. I promised to help her but my car broke down and my wages went on fixing it. I asked my dad for help.”
Alhaji was trying to shift the blame on someone else. Idriss took his phone out of his pocket. “I won’t have him do this to you. How dare him!”
“He is telling the truth.” Anu stared at him. “I remember that summer month because I don’t usually ask dad for help. Mum didn’t even know. He didn’t want to tell me either when we spoke just now but I…worked it out.” She covered her face with her palms and started to sob. “This is so messed up. Now, you will end up hating me.”
He pulled her gently to himself and wrapped his arms around her. “I will never feel anything but love for you. I promise. The past is done. As long as you can forgive me too.”
Anu kissed his cheek and withdrew from him when his face advanced towards her. “Let me deal with my sister first, then we will talk. Please get me some water from the kitchen.”
Her face relaxed as he left for the kitchen. She knew how to respond to her sister’s email and she was about to delete it when another email came through. It was from Elicia. And despite not wanting to open the new attachment her sister had sent her, Anu found herself doing just that. She could feel her heart hurling as the attachment loaded and two faces she would recognise anywhere filled half the screen.
Idriss and Kaz were in what looked like a pub. What she didn’t understand was why their faces were locked in a kiss. Why one of his hands was on her waist.
He ran into the room and that was when she realised she had been screaming.
“What is it Aisha?” He glanced at the laptop and then made a poor attempt of reaching for her.
Anu was standing up now even though her legs did not feel like they could hold her up. They would buckle under her weight soon. The signs were there. A pain in her stomach worsened every time she tried to speak. She waved him off when he tried to reach for her again and then she felt the hardness of solid wall behind her. She slowed down when she realised she had been dashing round the room.
“Aisha, what you are seeing happened a long time ago. Before me and you. When I found out I have HIV. I wanted to get drunk and forget everything. I ran into Kaz. We didn’t plan it.”
“Does it matter?” Anu screamed at him. “Kaz is my friend. She works for us. Her boyfriend works for us too.”
“It was only a kiss. A drunken, stupid kiss.”
“I want you to leave.”
“I can’t leave you like this.”
“If you love me, you would. You are endangering my life by staying. Please, Idriss. You need to go. For our child’s sake, please.”
Anu saw him coming towards her. She was too tired to fight him. He led her to the couch and helped her in a comfortable position. Afterwards, he rushed into her bedroom, came back with a blanket and covered her up with it. Her eyes and ears were closed to him after that. They were still closed when he left the flat.
Idriss did something he never thought he would do. He called Bradley. Luckily, the latter was at his mother’s house and he arrived soon after. He looked visibly worried, face flushed red. But instead of thanking him for calling, he greeted Idriss with a clean punch to the side of his face.
“What?” Idriss spat blood out and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “I called you here for her.”
“You hurt her.” Bradley was already walking towards the lift.
“I didn’t set out to hurt her. I didn’t. You need to hear my side of the story.”
“The only side of the story I care about is hers. Go home. I will call you when she is calmer.”
He got home in the early hours of the morning. He had waited for the personal bodyguard Ikumapayi’s contact got him to arrive. The man was as big as a sumo wrestler with a neck wider than a fat woman’s thigh. When Idriss showed him pictures of Anu and Elicia on his phone, he found himself promising to pay the man double what he was asking if only he would keep Anu safe. He had this feeling that Elicia had split them up so she could go after her sister.
As he stripped for a shower in his bedroom –nearly ripping off his shirt in the process, it dawned on him where Elicia stole his stupid plan from. He had forgotten to take his old MacBook when he and Emeka parked some of his things from the house in Town Fold. He didn’t know how she could have gotten hold of the picture of him and Kaz together and the idea of her following him about, hands on her phone, creeping on all fours, unnerved him too much.
He placed a call to Elicia after the phone call to Anu’s phone went unanswered. Elicia didn’t speak but he knew she was there, he could hear her breathing. Her favourite tune, Sia’s Big Girls Cry was playing in the background too.
“You failed again,” he said as he checked his toned body in the standing mirror. “Your sister still wants to marry me after your stunts. See, you lose. Prepare for my own war now. I’m going to bring the weight of the world on your head.”
Elicia found the kitchen’s back door unlocked and crept in. Having studied her husband well enough, she knew he often left doors unlocked. He didn’t see himself as physically vulnerable either, boasting once that he would beat any bugler to a pop. A small smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. She jabbed her lips together and let the smile wane. Hurting him wasn’t something she looked forward to. It was a necessity. A necessity that made her shed tears in her car when she slid her gloves and hat on.
He was in his bedroom, incredibly handsome even in his sleep. She licked her lips and resisted the urge to run her tongue down his lean stomach, towards the part covered by a white bedsheet, where clumps of black were visible.
With a gloved hand, she picked up the empty bottle of wine on the dressing table, glided back to him and brought it down on his head with full force.
Idriss felt dazed. His head hurt too, so he promised himself as he parked his car on Anu’s street that he would go home after this and try to get some sleep.
She was in her flat, looking out through her window. She looked content. Happy. And some of that contentment washed over him too.
He thought she was looking at him and then realised she hadn’t seen him. She turned around and Bradley came into view. He was in what he had on yesterday and appeared to be holding Anu from behind. Their closeness did not worry Idriss, until Anu drew her neck back and the two started to kiss. Idriss heard himself shout and he would have continued shouting if the bodyguard from last night hadn’t approached his car.
“Yes?” Idriss wound his window down. “I will pay your manager. Thank you. You can go.”
The man stared at him in confusion. “I think I should still watch her. I saw a car hanging around.”
“You can go,” he snapped. He waited for the man to get in his car and drive away before getting out of his own car.
The door of her flat was uncharacteristically unlocked. They were on her couch – lips together like they had been glued, limbs entwined, the way conjoined twins would have them.
“Dude,” Idriss shouted. “I asked you to come here to help me. What the hell are you doing?”
Bradley withdrew from Anu. She didn’t take her hands off him though, frowning and looking away when Idriss continued to stare at them, open mouthed.
“Mate, I’m sorry.” Bradley got off the couch and approached Idriss. “We love each other.”
“Call me mate again and I swear I will flatten you.” There was a strange taste in his mouth. His head felt as if someone had split it open and he was struggling to breathe. He took a few steps backward. “Get out, it is Aisha I want to speak to.”
“My name is Anu.” She was looking at him now with disdain so visible, he wanted to ask if someone had drugged her. “I don’t have anything to say to you. I’m sorry Idriss, our relationship is over. Go back to my sister.”
“Yes hubby, you should listen to my sister.”
Idriss jerked. Elicia was standing behind him. She had a cold, distant stance about her but it was the gun she was holding towards his head that drew a swear word from him. Anu had started to scream and Bradley had grabbed his phone from the table.
“Put the phone down.” Elicia said to Bradley with a worrying calmness. “I’m here for my sister, not you.”
“What do you mean?” Idriss knew they had to keep her calm. “Your sister loves you very much.”
“She stole you from me. Hubby, I miss you so much it hurts. And … I know I can’t get you back, I know she needs to go. She needs to die. Yes, that is the only way to burry you. Anu’s death will finish you and I won’t hurt anymore.”
Idriss glanced at Bradley. He seemed to be tapping the screen of his phone but his hands were shaking too much to yield anything. He had moved further into the room in front of the couch, where Anu was cowering.
“Please.” Idriss muttered as he saw her aim at Bradley.
She fired the gun. Aimed again and continued firing. The first shot hit Bradley’s chest. The second, his stomach.
Seeing a bullet hole in Anu’s neck spurred him into action, he picked up a stool from the floor. Elicia aimed at him and shot him in the shoulder. Harrowing pain tore through him and brought him to his knees.
“See, I win.” Elicia yanked his right hand up with her gloved hands and forced his palm around the gun and shot her right foot. Her scream sounded more like cackling. “It’s a good thing I have drugs and vodka pumping through my system right now.”
“What are you doing?” Idriss stopped talking. It hurt to talk. It hurt to think. He glanced at the couch, where Anu was lying, at the several spatters and pools of red and looked away quickly.
“I’m setting you up for multiple murders.” She threw the gun in a corner of the room and picked up the stool he had picked up earlier. “I don’t know why I bother using your gun to set you up though. I know inside, you are dead already. Your Aisha is gone.” She bashed him on the head with the stool. “Go to sleep now hubby. When you wake up, the police will be here.”
Music reached him from afar. First, the soulful voice of Maher Zain then Aminat singing Al-Barak.
Idriss tried to focus on the music. It was like trying to find his way in a foggy maze. A familiar voice was urging him on.
The voice waned. He had lost it.
He could tell he was in a hospital. His shoulder didn’t hurt. Instead he felt a dull ache in the middle of his head. The bald man examining him was saying something, addressing the nurses in the room. Idriss tried to say something. Opening his mouth wasn’t as easy as it once was. His lips didn’t even feel like they belonged to him. They felt like objects hanging on his face. He started to trash about. He wouldn’t hang here knowing his Aisha had left him. No way. The man and the nurses tried to stop him from moving. They were all speaking over each other.
“Is his wife here?” The bald man asked one of the nurses restraining him.
“No.” A nurse with a black scarf said. “His brother’s fiancée is here though.”
“Go and get her.” The bald man said to someone in a deep, red tunic at the door before holding Idriss’ gaze and raising his voice. “Mr Akinwale, I need you to stay calm. You have been in a coma for a long time. Your friend found you in your house with a serious head injury. It was touch and go. Your brother, his fiancée and your wife have not left your side.”
Idriss stared at the man. He didn’t have a brother. He didn’t sustain a head injury. Elicia shot him after gunning down the love of his life. He couldn’t trash any more though, barely managing to form the question in his head.
“She is here.” The woman in the red tunic had come back in, holding the door open. He followed everyone’s eyes to the doorway and hoped to get someone that could explain what the hell was going on.
Then he saw her. He blinked twice. It was her, even though she looked very different – slimmer and definitely not pregnant. He gasped as the diamond ring on her ring finger caught his attention.