“Hi!” June said. Her mind had switched to overdrive. ‘WTF is going on here?’ she thought.
“Hi” Thelma replied, stepping out and shutting the door behind her.
“This is a surprise” June said, carefully assessing the situation while she maintained her calm veneer.
“That’s a gross understatement, June. What are you doing here?” Thelma whispered, while throwing glances at the shut door.
June sensed something was amiss, but the danger here seemed stacked on Thelma’s side of things and not hers. She relaxed a bit. “Here to see Tari. He’s expecting me” she said.
Thelma let out a huge sigh of relief. “Wow! Small world it is” she said.
“Yeah, indeed. Is he in?” June asked, quickly taking charge of the direction of the conversation.
“Yeah. He is. Didn’t know you knew him.”
“Alone?” June pressed, needing to ascertain what lay beyond the door.
“No. He and Dan. They are out on the terrace” Thelma replied.
“Ok, thanks” June said with a genuine smile
“For a moment I thought this was Cliff all over again. You know, me and you and one man again” Thelma said.
June gave her a questioning look.
“I mean, I thought you were here to see Dan” Thelma explained.
“Oh! No. Dan’s my friend too, though, but Tari is my man” June said laughing. “Yeah, that would have been something” she added.
In her heart, she was just as glad as Thelma that they were not here for the same man. The few run-ins they had both had in the past were no fun, back when Cliff had just met Thelma and was not over June. June hoped Cliff was finally behind her now, though.
“Shall we go in?” Thelma asked
“I thought, you’d never ask” June said, gave her a warm hug, then opened the door.
Becky turned off the burner, reached in her pocket and pulled out her ringing phone. She looked long and hard at the incoming call. The number was vaguely familiar, but she could not place it. She let it ring out. She knew it was someone she knew and if was important, whoever the caller was, would call back. She dished her food while wondering who the caller could be. It rang again, this time she picked up. The moment she heard “Hello?” she realised she was on to Sope, Alfred’s elder sister.
“Good evening, ma” Becky said rolling her eyes.
“Good evening, Becky. How are you?”
“I’m fine, ma. How is Uncle Umoh and the kids?”
“They are fine. Just spoke with them.”
“Oh! They travelled?” Becky asked.
“No. I’m in Abuja, dear. Here on a consultancy.”
“Ok, ma” Becky said, knowing what was coming next.
“Are you in town?” she asked
“Yes, ma” Becky replied, wishing she could have lied convincingly.
“OK. I would like to see you, dear.”
Becky accepted to see Sope. They agreed for Friday morning, a mid-term break for Becky and the day of Sope’s return to Calabar. Since the Paediatrician was busy in the evenings. She got a description of the hotel where she was lodged but still requested the address in as SMS, and when it came, she replied with one of her’s:
“Ok. But on 1 condition – pls, promise me its just u n I.”
“U hv my word.”
Becky felt better with that SMS. All the gory details of her relationship with Alfred had never reached Sope’s ears, or at least not from her own lips. It was time to show his sister the kind of man Alfred really was. She was going to tell all. These days, she had an even worse secret to keep, one she prayed would stay secret till her last breath.
Tari pulled up at June’s place. “Here we are!” he announced.
It had been a fun evening. June had made a meal of delicious plantain porridge that had really impressed Tari. Both couples had eaten, had some wine and then played scrabble till June had to leave.
June was glad that things were beginning to get back to normal with Tari. He had praised her cooking and kissed her twice during the evening. She still didn’t know the mystery behind Thelma’s presence in the house. Last she knew, Thelma was based in PH and engaged to Cliff. There was also something else that had caught her attention.
“Thelma is pregnant” she said, looking at Tari. He made no response, neither did he seem like he just got fresh information. Then he nodded.
“For Dan?” she pressed. Another nod.
“She is engaged” she said. Yet another nod.
“Does Dan know all of this?” she asked, now curious. Tari nodded again, looking straight ahead.
“It’s a mess” Tari said after a few seconds of silence.
June didn’t know why, but she felt drawn to Thelma and her plight.
“Oh, my God!” Becky said.
The ladies were lying in bed in the darkness after an outage. June had just related the incident at Tari’s and all the information she had gleaned.
“After I got over my initial shock of seeing her there at Tari’s, I realised something was wrong with her. Dan too was not particularly jovial all night, He was not his usual self at all” June said.
“I don’t know if I should feel sorry for him or laugh at him” Becky said
June laughed. “It’s a sorry case, really. I need to talk to Thelma, though. I would love to hear her side of things” she said.
“True. But, then, how did she get pregz for one man while engaged to another? Especially someone in the public eye?”
“You know! Both she and that asshole Cliff are celebs.” June said quoting the last word with her fingers.”I feel sorry for her. Not just because of the mess she is in, but who she is in a mess with – that idiot!” she added.
June knew she was no saint. She had slept with the same celebrity in question while dating Tari just a few days ago, but then she was not stupid. On the grounds of smarts, she could very well cast stones in this case.
“Alfred’s sister is in town” Becky said after some silence.
“So?” June asked locking eyes with her friend.
“She called, wants me to come see her” Becky replied.
“Hian! Does Alfred ever give up?” June asked, exasperated.
“I’m tired. I plan to go and tell her my mind, my reasons and my history with her brother” Becky explained.
“They should stop trying to tie another person’s destiny, abeg. If you were her sister would she be begging you to go back to an Alfred?” June railed.
“Exactly. I guess she lacks the details. I plan on filling her in” Becky said.
“Becky, thanks for being there” June suddenly said after some silence. “I’m glad things are coming back to normal with Tari again” she added.
“You are welcome” Becky said as guilt pierced her heart afresh. She turned in bed, facing the wall as tears ran onto her pillow.
“She asleep?” Tari asked as Dan joined him on the terrace.
“Yes, finally” Dan said collapsing in a seat beside Tari.
Thelma had taken ill earlier. According to Dan, she had called him while he was at the studio, he’d rushed back as soon as he could and had taken her to a hospital. Tari had joined them at the clinic after work and they had all come home together when Thelma had insistently refused to spend the night in the hospital. She had gotten drugs and an appointment for the next day, then Tari had driven them all home.
“What’s the situation with the pregnancy now?” Tari asked.
“Same. She won’t have a D&C” Dan said lighting a stick of marijuana.
“What you gonna do?” Tari asked.
“Wish I knew, Bro.”
“Tick Tock.” Tari said.
“I know! I know!!” Dan snapped.
Becky woke up with a start. It was insanely cold. She got out of bed and turned off the window unit AC in the room. She realised she was alone – June must have left for the station. She had turned off her morning alarm the night before so she could sleep a little extra since today was a holiday for her. She wrapped herself up in her duvet and was about getting back to sleep when a reminder crept into her mind – she had to see Sope this morning!
“Oooooooh!” she exclaimed, close to tears.
She got her phone from under her pillow and sent an SMS:
“Gud AM, ma. Kindly confirm our meeting for 7:30am. Tnks”
That done she went into the bathroom. She observed herself in the mirror as she brushed her teeth. She was still quite cold. She had a feeling something was about to happen. She decided it was the meeting with Sope that was hanging over her head, making her moody. She tried to channel it to anger. Anger at Alfred and at herself for letting this go on as long as it had. It was time for her to put paid to it all. If Alfred insisted on making their issues public, she would gladly best him at it. No longer was she going to hide his numerous wrongs from others. Anyone he sent to plead on his behalf would have the pleasure of hearing the whole truth.
In the past, she would focus on the reason(s) for the last breakup and try not to dredge up the past, but it had gotten her no where but back into his callous hands because folks never saw the big deal in their little lovers’ quarrels. They never saw the big picture. This time, she was going to bring it to them in high definition.
By the time she got back to the room she had gotten a response from Sope:
“Definitely, my dear. We’ll breakfast together.”
“Great.” Becky murmured. She didn’t have to think of what to eat. All she had to do was bath, dress up and turn up.
Becky looked at the clock on the dashboard as she paid the cabbie, it showed 07:22. She was on time. She alighted from the cab and walked into the hotel reception where she found the front desk.
“Good morning, ma’am” the receptionist greeted
“Good morning. I’m here to see a guest. Room 136” Becky said.
“136? Dr. Sope?” she asked.
“Yes, please” Becky replied
“Ok. Your name, please?”
“Becky” she said.
“Ok. She’s expecting you. She’s at the restaurant” the lady said.
“Okay? Where is that?” Becky asked.
A bellboy stepped up and led Becky to the restaurant where she found Sope reading a book.
“Good morning, ma” Becky greeted.
“Becky!” Sope said, getting up and giving Becky a hug. “Look at you!” she added laughing.
Becky laughed too, trying to remember when last they had met. It was years ago, while she was serving.
“You look so different from the last time we met” Sope said. Becky only grinned. “Please, sit down” Sope added.
“Thank you, ma” Becky said and took the offered seat as Sope sat across from her.
“Please, come take our orders. My guest has arrived.” Sope called out. In a flash a waiter appeared and handed them menus. “The usual for me” She said declining the menu.
Becky studied the menu a while and decided on something French, “Steak et des Oeufs” she said and handed the menu back to the waiter. “With some water” she added.
“Hmmm! Nice. I recall you speak quite a number of languages” Sope said.
“Four, ma. English, French, German and Portuguese” Becky replied with a smile.
“Interesting” Sope said, eyebrows raised.
They made small talk till the food was served and often, Sope would commend something Becky said.
“I see what he sees in you, Becky” Sope said a few minutes into the meal.
‘Direct to the point, I see’ Becky thought, but instead asked “Who?”
“Alfred. He’s really crazy about you, Becky” Sope replied
“I doubt it, ma” Becky replied off-handedly.
“Why? I think its very obvious” Sope defended
“Ma, Alfred is like a child who tosses a toy aside, gets mad when another kid plays with it, then he suddenly wants it back” Becky said surprising herself.
“Wow!” Sope said, putting aside her cutlery. Then on a second thought, she picked them back up and said: “We’ll talk about this in my room”.
“That would be better.” Becky replied and sipped from her glass.
“We should hurry” Sope said.
Becky told Sope everything there was to know about her relationship with Alfred. The 3 abortions, the violence, his excessive drinking, his money issues and how he had left her in his house the last time they had a fight and she had had to borrow money for a D&C and flight fare to get back to Abuja. She told her about how each time, just when she had moved on, a couple of times when she was already with someone else, he would re-appear and plead for another chance with her.
“He’s used up all his chips with me. I can’t be with him anymore” Becky finished. she saw the look of utter disbelief and horror on Sope’s face who had listened quietly and still didn’t look like she was going to say a thing.
“Why am I just hearing about all of this?” Sope finally asked after a long silence.
“I loved him. I was protecting him, I guess” Becky replied shaking her head. Sometimes it was hard for her to even believe the things she bore at the hands of Alfred. “14 years” she added.
“Have you seen or spoken to him lately?” Sope asked.
“Yes. A couple of phone calls, saw him twice as well” Becky replied, not wanting to go into the details of the said contacts.
“Have you noticed anything at all different about him, recently?” Sope asked.
“Of a truth, I did notice a few things different about him, especially his new found faith. He came across as a more serious minded person” Becky said with a slight smile.
“Yes, I have noticed that too. He did invite me for mid-week service on wednesday, but I could not make that. I did find that strange. Don’t get me wrong, its a good thing, but it was still quite out of character for him. Maybe we all need to change the way we see him” Sope explained.
“Maybe. If truly he has become a better man, I am happy for him. He will also make a good husband, but not mine” Becky asserted.
“I see your mind is made up, Becky” Sope said with a sad smile.
“I’m sorry, ma, but, yes, it is” Becky replied.
“Ok. I guess my work here is done, though unfruitful.” Sope said getting up. Becky got up too. “No, sit down. Let me call Alfred to come get me to the Airport” She added.
“The more reason why I should be on my way, ma” Becky said still standing.
“You’d rather not see him?” Sope asked.
“No, ma.” Becky affirmed.
Sope threw her hands around Becky in a hug. “You’d make a fantastic sister-in-law” she said. A lone tear rolled down Becky’s cheek and onto Sope’s shoulder. “3 abortions is a lot, dear” she added at which point Becky lost her grip and broke down in tears.
“I have to go, ma” Becky said through the tears, picked up her bag and made for the door.
“Becky!” Sope called. Becky stopped, fighting hard to stem the tide of emotions, wiping tears with a napkin.
“Here, for your transport” Sope said, handing her some money. Becky took it with thanks and promptly left the room.
Tari needed to clear his head. All the sitting around in the office waiting for things to happen with the Mozambique contract was getting to him. The bureaucracy was stifling. He got his keys and decided to go to one of the sites. He knew his mood was too foul to focus on the work anyway, but at least it gave him something to do. As he drove in the direction of the site, he tried hard to focus on work. He was stopped alongside another car at a pedestrian crossing to let some folks cross when he spotted her walk across right in front of his car. She clearly didn’t notice him, she seemed, at best, vaguely aware of her surroundings as she walked past.
Once the pedestrians were all gone, Tari shot off the mark and headed for the next U-turn as if on auto-pilot. He watched her in his mirror as she crossed the other lane of the road. He made a quick turn and drove towards the spot he knew she would be. He had to hurry before she got on a bus or cab. He found her standing by the road, so he pulled up before her, she stepped back, still not noticing who it was, so he wound down and called her name.
Becky could not be bothered about some car pulling up before her, she was in no mood for free ride offers or chit chats with strangers, all she wanted right now was her bed. She was about walking in the opposite direction of traffic, a tact that made it difficult for the driver to keep on her tail, when she heard her name. A certain recognition dawned on her – the voice, the car. Her heart began racing as her legs returned her in the direction of the now wound down passenger’s window.
“Why are you not at work?” Tari asked when Becky had come to the window.
“Mid-term break. Good morning” she said with a sniff. His smile was warm and sincere, a beacon of companionship, a reminder that this was a man with listening ears. It was extremely enticing.
“Good morning. Do you mind if I drop you off?” Tari offered. Something was up with her, he could sense it. And honestly, he had missed her. Seeing her daily during her consultancy had spoilt him. Spending the night with her had made it even more unbearable to be without her.
“Thanks” Becky said and got in the car.
“You are welcome. Where to?” he asked
“Home. Planned going into work for a few hours, but I can’t do that right now. Maybe later” she said
“Lucky you, its walking distance” he said driving off. “What’s the matter, though? You looked lost. You walked right in front of me while crossing on the other side.” he added.
“Long story” She said with a sigh.
“I have all day.” he said with a smile.
“Thanks a million, Tari.” Becky said as they pulled up at her place. She had told him what had happened with Sope and all and he’d listened rarely speaking throughout. Now she felt much better. The tears had ceased, for the last time she hoped, and she was now more in control of her emotional state.
“You are welcome” he said. She sighed.
“Thank you for the job. I never did say it to your face.Thank you, Tari. I really am grateful” she said.
“Its ok. I was just being troublesome with the text I sent you” he said making her laugh.
“Alright, goodbye, Tari” Becky said and got out of the car. She’d noticed that look in his eyes again. That was desire she saw there. Plain and unashamed.
He watched her get in and shut the door before he set the car in motion.
Becky had changed into a pair of shorts and was about pulling on a top when she thought she heard a knock at the door. She paused to make sure she heard right, then the knock came again. Quickly she pulled on the top and headed for the living room. She didn’t want her day off work interrupted unnecessarily, so she peeked through the curtains over a window to see who it was before she spoke. It was Tari! A little surprised, she unlocked the door for him.
“What’s u-” she was saying when he covered her lips with his’.
She broke off the kiss after a while, breathless. They were now in the centre of the living room and he’d locked the door behind him. “This is wrong, Tari” she said. Her head was swimming, her knees were weak.”There is no future in this” she added, backing into a wall.
He stood still looking at her. “You are with my friend” she said in a an accusatory tone.
“I have never slept with her” he said. She already knew that and it made her feel worse and glad at the same time. She hated herself for feeling that way.
“That doesn’t make this right!” she snapped, more at herself than at him.
“Tell me you don’t want me too. Tell me a matching desire does not burn in you this very minute.” he said standing before her. He kissed her forehead, then pulled her into himself.
“Please, Tari….” she said as he kissed her earlobe.
He lifted her gently and carried her into the bedroom.
“Please….” Becky murmured, her last ounce of resolve melting away as her back touched the bed. He was right – she had never desired a man the way she did him.
The security guard waved down a cab for her and gave the cabbie her address, got a fair price and then signalled to her to come to the cab. June walked quickly to it and got in thanking the guard. She was not feeling too well and had asked off the show almost an hour early. She leaned back in the cab and tried to think of what may be the cause of the nausea and fatigue. She had had a hard time getting out of bed in the morning and had not found an appetite all morning.
She wondered if Becky would be home yet from her meeting with Alfred’s sister. Her data had expired that morning and her attempt to buy airtime using her bank’s mobile app had timed out. She was grossly irritated but decided she’d handle all of that later. Her account had been debited without her phone being credited. The transaction would eventually be reversed but she might have to buy airtime from a vendor before then. “Let me get home first.” she murmured closing her eyes to rest as the cab sped home.