“I love you.”
There was no response for about two minutes after the message was read, so Femi Ayorinde frowned and sent another.
“Please, say something.”
“What do you want me to say? That you have a funny way of showing it? Or that I don’t think you’ve ever understood what love means?”
He blew out a breath from his mouth. “Please, don’t be like that.”
“Femi, have these years not meant anything to you at all?”
“How can you say that? This situation torments me too, you know?”
“Torment? Does whatever that word means to you, come close to how I feel, just by looking at your DP?”
Femi sighed wearily and dropped his blackberry phone on the ledge of the bathtub. He closed his eyes before rubbing his left thumb and index finger over them. When he dropped his hand and opened his eyes, he picked up the phone and stared at the open chat. The smiling face he had used as his display picture stared back at him, her dimples winking at him.
He gently rubbed his right thumb over her face, before typing, “You know how these things are.”
There was no reply for a while, but he could see that some typing was going on, at the other end, so he waited. Soon the reply came and he started reading.
“No, I don’t. Do you see me taking the liberties you do? From the way I see, it, you get to enjoy the best of both worlds. I don’t entirely blame you for your selfishness. I share a part of that blame too; because I have always indulged your every whim. All you have ever needed to do was snap your perfectly manicured fingers and I come running to you. It’s almost pathetic the way I wait to hear you say that you need me. I have a lot to give anyone, so I’m sick and tired of being hidden away, like some scum.”
Femi shook his head twice and started typing furiously. “You are in my life, as visible as you can possibly be.” Exasperated, he frowned and rubbed his left hand over the smooth skin on his head and resumed typing, “I love you and I want to be with you always. I want to shout to the world that you belong to me and I belong to you. But, I can’t. You know it.”
“You can, but you have chosen not to. We have options.”
Femi was still for a few seconds, a frown on his face. Sometimes, you’re the most exasperating person I know. He continued typing, “Those options have dire consequences. Have you forgotten that?”
“Then, you don’t want to be with me enough.”
He closed his eyes, at a loss for words. There was silence, for a about a minute, till the vibration of his phone alerted him to a new message. He opened his eyes and read, “Go, Femi. Go back to the one who the world knows belongs to you and to whom you belong. I bet you’re hiding away in some corner of your home, while she lies in your bed, waiting for you to come into her arms. When you make love to her, I’m sure you’ll think of me and I’m sure you’d wish it were me. I promise you this; you’ll never have me again. That would be my sweet revenge.”
His heart beat fast and he typed, “Come, on. Don’t take any rash decisions. You can’t do that to us.” When the message didn’t deliver, he got up from the edge of the bathtub and paced the bathroom. Soon, he flushed the toilet, before going to the shower stall to turn on the taps. He lifted his phone to his face and noticed that his last message hadn’t been delivered still, so he punched in some numbers, instead and put the phone to his ear.
The automated female voice at the other end told him, “The number you have dialed is switched off.”
He slammed a fist into the tiled wall and the jarring pain along the entire length of his arm had him biting off an exclamation and wincing. Nursing his throbbing fingers, he stepped into the shower and soon, his tears mixed with the water droplets.
As soon as he stepped out of the shower, a few minutes later, he picked up his phone from the top of the lowered toilet seat cover and deleted his last chat. Going to his call log, he deleted the record of the call he had attempted placing, before stepping out of the bathroom. On his way to the wardrobe, a voice had him halting in his tracks. He looked left, in the direction of the bed. “You kept me waiting.”
Nike was smiling, the dimples on her oval face, very prominent. She had let down her hair and the curls flowed past her shoulders, as she got up slowly from the bed and moved closer to him. He turned fully, to face her and found himself smiling back at her, his eyes slowly running down the length of her body. Her short silky nightdress molded the soft curves of her body perfectly, leaving nothing to the imagination. He took in her smooth, long legs and the gold chain, with two intertwined heart pendants, on her right ankle.
I have the most beautiful wife on earth and I love her. He closed his eyes for a few seconds. I do love her.
Halting in front of him, she slowly pulled down each thin strap off her shoulders and twisted her body in gentle motions, till the dress slid down slowly. When it pooled around her feet, she stepped out of it, her bright, almond-shaped eyes never leaving his. She smiled again and he raised his right hand to slowly trace her full lips with his fingers. Her fingers found the knot on his towel and when she loosened it, he placed his hands on the smooth skin on both sides of her narrow waist, drew her closer and closed his eyes.
Why can’t I have both of them?
He tightened his hold on her and kissed her almost desperately, seeking to rid himself of his yearning for another and the guilt he felt about that.
Tolu slowly roused from sleep and realized immediately what had woken her. She opened her eyes and as they slowly adjusted to the darkness in the room, she could make out her husband’s shape. He knelt by his side of the bed, his head on the mattress. She kept perfectly still and listened to him pray.
“Father, I don’t know how to offer comfort to others, with the kind of pain in my heart. Father…” Deji Ayorinde’s voice broke and he sniffed. She realized then that he was crying and tears sprang to her eyes.
He raised his head and ran a hand across his face, then grabbed a pillow and placed his head on it. His voice was muffled by the pillow, so she couldn’t hear what he was saying anymore. Suddenly, he became silent and stayed that way for a few minutes. When he raised his head from the pillow, he wiped his face again, rested his arms on his elbows and supported his head with his hands.
She could hear him again, “Your word says that Your thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are Your ways our ways. For that reason, Father, I will be still and watch You work this out. Thank You for Your arms which, I know, are always around me. May I always praise you, regardless of what my eyes can see, in Jesus Name, I’ve prayed, Amen.”
Slowly, he stood and walked away from the bed, pulling off his white tee-shirt as he went. She turned her head and saw him remove the pair of black boxer briefs he had been wearing earlier, then open the laundry hamper and dump his clothes inside. Opening the bathroom door, he walked in. Almost immediately, she heard him flip a switch and light spilled into the room for a few seconds, before he shut the door.
Tolu turned her body fully, till she had her back to his side of the bed. With tears seeping from her eyes, she slowly relived that awful day, in the doctor’s office, almost four weeks ago.
“Doctor, I don’t understand what you mean,” she said, shaking her head in confusion.
He shook his head regretfully. “I’m so sorry, madam, but sometimes, these things happen and for reasons that are not immediately clear.”
She slammed a hand on his table and jumped up from her chair, opposite him. “No! These things don’t just happen, Dr. Laolu!” Her left arm on her waist, her eyes flashed and she shook her head furiously. “I saw her.”
He stood too and as he walked round the table in a bid to reach her, her brow knitted and she shook her head again. She rubbed her distended belly with her right hand and said slowly, “I saw her, right here. She’s still right here.” He put his right hand on her left shoulder in a show of comfort; because no matter how many times he witnessed things like this, it always left him lost for words.
“She was… she was…” Her voice broke and she brought her hands down to her sides, shoulders slumped. “She was sucking her thumb when I saw her seven weeks ago. Her little arms and legs waved about so energetically.” Her eyes became round, as she gazed at him earnestly. “If you doubt that, you could ask the sonographer. The last time I was here two weeks ago, her heart thumped really good too.”
More tears fell. “You heard her yourself, doc. We both did, right inside this office.”
He rubbed her shoulder slowly, not knowing exactly what to say to her. “I know. I’m so sorry, ma’am. The ultrasound results indicate that…”
She cut him off and shook her head slowly. “I felt none of her movements only last night and this morning, doc. Are you sure she isn’t just asleep?” When the doctor only stared at her, she moved backwards, till the back of her legs touched her chair. She sat slowly, put her arms around her body and moaned brokenly, tears streaming down her face.
Curled up in a ball, on the bed, she cried harder now, recalling the frantic call that had brought Deji to her side and the ensuing hospital admission. She remembered ten grueling hours of induced labour. The knowledge that at the end of entire ordeal, the beautiful nursery, they had painstakingly decorated, would not be filled had made her cry for a long time.
At just twenty-seven weeks, their baby was very tiny, but beautiful and they named her Ayomide, just as they had intended.
No parent should have to bury a child.
Her phone rang, jarring her from her thoughts. She became aware of the fact that she was cold and reached down to cover her body with the duvet. While she wiped her eyes with the back of her right hand, the phone stopped ringing.
The bathroom opened and Deji, clad in a plush cream towel came out. He left the door open to spill some light into the darkened room. Taking long strides, he headed to the wardrobe, directly opposite the bathroom door, for fresh clothing.
She pulled the cord on her beside lamp and the room became brighter. “Hey, handsome.”
He spun to his right and walked towards the bed, smiling. “Hey, yourself. I thought you were asleep.” His smile slipped when he noticed her slightly swollen eyes and realized that she had been crying. He sat on the bed, beside her, and with his right thumb, traced from the corner of her right eye to her top lip. “What’s the matter, babe?”
Her lips quivered and the tears started falling again. He leaned over her, pulled her up gently and held her in a firm hug. Gently he rubbed her back. “We’ll be fine, darling. You’ll see.”
After a few minutes of silence, she pulled away and lifted her hands to her face to wipe the tears away. Gently, Deji took her hands and placed them on her laps, then started wiping the tears away himself. When he was done, he framed her face with both hands and they looked into each other’s eyes. “I still haven’t understood why we had to lose our baby, after waiting four years to have her, but one thing I know is that all things work together for good to them who love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.”
She frowned slightly and whispered, “And if they don’t?”
He removed his hands from her face and dropped them on the duvet, which had slipped down to her waist, then shook his head gently. “They will, my love.”
She looked lost, as she gazed at him, wide-eyed. “You don’t know that for sure.”
He brought his right hand to her face and with the back of his fingers, caressed her face. “Sometimes, our faith is all we have.” Then, he gave a one-sided smile. “And sometimes, all we have is each other.” With his hands, he pulled her closer, till their chests were almost touching. For a few seconds, they stared at each other in silence, before he brought his face closer to hers. Just when his lips were about touching hers, she closed her eyes and gently turned her face to the side.
He froze, reeling with hurt, at yet another rejection. “Tolu?”
Her voice was barely audible when she responded, “I’m not yet ready.”
He closed his eyes and exhaled through his mouth, before standing. Looking down at her, he spoke gently, “It’s been too long, you know.”
“I know, Deji. I’m just not ready, yet. I’m so sorry.”
“You’re missing my point entirely, Tolu. I’ve been very patient. Even before we…” He closed his eyes for a few seconds. “… we lost Ayomide, you blew me off each time I…” Getting angry now, he spun around and headed to the wardrobe, tossing over his shoulders. “I have needs, Tolu and you seem to have forgotten that.”
Her phone rang again then and he halted in his tracks and turned back to her, a frown still on his face. “It’s almost midnight. Who could be calling you by this time of the night?”
Without answering, she leaned over and picked the phone on the bedside table, on her side of the bed. She looked at the screen and saw immediately that the number had been hidden. She frowned and mumbled, still looking at the phone, “It’s an anonymous caller.”
He raised an eyebrow and cocked his head to one side. “Take the call, before it cuts off.” When she just looked at him, he shrugged and added, “Who knows? It could be important.” He shrugged again. “It has to be, considering the time.”
She pressed the button that connected call and put the phone to her left ear. “Hello.”
The voice at the other end was the last she wanted to hear and with a thumping heart, she quickly looked up, to find him still watching her. She lowered her head, as casually as she could and listened to the caller, for about a minute. “Go to hell,” she finally said, in a tone that was almost a whisper.
He laughed and replied, “That’s not proper speech for a pastor’s wife, is it?”
She ended the call immediately, switched off her phone and made a show of slowly replacing it on the table. After she slowly lay on the bed again, she looked at her husband to find his right eyebrow raised and a look of intense interest on his face.
“Go to hell?”
She shrugged slightly and pulled the duvet over her body. “It was a crank caller.”
That got you almost jumping out of your skin?
He stared at her, without a word, for a few seconds, before finally nodding. “Hmm, I see.” With that, he turned and continued his journey to the wardrobe, determined to find out what else, besides the loss of their child, was bothering his wife.
Jumobi Ayorinde looked around the restaurant for about a minute. The lone man on the table opposite hers caught her eye and smiled gently. She returned his smile and quickly looked away. A couple on a table to her left seemed to be arguing. They were talking in hushed tones, but the tension between them was palpable. Just then, the man looked up and at her and she quickly looked away, mildly embarrassed to have been caught staring.
Turning gently, she faced the man seated before her. He looked up from the menu he had been perusing and smiled. “It’s strange how couples start out like that.” She nodded to a point on her right and he turned.
A young couple was having dinner, engrossed in conversation with each other. It was evident, from their smiles, that they enjoyed each other’s company. The lady suddenly started, then rubbed her distended belly and said something to her companion. Quickly, he got to his feet, came over to her, stooped and rubbed her belly too. When he lowered his head to kiss her belly, she gave a huge smile and rubbed his head affectionately. Still stooping, he looked up, into her face and said something that made her throw her head back and laugh. Laughing too, he slowly got up and went back to his seat.
Tunde Fadeyi turned back then, to look at Jumobi quizzically. “They’re very cute. What’s strange about that?”
She laughed. “They usually end up like that.” He followed her eyes to the arguing couple. They were both speaking at the same time, while one of his fingers jabbed repeatedly in her direction.
Tunde looked away and shrugged. “Life happens, I guess.”
She turned away too and shook her head. ‘That sucks, man. Talk about wasted dreams and heartbreaks.”
He muttered, “Tell me about it.”
Looking at him, she picked up her glass and swirled the liquid inside. “You know, it’s odd that we’re suddenly seeing each other now, considering the fact that we’ve known each other for so many years.”
He laughed gently, before responding, “You’ve always been out of bounds for me.”
She cocked her head to the side and raised an eyebrow, but before she could speak, he said slowly, “You look so much like your brother when you do that.”
She dropped her glass on the round table and frowned slightly. “Do what?”
He nudged a head in her direction. “That.”
When she frowned more, in confusion, he burst into laughter, cocked his head to the side and raised an eyebrow. “This.”
With a look of sudden comprehension, she laughed with him too. “Oh, that. Which of my brothers, though? Because, I think it’s a family trait.”
He picked his glass of wine slowly and took a sip from it, before responding with a smile, “I actually thought of Femi when I said that.”
She smiled back at him. “It makes sense that you would think of him.”
She nodded. “Of course, it does. You’ve been best friends for so long.” When Tunde nodded, she added, “I bet he’s the reason I was always out of bounds to you.”
He took another sip of his drink and shrugged lightly. “It’s sort of a man-code.”
“Not to date your friends’ sisters?”
“Even when they’ve always liked you?”
He frowned slightly. “You’ve liked me all this time?”
“What’s not to like? Look at you…” She smiled slightly. “You’re all alpha-male, oozing testosterone and all that. You’re handsome…” She frowned and shook her head slightly. “No, that description doesn’t do you justice, so I’ll stick with beautiful. You are beautiful, you know.” She started laughing, when both his eyebrows shot up. “Oh, come off it! You must know what effect you have on my species.”
Silently, he shook his head slowly and she laughed more. “Cat got your tongue?”
He laughed then. “It’s not just your looks that have changed, Jummy. You’ve certainly become a very confident woman.”
She smiled slowly. “Losing a ton of weight does that to you, you know? It’s like my eyes have been opened to… erm…what’s the word now?” With her right index finger, she tapped on the side of her head. “Ehen… possibilities. I see all I missed when I was hidden away by all those disgusting layers of fat and I just want them all.”
He frowned and shook his head. “Disgusting? I beg to disagree.”
She raised her left eyebrow and cocked her head to the side. “Would you have thought to ask me out on a date, despite all the years we’ve known each other, if I hadn’t lost all that weight?”
He frowned slightly. “Come on, Jumobi. I’ve always thought you to be a very beautiful woman.” He threw both arms upwards. “Hey, the entire Ayorinde clan is a group of beautiful people!” He brought his arms down and shook his head slowly. “You were never an exception.”
She shook her head too. “That’s where you’re wrong, Tunde. I was the ugly duckling to their swans!” She paused and took a deep breath, then smiled slightly. Taking another sip of her drink, she spoke in a calmer tone. “Anyway, I’m thrilled this duckling finally proved to be a swan too.”
“You were bigger…”
“Very fat,” she cut in, almost nonchalantly.
“Bigger…” he insisted. “...definitely not ugly.”
She nodded and waved her hand in a dismissive manner. “Anyway, I see you side-stepped my question about asking me out earlier.” She chuckled. “Just admit that I’m right. You prefer the slimmer, sexier me; because the last time I checked, Femi was still your best friend. Yet, man-code or not, I’m suddenly irresistible.”
He shook his head and laughed too. “Did I mention that you also got cocky?”
Raising a glass to him, she winked and smiled. “To possibilities.” When he raised his own glass and laughed harder, she added, ‘Now, can we order? I’m starving.”
“I’ll be there in about an hour. I really need to freshen up. I’ll be at yours before you…” Dayo Ayorinde kept quiet, as the voice on the other end cut him off.
He listened for some time, before speaking. “Yes, Trish, I’m home and no, you can’t come to my house. What’s up with you today, anyway? It’s not like you to whine so. You’re suddenly all clingy and frankly, I don’t like it. We have a deal, remember?”
Soon, he rolled his eyes and nodded his head. “I miss you too, but I really have to run. I’m all sweaty.”
He listened again, for a few seconds and laughed. “I can’t be at the gym and at home, at the same time, can I?” He swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood. “I really have to go now, okay. See you soon. You know what? Let’s go dancing.”
He listened to her speak and then chuckled. “Who cares if it’s a Monday? Wear the red dress. I love the way your body moves in it, when you dance.”
He listened some more. “Oh, that’s even better… surprise me.”
He cut off the call, without waiting for a response and casually threw his phone on the bedside drawer. He picked his boxer shorts from the floor and pulled it on and did the same with a pair of white slacks on the floor. Just as he was about picking up a grey tee-shirt, a voice from the bed made him halt.
“Don’t you think it’s smarter to wash my scent off you, before you go meet with another…?”
He leaned over her and kissed her lightly on the lips. “Good evening to you, too, darling. You know, jealousy doesn’t look good on you. I prefer the look you wore, while you slept… Like the cat that got the cream.”
While she watched, in silence, he picked up his shirt and quickly wore it. His wrist watch was beside his phone on the bedside drawer and he picked them both. As he wore the watch, he asked, “Will you be at my mother’s party?”
“Of course, I will. You know I can’t miss it.”
He leaned over and passed his right hand over the left side of her face. “See you then.”
She stayed silent, as he picked up the cheque leaflet on the bedside drawer and let himself out of the hotel room.
Dayo got another call at the car park, when he was about entering his car. A look at the caller’s identity had him grimacing. Standing beside the door, with his heart pounding, he took the call. “Bros, abeg, no vex. I will transfer some money to you sometime next week. E get as things be, my broda.”
He listened quietly, as the person on the other end, while speaking slowly, told him exactly what fate would befall him, if he failed to live up to his end of their bargain.
“Abeg, e never reach that one naa. Chairman…”
He shut up when he realized that the caller had hung up. He shook his head, before wiping off the sweat on his brow. Which kain rough play be this, naa?
He got into the car and soon, a look of determination came over his face, as he drove home. Well, I have to do what I have to do.
TO BE CONTINUED
For the next parts, please go to:
Part 2: TABOOS: HEARTH AND HOME