When Babatunde returned from the sawmill and saw the queue waiting outside their door to buy his wife’s food, he smiled. He greeted the people warmly, and went inside the house to find Sewa sweating profusely in the kitchen.
“My wife the caterer!”
“My husband the carpenter!”
They laughed and embraced each other the way that soul mates would.
“I saw about eight people waiting outside the door.”
“Yes, I have served six plates, I just need to find two more plates that I can use.”
“I think you need to buy plates,” he said and joined in the search. Sewa found two more among the ones that she had been given as a wedding present.
“I don’t want to use these plates but what choice do I have?”
“Isn’t it better that they are used to make money instead of sitting in that shelf and accumulating dust?” he countered.
“I know, but they’re special to me.”
“Indeed!” He said and watched her serving steaming hot rice in them. “I saw your friend today at the sawmill.”
“Which one?” she asked uninterestedly, scooping some sauce onto the rice.
“So what did she say?”
“She didn’t say anything, in fact, she pretended as if she did not see me.”
Sewa stopped what was she was doing. “You’re lying.”
Babatunde laughed. “Why would I do that?”
There was a furious knock on the door and Sewa picked up a tray of food. “I’ll be back soon.”
When the customers were gone, she went into their room and found him drying his body with his towel. He looked slimmer and Sewa made a mental note to increase his food portion. She also saw how darkened his skin had become from working long hours in the sun, and wished that he could go back to his office job at the local government.
“So, Philomena acted as if she didn’t see you?”
“Yes, she just walked away when I called her. I realized she didn’t want to talk to me so I left her alone.”
Sewa clapped her hands together in amazement. “I can’t believe it!”
“Something is happening to your friend, she seemed afraid. And her face, there was something about it that seemed different.”
“I heard that her former boss is looking for her, she said Philomena stole a lot of things.”
There was an awkward silence between them, and then she said. “In fact, I’m beginning to think that Philomena is behind what happened to my shop. If anything is wrong with her now, it’s because of what she did to me.”
Babatunde sighed and reached for his shirt.
Toye walked into the hospital with the money Doyin had loaned him in his pocket. He was not a happy man, weighed down by the magnitude of his growing debt and his unhappy marriage to Becky, he paid the hospital bills cheerlessly, so much so that the nurse on duty noticed it.
“You look dull sir, I hope there’s no problem?”
“There is a lot of problem.”
“Is it because of the hospital bills? Don’t worry, God will provide more money for you to take care of the mother and child… and the other children.”
“Other children?” he laughed derisively and walked away from her before he could say something unkind.
In the maternity ward, he found Becky sleeping, her face swollen and oily. The baby was lying beside her and he looked so peaceful, nestled in her arms. Before he could stop it, Toye felt a twinge of affection for the both of them, but the thought of Annabelle and all that Becky had done to make his life hectic, constricted his heart against any more warm feelings. He shook her roughly.
Startled, her eyes snapped open. “Toye! Oh Toye, it is you.”
“Where are your things?”
“They’re under the bed.”
“Get up, we’re leaving. I’ve paid the bills.”
Becky wanted to ask where he had been for days. She wanted to call him irresponsible and tell him how much she resented him for his inconsiderate treatment of her, but she simply said. “Thank you.”
Toye was slightly taken aback, but he grabbed her bag from under the bed and began to throw the rest of her things into it. Before long, she was up and had the baby in her arms, but the pain from her stiches made her wince.
“Please take the baby for a minute, I’m in pain.”
Toye gave her a sour look. “Can’t you see that I’m carrying something? Put the baby on the bed and do what you have to do.”
Becky did as he said and rested her hands on the bed, panting and waiting for the spasm to pass.
“You think I have time to waste? Carry your child and let’s go!”
“I’m in pain, please just give me a few minutes.”
Toye hissed. “Meet me downstairs, and you better do it quickly. If I get a taxi before you get there, I’ll leave you behind.”
There was another new mother beside Becky who was appalled by Toye’s treatment of her.
“Can’t you see she’s in pain? Be patient with her!” she said sourly.
Toye hissed again and walked away. When the woman saw what he had done, she said to Becky, “My dear, carry your baby and endure the pain. That man will truly leave you behind.”
As Becky made to leave, the woman spoke up again.
“My dear, I don’t know what you’re doing with that man but you as soon as you’re on your feet, run away. He doesn’t care about you at all.”
When they got into their room, Becky saw how neat the place was. It was obvious that Toye had been living there. Everything was in place and the floor was clean.
As if he could read her mind, Toye said, “Can you see how neat this place is? If you like, turn it into a pigsty again. I’m going out, I will see you later.”
He dropped a five naira note on the table and turned to leave.
“Toye, are you leaving me again? Please don’t go, I need your help, I’m in pain.”
“How does that concern me? Did I put you in pain?”
“Please, I will do whatever you say. I will not fight…”
“I don’t even have the energy to fight with you. Look, if you need help, call Mama Adio, I can’t stay in this room with you.”
Becky started to cry, placing her hands on her head. “Toye please, Mama Adio has her own children to look after.”
“That is not my problem! Look, I’ll send someone to your mother.”
Becky knew that her mother would scarcely leave her goods to cater to her. As the door slammed, the baby started to cry and her stomach throbbed with pain. Becky lay on her side and drew the baby to her breast as tears ran down her cheeks.
Annabelle was reading a magazine absent-mindedly, thinking about Toye and the fact that she had not seen him since the night that his wife gave birth. She wondered, had he suddenly had a change of heart and reunited with her? Had it been a mistake to let him leave that night? Had she chased him away with her talk about joining Doyin’s company? Had he forgotten about her?
She put the magazine on her laps and leaned her head against the chair. She missed him sorely, and thought about his handsome face and twinkling eyes. She missed running her hands through his afro, listening to his silent laughter and watching his eyes studying her body. She had heard that falling in love with a married man was futile but she firmly believed that there was a future for the both of them. She sensed that Toye had a bright future ahead of him and she reckoned herself to be the suitable woman for this possibility.
The most important question on Annabelle’s’ mind was this, if Toye had truly left her for his little wife, what would become of her?
“This is the last time I’m borrowing you money, if you won’t do what I ask then you have no right to be collecting my money and I also expect you to pay me by the end of next month. I don’t want any excuses.”
Doyin had been unusually cold towards him when he had asked for the loan he was promised earlier in the day. He had never seen that side of him before and it humiliated him. Hearing Doyin speak so condescendingly to him revealed how helpless he really was. Toye’s mind was almost made up about doing what Doyin had asked him to do. He already had a plan of how much he would amass before disassociating himself from him. But even as he thought about it, he knew that this was folly. He didn’t know the depth of what Doyin was involved in, but he knew that it would be difficult to extricate himself from his company when he wanted to. So what was the solution?
On the other hand, Toye was plagued by memories of his accomplishments in the Igba Police Station. He saw himself being commended by all for solving two murders and seven robberies. If there was any mystery in Igba, the people knew that Toye was up to the task. He remembered his former boss’s recommendation letter and words of encouragement. Everyone had high expectations of him, how would they feel to hear of his alignment with shady characters? Even Afonja had declared that he was the only one he could trust.
“I should really just arrest Doyin…” he thought.
But he knew that it was wishful thinking, realizing that he had no proof whatsoever that Doyin was involved in anything untoward, nothing apart from his suggestion to betray his allegiance to the force and the people.
“But what can I do? I need money, how do I provide for Becky and the child? What about my future with Annabelle? My parents need to be taken care of. I have no choice but to go with Doyin.”
The sound of a woman shrieking in delight distracted him from his thoughts. He looked up and saw that he had just passed the hostel before Annabelle’s place. He slowed down and thought of what Annabelle would say to him. What if she was not interested in him anymore? Expecting the worst, he knocked on the door and waited.
Annabelle threw her arms around Toye and led him in.
“I missed you. I thought you left me.”
“Leave you? Why would I leave you?”
“I didn’t know what to think, I hadn’t seen or heard from you since that night. I thought you had reunited with your wife because of the baby… there is a baby right?”
“Yes, a boy.”
He shrugged. “Is there anything to eat?”
“I cooked some beans…”
“Whatever you cooked is fine, just bring it.”
After he finished eating and they lay side by side, she reached for him and said, “Will you ever stop loving me?”
“Why would you ask such a question? I will never stop loving you.”
“So why did you leave me for so long?”
“I needed to be alone. I needed to think about some things.”
“Is it about the case Doyin said you should close?”
“So you will never leave me?”
“No, I will not. Will you ever leave me?”
“No,” she said, stroking his chest. “I won’t, I can’t, not when I’m carrying your child.”
Toye’s body grew cold. “What did you say?”
“I said I’m carrying your child.”
Toye breathed out slowly, his heart smashing against his chest.