Their daughter had been born a week ago and Annabelle’s joy should have been full but it wasn’t.
First of all, Mama Abegunde had refused to come and help take care of the baby following the tradition of Yoruba people. And she hadn’t dared to send her own mother an invitation knowing how strained their relationship was. She did send a message to her sister though, in the hopes that she could broach the subject with their mother. In the meantime, she was mostly exhausted and sleep-deprived.
Toye did his best to be there for her but he was constantly out on one assignment or another. But even when he was home, she could tell that he wasn’t really there. Searching her mind, she realized that they didn’t talk as much as they used to and she barely knew anything about his jobs anymore. Their conversations centered on making more money and buying new things. And while Annabelle was happy for the things, she missed Toye and feared that the thrill of their relationship was fading away.
Toye was home, reading a file and taking notes in his notepad at the dining table. His afro was uncombed and he had taken off his shirt. Annabelle could see the scars from the night he was taken away by Richard’s men. His face was no longer as innocent as it used to be, there was a hardness there, a sign that he had seen and done dark things. His breakfast was half-eaten and his eyes were bloodshot.
“Toye, you’ve been here all morning. Why don’t you get some rest? You look tired.”
He smiled at her. “I’m fine, just a few more minutes and I’ll rest. You should be the one resting.”
“I’m worried about you,” she sat down in the chair opposite him. “What are you working on that’s consuming you?”
“Nothing much,” he closed the file and his notepad and rubbed his eyes. “I’m just doing some research.”
“You don’t want to tell me about it?”
“You know I’m not supposed to discuss my cases with you.” He pinched her chin gently and caressed her face.
“But you used to tell me about them.”
“Yes, I used to, but now I realize that I was only putting you in danger. The less you know, the better. Don’t worry your pretty head about this. Just concentrate on taking care of my daughter and yourself.”
Annabelle smiled and held his hand. “Things are not the same between us and you seem distant these days.”
“It’s just the research I’ve been doing. Don’t worry, I’ll make time for us, I will do better.”
“Are you angry with me?”
“No, I am not. Why should I be?”
“You just seem different to me, it’s as if you changed after that night when they came to take you away.”
Toye sighed and stared at the table considering what she said. In a way, she was right, that night had deepened his resolve to put Richard and his gang into the police net. But he knew that what had really changed him was that night in the stall with Becky. He wasn’t ready to reflect on it because he was afraid of the revelations that were lurking in his mind. Her face flashed before his eyes and he sighed again and thought of what to tell Annabelle, knowing that he couldn’t trust her.
“It was a hard night… but I will be fine, alright, stop worrying about me.”
Sewa had helped Becky to avoid Doyin and Toye. They came to the restaurant frequently but she made sure that Becky was too busy to attend to them. As time passed, she realized that there was more to the story than the young woman was telling. She wondered why Toye who had allegedly abandoned his wife and child now suddenly wanted to be a part of her life, and she said as much to her.
“I don’t know what he wants, he just keeps coming here. I have told him to go back to his wife but he won’t listen.”
Sewa looked at her intently. “There is something you are not telling me, what is it?”
“Nothing ma, I’m telling you the truth.”
“Don’t you trust me?”
“I trust you ma, there’s nothing else to tell you.”
“Alright, if you say so.”
Becky wanted to tell Sewa the truth but she knew that there was no way of telling it without revealing that Toye was now an armed robber.
Franca and Doyin had come to see Toye’s new baby, but he was not home. Glad for some company, Annabelle received them warmly and insisted that they stay until he got back.
“In that case let me go and make us some food. I hope you still have that delicious vegetable soup?” Franca said.
“Yes, I still do,” she laughed.
As soon as she was gone, Annabelle turned to Doyin.
“What kind of work is your friend doing that makes him so distant from me?”
“I don’t understand.”
“He’s always busy, and he doesn’t talk to me anymore.”
“He’s making money for the two of you. Why are you complaining? When he wasn’t working all the time, you said he wasn’t giving you money. Now he is and you’re complaining that he doesn’t sit at home.”
Annabelle shook her head. “I know what I’m talking about, he is different.”
He laughed. “Of course he is different, he is swimming in deep waters,” his smile vanished. “He can’t remain the same.”
Annabelle sighed, she thought the man didn’t understand her. But he did, he knew exactly what was wrong with Toye.
Toye was waiting for Philomena in the market, loitering by the sellers of vegetables and fruits trying to get an impossible bargain for their goods. In the sea of shoppers, he saw her coming ahead, holding two bags, as instructed. She looked frazzled, mumbling something to herself. He held two oranges in his hands and bounced them in his hand.
“What do you say?” he said to the tired seller. “These oranges shouldn’t be this expensive, you’re only trying to fleece me.”
“I’ve given you the lowest price, there’s nothing more I can do.”
Just as she was about to get to him, he allowed one of the oranges to slip. In the confusion that followed, in which he ran around her legs trying to pick the orange, enduring curses from the other shoppers who scuttled away from him, and the insults from the enraged seller, he expertly slipped a file from one of Philomena’s bags and put it in his.
Doyin watched Toye eating his rice and fish stew. The latter tried not to show his unease, scooping one spoon after another into his mouth and talking about random things. When the women went in to give the baby a nappy change, Doyin leaned closer.
“Your wife can tell that you’re changing.”
“What are you talking about? Is it because I went to the market to buy foodstuff?”
“No, this is different. She says you work all the time and that you are distant from her.”
“Don’t mind her, she’s only saying that because she’s home alone.”
“No, she knows what she’s saying and I think we both know that she’s right.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You’re distracted by Becky.”
At the mention of her name, his heart began to race and a warmth spread to his groin. He dropped his spoon on his plate and exhaled.
“Don’t mind her.”
Doyin laughed. “See the way your face has changed.” Then he leaned closer to him. “Why don’t you face your wife and child and leave the young girl to single people like us.”
He muttered under his breath. “Becky is my wife.”
“Annabelle is your legal wife. Leave the girl alone or I will tell Annabelle what is really distracting you.”
Toye looked at his friend and saw that he meant every word. “What do you want from her that you can’t get from Franca hmm?”
“Who could imagine that that unsophisticated, dirty girl could blossom into a hardworking, beautiful young lady? That she could bounce back? My friend, that is a real woman, and who doesn’t want a real woman?”
Toye’s face twitched with anger. “Do you even know how to take care of a real woman?”
“You had her and didn’t know what to do with her. Let me also try.”
Toye suddenly leaned back in his chair and laughed. “If Becky doesn’t want me, then she can never want you.”
“Really? We shall see.”
Toye was no longer amused.
Becky was serving two elderly men when Yomi Makanjuola walked into the restaurant. She almost screamed when he saw her. Instead, she smiled at the men and made sure that they were comfortable before she went over to his table.
“Good afternoon sir, what would you like to eat?” She asked, failing at her attempt to hide her smile.
“Everyone keeps saying that. How have I changed?”
“You are beautiful.”
She choked on her nervous laughter and ended it in an awkward cough. “So I was ugly before?”
“No, but… you’re different.”
“My boss is watching us. What would you like to eat?”
“Give me the best thing you have.”
In the kitchen Sewa pulled her aside. “Who is that young man?”
“He’s from my in-laws’ village.”
“Don’t serve him anymore. Someone else will.”
“He’s not a bad person ma, he is actually…”
“Someone else will serve him. As far as I’m concerned, young men are all the same. Go to the back of the kitchen and help them pick the ewedu leaves.”
Becky’s heart dropped. “Yes ma.”
Hours later when she went to empty the garbage, Yomi walked up to her.
“I thought you had left!”
“I had to see you. Did your boss tell you not to serve me anymore?”
“Yes. I came to your house…”
“I just read your letter yesterday, I travelled and no one told me that you came to see me. It’s a long story but, take this…” he handed her some money.
“I don’t want your money.”
“Stop being prideful. Take it and buy yourself some clothes, come and meet me at Patrick Children’s Hospital. Tell your boss that you’re taking your son for a check-up.”
As soon as Doyin and Franca left, Toye unleashed his anger towards Annabelle.
“Why do you have to tell Doyin everything that happens between us?”
It took her a moment to realize what he meant. “I was only…”
“You have always done this, something happens between us and you run off and tell him. Can’t you keep things to yourself?”
“But Doyin is your friend, why are you so angry?”
“Must you tell him everything? Franca never tells me what’s happening between them.”
“You spoke to me today and I promised to change. That’s why I went to the market to do the shopping. But what do you do when I am gone, you tell Doyin I’m distant.”
“Toye, I am sorry.”
“This is why I don’t speak to you as much as before. You don’t know how to keep anything to yourself.”
He stormed out of the room and went to the kitchen where the file remained hidden behind the cupboard. He slipped into his shirt and walked to the front door. Annabelle had come out of the room.
“Where are you going?”
As he slammed the door, Annabelle realized how much her husband had changed. He had never raised his voice like this to her nor walked out on her. She sat on the couch and began to cry.