Aniebiet lifted the glass cup to his lips and drowned its red contents down his dry throat. Placing it down on the wooden center table, he closed his eyes and tried to keep pace with his random thoughts. His phone was safe in his pocket after several attempts trying to reach Nkoyo.
Atim stared at him for few minutes, a look of worry etched on her smooth face. She didn’t know who she was worried about. Was it her friend who had resumed her wedding plans with her ex-boyfriend or the man sitting next to her? She watched his face curve in disappointment, hidden in a desperate need for love. And she disliked it. Aniebiet had proven he had capacity to love Nkoyo without fail. His commitment to Nkoyo despite all he had heard about her return to Johnson was second to none. How could she sit her friend down again, and talk sense into her empty head? Aniebiet was not a man any sensible woman should lose.
When she spoke to Nkoyo the other day on Aniebiet’s request, she had suggested she have Aniebiet to herself if he meant anything to her. She frowned at Nkoyo’s remark but said nothing to Aniebiet about it. She had more than enough trouble from home. Benedict was beginning to let the pressure from work interfere with their relationship. That was enough trouble already. “Do you like the drink?”
Aniebiet nodded but didn’t open his eyes. He looked like he had lost sleep in days. Feeling the chilled zobo drink in his throat, his Adam’s apple rose and fell.
Atim didn’t want to bother him with many questions. When he was through thinking about what life placed on his plate, Aniebiet let out a deep breath, opened his eyes, and shrugged his shoulders. “I’m sorry, Atim. I’m so sorry.”
Atim looked confused. “My God, what on earth are you apologizing for?” She gave him a teasing look.
“You were staring at me as though you are my mother.”
“In every woman there is a mother, a daughter, a sister, and a wife,” she said, smiling. “That reminds me, how’s your mother?”
“She’s fine. She’s still in Jos praying for numerous grandchildren and a wife for me.”
“Grandchildren from you?”
“Yes and no. My elder sisters are yet to have their own children. I heard their husbands aren’t complaining. But as the only son, my mother wants a child from me by all means.” He chuckled and sat up. Atim noticed the pain on his face disappearing. “Honestly, my mother is deeply rooted in Church; else she would have suggested I impregnate a lady, somewhere.”
“Hmmnnn, that’s serious.”
“Serious ke? Sometime ago, she volunteered to bring a wife for me if I found difficulty in getting one. You were in my house with Nkoyo when she called and made the offer.” A wave of sadness covered his face as Nkoyo’s name left his lips. Atim saw and felt his emotional pain and wished she could free him of it. But she was just a friend. And friends had their place.
“Mothers will always be mothers. Soon you’ll make her proud.”
“I believe so. I hope so. And that’s why I’m here, Atim. I’ll be celebrating my birthday in a couple of months. I need my woman by my side. No games.” He pushed forward and took one of Atim’s hands between both on his. “Please talk to your friend. How else does she want me to explain things to her? I’ve involved our Pastor and she’s still bent on moving on with Johnson. The Johnson I know will leave her with a shredded heart. Now he’d lost his job, he’ll claim nice until he has her where he wants, after which he’ll dump her like garbage.”
“I don’t think he’ll do so. Nkoyo said he has been nice.”
Shocked, Aniebiet blinked his eyes. “Have I lost you too to his looks and sugar coated words?”
“Nope. But he has even promised to push through with the wedding preparations. Nkoyo is spirit filled. She’ll make the right decision. I trust her on this.”
“Spirit filled? You make me laugh. Spirit filled people make mistakes especially when emotions are involved”. He dropped Atim’s hand and straightened against the wooden chair. “Nkoyo is still human. She doesn’t love me. Moreso the reason she didn’t accept my proposal?”
“Did you propose to her? She didn’t say a word about-”
“Do I need to give you a summary of my life and decisions I make?” Nkoyo’s grand entrance startled them. They didn’t hear her coming.
Aniebiet could feel Nkoyo’s boiling resentment towards him. She ignored him as she kept talking to Atim. “I don’t understand you, Atim. Do you expect me to tell you everything that happens in my life?” She swept past them and sat at the far end of the chair with Atim.
Atim’s eyes followed her. “You have a visitor, Ma’am.”
“I have no visitor. If he wanted to see me, he would have called.”
“Didn’t I? Check your phone, Ma’am.”
“Have you joined the Ma’am club? She shrugged her shoulders. Fine, you did. And it’s my decision to respond or not.”
“Nkoyo, that’s rude. Honestly, I don’t understand you these days.” She looked Nkoyo. “Even if you want nothing with Aniebiet, accord him the respect he deserves.”
Nkoyo’s face wore a sour look. She knew she had been disrespectful to the man who was there for her when Johnson called off their relationship. She remembered the many outings at his favourite eatery. The bills were on him, always. Aniebiet didn’t deserve to be treated like an alien. But could anyone blame her? He’d refused to listen to her. And Atim who she’d expected to stand with her was taking sides with him. Her fingertips touched her temple. No one will blame me. I’ve told him I won’t marry him.
Atim moved closer to Nkoyo. “Nkoyo, I’m sorry I raised my voice,” she said, softly, her hand on Atim’s back. She’d loved as her as her older sister.
Nkoyo didn’t answer, her eyes shut tightly against them.
Aniebiet saw he was heading nowhere with Nkoyo. Her mind was made up and no one could dissuade her. Not even Pastor Vincent. He wished he could let her go like she had said, but he loved her. And she loved him, once. So he thought. He’d fight for the love she once had for him. His mind swept to Johnson. When on earth would he stop contending with Johnson over a woman? First, it was Mfon. This time, nothing moved in him as he thought about her. The last time he saw her at the bank, she didn’t look good. She had dropped weight and her smiles were gone. Maybe she was devastated Johnson had found another woman.
This other woman was his beautiful Nkoyo. And anytime, Nkoyo ushered him into church to his seat, his heart melted. She was a representation of his perfect bride. Above all, she didn’t bother him for sex or hang on to alcohol like Mfon did. She had virtue she had failed to see. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. His eyes travelled from her feet and stopped at her hands. She was wearing the ring Johnson gave to her. He bit his lips.
Unable to look into Aniebiet’s eyes, Nkoyo lifted herself and turned to Atim. “I won’t let both of you drive me nuts. See, I told you before, if you think Benedict isn’t good enough for you, date Aniebiet. He has all you need, girl. What are you waiting for? Love is a choice and I’ve made my choice.” She placed her hands on her hips. “Didn’t I tell you both Johnson would return? I prayed and fasted three days for his return. My prayers have been answered.”
“So why did you lead me on?” Aniebiet felt anger wash through his body like ice. Nkoyo was mouthing more than he could bear. He wanted to take the door but he thought to stay to the end of the conversation. Women always possessed verbal powers that made a reasonable man lose his sanity. “I thought you loved me.”
Nkoyo turned to him, still avoiding his eyes. “I was trying to. But you see, we were never meant to be. Johnson and I are back together and we are getting married in a couple of months. Thanks to you for relieving him of his job.”
“Johnson wasn’t sacked at my command, Bae. Is that what he’s been feeding you with?”
“Johnson told me nothing except that you reported him to the Human Resource.”
“And that’s the professional thing to do.”
“Professional, my foot. She walked and faced him, this time finding the confidence she required to look down into his dark eyes. Her emotions were reeling in and she was willing to harness them. “You could have done something. You could have ensured the Human Resource didn’t have a say.”
“I was just doing my job.”
“Doing your job.” She smiled at him.” Doing your job when you knew he could be laid off at the end of the day. By the way, didn’t you tell me God told you to forgive Johnson over this issue?” She saw him tense as his jaw stiffened. And she liked it. Maybe this will make him pull away from me completely. She needed a breath of fresh air so she could think on where to purchase her dress for her traditional wedding.
Aniebiet spoke up after a long while. “It wasn’t about the fraudulent activity Johnson was involved in. it was about my woman. I mean my ex woman.” He reclined to the chair, painfully.
“Which woman? I thought Nkoyo was the only woman in your life.”Atim spoke, uncomfortable by the turn out of events.
“Before your friend, there was a lady. My first love. Once, we had a misunderstanding. I tried to make up with her just as I have tried with Nkoyo, but I caught her sleeping with Johnson. How do you expect me to forgive that?”
Nkoyo swallowed hard. Her gaze fell from him unto the tiled floor. Aniebiet had spoken with every ounce of pain and rejection. She felt jealous when he referred to the other woman as his first love. But, it was Johnson’s word against his. She believed Johnson’s report and nothing could stop her from pushing on with their marriage plans. She had lost him once. She wasn’t losing him, anymore.
Something about the other woman troubled her. She cast her mind back to the way the house sparkled every time she visited Johnson. He looked lively. When she asked him why he wasn’t depressed about losing his job, he told her she was the sunshine that lighted his dark world. She blushed at the memory.
What if there was truth in Aniebiet’s story? What if Johnson kept another woman besides her? She shook at the thought. Johnson had been more loving and kind. She had spoken to his elder sister about their wedding preparation three days ago. She only advised everything should be put on hold until Johnson found a stable job.
Atim and Aniebiet watched Nkoyo leave. None followed after her. Wasn’t it said you could only take a horse to the stream, but you couldn’t force it to drink water? Aniebiet knew he had done his part. It was up to Nkoyo to make up her mind on what she wanted.
“What is your ex-girlfriend’s name?” Atim enquired, trying to make sense of the puzzle.
Mfon stepped out of the office and flagged a cab heading to Johnson’s apartment. When she arrived at a junction, the cab stopped, and she gestured to an orange seller. She ended up buying oranges worth five hundred naira from the woman, with child strapped to her back.
These days, she lost her strength and appetite. Her hips which fitted loosely in her yellow gown shook whenever she walked. Oranges and pineapples revived her strength while carbohydrates left her nauseated. Even her most cherished alcohol was slowly becoming the thing of the past.
When the cab wheeled forward, the midday air poured into her face and she breathed deeply of it, causing her to take a short nap. She dreamed of red and white, the colours she had chosen for her wedding. The child growing in her womb was barely three weeks old. And unlike her, this child irrespective of its sex would grow up with a father. She dreamt of having a baby shower when her delivery date was almost due. She clutched at her lower abdomen tenderly as the woman sitting next to her tapped her shoulder.
Offering the driver some money, she sat on a bike and pointed her index finger to the street leading to her Johnson’s residence. It wasn’t quite a distance but her legs needed to be massaged. She prayed Johnson would be at home instead of roaming the streets aimlessly seeking for a job that she feared may never come soon. Her one month ultimatum had elapsed but so far, things had been going smoothly between them. Johnson was relaxed than ever.
When she walked to the door, she rapped on it gently. Johnson opened it, waited for her to step in before shutting it. “Good afternoon”.
“Good afternoon, my Darling.” He wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her into a warm embrace. “Boy, you smell nice.”
Both of them giggled as they moved further into the living room. Mfon disengaged his fingers. “The baby is hurting.” She tried to move away from him.
Holding her right arm, Johnson pulled her to himself, leaned down and kissed her full mouthed.
Mfon let the nylon of oranges fall to the ground as he licked her lips in circles. She softened as his hands began pressing her back side. Strength she never knew she had surged into veins causing her to unbutton his shirt with haste. Johnson stripped her of her clothes. Only her bra covered her chest.
“Hungry lion, if you needed me, why didnt you call my line or send a message? Mfon asked, kissing him.
“Somehow, I knew you would return, baby girl.”
Mfon stared a long time into Johnson’s eyes. Panic and love wove into her. Had she made a mistake falling into Johnson’s arms, again? Was she really going to marry him because she loved him or because Johnson’s baby was growing within her? What if he carried his infidelity into their matrimonial home?
Johnson’s hands on her things broke her thoughts. She needed a massage down to her legs like her soul needed the truth of the right decision to make. She had always wanted to be married, but not to a man with a complicated personality like Johnson. She loved him, no doubt. But was love all that was required to make marriage work? “I love you Johnson,” she whispered, wanting to enjoy the pleasure he was feeding her with his lips, tongue and hands.
“I love you too, and our baby.” He smiled and kissed her abdomen until he reached for her lower pelvic region.
The door opened quickly, letting Nkoyo in. Johnson arose, found his boxers and put them on. “Why didn’t you lock the door?” He snapped at Mfon.
“Who is she?” Mfon asked, picking her clothes and ran into her bedroom.
Episode 10 comes up next Wednesday.