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After the storm

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After the Storm

A Novel

 

 

 

By

Osar Adeyemi

Copyright

 

Copyright © 2016 by Osar Adeyemi

 

ISBN 978-0-9935390-1-5 (eBook)

 

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author. The only exception is brief quotations in a book review.

Some scripture is taken from the New King James Version of the Bible.

Cover design by Amanda Matthews at amdesignstudios.net

 

This is a work of fiction. Any reference or similarities to actual events, organizations, real people, living or dead or to real locales is purely coincidental and is intended to give the novel a sense of reality. Any similarities to other names, characters, place and incidents are entirely fictional and a product of the author’s imagination.

Dedication

 

This book is dedicated to the memory of my beloved sister, Faith Ogbeide; your selfless love and many acts of kindness continue to leave a fragrance in the lives of those who knew you.

Special Thanks

 

I am grateful to you, Lord, for the ability and inspiration to write this book. I pray that it brings people to your saving grace, as well as healing and restoration to every broken heart.

 

And to you, my precious husband, I can’t appreciate you enough. Thanks for being there for me through the years. The things you do and the life you live convince me daily of God’s love for me.

 

Special thanks to my parents in the Lord, Pastor Niyi and Gloria Olujobi; thanks so much for teaching me the undiluted word of God and also for living such exemplary lives.

 

To my sister-friend, Tomi Lawal, thanks for encouraging me and for being such a good sounding board during the process of writing this book.

 

What can I say about Edith Oise, Bimbo Fayokun, Kunbi Ajayi, and Tinuke Nwaokolo? I am so grateful for your help and support. May the Lord bless you richly.

 

To my parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews: I am so glad I am related to you. Love you lots.

Chapter 1

 

The trees were in full bloom outside the Bluewater Shopping Mall. Blossoms of pinks and whites lined the edges of the road leading up to the parking deck. Yemi gazed at the trees and took in their breathtaking beauty. She loved spring. Taking out her mobile phone, she captured the scene, then reluctantly tore her eyes away from the trees and walked into the shopping mall.

She made her way into the River Island store, where they were having a sale. The prices were unbelievable. Many of the items were half price or less, and some items had even been marked down as much as 70 percent. She picked out three tops and a couple of pants and made her way over to the fitting room.

Three hours later, she had a number of shopping bags dangling from both arms, but she was not quite done. She walked to the Hawes and Curtis shop to get some shirts for her two older brothers, her cousin Tola, and for herself. She managed to pick out three men’s shirts but was undecided about the fourth. While she stood there, trying to make up her mind, she decided it was best to go and pick out some women’s shirts before returning to the men’s section.

Picking out her own shirt was easy. She spotted a pink-patterned one she liked almost immediately. Then she looked at other shirts, trying to pick out one for her cousin. Tola would definitely not want something monochrome. She was a bit whacky, and the crazier the colours, the more she would like it.

As Yemi looked at the different shirts, she was not quite sure what made her glance up; as she did so, she looked straight into the eyes of a guy across the store. It was obvious he had been staring at her, and as their eyes met, he made no effort to look away. Instead, a small, lazy smile curved his lips.

She looked away, feeling slightly miffed. At least he could have looked away when he was caught staring.

A few minutes later, she finally made up her mind which shirt to pick for Tola and moved across the store to make the final selection in the men’s section.

“I believe the blue shirt looks better.” Yemi heard the deep, smooth voice before she saw the person speaking. She turned around and saw the guy who had been staring at her from across the store.

“Both shirts are nice, but the blue one looks nicer,” he said to her with a slight smile.

Her first thought was to thank and dismiss him as quickly as possible, but as she cast another quick glance at him, she found herself unable to do so. She didn’t know if it was the dark eyes with a hint of roguish charm or the chiselled, attractive face that arrested her, but she found herself feeling strangely tongue-tied.

“I think so too,” she heard herself saying a little lamely. “Just that I like the purple shirt as well.”

“Then get them both.”

She looked at his face again. She was not short, but judging by how much she had to look up in order to see his face, he had to be well over six feet tall. His fitted beige polo shirt showed his lean, muscled arms, and his lithe frame suggested that he either had an active lifestyle or worked out a lot. He was an attractive man, and judging from the very confident air that exuded from him, he was probably very aware of it too.

“I’ve already gotten these ones,” she replied, looking at the other shirts she was holding. “I’ll just pick the blue shirt. Thanks for helping me decide.”

“You’re welcome,” he replied, extending his hand towards her. “I’m Akeem Kadiri.”

“Yemi Delano,” she said, briefly clasping his extended hand. “Well, thanks again for helping me choose.” She took the shirt and started to head towards the till.

“Hey, let me help you with those bags.”

“I’m okay,” she said. But Akeem reached for the bags anyway. “Really, I am,” she insisted.

“I can’t have a lady lugging all these bags around.” He smiled charmingly as he took the bags from her. A faint whiff of his cologne, masculine and fresh, teased her nostrils.

“Thanks, that’s very kind of you.”

“My pleasure.”

“Do you live here?” he asked as they made their way towards the till.

“No, I’m here on holidays. What about you?”

“I’m here on business, but my little sis does not understand that,” he said ruefully as he glanced at his own shopping bags. “I’ve always got to get her something.”

“But I can see that you’ve got some things already,” Yemi said, looking at the shopping bags he was carrying. Some of them bore the names of shops she never bothered going into because their sale prices were higher than the full prices of items in other shops.

“I’ve actually bought everything I need, but she specifically asked for shirts from this shop. But that’s it. I’m done now.” He sounded relieved.

She was amused at the expression on his face. Typical male. It was obvious that he did not enjoy shopping. They got to the till and took their turn in the short queue. Akeem paid for the shirts he had picked for his sister and then attempted to pay for Yemi’s too.

“Oh no, I’ve got that covered,” Yemi said quickly, handing her money to the cashier. He must have noticed the determined look on her face because he said nothing more.

He shot her an amused glance as they walked out of the shop. “I didn’t mean any harm.”

“I’m sorry if I sounded ungrateful, but I had really budgeted for those shirts.” She glanced at her wristwatch. “I’ve got to go now. It’s been nice meeting you…” She held out her hands for her shopping bags.

A teasing smile curved his lips. “Trying to get rid of me? Not so fast. Are you done shopping?”

“No, but I can see you don’t like shopping, and I don’t want to hold you up.”

“I’m not complaining. So long as you agree to have lunch with me afterwards.”

Yemi hesitated. “What were you planning to do after getting the shirts for your sister?”

“Have lunch, go home…nothing special planned.”

She shrugged. “Very well then, but I want to pop into about three more stores, and then I’ll be done.”

“At your service.” He made an exaggerated bow, and she was forced to laugh.

“Don’t say you weren’t warned,” she told him as she led the way towards another store.

True to his word, Akeem followed her to all the stores she wanted to go to and waited patiently while she looked at different items and picked out what she wanted. She could feel his eyes on her all through her shopping. That seemed to be a habit with him, and he just smiled in that slow, attractive way of his whenever their eyes met.

“Phew!” she said a while later as they exited the last store. “I’m really tired now. You must be too,” she said in an almost accusatory tone. There was no way he could have enjoyed what she had just put him through. She had actually expected him to tell her, at some point, that he had to go, but he had not.

He looked amused at her peeved tone. “I told you that I’m at your service. Are you sure you’re done?”

“Now you’re making fun of me.”

“No, I’m not!” Akeem laughed. “And really, I’m quite okay if you still have any more shops to go to.”

“Well, just one more actually,” Yemi answered, smiling mischievously at him. “But this time, just to look. I’m not buying anything.”

He arched his brows slightly. “Why is that?”

“You’ll see when we get there,” she said mysteriously. “I always go in there whenever I’m in Bluewater. But like I said, it’s just to look.”

She led the way towards the store, and a few minutes later they entered the Mulberry shop.

“See what I mean?” She laughed as she held up a bag and showed him the price tag. “That will cost me all the shopping money I brought to England!” She placed the bag back on the shelf.

“Nice bag, though,” he said, looking at the bag closely. “Neat finishing, beautiful leather.”

“Mulberry bags are always lovely, but way too expensive for a student like me.” She picked up another one and giggled at the price tag. It was even more expensive than the first one.

“Hmmm…” Akeem was still busy looking at the different bags. “My sister would love one of these, but I wonder why ladies like bags?”

“No idea!” Yemi laughed. “We just do!”

“I think this is the prettiest.” He held up one of the bags.

“I like this one best,” Yemi said pointing to another one. “Tan is a lovely colour, would go with a lot of clothes. Tan somehow brings out the beauty of a bag more than black, I think.”

“Seems like you know what you are talking about,” Akeem teased.

“I love bags; I may not be able to afford a Mulberry bag now, but someday,” she clicked her fingers. “I shall snap one up.” She turned towards him with a satisfied smile on her face. “I think I’m done now.”

Akeem took one final look at the bags before following her out of the store. “Where would you like to eat?” he asked as they went down the escalator towards the food court in the shopping mall.

Yemi shrugged. “I don’t really mind. KFC, McDonald’s, Nando’s—any one of them will do.”

“Sushi?”

She made a face. “Nah!”

He smiled. “It’s very healthy, you know. Tastes good too.”

She shook her head. “Thanks, but no thanks!”

They settled for Nando’s. The queue was surprisingly short, and they were almost immediately led to a table by the waiter. Once she was seated, Akeem went back to queue up for their orders and returned to the table a few minutes later.

They made light conversation as they waited for their orders to be brought over. Akeem had only arrived two days earlier and was going to be in the UK for two weeks. There was a quiet confidence about him, and the more Yemi talked with him, the more she felt he was not like the regular guys she had known in the past.

“What do you do?” she could not resist asking at some point.

“What do I do?” Akeem said, as if he was trying to remember. “Well, in broad terms, I’m a businessman.”

“What kind of business do you do?”

“I don’t want to bore your pretty head with business talk.”

“That’s patronising.”

His lips twitched in amusement at her accusation. “My family is largely into oil and gas, real estate, and banking.”

Yemi kept her face bland as she took in the information. He seemed to have loads of confidence, but she had not expected the answer he gave her. Her thoughts were interrupted when the waiter brought their food to the table.

“Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?” Akeem asked later, spearing a piece of chicken with his fork.

“Go on and ask. No guarantees that I will give you an answer, though.”

“How old are you?”

Yemi faked a stern look. “You should not ask a lady that question.”

He chuckled. “Yeah, I’ve heard that many times, and that’s why I asked you for permission.”

Yemi took a sip of her orange juice. “I turned twenty-one two months ago. This holiday is actually a birthday present from my parents and my brothers. What about you? How old are you?”

“I’ll be twenty-nine on my next birthday.”

“Hmmm…old man,” she teased.

“Little girl,” Akeem replied, smiling that slow, attractive smile at her again. “Little, beautiful girl.”

Yemi looked away, feeling slightly flustered. He had such beautiful eyes. Dark with thick lashes. She shook herself mentally. She had to get a grip on herself. He seemed to have a way of making her feel unsettled with just one glance. She decided to concentrate on her chicken.

“So where do you live back home?”

Yemi was just about to answer him when her phone rang. It was Tola.

She excused herself to take the call. A few minutes later, she came back, looking slightly disappointed.

“Are you okay?” Akeem asked, looking concerned.

“I’m fine.” Yemi sighed. “That was my cousin. She was supposed to pick me up, but she’s held up in traffic. I’ll have to catch a bus home.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it. I can take you home.”

“You drive here?” Yemi asked, sort of surprised. “Oh, I see, you have an international driving license.”

“I attended both my ‘A’ levels and university here. I got my UK driver’s license back then.” He took another sip of his drink without taking his eyes off her. “So back to my question: Where do you live in Lagos?”

“Akoka. My parents are both lecturers at the University of Lagos. We live in the staff quarters. What about you? You are from the North, aren’t you?” She had been trying to figure that out for some time now. His accent didn’t tell her much about him, but after struggling to fit him into a state, she had concluded that he was most likely from that region.

“Correct. I’m from Niger state, but my parents moved to Lagos when I was five.”

Yemi looked at him thoughtfully. Akeem gazed back at her with an inscrutable look in his eyes. She was dying to ask him more questions but didn’t want to appear to be prying.

“Go on and ask,” Akeem said, a smile tugging the corners of his lips.

“What makes you think I want to ask you any more questions?”

“It’s written all over your face.”

“How is the chicken? I hope you like it?” she asked with an innocent expression on her face, and Akeem chuckled.

“You know that’s not what you wanted to ask me.” He was still laughing. “So go on and ask me what you want to know.”

Definitely not, she thought to herself. That would be setting herself up, and he would think that she was interested in him. She glanced at her wristwatch. “I have to get going now, anyway.”

“No need to rush off. I’m taking you home, remember?”

She hesitated. “I really don’t want to take you out of your way.” And I may have had lunch with you, but you are still practically a stranger. A girl can’t be too careful. She glanced at his face and met his eyes on her.

Without speaking, he brought out his driver’s license from his wallet and placed it in front of her. “It’s no bother taking you home, and you can call your cousin to let her know who you are with.”

She felt embarrassed that he had read her thoughts so accurately. “Thanks, Akeem.” She said a little self consciously as she pushed his license back towards him. Somehow she knew within herself that there was nothing sinister about him.

They made their way to the parking lot, where he led her to his car. She didn’t recognise the make of the car, but it was a metallic-grey, sleek-looking, low-sitting sports car. He held the door open for her, and she was again impressed with his manners.

Yemi tried not to stare at the plush interior of the car. Instead, she watched him key in the postcode of her aunt’s house into the satnav. The strains of some soft jazz music filtered in from the speakers as he drove out of the parking lot.

They made light conversation as he drove on towards Darent Valley Park, where Yemi was staying with her aunt and her family.

As they got closer to the street where she lived, he glanced sideways at her. “My business meetings take up most of my mornings and afternoons, but I’d love to see you in the evenings. Is that okay?”

She did not reply immediately. He seemed like a nice guy, but someone as good looking as he was would likely have tonnes of girls around him. She wasn’t joining that queue. “Let me have a think about it and get back to you,” she said eventually.

He cast a quick glance at her before focussing on the road ahead.

“Are you in a relationship?” he asked after a brief silence.

“No, I’m not. Are you?”

“No,” he replied. “So?”

“So, what?”

“So now that we have that out of the way, shall I pick you up tomorrow at about seven?”

“I’ll let you know.”

He glanced at her again but said nothing. A few minutes later, he drove onto the street where her auntie lived.

“That’s the house over there, by the blue Hyundai,” Yemi said, pointing to one of the houses in the street. “You can park anywhere around here.”

Akeem helped her carry her bags to the front door and asked for her phone number. They exchanged numbers, and she waited for him to drive off before she went inside. Yemi felt strangely light and happy and could not keep the silly smile off her face. She started to put her shopping away into her suitcases but changed her mind. She knew that Tola would want to see what she had bought. She set the bags at the foot of the bed, flopped on the bed, and then rolled over.

No use getting your head up in the clouds. He may not even call again. But she could not stop the warm, fuzzy thoughts flitting through her mind.

She must have dozed off because the next thing she felt was Tola tapping her gently on her foot.

“Wake up, sleeping beauty,” her cousin said, tugging the duvet away from her. “How on earth are you still going to be able to sleep tonight?”

Yemi smiled sleepily as she stretched herself on the bed. “Wow, I feel so refreshed!”

“How did the shopping go?”

“Let me show you.” Yemi stretched herself again before getting out of the bed and reaching for the shopping bags.

“Cool choices!” Tola said as she inspected the clothes. “But then you’ve always had an eye for good stuff.” Her eyes caught a particular top. “Whoa! Look at that!” She held it up against her body, and her eyes widened as she saw the price tag. “No way! The price can’t be that low!”

Yemi smirked. “Seventy percent discount, my girl. I snatched it up immediately; it was the only one left.”

“It’s gorgeous! You’re going to blow everyone away when you go back to uni.”

Yemi put the shopping bags away and then lay back on the bed. “I met someone today.”

Tola jumped on the bed beside her. “Hey, what have you been up to, girl?”

“Mind my leg, will you?” Yemi shifted away from Tola and then sat up in bed. She failed miserably in trying to keep the smile off her face as she recounted her afternoon to Tola.

Tola eyed her. “I can see you like him.”

Yemi smiled coyly. “Not really sure…”

Tola swatted at her playfully. “Don’t deceive yourself. When is he going to call?”

“He may not even call again.” She pouted, “He called me a little girl!”

“But he spent the whole afternoon with you. That’s got to mean something; he is definitely going to call.”

“That’s up to him, but I’m certainly not going to call him.”

“Loosen up, girl! What have you got to lose?”

Her heart to a handsome stranger on a business trip? She didn’t like the picture that came up in her mind. Maybe it would be just as well if Akeem didn’t call again. She didn’t need any man messing with her emotions.

∞∞∞

Yemi and Tola watched a movie after dinner that evening and, much later, they trudged upstairs to the bedroom they shared. Tola’s parents had already retired to bed, and the girls were the only ones awake in the house.

As they settled into bed, Yemi’s phone rang. She fished her handset out of her bag, and her eyes widened as she saw Akeem’s number. Tola’s eyes gleamed, catching on to who it was. She smiled and inched closer to Yemi. Yemi put a finger across her lips, motioning her not to speak.

“Hello, Akeem,” Yemi said, answering the call. “Aren’t old men supposed to be in bed by now?”

He chuckled. “Little girls too. It’s way past your bedtime.”

“I’m already in bed.” She settled herself more comfortably against the pillows. “What have you been up to?”

“Thinking of you, hoping you were not just a daydream. I had to call you to make sure.”

Yemi laughed. “I can assure you that I’m very much flesh and blood.”

Akeem pretended to exhale deeply. “I feel very relieved to hear that. So is our date on for tomorrow?”

Yemi paused before answering, “I believe so.”

“Great. I’ll definitely sleep better now that I know I’ll be seeing you tomorrow.”

“Do you always call ladies this late at night?” She smiled as she saw Tola inching closer still, trying to hear Akeem’s voice through the phone.

“Only beautiful ones who keep flitting around in my mind.” Yemi could hear the smile in his voice. “What are you doing during the day tomorrow?”

“Not going anywhere. Just going to laze around with my cousin, I guess.”

“I wish I could spend the whole day with you,” he said softly.

Yemi felt her heart flutter at his tone. “Well, that’s obviously not going to happen.”

They talked for a few more minutes and then Yemi glanced at Tola, who had given up trying to follow the conversation and was lying on her back on the bed. “I’ve got to go now, Akeem.”

“Do you?” He sounded as if he didn’t want to end the conversation. “All right, tomorrow is almost here anyway.”

“Yeah…so have a good night.”

“You too, little girl,” Akeem replied softly. “Have a lovely night.”

∞∞∞

A few minutes before seven o’clock the next evening, the doorbell rang.

“Looks like your guy has arrived,” Tola said, peeping through their bedroom window. “I can’t see his face clearly, but there is someone at the door. I’ll just go and check.”

Yemi quickly checked on her appearance in the mirror. She was wearing one of the new dresses she had bought the day before. It was a knee-length, mauve-coloured dress, and the simple cut flattered her figure. It had thin straps, flared out just after the hips and ended in soft folds around her knees. The evening looked like it might be a little cool, so Tola had lent her a wrap in almost the same shade as the dress.

Tola could barely contain her excitement when she came back upstairs. “The guy is gorgeous! And he drives an Aston Martin! Peeped at it from the study. That’s the only strange car out there, and I know it’s got to be his!”

“So that’s what it is. Thought it looked nice.”

“Nice?” Tola rolled her eyes, as if in despair at Yemi’s ignorance. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with you!”

Yemi made a face as she slipped on her shoes and took one final glance in the mirror.

“Go on, girl,” Tola said, giving her a gentle push. “You look fab!”

Akeem stood up when they entered the sitting room. “Hey.” His eyes swept over Yemi. “You look beautiful.”

“Thanks,” she said, hoping that she did not sound as breathless as she felt. Just one look from those eyes and she found herself melting like butter. He looked even more attractive than the day before, in his cream chino trousers, sky-blue, checked button-down shirt, and fitted navy-blue blazer.

She introduced Tola to him.

“Hello again…Tola,” Akeem said with a smile at Tola.

Yemi was amazed to see her brash cousin shy, but it felt good to know that Akeem had that effect on others too, and not just her.

On the way, he wanted to know about her day, and she filled him in. He drove confidently and appeared very used to the road networks. Yemi glanced subtly at his hands on the steering wheel. He had nice fingers, long and neatly manicured. She also liked the way his blazer moulded his broad shoulders as if it was tailor made for him.

Akeem glanced at her at and caught her eyes on him. She looked away, feeling a little embarrassed.

He turned off the motorway onto a side road and about ten minutes later pulled into the parking lot of a hotel.

“Nice-looking place,” Yemi said as they walked into the hotel’s restaurant.

“I’ve been here before and really liked their service. I didn’t want to drive into London, so I won’t keep you out too late.”

A waiter approached them. Akeem gave him the reservation number, and they were immediately led to their table. A few minutes later, another waiter approached their table to take their orders for drinks and left them with the menu.

“So when will you be done with uni?” Akeem asked Yemi after their drinks arrived.

“About four months from now. Can hardly wait!” Yemi said, taking a sip of her fruit punch.

“Maybe you can come work for me,” Akeem said, and Yemi laughed. “I’m serious,” he maintained.

Yemi smiled cheekily at him. “Are you sure you can afford to pay me?”

He smiled back at her. “I should be able to pay a little girl like you. Just name your price, and it’s a done deal.”

“Don’t tempt me; I may just ask to be paid in pounds.”

“I like people who place value on themselves, even inexperienced ones my company has to train first.” He chuckled at the indignant look on her face.

“Inexperienced or not, I’ll definitely add value to any company I work for!”

“That’s the confidence I like so much about you.” He picked up the menu, still looking amused. “Are you ready to order now?” She nodded, and he beckoned over to the hovering waiter.

The food was delicious, but she enjoyed his company more. Akeem was easy to talk to, and she felt very relaxed with him. He was a good listener and seemed interested in hearing all about her life on the university campus. He sounded genuinely impressed when he learnt her dad was a professor. She felt his life had to be a lot more colourful than hers, but he just kept listening to her and asking her more questions about herself.

“Do you come to England that often?” she asked when she learnt that he owned the apartment he was staying in.

“A few times a year, but this is about the longest time I’m spending in a single trip.” His eyes met and held hers. “Glad though, as it will give me some time with you before we go back home.”

Yemi felt her heart race at the look in his eyes, but she tried to keep her tone light. “And then the businessman goes back to the boardroom and the student to the lecture theatre.”

“Really?” he asked with an amused frown. “So you mean I’m just going to be some sort of entertainment for you while you’re on holidays?”

“Glad you’ve caught on.” Yemi said, playing along. “This is a special hobby of mine. I meet old men, amuse myself, dump them, and move on.”

“Whoa, I’m in trouble then. A serial heartbreaker!”

She laughed at his mock expression of fear. “Better start praying so you don’t fall prey.”

“Too late,” Akeem said softly. “I was hooked the moment I saw you, and I don’t intend to get dumped.”

“You can’t prevent it,” Yemi boasted. “That’s just the way it is.”

He smiled and shook his head slightly. “I’m not letting that happen to me. Baby, where you go…I’ll go too.”

Yemi felt her heart fluttering again at the look in his eyes. She had told herself that she needed to be on her guard around him, but doing so was proving quite difficult. He was such a nice guy. Confident without being arrogant. In fact, if she wanted to be truthful to herself, she already liked him a lot.

∞∞∞

The following day, Tola walked in on Yemi, who was going through her phone with a smile on her face. “What are you smiling and staring at?” Tola asked. “Oh, let me guess, it’s another text message from Prince Charming. Are you seeing him again tonight?”

“No. He asked, but I declined. I think I need time to clear my head and put things in the right perspective.”

“Has he asked you out formally?”

“Well, sort of. He says he wants us to get to know each other better. Same thing, isn’t it?”

“Yep,” Tola nodded. “And if I were you, I’d say yes to him. He appears very nice.” She winked at Yemi. “Super hot too.”

Yemi chewed on her lower lip. From what she had seen of Akeem, she knew he definitely would not be lacking in female companionship and she had no intention of being a casual fling for a travelling businessman. “I don’t want to let go of my feelings and then find out that he’s only been playing me all along.”

“Girl, just relax and go with the flow!”

Yemi scowled. “Be serious, Tola.”

Tola’s eyes widened. “But I am! Or do you know any other way to find out?”

Yemi didn’t. She already liked Akeem, and she knew it would take very little to like him a whole lot more. It took just one look from those gorgeous dark eyes of his and all her defences appeared to crumble. Why would a guy have eyes like that, anyway? Smouldering, dark eyes with thick lashes. They were a positive hazard to any girl.

“I guess every girl goes through this,” Tola said, interrupting Yemi’s thoughts. “One is never really sure how things will go.”

“But you know I’m not really an experimenting kind of girl.”

Tola made a face. “Don’t we all know it? You’ve never even had a proper relationship.”

“Yeah, and I’ve not missed a lot either,” Yemi said drily. “Just by watching your relationships: the giddy beginnings and then the inevitable phone call from you telling me that it was fun while it lasted, but that it’s all over.” She made a face at Tola. “That’s enough to turn anyone off.”

“Maybe…but I’ve got all that experience!” Tola said airily. “And I’ve learnt lessons from every single one of them, and one day I’ll meet my ‘perfect one.’”

Yemi sniffed at the dreamy expression on Tola’s face “That’s the trouble with you. Take things a bit slower and don’t even start a relationship until you’re really sure you want to be with the person.”

“Yes, Grandma,” Tola said, throwing a pillow at her. “But where would the fun be if I don’t experiment?”

Yemi ducked the pillow and threw another one back at Tola. “You need help.”

Chapter 2

 

“Delivery for you, Yemi,” Tola said, coming into the room the next day with a parcel.

“What delivery?” Yemi sat up in bed, tearing her eyes away from the London fashion show she had been watching on TV. She hit the record button on the remote control and looked at the parcel in Tola’s hands with raised eyebrows. “But I didn’t order anything.”

“Well, it’s definitely got your name on it.” Tola handed the large parcel over to her. “Open it, let’s see what’s inside.”

Yemi unwrapped the parcel, her eyes widening in disbelief as she saw what was inside. “Oh my goodness!” It was the Mulberry bag she had admired at the shop with Akeem.

“Wow!” Tola exclaimed, admiring the bag. “No guessing where that came from. There’s a card attached.” Tola ripped open the card and read the words out loud: For my little girl, from your old man. “What on earth are you guys talking about?”

“Remember I said he calls me a little girl?” Yemi cupped her cheeks with both hands. She was still feeling so dazed by the gift. “This guy is so sweet!” Her brows creased together in a worried frown. “Do you think I should accept it?”

“No, don’t,” Tola said sarcastically. “Or you can accept it and give it to me. What kind of question is that?”

“But I don’t want him to think that I took him to the shop to make him buy it for me!”

“What are you on about?” Tola asked in an exasperated tone. “Did you beg or ask him for it?”

“Of course not! You know I’d never do that!”

“So gracefully text him a nice ‘thank you’ and tell him you have a cousin who also loves Mulberry bags.”

Yemi made a face. “Go and tell that to your Andy—or is it Mike? Not even sure anymore. I’ve lost count.”

“Whatever!” Tola retorted. “I’m going to ditch him right away, anyway. Andy’s never thought of buying me a Mulberry bag. He just keeps taking me from McDonalds to KFC and then occasionally throws in some Chinese in the evenings. What am I going to get from that?”

“Calories!” Yemi laughed. “But c’mon, it’s not about the value of the gift or the outings, but the thought behind it.”

“Same thing, girl,” Tola replied unrepentantly. “The thought behind it should make a guy give one valuable gifts.”

“You’re impossible!” Yemi picked her phone up from the bedside table. “I need to text my thanks to my Prince Charming, as you call him.”

“Don’t forget the bit about your so-very-nice cousin who also loves Mulberry bags.”

“Not happening.” Yemi would have preferred to call Akeem, but she knew he was going to be busy all day. She glanced at the lovely tan-coloured bag again and shook her head slightly. That guy was really so sweet.

∞∞∞

Yemi continued to see Akeem almost daily for the rest of her stay in the UK. She found herself liking him a little bit more each time.

Two days before her return to Nigeria, they agreed to meet at his apartment in Canary Wharf. Akeem had wanted to come over to pick her up from Kent, but she declined. She was aware that the day before had been particularly stressful for him. He had flown to Scotland to attend a series of meetings connected with the oil and gas sector of his company and had gotten back to London quite late.

She spotted Akeem as she was going through the barriers at the train station and waved at him. He waved back.

“You look very pretty,” he said to her, hugging her lightly. He looked admiringly at her knee-length blue denim skirt and orange tank top. “Very summery, or is it springy?”

“I think I like ‘springy’ better,” Yemi giggled as they made their way out of the train station towards the car park.

She savoured the clean, fresh air as they walked along. The weather was really nice, just the way she liked it: mildly warm with a light breeze. They got to his car, and Akeem opened the door for her.

“I can’t believe I’m going back home in two days,” Yemi said, as she worked the seatbelt around her waist. “The days have simply flown.”

“They certainly have,” Akeem said as he backed out of the car park and headed towards the main road.

Yemi chatted on, but she noticed that Akeem was in a rather quiet mood as he drove through the fairly busy streets. She put it down to his hectic schedule and was glad she had insisted on taking the train to his place. About fifteen minutes later, he pulled up to a nice-looking block of apartments, and they took the lifts to the sixth floor where his apartment was.

“Mmmm, this is really nice,” Yemi said when they got into his apartment. She moved slowly around the room, taking in the simple yet very elegant décor. There was a masculine feel to the apartment, and it was done up majorly in chocolate and magnolia, but there were also light touches of turquoise here and there. She particularly liked the unusually shaped art deco furniture. It gave the otherwise very modern apartment a somewhat retro look. “Did you decorate yourself?” she asked as she came to a stop by the oak-finished dining table.

He smiled. “I wish I could lay claim to that but no, I hired an interior decorator.”

“Well, he or she did a really good job.” Yemi walked over to the tall French windows and looked out. “Whoa, look at that view! I could stand here for hours.”

Akeem walked over to her side. “That was one of the things that attracted me to this place.” He placed his arm around her and turned her round to face him. “But today you’re not going to spend hours gazing out of the window. I need your full attention on me.”

“But you have my full attention always, even when I’m gazing out of the window.”

Akeem looked down at her smiling face for a moment and then tweaked her nose lightly. “I’m going to miss you.”

“I’ll miss you too,” Yemi admitted. Akeem still had about five days left in England to complete his work. “But at least we’ll talk every day.” She shook her head slightly. “It still seems amazing though, that I’ve known you for just ten days!”

“I’ve known you forever; I’ve just been waiting for you to show up.”

Yemi felt the now-familiar fluttering stirring within her at the look in his eyes. She had decided to “go with the flow,” as Tola had advised her to. She had no choice, anyway; the guy had completely taken over her heart. “And to think that we had to meet outside Nigeria.”

He shrugged. “We could also have bumped into each other on the streets of Lagos.”

She smiled slightly. “What street? We live miles apart.”

Akeem moved a little closer, his gaze getting more intense. “I feel that we would have still met somehow,” he said a little huskily.

Yemi lowered her eyes. The air was getting too charged up. She hoped that coming to his apartment was not a bad idea. “Have you eaten?” she asked lightly.

“No, I was waiting for you before ordering something in.”

“You don’t have to do that. I brought some food with me. That’s what’s in the other bag,” she moved towards the dining table where she had dropped her bags. “The kitchen is that way, isn’t it?” she asked, pointing towards the open doorway, and he nodded.

They talked as they ate. He complimented the stir-fried rice with spicy grilled fish that she had prepared, and she felt pleased. But he was still in a rather quiet mood and didn’t seem as excited as she was about going back to Nigeria.

After they finished eating, they did the washing up together. He got out a bottle of wine, and they returned to the lounge. Akeem handed her the remote control, and she giggled at the expression on his face when he saw the chick flick that she selected. He put his arm around her, and she snuggled close to his side.

“You are rounding up your meetings now, aren’t you?” she asked him a little while later. “Are you satisfied with the outcome?”

“They’ve actually exceeded my expectations,” Akeem replied. “I was able to tie up some stubborn deals that have been lingering for some time.” He played with the tendrils of her hair. “It must be you. Your presence in my life is helping me function better.”

Yemi puckered her lips and smiled up at him. “That’s so sweet.” 

“I mean it,” Akeem said, trailing a finger along her cheek. “And you have to remain with me so I can continue to do well in business.”

She smiled cheekily. “I’ll think about it.”

His brows furrowed together in a mock frown. “I’ll simply carry you off if you keep me waiting too long.” 

Yemi laughed. “I won’t mind being kidnapped by you. You’d find me a very willing captive.”

He cupped her cheek with his palm. “Don’t go back on Monday,” he said, looking into her eyes. “Stay back in the UK until I’m done.”

“But my ticket is for Monday.”

“I can easily change that and also upgrade it so we can fly back together.”

She pulled back and looked at him indignantly. “Upgrade? How do you know what kind of ticket I have?”

He smiled. “My apologies. I meant I’ll upgrade mine to yours.”

She giggled. “That’s better.”

“So is that a yes?”

“But what will I tell my parents? Besides, my cousin is getting married on Saturday.”

He just kept looking at her. She lowered her gaze. He was making her feel guilty. She was very tempted to do what he was asking, but her parents would want to know the reason why she wanted to stay back a little longer. Moreover, they were also aware that she had already spent all the money she’d brought with her. There would be too many questions, and she didn’t want them to know about Akeem just yet.

“We’ll talk every day, and I’ll see you as soon as you come in on Sunday,” Yemi looked up at him a little pleadingly. “Is that okay?”

“Do I have a choice?” he asked wryly. “But things will change very soon. The professor’s consent will not be needed when I want to spend time with my girl.”

“I’m looking forward to that as well.” She snuggled closer to him. “Now, where were we in this movie?”

He laughed. “What movie? Have you watched any part of it at all?”

“That’s always the problem when we are together. We just get so wrapped up in each other.”

“That’s how it should be.”

She turned round to look at him. “Will it always be so?”

“Always.” He tipped her chin up gently and kissed her. “Always,” he repeated, before claiming her lips again.

His kiss was everything she had imagined it would be, sweet and tender, awakening all sorts of strange emotions within her. He had given her light pecks on the cheeks and forehead over the past few days, and she had felt he was deliberately holding back because he sensed her inexperience. But he wasn’t doing so now, and his kisses were lighting a fire within her.

Yemi drew back a few minutes later. “Hey, my dad said I should not kiss any man except my prince,” she said shakily, while trying to still her racing heart.

“And am I your prince?” Akeem asked huskily, his face inching closer to hers again.

“Mmmm…I may need another kiss to convince me.” She jumped up as he lunged at her. “Oh no! I’m convinced; you’re definitely the one, my northern prince!”

“I don’t mind convincing you,” Akeem replied softly. His gaze moved to her lips again, and her heart skipped at the look in his eyes. 

“I’m fully convinced,” Yemi replied, keeping her distance. “Absolutely no doubt in my mind at all.”

“Pity…just when I was looking forward to helping you make up your mind too.” He patted the seat beside him. “Come back and sit down.”

She smiled at him but made no move to sit back down.

“Don’t worry, little girl, you’re quite safe.” An amused smile curved his lips as he saw the hesitant look on her face. “Honestly.”

She gingerly sat down beside him again. He laughed softly as he placed his arm around her and drew her close to his side. “How old are you again? Twenty-one or fifteen?”

She giggled. “Almost fifteen.”

“Yeah…seems like that.”

They continued chatting and tried to watch the movie intermittently, but something always came up to talk about until they gave up on the movie. Yemi felt so complete just by being with Akeem, and it appeared like they had known each other for a lot longer than ten days. She still had those moments when she wondered about their relationship and if things would be the same when they returned back to Nigeria, but her doubts were gradually getting fewer and further apart.

∞∞∞

Two days later, Yemi’s older brother, Ayo, picked her up at the Murtala Mohammed airport in Lagos. The heat enveloped her the moment they stepped out of the airport. Yeah, I’m back home—the land of perpetual summer!

Ayo saw her face and grinned. “Don’t worry, you’ll soon get used to it again.”

“I hope so. Right now, I feel like I’m roasting.”

She was glad when they got into the car and Ayo turned on the air conditioner. Little beads of perspiration had already started to form on her forehead; and to think she had only been away for a month!

“Derin said she will pop in tomorrow to see you,” Ayo said, referring to his wife.

“That will be cool. I’ve missed everyone.” She stifled a yawn with her palm and looked out of the window at the familiar road networks. Hot weather or not, it was good to be back on her own turf. She yawned again, and Ayo glanced at her.

“You must be really tired.”

“I am.” She leaned her head against the seat. “I had to get up really early this morning to catch my flight.”

“You’ll feel better after a nap. I have a surgery to perform later this afternoon, so I’m just going to drop you off at home and head back to the hospital.”

Yemi smiled at him gratefully. She knew how busy he was. Her parents were attending a conference out of town, so Ayo had offered to pick her up from the airport.

When they arrived at their parents’ house, Ayo helped Yemi with her bags and quickly left for the hospital as planned. Once settled, Yemi made a call to Tola’s parents to let them know that she had arrived safely. She knew that Tola was attending a job interview and would not be home until later in the day. She had already texted Akeem when she was going through customs, and he had texted her back that he would call her as soon as he could.

Not too long after her phone call to the UK, Bose, the housekeeper, knocked on her bedroom door and informed Yemi that her lunch was ready. She had prepared Yemi’s favorite dish: jollof rice and fried plantain.

“Thanks, Aunt Bose, you’re the best! I’ll just freshen up and then eat later.” Bose had lived with them for a long time, and Yemi was very fond of her. She was not a blood relative, but in Nigeria, every older adult was automatically called Auntie or Uncle.

Yemi showered and decided to take a nap. She was already missing Akeem so much. It was still amazing how much he had come to mean to her in such a short period of time. She had deliberately not told her family about him yet. She hated to admit it, but a part of her was waiting to see if his feelings towards her would remain the same when he got back on more familiar terrain.

Tola had Googled him up while she was still in England, and they had read his impressive business profile. They could hardly believe that it was the same easygoing guy that they saw practically every day in the UK.

But there had also been other bits about his social life, stuff that had given Yemi a bit of concern. Akeem had been linked with a lot of beautiful women in the past and even quite recently. Women far more sophisticated than her, to say nothing of their cool careers and wealthy backgrounds. Yemi had again had doubts about their relationship but somehow, those doubts always faded anytime she was with him.

She sighed and rolled over on the bed. She sincerely hoped that everything would be okay when he came back. She had fallen too hard for him and didn’t think she could bear it if they broke up.

The next time Yemi opened her eyes, it was three hours later. She reached for her phone and, to her dismay, saw several missed calls from Akeem. He had also sent her a text saying that he would call her back later.

As she padded into the bathroom to wash her face, she heard her parents’ voices coming from the direction of the sitting room. She wiped her face and went to join them.

“Welcome back, darling.” Her mother beamed as she enveloped her in a hug. “Good to have you back. This house has just been too quiet!”

“Good to be back, Mum!” Yemi hugged her back and then went over to hug her father. “Good to see you again, Dad. Thanks so much for super hols!”

“You ‘re welcome, dear. I can see you enjoyed yourself.”

“Very much so, Dad.” She chatted with them about her holidays and how much fun she’d had in the UK.

“Go and get some food,” her mother said a few minutes later. “Bose says you have not eaten anything since you got back.”

“Better still, bring your food out here and come sit with us,” her father added.

Just then, her phone rang. It was Akeem. She smiled and went into the kitchen to take the call, but they did not speak for long. After he realized she had only just seen her parents, Akeem promised to call her back.

She took her food back to the sitting room and joined her parents.

“Your holiday has done wonders for you. You’ re practically glowing!” her mother said, looking at Yemi’s smiling face fondly. “It’s a good thing the weather was nice all throughout,”

Yemi smiled at the compliment. If only you knew, Mum. This glow is due to a certain attractive man and has nothing to do with the English spring weather.

∞∞∞

Yemi attended her cousin’s wedding that weekend. She had been asked to make the bridesmaids’ dresses and felt very pleased to see how good they looked in them. She knew that her cousin had been trying to cut costs by asking her to make the clothes, but that hadn’t dampened her enthusiasm, and she had completed the outfits before she travelled to the UK.

Designing and sewing was something she enjoyed. It was more of a natural talent, but she had also done a few courses over the years when her mother had noticed her interest in it. Her friends often teased her about why she hadn’t taken up fashion designing as her course of study rather than accounting. But to her, sewing and designing was just a hobby she enjoyed, and accounting was serious stuff—something everyone would expect from the daughter of Professor Delano.

She was very excited when Akeem came in on Sunday. They were not going to be able to meet that day because she still had to attend her cousin’s wedding thanksgiving service along with the rest of her family, but nevertheless it felt good to know that he was now only a few miles away.

School resumed the next day. She and her classmates at the University of Lagos, or Unilag as it was popularly called, swapped stories about their holidays and what they had done. Lectures were not that serious yet, so she had only a couple scheduled for that morning. She was planning to start studying almost right away, though. So far, she was on a 4.5 GP aggregate, and she didn’t want to take any chances with her last semester at school.

“Aren’t you just looking good, girl!” A voice interrupted her thoughts as she hurried out after her last class. Akeem had already called to let her know that he had sent his driver to pick her up. He had a few things he needed to do in the office but assured her he would be back home when she got there.

“Hello, Ada.” She smiled on seeing her course mate behind her. “You’re looking good yourself. How were your hols?”

“Good,” Ada replied, admiring Yemi’s top. “How was yours? I learnt you went to England.”

“Yes, and it was lovely. Had a really swell time.” 

“So what goodies did you bring back?” 

“Hugs and kisses.”

“Thanks, but you can keep those,” Ada retorted. “I’ll pop by your house later in the week, so have my real goodies ready.”

Yemi laughed and continued on her way. Her phone vibrated as a text came in. It was Akeem’s driver, letting her know he was around and where he was parked. She called the driver’s number to let him know she was on her way.

“Hey, Yemi!” She heard her friend Sesan’s voice and turned around. She had been so focused on getting to Akeem’s driver on time that she had not seen him approaching.

“Hi Shez!” she said, calling him by his nickname. “How’ve you been?” She and Sesan had been close friends since they were kids. His parents were lecturers as well and lived two streets from Yemi’s house.

“Good,” he replied, catching up with her. “Looking great,” he said, giving her outfit an admiring glance.

She flashed him a smile. “Thanks, Shez.” She hoped Akeem would think so too. She had taken extra care with her appearance before leaving home.

“Finished lectures for today?”

“Yep, I only had a couple of lectures. What about you?”

“I’m done as well. I’m off to the library now.”

“I’m heading in that direction as well. Meeting up with someone there.”

“Good, we can walk together then,” Sesan replied, falling in step with her. “We’ve not really had time for a proper talk since you returned from the UK. How was your trip?”

“Super!” Yemi smiled. “Best holiday I’ve had in a while.”

“Really? You did say you had something to tell me when we spoke on the phone. Was it anything to do with your hols?”

“Yes, but we need plenty of time to talk about that bit.” She was definitely going to need his masculine perspective on Akeem.

They rounded the corner just before the library, and she saw Akeem’s car. It was easy to spot from the description he had given her. The driver was standing by it, and Yemi waved to him. He waved back.

Sesan arched his brows as he looked at Akeem’s black BMW jeep and the driver standing beside it. “Is that the person you are meeting up with?”

“Yes,” Yemi replied, suddenly feeling a little self-conscious. “Or rather, he’s the driver of the person I’m going to see.”

Sesan’s brows went up a notch higher. “Okay…”

Yemi glanced quickly at his face. His voice had disconcerted her, but his face was expressionless. “Let me leave you, then,” he said quietly. “I’ll talk to you later.”

“Okay, Shez,” Yemi called after him as she hurried towards the car. “We’ve got lots of stuff to talk about.”

He gave her a small wave, but his face had lost some of its cheeriness. She wondered what was wrong with him. She decided she would catch up with him later to find out.

“Hello, you must be Mike,” she said to the driver as she approached. “I’m Yemi. Thanks for coming to pick me up.”

“You’re welcome,” he replied, opening the door to the back seat for her. “Are you ready to go now?”

“Yes, thank you,” Yemi said, settling into the car. She brought out the magazine she had bought earlier in the day and looked through it during the drive to Lekki, where Akeem lived.

There were smatterings of traffic on the road, but it was not as bad as she had expected it to be, and they arrived at the house about forty minutes later.

The house was picturesque, as was typical of houses in Lekki, and was surrounded by well-manicured lawns and beautiful flower beds. But she gave no more than a cursory glance around, as her attention was taken up by Akeem walking out the front door.

He hugged her tightly. “So good to see you, baby. I’ve really missed you.”

“Same here,” she said, breathing in his now-familiar cologne and reveling in the feel of his strong arms around her.

Akeem led her into the house and they went through what was probably his reception lounge. It was a fairly large room with a polished white oak floor and Venetian-style furniture. The sofas were upholstered in a floral beige damask fabric. Beautiful drapes, in a darker shade of beige, bordered each side of the ceiling-to-floor windows.

“And I thought your apartment in London was nice,” Yemi said as they entered into another, larger sitting room. “It’s not even half as lovely as this.” She wandered around, admiring the soft leather furniture and beautiful paintings. She did not need to ask this time around; no one but a professional interior decorator could have perfected the colour scheme and the furniture arrangement that she had seen so far.

Akeem smiled as he watched her moving around. “Glad you like it. That’s a plus, since you’re going to be spending a lot of time here.”

“Are you sure about that?” Yemi teased.

“Remember my threat in London?” he growled, coming closer to her. “My ancestors didn’t waste time in those days. They carried off their women and sought parental consent later.”

“Somebody help me!” Yemi said playfully. “But like I told you then, I’d be such a willing captive that my parents will be thoroughly ashamed of me.”

“They will get used to it.” He touched her cheek lightly with his finger. “Drinks, or do I show you around first?”

She linked her arm through his. “Let’s go around first.”

“So how’s the Prof and his wife?” Akeem asked as they made their way out of the sitting room.

“They’re good.”

“I’ll take you home this evening, so hopefully I can see them?”

Yemi hesitated. She knew her family and had no fears that they would like and accept Akeem, but she did not want to just spring him on them like that without any prior notice.

“Let’s do it this way,” she said, as they climbed the wide spiral staircase, “I’ll speak to my mum about you, and then you can meet them at another time.”

He appeared to think about it and then nodded, “All right, but I want to register my presence in your family.” He pulled her close for a moment. “And all those Unilag boys had better not come anywhere near my girl!”

“There’s no competition.” Yemi giggled at the possessive look in his eyes. “They could not get me interested in the four years that I’ve been there, and they definitely aren’t succeeding now.”

“Good to hear that, but I’m still not letting my guard down.”

“What if a lady gets ideas about you?” she asked. “Come to think of it, how am I sure that there aren’t loads of them hanging around you all the time?”

“To borrow your words,” Akeem said, looking down at her, “there’s no competition.”

Yemi looked into his eyes. She loved him, and that included trusting everything that he told her. “Then there’s nothing for either one of us to worry about.” She linked her arm around his. “Come show me the rest of this beautiful house.”

Chapter 3

 

Yemi heaved a sigh of relief when she finished the assignment she had to hand in the following Monday. She was going out with Akeem later that day and wanted to have as little work to think about as possible. She packed up her laptop, gathered her books, and walked out of the library.

There were two girls walking in front of her, but her eyes were drawn to the one dressed in denim pants and a cropped top. She had such a great figure—a proper mannequin. Yemi found herself mentally dressing her up in couture and then in smart casual gear. She wished she could sketch down the designs right there and then but grinned to herself as she thought of the weird looks she might attract.

Her eyes were still focused on the girl when she heard her name being called from across the street. It was her course mate, Ada. She looked excited and was waving madly at Yemi.

“Whoa, Yemi, aren’t you a dark horse!” Ada exclaimed as she made her way across the street to meet Yemi.

Yemi looked at her curiously. “What are you talking about?”

Ada grinned. “You, my girl, are one lucky chick!” She rummaged in her big bag and brought out a magazine. “I saw this picture in the new edition of City Buzz, and my eyes almost popped out!”

Ada flipped hurriedly through the popular magazine to the centre page. She turned the page around and jabbed her finger at a picture at the top. It was of Yemi and Akeem. Yemi just stared at it. She had attended a party with him the previous Saturday, but she had no idea that they had been photographed.

“You’re going out with Akeem Kadiri!” Ada continued, looking at her with something akin to awe on her face. “I can’t believe it!” She was almost dancing with excitement. “Small wonder you’ve never been interested in any guy on campus. You had your eyes set on much bigger fry!”

Yemi looked at her indignantly. “Bigger fry? You know I’m not like that.” She looked at the picture again. It had been taken during one of the moments that Akeem had his arm around her and she was gazing up at him. The caption beneath the picture said: Akeem Kadiri, scion of the famous Kadiri family and CEO of Kadiri Holdings, with the beautiful Yemi… The article went on to talk about Akeem and his family, but apart from that reference, there was nothing more about her. They had not even bothered with her surname.

“Girl, I’m so impressed with you! How does it feel like to be dating one of the most eligible guys in the country?”

Yemi inhaled slowly. She didn’t even remember any of that when they were together. “He’s just a nice guy.”

Ada’s eyes widened. “Oh, so it’s true? You’re really in a relationship with him?” She was getting more and more excited. “I told Brenda and Paula that you’re much too straightforward to deny if anything was really going on, but they didn’t believe me!”

Yemi sighed. Brenda and Paula were girls in her department. They were pretty loud, and that meant many people would get to know very soon. “I’ve got to go now,” she said to Ada. “I’m really tired. I’ve been in the library all morning.”

Ada winked at her. “You don’t need to swot anymore. With a catch like Akeem Kadiri, you’re settled for life!” She paused for a moment. “But wait a minute. What about Sesan?”

“What about him? I’ve always told you that he is just a friend.”

“And I’m believing that story for the very first time! The guy is so hot, and I didn’t know how you could claim to be just friends when you’re always together!”

“Sesan is just like a brother…”

Ada grinned. “Save your breath, girl. I’m going after him now that I know for sure!”

Yemi shook her head and smiled. “Go ahead. I can even chip in a good word for you.”

She waved at Ada and continued towards home. She called Akeem and told him about the magazine. He did not seem surprised at the news.

“I haven’t seen it, but does it bother you?”

Did it? She wasn’t sure. “I’m just not used to being the center of attention.” She could just imagine the curious stares she would get at school on Monday.

His voice was quiet. “I don’t really get chased by the paparazzi. I’m just a businessman, and there are enough celebs to keep them busy. But I do get photographed once in a while at public functions, so this can happen again.”

Yemi grimaced. Her life was getting “interesting.” She only hoped it would be “nice interesting.” and not the other way around.

“But tell your friend I’m the one who’s lucky to have you,” he added softly.

Yemi could not help smiling after the call. Well, so long as he knew that she did not consider him a big catch or anything like that, then it didn’t matter if anyone else thought so. She would just smile through Monday and whatever comments her classmates made. She stopped and bought a copy of the magazine at a shop near her house. She wanted to read it again when she got home.

Her parents were not in when she arrived at her house some fifteen minutes later. She snacked on some cake and pineapple juice and decided to take a quick nap. But just as she settled down, she heard a knock on the door and the voice of her immediate elder brother, Dotun.

“Come in,” Yemi responded wearily. Her brother entered the room. “You sure know when to come for a visit.”

“Someone is sounding very grumpy. What’s the matter?”

“I just got home from the library, and I’m a little tired.” She rubbed her hand across her forehead. “How’ve you been?”

“Good. I decided to come see you. You don’t bother about us anymore since the entrance of that guy into your life, er…what’s his name again?” Dotun asked, pretending to think hard.

“I won’t even answer you,” Yemi said, sitting up. Obviously, she was not going to be sleeping now. At that very moment, her phone vibrated. It was a text message from Akeem. She read it and smiled. He must still be thinking she was bothered about the picture in the magazine.

“From your smile, I can guess who that is from.” Dotun looked at her amusedly. “Whoa! I can’t believe any guy can sweep you off your feet like this!”

Yemi tossed her hair. “Deal with it.”

“We’re all trying to. Do we have a choice?” Dotun reached for her hand and pulled her off the bed. “C’mon. Up you get. I came with Shez, and he is downstairs..”

“Oh, really? Where did you guys meet up?”

“At the gym. He was planning to come here afterwards anyway.”

“I’ve not seen Shez for a while. The guy has abandoned me.”

“Well, his best friend has found a new best friend.”

Yemi poked Dotun in the ribs with her elbow. “Who told you Akeem is my best friend?”

“Sorry, my mistake. He’s my new best friend.” Yemi swatted at him, and he ducked out of her reach.

“Hey! What’s going on with you two?” Sesan said, standing up as they entered the sitting room with Yemi still trying to smack Dotun.

“She’s assaulting me because of her Hausa guy!” Dotun laughed, quickly moving out of her reach again.

Dotun’s phone rang at that moment, and he signalled to Yemi and Sesan to excuse him. From his face, Yemi knew it had to be Laide, his girlfriend. She turned her attention to Sesan, and they began to chat about school.

Dotun finished his call a few minutes later and turned towards Yemi. “Laide’s really tripping up. She says you’re in some magazine or something.”

“What magazine?” Yemi asked coolly.

Dotun was not fooled. “You’ve always been a bad liar.” A frown creased his brow. “I don’t know how you are going to cope with all the attention this guy is bound to draw to you. I still wonder why Dad did not make a fuss about you dating him.”

Yemi glared at him. “Excuse me…have you forgotten the fact that I am an adult?” She turned back to Sesan, who was watching their exchange. “Shez, dear, would you like some cake?”

“Yes, please,” Sesan replied.

“Hey, what about me?” Dotun protested, following them into the kitchen. “I’m not even interested in cake anyway. I need some real food.” He opened the fridge and grinned like a Cheshire cat at the contents. “Shez, I’m sure you must be hungry too after that workout. Not to worry, I’ll fix us up soon.”

“Funny how some people who don’t live here anymore keep coming back here to eat,” Yemi grumbled, as Dotun pulled out a bowl of jollof rice from the fridge.

Dotun ignored her and whistled tunelessly as he served himself and Sesan large portions of the rice. Yemi eyed the heaped plates and wondered how they could eat so much and yet still have such impressive washboard abs. Must be all the working out that they did.

“Exams are gradually getting closer, aren’t they?” Sesan said to Yemi as he tucked into the food. “Everything just appears to be going so fast.”

Yemi made a face. “Yeah, it is. I hope I’ll be able to go through smoothly with the grades I need.” She had tried to study as hard as she could but still felt she hadn’t been as serious as she should be with her studies that semester, thanks to Akeem wanting her to spend so much time with him.

“You’ll be okay; you’ve been pretty steady all along.”

“I’m sure you’ll be fine, Yemi,” Dotun chipped in. “Like Shez has said, you’ve always been a hard worker.”

“First positive thing I’ve heard from you today!” Yemi said, rolling her eyes heavenward.

Sesan laughed and stood up to get some water from the fridge. Yemi looked at his muscular frame in the tank top and knee-length cargo shorts he had on. She could understand why Ada would have a crush on him. She was occupied with Akeem now, so maybe it was time she helped matchmake him with someone too.

“Someone’s got their eyes on you.” She winked at him as he sat back at the table with his glass of water. “Very nice girl, too. Hot and all that!”

Sesan just looked at her without saying anything.

“Maybe I should introduce her to you,” Yemi continued, wondering why Sesan and Dotun were looking at her like she had grown horns.

Dotun snickered. “Shez can do his own pulling when he wants. He doesn’t need any help from you.”

“I wasn’t talking to you. I was talking to my dear friend, Sesan.”

“Dear friend, huh?” Dotun guffawed and then turned it into a cough when Sesan glared at him. He pushed aside his empty plate. “Can I have that cake now, please?” he said to Yemi as he sat back in his chair. “And there is no need looking at me like that. You know you can’t stop loving me.”

Yemi shot him an evil look. “Unfortunately.”

“Lucky guy,” Sesan said quietly, addressing Dotun but following Yemi with his eyes as she made her way to get some cake from the fridge.

∞∞∞

Yemi forced herself to focus on the Sunday morning sermon. Her mind had drifted off halfway during the message. It wasn’t her fault; the reverend always took too long to deliver the sermons. But at least the elderly people didn’t snooze off the way they used to during the time of his predecessor. Drift off in their thoughts maybe, but no one could really sleep. The guy was too fiery. He was so different from their former reverend, who had retired a year earlier. He didn’t seem to take into consideration that their church was orthodox and that the congregation was not used to preachers who left the podium and pranced across the altar.

She glanced across at Teju, Sesan’s older sister. She was sitting a few seats away and appeared to be listening intently to the sermon. Yemi wondered what she found so interesting. Teju and some other friends had started saying they were “saved” about a year ago, courtesy of the new singles/youth group the reverend had formed. They had all been pretty much decent girls before, and Yemi did not understand what they had needed “saving” from.

Nevertheless, Teju was taking her newfound status very seriously. She had even broken up with her boyfriend, Banji, because she said he was not saved. Yemi had been baffled by her decision, because she knew that Teju really liked Banji. She and Teju had run into him a few weeks after the breakup and she could see the effect that Banji still had on her, but yet, she stuck to her guns. Yemi thought it all so weird. She had made up her mind that she was not going anywhere near the youth group.

Yemi knew she was a Christian. She had been born one and had grown up as someone who was used as an example of a nice person. She had always had excellent peer relationships, and she was yet to meet anyone that she couldn’t get along with.

Her thoughts were interrupted as her phone vibrated. It was a text from Akeem, letting her know what time he would pick her up later that day. She texted him back. She was so looking forward to seeing him too.

She turned her attention back to the reverend. He must have said something funny, because many people in the congregation were laughing. He continued preaching, and she tried to listen. The guy was so passionate and exerted himself so much. Small wonder he had to keep wiping the sweat off his forehead with his handkerchief even though the church was fully air conditioned.

Her thoughts switched to Akeem again. He was even more chilled out about religion than she was and felt people were just emotional about it. He was a member of some posh orthodox church in Victoria Island, but he rarely attended services.

“It’s amazing how intelligent people seem to lose all ability to be analytical when it comes to religion, and that puts me off,” he had told her the last time they had talked about religion.

Yemi didn’t completely agree with him. She didn’t want to be like Teju and her so-called “saved” friends, but she had been brought up to attend church, and she liked the feeling she got from doing so. She was definitely going to keep trying to persuade Akeem to attend services regularly.

∞∞∞

“How did your game with Javier go?” Yemi asked Akeem as they waited in the restaurant for the food they had ordered to be packed up.

Akeem grinned. “It was a draw. He felt he had a score to settle since I beat him last time. Pity he couldn’t claim a victory this time.”

“Maybe he would ask for a rematch.”

“Probably. Our battle for supremacy goes way back. The guy’s good, though. A very worthy opponent.”

Javier was a family friend of Akeem’s. They had grown up together and attended the same schools. Javier’s younger brother, Devin, was engaged to Nadia, Akeem’s younger sister. Yemi had heard that rich people loved to walk in the same circles, but she did not know how true it was until she got to know Akeem. He was not very forthcoming with information about his family, but from the little that she had heard from him, almost all the people connected to him were people of means, and they all appeared to have such a strong network between them.

Yemi glanced at Akeem and met his eyes. She felt the familiar rush of emotions that assailed her at the look in his eyes.

“You look so gorgeous in that dress, and I can’t get over the fact that you made it,” he said.

Yemi bobbed her head teasingly. “Thank you, kind sir.” She hadn’t had much time for sewing because of her school workload, but she was looking forward to picking up her hobby again after her exams.

The waiter brought out the bags of food a few minutes later, and they made their way to Akeem’s car. Yemi leaned back against the seat and closed her eyes. Despite the nap she’d had earlier in the day, she still felt so tired. She could hardly wait to be over and done with her exams and uni.

“Are you okay?”

She opened her eyes and saw the concerned expression on Akeem’s face. “Just a little tired.”

“You need to take it easy. You’re working too hard.” He started the engine and eased his way out of the parking lot. “I’ll definitely breathe a sigh of relief when your exams are over. I hardly even get to see you these days.”

Yemi was amused at his tone. “Well, it’s just a month to go, but come to think of it, I see and talk to you more than anybody else, including my brothers. Even Dotun has started complaining about me abandoning him.” 

He smirked. “Well, he’d better get used to it. His sister is taken.”

Yemi smiled. “How is your mum doing?” she asked as he navigated his way skilfully through the traffic. He had told her that his mum had a heart condition and had been ill over the past few days.

“She’s okay now health wise but somewhat moody. It would have been my dad’s birthday tomorrow, and she is always a little emotional around this time every year.” He smiled slightly. “It’s not just her, though; we all miss him. Sometimes, it still feels a little crazy that he is really gone.”

Yemi’s eyes softened. She knew Akeem had been very close to his father. He had told her that a drunken driver had crashed into his father’s car three years earlier, killing him instantly. “I wish I could have been there for you back then.”

“Thanks, baby. It was a tough time then; dealing with the unexpected loss of my mentor and suddenly becoming the one that everyone looked up to at KH.”

“You’ve done a good job of it, too. I read up a bit about KH, and it’s obviously going strong.”

Akeem smiled as he glanced sideways at her. “So you’ve been checking us out, huh? Finding out if I can afford to feed and clothe you?”

“Something like that.” Yemi smiled cheekily at him. “Material girl like me needs to be sure that her man has a few pennies in his bank account.”

Akeem laughed. “That is so not true! I’ve never met any woman who actively resists receiving gifts as much as you do, but you are mine now and have no choice in that matter.”

Yemi touched his arm. “I don’t want to belong to anyone else.” She felt warm all over at the tender look he gave her.

A few minutes later, Akeem turned into the street where his house was situated. Yemi stared at the house as they drove through the electronically controlled gates. She still got struck by its beauty whenever she saw it. It was a cream-coloured architectural masterpiece, surrounded by well-tended lawns. Tall ornamental palm trees dotted the compound, giving the house the appearance of a beautiful aristocratic woman holding court amongst her admirers.

“Finally,” she said as they got into the sitting room a few minutes later. She rubbed the back of her neck with her palms before stifling a yawn. “I’m not supposed to be this tired. After all, I had a nap earlier on.”

“I still feel you’re overdoing it. I know you have a target, but you’ve got to take it easy.” Akeem eyed her slim frame. “You even look like you’ve lost some weight.”

Yemi put her hand on her hip and struck a pose. “But I thought skinny was cool?”

He gave a low wolf whistle. “Gisele Bündchen had better watch out; my girlfriend is hotter than her!” He picked up the takeaway bags from the table. “But fashionable or not, I don’t want you to disappear into thin air.” He gestured towards the sofa. “You just sit down, and I’ll sort this out myself.”

“I’m not that tired,” Yemi protested.

“Orders,” Akeem told her as he headed towards the kitchen.

They chatted as they ate, and he insisted on clearing up by himself afterwards. Yemi watched him as she lay back on the sofa. This was one of the reasons why she could never consider him a “big catch.” He was so sweet and caring that she forgot who he was. She was only reminded of his status when she went to his office or when they were with other people.

“Come here.” She beckoned to him when he popped a glass of fruit punch by her side. “I love you,” she whispered before touching her lips to his.

Akeem leaned in and deepened the kiss until she pushed him away.

“But you started it…” he said with a roguish gleam in his eyes. His gaze dropped to her lips and his head dipped towards hers again, but just then his phone rang. He ignored it, but it kept on ringing. He gave her a quick kiss, then touched her cheek lightly with his finger before picking it up and looking at the caller ID. He grimaced. “Sorry, baby, I have to take this call. It’s Adil.”

Adil was his younger brother, who lived in Abuja with his wife and their twin sons. He headed the Abuja branch of the KH office. Yemi was aware that Adil had flown into Lagos several times since she and Akeem had started dating, but Akeem had never suggested that she meet him. She had met all his close friends but was yet to meet any member of his family. She found it a little strange but didn’t want to ask Akeem about it. She felt that would imply that she was pushing for commitment, and after all, they were still just dating.

∞∞∞

The golden orange rays of the sun were gracefully receding, giving way to the violet and blue hues of twilight as Yemi dressed up for her date with Akeem. She felt all tingly and warm inside. She remembered how nervous she had been the day before, when she had gone to check her results, and then had felt like screaming with joy when she saw that she had graduated with first-class honours.

“Yemi, Akeem is here,” her mother said, coming into her room. Her eyes lit up with admiration as she looked at her daughter. “My, you look so beautiful!”

“Thanks, Mum.” She didn’t know where Akeem was taking her, but he had asked her to dress up. It was the first time she would be wearing the beautiful silk ink-blue Vera Wang dress that he had bought for her a couple of months earlier. The dress emphasised her small waist and showed off her slim figure, swirling softly around her feet as she moved. It had an embellished bodice, so she opted to leave her neck bare and just wore a pair of silver drop earrings with a matching bracelet.

After one last check in the mirror and her mother’s approval, the two of them exited Yemi’s room and made their way to the sitting room, where Akeem sat chatting with her dad.

“You look stunning,” Akeem said, rising to his feet as Yemi came into the room with her mother.

Her dad beamed proudly. “She looks just like her mum when she was about that age.”

“Don’t I look the same now?” Yemi’s mother teased as she linked her hands with her husband’s.

“Of course you do, my dear. You are just as beautiful as ever.”

“I quite agree, sir,” Akeem joined in. “I can see where Yemi got her looks from.”

They chatted with her parents for a while before setting off. Yemi was pleased at how easily Akeem got along with her parents. She could tell that they liked him a lot and were very impressed with his manners. Her parents had initially had some reservations about their relationship because of the differences in their ages and Akeem’s social status, but all that had been erased when they met him.

“So how’s my first-class honours girl doing?” Akeem asked her as he nosed his car onto the motorway. “Has it sunk in yet?”

“It still feels so surreal! I remember how shaky I was when I went to check the results.”

“I was just as nervous as you were yesterday. When my phone rang and I saw your number, I was almost too scared to pick it.”

Yemi laughed. “No wonder it rang for a while before you answered it. I thought it was because you were in a meeting.”

“No, I was just biting my nails and hoping with all my heart that everything was okay.”

“Well, I’m glad that it’s all over,” Yemi sighed happily. There were times when she still woke up at night thinking that she had to study before it would dawn on her that she was truly done with school and exams.

“Do you remember my family friend, Sesan?” she asked him. Akeem nodded. “It’s always been assumed by everyone that he would graduate with first-class honours very easily, but amazingly he didn’t. He came out with a second-class upper.”

“That’s still okay.”

“You don’t get it.” Yemi turned slightly in her seat towards him. “Sesan is brilliant! Easily cleverer than me any day. So this is such a surprise to everyone.”

“Well, now you’ve beaten him, so that should make you happy.”

“Not really. I’m more puzzled about what could have happened to him.”

“Like I said, he’ll be all right. He does not even need a degree to be successful, but hey, let’s not talk about academics or anything like that tonight.” He gave her an injured look. “I’m still trying to get over the trauma of you rationing the time we spent together when you were studying for your exams.”

Yemi laughed. “I’m all yours now, at your beck and call!”

A crooked smile tugged at the corner of his lips. “How about making that offer permanent?”

“How do you mean?”

“How do you think I mean?”

“I have no idea.”

“Really?”

Yemi didn’t reply. He glanced at her smiling, averted face and laughed softly before changing the topic.

“I’ve heard about this place. Everyone says it’s so glamorous,” Yemi said as Akeem pulled into the parking lot of Navagne, a five-star hotel that had been recently opened on Victoria Island.

“I felt I needed to take you somewhere really special tonight to celebrate your success,” Akeem said as he parked the car.

They walked into the hotel and were escorted to their table. Yemi looked at the interior of the hotel in admiration. The lights from the chandeliers cast a magical glow over everything.

“Nicer and nicer.” She said as they were seated in the VIP section, where Akeem had booked them a table.

“Only the best is good enough for my girl,” Akeem said, pulling out her chair for her before sitting down himself. “It’s good to see you looking relaxed again.”

She leaned over and touched his hand. “Thanks for being there for me.”

“I’ll always be there for you, baby,” Akeem said softly, taking her hand in his. “Always.”

Yemi didn’t know if it was possible to love him any more than she already did. He was everything she had always desired and more. “Me too,” she said, holding his gaze.

The tender moment was interrupted by a waiter coming to take their orders. Some minutes later, another waiter brought their drinks.

“I’ll likely be popping into my office at Abuja this week,” Akeem said after the waiter had left. “And I’ll also make a quick stop at Niger state to see my uncle.”

“How long are you going to be away?” Yemi asked, trying not to feel deflated but not quite succeeding.

“Just four days. I’ll be back before you know it.”

“That’s fine,” she said quietly. “Your mum is from Niger state too, isn’t she?”

“Yeah, same town as my dad.”

“Is her family into business as well?”

“Yes, but also heavily into politics.” He laughed. “They like to have a bit of power!”

Yemi listened as he talked about his mum’s family, but she couldn’t help comparing their backgrounds as he spoke.

A waiter brought their food a few minutes later. She looked at the food, but her thoughts were far away. She had deliberately tried not to think too far ahead, but she wondered what the future held for her and this man that she loved so much.

“Baby?” Akeem’s concerned voice cut through her thoughts.

She forced a smile and took a small bite of the succulent scallops she had ordered.

“Mmmm, these are nice,” she said, savouring the taste and trying to appear light-hearted.

Akeem arched his brows slightly, but he started eating as well. He told her about his mother’s plans to renovate their family home. For someone who normally didn’t talk much about his family, he was surprisingly doing a lot of it that evening. The renovations involved a whole wing of the house, and he joked about how his mother was trying to get him to take charge of the project. “I know she can handle it, but she likes to get me involved in anything she is doing as much as possible.”

“You’re her son.”

He made a face. “She doesn’t let me forget it.” He went on with the description of what his mum told him to do at the house and what he felt needed to be done. Yemi tried to listen, but her mind kept wandering off as she continued to compare their family backgrounds.

“Pretty girls who graduate with first-class honours don’t talk too much, do they?” he said after a while, dropping his fork and wiping his mouth with the napkin.

She was so surprised that she couldn’t help laughing. This guy knew her so well.

“So what’s up?” he asked.

Yemi took a sip of her drink before responding, “I’m okay.”

He continued looking at her face. “Talk to me.”

She sighed. “I was just thinking about how different our families are.”

Akeem smiled. “Yeah, you’re right. No one has graduated with first-class honours in my family yet. We’re not that intelligent.”

She knew he was deliberately messing. “I’m not talking about that.”

His eyes grew serious. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but whatever differences there are dissolves in the face of our love. You do love me, don’t you, Yemi?”

Her eyes met his. “You know I do.”

“Then that’s all that’s important. Just make sure you always do. I don’t think I can survive if you ever stop.”

“Strong guy like you?” she teased, feeling herself relax again.

“I’m like putty in your hands.” His gaze was intense as he looked into her eyes. “I never knew any woman could make me feel this way. From the moment I set eyes on you in that Hawes and Curtis shop, I knew you had to be mine.” 

“And are you mine?”

“Body and soul,” he replied softly. He reached into his pocket and brought out a little black box. Yemi’s eyes widened as he went down on one knee before her. “Yemi, I love you with all my heart,” he said gently, taking her hand in his and looking into her eyes. “Will you marry me?”

Yemi could not speak. She had imagined this moment, but now that it was here, she didn’t know what to say.

“Yemi?”

“I love you, Akeem,” she replied, looking into his eyes. “And yes, I will marry you.”

“Thanks, babe,” Akeem replied, slipping a gorgeous diamond solitaire ring on her finger. “You’ve made me a very happy man.” He kissed her finger after putting the ring on.

Yemi held up her finger, and the ring sparkled prettily as it caught the lights from the chandelier. “It’s so beautiful.” She didn’t think she could ever forget this moment as long as she lived. “And it’s a perfect size too. How did you know my size?”

“My secret.” Akeem smiled at her. “I’m happy you like the ring, but we can always choose another one if you don’t.”

Yemi shook her head. “This is perfect, and it means even more to me because you picked it for me.”

His eyes locked on hers. “I’m so glad I can look forward to spending the rest of my life with you. I love you so much.”

“I love you too, Akeem.”

Chapter 4

 

Akeem arranged for Yemi to meet his mum about two weeks later. He picked Yemi up from her house, and they chatted lightly as he drove towards Ikoyi, the highbrow area on the Island where his mother lived.

Yemi was a little nervous. She had changed her outfit three times before she finally decided on a dress to wear. But despite her nervousness, she was looking forward to meeting the mother of the man who meant the world to her, and it would certainly be nice to have two mothers.

She could hardly wait to get married to Akeem and it was a pity that they would have to wait for a year before they could. Her father had insisted that she complete her youth service, which was the mandatory one-year programme every newly qualified graduate in Nigeria had to render to the nation. She knew her parents felt that she was still a bit too young to be getting married and were using the one year programme as an excuse to delay it.

“We’re almost there,” Akeem said some time later, turning into the street where his parents’ home was located. Yemi looked at the large, detached, gated properties along the street; each of them appeared to be vying for a best architectural design award. A few minutes later, Akeem drove through the massive wrought-iron gates of his family home and raised his hand in acknowledgement of the security men at their post. Yemi glanced at the lush, well-tended lawns as he drove further in. Everything looked stately, from the tall palms that lined both sides of the driveway and the beautiful flower beds that dotted the large grounds to the lovely fountain in front of the house.

A uniformed maid opened the door for them. She greeted them and then led them to the sitting room. She spoke to Akeem in Hausa before leaving the room. 

“She said my mum would be here shortly,” Akeem explained to Yemi, and she nodded. She had started trying to learn Akeem’s language but knew she still had a long way to go. “What would you like to drink?” he asked.

Yemi gave him a small smile, trying to still the nervousness rising within her. “Thanks, but I’m okay for now.”

He squeezed her shoulder lightly. “I’ll take you around the house later. I’m sure you’d like to see my old room.”

“Of course.”

He reached for the remote control and switched on the TV. She glanced around the sitting room, taking in the elegant settees and the beautiful Persian rugs that adorned the gleaming marble floors. The drapes that hung from the ceiling-to-floor windows were rich in colour and texture and added to the general opulence of the room.

Through the arched doorway, Yemi could see another open space that looked like a slightly lower floor from where they were seated. It seemed to be another sitting room with different-coloured settees placed strategically. She could also see a massive spiral stairway leading upstairs. Everything she looked at oozed class and elegance.

She thought about her own father’s sitting room back in Akoka and the comfortable but worn sofas. There was always bound to be something out of order no matter how much Bose tried to tidy up. This sitting room, on the other hand, looked like it was brand new, everything so orderly that she felt uncomfortable. She suddenly felt a little homesick and longed for the familiar comfort of her home.

Just then, Akeem’s mother came into the room. Yemi had seen pictures of her, but she appeared taller in person. She was dressed simply in a floor-skimming kaftan made of some wispy, butter-coloured, lace fabric. The simplicity of the outfit emphasized her beauty, but it was her eyes that caught Yemi’s attention the most. She had piercing, steely eyes, and those eyes were sweeping over Yemi at the moment. From the expression in them when they rested on her face again, Yemi felt as though she had been examined and found wanting.

Yemi stood up. She had practised some words in Hausa, but for the life of her, she could not remember a single one of them. “Good afternoon, Ma.”

“Hello, you must be Yemi,” Mrs. Kadiri said, her lips stretching in what appeared to be the semblance of a smile. “How are you?”

“I’m very well, thank you, Ma,” Yemi replied, trying hard to relax. This was the mother of the man she loved and her future mother in-law.

“I hope your parents are well?” Mrs. Kadiri asked as she sat opposite them.

“Yes, Ma, they are very well, thank you.”

“Akeem tells me that they are lecturers at the University of Lagos?”

“That’s correct, Ma.”

“And you live on campus and have lived there for most of your life?”

“Yes, Ma.”

“That must be interesting.” Yemi was not quite sure what she meant and didn’t know how to respond, but Mrs. Kadiri had already turned her attention towards her son. “Aren’t you going to offer her anything to drink?”

“I’ve done so, Mum, but she’s okay for now.”

Mrs. Kadiri looked from Akeem to Yemi. Then she pressed a buzzer by her side, and the maid appeared again. Mrs. Kadiri spoke rapidly to her in Hausa, and the maid left the room. Akeem frowned at his mother and then tried to smile when he caught Yemi watching him.

“I have asked the maid to bring us some drinks,” Mrs. Kadiri said to Yemi. “It is customary for us to entertain visitors when we meet them.”

“Thank you, Ma,” Yemi replied, wondering if she was a visitor or her son’s fiancée.

Mrs. Kadiri focused those piercing eyes on Yemi once again. “Akeem tells me that you have just graduated from the university. So what plans do you have now that you are done?”

“Yemi will be starting her youth service programme soon,” Akeem replied.

“I know that.” His mother sounded mildly irritated. “I meant afterwards.”

Yemi didn’t think it would be appropriate to tell her that she and Akeem planned on getting married afterwards. That information was meant to come from Akeem, not her. “I was thinking of doing my master’s degree programme in England.” Well, that had been what she and her parents had planned initially before she met Akeem, anyway.

The maid came into the room at that moment, and Yemi almost sighed in relief as Mrs. Kadiri looked away from her. The maid wheeled a small trolley laden with different kinds of drinks towards them. Akeem thanked her and then poured Yemi a glass of pineapple juice, catching her eye and smiling as he did so. Yemi thanked his mother for the drinks before taking a sip of the juice. The maid left the room again, leaving the trolley behind.

“Doing your master’s programme abroad sounds like a good idea,” Mrs. Kadiri said, picking up where she had left off. “You might even find out that you like it over there and stay back in the UK after you finish your programme.”

“We plan on getting married before she does her master’s programme,” Akeem said, looking steadily at his mother.

“Oh really?” Mrs. Kadiri said, arching one perfectly shaped eyebrow.

“Yes, Mum. That’s our plan.”

Akeem and his mother appeared to wage an unspoken war with their eyes, and the tension in the room was almost palpable.

“Nadia will be joining us for lunch,” Mrs. Kadiri said, changing the topic. “She is home for the weekend. She is out shopping but should be here shortly.”

“That’s what she does best—shopping,” Akeem said, standing up in one fluid motion. “Mum, I want to show Yemi the house. We will join you for lunch later.”

“Lunch is in an hour,” Mrs. Kadiri said stiffly. “It will be served in the smaller dining room.”

“We will be there.” Akeem smiled as he held his arm out to Yemi, and then led her out of the room. Yemi was so conscious of Mrs. Kadiri’s eyes boring into her back that she wondered how she did not trip. 

Akeem led her to another, smaller, sitting room, and she sank gratefully into a seat. 

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“I’m fine.” She smiled wanly, not quite meeting his eyes. 

“Wait here for me, I’ll be back.” He touched her lightly on the shoulder before leaving the room.

Yemi felt somewhat confused. She got the distinct feeling that Akeem’s mother did not like her. There was just a certain coldness that she could sense from her. She wondered how she was going to survive the rest of her visit.

“Where did you go?” she asked Akeem when he came back into the room a few minutes later.

“I had to sort something out quickly.” He pulled her to her feet and held her close for a moment before taking her hand in his. “Let me take you around the house.”

The house turned out to be larger than she had thought. It had eight bedrooms, all en suite. There was another sitting room upstairs, two dining rooms, two studies, a gymnasium, and a huge kitchen. There was also a swimming pool and another building behind the house where the domestic staff lived. Yemi tried to appear enthusiastic as Akeem took her around, but her mood had been dampened by Mrs. Kadiri’s coldness.

“It’s beautiful out here,” she said as Akeem showed her the well-tended garden located at the back of the house.

Akeem looked around fondly. “We had plenty of fun here with our friends, ball games and all. It used to get quite noisy in here back then.”

They sat down on one of the garden seats, and he continued to tell her about his childhood, but her thoughts were far away, and she did not really hear half the things he was saying.

“This place is so big,” she said as they made their way back into the main house. “It must be lonely for your mum to be here by herself.”

“I guess she is used to it now. We used to do a lot of entertaining when my dad was alive. It did not seem that big then, as we nearly always had guests staying over.”

“Maybe you could have stayed here instead of getting your own place. After all, there is enough room.”

“Yeah…and I can just imagine you coming here to visit me,” Akeem said so drily that Yemi smiled.

They made their way towards the living room. Akeem appeared to sense her mood and cradled her a little closer. He took her back to the smaller sitting room and was in the process of telling her about a prank he had played in his teenage years when one of the doors leading to the sitting room slid open.

“Hey, big brother! Good to see you!”

They both turned at the same time, and Yemi found herself looking at a young lady who could have passed for Mrs. Kadiri in her early twenties. She knew this must be Nadia, Akeem’s younger sister.

“Hi! I am Nadia. You must be Yemi,” Nadia said as she got to where they were.

Yemi smiled. “Hi, it’s good to finally meet you.”

Nadia’s eyes moved over Yemi. “Hmmm…now I can see why my brother has been swept off his feet.” 

“I guess that’s a compliment?” Yemi said, regaining some of her confidence. She did not intend to be tongue-tied with Nadia. She knew they were age-mates, but Nadia had taken out a year to travel with her friends, so she was just about to start her final year at the university.

“Oh, believe me, it is,” Nadia said. “I could not believe someone had finally been able to snag my brother’s heart, but now I see why.” She turned to Akeem. “Mum said that lunch is about to be served.”

They all made their way to the dining room. Mrs. Kadiri was already seated when they got there. Akeem pulled out a seat for Yemi and then sat beside her. Mrs. Kadiri sat at the head of the table, and Nadia sat opposite Akeem and Yemi.

“What would you like to eat?” Akeem asked Yemi. “Some rice?”

Yemi looked at the assortment of dishes laid out in very attractive cookware. “That’s Tuwo, isn’t it?” she asked Akeem quietly, looking across at a dish. Akeem nodded. Tuwo was a popular dish in the northern part of the country where Akeem was from. “I’ll have some of that.”

He passed her the dish, and she helped herself to some of the food. He smiled at her before serving himself some of it too.

“I hope you like the food?” Mrs. Kadiri asked some time later.

“Yes, Ma, it’s very nice, thank you.”

“Akeem said that you graduated with first-class honours,” Nadia said. “Your parents must be very proud of you.”

Yemi smiled. “Yes, they are happy about it.”

“What would you give me if I graduate with first-class honours?” Nadia asked, turning towards her mother.

“Are you going to do that?” Mrs. Kadiri asked.

“Miracles still happen,” Nadia replied. She turned towards her brother. “And why are you smiling?”

“Why do you think I am smiling?” he asked.

“Because you think your little sister can’t cut it. Anyway, we shall leave the first classes for ‘brainiacs’ like Yemi. A second-class lower will do me nicely, thank you. I’m not going to use it anyway.”

Yemi listened to the banter between the siblings. She spoke little and concentrated on her food, but she was acutely aware of Akeem’s mother’s cold gaze on her all through the meal.

∞∞∞

Yemi was glad that her parents were not at home when she got back later that evening. She was not prepared to answer her mother’s questions about how the visit with Akeem’s mother had gone. She lay down in her room and mulled over the events of the day. She found herself unable to dismiss the thought that Mrs. Kadiri did not like her. She could also not shake the feeling that there was some unspoken tension between Akeem and his mother. It was all so confusing.

Akeem had tried to draw her into a conversation on the journey back home, but she had said very little. Later that evening, he called her, but she did not feel like talking. She sent him a text instead and switched off her phone.

The next day, she went over to Sesan’s place after church. She still felt uneasy whenever she thought about Akeem’s mother and felt she needed to retreat to familiar ground to regain her confidence. She sent a text to Akeem informing him that she would be busy all day. He called her back immediately, but she just let the phone ring until it stopped.

“Hey, stranger! You’re the last person I was expecting!” Sesan said on seeing her on his doorstep.

“Thanks,” Yemi said drily. “It shows how much down your list I have dropped.”

He grinned. “You’re still right there at the top!” He led her into the sitting room. “Let me get you a drink. Pineapple as usual?”

Yemi nodded. She looked around the sitting room. Nothing fancy or posh, but she felt right at home in it. “Are your parents at home?”

“No, they are out visiting friends,” he answered her from the kitchen. He came back with a glass of juice a few minutes later. “So how have you been?”

“Good,” Yemi said, taking a sip of her drink. “And you?”

“I’m all right, I guess. I’m enjoying being free right now. There’s always been one target or the other for me all my life, and it just feels good to be able to loaf around a bit now.” 

Yemi giggled. “People who don’t know you think you are a loafer anyway,” she teased. “Do you remember how Mrs. Thomas, our class teacher in form one, used to scold you because of the way you behaved in class?”

Sesan laughed. “I used to deliberately give her wrong answers just to wind her up. I’m sure she had concluded I was a hopeless case.”

“Until after the first class assessment when you left everyone trailing behind you. She almost could not believe it.” Yemi smiled and shook her head at him. “You were such a naughty boy back then!”

They talked some more about their secondary school days, laughing as they remembered fond memories.

“But what happened to you this last semester?” Yemi asked quietly. “Your results were a shock to everyone.”

Sesan smiled ruefully. “I had a lot on my mind.”

“Issues at home?”

“No!”

She hadn’t thought so either. “Relationship issues?”

The expression in his eyes was guarded. “Sort of.”

Yemi was puzzled. “I was not even aware you were in a relationship.”

“Well, you’ve been pretty occupied.”

She sighed. “I’m sorry I’ve not been there, but what happened?”

“She prefers someone else.”

Yemi was surprised. Sesan was good looking, fun, and one of the most decent guys she knew. That plus being the former captain of the university’s basketball team had to be enough to attract any girl. “You still care about her, don’t you?”

He smiled self-deprecatingly. “Crazy about her.”

Yemi felt so sorry for her friend. Impulsively, she got up from her seat and gave him a hug.

“Hey, don’t let your fiancé see you hugging another guy,” Sesan said, pushing her away.

“You’re not another guy, Shez. You’re my brother!” 

His smile faded slightly. “Thanks, but like I said, I’ll be okay.”

Yemi looked at him thoughtfully. “What about Ada? She really likes you, you know.”

“Don’t even go there.”

Yemi giggled at the expression on his face but decided not to tease him any further. She stayed at his place for a while before heading home. They chatted and played card games. She had wanted to talk to someone and felt Sesan would be able to advise her objectively about Akeem’s mother. But she did not think it would be fair to load him with her problems right then. He had too much going on.

∞∞∞

Akeem’s car was parked in front of her parents’ house when she got there. Her eyes automatically searched and saw the second car parked discreetly some distance away. Yemi had only recently found out that Akeem had bodyguards, and they followed him everywhere. They changed their car frequently, but she now knew how to recognise them. Akeem told her they came with his position as CEO of KH.

“Good, you are back!” her mother said when she entered the living room. “I was just thinking of calling Sesan’s land phone.”

“Thanks, Mum.” She went over to Akeem. “I’m sorry, I was not aware that you were here.”

“That’s okay.” His eyes searched hers. “I’ve been having a nice time here talking with your mum.”

“He has not had anything to eat, though,” Yemi’s mother said. “He said he was going to wait for you.”

Yemi turned towards Akeem. “Mum made her special stir-fried rice today. Believe me, you don’t want to miss that.”

His eyes held hers for a long moment. “I’d better have some then,” he said lightly.

She was dishing out the food for him in the kitchen when she felt his arms go around her from behind.

“I missed you, baby,” he said, nuzzling the nape of her neck. “Found it difficult sleeping without speaking to you last night.”

Yemi felt the familiar emotions that his touch aroused rising within her. “Hey, don’t make me drop this plate.”

“I’m not really hungry anyway.” He planted little kisses along the nape of her neck. “I just needed to see you.”

She tried to move away. “I have to give you some food now, otherwise my mum is going to ask questions.”

“All right, just a bit though.” He dropped a light kiss on her lips before releasing her.

Yemi dished out the food and placed it on a tray, and they went back to the sitting room. Her mother had been working on her desktop, but attempted to leave the room when they came back in.

“You don’t have to leave, Mum. Akeem and I can go to my room.”

“Thanks, dear,” Yemi’s mother said, sitting back down. “I need to complete these lecture notes before tomorrow.”

Yemi led the way to her room with Akeem following behind her. She set the tray on her bedside table. “Do you want to sit on the armchair or on the bed?”

He didn’t respond and just stood there, looking at her. “Why are you being so formal?” he asked after a long moment, “and why have you not been picking up my calls?”

“I sent you a text message.”

He sat on the bed but kept looking at her face. “Yemi, what’s wrong?”

She averted her eyes. “How do you mean?”

“Come and sit over here,” Akeem said, patting the space beside him. Yemi sat down but still wouldn’t look at him directly. “It’s about the visit to the house yesterday, isn’t it?”

“Your mum does not like me.”

“What makes you say that?”

“I’m an adult, and I could see it clearly from the way she acted towards me.”

He took her hand in his. “That was the first time you were meeting my mum. She is not a very expressive woman, not even to us, her children.”

“Your mum does not like me,” Yemi insisted. “And I’m not comfortable with that. Her actions showed her feelings towards our relationship quite clearly.”

He stroked her hand. “Our engagement is still a bit of a surprise to her.”

She arched her brows. “Why is that?”

“Let’s just say she has her own ideas about certain things, including marriage. Plus the fact that my siblings went with what she expected of them and she was expecting me to do the same.”

“I don’t get you.”

“My mum had hoped that I would marry someone from a family she knows, just like Adil did, and Nadia will eventually do.” He shrugged. “So like I said, my mum is just getting used to the fact that my marriage isn’t going to follow that pattern.”

“Well, it’s not too late for you to do her bidding,” Yemi said, trying to disengage her hand from his, but he held on to it firmly and entwined their fingers.

He had a hurt expression in his eyes. “Is that what you want me to do? I thought you said you loved me?”

She shrugged. “You understand your family dynamics more than I do.”

“Yemi, do you really love me?”

She did not answer him and still refused to meet his eyes. He turned her chin until their eyes met.

“I asked you a question, Yemi. Do you really love me?”

“You know I do.”

“Then that’s all that’s important. I love you, and I’m not letting you go. You’re the one I want, and everyone has to accept it.”

“Akeem…”

He placed his finger against her lips. “Shhh…baby, trust me, everything is going to be okay.”

Chapter 5

 

Akeem felt somewhat relieved as he drove away from Yemi’s house later that evening. He knew she still had some niggling doubts about his mother, but he felt he had been able to stem most of her fears.

He knew her too well not to have noticed that she was tensed up and uncomfortable all through the visit with his mother the day before. That was why he had deliberately delayed introducing her to his family, and he had been proven right. Just one meeting with his mum, and the only girl he had ever fallen in love with had gone into “flight” mode.

He stopped at a red light and drummed his fingers lightly on the steering wheel as he waited for the lights to change.

All through their time together, he’d had thoughts of his mother at the back of his mind. There were times he was almost tempted to tell Yemi about his family and his mum’s expectations about him. But he didn’t want to scare her off, and he wanted her to be so confident of his love for her that she would not be bothered about how his family might react to her.

He had not been surprised that his mother already knew about Yemi even before the story of his dating her leaked to the press. He knew she kept close tabs on all his relationships. He had no idea how she got the information, but somehow she always knew who he was dating, no matter how discreet he was.

The light turned green, and Akeem drove on. He did not feel like going home just yet, so he decided to stop over at his friend, Hasan’s place.

His mind went back to his mother. He remembered the row he’d had with her several weeks earlier when he had formally informed her of his intention to marry Yemi.

“You can’t be serious, Akeem!” she had snapped at him. “Date her? Yes, but marry her? Certainly not!”

“I’ve never been more serious, Mum. I love Yemi, and I want to marry her.”

“Who is she, and what exactly is she bringing into this family?” his mother had asked, her lips curling contemptuously.

“That’s not really important to me, Mum. We love each other, and I know Yemi will create a loving, stable home for us and for our kids.”

“Any woman can do that,” his mother had said sarcastically. “Akeem, you can’t just pick any girl from goodness knows where and say you want to marry her, not when you have a name and a legacy to protect! That girl has no place in this family!”

Akeem had thought that events of the past would have convinced his mother that she could not force her will on him, but that was obviously not the case. His mother had been very angry and refused to meet Yemi. He had kept his distance from her and deliberately avoided attending family events. Then she had softened up and tried some emotional blackmail, but his mind was made up. He had expected his mother to hold out some more and was a little surprised when she called him to say that she was ready to meet Yemi. He should have guessed that she would try something else. It was obvious that she was hoping to scare Yemi off with her attitude. But he was not going to let that happen.

From the moment he had set eyes on Yemi in Bluewater, he had just known that he wanted to be with her. He still didn’t know why, and he had given up trying to figure it out. She was not the first beautiful woman he had dated. He had dated plenty, but he got easily bored and went through several relationships knowing almost from the beginning that they would not last. That was until he met Yemi, and he had been knocked off his feet.

He arrived at Hasan’s house about fifteen minutes later and waved at the security guards as he drove through the gates.

“Hey, stranger. You’ve been so scarce, I was beginning to think that you and Hasan had fallen out!” Fayona, Hasan’s wife, said as she opened the door for him. “Even Jayden has been asking about you,” she said, referring to her four-year-old son.

“So sorry, It’s been really busy.” He looked at her admiringly. “You look good as usual.” Fayona was a full-time homemaker but always looked very pretty no matter what time of the day you met her. “I can see that my friend is taking very good care of you.”

She smiled. “Thanks, I can’t complain. How’s Yemi doing?”

“She’s good. I’m actually just coming from her place.”

At that moment, Jayden came into the sitting room, saw Akeem, and ran towards him. He squealed with excitement as Akeem bent down and lifted him up into the air. He loved it whenever Akeem did that.

“How have you been, my little man?” Akeem asked, as he set him down again. Jayden was his godson, and he was very fond of him.

“I’m fine, Uncle Akeem. I’ve been a good boy all week too, right, Mummy?”

“Yes, you’ve been good, but you also have to keep it up.”

Jayden sighed but nodded solemnly. “I’ll try, Mummy.”

“You can start by getting ready to go to bed now. It is way past your bedtime,” his mother added.

“But it’s the holidays, and Daddy said I could stay up a little longer.” He turned to Akeem. “Farah has already gone to bed because she is only little.” He held up one of his fingers for Akeem to see how old Farah was. “But Daddy said I could stay up a little longer because I’m older.”

His mother had other ideas. “You are older, but it’s time to go to bed now.”

“But, Mummy…”

“No buts. Remember, you’re trying to maintain your good record.”

“I know. But Uncle Akeem just got here, and I…”

“Don’t argue with me, young man,” Fayona cut in sternly. “I said it is time to go to bed, full stop.”

Akeem saw the expression on Jayden’s face and felt sorry for him. “Not to worry, Jayden, I’ll pop in next week specially to see you, okay?”

“Yes, Uncle Akeem,” the little boy replied, cheering up a little.

Fayona caught Akeem’s eye and smiled. “All right, but I still have one assignment for you before you go. Please take Uncle Akeem to Daddy in the study for me, will you? That will also give you a little time to have some man talk with him on the way, okay?”

Jayden lit up at that idea. “Okay, Mummy.”

On the way to his father’s study, Jayden regaled Akeem with stories of the activities he had been involved in during the holidays and how well he was taking care of his younger sister. Akeem listened and made the necessary comments. He loved this little boy. It was amazing how fast he was growing. He could not wait to have a son of his own, his and Yemi’s little boy. One that he would bring up, just the way his father had taught and mentored him.

“Hey, man!” Hasan said as Akeem entered the study with Jayden. “Good to see you! I was just about to send an SOS to Yemi to kindly allow us to see you.”

Akeem laughed as he bumped shoulders with him. “I can see you’ve not changed. You’re holed up in the study at this time of the day instead of spending time with that lovely lady downstairs!”

Hasan smiled ruefully. “I just needed to catch up on some work before the week starts.” He turned and touched Jayden’s head. “Still up, mister?”

“Can I stay with you a little while, Daddy? Mummy said I had to go to bed, but I’m not even tired one bit, and there is no school tomorrow, and…”

Hasan smiled. “You’ve said the golden words, ‘Mummy said.’ If Mummy said, then Mummy’s got to be obeyed. She is the boss around here, you know.” He touched Jayden’s head again. “You have to go to bed now, mister.”

“But what if I promise to wake up early tomorrow morning…” Jayden continued, but his father was already shaking his head.

“No, son, it is bedtime now.”

Jayden sighed but seemed to understand that he could not argue anymore. “All right…good night, Dad,” he said in a resigned tone as he knocked knuckles with him. “Goodnight, Uncle Akeem.”

“Goodnight, Jayden.” Akeem touched his shoulder as he walked past him. “Sleep well.”

Jayden turned back as he got to the door. “Don’t forget that you said you would come round to see me next week.”

“I won’t forget.” Akeem smiled. “See you then.”

Both men looked at each other and burst into laughter after Jayden left the room.

“He never gives up.” There was an unmistakable note of pride in Hasan’s voice. “Look at him trying to get me to overrule what his mum had told him.”

“Smart boy. He will be a good negotiator someday.” Akeem was still smiling as he thought of Jayden. “So how’ve you been, my friend?”

“Good, good. Hectic schedule as always, but I’m trying to stay on top of it. What about you? I heard the privatization of the telecoms sector is very official now, and the bid will soon be made public. How are you prepping for that?”

“I’m doing my best, man. I’ve put together a team, and they are working hard on the details.” Akeem’s voice was excited as he spoke. This had been a dream of his for a long time. He and his father had talked about it before his father’s death. Then, it had been nothing more than just mere speculation that the government was going to privatize the telecoms industry and create a second national carrier besides Nitel, the government-owned telecoms company. But even back then, Akeem had known that it was something he would love to do, and he and his father had agreed that it would take Kadiri Holdings to dizzying heights.

“Fola Lawal is heading the team. I pulled him out of Zenith Oil,” Akeem continued, referring to the oil-and-gas sector of Kadiri Holdings. “We’ll send our bid as soon as it is made official.”

Hasan nodded approvingly. “That’s a good idea. Fola is an asset to your company. But didn’t he mind being pulled out from Zenith?”

“Fola likes challenges, and besides, Zenith Oil is running smoothly. He’s excited about heading the telecoms sector.”

“If anyone else but you had attempted to be the second carrier to Nitel, I would have told them that they were on a suicide mission financially, but I have no fears about you at all.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, man. I know it’s going to be a huge project, but I’m prepared to do all I can to make it a success.”

Fayona came into the room with a tray of drinks. Akeem watched the play of affection between Hasan and his wife. They had one of the best marriages he had ever seen. They had gotten married when Fayona was just twenty and still a student at the university. He remembered how he had teased Hasan constantly about being a cradle snatcher, little knowing that he was going to marry someone so much younger than himself too. He smiled inwardly. There was something about these women that made a man act uncharacteristically.

After Fayona left them, they picked up where they had left off. Hasan was in the process of chasing some new contracts, and he was all fired up about it. Akeem smiled as he listened to his friend. He was just like him, unmoved by challenges so long as he was sure about the business deal he was about to go into.

“How’s Yemi?” Hasan asked, after they had talked for a while. “Have you guys fixed a date yet?”

Akeem shook his head. “Not yet. Her dad is still insisting that she completes her youth service year. He was even suggesting that we should wait until after her master’s degree programme, but I was able to go round that one.”

Hasan laughed. “Relax, man! You have the rest of your lives together. I can’t even believe you’re so keen on settling down now. I was beginning to think that you had decided to remain a bachelor for life!”

“I can’t believe it myself,” Akeem admitted.

“Well, I don’t blame you. Yemi is a lovely girl. I guess your mum has met her?”

Akeem nodded.

Hasan smiled sympathetically at the expression on Akeem’s face. “She’s not happy about it, right?”

“That’s putting it mildly.” He told Hasan about Yemi’s visit with his mother the day before.

“Phew! Poor girl. That couldn’t have been a pleasant experience for her.” He looked thoughtfully at Akeem. “You know your mum is not going to accept her easily, right?”

Akeem frowned. “I know, but she will just have to deal with it. I’m definitely not breaking up with Yemi because of her.”

“What about Leila?” Hasan asked.

Akeem’s frown deepened. “A non-issue, man.”

Hasan laughed. “But I’m still thinking of Yemi, though. She is young, and you know that your mum wields a lot of influence within your family. She could make things unpleasant for her.”

Akeem’s eyes hardened. “She would have to go through me to get to Yemi. For now, I’m just going to keep their contact as minimal as possible.”

“Fine, but you’ve got to have some kind of long-term strategy in place to shield Yemi from any unpleasantness.”

∞∞∞

Yemi weaved her car through the midday traffic. She wished she could take an exit route and head back home, but she had made up her mind she was going to see Teju that day.

Over the past few months, her life had been “one busy happy,” as she described it to her friends. Akeem had ensured she did her youth service in Lagos, and she had been lucky to get a placement at Lavabre, a thriving finance company in Victoria Island. Her job plus her wedding preparations kept her very occupied. Akeem also insisted now that she accompany him to most of the social functions he attended, so she had had very little time to catch up with her friends.

The traffic started moving even slower, and she groaned as it came to a complete standstill a few minutes later. She sighed and turned the air conditioning a notch higher.

She turned slightly in her seat as she saw a car that looked like that of Abby, a colleague at Lavabre. On closer inspection, she realized that she was not the one.

Thankfully the traffic eased a little some fifteen minutes later, and she was finally able to take an exit route. About ten minutes later, she parked her car in front of the block of flats where Teju lived.

She checked her face in the rearview mirror before getting out of the car. She was more conscious of herself these days. Like Akeem had told her, he wasn’t chased by the paparazzi but a few photos of them still made their way into the soft-sell magazines. So far, everything they had written about her was okay, and she wanted to keep it so.

She was really missing Akeem. He was out of the country on a business trip and was going to be away for a week, and she could hardly wait for him to come back.

“I can’t wait to change your last name,” he had told her on the way to the airport two days earlier.

She had looked at him mischievously. “Maybe we should take my dad’s advice about me doing my master’s degree programme. The programme is only for a year, after all.”

“Maybe I should cancel this trip and get married to you at the registry tomorrow.”

She tutted, “What would happen to all the wedding plans?”

“No one needs to know; we can still go along with it as if we’re not already married.” He smiled deviously at her. “Just that I will have certain liberties…”

She touched his cheek lightly with her finger. “Very soon, Mr. Kadiri, very soon.”

“That’s what I keep trying to tell myself.” He kissed her and then pulled away slightly. “But aren’t you at all tempted by my suggestion?” he asked softly, before kissing her some more. “It’s foolproof. No one would know,” he murmured against her lips.

“No deal,” Yemi said, and Akeem had let out a long-suffering sigh before his head dipped towards hers again. Yemi had drawn back after a while, her heart racing at the emotions that Akeem always stirred up in her. She had wondered what the driver must be thinking and had glanced at the rearview mirror, but the guy was keeping his eyes discreetly on the road ahead.

Her thoughts were interrupted as she saw a woman just coming out of the entrance of Teju’s building, and she quickly walked in before the automatic door shut again. She was happy she didn’t have to buzz for Teju to let her in. Sesan had told her Teju was home that day, and Yemi wanted to surprise her.

Sesan was another person she needed to catch up with. She knew she was to blame for their not being so close now as she was so occupied with Akeem. However, even the times when they did meet, Sesan seemed different. He was a little abrupt, and his expressions were always guarded, very different from the playful guy who had been her best friend and confidant.

“Hey, I must be dreaming,” Teju said, rubbing her eyes when she opened the door and saw Yemi.

Yemi gave her a quick hug as she entered the apartment. “I’m so sorry, but I’ve just been so busy.”

“It’s just four months to go now, isn’t it?” Teju replied, locking the door behind them.

Yemi flopped down on the sofa. “Three months, two weeks, and five days!”

Teju laughed. “You forgot to tell me how many hours and minutes are left as well?”

“I’m sure I can calculate that too. I can barely wait!” Yemi took off her shoes and wiggled her toes, trying to relax them.

“Is your dress ready yet?”

“It’s on its way from France. I called the shop two days ago, and they confirmed that it’s been sent.”

“Knowing you, I’m sure it’s going to be way out! But I’d have thought you would have chosen to make it yourself?”

“I wanted to, but Akeem wouldn’t hear of it.” Yemi made a face. “I’m not quite sure if it’s because he doesn’t trust me enough or if he believes it would be too stressful for me.”

Teju snorted, “Then he has not seen enough of your work. That dress you made for me for my company’s dinner party was a knockout. People kept asking me who the designer was.”

“I tried telling him that, but he said he’s the one paying for it so…” Yemi shrugged. “I left it alone.”

They talked about her wedding plans, and Yemi filled Teju in on the preparations so far. Akeem had hired wedding planners, and they met with her frequently to update her. They were obviously very experienced, and Yemi gave them a free hand so long as they ran the plans regularly by her.

Teju asked her about her plans to get a job after her youth service. The service year would end just one month before the wedding. She raised her brows when Yemi told her Akeem was not that keen on her working so soon.

“We’re still talking about it, though,” Yemi said to her. “Anyway, how’s Tosin?” Teju had gotten engaged a couple of months earlier. Tosin, her fiancé, was supposedly “saved,” so he met Teju’s standards.

“He’s fine,” Teju said. “We’re meeting later this evening.”

“Have you fixed a date yet?”

“We’re thinking of July next year, so we still have a little over a year to plan.”

“Well, let me know if I can help with anything,” Yemi said, walking towards the fridge in the dining area. “I’m feeling a little peckish.” She opened the fridge and peered in. “What have you got in here?”

“Oh, there is some cake and sausage rolls in there. I made them last weekend. Sorry I didn’t offer you some earlier.”

Yemi grinned. “No worries, I can help myself.” She brought the cake out, cut herself a few slices, and went back to the sofa to join Teju. “Mmmm…so moist and delicious. You always did have a way with your cakes.”

“Thanks. I made it for my Bible study group. The girls came around over the weekend, and I always try to have a few nibbles ready for them.”

Yemi took another bite of her cake. “Oh, so that is still on?” Teju had been inviting her to the Bible study group for a long time, but Yemi always found a reason not to join them. “What do you guys actually do?”

“Well, we discuss practical things that affect our day-to-day lives, look at them from the biblical perspective, and then we pray. Everything is over in about an hour. You should come sometime. I’m sure you would enjoy it.”

“I’ll keep your invite in mind.” Her eyes glinted mischievously. “But don’t worry about me, I’m still a good girl. My fiancé would be a happier man if I weren’t so ‘good.’”

Teju caught on to her meaning and laughed. “Way to go, girl!”

Yemi sighed. “I must confess that it’s hard at times, though.” She set the empty plate aside and stretched herself on the sofa. She felt a little achy all over. She hoped she was not coming down with a fever. “Do you and Tosin struggle with stuff like that?”

“It happens to everyone, but there are ways around it. In fact, we discussed something like this at our last meeting.”

Yemi giggled and wagged her finger playfully at Teju. “Naughty, naughty. So that’s what you girls talk about. Maybe I should come along and hear your views on it.”

Teju smiled. “Like I said before, we talk about things that affect everyone. The way we concluded that bit was to avoid too much ‘touchy feely’ so as not to stir up emotions unnecessarily.”

“Touchy feely…like kissing and stuff?”

“Yeah…Tosin and I don’t.”

Yemi raised her brows. “Never?”

Teju nodded. “We just made up our minds not to. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not been easy, but so far so good. For us ladies, we’re kind of built not to get so easily stirred up but for guys…” She rolled her eyes. “Their emotions can easily become like a tsunami, raging and roaring. You don’t want to mess with that.”

“I know what you mean.” Yemi felt sorry for Akeem at times. He had told her that she was the only woman he knew who had such inhibitions. “It’s been tough holding out, but I really do feel like it’s a lot more exciting to wait until one is properly married.”

Teju’s face grew serious. “I’m not holding out because it will be more exciting. I’m holding out because not doing so will offend God, and I don’t want to do that.”

Yemi stared a little warily at Teju and wondered why she always had to bring a different dimension to everything these days. She shrugged. “Whatever, the important thing is that I’m keeping myself, and I’m sure I am pleasing God in the process too.” She frowned a little bit. “But hey, you know I’m not really a bad person, and I go to church for goodness’ sake—quite regularly too.”

Teju took her time to answer, as if she were searching for the right words to use. “Being moral or attending church regularly is not the same thing as having a personal relationship with Christ.” 

Yemi did not want to get into all that theological stuff. She took another bite of her cake. She had other things on her mind, Akeem’s mother’s behavior towards her being paramount. Mrs. Kadiri was no warmer towards her. If anything, she had grown a touch frostier. It was the same thing with other members of his extended family. They were polite but distant. She felt they were probably just not friendly by nature, but it still made her uncomfortable.

“Teju, how is your relationship with Tosin’s mother?”

“Quite good. We get along very well, why?”

“I was just wondering.” She suddenly felt like sharing her experience with someone and told Teju the concerns she had about Mrs. Kadiri. “So what do you think?” she asked when she had finished.

Teju paused before she answered. “I may be wrong, but her behaviour goes just a little bit beyond not being naturally expressive.”

“That’s what I thought too, but Akeem keeps telling me not to worry about it.” She frowned slightly. “She has never really come out as being openly hostile. It’s more from the expression on her face and the frosty reception I always get from her.”

“You don’t really need a frosty relationship with your mother-in-law. Is Akeem close to his mum?”

Yemi shrugged. “She’s his mother, and he looks out for her, but she does not control him, if that is what you mean.” That was one thing that she was glad about. She had noticed how much control Akeem’s mother seemed to wield over Adil and his wife, Zara.

“You still need to be very careful. Apart from praying about it, ask Akeem how he can help you relate with his mother. Have you spoken to your mum about this?”

Yemi shook her head. “I don’t want to get her worried.” Bringing his mother’s attitude towards her to her parents’ attention might just trigger their earlier concerns again, and Yemi didn’t want that. “Who knows, I may even be wrong about Akeem’s mother,” she continued. “It may all just be my imagination.”

“I sincerely hope so.” At that moment, Teju’s phone beeped, and she looked at the text message. “It’s Sesan,” she said. “He says he’s in the neighborhood and will be stopping by shortly.”

“Oh great,” Yemi said, cheering up a bit. “I hardly get to see that guy anymore.”

“He’s got a lot of stuff going on at the moment, and he is really busy at work. But at least he’s cheered up some at the prospect of going to England for his master’s degree programme soon.”

“It’s funny that he would be going off without me,” Yemi said a little wistfully. “We’ve always planned on doing our master’s programme together. So many things are changing in my life. I almost wish I could hold on to some of them, but…” Her voice trailed off.

“That’s life. Many times we don’t have a choice over those natural changes. The old always has to give way to the new.

Chapter 6

 

The warm rays of the rising sun filtered in through the half open drapes of the bedroom windows bathing the room with a soft yellow glow. Yemi stretched herself lazily on the bed. It was the morning of her wedding, and she didn’t think she could be any happier than she felt at that moment. Tola was soundly asleep beside her. She had flown in from England a week earlier, and both of them had stayed up late the night before, too excited to sleep.

The traditional wedding ceremony had taken place two days earlier, and it had gone very well. Everything was done according to the culture of Yoruba land where Yemi was from. Her aunties had not spared Akeem, and they had given him a lot of tasks to perform in order to prove that he was worthy of their niece. He was asked to dance until they were satisfied and then, as he made his way into the house, her aunties kept throwing traditional wrappers across his path, signifying rivers, mountains, or whatever else that came to their minds. Akeem was then meant to pay for these obstacles to be removed. He knew about this custom and had come prepared. He kept showering her aunties with the dollar and pound notes he brought along with him until they started singing his praises and finally allowed him into the sitting room.

But there was more in store for him, and Yemi and her friends giggled as they watched the proceedings from the TV monitor installed in her room for that purpose. Her uncles took over from the ladies when Akeem got into the sitting room and, in keeping with tradition, Akeem was asked to prostrate full length on the floor to ask Yemi’s father for permission to marry her. It had all been so hilarious to Yemi and her friends, and they had just kept laughing.

Yemi turned over and stretched herself languidly on the bed. A knock on her door lifted her out of her reverie. It was her mother.

“Hello dear, I hope you slept well?” she asked as she sat down on the bed beside Yemi.

“Yes I did, Mum.” She kissed her mum on the cheek before lying back against the pillows. Tola turned over but did not wake up.

Yemi’s mother smiled and shook her head slightly. “I still remember the day you were born so vividly, and to think that you will be leaving home today.” She looked both happy and sad at the same time.

“I’ll be just a few miles away, Mum. I’ll still see you often.”

“But it won’t be the same.” Her mother sighed, but a smile hovered on her lips. “I’m not complaining, though. I’m just going to miss you so much.” She glanced at the wall clock and stood up. “The hair stylist should be here any moment from now. I think you girls should get up and start getting ready.”

Yemi tapped Tola after her mother left the room. Tola groaned and burrowed further under the duvet. Yemi tapped her again, and she finally opened her eyes. 

She looked at Yemi through bleary eyes. “Is it morning yet?”

“Yes, it is.” The morning of her wedding to the man she loved. Yemi felt like dancing with excitement.

By the time they took their baths, other members of the bridal party had already begun to arrive. The hairstylist almost set everyone’s hearts racing when he arrived late, and they all heaved a sigh of relief when he finally came in.

After that, everything was a blur of activities to Yemi. Her dad brought her back to earth as she saw him trying to blink back his tears when he saw her fully dressed. That almost set her off too, but she was immediately cautioned by the numerous aunts that flanked her not to ruin her makeup.

She felt like she was in a bubble when she arrived at the church. She had already been told by the public relations department at KH that the press would be there. Two media houses had approached her for interviews before the wedding, but she had been advised to decline them. But the public relations staff had prepared her to still expect media presence at the wedding.

She was nervous but kept a bright smile on her face as camera bulbs flashed all around her as she got out of the car. She clung a little tighter to her father’s arm as it dawned on her afresh the kind of man she was getting married to.

As she walked down the aisle on her father’s arm, she looked ahead of her and saw Akeem standing at the front of the church with his best man, Javier. He looked handsome and debonair in his grey suit, silver waistcoat and cravat. At that moment, he turned and looked in her direction. His eyes were so full of admiration and tenderness that it felt like it was just the two of them in that auditorium. A calmness settled over her, and it felt like she was floating up to him.

After she had exchanged vows with Akeem and signed the marriage register, close family members and friends came forward to hug and congratulate them. They had just been kissed and hugged by Yemi’s mother and as she left them, Yemi saw Akeem’s mother by their side. Yemi smiled and turned towards her, expecting to be hugged and congratulated too, but as their eyes met, Yemi froze involuntarily at the coldness in Mrs. Kadiri’s eyes. She held Yemi’s eyes for a moment and then turned and hugged only Akeem.

∞∞∞

The next day, Akeem and Yemi left for their honeymoon in the Maldives. The days they spent in the Maldives were the loveliest that she had ever experienced in her life. Their villa was located up in the hills and had a view of the sea. She was so entranced by the view that she spent a good amount of time gazing out of the windows, to Akeem’s amusement. They went snorkelling and exploring and, other times, just lazed on the sun-kissed beaches.

Three weeks after they returned from the Maldives, Yemi was excited when she got a mail by special delivery informing her that she had been offered a permanent position at Lavabre PLC. She had been invited for an interview towards the end of her youth service year but had decided not to tell Akeem about it. He was still not keen on her working so soon after their wedding, but she was sure he would come round if she was offered the job.

She was really happy about the offer and felt it would be so exciting to start a career in such a corporate setting. She decided to hold onto the news until Akeem came back in the evening.

“See what I’ve been missing.” Akeem said as he kissed her when she opened the door for him later that day.

“I missed you too, honey.” She savoured the feel of his strong arms around her and snuggled closer to him. “How was your day?”

“Good, but I find myself looking forward so much to the end of the day now.”

“Same here, honey.” Yemi smiled. She was still getting used to the fact that this ruggedly handsome man was now her husband. “I made you something really scrumptious for dinner. Why don’t you freshen up while I set the table?”

He gave her another quick kiss before releasing her. “Great. I’m famished. I’ll be downstairs shortly.”

When Akeem came back downstairs, they ate, discussed their day, and retreated to the sitting room where Akeem flicked on the TV. He selected a channel and put his arm around her as he settled more comfortably on the sofa.

“I’ve got some very good news,” Yemi said, leaning towards the stool where she had dropped the large envelope from Lavabre.

Akeem raised his eyebrow quizzically as he took the letter from her. He scanned through it. “I didn’t know that you had interviewed for a permanent job.”

“I wanted it to be a surprise,” Yemi said excitedly.

“That means that you really made a good impression on them. Well done.” He placed the letter back on the stool.

Yemi studied his face. “You don’t sound excited. Don’t you want me to take the job?”

He rubbed the back of his neck with his hand. “Have I said so?”

“Tell me what’s really going through your mind.” Akeem reclined back on the sofa but still said nothing. She touched his arm. “Come on, honey, talk to me. What’s going on in your mind?”

He sighed. “I’m not against you getting a job, but we’ve only just gotten married, and I wanted you to get used to all that without the added stress of a new job.”

Yemi’s eyes widened slightly. “But I can take that in my stride. Other women do!”

His voice was quiet. “My schedule is not really like a lot of other men’s, plus I travel quite a bit. If you get tied up in a regular nine-to-five job, it’s going to be a bit awkward synchronizing our time together.”

“But it doesn’t have to be that way,” Yemi protested. “I’ll definitely still get home before you do, and I would have had enough time to relax before you get home.”

“Baby, whatever you decide is fine by me.”

She looked into his eyes. “But you don’t really want me to take the job, do you?”

Akeem did not answer her. Instead, he bent his head and kissed the tip of her nose. “I’m a guy who just got married. I’m very much in love with my wife, and I want to take care of her in every way possible.” He punctuated each statement with a kiss on her face and neck. “Moreover, I don’t want to have to share her just yet.” He touched his lips to hers again. “Well, maybe I can share, but not with an organization,” he murmured against her lips.

“Who do you want to share me with?”

He kissed her again. “My son.”

She smiled. “Or daughter.”

He bent his head and nuzzled her neck with his lips, sending delicious tingles all over her body. “Yeah, but my son first. I’ve got a lot of training to do on that little guy, and the earlier we start the better.” He ran his finger down her cheek. “And then, we will have our cute little princess afterwards, someone for me to love and cuddle, someone who looks exactly like her beautiful mum.”

“But what am I going to be doing with myself all day while you are away at work?” The idea was even a little scary. “I’ve never not done anything in my life.”

“Then maybe it’s time for you to have a holiday on me. Moreover, it’s my job to provide for you, so just relax and enjoy it, okay?”

“It’s not just about the money,” Yemi protested. “It’s about the mental stimulation.”

“What about this kind of stimulation?” His head dipped again, and he kissed her. “And this type…or this type?”

His kisses were making her feel like anything other than a serious discussion. “Honey, I’m serious!” Yemi said, pulling away. She looked at him reproachfully. “As I was saying, I need the mental stimulation, plus the fact that I would like to help out on the home front as well.”

Akeem smiled. “That’s sweet of you, but we don’t really need your money. The help I need from you is to run this home and always look as gorgeous as possible.” He planted a quick kiss on her lips before she could evade it. She smiled and shook her head at him. “But besides my being very possessive…”

“Oh, so you know?” she cut in with a mock frown.

“Of course I do. Which sane man wouldn’t be, with a wife like you?”

Yemi giggled in spite of herself. This guy was good for her ego.

“So besides that, are you really sure you want to get into the corporate world? Very intelligent people like you sometimes feel stifled by such an environment.”

“But I’ve got to use my degree. I’m an accountant!”

“You’ve not got to do anything. You need to think about what you really want to do and let me know, but for now…we’re still on our honeymoon,”

“Until when?” Yemi was amazed that she was even contemplating the thought of not working.

He looked slyly at her belly. “Until we’ve had a couple of kids. Then we’ll take a break before having three more.”

Her eyes widened. “No way! We’re having just two kids! That’s what we agreed on!” 

He laughed at her expression. “That’s what you told me, but okay, we’ll settle for four. How about that, huh?”

“Just two kids!”

“Let’s wait and see how that goes. I may be able to convince you otherwise.”

“No deal!” She looked towards the letter again. “Akeem, this is such a wonderful opportunity…”

“Believe me, baby, there will be plenty of other opportunities. And if you get bored, you can always work at any of the branches of KH.” He winked at her. “But of course, your contract will be specially drawn out by the CEO.”

She made a face. “Yeah, right. I may as well stay home.” She could just imagine the number of hours he would tell them to draw up for her. She would probably be told to start work daily at noon and close by three o’clock. That was the reason why she had declined working there during her youth service. “Akeem, let me think about this, okay?”

“That’s fine.” He drew her back into his arms. “Now enough of all this serious talk, it’s not healthy during a honeymoon.”

∞∞∞

Akeem did not bring up the topic of Yemi working again. She knew he was leaving the decision up to her, but she also knew what decision would please him. Yemi had noticed during the period when they were dating that most of Akeem’s friends’ wives did not work. Akeem was also right about his schedule being different from a regular one. He travelled quite a bit, and he also had important social engagements that he had to attend. She knew she would have to accompany him to many of these events, but she was sure she could still have juggled that responsibility with a job.

The bottom line, however, was that she wanted to please him. He had never given her any cause to be unhappy since she met him. If anything, he had surpassed all her expectations. She decided to turn down the job offer and focus on her home. She would revisit the job issue later on.

“What’s this I hear about you turning down the job?” Abby, her colleague at Lavabre, asked her on the phone about a week after she had formally declined the job offer. She and Abby had become friends over the period of time that she had been at Lavabre. She was married with a young son, and Yemi liked her a lot. “I thought you liked it when you were here or…wait a minute, are you pregnant?”

Yemi laughed. “No, not yet, at least not as far as I know.”

Abby laughed too. “But seriously, if you are not pregnant, then why did you turn down the job?”

“I felt I should try to get used to married life before taking on a job.” The excuse sounded a little lame even to her own ears. She’d probably have snorted if someone else had told her the same thing a while back. Whoa! The things a guy could make a girl do!

“Okay…” Abby said, dragging out her response as if lost for more words. “That’s fine if you’re happy with it, but please don’t let all those brains go to waste.”

They talked for a few more minutes before ending the call. Yemi put the phone down slowly. That was one down. She knew she would still have to answer more questions, especially from her family, but she had her own home now, and this was her decision.

She tried to get into the hang of married life over the next few weeks. Akeem had a cook, Bassey, who was also paid extra to do some cleaning. A proper cleaner came in at the weekends. Bassey was a nice guy, and he and Yemi got along very well. She took over most of the cooking from him but assured him that his job was safe. He had been with Akeem for a long time, and Akeem trusted him around the house. She didn’t see any reason to upset that balance.

They had to attend quite a number of social engagements, and many of their weekends were filled up. Yemi used to feel intimidated by the caliber of people she met at these functions, but Akeem was very supportive of her, and she gradually relaxed.

Sesan had travelled to England for his master’s degree shortly before her wedding. Although she tried to keep in touch with him by calling him on the phone, he hardly ever called her back. After a while, Yemi stopped calling him and accepted what Teju had said. It was a new season, and she had to go with the flow.

∞∞∞

Because she had so much time on her hands, Yemi decided to focus on her hobby. Part of the way she kept herself entertained when she was at social events with Akeem was to mentally dress the ladies she encountered. Some of them wore expensive outfits that did nothing for their body shapes, and Yemi found herself mentally making adjustments to what they were wearing.

You, my lady should stick strictly to classic fits, she would think to herself as she saw well-endowed women in fitted dresses with bursting seams. And for others, she would think, A little less frills here, a little tuck there, a fuller skirt to give an impression of a smaller waistline, and a different choice of fabric to draw attention away from a not-so-flattering feature. And she would go on and on until she was satisfied.

She had an old sewing machine but ordered a couple of more modern ones and decided to start designing and making her own outfits. She experimented with different fabrics and designs and felt satisfied with the outcomes. But she still needed to muster a lot of confidence before she could make up her mind to wear one of the outfits to an event they had been invited to, a dinner in honour of the new American ambassador to Nigeria.

She stood in front of the mirror after dressing up, wondering if she was being foolish or not. She had always been complimented on her designs, but those were her family and friends, and they didn’t exactly move in the same realm as the Kadiri family and friends.

She examined the dress again critically. It was blush colored with ruched, sleeveless shoulders, a fitted waist, and a side-draped, floor-length skirt. She tugged at the hem of the skirt. It was appearing a little lopsided to her, and then the bodice began to look funny too. A worried frown furrowed her brows as she calculated how much time she had to quickly change into one of the dresses Akeem had recently bought for her.

“You look good enough to eat!” Akeem said, coming into the room and wrapping his arms around her as he stood behind her.

She turned her head to look at him. “Really?”

His lips quirked in amusement. “You’re the one looking in the mirror; what do you see?”

She looked again and felt a little more confident. At least, he had not even noticed that it was one of her own designs. That had to be a good sign!

Akeem was his usual confident self when they got to the function, and she found herself following his lead as they mingled with other guests. She was pleasantly surprised to see Akeem’s cousin, Fadel, and his wife, Sara. Sara had a fun personality, and Yemi enjoyed her company. Fadel, Hasan, and Akeem had attended school together since they were kids. Fadel and Sara were the only members of the Kadiri family that had gone out of their way to be friendly to her.

Yemi felt more confident after that outing. Sara had admired her dress, but Yemi felt she was just being polite. Women normally “oohed” and “aahed” over each other’s dresses at such events, and Yemi felt it was all part of polite social chitchat. Nevertheless, she was glad she had not received any strange looks. She decided that she would begin to wear more of her own designs.

Sara and Fayona soon got to know she designed her own clothes. Initially, Yemi would either give a vague answer or would subtly change the topic whenever they asked her where she bought her dress or who her fashion designer was. But she gradually began to take their compliments more seriously and finally told them she made her own clothes. She was flattered when they asked her to sew for them, but she declined. But they kept asking her until she finally gave in but told them she would supply the fabrics, and of course, the service was free too. In that way, she knew she would not feel very bad if they didn’t like what she made.

She was absolutely chuffed when she saw Fayona wearing one of the dresses she’d made for her to a wedding a few weeks later.

∞∞∞

Her relationship with the Kadiris did not get any better. Mrs. Kadiri rarely visited, and she preferred to go to Akeem’s office to see him. Apart from Fadel and Sara, Yemi got about the same kind of treatment from other extended family members. She found out that many of them had married within their circle, so it was a case of everyone knowing every other person’s family. Whenever they had to attend any family-related function and Akeem happened to leave her side, she would stand out like a sore thumb. Yemi didn’t talk about it anymore with Akeem, but it didn’t stop her from worrying about it either.

About three months after their marriage, she was tidying up the second bedroom in their suite when she came across a package. Mrs. Kadiri liked a particular type of vitamin supplements that Akeem always helped her order in from England. She knew that Mrs. Kadiri had been talking to Akeem over the phone, asking him to send them over to her, but he had kept forgetting to do so. He was currently away on a trip to Abuja, and Yemi decided that she would take the pills over to her mother-in-law herself.

She had never gone to the house alone but felt it was high time she began to do so. Moreover, she badly wanted Akeem’s mother to see her as a daughter and not just as Akeem’s wife.

When she got to the house, Yemi handed the fruits she had bought for Mrs. Kadiri on her way to the house over to Nanzip, the housekeeper who answered the doorbell. Then she was shown to the sitting room, where Mrs. Kadiri sat watching a documentary on TV.

“Good evening, Ma,” Yemi said politely.

“Hello, Yemi,” Mrs. Kadiri said, looking up briefly at Yemi but as usual, that glance was enough to shoot frosty darts at her. “I wasn’t expecting you. I hope you are well?”

“I’m fine, thank you, Ma,” Yemi replied. She brought out the package from the bag she had carried it in and handed it over to Mrs. Kadiri. “I brought the vitamin supplements Akeem ordered for you. I know that he meant to send them over but kept forgetting to do so.”

“Thank you,” Mrs. Kadiri said, taking the package from Yemi. “I was going to send my driver over for them.”

They both turned as Nadia came into the room. Yemi exchanged greetings with her, and Nadia sat down with the bowl of grapes she had in her hands.

“Akeem is not with you?” Nadia asked, popping a grape into her mouth.

“No, he had to travel to Abuja this morning. He’ll be back in a couple of days.”

“Oh, I spoke to him yesterday morning, and he didn’t mention it,” Nadia replied.

“It was an impromptu trip. It came up suddenly.”

“Well, you should be used to your brother doing things like that by now,” Mrs. Kadiri said to Nadia. “We are the least important people to him.” She pressed the buzzer by her side and told Nanzip to bring drinks for Yemi.

The silence stretched uncomfortably. Mrs. Kadiri spoke to Nadia in Hausa, and Nadia replied back in Hausa, and that was how they continued. Apart from one or two sentences directed at Yemi in between their conversation, she was completely ignored for the rest of her visit.

After about thirty minutes of being ignored, Yemi felt very uncomfortable and embarrassed by what they were doing. She knew it was deliberate; they could have spoken English, being fully aware that she didn’t understand Hausa.

“I’ll be on my way, Ma,” Yemi said, standing up.

Another flick of those cold, haughty eyes. “Oh, all right. Thanks for bringing the supplements.”

Neither Mrs. Kadiri nor Nadia made any attempt to walk Yemi to the door.

“Have a good night, Yemi!” Nadia called after her. “Say hello to that brother of mine when he gets back.”

Yemi felt tears of embarrassment stinging her eyes as she got into her car. She had tried over the last three months to crack the coldness between Akeem’s mother and her, but had met with a brick wall every time. Nadia, on the other hand, blew hot and cold as the situation suited her. She could be nice and chatty one day, and the next time would be cold, distant, and haughty.

She got home, still very troubled. Akeem had always waved off her fears and tried to make light of the matter, and there were times when she wondered if she was being too sensitive, but after what just happened, she had no doubts in her mind that she had been right all along.

Chapter 7

 

“Honey, what are you reading?” Yemi asked Akeem as she joined him in the study where he sat engrossed in a book.

Akeem looked up with a smile. “It’s a very interesting story about Alan Davies. Have you heard of him?”

“No,” Yemi replied, ignoring the smirk on his face. In spite of his hectic schedule, Akeem still found time to read, and she was no longer surprised why no subject matter ever seemed to throw him.

“He is an American millionaire who comes from really humble beginnings.” He paused, as if trying to decide if she was interested in what he was saying.

She gave him a cool look as she sat beside him. What did he think she was, an airhead? “What’s interesting about him?”

He looked amused at her expression. “Well, right from when he was a kid, he believed strongly that he could do anything he wanted to do, and today he is listed as one of the richest men in America.”

“That’s very commendable,” Yemi said, looking at the cover of the book. “Maybe I’ll read it when you’re done.”

“His beliefs are very similar to mine,” Akeem continued. “He believes in the power of the human mind and its ability to help you achieve anything you want to achieve. I totally agree with him.”

“There’s some truth there.”

“A lot of truth, actually. I believe that battles are won or lost in the mind. It’s all a question of how much willpower one has.”

Yemi didn’t entirely agree with that. “But there are circumstances that will not change, no matter the willpower.”

Akeem smiled. “That’s already a negative mindset. You can achieve anything you want to achieve. All you have to do is believe and go for it.”

“You’re talking about something like faith, right?”

“Not really. Faith implies belief in something or someone else supposedly higher than you. What I am talking about is right within your control; the power is within you.” He studied her face as if deciding if he should go on or not. “I’m normally able to achieve 95 percent of all my goals because I believe I can, and that includes areas where other people have failed in the past. The remaining 5 percent that were not achieved have been because I did not desire them enough.”

Yemi was puzzled. “So if you believe so much in yourself, then where is the place of God in all this?”

“How do you even know that God exists?”

“Of course God exists!”

He smiled at her vehement tone. “I just wonder what your stance would have been if you were not born a Christian.”

Yemi stared at him. She knew he wasn’t overly religious, but this was a different ball game. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I’m a Christian, and I believe in God.”

“Many people call themselves Christians because they happen to have been born so. But you know what? I’ve found out that a lot of people have no idea what it’s all about and can’t even defend their beliefs.”

She felt uncomfortable with the conversation. Akeem sounded like Teju, but from the opposite end, and she liked his ideas even less. “All I know is that I’m a Christian,” Yemi maintained. “I was born one, and I’ll remain one.”

“And I shall not stop you. You’re more than free to believe in whatever makes you happy.”

“But what about you?”

“I certainly don’t like being told that I’m helpless and unable to achieve anything on my own without a higher power helping me out.” He looked at her bewildered face. “That’s why I love books like this one,” he said, raising the book up. “They prove my theories right.”

Yemi pursed her lips. “I don’t think I like what you’re saying, and I don’t want you teaching such things to my kids.”

He laughed. “Christianity is the official religion in this house, but if the kids decide on something else when they are older…”

“They will not,” Yemi cut in.

“Nah!” He wagged his finger playfully at her. “There’s freedom of religion in this household.”

Yemi did not respond. Instead, she stared ahead like she did not hear him.

“Are you angry with me?” Akeem asked, looking at her face. “That’s why I don’t like talking about my views, Okay, let’s forget about everything I’ve said.” He tried to take her hand in his, but she shrugged it off. “I’m a Christian, and I believe in everything you believe. Is that okay?”

“Don’t patronise me.”

Akeem sighed. “I can’t win, can I? I expressed my opinion, and it wasn’t accepted. I backtrack and accept what I’ve been told to believe, and yet my beautiful boss is still not happy with me. Tell me, what do I do now?”

“I’m going upstairs,” Yemi said, getting up.

“Can I have a kiss before you go?”

Yemi gave him an evil look, but as she made an attempt to move past him, his arm snaked out and he pulled her onto his knee. She tried to free herself, but he held on to her firmly.

“So can I have my kiss?” he asked, tickling her.

“Akeem, stop,” Yemi pleaded, beginning to laugh helplessly. This was one of his favourite weapons since she had told him that she was ticklish. “Stop!”

“Can I have my kiss now?” he asked again, still tickling her.

“Stop…” Yemi pleaded. “Please…”

He paused. “All right, are you ready?”

She was still breathing hard. “Yes, but it’s not going to be from my heart.”

“Whatever.”

Yemi tilted her head up, and her lips found his, but as she drew back, he placed a hand behind her head and deepened the kiss. She did not know when her arms went around him of their own volition.

“Mmmm…and this is not from the heart?” he murmured against her lips a little while later.

“I was bullied into it,” she said, trying to pull herself off his knee. He kissed her again before he let her go. “Big bully!” She looked at him reproachfully as she moved towards the door.

He winked at her. “Yeah…the only bully you’re absolutely crazy about.”

∞∞∞

About a month later, they attended the wedding ceremony of his cousin, Rhea. Yemi had not been feeling too well and was not really in the mood for socializing but made the effort because she knew that Akeem would not go if she didn’t. He knew she wasn’t comfortable around his family members, and he tried to avoid going to as many family functions as he could, but Rhea was his first cousin, and she knew his mother would expect him to be there.

Because of the Kadiris’ attitude towards her, Yemi always tried to dress as elegantly as possible for such gatherings. She was grateful for her fashion sense, and her clothes were like an armour for her at such times.

She decided to wear one of her own designs again. She was a lot more confident about them now. At some events she had attended during the last couple of months, she’d had strangers asking who her dress designer was, and a few had even asked if she could make some clothes for them when they discovered that she made them herself. She declined, but their requests boosted her confidence. Some other family friends, courtesy of Fayona and Sara, had also gotten to know that she could sew, and she had gotten a few more requests. Those requests she felt a little more comfortable accepting. She still declined payment but was now confident enough to ask them to bring their own fabrics, which they were happy to do.

She finished dressing up and sat on the edge of the bed. She had taken some painkillers, but her head still had the annoying dull ache that had plagued her all day. She would need to see a doctor if she didn’t feel any better in the next couple of days.

“What’s with the face? Are you okay?” Akeem asked as he came into the room.

“I’m still feeling a bit run down,” she told him.

“Are you sure you want to come with me?” Akeem asked with a concerned expression on his face. “You don’t have to if you are not up to it.”

“It’s okay,” Yemi replied. “Hopefully we can leave early.”

“Just let me know when you want to leave, okay?”

“Thanks, honey.” Yemi squeezed his arm.

When they arrived at the venue, they spotted Mrs. Kadiri and Nadia, who had arrived before them. Akeem led her over to say hello. They conversed briefly with Akeem in Hausa, not minding the fact that he answered them back in English. Yemi kept her face expressionless. She was aware of Mrs. Kadiri’s love for her language whenever she was around. She had begged Akeem to speak Hausa back to his mum whether she was there or not, because she could see the annoyed expression on his mum’s face anytime he spoke back to her in English, but Akeem was having none of it.

Yemi was relieved when they moved off and could sit at their own table.

“Oh, there is my cousin, Aimee!” Akeem said, smiling and waving to a lady across the hall. “She must have flown in from England yesterday.” He looked around the hall. “Oh, and there is Tariq as well. Wow, everyone is here!” He turned to Yemi. “Do you mind coming with me? I need to say hello to them.”

“No, you go ahead, I’ll just stay here.”

“Are you sure you’ll be okay?”

“I’ll be fine,” Yemi said. “Honestly,” she added, as she saw that he made no attempt to get up.

That seemed to satisfy him. Yemi watched him as he went over to greet his cousins. She saw them wave to another set of people who had just arrived, and then they all moved over to greet the new arrivals as well. She was very glad that she had not attempted to go with him because she really could not have handled that with the way that she was feeling.

She looked around the hall. It had all the usual markings of anything the Kadiris or their friends did. They knew how to party, and they did it with that unmistakable touch of class.

She was still looking around the hall when her gaze came to rest on a woman walking into the hall. She was fair and petite, which gave her a doll-like appearance, but it was not so much her beauty that caught Yemi’s attention as it was the way the lady was received by everyone—like a long-lost daughter. Even Mrs. Kadiri was making such a fuss about her that Yemi began to wonder who this woman was. 

“She is very beautiful, isn’t she?” Nadia asked softly, dropping into an empty seat beside Yemi and following her gaze. The woman was now talking to Akeem.

Yemi smiled politely. Nadia had barely spoken to her earlier on, but that was vintage Nadia, hot or cold as her mood dictated. “I’ve never seen her before,” Yemi said, still looking at the lady, who was batting her doll-like eyes at Akeem. “Is she a relative?”

“A relative? Oh no!” Nadia laughed throatily. “That’s the lady Akeem was supposed to marry. At least that was the understanding of both families…” She smiled maliciously at Yemi. “Until you came along.”

Yemi was stunned. She tried to process the information while Nadia watched her discomfort with obvious enjoyment. “Akeem never told me that he was engaged to anyone when I met him,” she finally said.

“Who said anything about an engagement? I said both families had an understanding. But then again, that’s all that’s needed.” She was still watching Yemi’s face. “Leila’s family have been friends with my family for like…forever!” She rolled her eyes dramatically. “Anyway, let me not bore you anymore. Enjoy the rest of the evening.” And with that, she glided away.

Yemi sat for a few minutes and continued to watch the woman, who was obviously trying very hard to hold Akeem’s attention. Akeem had moved to the dance floor with the new couple and other family members, and Leila was dancing around him and obviously flirting with him. 

Yemi felt a surge of anger and stood up. She fixed a bright smile on her face as she walked up to her husband’s side. Akeem smiled warmly on seeing her and put his arm around her. Leila still hung around for a couple of minutes and then gave Yemi a venomous look before moving away. Yemi pretended she didn’t see the look, continued dancing, and then made sure she stuck by her husband’s side for the rest of the evening.

∞∞∞

They arrived home a few hours later. Yemi went straight upstairs to their bedroom and lay down. She had put aside all pretenses as soon as they had got into the car and only answered him when he spoke to her. She was still in shock at what Nadia had told her. Akeem had never mentioned Leila to her, and judging from Leila’s behavior tonight and the obvious goodwill and affection she still enjoyed from the Kadiri clan, maybe they were still hoping that something could happen between her and Akeem.

The door to their bedroom opened, and Akeem came in. “Are you feeling better?” he asked, sitting on the bed and taking off his shoes.

“Who is Leila?” Yemi asked, still looking at the ceiling.

He looked at her for a moment before answering. “She’s a family friend.”

“Is it true that she is the one your family wanted you to marry?”

“Yes.”

He said it so easily that Yemi looked up at him in surprise. “Why did you not tell me about her?”

He shrugged. “Because there was nothing to tell. I’ve never had any romantic feelings towards Leila.”

“But you should have still told me,” Yemi insisted. “Why did I have to find out from Nadia?”

An irritated expression crossed his face. “So she was the one who came blabbing to you? I have to warn that sister of mine to learn to keep her tongue in check.”

“Oh, are there more secrets, then?” Yemi asked sarcastically.

Akeem ran his fingers over his hair. “Baby, please don’t allow yourself to get worked up over nothing…”

“I still had a right to know,” Yemi cut in. “I’d have steered clear of you if I had known that you were involved with someone else.”

“Are you not listening to me at all?” Akeem asked wearily. “I said I was not involved with her, and I never will be.”

“It did not look like that to me tonight,” Yemi maintained. “You were dancing with her before I came over to join you.”

“I was dancing with my cousin, her new husband, and other family members. Leila chose to join us.”

“And stayed conveniently close to you,” Yemi retorted.

Akeem studied her face with a half-smile playing around his lips. “You look beautiful even when you are angry,” he said softly. “Relax, honey, no woman can ever compete with you in my heart.”

Yemi felt her anger melting away, but she tried to hold on to it. “But how come I’ve never met her?”

“Because she traveled to the US before our wedding and only just got back.”

Yemi was quiet as she pondered on what he had told her. “But why did you not want to marry her? She is a very attractive lady.”

“Because underneath that beautiful head lies nothing but cotton wool.” Akeem laughed. “When we were younger, Adil and I used to joke about the fact that Leila would not be able to identify the letters of the alphabet even if they were as big as a house.”

“Now you are exaggerating. She can’t be that bad.”

“Oh, trust me, she was worse than that, but her dad got her private tutors, and they were somehow able to perform some form of magic on her because she did end up going to the university. But even now, all she ever talks about are clothes, makeup, and such things. I get bored within two minutes of talking with her.”

Yemi smiled slightly, but a frown furrowed her brows again as she remembered his mother’s reaction to Leila.

Akeem smoothed her brows with his fingers. “Why that look?”

“Akeem, I’m scared. Your mum doesn’t like me, and I always feel like I don’t belong in your family.”

“You are married to me,” he said, drawing her close. “I’ll never allow anyone to hurt you.”

∞∞∞

A few days later, Yemi found out that she was pregnant. Akeem was ecstatic, and the news bonded them even more. He told her the baby was going to be a boy and amused her by having regular business talks with the baby, pretending he was seeking a second opinion on some decisions.

“My dad did that with me regularly,” he told Yemi. “I gave him some rubbish answers when I was younger, but he never laughed at them. Instead, he would just explain the reason why he was choosing another option over the one I had told him to take.”

“But you are consulting an unborn baby,” Yemi reminded him.

He put on a lofty look. “I’ve been told that babies can hear in the womb. Anyway, who said I can’t start earlier than my dad did?”

Yemi gave up and let him carry on. She didn’t care what sex the baby was as long as it was healthy, but for Akeem’s sake, she also began to hope that it would be a boy. She knew he still missed his father a lot, so maybe having a son with whom he could have the kind of relationship he’d had with his father would help him gain closure.

Her mother-in-law still hardly visited. Yemi had felt she would be less frosty because of her condition, but Akeem’s mother still kept her distance. Yemi was bothered by it, especially when she heard that Akeem’s mother regularly attended social events with Leila.

She was in her room one evening when Bassey informed her that Sara was around to see her. Yemi was happy to see her and they exchanged pleasantries. She got Sara a drink and some nibbles from the kitchen.

“Thanks.” Sara said as she took a sip of her orange juice. “You looked amazing at Melody’s wedding,” She said, referring to another cousin of Akeem’s. “I could not stop staring at you. Don’t tell me you made that outfit yourself?”

“Yes, I did,”

“I think I have to make you my official fashion designer,” Sara said. “No, honestly!” she insisted when Yemi laughed. “I pay mine a fortune, and yet her designs are nowhere as nice as yours.”

Yemi was flattered by the comment. “Thanks, now you’re making me feel big-headed.” She looked thoughtfully at Sara, wondering if she could open up to her or not. “You know about Leila, don’t you?”

Sara looked surprised. “Who told you about her? Akeem?”

“No, Nadia did. She pointed her out to me at Rhea’s wedding.”

Sara grimaced. “Darling, spiteful Nadia!”

Yemi totally agreed with the description but thought better about saying it out aloud. “I understand that my mother-in-law wanted Akeem to marry Leila?” she asked.

“That’s true. Leila is your mother-in-law’s goddaughter, and both families had hoped from time immemorial that Akeem would marry her, but Akeem was having none of it.”

“I guess his mum wasn’t happy about that?”

“Not happy? Furious is more like it! Akeem is her favourite child but also the most independent one. Your mother-in-law, as you know, likes to be in control. She does that with Adil and Nadia, but she’s never been able to control Akeem. I’m sure she thought that with Akeem marrying Leila, she would be able to get some level of influence over him.”

Yemi did not say anything and just kept listening.

“Leila’s family is very wealthy and influential,” Sara continued. “They are into politics, just like your mother-in-law’s family. In fact, her dad’s younger brother is the current governor of Niger state, and he may well be the next president of this country soon.” 

Yemi had heard about him; he was being touted as a possible presidential candidate in the next elections because of his achievements in his home state.

“Those kinds of ties are important to your mother-in-law. So you can imagine how mad she was at Akeem.” Sara paused and took another sip of her drink. “Akeem’s mum has shares in KH, and she transferred some of her shares to Adil just to spite Akeem.”

“No, she did not!” Yemi was shocked.

“Oh, yes she did. Akeem’s shares are still more than Adil’s, but Adil’s stake in the company increased.”

“My word!” Yemi did not know how to comprehend what Sara was saying to her. How could a mother pitch her sons against each other?

Sara laughed merrily. “Believe me, your mother-in-law has politics in her blood, so I guess since she could not get into national politics, she decided to do her bit with her own children!” 

Yemi could not see the joke. She felt so sorry for Akeem. “That’s so awful.”

“But her step backfired. Akeem never reacted. At least, not openly. However, my husband told me that he was furious with his mother. A few months later, he began to make plans to pull out of KH.”

Yemi sucked in her breath. “What was his mum’s response?”

“At that point she realized that she stood the risk of losing her son altogether. Akeem had always said he could walk away from KH and still be successful. She softened up and tried to make peace with him and then got all his uncles to plead with him. I think she finally got it that he could not be pushed around, but she did not entirely give up on him still marrying Leila or at least someone else of her choice, but then…you came along.”

“And spoilt her plans,” Yemi finished quietly.

“Exactly. Small wonder that she can’t stand you. But the good thing is that Akeem adores you, so that is some cover for you.”

“I would have liked to have a good or at least a cordial relationship with my mother-in-law.”

Sara laughed. “All things are possible, my dear. Isn’t that what the good book says?” She asked the question in a way that made Yemi know that she considered it an impossible feat.

Chapter 8

 

“Are you sure you are going to be okay?” Akeem asked Yemi, looking a little worried. “I can cancel my meeting and go with you.”

She smiled reassuringly at him. “Honey, I’ll be fine. The scan doesn’t take long anyway, and I’ll be back home in no time.” 

“Call me when you are through, okay?”

“I will. Go on, you’re running late already.”

Yemi lay back in the bed after Akeem left for work. She would have preferred him to go with her, but he was going through such a busy spell at work. KH was about to send in its bid for the license to be the second national carrier to Nitel, the government-owned telecoms company, and Akeem was leaving nothing to chance. Its success would mean another sector added to KH’s already-established chain of businesses. Moreover, it would also be Akeem’s brainchild from scratch, and she knew how much that meant to him. He had taken some giant strides in KH, but he still felt he needed to establish something new.

The scan revealed that she was carrying a healthy baby girl. She was a little disappointed, but only because Akeem was hoping so much for a boy.

He also looked disappointed when she told him the news later that day but shrugged it off quickly.

“Okay…it appears this little lady is in a hurry to meet her dad and start the bonding sessions,” he said as he stroked Yemi’s belly gently. “But I’ve got to work harder now because if her taste in bags is anything like her mum’s, then I’d better start shoring up the pounds!”

“You forgot about shoes,” Yemi teased. “She’s going to like shoes too.”

He grinned. “Yeah…I forgot that bit. Two girls in my house? I better start cracking!”

Yemi touched his face tenderly with her fingers. “It’s not about the shoes or the bags. Your girls will always love you, and that’s the most important thing.”

∞∞∞

Their daughter, Aleena, was born six months later. She was a beautiful, healthy girl who bawled her way gustily into the world.

Akeem was simply thrilled to be a father, and Yemi was sure she would never forget the look of awe on his face as he held the baby awkwardly in his arms for the first time.

Mrs. Kadiri came to visit. Her lips stretched into that mockery of a smile that Yemi had grown familiar with as she held the baby stiffly in her arms. She made small talk, mostly with Akeem, her eyes occasionally flicking over Yemi. 

At some point during her visit, she arched her eyebrows mockingly at Yemi and said, “She’s a pretty little girl, but Akeem has always wanted a son as his firstborn.”

Akeem grinned. “My daughter is gorgeous, Mum! So I’m one very satisfied man. But you’d better get your jewellery ready because my daughter is going to need them!”

Mrs. Kadiri allowed a genuine smile on her face as she looked indulgently at him. “Your daughter will have more than enough jewellery. After all, she is a Kadiri.” She looked at Yemi towards the end of the sentence, and Yemi got the impression that Akeem’s mother was saying that she was not.

Thankfully, she didn’t stay long, and Yemi almost sighed with relief when she left.

She enjoyed the visits from other people a lot more and was amused when Hasan and Fayona visited later in the day. Hasan sighed in an exaggerated fashion as he looked at the baby in his wife’s arms.

“At last, the search is over,” he told his wife, who nodded and smiled as they exchanged a look.

“What search?” Yemi asked curiously.

“We’ve finally found a wife for Jayden.”

Yemi stared at them and then started laughing. Was this how they did it? No way! As much as she loved Akeem’s godson, her daughter was going to make her own choice when she grew up. No push, no hints, no manipulation.

“Jayden is my boy, but he will have to prove himself worthy of my princess,” Akeem replied, casting a glance at Yemi. She knew he could read what was going through her mind.

Hasan smiled confidently. “He’s like his dad, so he would know what to do. Right, honey?” he asked his wife.

“Of course.” Fayona sounded just as confident as her husband.

Akeem just smiled. “We shall see, my good friend. We shall see.”

Yemi was a little amused by it all and wondered why they were going at least twenty-two years into the future, but she was very sure of one thing: her daughter was going to be free from pressure when it came to matters concerning her own life.

∞∞∞

Tola came to visit from England when Aleena was four months old. She could not get over Aleena and the fact that Yemi was now a mother. Yemi was very happy to see her, and it was almost like old times. They went shopping together, and Yemi took her to some of the beauty spots that were now familiar to her.

“This is the kind of life I want to live, all leisure,” Tola sighed as they left a spa one sunny Tuesday afternoon. Yemi had taken her to a competitor’s spa instead of the one owned by her mother-in-law. She didn’t want to risk being embarrassed by Akeem’s mother in Tola’s presence.

“Shopping and getting spoiled all day,” Tola continued. “Simply blissful!”

Yemi was not sure she liked that description very much. Was that the summary of her life? “I’m still going to get a job as soon as Aleena is a little older,” she said.

Tola’s eyebrows shot up. “Whatever for? I thought you said Akeem prefers you not to work?”

“It’s not a permanent decision. Plus, I want to do something useful with my life.”

“Believe me, you’re not missing out on anything. I have to catch the 6:40 a.m. train to London every morning, winter or summer, and sometimes I can’t help bemoaning my fate.”

“Why don’t you move closer to London, then? That way you won’t be that far away from your office, and you can sleep in a little longer in the mornings.”

“Those London apartments cost an arm and a leg! I can’t afford that on top of saving up for a mortgage, but I’m hoping to get rescued very soon!” Her expression became dreamy. “Maybe I’ll meet a loaded guy while I’m over here, and my life will be transformed.”

Yemi just shook her head at her.

They got to her car, and Yemi settled the sleeping Aleena in her car seat before getting behind the wheel.

“Maybe you should give Tobi some serious thought.” She said to Tola as she backed her car out of the parking lot. Tola had told her about the guy, and she knew he had been on Tola’s trail for quite some time now. In spite of Tola’s denial, Yemi actually felt that Tola had finally fallen genuinely in love for the first time in her life. “He sounds like a really nice guy.” He had sent a present through Tola to Aleena and Yemi had been impressed by his thoughtfulness.

“No way! I want someone edgy and hot looking, and he needs to have buckets of money too.”

Yemi pulled out of the car park. “What about qualities like integrity, strength, honesty, and commitment? What’s inside a person is their true self, and that’s what matters most.”

“Maybe, but I have to appreciate the outside before I can see the inside bit.”

Yemi shook her head again. “Crazy girl!”

∞∞∞

A few days later, Yemi decided to make use of the opportunity of having Tola around to see Akeem at the office and take him out to lunch. She was still not very comfortable leaving Aleena alone with her new live-in au pair, Kufre, but she felt better knowing Tola was around.

When she arrived at Akeem’s office, she was told by his personal assistant that he was in a meeting in the conference room.

“Thanks, Linda. I’ll just wait for him,” she said and headed into his office.

She opened the door and stopped briefly in her tracks. Mrs. Kadiri and Leila were seated in there. Yemi felt all the usual stress reactions that her mother-in-law’s presence evoked. Her first instinct was to turn around and leave, but she forced herself to stay calm. This was her husband’s office. She had every right to be here.

“Good afternoon, Ma,” she said, greeting Mrs. Kadiri and walking farther into the room.

“Hello, Yemi,” her mother-in-law answered coolly. Yemi and Leila nodded at each other.

“Where’s Aleena?” Mrs. Kadiri asked.

“She’s with my cousin. She’s here on holidays from England.”

Mrs. Kadiri pursed her lips but did not say anything else.

Yemi sat down on one of the settees and sent a text to Akeem. There was no use trying to make small talk. Mrs. Kadiri would only find a way to embarrass her, and she was not going to let that happen in the presence of Leila. She opened her Kindle and glued her eyes to it as Mrs. Kadiri and Leila continued their conversation in Hausa.

But Yemi found it difficult to concentrate on the book. She did not understand what her mother-in-law was up to, but it appeared as if she had not given up on getting Leila hooked up with Akeem. There was what looked like a food basket sitting beside them, and she wondered if they were now bringing Akeem lunch at work. The thought did not sit well with her at all.

A few minutes later, the door opened and Akeem walked in. He must have known that his mum and Leila were there because he didn’t show any sign of surprise. He greeted them before bending down to give Yemi a peck on the cheek.

“Good to see you, baby.” His eyes flicked over her beige pantsuit. “You look great,” he added softly.

She smiled at him. “Thanks, I thought I’d surprise you.”

“Pleasantly surprised too. Where’s my girl?”

“At home with Tola.”

“All right.”

He went over to his mum, and they spoke for a few minutes. And then, just as Yemi had thought, his mum handed him the food basket before she and Leila stood up to leave. On their way out, Mrs. Kadiri acknowledged Yemi’s greeting stiffly. Leila just walked by with a cool nod towards her.

“So how has your day been?” Akeem asked, sitting down beside her after they had left.

“It was okay.” Her good mood was almost spoiled. “Can we go now?” she asked him a little tersely.

“Yes, but wait a minute, my mum brought some food,” Akeem said, pointing to the basket. “Why don’t we stay in and just have that for lunch?”

Yemi stared at him. Was he serious? She’d rather drink cyanide. “I don’t want to eat that, and I don’t want you eating it either.”

He arched his eyebrows in surprise. “Why not?”

“I just don’t want you eating it.”

“Oh come on, Yemi, don’t get paranoid. My mum would rather die than harm me physically.”

But she wouldn’t mind breaking up your home so that she could install her goddaughter. “I’m just not comfortable with you eating anything that Leila brings you.”

“I’m very sure my mum made the food, but it is fine if you want to eat out. So, where are you taking us for lunch?”

“Pinto’s,” she said, referring to a restaurant not too far from his office.

“Cool. Let me just tidy up some things, and we’ll be on our way.”

Chapter 9

 

“Here you are,” Sara said, handing Yemi one of the plates she had in her hands. Yemi’s eyes widened as she eyed the plate laden with skewered spicy beef, barbecued chicken, corn on the cob, and a burger.

“Thanks. I’m surely going to be waddling by the time I eat all of that.” 

“Skip breakfast tomorrow,” Sara said lightly as she took a bite of her burger. “I’m just going to forget about counting calories today. Being outdoors always has a way of bringing out my appetite.”

Yemi grinned. She knew all about Sara’s constant battle with her weight. She liked her food but wanted to remain stick thin. She constantly pored over fashion magazines and would groan whenever she saw the skinny models. Yemi found her very entertaining.

Yemi looked towards the pool as she munched on her food. The water looked so inviting, and she wished she could have a dip. A few minutes later, she saw Fayona coming towards them. They were all at her house. She and Hasan had invited them for a barbecue.

“Hey, ladies, I brought you some salad,” Fayona said as she got to their table. She placed the plates of vegetable salad on the table and sat down. “I hope you’re enjoying yourself?”

“Very much so,” Sara said between mouthfuls. “Your complexion is looking really nice, Fay. What are you using?”

“Thanks. I’m still using my old stuff, but there’s this moisturizer that Shona told me about,” she said, referring to Hasan’s younger sister. “I’ve been using it for a couple of months now.”

“Talking of Shona,” Yemi said, “she really did say that she would be here today, or did she change her mind?”

“She’s still going to come,” Fayona confirmed. “She told me that she would be a little late.”

“So tell me about this wonder moisturizer,” Sara continued. “I’ve been using mine for some time, and quite frankly I’m not sure it’s doing anything for my skin.”

Fayona began to describe the moisturizer, and the talk turned to the merits and demerits of beauty products. Yemi temporarily tuned out of their discussion as her eyes moved over the manicured lawns of the garden. She looked over to where Kufre was playing with Aleena on a picnic mat a few yards away. It was amazing how much she had grown. She was just eleven months old but was already showing signs that she was going to be a tall girl, which was not surprising, considering how tall her dad was.

Kufre picked Aleena up and came over to Yemi. Aleena needed a change of diaper. Yemi blew Aleena a kiss as Kufre took her into Fayona’s house to change her.

A few minutes later, Yemi saw Jayden and Akeem coming towards them. Jayden looked excited as he talked animatedly with Akeem.

“Hey, Mum! Uncle Akeem and I beat Daddy and Karim!” Jayden said referring to Sara’s son. “I scored twice, and even Uncle Akeem told me they were brilliant goals,” he boasted.

“Yeah, they definitely were,” Akeem confirmed, winking at Fayona. “Get ready, you have a budding footballer in the making!”

“That’s lots of money, isn’t it? He just has to convince his dad, that’s all,” Fayona said.

Akeem came over to Yemi. “Are you okay?” he asked, taking off his sunglasses and perching them on top of his head.

Yemi smiled as she looked up at him. He looked rugged in his polo shirt and knee-length fatigues. His schedule had been crazy lately, and she was happy to see him looking so relaxed. “I’m good, having a swell time.”

“Where’s my girl?” he asked, looking around for Aleena.

“Kufre just took her into the house to change her diaper.”

“Tell her to bring her over to me when they get back. I’m missing my little ‘Miss.’”

Yemi pouted. “What about me? Not that I’m jealous or anything like that.”

Akeem’s lips twitched. “Of course not.” He pretended to examine her eyes. “But I love the colour of your eyes though, such a lovely shade of green.”

Yemi giggled. “It must be the sunshine getting in your vision.”

Jayden tugged at Akeem’s hand. “Uncle Akeem, let’s go get some barbecue, and then we need to strategize…” He looked around to be sure that the women heard the new word he had just used. When he saw them smiling, he beamed with pride. “We need to strategize on how we can win the next game.”

“Okay, buddy.” Akeem touched Yemi on the cheek and then chatted a little with Sara and Fayona before leaving again with Jayden.

Fayona smiled as she looked at them. “Jayden loves your husband. He hangs on his every word.”

“Akeem has a way with kids,” Sara agreed. “I think it’s the way he relates with them without making them feel they are too young or that they are talking nonsense.” She grimaced. “Even when they obviously are.”

Yemi smiled, her eyes still on Akeem and Jayden as they walked towards the barbecue stand. She agreed with them. Akeem was a good father. He adored his daughter and showed it in every way he could. And despite his busy schedule, he still found a way to make time for Aleena.

She absently stroked her belly as she looked at them. Maybe it was time to start thinking about giving him that little boy he wanted.

∞∞∞

Yemi parked her car in front of her parents’ house. She undid Aleena’s car seat and carried her in her arms to the front door.

“Hello, darling!” her mother said warmly as she hugged her before taking Aleena from her. “And how is my precious little girl?”

“Growing bigger every day. I’m finding her quite heavy to carry now.”

“I can see that.” Yemi’s mother smiled, looking at Aleena with pride. She cooed at the little girl, who giggled happily.

Yemi and her mother chatted for a while, and then Yemi dashed off to do some shopping. There was a fresh fish market close by, and their prices were a lot better than on the island where she lived. Akeem found her insistence on price comparisons amusing, but she just ignored him. She spent the next two hours going around the nooks and crannies of the open market. It was where her mother had shopped since she was a child, so she was very familiar with it.

“I hope you were able to get what you wanted,” her mother said when she got back to her parents’ house.

“I did,” she said as she moved towards the kitchen, her mother walking closely behind her. “I bought some fresh fish for you too,” she said, plopping two bags of fish on the sink and starting to rinse them. “I got them scaled and filleted as well.”

“Oh, thanks, dear. Your dad will be very happy. You know how much he likes salmon.”

Yemi smiled. “That’s why I got extra. I hope Aleena didn’t give you too much trouble?”

“She was as good as gold. She’s been sleeping for about twenty minutes now. I don’t see her enough as it is, so it’s good to have her here for a proper visit today.”

“Maybe one day I will drop her off for the weekend.” Yemi put the last of the fish into the freezer and washed her hands.

“Thanks, dear,” her mother said as they went back into the sitting room. “By the way, I saw your mother-in-law on TV the other day. She was at some summit, along with the wife of the governor. Something to do with a new non-governmental organisation the First Lady is promoting.”

“Oh, that.” Yemi couldn’t suppress the irritated frown that came across her face. She had seen it too. Zara and Leila had accompanied her to the event, and Zara had later let it slip that Akeem’s mum had asked her to fly in from Abuja just for that purpose. Yemi had tried not to let it show to Zara that it bothered her that she, who lived in Lagos, had not been invited.

“You never sound excited when you speak about her.” Her mother said matter-of-factly, but her eyes were trained on Yemi.

Because there is nothing exciting about her. “She’s okay. I mean, she’s Akeem’s mum…” She shrugged. She did not know what else to say, and her voice trailed off.

A frown played around her mother’s brows. “How is your relationship with her?”

“It’s okay…” Yemi began to say but stopped when she saw the look in her mother’s eyes. It was not the first time that her mother had asked her questions like that, and she’d always found a way to deflect them. But she was suddenly tired of evading the questions. “I don’t really know, Mum,” she sighed.

“I don’t get you.”

“Nothing’s going on per se, but I know she doesn’t like me.”

Her mother was quiet for a long moment. “I have been suspecting something was not quite right, especially during the period that I was with you after Aleena’s birth and she hardly came to visit.” A worried frown furrowed her brows. “Since when has this been going on?” 

Yemi sketchily told her mother about Mrs. Kadiri and then about Leila, trying not to give away too many details, but her mother still looked disturbed even with the little that Yemi told her.

“And you did not think to tell me this before you got married?”

“I didn’t want to get you worried.”

“No, dear, that’s not the reason,” her mother said, shaking her head. “You did not want anyone telling you what you didn’t want to hear. You listened to Akeem because you wanted to believe what he was saying.”

Yemi didn’t bother trying to deny it. “I’m sorry, Mum,” she said quietly. 

“I’m not condemning you. I know how it is to be young and in love. But Akeem wasn’t entirely right in saying that you should forget about his mum. Especially not when you live in such close proximity.” She looked pensively at Yemi. “What about your sister-in-law, Nadia? How’s her attitude?”

“Pretty much the same.” Yemi grimaced. “I’m glad that she is married now and away from the house.” She exhaled deeply, feeling very weary of all the trouble. “What am I going to do, Mum?”

“Domineering women like your mother-in-law don’t like being thwarted. You will have to go out of your way to befriend her.”

“Mum, I have tried…” Yemi said almost desperately. She told her mother some of the things she had done to break the ice and how Mrs. Kadiri had snubbed her every single time.

“You are still going to have to try some more, dear,” her mother replied gently. “And pray also. She is a mother, and hopefully she will come round with time.”

∞∞∞

Akeem dismissed his driver early and gave him some money. The guy was profuse in his thanks and looked pleased to have been given an unexpected half day off as well as some extra cash.

He took over the wheels of the Range Rover Sport. He liked driving anyway. It was his crazy schedule that made it necessary for him to have a driver, and he had hardly had time to drive this beauty since it was custom built for him three months earlier. He revved it up a little and enjoyed the feel of the powerful engine beneath his feet.

The road was surprisingly busy when he got on the motorway, which was odd for a Saturday evening. The traffic was practically crawling. So much for him driving his car today, he thought to himself ruefully. He was about one hundred yards from a set of traffic lights, but the lights had changed twice from red to green and back again without making much difference in the flow of traffic. It was a good thing that he was not in a hurry anyway. He and Fadel had planned to meet at their club, and he was actually a bit early.

He remembered the happy expression on his driver’s face. At least he had done some good there. He sometimes had to take some ruthless decisions as a businessman, but he also tried to do some good whenever he could also. It was a principle he had learnt from his father.

“Always try to help people whenever you can,” his father had often said. “I don’t know how it works, but fortune always seems to smile on a generous man.”

Fortune was definitely smiling on him right now. Ka-Tell, the newly established telecommunications arm of KH, had been awarded the telecoms license after a very stiff bid. The news was all over the papers and on the television channels, and the whole of KH was receiving very positive media attention.

The cost of the license alone had been astronomical, and many initial “would be” bidders had balked at it and withdrawn for the bigger players to battle it out. Akeem wished his father was around to witness it. He was going to give the project his all to make it a success, as a tribute to the man who had encouraged him and believed so much in him. He looked forward to having a son with whom he could enjoy the same kind of friendship. A boy he would encourage to know that nothing was impossible so long as he believed in himself and in his abilities to make things happen. That principle had always and was still yielding positive results for him.

He knew his wife still didn’t agree with him totally. That was okay by him too; he was not out to force his views on anyone. But although he refrained from telling her so, he knew he was surer of his convictions than she was about hers. She said she believed in God, but could not convincingly talk about her faith and at times appeared outright uncertain. But he hated to upset her and steered the discussion away from areas that he could see she was floundering in.

His mind went back to the license. It was going to be a huge project, and they had a deadline from the government on rolling out the new lines; otherwise, the license would be withdrawn. But he was confident that he would meet the deadline.

Convincing his brother to support him had been even more of a challenge than the actual bid itself. Adil had pointed out that they already had enough financially rewarding investments and didn’t need to go into such unexplored terrains—and definitely not one as capital intensive as telecoms. But Akeem had kept on talking with him until he had reluctantly gone ahead with the idea. However, he had made Akeem very aware that he was the one leading KH into telecommunications. Akeem understood what Adil meant. He was telling him that any problems or losses would be laid solidly at his feet, but he was not bothered. The only word in his mind was “success.” The conviction was so strong that he could almost taste it.

Akeem looked ahead at the road. Some traffic management enforcement officers had arrived, and the traffic was beginning to move now. It was still a bit slow until he got to the next roundabout and took the first exit.

About twenty minutes later, he parked his car outside the club and walked inside. He scanned the tables. Fadel had not yet arrived.

Akeem saw the maître d’ coming towards him and was not surprised when he congratulated him on obtaining the license. The club had an exclusive membership; the management knew each member and what they did, but they were very discreet, which was one of the reasons Akeem had maintained his membership with them over the years.

“The usual?” the maître d’ asked Akeem after he took a seat.

“Not this time, Max. I’m driving myself.”

“Can I serve you something new, then? It’s actually a cocktail of drinks, but no alcohol. I can assure you that you will like it.”

Akeem agreed to try the drink and had to admit that Max was right about him liking it. He was just about to call Fadel when he saw him strolling in.

“The man of the moment!” Fadel slapped hands with him before sitting down. “Well done, man! I’m so proud of you!”

“Thanks a lot,” Akeem replied, unable to keep the smile off his face. It was really true that people smiled effortlessly when they were happy. “And thanks for the support.”

“Your old man would have been so proud of you. I can just imagine him saying, ‘Well done, my boy,’” Fadel said, mimicking Akeem’s father’s voice.

Akeem laughed. Fadel got the expression and voice perfectly. “Yeah, I’ve been thinking about him too. We discussed this quite a bit while he was alive, but the government was dithering then on whether to go on with the privatisation or not.”

Fadel made a face. “The former president was slow on so many things. This current president knows what he is doing, and many of his policies are very favourable towards businessmen.”

“I agree, and that is why I supported his bid for presidency.” He took a sip of his drink. “I’m definitely supporting his bid for a second tenure.”

They continued talking about the government and its policies and how it affected them. Akeem didn’t like politics, but having a cordial relationship with politicians was healthy for his business.

“Are you still going to use Sonakson as the vendor for Ka-Tell?” Fadel asked after a while.

“Yep.” Akeem nodded “Ericsson and Huawei came up, but we think Sonakson is the best for what we have in mind. They have not done any major work over here, but BT used them, and their track record is impressive. We are still working on some of the details involved, but everything is coming along fine.”

“I’m happy for you, man. I know it’s going to be a huge task, but if anyone can handle it, I know that person is you.”

“Thanks.” He leaned back in his seat. “When’s Sara coming back from the States?”

“In a week’s time,” Fadel replied. “She said she’s having such a ball that she’s not missing me. I had a good mind to tell her she could stay back for another two weeks.”

“Don’t kid yourself; she just might extend it to a month.”

Fadel grimaced. “She could do that too, even if it’s just to prove a point to me.”

Akeem laughed. “Good for you.” Yemi didn’t like going on holidays without him. Maybe he needed to encourage her some more. But on second thoughts, maybe not. He preferred her attachment to him. It was sweet the way she wove her life around his. He didn’t want them living separate lives.

A few minutes later, he looked up and saw a man smiling as he approached their table. His face was familiar, but it took Akeem a minute to recall his name. He had done some contracts for Zenith Oil a few years earlier but had worked more closely with Fadel. In fact, Fadel had been the one to introduce them. The man was with a pretty woman, probably his wife.

“Hey, nice seeing you guys here!” The man smiled broadly upon getting to their table. He slapped hands with Fadel and then turned to Akeem. “It’s been such a long time, Akeem! Congrats on the license!”

Akeem smiled back. “Thanks, Emeka. How have you been?”

“Good, good!”

“You definitely look like it,” Fadel teased. “Doesn’t he, Akeem?”

Akeem nodded. “He does. He needs to share his business strategies with us.”

“I’m just a poor sod trying to keep his head above water!” Emeka laughed. “You guys are the ones making things happen!”

“Don’t believe him, Akeem. He is only trying to deceive us!” Fadel quipped.

They all laughed, and Emeka turned to the lady beside him. “Meet my cousin, Coral.”

Akeem and Fadel exchanged pleasantries with the woman. Akeem hid a smile when he saw Fadel checking Coral out. No pretty lady passed his cousin by. He was not surprised that Sara was constantly trying to let him know that she could live an independent life without him. She had built up an invincible defense mechanism around herself to protect her feelings just in case Fadel ever strayed, and Akeem knew he had done so a few times.

But Coral wasn’t looking at Fadel. She had her gaze fixed on Akeem. He could see her looking him over appreciatively. He caught Fadel’s eye, and Fadel shrugged slightly, with a mischievous glint in his eye.

“Hey, Akeem, hope you don’t mind me talking to Fadel privately for a few minutes,” Emeka said apologetically. “I’m not sure when I will get that chance again.”

“No worries,” Akeem said, sitting back down while Fadel and Emeka walked away. “So how are you doing, Coral?” Akeem asked. He guessed that she was about his age or maybe a little younger.

“I’m good. I’m on a short working holiday here. I’ll be going back to Port Harcourt in a week.” She smiled, revealing beautiful, even, white teeth. “Fancy meeting you here. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Akeem smiled. “Good things, I hope?”

Her eyes were playful. “All good, or have you been doing anything else?”

“Nope, I’m always good.”

She stared him in the eye. “I’m sure there are people out there who would not mind you being naughty occasionally.” She smiled slowly. “I know I wouldn’t.”

Akeem knew she was flirting with him. It was there in the way she had openly checked him out when her cousin had introduced them. It was there in her eyes now as she looked at him, suggestion in her eyes. Sorry, Coral, I’m already taken and completely satisfied.

“So what do you do?” he asked her.

Her expression showed that she knew that he had deliberately changed the topic, but she was smooth and rose to the occasion. “I have a spa in Port Harcourt, and I’m looking to open another in Abuja very soon.”

“Interesting. My mum operates a couple of spas here in Lagos.”

“Yes, I know. That’s why I am keeping my distance from Lagos for now. I can’t compete with a Kadiri.” She laughed, flashing her pearly whites again. “But I plan to visit one of them before I leave Lagos. Maybe I can get a few ideas that I can use for mine.”

She started talking about her spa business. She was obviously passionate about it, and he liked that in anyone. Passion was necessary in sustaining any business. Akeem listened politely but found himself tuning out after a while. He already knew a lot about spas anyway. His mother owned two of the best ones around, and she was constantly offering him specials. He had accepted some of them in the past but had stopped when Leila came back into town. He didn’t trust his mother. She just might appoint Leila as his special masseuse, and he wouldn’t know it until he got there.

“Maybe you can drop by my spa sometime when you are in Port Harcourt,” Coral was saying. “I’ll make sure we give you the VIP treatment.”

“Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.” Of course he had no intention of doing so. He was not interested in Leila, this pretty lady batting her eyes at him, or any other lady, for that matter.

“You’re just being polite, aren’t you?”

Akeem chuckled. “I didn’t know that mind-reading was part of your many virtues.”

“Cute, but I’m quite serious about the invite. Do drop by anytime you are in town, and please be very assured that I don’t bite.”

“I wouldn’t think a lady like you capable of such.”

She just kept looking at him. “I’m not surprised women find you attractive,” she said after a moment.

Akeem quirked an eyebrow. She obviously didn’t believe in beating about the bush. In the past, before he got married, he might have taken her up on her offer, but he was absolutely not interested now. He looked up and was relieved to see Fadel and Emeka approaching the table.

“My invitation still stands,” Coral said, just before they got to the table.

“Noted.” Akeem nodded.

“So sorry for taking Fadel away,” Emeka said as he and Fadel sat down. “I didn’t know our discussion would take that long.”

“No worries,” Akeem assured him. “Coral and I had an interesting time together while you were gone.”

They all chatted for a while longer before Emeka and Coral left. Coral managed to get Akeem’s phone number, but he hardly took calls from the number he gave her anyway. The phone was permanently with his personal assistant on weekdays.

“Phew!” Fadel whistled softly when they were out of earshot. “That lady likes you, and she is not even bothering to hide it.”

Akeem grimaced. “Yeah…I’m lucky to still be in one piece.”

“She’s pretty hot, though.”

“Have you seen my wife?”

Fadel laughed. “Mine’s pretty too, but eyeballing is free, no harm done.”

Chapter 10

 

Yemi smiled after she disconnected the call with Abby. She and Abby always ended up talking for much longer than she planned and of course, at the end of each call came the inevitable invitation to one programme or another at Abby’s church, a popular Pentecostal church in Victoria Island. Yemi always made sure she had a ready answer. She drew the line at Pentecostal churches. She had made the mistake of attending one or two in the past, and they had badgered her with phone calls afterwards. Those kind of churches were certainly not for her. She liked her privacy.

She curled up on the sofa in the bedroom, switched on the TV, and clicked to the fashion show she had recorded earlier in the week. It was the Paris fashion week, and the designers and their models were lighting up the runway.

Gisele Bündchen swayed down the runway. The girl rocked! Next was Cerys Briggs, and Yemi looked on in admiration. She was walking for Versace, and she smoldered in the floor-length burgundy silk dress she had on. Yemi was always excited to see Cerys. She was a Nigerian who had made it big in the fashion industry after winning a talent show, the MNET face of Africa, as a teenager. Now she walked for some of the biggest names in the fashion industry worldwide.

Yemi was sorry when the show ended. She lay against the sofa, as she thought about some of the designs she had just seen. That was something she would like to do: dress women up in silk, satins, taffeta, and other pretty fabrics that would bring out their inner beauty and make them glow.

She clicked to another recorded fashion show. It had just started when the door opened and Akeem came in from his workout at the gym downstairs. She allowed her eyes to run appreciatively over his muscular frame. His sleeveless tank top stretched across his broad chest, and the outline of his muscled midsection was clearly visible beneath the thin fabric.

She blew a low wolf whistle and sat up a little. What a beautiful man; not a spare bit of flesh in sight. 

“What’re you looking at, woman?” he growled. “Aren’t you supposed to be watching the TV?”

She winked at him as she hit the pause button on the remote control. “Um, I just saw something better to look at, and my thoughts are running wild.” She let her eyes run over his long, bare, muscular legs and pretended to swoon.

“Bad girl.” He came over to her and sat beside her on the sofa. “I wonder what happened to the innocent girl I married?”

Yemi shrugged. “Dunno, I moved in with some guy and became totally corrupted.” She ran her fingers over his upper arm, enjoying the feel of his tightly coiled muscles beneath her fingertips. “Now my mum won’t believe what I’ve become.”

“Let’s not tell her then,” Akeem said softly, trailing his finger along her cheek and putting his other arm around her. “What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.”

“Very true,” she said, moving closer to him. “Nice…” she said, breathing in his cologne. “Tell me, what would it take to give me a son who looks exactly like you? A lot of work?”

He smiled slowly, his eyes locked on hers. “Some…but I think I can handle it.” His voice was low and husky as he moved closer to her. “Beats all those meetings at the office, anyway.”

“I knew you’d be up to it.” She touched her lips to his before drawing back, her eyes teasing him. “Now let me get back to my fashion show.”

“Not on your life,” Akeem growled, taking the remote control from her hands and switching off the TV. He pulled her back towards him, but just then, the doorbell buzzed and Akeem groaned. Yemi giggled at the expression on his face as he reluctantly released her. She gave him a quick kiss and went to the door.

Kufre stood there with a crying Aleena in her arms. “Sorry to disturb you, Ma, but Aleena has been crying for her father.”

“No worries.” Yemi scooped the child into her arms and went back into the room. As soon as Aleena saw her dad, she held out her arms towards him. 

“Your girl wants you,” Yemi said to Akeem, handing her over to him.

“What’s up, princess?” he said as he took Aleena from Yemi. He cuddled her close to him. “Hush, sweetie, it’s okay.”

Aleena put her little arms around his neck, and her sniffling gradually stopped.

Akeem’s eyes met Yemi’s over Aleena’s head. “Later,” he mouthed to her, and Yemi laughed again at the expression on his face before he turned his attention back to Aleena.

∞∞∞

“Should I get you something to eat?” Nanzip, Mrs. Kadiri’s housekeeper, asked Yemi.

“Thanks, but the drinks are okay,” Yemi said with a smile.

Yemi handed a fruit shoot to Aleena, who was sitting beside her on the sofa. Aleena sucked on the straw, but her eyes remained firmly fixed on the TV. She put the drink down a couple of minutes later, and Yemi smiled at the animated look on her daughter’s face as she began to babble happily to the tunes coming from the cartoon showing on the TV.

Yemi glanced at her wristwatch. The maid had gone in to inform Mrs. Kadiri of her presence some twenty minutes earlier, but Mrs. Kadiri was yet to appear. Yemi shrugged. Maybe that was part of the sacrifice she had to endure. She had taken her mother’s advice to try to get close to Akeem’s mum. She would just have to grin and bear whatever treatment was meted out to her for now until Mrs. Kadiri’s cold attitude towards her thawed.

Aleena got up from her seat and moved closer to the television screen, but Yemi put her back on the seat.

A few minutes later, Mrs. Kadiri came into the sitting room.

“Good afternoon, Ma,” Yemi said, standing up. She had wanted to say, “Mum,” but the word always seemed to stick to her throat no matter how hard she tried.

“Good afternoon,” her mother-in-law replied before turning to Aleena. “Hello, Aleena,” she said, with a slight smile at the little girl.

“Aleena, say hello to Grandma,” Yemi urged Aleena, who suddenly appeared shy and moved closer to Yemi. Yemi could not help comparing Aleena’s response to Akeem’s mother with how she acted towards her maternal grandmother; Aleena would have immediately run to Yemi’s mother the moment she saw her.

“Thanks for the fruits you sent through the driver,” Mrs. Kadiri said, turning back to Yemi. “And thanks also for the kaftan.”

“You are welcome, Ma.” She had made the outfit based on her estimation of Mrs. Kadiri’s size, as the latter had not supplied her with any measurements despite several requests. “I hope the fit was okay?”

“It looked so. I have not tried it on yet.”

“I can make you some more if you like it,” Yemi offered eagerly. 

“Thank you.”

Mrs. Kadiri sat down and crossed her legs. Yemi did not know what to say next, so the silence dragged on for a few minutes, only occasionally punctuated by Aleena’s giggles.

“I learnt that Nicole is getting married soon,” Yemi finally said. Nicole was Mrs. Kadiri’s niece; Akeem had told her about the wedding. 

“Yes, she is. The wedding is in a month.” 

“That’s great. I’ll be more than happy to help out in any way that I can.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

Another bout of silence. Yemi was getting almost desperate to keep the conversation flowing. “Aunt Kande must be so happy,” she said, referring to Nicole’s mother, “since it’s the first wedding in her family.”

Mrs. Kadiri smiled drily. “Every mother is supposed to be happy when their child gets married. Except for those mothers who have been told that their opinion does not matter.”

Yemi knew that she was referring to her marriage to Akeem. She felt that this might be the opportunity to smoothen things out. To make peace with the mother of the man who meant the world to her. “I know Akeem may have married me against your wishes…” She began quietly.

“Oh, so you know?” Mrs. Kadiri asked, cutting in. 

“And I am sorry if he hurt you in the process.”

Mrs. Kadiri smiled a little sarcastically. “Are you really sorry, Yemi?”

“I’m sorry for any hurt caused. That wasn’t our intention.”

Mrs. Kadiri studied Yemi for a moment before smiling derisively. “So since you brought this up, what do you intend to do about it?”

“Do about it?” Yemi was confused.

“Yes, do about it,” Mrs. Kadiri repeated a little impatiently. “How do you intend to right the wrong done to me?”

“I don’t understand,” Yemi stammered, not liking the direction in which the conversation was headed.

“Well then, let me explain it to you clearly,” Mrs. Kadiri said. “You invaded my family and married my son against my wishes.”

“I love Akeem…”

“Is that so? Then prove it.”

“How?” Yemi was perplexed. She was beginning to wish that she had not come.

“Akeem going against my wishes, and those of his family, has caused a lot of awkwardness.” Her eyes flicked over Yemi coldly. “You know it yourself that you do not really fit in, and because you are not comfortable in our gatherings, my son hardly comes for family functions anymore.” The annoyance in her voice was barely contained. “We are a close-knit family, and I know my son can’t be happy being at loggerheads with me and other family members, so if you really love him as you say, then do something about the situation.”

“I don’t understand,” Yemi stammered. Aleena seemed to sense that something was wrong and moved closer to her. Yemi picked her up and held her close.

“Leave Akeem.” Mrs. Kadiri’s cold voice sliced the tense air and reverberated around in Yemi’s head.

“Leave my husband?”

“You said you wanted to show me that you are sorry, didn’t you?” Mrs. Kadiri sneered. “I’m telling you the best way to show it. Leave Akeem, and I will know that you are indeed sorry.”

“You want me to leave my husband? My home?” Yemi was almost in tears. “I can’t do that.” 

“Then you are not sorry.” She leaned slightly forward, her cold eyes boring through Yemi. “You are not the wife I want for my son. You can leave honorably now, and I will make sure that Akeem takes care of you financially and I will do the same too. I remember you told me you were interested in doing your master’s degree programme in England. That is not a problem. I can finance your studies, buy you a property, and help you to get settled down over there…”

Yemi had heard enough. She rose up from her seat. “I love my husband, and I can’t leave him,” she said shakily, trying to wipe the tears running down her face.

Akeem’s mother just looked at her coldly. “That’s fine, then, but know that this marriage or whatever you call it will not last, and I will be there when it breaks up.”

∞∞∞

Mrs. Kadiri’s words continued to echo in Yemi’s head as she drove home. She made no effort to stop the tears running down her face. She did not think that she would ever be able to forget the venom in her mother-in-law’s eyes as she spat out those callous words.

She was glad that Akeem was away on a business trip because his absence would give her a few days to calm down. She knew telling him what had transpired between her and his mother would only cause more problems. Akeem was bound to get very angry and would certainly confront his mother about it.

“I understand you not wanting to tell Akeem,” Abby told her when she confided in her a few days later. “But, girl, that’s quite a load for you to be carrying alone.”

“It is,” Yemi admitted. “Sometimes I get so scared of what she and Leila are up to, and I frankly don’t know what to do.”

“Don’t let anyone make you out to be a victim. You are legally married to your husband.”

She prayed with Yemi, and Yemi felt a gentle peace enveloping her. That was the strange thing that happened whenever Abby or Teju prayed with her. She didn’t get that same feeling when she prayed by herself; most times, it felt as if her prayers were banging against the ceiling.

Akeem was very busy at work in the following weeks. The euphoria of Ka-Tell winning the telecoms bid had worn off for Yemi, and the reality of the enormity of the task and it’s impact on her home had begun to sink in. Akeem had meetings that lasted late into the evenings, and he travelled quite often. She could only hope that the company would stabilize quickly so that she could have her husband back. Akeem being away so often gave her too much time to brood over her mother-in-law’s evil plans, and she was getting worried about not having conceived again after trying for several months.

Hasan’s younger sister, Shona, unwittingly gave her an idea on how she could occupy her time. She asked Yemi to design a dress for her. Yemi did, but she was not completely satisfied with the end product even though Shona gushed endlessly about it.

She decided to enroll at a fashion institute. There were several of them in Lagos, but the one that appealed to her the most was House of Tetra. It was owned by Sharon Braithwaite, one of the top fashion designers in the country. Sharon Braithwaite had won several awards, both locally and internationally, and was regarded as a legend in the fashion design world.

Yemi made enquiries and opted for a specialized package that allowed her flexible hours. Akeem was busy, and someone had to be there for Aleena.

∞∞∞

“Nice haircut,” Abby said admiringly, looking at Yemi’s short bangs during their lunch date.

“Thanks. Akeem doesn’t like it, though. He prefers my hair long.”

Abby eyed her teasingly. “So of course that means it’s going to be changed as soon as possible.”

“I’ve got to please my man.” Yemi grinned. “Nothing wrong with that, is there?”

“No, not at all. I wish I could borrow a leaf from you and become more compliant about Richard’s likes.” she said with a twinkle in her eye. “But I’ll get there someday.” Abby paused as a waiter brought their lunch. “Just in time, I’m absolutely starving,” she said, digging into her food as soon as the waiter left.

Yemi smiled as she looked at her friend’s five-month-old bump. “Enjoy. I can hardly wait for Aleena to have another sibling.”

Abby rolled her eyes. “Relax, Aleena is just two and a bit for goodness’ sake. I deliberately put off trying for a second child until Nathan turned four.”

“Yeah, but that was your preference. I started trying even before Aleena turned one.” Yemi took a small bite of her chicken roll. She hadn’t had breakfast but didn’t know why she wasn’t feeling hungry. “I’d prefer to have another baby now so that I can get on with my life once he—” she rolled her eyes. “hopefully it’s a ‘he’ this time…turns one. I want to get a job and get back into the corporate world.”

“What about your master’s degree?”

Yemi wrinkled her nose. “Maybe I’ll start that at some point, but right now, I have no zeal for that sort of thing.” She told Abby about her plans to start a course at House of Tetra.

“It’s a good idea, but just take it easy on yourself, though. Your husband is a very busy man, and I think you’re doing a great job being there for Aleena. The rest will fall in place with time.”

Yemi hoped so, and as she drove home later that afternoon, she chided herself for her gloomy thoughts. She had a lot to be thankful for. Apart from her mother-in-law, whom she had decided to ignore as much as she could, she had a good home, and Akeem was everything she had hoped for in a husband.

But later that evening, as she looked expectantly at the pregnancy kit in her hands, she could not help feeling low as she saw that the test was negative again. She stood looking at the test stick for a few minutes, willing the sign to change the other way by some miracle. She had been filled with such hope when her period had been delayed, but her hopes had been dashed yet again.

Yemi heard their bedroom door open and knew Akeem had come upstairs. She quickly wrapped the test stick in some tissue before tossing it in the bin. He was very dismissive about her concerns and she didn’t want him to see her looking worried.

∞∞∞

Her training at House of Tetra took off on a rather rocky start. Yemi arrived early, but getting a parking space in the busy business district of Victoria Island proved difficult. She had driven around for some time and was glad when she finally saw a space right in front of the building. She parked her car, stepped out, and just when she was about to close the door, she saw a Lexus jeep pull up behind her. The driver came down and walked towards her.

“That space is reserved,” he told Yemi gruffly.

Yemi glanced back at the space where she had parked. There was no sign saying that the spot was reserved. She looked back at the driver, who was waiting on her to move her car. At that moment, the back door opened, and a woman got out of the backseat.

“Is there a problem, Alex?” she asked her driver while giving Yemi a cool look.

Yemi recognized her immediately. This was the esteemed Sharon Braithwaite. She looked every inch the fashion guru, from her perfectly coiffured hair to the elegant heels on her feet.

“I was just telling the lady that this space is reserved.”

“There was no sign to say that the space is reserved, but I’ll move my car,” Yemi replied.

Sharon glanced at Yemi’s two-month-old silver Mercedes Benz before looking her over again. Then, without another word, she got back into her own car.

“No use arguing with the boss,” Yemi said to herself as she drove around for another ten minutes before finally finding another spot.

Sharon Braithwaite showed no sign that she recognized Yemi as she took the small group of people in Yemi’s class about an hour later. There were about eight people in that class, which was not surprising, considering the package’s steep price. They had to introduce themselves as part of the icebreaking session. Four of her class members already had their own fashion outfits. Three others said they had plans to open one soon. She was the only one who seemed to have just enrolled out of interest.

Sharon Braithwaite’s eyes flicked over her expressionlessly when she introduced herself, but she made no comment. From the very beginning, she seemed to have an attitude towards Yemi. It was as if she considered her to be some bored rich man’s wife who had come in to while away her time. Yemi chose to ignore all of that. Instead, she tried to learn as much as she could. She loved Sharon’s work and, even when she was free, would go around just looking at the designs being made by the tailors in the basement of the office.

Sharon was very sparing in her praises and, most times, would only comment on the things she wanted corrected. In fact, there were times when Yemi actually felt as though she was learning everything anew. She wondered what people had liked about her work in the past. It all seemed like she had been play-acting.

So, about a month later, she could not help the expression of pleasure that flashed across her face when Sharon commended a particular outfit she had made. “This is good,” Sharon said matter-of-factly before moving on to look at the next person’s work.

“Thank you,” Yemi said, doing a little dance inside and imagining Akeem’s face when she told him in the evening. Praise from Sharon was like finding water in a desert.

A couple of weeks later, she was sketching some ideas on her pad during her lunch break when Sharon came into the staff room. Yemi looked up and smiled politely.

Sharon made herself a cup of tea and walked over to where Yemi was sitting. “So, how are you finding House of Tetra?” she asked Yemi.

“It’s been awesome,” Yemi said honestly. “Not a minute wasted.”

“And you plan to use the experience for…” She raised her brows slightly. “For yourself and some friends, you said?”

“Well, this has always been like a hobby for me. I’m actually an accountant, and I plan to work with my degree once my daughter gets a little older.”

Sharon looked at her for a moment, and Yemi got the distinct impression that she was not impressed. “I studied law at the university, and I also have an MBA,” she told her in that matter-of-fact way that Yemi had gotten used to. She looked towards Yemi’s sketchpad. “Let me see those designs you’re sketching.”

Yemi pushed the sketchpad towards Sharon, feeling a little self-conscious. Sharon began to flip through the pages. Her face remained expressionless, and Yemi could not tell if she liked the designs or not. When she was done, she pushed the pad back to Yemi and stood up.

“Thanks for letting me see those.” She said as she moved off.

Yemi stared after her a little forlornly. She wondered if the designs were so bad that Sharon did not think they were even worthy of a comment. She flicked through the pages and cringed at some of them. Yes, she had gone overboard on some, but there were others she thought were not so bad.

But what was she thinking of? This was Sharon Braithwaite, the woman who dressed some of the most famous women in the country and had done countless fashion shows. It would take a lot for her to be impressed. Good thing she was only taking this as a hobby, Yemi comforted herself. She would just go on and learn all she could before her programme ended.

Nevertheless, she could not help feeling disappointed at the end of the training when she heard that Sharon had offered two of her course mates contracts with House of Tetra and had personal discussions with most of the others. Sharon had not bothered speaking with Yemi at all, and she wondered why. It certainly didn’t do anything for her confidence.

∞∞∞

“I was wondering where you were when you did not come back downstairs,” Akeem said when he came into the bathroom where Yemi lay soaking herself in the bath.

“Sorry, I thought I’d take a bath after putting away the clothes.” Yemi smiled up at him.

“No worries, I’ll be in the bedroom.”

After he left, Yemi lay back, allowing the water to run over her. It was so soothing, and she felt like staying there for as long as possible. A while later, she reluctantly climbed out of the bath, wrapped herself in a towel, and padded over to the bedroom.

Akeem was sitting up in bed with the television on, but he did not seem to be watching it. He looked up when she came into the bedroom. “Feel better?” he asked her.

“Yeah.” She sat down at the dressing table and began to apply some moisturizer to her face. “I think I’ll just have an early night. Aleena was such a handful today.”

“Growing up quickly, isn’t she?”

“And so full of energy too. It’s hard work just trying to keep up with her.”

Akeem smiled absently at what she said. His mind seemed to be far away. That was how he generally was these days—preoccupied and distracted. She wished he would leave his work outside the walls of their home.

“Are you okay?” She asked him.

“I’m fine. I just have a few things that I need to sort out.”

“Some things like what?” Yemi asked. Akeem wasn’t one to volunteer information easily on things that troubled him, and even when he did, he skirted around the issues and tried to make light of them.

“Just some little things here and there,”

She sighed. “Talk to me, Akeem. What little things?” She sat down beside him on the bed.

He rubbed his forehead with his fingers. “It’s Sonakson,” he said, referring to the vendor that Ka-Tell was using in the implementation of its services. “They’re being very funny all of a sudden. They’re not coming out to say what they really want, just kind of dragging their feet about signing the contract.”

By the time she got more of the details out of him, she knew it was not as light as Akeem had initially wanted her to believe. If things were not straightened out soon with Sonakson, it would result in delays, and she knew they had a deadline from the government. In fact, it could possibly lead to Ka-Tell losing the license.

“Just try to find out what they want,” she said to him, wishing there was something she could do to help him. “But I’m sure everything will work out fine.”

“Oh, I know it will.” There was a resolute look on Akeem’s face. “Ka-Tell is going to be successful, no matter the odds against it.”

Yemi looked at her husband. She often wished she was as confident as he was. Even in the face of difficulty, nothing seemed to faze him. He might brood over it, but he always had this deep conviction that everything would work out the way that he wanted it to. And as far as Yemi knew, it always did. Maybe there was some truth to his beliefs after all—belief in one’s self and abilities.

Chapter 11

 

Akeem was not in a good mood as he strode into the bar at the La Reaz Hotel in Abuja. He had been staying at the hotel for the past three days while he met with the officials of Sonakson. He gave a cursory glance around the bar. There was no one he recognized; at least that was something. He was not in the mood for company.

He took a seat at a table, and almost immediately, a waiter approached him. A few minutes later, the waiter returned with his drink. He took a sip of the double martini and felt the fiery liquid hit his stomach. Good, he needed that.

His mind drifted over to the meeting he had just had with Sonakson. It was the last of several meetings they had held over the past few weeks, and they had finally told him that they were backing out of the deal. Sonakson had cited a number of reasons why they did not want to continue with Ka-Tell, but what they had failed to say was that they felt the terrain was not very well known to them and that they considered Nigeria to be a high-risk place to invest their resources.

Akeem did not blame them for having concerns, but he had tried to allay their fears as best as he could. They already knew the history of the various businesses under the umbrella of KH, and he had volunteered more information than he had ever done with any other business venture KH had gone into. Sonakson was also aware that he had solid government connections and knew of his excellent track record. But that had not been enough to satisfy them, and they had formally pulled out.

Their backing out at this stage had hit him like a sucker punch. He had been so sure that their business sense would prevail over their prejudice. Nigeria had so much potential, and there were few countries where profit could be made so readily. But it seemed that Sonakson did not even trust the government and felt the whole privatization issue could be pulled at any time.

Akeem took another sip of his drink. The news would be all over the papers in the next couple of days. He could just imagine how some of his competitors would gloat over it. They would think he had bitten off more than he could chew this time. He smiled mirthlessly. They would be wrong, so very wrong. He was a fighter, and the grimmer the circumstances, the stronger his fighting spirit. KH had sunk too much money into Ka-Tell, and they had a deadline they needed to meet, otherwise the government was going to withdraw the telecoms license. That couldn’t be allowed to happen.

As he took another sip of his drink, he looked towards the door. A woman had just walked in. He glanced casually at her and then looked again. At that moment, she looked in his direction, and their eyes met. It was Coral, Emeka’s cousin. He sipped his drink again as he watched her approach him.

“Hey, good to see you again.” She smiled as she got to his table. “How’re you doing?”

“Good, and you?”

“I’m doing great. Mind if I join you?”

“Not at all,” Akeem said, pulling out a chair for her. “How are things with you?”

“Very good. I flew in yesterday on business, and I’m staying at this hotel. What about you?”

“I’m on business and staying here too. What would you like to drink?” He beckoned towards a hovering waiter. She ordered a drink, and the waiter left. “How’s your cousin?”

“Oh, Emeka? He’s fine. I saw him last week. He was just about to travel out of the country for a holiday.”

“Lucky for some. I sure could use a break right now.”

Coral raised her eyebrows. “Then have one. You are your own boss. You can go off anytime you choose to.”

Akeem smiled. That’s what most people thought, but it was not that easy. “I’ll do so as soon as I can find the time to spare. I plan to take my family on a long holiday soon.”

Coral looked at the wedding band on his finger. “Lucky girl.” Her eyes were playful as they met his. “I’m sure you left a trail of broken hearts behind when you got married.”

“I think it was the reverse. I was glad to finally find a girl who would have me.”

She laughed. “Very funny…” She broke off as the waiter brought her drink. She sat back a little in her chair after the waiter left. “So what has the great Akeem been up to?”

He grimaced. “Great? Quit the flattery.” She was good for his bruised ego, though. Sonakson obviously didn’t share her opinion.

“I’m not flattering you. I always try to keep up with what is happening around me.” She took a sip of her drink. “How long are you staying here for?”

“I’ve actually completed what I came here to do. But I’ll visit our office here for a couple of days more before I go back to Lagos.” Truth be told, he was not in the mood to go back to Lagos yet, otherwise he would have flown back that night. He wanted more time to think about the next move to make.

“Oh, great. I’m here for another four days or so.” Her eyes roamed over his face as she smiled. “Why not turn this into a working holiday? There are some really nice places I know in this city, and I could take you round.”

Akeem knew she was flirting with him again. He also knew that he should give her an excuse and leave, but he didn’t want to go to his hotel room just yet. He knew he needed to think through the next plan Ka-Tell would make, but at the same time, he just wanted to switch off and clear his head.

He turned his attention back to Coral. He wondered if she was in a serious relationship. He doubted it; otherwise, she wouldn’t be giving out those kind of signals to him. She was an attractive woman, and he wondered what her story was. He took another sip of his drink and half listened as she talked, watching the flash in her eyes and her easy smile as she told him funny anecdotes.

“You haven’t changed much, have you?” she asked him after a while.

“How do you mean?”

“You are just letting me talk. That was exactly what you did that first day we met.”

“Is that so?” He knew some people liked to talk and, if he had the time, he let them do so.

She leaned forward slightly. “So tell me, what are you thinking about right now?”

“How much are you willing to pay?”

She held his gaze, her eyes challenging him. “Just name it, and it is done.”

Tough lady. “Mmmm, interesting, but I’ll have to pass on that one.”

“Scared?”

“Of you? No way.”

“Then prove it.”

Akeem smiled. He used to be a master at this kind of game, but he wasn’t interested in such things anymore. It was time to call it a night, anyway. He needed to call Yemi. He knew she wouldn’t sleep until she had spoken to him. “I’m afraid I have to go now. I have a long day ahead tomorrow.”

Coral looked slightly disappointed, but she recovered quickly. “All right, what floor are you on?”

“I use the penthouse suite.”

“I’m on the fourth floor, so we can take the elevator together.”

They finished their drinks and made their way to the elevator. At her floor, he walked her to her door, and then he rode the elevator up to his own suite.

He stretched out on the bed. His body told him that he was tired, but his mind was still alert. He knew he would have a hard time sleeping that night. He called Yemi.

“I’ve been trying to reach you,” she said when she answered the phone. Her voice sounded sleepy. “I’m missing you, and Aleena wanted to say goodnight.”

“So sorry, baby. I went downstairs for a while, and my phone was on silent.”

“Are you okay? How did your meeting go?”

“I’ll tell you about it when I get home.”

They talked for a few more minutes before ending the call. Her tone was a bit quiet. He knew that she was already sensing something was wrong, but he didn’t want to tell her about Sonakson because he knew she would fret over it. There would be plenty of time to tell her tomorrow.

He took a shower afterwards. His head was beginning to bang, and he felt a little light-headed; he had been drinking on an empty stomach. As he reached for the phone to order some food, his doorbell buzzed. Strange, he was not expecting anyone. He opened the door and found a smiling Coral on his doorstep. She had a couple of takeaway bags in her hands.

“I remembered you said something about not having had any dinner yet, so I thought I would get some for you.” She smiled slightly and raised her brows at him pointedly when he still stood by the doorway. He stepped aside, and she made her way to the table and put the bags on top of it.

Akeem didn’t quite know what to make of her visit. “Thanks. I was just about to order some food.”

“Good timing, then.” She brought out the food along with two disposable plates, cutlery, and a bottle of wine. “You’ll like the food. I’ve been ordering from this restaurant since I arrived here, and I still can’t get over the taste.”

They made small talk as they ate. She was witty, and he found himself relaxing and enjoying her company. He needed the distraction anyway, something to take his mind off business and Sonakson.

After they were done eating, he disposed of the plates. Then they sipped on the wine and talked some more. She had a very expressive face, and he found himself watching the emotions dance across it as she relayed a funny incident that had happened between her and her cousin.

She paused suddenly and looked at him for a moment; her eyes had that teasing light again. “Where’s your mind?”

“I’m right here with you.” He told her the last thing she had said, and she laughed. He had to listen to a lot of people all the time, and he had learned how to pick the relevant points as quickly as possible so he could move on.

“Yep, you really were listening to me,” she said, still smiling. She gazed into his eyes for a moment. “You really are an attractive man. You know that, don’t you?” she said, changing the topic suddenly.

“Am I?”

She leaned forward a little. “You know you are. I wonder how you keep the ladies off you?”

He could smell the fragrance of the perfume she was wearing, something light and feminine. She had changed her top. She had been wearing something more formal earlier on. This one was of a lighter fabric, more feminine. It also had a lower neckline, made even more so as she leaned towards him. He kept his eyes on her face. “I’m a married man now.”

She leaned in closer, touching his face lightly with her fingertips. “Well, this particular lady does not mind. Actually, it works perfectly because there is no fear of commitment.”

Warning bells were going off in his head. He knew what he should do now: thank her for the meal, plead tiredness, and make her leave. “Coral, I think we should call it a night now,” he said, drawing back and trying to put some distance between them.

Her eyes were teasing him, challenging him. She touched his arms, running her fingers lightly over his upper arms and then moving on to his chest. “What are you scared of, big boy?” She leaned in closer still, and when he was still trying to recover, she kissed him. Her lips were soft and pliant, promising more. “We’re two adults, what’s stopping you?” she asked softly before kissing him again.

Akeem sighed, his breath quickening. He tried to fight for control, but it seemed easier to just flow with the feelings she was stirring up in him. He needed the distraction, anyway. He found himself kissing her back as she wrapped her arms around him.

“Wait a minute, Coral…” he said a few minutes later as sanity tried to resurface. What was he doing?

She laughed softly. “Relax,” she said as she leaned over and reached into her bag. She brought out a pack of condoms and showed him. “See, I came prepared. It’s all okay.”

Akeem stared at her. Her arms came round him once more, and he did not want to think anymore as she gently tugged his head towards her again.

∞∞∞

Akeem entered the shopping floor of Estelle and Company. His personal assistant had made an appointment for him at the jewellery shop, so they were expecting him. He introduced himself to the receptionist and a few minutes later, the manager joined him in the reception lounge.

“Very pleased to see you again, Mr. Kadiri,” the manager said as he shook Akeem’s hand. They exchanged pleasantries. “I have arranged a private viewing room for you, as usual,” the manager said. “Please come with me.”

“I’d like to see some of your best pieces,” Akeem said, following the manager out of the room. “I want to give my wife a pleasant surprise.”

The manager’s smile didn’t seem like it could get any wider. “We got some new pieces just yesterday, and you would be the first customer to view them. I’m sure Mrs. Kadiri would love them.”

About an hour later, Akeem left the shop with a beautiful diamond necklace and matching earrings. He had paid a tidy sum of money for them, but he did not mind. He only wished he could also pay to wipe the guilt from his conscience. The jewellery was beautiful, but Yemi would have still appreciated the gifts even if they were imitation stones set on plain metal. That was what made it so hard on his conscience. Only a jerk would cheat on a woman like that, but maybe that was what he was: a certified jerk.

He had carried on with Coral over the past two days. After their first night together, the next one had been easier. He knew he had already crossed the line, so he fell headlong into the affair. He kept telling himself that he needed the distraction; he was still smarting over Sonakson and needed to escape the pressure that their withdrawal was already mounting on him. Ka-Tell was his brainchild. He didn’t just want to build upon or expand what had been handed over to him. He wanted to go into other areas, break new grounds, and take KH to greater heights. 

He did not have any feelings for Coral. They had both used each other and that was it. He had no intention of continuing the relationship, and now that he had done what he thought he would never do—cheat on his lovely wife—he knew the guilt was not worth it.

The guilt heightened when Yemi hugged him later that evening, when he arrived back in Lagos. He held her close and breathed in her sweet smell. He insisted on bathing Aleena himself and putting her to bed, which delighted the little girl. He hoped his daughter would never know what he had done.

After dinner, he gave Yemi the necklace and earrings.

“They are so beautiful!” she whispered in an awed voice as she looked at the cluster of diamonds set in white gold. She leaned forward and brushed her lips across his. “You must have spent a fortune on these. Thank you so much, honey.”

“I love you,” he said, holding her close to him. He placed the necklace around her neck and did up the clasp.

She put on the drop earrings and turned to him, her eyes shining with excitement. It was just as he had thought. It sat well on her graceful neck. He could imagine how she would look if she was all dressed up.

A worried frown furrowed her brows. “But honey, I’d feel so unsafe wearing this. I’m sure I’ll keep looking over my shoulders.”

He smiled. They had made some progress through the years. He remembered her protests over every single expensive gift he bought her when they had just started dating. “Don’t worry, baby, it’s all insured.”

She looked relieved and flashed him a smile as she touched the necklace. “I’m going to check this out in the mirror.”

He watched her as she admired the necklace in the mirror of her dressing table. The thought of telling her what he had done came to his mind, but he pushed it back. No, he couldn’t do that, could not risk the consequences. Yemi was so innocent. Such things did not exist in her world.

Chapter 12

 

Yemi looked on as Laide tried on different shoes at Marabelle, a shop in Victoria Island. She and Dotun had finally fixed a wedding date, and everyone was excited at the thought of another wedding in the family.

But in the midst of all the excitement and preparation, Yemi could not help comparing her family’s reception of Laide to hers with the Kadiris. There was actually no basis for comparison. Her in-laws were showing no signs of accepting her anytime soon, and she now always made sure that Akeem was with her whenever she went to the Kadiris for a visit.

“What do you think of this pair?” Laide asked, interrupting her thoughts.

“Cool. I like the shape in front, and it’s not so crazy high. I’m sure you can wear this for the party after the wedding ceremony.”

“But don’t you think the other one I just tried on was better?”

“This pair is fine, but let’s see the other one again.”

She and Laide spent some more time in the store before Laide could make up her mind. They were just about to enter the next store when Yemi saw Sharon Braithwaite coming out. She exchanged pleasantries with Yemi, and Yemi introduced her to Laide.

“So what are you doing now?” Sharon asked Yemi. “Are you working yet?”

Yemi shook her head. “No, not yet.” Unless being mummy to an energetic little “miss” and attending high-profile events with her CEO hubby, plus trying to get pregnant counted, she added silently.

Sharon arched her eyebrows slightly but said nothing. She talked some more with them about Laide’s wedding preparations and, in the process, found out that Yemi was making the wedding dress.

“Oh, is she? I’m sure she is going to come up with something very lovely. I’ve seen her designs, and I know what she’s capable of.”

Yemi tried not to gape at the compliment. She felt Sharon was just being polite. Not that it bothered her. She still made many of her own clothes, and she even had more “friends by association” as she referred to people who had seen her designs on their friends asking her to make clothes for them too. So far, the criticisms she had received were very few and far between.

“Why don’t you give me a call anytime you are free tomorrow, and let’s talk,” Sharon said to Yemi before she moved off. “I just might have something you’d be interested in.”

Yemi watched Sharon walk away. She was dressed simply in a pair of jeans and a fitted silk top, but she still managed to make the outfit look elegant.

Laide was excited. “I’m sure that lady has designed clothes for any celebrity worth her salt! Her prices must be way out, though!”

“They are, but she still has to turn away so many people,” Yemi said, her gaze still fixed in the direction in which Sharon had disappeared.

“That’s what you should do. Open a fashion shop. At least Sharon Braithwaite thinks you’re good.”

Yemi smiled ruefully. “When you are at the top of your game like Sharon, you can afford to be a little generous with your compliments.”

Nevertheless, she called Sharon the next day and could hardly believe her ears when Sharon told her that she wanted Yemi to help her out with some designs for her next collection. She had to muster all the “cool” within her not to squeal excitedly over the phone; Sharon would never do that for anyone, so why should she? The lady was as cool as cucumber, even when she was attending to the wives of governors and such like.

But she did a little dance as soon as she put down the phone. She immediately called Akeem with the news.

“I’m happy for you, baby. So she really did like your designs after all.”

“She said she did! But she didn’t say anything when she looked at them!”

He tutted. “You’ve got to believe in yourself some more,” he teased.

She met with Sharon later that week. Yemi was still amazed when she saw the experienced tailors that she had in her employ and wondered why Sharon had asked for her help. She got her answer later as Sharon spoke to her.

“Some people can design but can’t sew, and others can sew excellently but are not creative,” Sharon said. “But not very many people can combine both the way that you do.” Her eyes narrowed a little as she surveyed Yemi, as though trying to fathom her out. “I believe it’s mainly just a gift, because you certainly don’t put in as much work as some of the more experienced people I’ve dealt with. Neither do you plan to do anything with it.” She wrinkled her nose slightly, as if she was not impressed, and Yemi was reminded of her mother-in-law’s face. “Nevertheless, I have to admit that your work is good, and you’re very talented.”

Yemi’s face remained bland. So she was being told she was neither hardworking nor driven. Well, this was a hobby that she enjoyed. Accounting was work, and designing and sewing were fun.

“I need some really good designs for this collection,” Sharon continued. “I’m planning a big fashion show, much bigger than anything I’ve done in the past. Dan has had to take some time off because of his wife not being very well at the moment,” she said, referring to her trusted head tailor. “But nevertheless, I’m still not going to use just anybody because I’m hard pressed. I’d rather postpone the event than do that.”

Sharon wanted Yemi to work with Danila, a type of cotton fabric, and to combine it with any other fabric to create a smart casual line. Yemi remembered that she had done some similar designs on the sketchpad that Sharon had looked at.

She smiled when Sharon brought up the topic of payment. It was funny to her that she was being offered payment for something she enjoyed doing. Nah, this was training for her. She declined. Sharon didn’t try to make her change her mind; rather, she offered Yemi free courses that she personally supervised.

Yemi set out to work on the designs. They had to go over them several times over the next few weeks. Yemi created, and Sharon criticized or complimented. She was a stickler for perfection, but Yemi valued her criticism, and they finally arrived at designs that she was happy with.

Yemi attended the fashion event with Laide and Derin. She felt warm all over when she heard the applause as the models wearing her designs came out. Yes, they might be applauding House of Tetra, but this was her work! Maybe having her own fashion house someday was not such a bad idea after all, she thought to herself happily.

 ∞∞∞

Dotun’s voice was clear but a little emotional, his eyes lovingly fixed on Laide’s as they exchanged their wedding vows two months later. Yemi’s eyes dampened slightly. The ceremony was beautiful, and the couple looked so happy. She felt a nudge on her elbow and turned to see Akeem looking at her in amusement.

“They look good together, don’t they?” he whispered. 

“Absolutely!”

A teasing smile curved his lips. “But I wonder why some people cry at weddings, though. It’s supposed to be a joyful event.”

“These are tears of joy,” Yemi said, smiling and dabbing at her eyes with her handkerchief.

“Hmmm…interesting.” He looked over to where the bridal party was sitting. “My daughter is definitely the loveliest little flower girl I’ve ever seen.”

“She does look very pretty,” Yemi agreed and then added cheekily, “just like her mum.”

“Um, but I think my girl is just that little bit prettier,”

She smiled and tossed her hair. “What else would you say?”

After the wedding, they went over to the venue for the reception. By this time, Aleena had had enough of sitting with other members of the bridal party and insisted on sitting with her father at his table. Yemi left them and went to help with attending to other guests. 

She heard Sesan’s voice behind her. “Hey!”

“Shez!” she exclaimed excitedly, looking around to find him standing there. She hugged him. “Dotun told me you flew in yesterday. That’s so nice of you.”

“No other way to go about it. Dotun is like a brother to me.”

Yemi put on a mock frown. “That’s so very partial. I can remember a certain person didn’t even bother waiting to attend my wedding.”

“That was a long time ago.” Sesan laughed. “You’re looking good, by the way. I saw you from afar during the church service. How have you been?”

“Fine, thanks, and you?”

“I’m good. How’s your little girl? Is she here?”

“That’s her over there with Akeem,” Yemi said, pointing towards Akeem and Aleena.

“Beautiful girl,” Sesan replied, looking at Aleena. “Just like her mum.” He waved at Akeem. “How old is she?”

“Three.” It still surprised her how fast time had flown. She wished Aleena’s sibling would hurry along. She had carried out some tests some months ago, and the results came out all clear. The specialist she was seeing had told her to reduce her stress levels and to see him in another six months, but she was planning to ask for medication to boost her fertility if nothing had happened by her next appointment.

Sesan was surprised when he learnt that she was not working but didn’t say much. Yemi invited him to dinner at her house and was disappointed when he turned down the invitation. “Aww, c’mon, Shez! We’ve not seen each other for over four years. Don’t tell me that you’re not even going to come to my place at all before you go back to the UK.”

He smiled ruefully. “I’m sorry, but my schedule is a bit tight, plus I have an invitation to attend a programme at a church that particular evening.”

She shot him a quick look. “That reminds me. I heard that you’re now almost a bishop?”

He grinned. “That’s not true.”

“But you’re now very religious; born again and all that, aren’t you?”

“Who have you been talking to?”

Yemi smirked. “I’m still a very connected lady, you know. But anyway, pray for me during your programme.”

“I will.” 

“I’m serious!” 

“Noted. Any particular thing you want me to pray about?”

Yemi looked at him, and she realized how much she had missed talking to him. He used to be such a good sounding board for her. “I want another baby, hopefully a boy this time.”

“Why a boy?”

She shrugged. “I already have a girl, and Akeem would love a boy.” She grinned. “I also learnt that boys prefer their mums, so the little man may just even things up a bit. My daughter’s just too stuck on her dad!”

Sesan smiled. “I’ll pray, and I believe that you’ll have what you desire.”

They were able to meet for lunch before Sesan left to go back to the UK. Yemi teased him about joining the “saved” bandwagon and reminded him of how they both used to think that Teju was weird. Nevertheless, she had to admit that there was something different about him, some sort of quiet confidence and peace. That was something she wouldn’t mind having; maybe that would stop her fretting over her mother-in-law and her evil plans.

She was surrounded by confident people: Abby, Teju, and now Sesan. They attributed it to their being “saved.” Then, of course, there was her super-confident husband, who believed nothing could stop him, and nothing did, not even Sonakson. He had signed on with Ericsson and restrategized to make up for lost time. Ka-Tell was still in its early stages, but things were growing steadier by the day.

Maybe it was high time that she also stepped up her game and found her own confidence mantra.

∞∞∞

“Honey, when are you coming back home?”

“I should be done in another two hours.”

Yemi sighed. “Two whole hours? It’s already eight thirty.” 

“I can’t help it.” Akeem’s voice sounded terse over the phone. “I’m right in the middle of a meeting. I’ll leave as soon as I can, but it may take up to two hours.”

“Okay. I’ll wait up for you.”

“You don’t have to do that. Try and get some sleep.”

She put down the phone slowly after they had talked for a few more minutes. It had been like this for the past few weeks. Akeem worked late every night and came home tired, and it didn’t seem like his schedule would lessen any time soon.

She was not feeling sleepy and decided to watch a Tyler Perry movie; she was still on it when Akeem came home around midnight.

“Hey,” he said when he entered their bedroom. “Still awake?”

“I was not feeling sleepy,” Yemi paused the movie. “The meeting lasted longer than you expected?”

“Yeah!” he said wearily, sitting down to take off his shoes. “I had some things to iron out, and I wanted it all sorted out tonight.” He took some documents from his briefcase and gave them to her.

“What’s this?” Yemi asked, looking at the printout, and then her eyes widened with delight. “Tickets to Portugal for next week!” She got up excitedly and hugged him. “That’s so cool!”

“I had my secretary book them this afternoon, but I wanted to surprise you.”

“I can’t wait to go! Just me, my husband, and my daughter for a whole week!” She sighed happily. “Pure bliss!”

“I guess I’ll see less of those gloomy looks that I’ve been getting in this house of late.”

Yemi made a face at him. “I haven’t been making gloomy faces.” 

“There’s that face again!” Akeem teased, and Yemi pulled another one at him. “I should take a picture and put it on my desk at the office.”

“Go ahead!” Yemi laughed. “But honestly, honey, I’m so thrilled! When do we leave?”

“Monday morning.”

∞∞∞

They spent an idyllic week at the Algarve in Portugal. Akeem gave them his full attention and tried to reduce the number of calls he made to KH. They visited the beaches, went dolphin watching by boat, and sampled the local delicacies. By the time their holiday was up, even Akeem admitted that he had had a wonderful time.

To her delight, Yemi found out that she was pregnant a few weeks after their return. The news of the impending baby added excitement to their household, and Akeem teased her that he would make sure he took her to Portugal every year.

They were both thrilled when they found out it was going to be a boy. A few weeks after they got to know the sex of the baby, Akeem had to attend an important meeting in the office, which he told her would go late into the night. He had made an effort to reduce his late meetings since Yemi got pregnant, so she understood. 

She put Aleena to bed early and was in her bedroom when she was informed that Dotun had stopped by for a visit. She smiled to herself. Laide was away on official duty, and she knew that Dotun must be missing her.

“You got it right.” he confirmed when she teased him about it. “The house seemed so empty, and I didn’t fancy staying there all alone.”

She laughed. “That makes two of us. Akeem’s having a meeting at the office, but at least I’m an old hand at this now. Have you had dinner?”

Dotun shook his head.

“Let me get you something to eat, then.”

“I’ve got a better idea,” Dotun replied. “Why don’t we go out? There is this lovely new restaurant that just opened, and everyone at the office is raving about it.”

“Am I really in the mood to go out?” Yemi wrinkled her nose as she looked down at her bump. “I feel like a baby elephant.”

“A beautiful baby elephant.”

Yemi looked at him reproachfully. “You should have said I don’t look like an elephant, baby or otherwise,” she scolded. “You have to learn these things so you’ll know how to respond to Laide when she gets pregnant. It’s a very emotional period, you know.”

Dotun rolled his eyes. “Oh brother!” 

“You’ll learn, but let me go and get dressed so you’ll see that your sister is still quite hot.”

She tried to call Akeem to inform him about her whereabouts, but his phone just kept ringing. She knew it was probably on silent. She was still likely going to be back home before him anyway.

The restaurant was about thirty minutes away, but there was hardly any traffic on the road, so their journey was relatively fast and easy. It was located in a hidden area of town, which made Yemi wonder how they attracted their clientele. She voiced her thoughts aloud as she and Dotun were shown to their seats.

“Their services are quite expensive, so I guess it’s not for everybody,” Dotun replied.

“I hope I don’t dent your pocket, then.”

He smiled. “I know you’re used to stylish things, but if the bill is too high, I shall forward half of it to your husband.”

“No way! This one is on you, and remember that I’m eating for two!”

“Is it too late to change my mind?”

“Much too late! I’m here now, so let’s enjoy some of those bonuses you get at your bank.”

They ordered their food, and Dotun soon had Yemi in stitches with his jokes. He was in the middle of telling her another joke when her gaze came to rest on a couple seated a few tables away from them. The man’s shirt was the first thing that caught her attention. He had his back towards them, but she would recognise those broad shoulders anywhere. She could see the woman’s face but knew she had not seen her before. She craned her neck a little farther, trying to get a clearer look. The man leaned forward slightly and tapped the woman’s nose with his finger, and she smiled at him.

Yemi’s heart froze. Akeem did that to her so often. But this couldn’t be Akeem! Akeem was in KH headquarters in Victoria Island, having a business meeting!

Dotun noticed her countenance and followed her gaze. Just then, the woman took the man’s hand in hers. The man did not pull back. Instead, he leaned towards her and continued talking with her.

Yemi did not know when she got up and walked towards their table. Her heart thudded as her eyes confirmed that the man was indeed her husband. The startled expression of guilt on Akeem’s face as he withdrew his hands from the woman’s was enough confirmation for her. Yemi felt as if the room was closing in on her, and she couldn’t breathe properly. She had to get out of there.

She could not bear to wait for the lift, and tears blinded her as she rushed out of the door and descended the flight of stairs leading out to the ground floor. In her hasty exit, she did not know when she missed a step. She tottered crazily, trying to hold on to the railing, but it was too late, and she heard Dotun’s agonized scream as she tumbled down the stairs.

She felt like she was floating, and she tried to clutch at her belly with her hands, but they would not obey her. She couldn’t understand the pounding pain in her pelvis. Her vision clouded. She could hear voices and saw Akeem’s and Dotun’s alarmed faces blurrily. The pain was getting worse. She stopped struggling as the fog thickened over her mind, and she slipped into blissful oblivion.

∞∞∞

Yemi’s mother adjusted the light in the hospital room. “Is that better, dear?” she asked, looking at her daughter’s face.

Yemi focused her eyes on her for a moment before looking away. “Yes.”

Her mother stood there, looking down at her, before she sat down by her bedside again. Yemi tried to muster up a reassuring smile but could not. Her mother had kept vigil by her bedside since the incident a week earlier. Yemi’s silence worried her, and she had tried to encourage her to cry it all out, but the tears wouldn’t come. She felt like she was locked up in a private hell where nothing and no one could reach her.

Yemi glanced down at her belly, and a fresh surge of pain overwhelmed her. The doctors had done everything they could, but had been unable to save her baby.

Akeem had wanted to stay with her at the hospital, but she had refused. She could hardly bear to look at him. She had had only one question for him after she had been induced to deliver her son: “Are you having an affair with that woman?” A tiny fragment of her heart had still been hoping that she had misread what she had seen and had overreacted.

He had exhaled deeply. “No.”

She had stared at him. “Have you ever had anything to do with her since we got married?”

He did not look away. “Yes.”

It had felt like someone was turning a knife around in her heart, and the pain was excruciating. She closed her eyes and asked him to leave.

∞∞∞

Akeem took her home when she was discharged from the hospital some days later. He didn’t appear to have shaven since the night of the incident, and his eyes were constantly bloodshot, but she couldn’t care less.

“Welcome back, Ma.” Kufre greeted her at the door.

Yemi saw that she was trying to avoid looking at her midsection. “Thanks,” she replied. “Where is Bassey?”

“I sent him to get some things from the store,” Akeem answered. “He went with the driver. They will pick up Aleena from preschool on their way back.”

Yemi looked around her bedroom when she got there. It was amazing how her life had changed so dramatically in just a few days. She felt the pain of Akeem’s betrayal even more keenly because she could not grieve privately. Her parents and siblings knew about it. Dotun had been distraught and blamed himself for taking her out that night. He told her that he would not tell anyone else, but she had refused to hold him to such a promise and had told their mum herself.

The bedroom door opened, and Akeem came in. He had her things with him. He placed the ones that needed to be washed in the laundry bag and then stood awkwardly, looking at her.

“Are you okay?” he finally asked her. 

“Am I okay?” Yemi repeated, looking at him. He looked like a stranger to her. “I guess I must be.”

“Is there something you want me to get for you?” he asked. 

She wanted to tell him to start off by giving her back her son. Her broken trust. “No, thanks.”

She felt so tired and drained. She put on the air conditioner, changed her clothes, and lay down on the bed.

“I’m sorry,” Akeem said, coming to sit beside her. “I’m so sorry.” He touched her arm lightly.

Yemi jerked away from his touch as though an electric current had run through her. “Don’t touch me.”

“Baby…”

“I want to sleep, Akeem. Please let me know when Aleena gets home.”

With that, she closed her eyes and turned towards the wall. Akeem remained seated on the bed, but she refused to turn around to look at him.

Her mind went back over the past few days, and as the memories flooded in again, pain welled up within her until she felt like it would choke her up. She knew she would not be able to sleep. She got up and took some of the sleeping tablets the doctor had prescribed for her.

Akeem sat looking at her as she took them. She ignored him and lay back down. Gradually, the effect of the medication took over her mind, and she dropped off into a troubled sleep.

∞∞∞

She was inside the Bluewater shopping mall with Akeem, Aleena, and the baby. Their son was so cute. He looked just like Akeem and was gurgling happily at her from his pushchair. Akeem put his arm around her as they both looked at their beautiful baby.

Suddenly, Akeem turned into a monster. She cried out in fear and tried to take the baby out of his chair, but the monster was faster than her. He snatched the baby up, took Aleena, and began to run away with them. Yemi was filled with fear. She screamed out for help and ran after the monster, but he was faster than she was. The distance between them became greater. She ran on after him, her breath coming in short, labored gasps. She heard Aleena crying out for her and also heard the baby’s cries as they got farther and farther away.

“Give me back my children!” she screamed. “Please, give me back my babies!” She thrashed violently on the bed from side to side.

“Yemi, Yemi.” Akeem tapped her arm gently. “Hush, baby, it’s just a dream,” he soothed, trying to hold her as she continued to struggle.

She opened her eyes and looked around, half expecting to see the monster. The shadows cast by the drapes looked sinister in the dim light of the room, and she shivered. The dream had been so real, and she could still hear Aleena’s frightened screams.

“It was just a nightmare,” Akeem whispered, stroking her back. She shrank back from his touch, still feeling a little fearful.

“No one is going to hurt you,” he said gently. “It was just a dream.”

She got out of bed and put on her slippers.

“Where are you going?” Akeem asked as she headed for the door.

“I want to check on Aleena.” She felt she had to see her daughter right away and make sure that she was okay.

“Aleena is fine. I tucked her in bed a few hours ago.”

Yemi continued out of the room. She got to Aleena’s room and gently opened the door. Aleena lay fast asleep, clutching her favorite soft toy to herself. Yemi adjusted the bedclothes, then sat down in an armchair in the room. She did not feel like leaving the room. She just wanted to keep watch over her child.

The door opened a few minutes later, and Akeem came in quietly.

“Are you okay?”

She wished he would stop asking her that. It irritated her to no end. “I’m fine,” she replied shortly.

“It was just a dream.” Akeem tried again to reassure her. “Aleena is fine, let’s go back to bed.” 

“I’m fine here. I’m not feeling sleepy.”

He saw the determined look on her face and dropped into the second armchair. 

It had been like this for the past two weeks. She had frequent nightmares and slept badly. She still refused to talk to Akeem about the “incident,” as she referred to it in her mind, and shut him off anytime he tried to bring it up. Many nights, she insisted on sleeping in the second bedroom in their suite. Akeem had begged her not to the first night she had slept in there, but she had ignored him.

Aleena turned slightly on the bed and rolled over. The bedclothes slipped off her, and Yemi got up to readjust them.

“Baby, Aleena is fine,” Akeem said gently. “You also need to rest. Please, let’s go back to the room.”

“I said I’m okay here,” Yemi snapped. “You can go back to the room, I didn’t ask you to follow me.”

Akeem adjusted his position in the chair and remained seated.

She must have dozed off in the chair because the next thing she knew was Akeem tapping her gently on the arm.

“Yemi, wake up,” he said gently. “It’s morning.”

She looked around, trying to recollect where she was, and then she caught sight of Aleena still on the bed. The soft yellow light of the new dawn was just creeping through the half-open drapes.

She rubbed her hand across her eyes and got up from the chair. It was a Saturday morning, so she did not have to wake Aleena up just yet. Her body ached from sitting in the armchair for several hours, and her legs felt rubbery when she stood up. She made her way towards their bedroom with Akeem following close behind her. She walked towards the second bedroom, but Akeem held her arm and restrained her gently. 

“Why don’t you stay here?” he said, looking at her. “The bed will be more comfortable for you.”

“I’ll be okay,” Yemi replied, tugging her arm free.

She opened the door to the room and lay down on the bed. Akeem did not follow her, and moments later she heard the bathroom door open and knew he had gone in there. She glanced at the clock beside the bed; it was almost six thirty. Her head still felt muzzy, but she knew she would find it difficult to sleep.

She got up and went to her bedside cabinet in the main bedroom and brought out her sleeping tablets. She was about to take them when Akeem walked into the room.

“Don’t you think that you are taking too much of those?” he asked quietly. “Let me get you some warm milk instead, or maybe some Horlicks?”

Yemi looked at the tablets in her hand. She knew she was relying more on them, but that was the only way she had been able to get any decent amount of sleep.

“Should I get the drink?” Akeem asked. 

“Thanks,” Yemi replied.

Akeem came back into the room a few minutes later with a glass of warm milk. She thanked him, took the cup from him, and headed back to the second bedroom.

∞∞∞

“You will be a good girl at Grandma’s house, won’t you?” Yemi asked Aleena a few hours later. Aleena was so happy that she was practically hopping with excitement. Eniola, Ayo’s youngest child, was also going to be there, and Yemi knew they would be all over the place as soon as they saw each other.

“But I’m always a good girl!” Aleena pouted, looking at her father for confirmation.

“Sometimes, but not all the time,” Yemi replied, looking down at her daughter’s face. “So promise me that you will try to behave nicely for Grandma.”

“I will try my most best, Mummy,” Aleena replied solemnly.

Akeem was watching the exchange. “Why bother?” he asked. “Kids will be kids.”

“This particular kid is mine,” Yemi replied abruptly. “And I want her to be well behaved.”

“Can I go now?” Aleena asked impatiently.

“Yes, you can.” Yemi turned towards the driver, who was going to take Aleena to her parents’ place. “Please drive carefully,” she told him as she strapped Aleena into her car seat.

She went back inside the house after they had gone. Akeem followed closely behind her.

“Yemi, please, can we talk?” he asked as they got back to their room.

She had her back to him and did not turn around. Just the sight of him these days was enough to make her angry. “About what?”

“About what happened that night…”

“We don’t need to talk about it. I saw what happened, remember?”

“Yemi, I know you’re still mad…” he began.

That did it. She lost her cool. “Mad does not begin to describe it!” she cut in angrily, glaring at him. “How long have you known her?”

“She means nothing to me.”

“She means nothing to you,” Yemi repeated angrily. “Well, you and your ‘nothing’ killed my son!”

“Yemi, I’m sorry,” Akeem said quietly. “I did not mean to hurt you that night.”

Yemi glared at him and then shook her head as if trying to comprehend what he was telling her. “You’re unbelievable! You cheat on me and yet you tell me you didn’t mean to hurt me?”

“Baby, I’m sorry.”

“I asked you, how long you have known her!” She was so angry that for the first time in her life she actually felt like hitting someone. She wanted to scream, tear at him with her fingers, and hurt him just as badly as he had hurt her. She closed her eyes and tried to calm herself. Violence would not solve anything.

“I met her some time ago through a business associate of mine,” Akeem began quietly. “And then I met her again in Abuja about ten months ago.”

She stared at him as he talked. He had encouraged her to be a full-time homemaker so that she could be available for him, but somehow, he had found solace in the arms of a strange woman when he was stressed out. So exactly what was she in his life? Maybe just a piece of furniture to beautify his house.

“She has tried to call me several times since then,” Akeem continued, “I made it clear that I had no intention of seeing her again, but she started calling and texting me again about a month ago. She had just lost her mother to cancer and was going through some financial difficulty in her business because of the medical bills that had accrued. She sounded really depressed, and the tone of her texts gave me some concern.” He inhaled deeply. “She was so highly strung up, and I wanted to talk her out of doing anything rash.”

Yemi decided she had heard enough. “As far as I am concerned, you don’t have a single reason for doing what you did, and you have destroyed my trust in you!”

“My actions were inexcusable, but I swear to you, I was only meeting up with her to talk with her this time.”

“Well, I don’t believe you. You did it before, and you could very well do it again.” She glared at him. “I trusted you absolutely, and now I distrust you absolutely!”

“Yemi, please forgive me. You’re the only woman I’ve ever loved. Please…forgive me.”

Yemi stared back at him stonily. There was no way she was ever going to believe him again. “I need a break,” she said abruptly. “I want to go to England.”

“No problem,” Akeem replied promptly. “I will try to shift things around at the office. We should be able to go next week.”

“No, I’m not going with you. I need some time to myself.”

Akeem took in a deep breath and stared at her. His eyes searched hers. She knew what he was thinking. The thought had crossed her mind a few times as well.

“How long to do you intend to stay?” he finally asked.

“A few weeks. Aleena’s preschool will be breaking up next week, so I’ll be going with her.”

He looked like he wanted to argue with her but changed his mind when he saw the determined expression on her face. “You’ll be staying at Canary Wharf, won’t you?”

“I was thinking of staying with Tola.”

“Why stay with someone when we have our own place?” he protested. “If you don’t want to stay in London, I can rent a place anywhere else for you.”

“That won’t be necessary,” she said shortly. She wasn’t actually planning on staying with Tola. She had just wanted to torment him with the possibility that she could leave him. She needed some privacy during her time in England. Tola knew she had lost the baby but did not know the reason why. If she stayed at her place, she knew she could find herself telling her more than she wanted to, and she did not want to be pitied. “I’ll stay in Canary Wharf.”

He looked relieved. “I’ll ask my secretary to book tickets for you and Aleena. Just let me know anything else that you need for the trip.” 

“Thanks.” She attempted to walk past him, but he held onto her arm.

“Baby, please don’t shut me out,” he pleaded. “Do anything you like to me, but please don’t shut me out of your life.”

She tried to tug her hand free, but he held on tightly.

“Baby, please…”

“Let go of my hand, you’re hurting me.”

He let go but stood there, blocking her exit.

“I have a headache, Akeem, I need to lie down.” With that, she moved around him and walked into the second bedroom.

Chapter 13

 

The tears finally came in England, and once they started, Yemi found them hard to stop. It was as if a dam had burst open inside of her, and she wept for days. She tried to keep her crying bouts from Aleena, but sometimes her daughter walked in on her and would wrap her little arms around her protectively, as if to shield her. Aleena thought Yemi was missing Akeem and told Akeem over the phone when he called. Aleena asked him to come and join them in London so that her mother could stop crying, but Yemi firmly told him not to.

Abby called her often. Yemi had confided in her. She felt she needed to talk to someone other than her family about what had happened, and Abby had been like a rock to her since then.

“I’m praying for you, Yemi,” Abby said to her one day when they were speaking on the phone. “I’m trusting God to heal your heart of every pain.”

“Please leave God out of this, Abby!” Yemi snapped. “How could He have allowed this to happen to me? What did I ever do to deserve this?”

“I don’t have all the answers.” Abby’s voice was quiet. “But this is the period when you need to just hold on to Him and trust Him.”

Well, she was certainly not going to do that. She had tried to be a good person all of her life and had never gone out of her way to be nasty to anyone, yet she had been dealt such a raw deal: in-laws who hated her, and now an unfaithful husband. Maybe Akeem was right. Maybe there was no God.

Tola visited her frequently. She attributed Yemi’s dark moods to her recent loss and tried as much as possible to cheer her up. She had finally given in and had gotten engaged to Tobi. He came with her occasionally, and Yemi tried to put on a brave face while they were around.

She struggled to understand why Akeem had cheated on her and his betrayal cut deep into her heart. He had promised to protect her from his family, but had not been able to protect her from himself. She would have also felt better if there had been signs to show that he had been cheating, but she could not think of any, and to her, that even made it more dangerous. He could very well do it again, and she wouldn’t be any wiser about it.

But as painful as it was, she decided that she would stay on in her marriage. She wanted to give her daughter as stable a background as possible. Aleena adored her father. Maybe when she grew up, she would find out that her idol had clay feet.

Even though she made up her mind to remain married to Akeem, she felt she needed some sort of independence from him. She knew she also needed to get busy because despite her resolve to stay married, thoughts of leaving Akeem still crossed her mind several times a day.

The thought of starting her own fashion house began to appeal more to her, and she did some research. Owning her own fashion house, rather than getting a nine-to-five job, would mean a flexible schedule that would allow her to be there for Aleena. Plus, fashion designing was what she was really passionate about anyway. She had made her parents proud by studying a course she felt they would like, became a full-time homemaker because of Akeem, but from then on, it was going to be all about her and her daughter.

∞∞∞

Akeem’s eyes swept across the grounds of his parents’ country home. They were having their annual family picnic, which always coincided with the anniversary of his father’s death. They had the picnic the day before the anniversary and then had a more formal family dinner the next day.

His mother always went big on the preparations. They invited their close family and friends, and everyone generally had a lot of fun. He looked across at his cousins, who were sitting under a picnic umbrella. They had already beckoned to him to join them, and he had indicated that he would.

There were several other picnic umbrellas, some of which sheltered other adult relatives and under others were the younger teens and kids. He could see Adil’s boys and Nadia’s son playing some sort of game. Nadia’s son was too young to follow the game, but he was making up for it by giggling as he watched the older kids. Akeem felt a stab in his heart as he thought of his son, but he pushed the thoughts away. They were too painful.

His eyes moved across the grounds, seeking out his wife and daughter. She was sitting with Aleena. Aleena was giggling, and Yemi had an answering smile on her face as she listened to whatever it was that she was saying. Her sunglasses were perched on top of her head, and she looked chic in her cropped white chino pants and orange flowery cotton top, but then his wife always looked good no matter what she was wearing.

For a moment, his heart flared within him as he looked at her. He missed her so much. All she seemed to care about now were Aleena and the plans for her business. She froze him out at every opportunity, and she was showing no signs of the coldness thawing any time soon. She had initially refused to attend the picnic with him until he told her he was going to take Aleena with him. She had argued angrily with him, but he had stood his ground until she grudgingly agreed to join them.

He wanted them to present a united front to his mother. He didn’t know how she had gotten the information, but she knew that there was more to the story of Yemi’s miscarriage than what they had told her, and she was also aware that they were having problems. He knew her suspicions would have been confirmed if Yemi had not come with him.

Coral had appeared genuinely sorry for what had happened that night at the restaurant. She had tried to call and see him several times since then, but Akeem had declined her calls and visits. He took full responsibility for what happened. Just three days of indiscretion, and he had lost not just his baby, but now his marriage also stood on the line.

Yemi glanced at him, and their gaze locked. Time and space seemed suspended as they looked at each other. He pleaded with her with his eyes. She had loved him like no one else, and he wanted it all back, would do anything to have it all back. She dropped her eyes back to Aleena and he knew that she would not be looking in his direction again.

He felt so frustrated. He didn’t know how to tear down the walls that she had built between them. He still didn’t know what was going on in her mind. He had even gone to the extent of getting Sara to try to find out what she was thinking.

“She is hurting, Akeem, hurting and angry, but I don’t think she has any plans to leave,” Sara had told him. 

That had brought him some measure of relief, but the possibility still haunted him.

He watched as Adil’s son walked towards Yemi and Aleena. A few minutes later, Aleena went off with him to join the other kids. Akeem looked at Yemi’s face as she looked after Aleena. He knew she would have wanted to hold on to her because she did not have anyone to chat with now. She slid her sunglasses over her eyes and stood up. He decided to go over to her but just then, he heard his name. He turned round to see Fadel walking towards him. He waved at him before his eyes returned to Yemi. She was now making her way towards the house.

“Hey, good of you to come by,” Akeem said to Fadel as he drew closer. “Where’s Sara?”

“She is taking a call in the car. She should be here soon.” He dropped into a chair. “Phew, is it hot or what!”

“Yeah, the weather is boiling,” Akeem agreed. He was happy that Sara had come. She would be company for his wife.

“Everyone seems to be having fun,” Fadel said, looking round. “Where’s Yemi?”

“I think she just went into the house.”

Fadel looked sympathetically at him. “How is she doing?”

Akeem shrugged. “So-so. She’s a bit better but still not talking much.”

“Just hang in there. Hopefully she will come around soon. But have you thought of going away? Just the two of you? We can look after Aleena for you.”

“I’ve suggested it a few times, but I got a firm ‘no’ from her every time.”

“Keep trying,” Fadel said somberly. “She’ll come around sooner or later.”

Akeem hoped so, even though he wished he were as sure as Fadel was.

∞∞∞

Yemi walked into the main house after asking Kufre to watch Aleena. The weather was hot, and she wanted to just sit inside for a while. But besides that, being with the Kadiris was not her favourite way of spending her time. It was made even worse now that things were so stiff between her and Akeem. She had tried to keep her countenance happy since they arrived at the Kadiri country home the day before, but she could hardly wait to leave.

She felt like having a cold drink and made her way to the kitchen. The domestic staff were in the process of making dinner. She got the drink she wanted and went back to one of the smaller sitting rooms. The house was even bigger and more imposing than the Kadiri family home in the city, and Akeem’s father had obviously spared no expense in making it the palatial abode that it was.

She took a long sip of her cold pineapple juice and leaned back in the sofa. It had been almost three months since she lost her baby. The pain was a little less now, but she had learnt that it took very little for it to surface. Sometimes it was the sight of a newborn baby or some other innocuous thing, and it would be like she was struggling thorough a thick maze of darkness that threatened to swallow her whole.

She had replayed the weekend that Akeem had come back from that trip to Abuja over and over in her mind. That was when he had bought her that very expensive diamond necklace with the matching earrings. Those had been the most expensive pieces of jewellery he had ever given her, and for a generous man like Akeem, that was really something. She now hated the sight of them so much that she had separated them from her other jewellery until she could decide what to do with them. But she knew that she would never wear them again.

Yemi looked up when the door of the sitting room opened, and she automatically stiffened at the sight of her mother-in-law.

“Oh, you are in here by yourself?” Mrs. Kadiri asked with raised brows. “Aren’t you enjoying the day?”

“I just thought that I would sit here for a while. It’s a little hot outside.” She hated the fact that her heart rate still increased anytime she saw Akeem’s mother.

Mrs. Kadiri pursed her lips as her eyes swept coldly over Yemi, but thankfully she left the room without saying another word. Yemi was happy to see her go.

A little while later, she got up to use the bathroom. Just as she was about to enter, she froze as she heard her name. She knew she should turn around and go back, but she could not get her feet to obey her. She recognised the voices: her mother-in-law and her mother-in-law’s younger sister, Aunt Kande.

“She has been acting like a ghost since she arrived here yesterday.” Akeem’s auntie’s voice was heavy with spite. “She keeps to herself and hardly talks to anyone.”

“I know all is not well with her relationship with Akeem,” Mrs. Kadiri replied. “I was not even expecting her to show up here this weekend.”

“Well, it serves her right for barging into a family she knows nothing about.”

“Exactly my feelings.” Her mother-in-law laughed maliciously. “Being a Kadiri takes more than her wearing a couple of rings on her finger. She will never be a part of this family…”

Yemi had heard enough. She started to walk away but stopped herself abruptly. She was tired of being intimidated by Akeem’s mother. She had come to use the bathroom, and that was what she was going to do. She pushed the door open and went in. The ladies fell silent, but there was no guilt on their faces. Rather, there was a malicious look on her mother-in-law’s face, as if she couldn’t care less if Yemi had heard any part of their conversation or not. Yemi ignored them and went into one of the bathrooms. A few minutes later, she heard them leave.

A cold anger welled up within her. She hated the woman just as much as the latter hated her. In fact, not just her—she hated the whole Kadiri clan. Yemi would have gladly granted her mother-in-law’s wish to see her gone, but she had Aleena to think about. For her daughter’s sake, she would continue to bear her marriage.

∞∞∞

“Say hello to Sesan for me,” her mum called out as Yemi got into her car. “Tell him to pop by and say hello to us soon.”

“I will, Mum,” Yemi replied. “Take care, love you.”

“I love you too, my dear,” her mother replied. “Drive carefully.”

Yemi backed the car out of the compound and drove towards the eatery where she and Sesan had agreed to meet. He had just come to Nigeria and was staying at his parents’ place.

She got to the eatery and spotted him sitting at one of the tables. He smiled and waved over to her.

“It’s so good to see you again!” He greeted her with a hug.

“Same here, Shez!” She looked him over, still the same good-looking guy with a ready smile.

“How are Akeem and Aleena?”

“They are fine, thank you,” Yemi said, sitting down in the chair that he pulled out for her. “I hope you’re not rushing back to the UK like you did the last time?”

He smiled and shook his head. “No, I’m here to stay this time.”

“For real?” Yemi’s eyes widened. “You’ve resigned from Goldman Sachs?”

“Yep. I got a bit homesick and decided to move back home.”

Yemi was concerned. Good jobs were not that easy to come by. “Nice to know that you’re here for good,” she said a little slowly, “but what about a job? What do you intend to do?”

“Oh, I got a job with Price Waterhouse. I interviewed with them while I was in England and will be starting work with them in a week.”

She felt relieved. “You’re one guy who seems to have the Midas touch when it comes to jobs! Look at all the places you have worked, and you do it so easily!”

“God has been really faithful, and I can’t thank him enough.” He looked at her face. “I learnt that you’re in the process of starting a fashion design outfit?”

She smiled. “Who’s been talking to you?”

“Oh I’ve still got all my contacts,” Sesan replied, putting on a mock lofty expression. “I’m very glad for you, though. I was a bit concerned when you told me that you were not doing anything at all. That didn’t sound like you.”

“Yeah, you know me.” Unlike some people who thought that they could keep her in the house while they messed around with other women.

He grimaced. “Look at me! I got so carried away with the excitement of seeing you and have not asked you what you’d like to drink or eat.”

“I’m not that hungry, but some juice will be good, thanks.”

Sesan waved to a waiter and then placed orders for drinks for both of them.

“I’m sorry about the baby,” he said quietly. “My mum told me about it.”

“Thanks,” Yemi forced herself to smile and then changed the topic. “So are you going to get your own place soon?”

“Definitely. I’ve already started talking to some agents about it.”

They talked about possible locations and the challenges that traffic would pose if he tried to commute daily from the mainland to the island where his office was situated. After talking for a few minutes. Yemi noticed that Sesan was talking less and appeared to be studying her.

“What?” She smiled quizzically at him. “Is there something on my face?”

He squinted and pretended to peer at her a little more closely, and they both laughed. “Yemi, are you okay?” he asked, sobering up.

“How do you mean?” she hedged. “Don’t I look okay?”

He smiled. “You’re still just as pretty as ever, maybe a little more, but…”

“But what?”

He shook his head slightly, as if trying to get the right words. “There’s just something very different about you.” He looked at her compassionately. “I know you may still be hurting over the baby, but you have to let go and allow God to heal you completely.”

She almost snorted. Too many things about her needed healing, and she was not sure God was interested. She seldom went to church now, anyway. “Thanks, but I’m okay,” she said lightly. “Maybe I’m different because I’m older. I’m nearly a grandma now, you know!”

“Grandma indeed! Some of your mates are not even married yet.”

“Some of my mates like you,” Yemi eagerly grasped at the opportunity to change the topic. Sesan knew her too well. She was not surprised that he could see beyond her forced gaiety, but she didn’t want to discuss her marriage with him. “C’mon tell me, when are the bells ringing?”

“What bells?”

“You know what bells I am talking about. Anyone special?”

A smile tugged at the corner of his lips. “None, I’m still very single.”

“Now that you are back home, I’m sure that you will soon get hooked up.”

“Maybe,” Sesan replied, still smiling, and then he looked serious again. “Yemi, you know you can talk to me anytime, right?”

“I know, Shez,” Yemi replied quietly. “Thanks.”

Chapter 14

 

Yemi opened her fashion design store, Matrix Kreations, on a popular street in Victoria Island two months later. Akeem had asked one of his business development managers to work with her on location and her business plans, and she had found him very helpful. 

She employed a tailor, whom Sharon had introduced to her. Ken was a good-natured, confident guy, and he and Yemi hit it off immediately.

She had a launch party to generate publicity and also help towards building a decent clientele base before the official opening. Despite her preparations, she was still jittery on the day of the launch. It was not until she heard the applause, as model after model came out, that she was able to relax.

“I’m sure you are going to go places, Yemi,” Sharon congratulated her afterwards. She had helped Yemi with ideas towards the launch, and Yemi was grateful for the useful tips. “I just keep wondering what kept you back all these years.”

Yemi could not answer that question herself. Stupidity? Naivety? She didn’t know which, but that was something she was never going to let happen to her again. Never would she allow herself to weave her life around Akeem again.

Work started for her after the launch. The people who used to badger her to make clothes for them in the past were happy that she had gone commercial, and they placed orders with her. She also got orders from some of the guests who had attended the launch. 

She genuinely loved what she was doing, and that was her motivating factor. The money that came along with it was a bonus. She had never really appreciated mass production and for the time being, she just wanted to be bespoke. She considered each outfit an advert, and her attention to detail never failed to please her customers. She made designs based on body shapes and would gently tell a customer who was insistent on a particular style to trust her to make something else for them. It was a risk she took, but it paid off; they were nearly always happy with the designs she made for them, and gradually many of her customers came to trust her judgement.

∞∞∞

“You, my dear friend, are getting me quite worried,” Sara said, looking at Yemi with narrowed eyes as she sat across from her in the office about two months later. “Why were you not at the opening of your mother-in-law’s new spa?”

“Oh, that,” Yemi said with a bored expression. “I didn’t go because I was not invited.”

“What do you mean by you were not invited? You don’t need an invite. You should have showed up, even if just for appearances’ sake.”

“Maybe I don’t give a hoot about appearances anymore,” Yemi replied nonchalantly. “Trying to please her hasn’t done much good, and frankly, I don’t really care anymore.” 

Sara stared at her. “I’m not asking you to be your mother-in-law’s best friend, but you can’t snub her so openly either.”

Yemi shrugged. “Well, I don’t see it like that.”

“But you’ve got to take your rightful place beside Akeem. You should have seen the way Leila was parading herself all over the place and playing hostess to the guests, not to talk of flirting shamelessly with Akeem.”

Yemi snorted. “That’s up to her, but I thought she was dating that senator guy, or have they fallen apart so soon?”

Sara giggled. “Poor chap. She’s still with him, as I heard, but she never misses out on an opportunity with Akeem.”

Yemi looked disgusted. “It beats me how a woman can put her life on hold for so many years. She’s despicable.”

“Maybe Akeem’s mother has been assuring her that there is still hope,” Sara replied. “And that’s why you’ve got to be around your man. Leila was not the only woman batting her eyes at him.” She looked sternly at Yemi. “Don’t let these terrible women move in on him.”

“Drop it, Sara.” She was not going to spend the rest of her life clinging to Akeem and monitoring his every move.

Sara eyed her. “You’re worse than me now, and I’m not sure I like it. Akeem is sorry about what…”

“How far are you with your plans to open a department store?” Yemi cut in, changing the topic.

Sara stared at her. “This is not you, Yemi…” She stopped when she saw the frown on Yemi’s face. “Okay, I’ll back off,” she said, holding up her hands. She inhaled slowly and shook her head as if she considered Yemi a puzzle.

Yemi half listened as Sara talked about her plans to open a store. She had just wanted her to stop talking about Akeem. It didn’t matter what anyone else thought; there was no way she was ever going to allow him to mess with her emotions and life again.

“By the way, this place looks a little different from the last time I was here,” Sara remarked while looking around.

“It’s the flowers and the feature wall. Shona did it up for me a couple of weeks back.” Hasan’s younger sister had a passion for interior decorating; she had not liked what the professional interior decorator had done, so she had offered to do Yemi’s office again free of charge. Yemi had to agree that she had done a good job.

Sara looked round appreciatively. “That girl is so talented. I wish she would turn her talents into a proper business. I mean, look at you. Sewing was just a hobby, and now you’ve gone global!”

“Hardly!” Yemi laughed. “But that was the very same thing I told Shona. I wasted so much time playing good little wife, and it didn’t get me anywhere.”

∞∞∞

“Mrs. K,” Ken said as he came into Yemi’s office. “There is someone here to see you.”

Yemi raised her brows quizzically. “Who?”

“She said her name is Kelly Sola-Davies,” Ken told her. “She insists on seeing you.”

Yemi shrugged, and a few minutes later, a woman walked in. She looked oddly familiar as Yemi exchanged pleasantries with her, but she could not quite figure out how she knew her.

“How may I help you?” Yemi asked, after she had served her a drink.

“I saw some of the outfits you made for my friend, Dara Awosika. They were really lovely, and she gave me your address.”

“Thanks. That’s good to hear,” Yemi replied. Ayo was the wife of one of Akeem’s business associates.

“I’m on the campaign trail for the next elections, and I need a new wardrobe,” Kelly said, looking at Yemi.

It was then that it dawned on Yemi where she had seen Kelly. She was running as a senator in the forthcoming elections and was featured regularly in advertisements on TV. She could not help wondering why she had come to her, but she soon got her answer.

“My fashion designer is getting too big for her boots.” She mentioned the name of the fashion outfit, and Yemi deliberately kept her face bland. It was one of the big names—almost at par with House of Tetra. “She actually gave my clothes to her staff to make the last time I ordered clothes from her, and they almost messed me up. I made up my mind never to go back.”

Yemi made a mental note never to do that with her.

“But like I was saying, I need a new wardrobe,” Kelly continued. “While campaigning in the cities, I’ve got to look chic, but my dressing must be toned down in the suburbs, otherwise I would look too far removed from the people I am speaking to.”

She went into more details, and Yemi listened attentively, taking mental notes as she spoke. Kelly wanted three outfits almost immediately for different events, and would decide if she would continue with Yemi depending on the outcome. “You’re new in the fashion industry,” she said, eyeing Yemi as if wondering if she was making a mistake or not. “But I liked Dara’s clothes, and that is why I’m here. Do you think you can help me?”

“I believe I can,” Yemi said simply. Her mind was already working on what designs she could possibly put together.

After describing her campaign schedule in more detail, Kelly asked, “You said your surname is Kadiri?” She frowned slightly, as if trying to recollect a memory. “You are not by any chance related to the Yohanna Kadiri family, are you?”

“I am,” Yemi replied. “I’m married to his son, Akeem.”

“You don’t say!” Kelly exclaimed, looking closely at Yemi. “My! So you are the young lady Akeem married!” She shook her head in amazement.

“You know my husband?” Yemi asked warily.

“Not personally. His father was a big donor to my party when he was alive, but I know about Akeem through my younger cousin, Michelle.”

“Oh.”

“Wow! What a small world! Your husband was such an eligible bachelor, and a lot of women had their sights set on him.” Her eyes swept over Yemi as she said this. “But my dear, you still have to sleep with one eye open,” she cautioned. “You are a beautiful woman, but some ladies are desperate. You really have to be on your watch around your man.”

“Thank you,” Yemi said, for want of anything else to say.

“Believe me, I know all about it.” Kelly continued. “I just divorced my second husband three years ago, and I have decided no more! Men are not worth it.” She shook her head. “But let me not pollute you with the seedier side of life; you still look very innocent.”

Yemi smiled cynically. Her innocent outlook to life had already been tampered with. “Let me take your measurement for the outfits,” she said to Kelly, pulling out her tape measure.

“Of course.” Kelly stood up, and Yemi proceeded to measure her. “You are an easy person to talk to, and I got carried away.”

Yemi later sketched some designs, displayed them on mannequins on the computer screen, and showed the designs to Kelly. Kelly took her time to choose which ones she wanted. She was such a fusspot that Yemi wondered how her former designer had coped with her as a client, let alone thought of letting her employees handle her designs. There were some people you just had to deal with yourself. Well, unless your clientele list was full of celebrities like Sharon Braithwaite’s—then you might not care too much about an aspiring senator.

∞∞∞

“I don’t know what you see in that woman,” Akeem said, sounding irritated when Yemi told him that she wanted to attend the wedding ceremony of Kelly’s younger brother, a few weeks later. “She is so loud, and she’s totally different from you. What’s the attraction?” 

“She’s brought me a lot of business,” Yemi replied coolly, continuing to take off her makeup with a cleanser. “I don’t want to snub her by declining her invitation.” Kelly loved the clothes she made for her and had even gone on to introduce some of her friends to Yemi.

Akeem didn’t mind her making the clothes, but he resented Kelly trying to get close to her. He didn’t know Kelly personally, but he knew who she was and knew people who knew her. “Well, I definitely don’t feel like attending the wedding!”

“I was not expecting you to. I’m planning to attend alone.”

Akeem stared at her, a heavy frown playing around his eyebrows. She knew he was surprised. She had always preferred that they went to social gatherings together, but now she made her plans and either went alone or with Kufre and Aleena.

“I still don’t like your relationship with her. That woman has been through three divorces…”

“Two,” Yemi corrected him.

“Whatever,” he said shortly. “The point is that she has been through those divorces and is so antimen in her statements.”

Yemi stared at him for a moment. Was he worried that Kelly would influence her to divorce him? No one could make her to do what she did not want to do. Love had made her give her all to him, but she was in the process of correcting that error. “It’s not surprising that she dislikes men, though,” she said, moving towards the door. “With the kind of men in today’s society, I really don’t blame her.”

She made her way downstairs. She was an adult and did not need Akeem’s approval on whom she could be friends with. She wanted to succeed in her business, and if it took hard work and even being friends with people she would not naturally have been drawn to, then so be it.

∞∞∞

“Hello, sir,” Kufre greeted Akeem when he walked into the house.

He hated to ask the question but could not stop himself. “Is my wife in?”

Kufre looked a bit startled. “No, sir. She told me she was travelling to Abuja.”

Even though he had been half expecting it, the words still hit him hard. Despite his disapproval, Yemi had still gone ahead and travelled for some women’s summit that Kelly had invited her to. He felt anger rising up within him and struggled to control it. The madness had gone on long enough. She wasn’t saying anything, but her actions showed that she had lost all interest in their marriage. 

“I’ll be upstairs in my room,” he said to Kufre. There was no need to ask about Aleena. Yemi had told him that she would be taking her to Ayo’s place.

Akeem stretched out on the bed after taking a shower. He was still furious. He could not comprehend how much Yemi had changed. There were a few times when he was almost hopeful that things would be okay between them again. But then she would suddenly snap again and things would get even worse than they had been before. All his suggestions on how they could resolve the issues in their marriage had been met with a brick wall, and if not for Aleena, she appeared ready to walk away from it all.

He picked up his mobile phone and called Ayo. He wasn’t going to let Aleena stay with him. It was just a matter of shifting his appointments around and working from home for a couple of days. Her presence around him would help him, anyway; at least her love for him was unconditional.

Akeem was still angry when Yemi came home three days later. He went to the office and deliberately stayed there late. Yemi had not bothered to call him for the period that she was away, but he knew that she called Kufre and Aleena often.

Kufre answered the doorbell when he got home that evening. He walked slowly upstairs and stopped by Aleena’s room. Yemi was in there, reading her a story. Aleena’s eyelids were already drooping, but she stirred up upon seeing him.

“Daddy!” She smiled, sitting up in bed and holding out her arms. “You came home late today,” she pouted.

“So sorry, sweetie.” He bent down to kiss her forehead. “Forgive me?”

She giggled. “Course I do, you’re my daddy!”

“Hi,” Yemi said, standing up and barely looking at him.

“Hi.” His eyes moved over her. In her blue, knee-length denim shorts and pink top, she looked like an older version of Aleena. Cute. He knew she was aware that he was looking at her but deliberately averted her face.

She stooped down to kiss Aleena’s cheek. “I’ll leave you with your dad. Sleep tight, sweetie. Love you.”

“Love you too, Mummy,” Aleena replied, clutching her soft toy to herself.

She smiled down at Aleena before looking fully at Akeem for the first time since he had entered the room. “I’ll be downstairs,” she said, walking past him towards the door.

He sat beside Aleena and read her another story. Before long, she fell asleep. Akeem turned out the lights and walked to his bedroom. He wondered why he was feeling so tired. His day had been relatively light. Maybe it was a mental kind of tiredness and also somewhat dreading the showdown he knew might happen with Yemi today. He wished she would just apologise and make it easy for him. He was tired of their fights. He missed her and wished that they could put the past six months behind them.

Thirty minutes later, he walked downstairs. His dinner was laid out on the dining table, but there was no sign of Yemi. He walked back upstairs to the study. She was looking through some designs on her laptop.

She glanced up when he came in but went back to working. “Your dinner is downstairs,” she said to him after a while, looking up at him.

“Is that all you have to say to me after spending four days away from home?”

She frowned. “I was away for three days, not four. And I told you where I was going and when I would be back.”

“And I told you that I did not want you to go. But obviously that didn’t mean anything to you.” Her attitude was getting to him. So much for him thinking that she would apologise.

“Akeem, please, I’m not in the mood for this. I’ve had a very stressful day.”

“You’ve had a stressful day? Well, I’ve had a worse one! And not just one, but four days! Wondering how my wife could actually go ahead with her plans knowing fully well that I didn’t approve of them!”

“Approve?” Her lips curled scornfully. “Have you ever asked me for approval for any of your trips? Well, I have a life now, and you’re going to have to give me some space!”

She stood up and attempted to move past him, but Akeem blocked her exit. “I’m not finished yet!” he said through gritted teeth. She made an attempt to move around, and he held her by the arms.

“Take your hands off me!”

“When I’m ready!” He could see that she was angry, but he didn’t care anymore. He was tired of the silent treatment, tired of everything she had been dishing out to him. “What space are you talking about?”

“Get your hands off me, Akeem.”

If he weren’t so angry, her attempts to break his hold would have made him smile. He could easily hold two of her hands in one of his. “Quit struggling, Yemi, you’re not going anywhere.”

She pursed her lips. “So now you are resorting to violence, right?”

He stared at her, frustrated that he could not find that place in her heart where they used to connect. “No, my dear wife, as much as you have provoked me beyond what I’d thought were the limits of my endurance, violence is still not my thing.”

She was still struggling to break his hold on her. “Then let go of me!”

He moved closer to her, pinning her hands between them. Her soft, feminine fragrance invaded his senses. He was not happy with her, but he could not resist her closeness anymore. He pulled her into his arms and wrapped his arms around her. “Why are you struggling with me?” he whispered. She continued to push against him. “Stop fighting me.” It was not just about the physical struggle she was putting up right now, but he needed her to drop all the emotional resistance she had mounted up against him. “Baby, please stop fighting me,” he repeated, pulling her closer still. He bent his head and tried to kiss her, but she turned her face away, pushing against him angrily.

“Take your hands off me! It’s all about physical satisfaction to you, isn’t it? So long as your base desires are fulfilled, you don’t care who you are with!” She pushed at him again, her eyes flashing angrily. “Well, some of us don’t just follow our instincts. We are a bit more selective and definitely more disciplined!”

Her comments stung him. How long was she going to continue to throw his affair in his face? “You can select all you like,” he said grimly, releasing her. “But that’s only ever going to be in your mind. You have only one choice: me!”

“That’s what you think,” she replied angrily.

“That’s what it is. You are my wife!”

“Something I regret every day!”

He stared at her. She had said it again. She had said it many times since they lost the baby. Different variations of the same message. She regretted marrying him. Regretted the day she had met him. The only thing she had not yet said she regretted was their daughter. But maybe someday she would throw that at him too.

“You are fast turning into a shrew, a bitter angry shrew.” He knew from her expression that she was furious at his words, but he was past caring. “And you know what? It’s not an endearing quality in a woman. It certainly kills whatever attraction there is about her.”

“I don’t want to be attractive to a man like you!” she replied. “You can keep your attentions to your mistresses outside! It’s totally wasted on me!”

He almost recoiled at the anger and bitterness in her eyes, and he stood staring at her. But well, she had pushed him enough. He was not prepared to live like this anymore, continually dreading what she was likely going to do. He would face it, and the next time she tried this nonsense of leaving the house the way she had just done, she was going to meet a different guy when she got back.

He glanced at her again before walking out of the study.

Chapter 15

 

“You’ve got to try and work on your marriage,” Abby said, looking at Yemi with a sober expression on her face. “You can’t continue like this. It’s just not healthy.”

The two of them were meeting for lunch and before she knew it, Yemi found herself telling Abby about Akeem and their constant fighting. She was tired of it but seemed unable to help herself. She was feeling even worse at the moment because of the news her doctor had told her the day before. He had spoken to her about the results of a hormonal assay that he had asked her to retake. He said there was some hormonal imbalance. Her FSH, whatever that was, was rather high, and her progesterone was low. The doctor assured her that the hormonal imbalance was not necessarily linked to her recent trauma but yes, it could make conceiving another baby challenging if it remained persistently high.

She had gone home feeling morose. It was not like she was joyfully hopping into Akeem’s bed; in fact, she slept more in the other room than theirs, but it would be good to know that everything was okay if their lives ever returned to normal.

“You have to find a way to forgive Akeem and move on,” Abby continued, interrupting her thoughts.

Yemi stared into her glass of water. “I so badly wanted my marriage to be perfect, but it hasn’t turned out that way. Maybe I just have to accept the cards that fate has dealt me.”

Abby shook her head in disagreement. “You don’t have to accept anything. You have the power to make your home what you want it to be.”

“It’s tough, Abby. He hurt me so much. What if he does it again?”

“And what if he does not? Are you just going to throw everything away because of one mistake?” Abby looked at Yemi with compassion in her eyes. “It could also help to talk with Akeem about how you feel.”

“What is he going to do about it? Make the pain go away? Give me back my son?”

“No, but he would understand some of the hurt you’re carrying. And believe me, I’m sure he is hurting too.”

Yemi shook her head and looked gloomily at Abby. “Not sure about that. I just don’t trust Akeem anymore.” She suspected his every move. She had even taken to buying soft-sell magazines and scouring the internet for news about him and any woman he may secretly be involved with. She didn’t want to be as stupid as she had been in the past. So far she had seen nothing, but he was obviously an expert at hiding his affairs.

“You trust God for people,” Abby said gently. “And you really do need to get closer to God, especially now.”

“I don’t see the point,” Yemi said. She hardly went to church anymore; once a month was a lot for her.

“God loves you, Yemi. He knows what you’re going through, and He wants to heal your heart.”

That was what Abby kept telling her, but it didn’t seem that way to her. After yet another fight with Akeem a few days later, she was even more convinced that God didn’t love her.

This time it was over Aleena’s school. She was just about to start primary school, and Akeem wanted her to attend Dartmouth International, a British school in Lagos. It was where he and his siblings, and many of their family friends, had gone to school. Yemi didn’t like the school. The fees were ridiculous, and she felt that it was a good breeding ground for snobbish behavior. She had gone ahead to apply and had obtained admission for Aleena at two other schools. They had talked about it in the past, and she had thought that Akeem agreed with her reasoning, but he was singing a different tune now.

“Dartmouth International is where the Kadiris have always attended,” he said to her coolly. “Besides, it’s one of the best schools in the country.”

Yeah, with snooty kids who think they are better than everyone else. “I just don’t want Aleena in that school,” Yemi maintained.

“You’ve not given any good reason why she should not go there.”

“I don’t want my daughter becoming all snooty. Besides, the other schools I’ve suggested are equally good, and they don’t even cost a fraction of the fees that Dartmouth charges!”

“Dartmouth has consistently had excellent ratings for over sixty years, and as for the fees, don’t worry about it. I can afford them.”

She glared at him. “Bringing up a child is not just about throwing money around!” She could see that her words annoyed him, but she didn’t care. Her child was not going to end up becoming all uppity like Nadia or any of his nasty relatives.

“And what makes you an expert on good schools?”

She eyed him sarcastically. “Maybe because my parents are teachers, plus we just don’t throw money around?”

He smiled cynically. “You’re pretty snooty yourself. You know that?”

“Well, I’ve been around the Kadiris for a while,” she taunted. “It must be infectious.”

He stared at her. “Talking with you these days is rather challenging.”

“Believe me, the feeling is mutual!”

His face was taut as he looked at her, but his voice remained dangerously calm. “Well, listen to me. Aleena is going to attend Dartmouth unless you can come up with some really reasonable objections as to why she shouldn’t.”

He went out that night and didn’t come home until the early hours of the morning.

∞∞∞

Yemi looked at Akeem furiously. She had just had a grueling day at the office and didn’t need this fight. “I just told you why I stayed back at the office, or weren’t you listening?”

The Brother C6015 sewing machine that she had just ordered had refused to work for some reason. She had been on the phone with the company she ordered it from for a good part of the day as they talked her through the manual, and she had to keep calling them back as what they told her to do didn’t seem to be working. Then she had had to stay behind to finish up some clothes that she was running behind schedule on.

A nerve clenched in Akeem’s jaw. “And I just told you that I’m not happy with you coming home at this time of the night.”

She shook her head exasperatedly. “It’s only 9:30 p.m. It’s not as if I came home at midnight or something.”

“You have consistently done this for the past week, and I’m not happy about it.”

“Oh please, come off it, Akeem. You’ve consistently come home late every day since we got married, and I don’t growl at you!”

“So this is about you trying to prove a point? Don’t you care that Aleena goes to bed before you get in?”

Yemi attempted to walk past him. “I spend more time looking after Aleena in a week than you can claim in six months!”

“Don’t walk out on me!” Akeem looked like he was about to explode with anger. “What’s wrong with you?”

Yemi was just as furious. “And don’t you yell at me!”

“Yemi, you’re really pushing me…” Akeem began furiously.

“Daddy!” Aleena’s tearful voice came from the doorway. They both turned towards the little girl. They had not heard her come in and did not know how long she had been standing there. Aleena turned away, and they heard her running towards the direction of her room.

“Now see what you have done!” Akeem said, as he hurried out of the room after Aleena.

“It’s all your fault!” Yemi said, following him. She had thought Aleena was fast asleep. Trust him not to be able to do even that simple chore. He was able to manage hundreds of employees, yet he couldn’t put a little girl to bed properly.

Aleena was lying on her bed and clutching her doll to herself when they entered her room.

“Are you okay, princess?” Akeem asked, sitting down beside her.

Aleena did not answer. She just looked from his face to Yemi’s as if seeking some kind of reassurance that all was okay between them. The scared look on her face brought an instant ache to Yemi’s heart.

“It’s okay, baby,” Yemi whispered, stroking her daughter’s hair, unable to meet her gaze.

This was not the first time that Aleena would be walking in on one of their fights. Yemi’s heart ached as she thought about the damage they must be doing to their child. She and Akeem fought over everything these days, including the simplest of issues. She could not get rid of her bitterness towards him, and he didn’t seem to care anymore either.

They stayed with Aleena and maintained a show of peace between them until the little girl fell asleep again. Afterwards, Yemi trudged slowly downstairs. She felt weary right down to her soul.

Two weeks later, Ms. Harley, Aleena’s class teacher, sent a note asking Yemi to see her when she picked Aleena up from school. Yemi wondered what it was all about.

When she met with Ms. Harley, the teacher subtly asked her if everything was okay with Aleena. According to her, Aleena had been looking rather subdued of late. She also told Yemi that Aleena no longer engaged with other pupils, and it took very little to upset her. The last incidence of her bursting into tears for no apparent reason had been the day before, when all she had been asked to do was to bring out her workbook.

Yemi felt her heart sinking as the teacher spoke. She thanked the teacher for her observations and promised to look into it, but as she left the office, she felt so hopeless. Aleena was the main reason why she was staying on in her marriage in the first place. But it seemed that she was doing even more damage to the little girl.

She and Akeem had tried to hide the fact that they were having problems, but she knew that Aleena was aware that something was not quite right between them. The atmosphere in the house was constantly tensed up, and when they were not fighting, she and Akeem pretty much acted like two strangers sharing a roof: polite and trying to stay out of each other’s way.

She rubbed her hand across her forehead. Maybe it was time she went along with Abby’s suggestion that they seek professional counseling about their problems, at least for Aleena’s sake.

∞∞∞

Yemi sighed as she remembered that she was yet to sign the consent forms from Aleena’s school. The forms were to authorize a school trip to a theme park in the neigbouring town. She knew that Aleena would be upset if she missed out on the trip, and today was the last day for parents to send the form back. She grimaced when she remembered that Akeem needed to sign the forms too. Aleena’s school was just too fussy.

She thought of calling Aleena’s teacher to extend the date for dropping off the forms but changed her mind. She didn’t want to draw any more attention to her daughter. Akeem had left the house very early for work. She would have to go over to his office later in the day to get him to sign the papers. She would then drop them off at Aleena’s school on her way back to the office.

But she got so busy at work that she almost forgot about the forms until the reminder that she had set on her phone beeped. She glanced at her wristwatch; traffic on the island would still be light at that time of the day. She quickly rounded up what she had to do and left for Akeem’s office.

∞∞∞

Akeem almost turned back when he entered his office lobby and saw Coral and a lady he did not know being attended to by his personal assistant, Linda. They had obviously just arrived at his office, and although he had left standing instructions with Linda that he neither wanted to see her nor take her calls, he couldn’t decline seeing her now that she was standing right there in his reception lobby.

Coral smiled a little warily when she saw him. “Hi, Akeem, it’s good to see you again.”

He knew his face was the furthest thing from smiling, and he did not make any effort to look more friendly. “Hi, Coral.”

Linda’s face was creased in a concerned frown. “I was just telling Ms. Damisa that you have a very busy schedule and can’t see visitors…” she began.

Akeem nodded reassuringly at her. It wasn’t her fault, after all. “Thanks, Linda. I’ll handle it from here.”

He greeted the lady who was with Coral and led them to his office. Coral introduced her friend to him once they were inside. Her friend sat on the settee while Coral sat down on a seat across the table, opposite him. She immediately began to apologize again for the night that Yemi had walked in on them at the restaurant, but Akeem brushed it off. He did not want to remember that night, and he took full responsibility for what had happened, anyway. Coral’s eyes appeared to search his, but he deliberately kept his expression bland. “So how is business going?” she asked.

“Fine, thanks.”

“I’m happy for you. I’ve been following Ka-Tell on the news, and it all appears really good.” She sighed and interlinked her fingers before looking at him again. “Things are not so smooth on my end. It’s been a bit of a struggle getting things back on track.”

“These things take time, Coral. You just have to keep at it.”

“That’s what I keep telling myself.” She sighed again. “Sometimes I wish I had a business partner, someone who would share the burden of decision making, and every other thing, with me.” Her eyes roved over his face. “It’s tough when one is doing it all alone.”

Akeem strummed his desk with his forefinger. “Partnership does have its advantages, and you could always source for a partner if you really think you need one.”

“I know. I’m still turning the prospect over in my mind.” She smiled slightly. “Of course, you wouldn’t be interested in something like that, would you?”

He stared at her, not quite sure whether to laugh or to be irritated. Her expression was deadpan as she met his gaze, and then she burst into laughter.

“Just kidding, Akeem. I know a spa is small fry for someone like you, but there’s no harm in trying, is there?”

“Every business venture is fine so long as it fulfills its objectives and yields profit, but I think I have my hands full enough with KH at the moment.”

“I can imagine. I wonder how you do it. Just the trauma of my mum’s death was enough to nearly cost me all that I have worked for.”

Akeem glanced at his wristwatch and tried to contain his impatience as she went on to tell him about the efforts she was putting into rebuilding her business. She had lost some of her clients to her competitors but was working on getting them back through offers and deals. He glanced at her friend, who had picked up a newspaper and was leafing through it. He wondered if Coral had deliberately brought a friend to prevent him from being abrupt with her.

“That’s past now. You’ve got to look forward and forge ahead,” he said to Coral.

“I know. Thanks so much for the money you gave me. That was a real lifeline. There’s no other way I could even be trying to rebuild my business without it.”

“You’ve already thanked me through the voice mails you left.” He deliberately glanced at his wristwatch again, hoping that Coral would catch the signal he was giving her. He had just a few more minutes for her, and then if she didn’t take the hint, he was not going to let the presence of her friend prevent him from telling her he needed to get back to work.

∞∞∞

Yemi walked out of the elevator and headed towards Akeem’s office. “Hello, Linda,” she greeted Akeem’s personal assistant as she entered the reception area. She smiled as her eyes swept over Linda’s pretty, blush-coloured, chiffon blouse. Her hair and makeup was nicely done, as usual. “How’re you doing?

Linda was looking slightly bemused. “I’m fine, thank you,” she finally managed to say. “It’s been a long time.”

“Is my husband in the office?” Yemi asked, moving towards the door leading to Akeem’s office.

“Eh…no. I mean, yes,” Linda stuttered, standing up from her seat. “He’s got some visitors.”

Yemi looked at her, slightly surprised. Linda was normally composed, but she did not seem to have it all together that day. “Okay. I’ll just peep in and show my face, and I know he will come and see me out here.”

She entered Akeem’s office and saw two women there. Akeem looked slightly startled to see her. Something about his reaction made her take a closer look at the woman sitting across from him. There was something familiar about her. The woman was also looking at Yemi, and then Yemi remembered. It was the woman she had seen in the restaurant with Akeem.

She walked farther into the office and made her way over to the window. She stood there looking out at the busy city streets below. She took a deep breath to calm the anger she felt building up rapidly within her. “Tell them to leave,” she said to Akeem without turning round.

A couple of minutes later, she heard the sounds of heels going towards the door, and then the office door opened and closed. She turned around then and looked at Akeem. The pain she felt was indescribable. “So you’re still seeing her.”

“No, I’m not seeing her. I’ve not seen her since that night at the restaurant. She just dropped by this afternoon unexpectedly.”

“I don’t believe you, and even if that were true, you could have refused to see her.” Yemi was struggling to keep calm. “By agreeing to see her, you disrespected me, our marriage, and the memory of our son! You’re simply telling me that all I went through meant nothing to you!”

Akeem ran his fingers through his hair. “I had no idea she was coming here. She feels she owes me because I gave her some money to resuscitate her business, but I have made it clear to her that she does not.”

“Of course,” Yemi said scornfully. “You’ve settled her with some cash. Tell me, is that a pattern with you? Sleep with them and then pay them off?”

“Why won’t you believe me? Can’t we move past…”

“Move past what?” Yemi cut in angrily. “You and your mistress killed my son, and then I come by your office and see you having a cozy conversation with her, and you’re telling me to move past what?”

“I was not having a cozy chat with anyone!” Akeem said tightly. She could see him also struggling to remain calm, and it infuriated her all the more. So he had now added acting skills on top of his cheating ways. What a poor judge of character she had been.

She stared at him. “You are despicable. You know that?”

“I see it in your eyes whenever you look at me.” He left his desk and came closer to where she was standing. His lips curved in a bitter smile as he stared at her. “You’ve never really forgiven me for the loss of the baby, have you?”

“But at least I’ve been proven right, haven’t I?” Yemi countered. “Forgiving you would have been a waste of time!”

His eyes bored into hers. “But I thought forgiveness was supposed to be a Christian virtue?” he asked. “You go on and on at me for not believing in God, but what example have you shown me?”

“Stop fishing for excuses for your infidelity,” Yemi snapped. “Even non-Christians can be faithful. It just depends on how disciplined one is.” She sized him up scornfully with her eyes and then looked away in disgust. “A quality you obviously lack.” She brought out the forms from Aleena’s school from her bag and dropped them on his desk. “I brought this for you to sign. It needs to be sent to Aleena’s school before the end of the day.”

With that, she walked to the door and left the office.

∞∞∞

Yemi drove aimlessly through the streets with tears flowing freely down her face. The emotional pain she was feeling was so bad that it seemed almost physical. She kept driving around and did not realize when she drove round a roundabout three times.

She finally headed home. Akeem was already at home when she got there. He lay on his back in bed, still fully clothed. He started to get up when she came in, but she ignored him, walked into the second room, and locked the door.

Tears stung her eyes as she watched her daughter sleeping later that evening. She found herself quietly whispering apologies to her for failing her and for the hurt she was facing as a consequence of her parents’ troubled marriage.

Yemi walked slowly back to her room afterwards. She had made up her mind what she was going to do. It was time for her to cut her losses and move on. She could never trust Akeem again. All she felt for him was anger and contempt, and that would never change. She knew that her parents and friends would be aghast at her decision, but this was about her and what was best for her daughter. It was time to end the charade of staying married.

∞∞∞

The dull, grey weather matched Akeem’s mood the day Yemi moved out of the house. He tried to distract himself with work in the office, but at about 4 p.m., he was done with the pretense of working. The earlier he got used to his new status as a single man, the better. He had been that for a long time, anyway.

He felt slightly refreshed after he took a shower. As he sat on the bed, his eyes caught a jewellery case sitting on the dressing table. Without opening it, he knew its contents. He opened the case, and the diamond necklace and earrings he had bought for Yemi after his affair with Coral seemed to glint mockingly at him from their cozy interior. He stared at it for a while, closed the case, and dropped it into a drawer.

He went back downstairs, dismissed Bassey for the night, and sat in the smaller sitting room. He was struggling to find a room in the house that had the fewest memories of his wife and daughter. Well, this certainly wasn’t it, he thought to himself as he looked at the painting of Yemi in the room. He wondered why she had left it behind, and he smiled mirthlessly—probably to haunt him.

He poured himself a drink and stared at the painting. She looked stunning. A half smile played across her lips as she reclined on a sofa. She was wearing a beautiful, off-shoulder, wine-coloured evening dress. Her hair was twisted up and fell in soft curls around her neck. He had bought her that dress. She sizzled whenever she wore it. He had paid quite a bit for the painting, which was probably why she had left it behind, but he wondered what he was supposed to do with it now.

At about eight o’clock, his phone rang. It was Yemi. An image flashed across his mind of Yemi looking sad and contrite, telling him over the phone how much she missed him and that she had realised that she could not live without him. He smiled bitterly to himself. If there was a place like hell, then it would probably freeze over before Yemi made that kind of admission.

“Hi, Akeem.” Her voice sounded tense when he connected the call. “Please hold on, Aleena wants to speak to you.”

“Hello, Daddy.” Aleena’s voice sounded tearful.

“Hello, princess.” He cradled his handset closer to his ear.

“I want to come home.” She sounded like she was about to start crying anytime.

Akeem’s chest tightened. “I’ll see you in a few days, princess,” he said, his voice a little raspy with emotion. He and Yemi had agreed that Aleena would stay with him on weekends while Yemi had her on weekdays. It had cost him a lot to settle for that, but he knew it was the best arrangement for Aleena under the circumstances.

“But I want to see you now, Daddy!”

“Very soon, sweetie, very soon.” His anger against Yemi heightened. “Let’s play a game, okay. We’ll pretend Daddy travelled and we are talking on the phone. Remember the last time I went to America?”

He spent the next few minutes trying to coerce her into a better mood. He even managed to get her giggling a little bit.

“Okay, princess,” he said a while later. “It’s late, and I think you should go to bed now. Remember, Daddy loves his girl looking bright in the morning.”

“I don’t like my room. The colour’s not nice.” Aleena was sounding tearful again. “It’s horrid!” she added for emphasis.

He knew his girl. She exaggerated when she was trying to make a point. Yemi had been trying to correct her, but the work was not quite done yet.

“I want my nice pinky colour!” she fairly wailed down the phone.

That was easy. He could fix that. “Not to worry, sweetie, Daddy will sort that out, okay?”

He talked with her a little more before she reluctantly agreed to go to bed.

He didn’t bother talking with Yemi and hung up immediately. He didn’t think Aleena’s room was horrid or anything like that, but nevertheless her room needed to be as close to the one she was used to as possible. He was not in the mood to discuss that with Yemi right away. He would ask his office to send the same interior decorator who did her room in his house to replicate the same look at Yemi’s place, and she had better not argue with him over it.

He buried himself in work over the next few days. He purposed to keep seeing Yemi to the barest minimum. She wanted out of his life, and he was going to give her just that.

∞∞∞

A week later, he was in his office when Hasan stopped by.

“Hey, A. K., what’s this I’m hearing about Yemi moving out?” Hasan asked, barely before he had even sat down. “And you gave no hint that things were that bad!”

Akeem smiled wryly. He had wondered how long it would take for his friends to find out about the breakup of his marriage. Sara was away on holidays. He knew that Yemi had not told her yet, otherwise Fadel would have come round too. “Things have been bad for a while.”

Hasan inhaled slowly. “I thought you guys were working it out. Where has she moved to?”

“Somewhere in Ikoyi.”

“She’s renting?”

Akeem could hear the surprise in Hasan’s voice. He had properties all over Lagos, but Yemi wanted to make a point by declining the offer of a house he had made to her. “Prefers to.”

Hasan was silent for a long moment. “So what’s the plan? How do you intend to get them back?”

Akeem smiled, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “No plan. I’ve decided to let her go.”

“But…”

“There’s no two ways about it,” Akeem cut in abruptly. “She’s made no bones about how she feels about me, and I’ve accepted it.”

Hasan looked incredulous. “Aren’t you going to try at all?”

“Do you think I’ve not tried?” He walked to the window, tugged at the Venetian blinds and pulled them open. The midday sun came streaming into the office, but it did nothing to soothe his mood.

“I’m going to see her and try to reason with her.”

“Don’t bother, Hasan. It won’t make any difference.”

Hasan stayed for a while longer, still trying to convince Akeem to go after Yemi, but he really wasn’t interested anymore. Yemi was right; it was better that they separated. Too many things stood between them. Most of all, the baby they had lost.

She felt that he’d had it all easy. But he had also suffered, much more than she would ever know. He felt as if he had snuffed the life out of his baby with his bare hands. His own father had given him life and mentored him, but he had killed his own son. That knowledge was his private hell, and he carried it with him every day.

Chapter 16

 

Yemi ignored her ringing phone for a while before finally fishing it out of her bag. The caller ID showed that it was Sesan. It was a Saturday evening, and Aleena was with Akeem. She had not felt like going home and had decided to stay back in the office to finish up some work.

“Hello Shez,” she said when she connected the call. “How’re you doing?”

“I’m good, thanks.” Sesan said. “I’m outside your door. Where are you?”

“So sorry, but I’m still at the office trying to finish up some work.”

“It’s almost 8 p.m., Yemi.” 

“Is it? Wow, I didn’t realise I had been here that long. I should be finished shortly, though.”

They talked for a few minutes. His mother’s birthday was just around the corner, and he and Teju were planning a party for her. He was not too happy when he realized that Yemi was not planning to attend.

“My schedule’s a bit tight at the moment. But I’ve already picked out a gift for your mother and will pop by the house to drop it off.”

“You can’t keep hiding from people, you know,” Sesan said gently.

Yemi was not surprised that he had caught on. “I’m sure people won’t want to see my morose-looking face on that day. That’s a real party dampener any day.” 

“Last time I checked, that face was still as beautiful as ever. I know you’ve been through a lot, but maybe a party with familiar faces is what you need right now.”

“There’ll be just too many familiar faces, and I don’t want to face their pitying looks.”

“Why would anyone pity you? Some of our mates are not even married yet.”

“Maybe it would have been better if I hadn’t gotten married at all.” She tried hard not to have a victim mentality, but with Sesan, she had always been able to express her innermost feelings.

“There is nothing impossible to fix, Yemi. I’ve told you this before. God can do all things.”

“There are too many things that need fixing around me. My heart, my broken trust, and oh, I forgot,” she snorted sarcastically, “my relationship with my in-laws. Not that I want that fixed anyway. I hate them as much as they hate me.”

Her parents had tried to talk with her and Akeem, and had even contacted Akeem’s mother to see if they could resolve the issues between them. Akeem’s mother told her parents that she had no idea that Yemi and Akeem were having problems and that she felt disrespected that Yemi had moved out of Akeem’s house without telling her. Mrs. Kadiri had made no further attempt to contact her parents since then, and neither did any other member of Akeem’s family.

“There’s nothing impossible for God to fix,” Sesan reiterated. “I’m almost at your office. I’ve been driving as we’ve been talking. Can you pack up your things and start coming down, please?”

“You didn’t have to bother,” Yemi protested.

“Start coming down, please. It’s time for you to go home, anyway.”

Yemi packed up her things and checked to make sure that all the appliances were switched off before making her way downstairs. Sesan was pulling into the now-empty car park outside her office when she got downstairs.

“Hey, thanks for coming,” she said as he got out of his car.

“No worries.” He frowned slightly as he looked around. “This place looks pretty empty. I’m sure you’re the only one left in the building.”

Yemi glanced back at the building; it really did seem quiet. “Probably, but that eatery across the road closes quite late, and there are always people around because of it.”

“But you’re the only one left in your building.”

“Don’t be such a worrywart!” Yemi teased.

Sesan was not amused. “If you need to stay behind, you’ve got to make sure that there is another member of staff, preferably male, staying back with you.”

“I’ll do so in the future,” Yemi said. Sesan looked at her face; he was not convinced. “Honestly, Sesan, you can take my word for it.”

“Okay then, let’s go.” 

Yemi backed her car out of the parking lot with Sesan driving behind her. As she drove through the streets, she was amazed at how free the roads could be at night. These same roads were better avoided during the day.

Sesan stayed at her house for a short while before he left. She knew that he had only come to make sure that she left the office. She appreciated her friends at this period in her life. It would have been awful if she had no one to look out for her.

As she lay in bed later that night, her mind went over the past two and half months since she had moved out of Akeem’s home. Work had been her solace. It was like a form of therapy. She took all orders, met crazy deadlines, designed, and worked on catalogs whenever she was free. She also stayed late at work most evenings and would get home exhausted. It made the days pass by quicker, and she had less time to brood.

She had initially thought that she would feel better once she was out of close proximity to Akeem, but those feelings had been short lived. She had begun to struggle with a different kind of emotion that weighed her down. It had started subtly anytime she saw happily married couples, but it had gradually become an all-encompassing feeling. She felt like a failure—someone who could not keep her home or her man. No matter how much she tried to shake the feeling, it clung to her until she started trying to isolate herself from people and also avoided social gatherings.

During that period, she had also had to deal with Aleena’s many tantrums. Aleena neither liked the fact that she lived away from her dad nor did she appear willing to adjust. Yemi actually felt that Aleena would have chosen to stay with Akeem over her if she’d had any say in the matter.

“Am I going to have a brother or sister soon, Mummy?” she had asked Yemi a couple of weeks back as Yemi tucked her into bed at night. “Everyone’s got a little brother or sister.”

“Not everyone, dear.”

“Eniola has a brother and sister,” Aleena persisted. “Chloe also has a brother and a sister,” she said, referring to her best friend at Dartmouth. “I want a little sister. Do you think I’ll have one someday?”

“I don’t know, Aleena. But I’m sure that your daddy will have more children someday.”

“But don’t you want another baby?” Aleena asked as she looked at her almost accusingly.

Yemi tried to keep her face expressionless, but Aleena’s words were getting to her. “I’d love to. Someday, I’ll explain it all to you, but you need to go to sleep now, Alee.” She stood up and took the last storybook she had read from the night before out of the bookshelf. “Which story do you want me to read to you?”

Aleena had looked at her mutinously. “Any story you like,” she said, pouting and looking away.

Yemi had sighed inwardly. I’m not the bad person here, Alee, she thought to herself. Your dad is the cause of all the problems.

She read the story and then sat there, looking at her sleeping daughter’s face. She wished she could make her understand her position, but how could she tell a four-year-old that she refused to stay on with a man she didn’t trust anymore, just so that she could pretend at marriage?

∞∞∞

“This can’t be correct.” Yemi murmured to herself as she stared at her bank balance online a couple of weeks later. She had made out cheques for some expenses she had incurred over the past month and was expecting it to be less. She checked again and saw that Akeem must have forgotten to stop paying her an allowance. Well, now that she knew, she was going to alert him. No one was going to accuse her of scrounging off him.

She wrote out a cheque to cover the amount he had paid into her bank account, enclosed a short note telling him what it was for, and sent it through Kufre to him that Friday when his driver came to pick Aleena up.

Aleena still spent her weekends with him, apart from the weekends when he was out of town. She had thought he would decline having her over at some weekends, but he stuck faithfully to the routine. Aleena told her that he took her and Kufre to Nadia’s or his mother’s place for a few hours when he had to go out, but he obviously preferred to do that rather than leave Aleena with Yemi. She felt he was trying to make sure that she didn’t steal his daughter’s affections from him. As if that was even possible; Aleena was her daddy’s girl all the way.

“I’m going to marry Daddy when I’m a big girl.” she had told Yemi recently. “Then Daddy won’t be alone anymore.”

Yemi had refrained from saying anything. She knew that Akeem was dating a Nollywood actress, so he was definitely not alone. She had seen pictures of them together in a magazine, and Sara had confirmed the relationship. The magazine had put a wedding picture of Akeem and Yemi as an inset and mentioned that their marriage had obviously hit the rocks, but thankfully there was nothing more on them.

Not that she cared about him dating the actress. He could marry her for all Yemi cared. She was also welcome to his family. A nice package deal. Maybe she would fare better than Yemi had done.

The next day, Yemi decided not to go to work. The last two weeks had been hectic, and she wanted to give her body a break. She groaned when she woke up at about the same time she normally did. She willed herself to go back to sleep but gave up about an hour later.

There were some designs that had been dancing around in her head, and she brought out her notepad and began to sketch them down.

Those designs would look great on Kelly, she thought to herself as she surveyed them later. She was still Kelly’s main designer, even though Kelly now lived in Abuja after winning the senatorial elections. Yemi had an arrangement with her and some other clients to make clothes she thought would suit them. She knew their preferences on styles, colours, and fabrics, and she rarely had any of those outfits sent back to her with a complaint.

She spent the morning leisurely and was in the middle of watching a comedy on TV when Sesan called and invited her to the beach with him and Amanda, Teju’s daughter. Teju was on a weekend away with her husband and had left Amanda with Sesan.

“Hmmm, I won’t say no, but let me see if Aleena can come along with us,” she told Sesan.

She called Akeem. They rarely communicated except for when they needed to exchange information about Aleena. And even then, they kept it very brief. He appeared to be just as keen to keep away from her as much as she was to keep away from him.

His phone rang for a while before he picked it up. “Yemi?” he said upon connecting the call.

Yemi got straight to the point too and told him the reason for the call.

“I’ve got other plans, so I’m afraid that’s not possible,” Akeem said.

“Oh, all right then. I just thought that it would give you a break.”

“Is that all, or is there something else you wanted?” he asked abruptly.

Okay, don’t bite my neck off. She answered in the negative. He hung up after a curt “Bye then.”

Someone’s in a bad mood, she thought to herself. The actress lady needed to step up her game. He was never this grouchy when they were together, well, up until she discovered what a cheat he was.

She had a good time at the beach with Sesan and Amanda and got home pleasantly tired.

The next evening, Kufre handed her an envelope from Akeem when his driver brought them back. Inside the envelope were the ripped pieces of the cheque she had sent to him.

∞∞∞

Over the next couple of months, there was a lull in the amount of orders she had coming in. She didn’t like it. It left her with too much time on her hands. And it didn’t suit her pockets either. Akeem had rented her office in a highbrow area. She still had some time to go before the rent ran out, but she needed a steady source of income if she was going to be able to maintain the place.

She knew the lull was normal. Even the greats like Sharon Braithwaite had moments like this, but it made her realise that she had to think of ways of increasing her clientele base in order to keep such periods to their barest minimum.

The lull continued for a while. Business would pick up a little, and fresh orders would come in, but then it would dip even lower than before. So she was excited when she got a call from Sharon. She was taking part in the upcoming Nigerian fashion week and wanted Yemi to help her with some designs.

“I know I’m asking a lot. I mean, you’ve got your own outfit to look after, but I wonder if you can create some designs for me. Of course, I’d expect to pay for the designs.”

“Let’s leave the payment bit out for now,” Yemi replied.

As tempting as it was to charge for the designs, she still didn’t intend to take any payment. Goodwill from someone like Sharon Braithwaite, along with the considerable influence she commanded in the fashion world, had no price tag. She smiled ruefully at her thoughts. She had not been married to a businessman like Akeem for nothing after all. Having friends in the right places was equally as important as making money.

Yemi attended the fashion week every day that it was on. It was an opportunity to see what the already-established names in the fashion world were doing, and she could measure her talent against theirs. Someday, my name will be up there with the greats, she thought to herself. She just had to work a little bit harder.

She was very excited on the day that House of Tetra presented. Sharon had almost outdone herself this time. The ovation was outstanding. Yemi felt herself holding her breath by the time the first model wearing the line she had designed for Sharon came out, but her fears were unfounded. The applause was heartwarming. Sharon had secured a front seat for her, so she had a clear view of the celebrities who attended the event and felt like doing a little jig when she saw a good number of them jotting down on their notepads as her designs came out.

The reviews in the papers the following days were very favorable. Of course, the credit was all going to House of Tetra, but she still felt like dancing with excitement when she read a popular fashion columnist particularly compliment the Swida, a kind of African print, collection which she had designed. She read it to herself over and over again and then cut out the clip from the newspaper.

So it was a very happy Yemi who got dressed up for the gala on the last night, which was also to be the climax of fashion week. The doorbell rang at 6 p.m., and she knew that it had to be Sesan. She had asked him to accompany her to the event.

“Wow!” Sesan exclaimed when he saw her. “You look so beautiful!”

She was pleased with his compliment. There was going to be a heavy media presence, and she wanted to appear good in the pictures.

The venue was well lit and glamorous, and several people were already seated when they arrived. She took pictures on the red carpet with Sharon and was later introduced to a few other big names in the industry.

“Ah, Sharon’s protégé!” Ellen, another popular fashion designer exclaimed, as she air-kissed Yemi. “I was impressed with the designs you did for her collection about a year ago, but I was told then that you were not interested in anything commercial.” She smiled as she handed Yemi her business card. “Let’s talk sometime.”

It was a very glamorous affair. There was good music, lots to eat and drink, and plenty of entertainment by different artists. It was a good ending to a hectic week, and Yemi enjoyed every bit of it.

“Wow, that was a lovely night,” she sighed happily when she got back into Sesan’s car at the end of the evening. “Thanks for accompanying me.”

“You’re welcome. It was nice to rub shoulders with you celebrities.”

“Celebrities?” Yemi laughed. “I hope you remember who you’re with?”

“I appreciate your modesty, but I saw how impressed some of those designers were when Sharon told them what line you designed for her.”

“They’re still the biggies, though!” She felt happier and more relaxed than she had been in a long time. “So what’s been going on with you?” she asked as he merged onto the motorway. “Are we hearing wedding bells anytime soon?”

“Why do you keep asking that question?” he teased. “But not to worry, it’s going to happen soon.”

“Cool, do I know the lucky lady?”

“What lady?”

“Sesan, you really have to get serious! Maybe I should start looking for one for you myself,” she turned slightly in her seat towards him. “So tell me, what specs are looking out for?”

He grimaced. “You make it sound like we’re about to purchase a car. But okay, let me see, she has to be tall, pretty, slim, honey-brown complexioned with a single dimple on the right cheek, an accountant turned celebrity fashion designer….” Sesan started laughing when the realization that he was describing her finally dawned on Yemi. He ducked when she playfully tried to smack him.

“You’re such a naughty boy!” Yemi scolded with a mock frown. “And here I was getting all excited about pitching in on the search for the future Mrs. Williams. But by the way, what happened to that girl you told me about when we had just finished university?”

“The one who made me run off to England?”

Yemi’s eyes widened. “Was she behind that as well?”

He smiled ruefully. “Yeah, but she’s married now, so that chapter is firmly closed. But don’t worry about me. God makes all things beautiful in His time.”

“Hmmm, sounds nice. I guess that’s from the Bible?”

“Yep.”

“You must have read the whole Bible through and through by now,” Yemi remarked thoughtfully. “How do you do that?”

“I guess it’s out of interest. When you have a close friend, you try to learn as much as you can about them so that you can relate with them better. It’s the same with God. The more I know Him, the more I study His word and the hungrier I get to know more about Him.”

“You make Him sound so close.”

“That’s because He is. And knowing that He’s with me gives me the confidence to go forward in life because I know that He’s got my back.”

“Interesting, but a lot of bad things do happen on His watch, though.”

“Are those things really on His watch?” Sesan asked. “Most people make their decisions without consulting Him and then arrogantly expect Him to back them up. God does not go barging where He’s not been invited.”

“So are you saying that bad things never happen to Christians?”

“Christians have trials too, but He is with them all the way through them, and they come out better people if they hold on to Him. There is a place in the Bible where God said that He will be with us when we go through fire and floods, signifying troubled times, but that we will not be drowned or burnt.”

“I sure have been through fires and floods, with no comfort in sight either,” Yemi replied drily. “Maybe God has forgotten all about me.”

“Why don’t you just surrender to Him and let Him deal with the issues for you?” Sesan said quietly. “You need to release yourself over to Him.”

“Hey, Sesan, I’ve always tried to be a good person, but what do I get from it? Heartbreak!” She bit on her lower lip. “The other day, Tianna came to my office…you remember Tianna, don’t you? The girl who used to live down the road from me?” Sesan nodded, and she continued. “She was so boy crazy back then and already had quite a reputation by the time she was sixteen. Well, she came to my office two weeks ago to place an order. She was in the company of her husband and two kids, and her husband was all over her. How do you explain that? I didn’t get into a fraction of her escapades, and yet my marriage crashed after just a few years.”

“Yemi, being born again is not about how good you are. In fact, we dare not come into His presence with our own righteousness because we cannot measure up to His righteousness at all. We come by way of mercy, grace, and by the blood of Christ. I can’t judge Tianna; that’s left for God to do. But I’m concerned about you.”

“I’ll be okay, Shez, and anyway, I’m already a Christian.”

“He loves you, Yemi. He feels your pain and wants a closer relationship with you.”

“I’ve heard you.” She was tired of the conversation. Maybe what he said worked for some, but she didn’t know what could ever heal the hurt she had in her heart.

Chapter 17

 

During the fashion week, Yemi’s mind had begun to buzz with ideas of how she could improve on her clientele base. She decided that she would create and showcase a collection. While she was planning that, she was excited to receive calls from some of the designers that Sharon had introduced her to at the fashion week. Most of them just wanted to establish contact, but one of them gave her a contract to do some designs for her forthcoming collection.

She was also relieved that the orders in her office had picked up a little bit. Sharon had also begun to direct some of the people that she couldn’t take on to Yemi. The clients appeared skeptical when they came in to see her, but she went out of her way to make lovely designs for them. Apart from one or two of them who had made up their minds that she would remain just an alternative until Sharon was less busy, the others were satisfied and stayed with her.

Yemi was working in her office one evening when she was told that two women were there to see her.

“Hello, I’m Yemi Kadiri,” she said, smiling at them when they were shown into her office a few minutes later.

“I’m Lola Carlson, and this is my friend, Lara Adele,” one of the ladies said, introducing herself and her friend.

“You’re welcome, please have a seat,” Yemi said. They sat down across from her. “How may I help you?”

They explained that they were members of a charity that was trying to raise awareness on ovarian cancer, and that they were organising a programme to raise funds that would enable women to get free screenings at some private hospitals. Among some of the events they were planning was a fashion show, and they were out seeking sponsors for their programme. They wanted Yemi to be a sponsor and make the clothes that the models would wear. The money they got from the sale of the clothes would then be donated to the charity.

Yemi knew she had her hands full and didn’t want to stretch her finances any more than she could help. She suggested that they try approaching some of the bigger fashion houses, but they said they already had and had been turned down by many of them because they were more interested in supporting better-known causes like breast cancer and AIDS.

Lola sighed. “But ovarian cancer is just as important. I lost my elder sister to it three years ago, and she was just twenty-nine years old, younger than the age that it is known to affect. She died because the disease was not caught on time. I’d hate to see this ignorance continue, hence the drive for awareness.”

Yemi was moved. It must have been horrible to lose such a close relative. “I’m really sorry to hear about your sister,” she said gently, “but I won’t be able to take this on now.”

A resigned look came over Lola’s face as she stood up. “Thanks for your time anyway.”

Something stirred within Yemi’s heart when she saw the dejected looks on their faces. She groaned inwardly. She could not believe that she was even considering it. “How many models will you be using?” she asked before she could stop herself.

“Six,” Lola said and then mentioned their names.

Yemi’s eyes widened when she heard the first name. “Cerys Briggs?” she asked with a doubtful expression crossing her face.

“Yes, she’s a cousin to our friend, Dammy, who is also part of this campaign. She agreed to do it as a favour to her. We’re hoping she would attract a lot of exposure to the event.”

Fancy dressing up Cerys Briggs. The idea of it alone was heady. Yemi had seen her walk for Versace when she had attended the Paris fashion week about three years back. The applause and the response she had gotten had been almost hysterical. But she could hardly believe that those fashion houses that Lola and Lara had approached had actually turned down the opportunity to dress up Cerys.

“We didn’t even get to that part of the conversation before we were politely declined by some of them,” Lara said when Yemi asked them. “And I think the others didn’t really believe that we could get Cerys. I guess they felt we were just trying to get their sponsorship on false grounds.”

Yemi couldn’t blame them. She looked at the women again. What did she really know about them? “But is there a guarantee that she’s really going to be there?” Yemi asked them. “As far as I know, she lives abroad and is hardly in Nigeria. How do we get her for fittings and all that?”

“Cerys is Dammy’s first cousin, and we all went to secondary school together before she won the MNET talent show,” Lola replied. “My older sister attended the same secondary school, and Cerys knew her too. She has given her word, and we’re very sure that she’s going to be around.”

Yemi shrugged off her doubts. After all, she had already wanted to help out before she heard of Cerys being one of the models, so it would be no big deal if she didn’t show up. Cerys had been a sweet, almost shy sixteen-year-old when she had won the competition, but she could have transformed into a beautiful terror now that she was walking for some of the world’s top designers. The best thing to do was to just focus on these passionate ladies and their drive to help women.

“She is flying into Nigeria in about six weeks for a week’s holiday and then will come back again a week before the programme,” Lara said, assuring Yemi that Cerys would be available for fittings. “I’m afraid that will be all the time she can spare,” she added apologetically.

Yemi spent the next twenty minutes discussing the event with Lola and Lara, and the more she talked to them, the more the idea of taking part in it appealed to her.

“Give me a few days to mull over this, and I’ll get back to you,” Yemi said. She still needed to look at a few logistics and how best to manage the cost without it being too much for her to bear.

They were very happy when she called them two days later to tell them that she would do it. They gave her the names and contact numbers of the models that she would be working with. Five of them were local, and she could start work with them right away.

“I’ll believe it the day I see Cerys walk through these doors,” Ken told her when she discussed it with him.

Yemi felt the exactly the same way.

∞∞∞

“How do I look, Mummy?” Aleena asked, walking into the sitting room where Yemi sat working on some sketches. She was wearing Yemi’s four-inch Jimmy Choo heels and had dabbed on some of Yemi’s lipstick.

“Like a little diva.” Yemi smiled as Aleena tottered towards her. “I think you should wait a little longer, though. There is plenty of time before you start wearing heels.”

Aleena giggled. “Maybe when I’m as tall as you, Mummy?” She stepped out of the heels and went over to Yemi. “Daddy says he’s going to buy me lots of high heels and bags when I grow up.”

Judging by the amount of unnecessary things he had already gotten for her, Yemi had no doubt that he would.

Aleena sat beside her on the sofa. “Are you drawing pretty dresses?” she asked, peering at Yemi’s sketchpad. “They look very nice. You draw very well,” she added loyally.

Yemi hid a smile. “Thank you.”

“I like painting best, though,” she continued. “Then I can use lots of pretty colours. Maybe I can help you paint your drawings when you are done, Mummy?”

“Eh…not these ones, but I can draw some specially for you to paint, okay?”

“Okay,” she replied and then adjusted herself to seat more comfortably on the sofa. “What do you think I should get for Daddy’s birthday?”

“What would you like to give to him?”

She screwed up her little face, appearing to think hard. “It’s hard getting gifts for boys,” she finally said. “Girls are so much easier.”

Yemi smiled. “We’ll go to the mall on Friday before you go to your dad’s. I’m sure we can pick out something nice.”

Aleena brightened up. “Daddy liked the gift I gave him on Father’s Day. He said your mummy knows how to pick nice things.”

Yemi didn’t say anything. Of course, Akeem would know that she had picked out the handmade Italian leather shoes Aleena gave him for Father’s Day, the same way that she knew that he bought the beautiful Hermes bag she had gotten on her last birthday. She still hardly saw him, which suited her. The last time she had seen him had been at Shona and Justin’s wedding two months earlier, and they had just exchanged polite greetings. He looked well and his dressing was as faultless as ever. She had always felt a guy who looked so good from top to toe had to be vain, but Akeem could not be accused of vanity or pride. Just a roving, unfaithful eye.

Sara came to visit a few days later, and as she seemed to think it was her duty to do so, she updated Yemi on the latest happenings in Akeem’s life. His relationship with the actress was over, and he was now dating Lois, the daughter of a shipping magnate.

“She’s okay, quite nice actually, but she’s not you. The spark is not there, either,” Sara continued, not minding Yemi’s silence. “At least not the way that you and Akeem made the air sizzle whenever you were together.”

Yemi was not interested in Sara’s analysis. “Two women in ten months? He’s really making up for lost time. It must have been so hard for him being married and keeping to one woman.”

“I knew that actress was not going to last with him anyway,” Sara said, wrinkling her nose with distaste. “And when she started putting pressure on him for more commitment, he called it off.”

Yemi tutted. “Poor thing. Commitment is not Akeem’s strong point.”

Sara’s eyes narrowed. “Ever since you drove him back to the streets, you mean?”

Yemi’s eyes widened as she stared at Sara. “The guy cheated on me, and you said I drove him back to the streets?” She glared at her for a moment. “I don’t know why I bother with you. You’re too biased to be objective.”

Sara looked unrepentant. “Well, I’m sorry if it sounds like that to you, but I know Akeem loved you. He made mistakes, mistakes he acknowledges himself. Why not find it in your heart to forgive him?”

“He made one mistake too many,” Yemi retorted. “And the way he’s going about changing women shows me that I made the right decision in leaving him.” She struggled to keep calm. Sara’s words had touched a raw nerve.

“Can you make me some clothes soon?” Sara asked, changing the topic. “I’m attending a friend’s thirtieth birthday soon, and I want to look seriously wow!”

“I hope you won’t steal the celebrant’s thunder,” Yemi muttered. She was still annoyed with the comment Sara had made. She wished Sara would stop giving her information on Akeem. She did that all the time and then would subtly turn around and try to blame her for Akeem’s behaviour.

Sara giggled mischievously. “That’s the whole idea.” She eyed Yemi’s unsmiling face. “C’mon, lose the attitude. I’ve said I’m sorry, but you must agree that…”

“Don’t spoil the apology by adding more annoying things,” Yemi cut in.

Sara looked amused. “But why are you still so affected by comments about Akeem? Are you sure you’re truly over him, as you say?”

Yemi stared at Sara. Was she deliberately trying to needle her? “I know I’m over you as a customer. You can get yourself a new dress designer.”

Sara grinned. “That’s not happening. You’re stuck with me for life.”

“Yeah, the consequences of my many sins,” Yemi muttered. She ignored Sara’s smirking face. “Let me show you a few designs I made recently,” she said as she turned to the computer.

As Yemi lay down later that evening, she found herself unable to sleep. Different flashbacks of her time with Akeem ran through her mind. She had loved him so much. It hadn’t been about his status or any of the trappings that he had come with. She had loved Akeem the man, just him.

“Why did you throw it away?” she asked over and over again, her eyes smarting with unshed tears. She had made up her mind not to cry anymore over Akeem and his betrayal, but she was feeling so low at the moment that she gave up the struggle and sobbed into her pillow. “I loved you so much. Why did you despise and make such a mockery of my love?”

She finally fell asleep in the early hours of the morning, the dried tears forming whitish streaks across her cheeks.

∞∞∞

The regular orders picked up some more over the next few weeks. That lifted her spirits some. But Yemi made up her mind that she was not going to get comfortable with the new pace. She was going to remain focused on growing her clientele base.

She also had to prepare for the charity fashion show. Apart from Cerys’s appearance, it seemed like a small event, but she made up her mind she was going to put in her best. The good thing was that Lola and her friends had given her a free hand with the designs; she was free to let her creativity run loose, and she did.

The locally based models came in for their fittings once she was sure what outfits she wanted to make. They were easy work apart from a diva-like one amongst them. The model made so many demands and wanted so many adjustments that she nearly drove everyone round the bend.

“And to think that Ghana is the farthest place she has ever modeled in,” Francis, the new tailor Yemi had just employed, muttered under his breath after one particularly tiring session with her.

Yemi heard his comment and smiled.

The fittings with Cerys were starting the following week. They had her measurements, and she had chosen what she wanted from the designs that Yemi had e-mailed to her. She was on a tight schedule, so they were going to work around the clock to get her clothes fitted and ready during that time.

She arrived for her first fitting with two bodyguards and insisted they go with her into Yemi’s private office, but that was all the diva-ish behavior she had. She was polite, although a little cool in her attitude, something Yemi didn’t hold against her. She must have loads of people trying to get close to her all the time, so the girl needed some sort of façade to protect her.

Cerys was very professional, and she showed that she had modelled for top-end fashion houses. She was a stickler for time and would patiently try on as many clothes as Yemi gave her and only made useful comments about how she wanted them altered.

“I love this dress; it’s got so much attitude!” she said the third time she came in, breaking into the first real smile Yemi had seen since she started her fittings.

The dress she referred to was really her. Yemi had designed it the first time Cerys had come to the office. She had watched several video clips of her modelling work, and of course seen her that time in Paris, but having her in her office had been a different experience, and her pencil had seemed to take on a life of its own. She had sketched several designs that she felt would do justice to Cerys’s beauty and added them to the ones that she had already made.

“You can have it as a gift when you’re done with it,” Yemi offered. “I won’t repeat the design, and we can tell the guests that this particular one is not for sale.” She held out the other dress. “There is still one more for you to try on.”

“Whoa! I’m not sure which one I like best out of the two,” Cerys said when she had tried the second dress on. She did a little catwalk, and Yemi and Ken looked on in admiration. The girl was gorgeous and sure knew how to strut her stuff!

“But I definitely want to wear both of them that evening, if it’s okay with the concept you have in mind?” she asked after she sat down again.

“You can, and I’m glad that you like it. I still have a few designs that I’ve not made yet. Would you like you to see them?”

“Of course.”

Yemi showed Cerys the designs on the computer that she had sketched especially for her.

“I like the look of this and this,” Cerys said pointing to a couple of the designs on the computer screen. She looked at the other designs critically. “I don’t mind this other one as well,” she said, pointing to another one. “I need to be in Milan in three days, but I’d like to place an order for them.”

“You will have at least one of them ready before you go, but the others will be ready by the time you come back for the charity ball.”

“You’re really good, you know,” she told Yemi. “I’ve been talking to my friends about you. I had my reservations initially, as I didn’t recognise your name, but I’m really impressed with your work. You make a girl look beautiful.”

Yemi found herself smiling throughout the rest of the day. She and Ken stayed later than usual in the office that evening. She wanted to be sure that she could make good on her word that Cerys would have the outfit she wanted before she left for Milan. That was professionalism. Keeping her word.

She was still all smiles when she got home later that night. Even the picture of Akeem, Lois, and Aleena on some sort of outing that she saw on Aleena’s iPad did nothing to dampen her mood. Akeem had his hand around Lois’s waist and the other arm around Aleena. They looked like a happy family.

She felt a little guilty as she looked at her daughter’s sleeping face. She had been working late since she had the fittings with Cerys and had missed her bedtime a few times that week.

“I love you Alee,” she whispered and kissed her soft cheek. “Mummy just needs to work hard so that she can be financially steady.”

As she lay in bed later that night, her mind went back to Akeem and Lois. He obviously felt comfortable enough with the relationship to allow Aleena to meet her. He hadn’t done that with the actress.

She looked at her bare fingers. The indentation left by her wedding ring was completely gone now. It seemed like she had never worn a ring there.

∞∞∞

“Whoa! Yemi, are you going places or what?” Laide, Dotun’s wife, said excitedly over the phone. “I just saw Cerys on TV talking about the charity fashion show and that she will be walking for Matrix Kreations.”

“Oh, is it still on?” Yemi asked. She grabbed the TV remote and flicked on the television. “They told me it would likely air this week. Which channel is it on?”

Laide told her which channel, but when she flipped to it, she saw the tail end of the advert. She left the TV on, hoping that it would air again.

The fashion show was only two weeks away. Cerys had used her personal connections to get a lot of people interested in it, and the last that Yemi had heard was that the First Lady of her home state, Rivers state, was going to be in attendance. Cerys knew her personally, and because the governor’s wife was attending, her hostess, the First Lady of Lagos, was also going to be there. Amazing!

Yemi wondered how those fashion designers who had turned them down must be feeling now. Sharon Braithwaite had given her a call two days earlier and congratulated her.

“I learnt that you’re the one designing the clothes for the charity ball. It’s drawing a lot of attention because of Cerys,” she told Yemi. “I just got myself a ticket to attend, and I’m really looking forward to the event.”

Yemi thanked her. She was refusing to think too much about how all this was going to impact her and her business.

Just as she had expected, the advert ran again on TV about an hour later. She could not keep the smile off her face as she heard the opening lines: “Hi, I’m Cerys Briggs, and I’ll be walking for Matrix Kreations on the twenty-fourth of September in support of the Ovarian Cancer Awareness charity.”

Yemi was so excited that she barely heard the rest of the message. She flopped back on the bed and hugged a pillow to herself. This was so worth all of the hard work she and her staff had done to create the outfits.

∞∞∞

“The hall is more than halfway full, and the programme is not starting for another thirty minutes!” Ken told Yemi excitedly as they walked towards where Cerys’s makeup was being done by the artist.

Cerys saw them and smiled. Yemi waggled her fingers at her. Cerys had relaxed her guard with Yemi, and they had now become quite friendly. She was opening the fashion show, which was just as well because a lot of the people were there to see her.

The rest of the evening passed in a flurry of activities for Yemi. Model after model came backstage to change. The wardrobe assistants she had hired to help them change were swift and efficient in helping the girls into their next outfits; their makeup and their hair were quickly touched up and then they were back out on the runway.

Finally, Yemi was called out as the designer of the clothes. She walked out to a standing ovation and flashing camera lights. The faces of the people in the audience were a blur to her, but she knew that the two governors’ wives had indeed come, and along with them came other female dignitaries and celebrities. She could hardly believe that the event that had seemed like it would be a low-key event run by three unknown ladies in honour of their unknown late sister and friend had become such a successful must-attend event, all because of a famous name, Cerys Briggs.

Of course, the other models had been great too, even the diva-like model, but the highlight of the show had been Cerys. Everyone liked success and wanted to be associated with it.

“Whoa, did you hear that?” Ken asked Yemi when she came back from her runway walk. “It’s like they couldn’t stop clapping for you!”

Yemi was just too happy. She saw Francis dancing towards her and held out her hands to him. She felt so lucky to have such dedicated staff. There was no way she could have done this without them.

“Mrs. K, go have a seat in the hall. We’ll sort everything out back here,” Francis said when they had disengaged from their group hug. “Really, we will,” he insisted.

Yemi walked back to the hall through a side entrance and took a seat at the table that Lola had reserved for her. She saw the look of admiration on the faces of the people already seated there as she exchanged greetings with them.

“That was awesome,” said the man seated beside her.

She smiled politely at him. “Thank you.”

“I’m Deji Phillips, Lola’s brother-in-law,” he said.

Her eyes widened slightly. So this was the husband of Lola’s late sister. She had seen his kids when Lola brought them to her office during one of their meetings. They were twins and about Aleena’s age.

“Pleased to meet you,” she replied. “I’ve heard a lot about your wife. She must have been a very special lady for her to be remembered this way.”

“That she was indeed. Thanks so much for agreeing to participate in today’s event. Your designs were really beautiful. I was almost envious that you only make ladies’ clothing. Aren’t you tempted to make men’s as well?”

Yemi couldn’t help smiling back at him. “I could—that is, if you don’t mind the trousers being made with taffeta, silk, or organza, to mention a few.”

“That would be something, but who knows? I could be starting a new fashion trend.”

Yemi laughed. They continued talking intermittently for the rest of the evening. During the cocktail session, lots of people came over to congratulate her and to ask for her business card.

“Can I have one too?” Deji asked, appearing by her side again. He had gone around to say hello to some people he knew, but he must have seen her handing out her business cards. She handed him one of the cards. “Even though men are being discriminated against by Matrix Kreations,” he murmured as he tucked the card in his pocket.

Yemi smiled. They were interrupted when Dammy took the podium. The programme was rounding up.

As she drove home later that night, she didn’t need anyone to tell her that it had been a success, much more than the expectation of the organisers and much more than she had ever dreamed.

∞∞∞

The next few days convinced Yemi that she had indeed made a good decision in sponsoring the charity event. They had so many new orders for clothes that her staff was hard-pressed to keep up with them. She had fully donated the proceeds from the clothes that were modelled at the charity event. And she was also giving a percentage to the charity from any repeated orders that came in over the next month.

Another sponsor, a popular women’s magazine, had gotten the official right to cover the event. They had some very beautiful things to say about Matrix Kreations, but even better still was the review given by another independent, highly rated fashion magazine. It referred to her designs as “a fresh breeze on the fashion scene.” It had also called Yemi the new fashion designer to watch out for.

Yemi felt even more elated when Cerys was photographed at a dinner party wearing one of the outfits that Yemi had made for her.

Flowers and chocolates were delivered to her office a week after the ball. She was puzzled until she saw the card attached. “Nice meeting you at the charity ball. Deji.”

She sent him a “thank you” via text message and got a reply back almost immediately.

“You’re more than welcome. How’re you doing?”

She wondered whether she should reply, and then she shrugged and texted him back. “Fine, thanks. The euphoria of the charity ball is gradually settling down.”

He texted her back: “Everyone is raving about your designs. You were absolutely great!”

“Thanks, you’re too kind.”

“Just being truthful. Can I send my measurements as discussed?”

“Of course. What fabric would you like, taffeta or silk?”

“Pink taffeta, what do you think?”

“Perfect, great taste.”

He sent her a smiley face attached to his next message: “Will send the measurements as soon as possible, or better still, I can come over to choose the designs I want. Pink taffeta trousers require a lot of mulling over.”

“You don’t have to do that,” she responded. “You can trust me to create a nice design for you.” She finished typing, looked at it, and then decided it was time to end the conversation. “It was nice chatting with you. Love to Lola.”

He must have gotten the hint because he typed: “Same here. Take care.”

Chapter 18

 

Yemi checked the best-before date on the cheese packaging before tossing it into her trolley and continuing to another side of the store for some pasta.

It was Aleena’s birthday on Saturday, and she wanted lasagne. Akeem was allowing her to stay at her place this weekend so that she could have Eniola, and Chloe, her best friend at Dartmouth, over for a sleepover. Yemi liked Chloe. She was polite and was generally well behaved, and Yemi had to admit that so far, her fears of Aleena picking up a snooty attitude or becoming friends with girls who put such ideas in her head, had subsided. Chloe’s mother, Charlotte, also appeared to be a pleasant person. Her father was a politician who lived in Abuja and only came to Lagos on weekends.

Having found the pasta, Yemi continued towards the aisle that held the spreads. As she pushed her trolley around the corner, she almost bumped into a little boy who was coming from the opposite side of the aisle. He had obviously been going a little too fast and was not looking where he was going. Yemi stretched out a hand involuntarily to catch him before he tripped.

“Are you okay?” she asked him when she had helped to steady him.

“Yes, I am.” The little boy replied.

Yemi recognised him. It was Lola’s nephew, but just as she was about to ask who he was with, she saw Deji walking towards them with the little boy’s twin sister.

“How many times do I need to tell you not to run around in shops?” Deji scolded him before turning to Yemi. “I’m so sorry about that. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” Yemi smiled, looking down at the little boy, who was looking very chastised indeed.

“Now apologize to the lady, Tolu,” Deji instructed him.

“I’m sorry,” Tolu said, his face slightly downcast.

Yemi smiled at him. He was so cute. “Not to worry, no harm was done.” She looked at his twin sister, who was holding onto her father’s hand. She looked very pretty in her sleeveless yellow-and-blue-patterned dress. From the look of her hair, it had just recently been done and had pretty coloured beads at the end of each braid.

“I like your hair,” Yemi said to her. “Maybe I can have mine done like it. What do you think?”

The little girl looked at Yemi as if she couldn’t quite make up her mind whether Yemi was serious or not.

“Those are some lovely kids you have here,” Yemi said, turning her attention to Deji. “I met them when Lola brought them to my office sometime before the charity event.”

“Thanks. Nice seeing you again. How have you been?”

“Fine, thank you. Thanks again for the flowers and chocolates. My staff and I enjoyed them.”

A smile curved his lips. “I’ll have to send some more, then. That couldn’t have been enough to go around.”

“Oh no, you don’t have to do that! I wasn’t even expecting the ones you sent, anyway. That was very kind of you.”

“The pleasure was all mine,” he said, his gaze lingering on her face. “Did you get my text yesterday?” he asked her.

She had, but she didn’t want chatting with him to become a habit and had ignored his “How is your day going?” message. “Yes, I did, and I’m so sorry I didn’t reply, but yes to the question you asked, my day was great.”

Deji just looked at her. She could see a mixture of curiosity and something else she could not quite define in his eyes. She looked away and glanced towards where his kids were looking at the bottles of Nutella on display. Tolu was whispering to his sister. Yemi smiled; they reminded her of Aleena.

“Let me not hold you guys up,” she said, taking hold of the handles of her trolley.

“It’s the twins’ birthday in two weeks,” Deji said as Yemi attempted to move forward. “I know it’s rather short notice, but it will be nice to have you and your daughter over.”

Yemi wondered how he knew that she had a daughter. She shrugged inwardly; getting that piece of information would be easy for anyone to do.

“I’ve got the invites in the car,” he continued. “I can drop one off in the office for you if you like.”

“All right, I’ll expect it,” she said as she prepared to move off.

He smiled teasingly at her. “Am I getting my clothes soon?”

She could not help smiling back at him. She could see where his kids got their cuteness. “Pink taffeta, wasn’t it?”

“Correct. I’m sure I’ll look nicer than Cerys in it.”

“I’m sure you will,” Yemi said, laughing. Her eyes moved over his broad shoulders and denim-clad long legs. Nah, taffeta would not do him justice at all.

Yemi said good-bye to them and walked off with her trolley. She knew Deji was curious about her. It was there in the way he looked at her face searchingly, as if there were many questions he would have liked to ask her. She had caught it during the charity event and today as well. Well, his questions would have to go unanswered. She had no intention of getting close enough for him to have that liberty.

∞∞∞

She received the invitation but delayed a response until the day before the party, when she sent gifts for Tolu and Tope by special delivery to Deji’s address.

She received a text message from Deji the evening of the party that said, “Thanks a lot for the presents. The twins loved them. I was really looking forward to seeing you, though.”

She texted her apologies again and left it at that. About a week later, she was in her office reception area when he dropped by with party packs in his hands.

“I thought I’d stop by and give this to you,” he said, handing them over to her.

“Thanks, that’s kind of you. Aleena is going to love them,” she said, taking the packs from him. “I hope the twins had a good time?”

“They did. They are still talking about all the fun they had with their friends.” He glanced around her reception area where some customers were waiting to collect or place orders. “I don’t want to hold you up. I can see you’re busy.”

Yemi walked him to his car. He unlocked his car but made no attempt to get in.

“Are you free for dinner any day this week?” he asked, leaning slightly against the car and turning towards her.

“I don’t think so. I’m trying to get back to meeting my deadlines, so I’m a little busy this week.”

“What about next week? Saturday evening, maybe?”

She was happy she had a ready excuse. “I’m seeing my parents that day.”

He smiled slightly. “My timing is a little off, then. Probably we can do dinner some other time soon?”

“We’ll see,” Yemi said noncommittally. “Thanks once again for the party packs.”

He did not look too put out by her refusal and gave her a small wave as he got into his car. He was probably just trying to be nice anyway, Yemi thought to herself. She waited for him to drive off before going back into her office.

∞∞∞

Two weeks later, Lola and her friends treated her to a “thank you dinner” at Da-livio, a restaurant in Victoria Island. She had told them not to bother, but they brushed her protests aside.

“You took us on when nobody else was willing to give us the time of day,” Dammy said to her. “They didn’t even believe that Cerys was really coming.”

“It’s their loss,” Lara said gleefully. “Now that Yemi is being celebrated by the media, I’m sure some of them must be wishing that they had not been so dismissive.”

Yemi enjoyed her time with them. She liked the way they related amongst themselves. They were obviously very close.

“We’ve been like this since secondary school,” Lola said when Yemi voiced her thoughts. “Believe me, I’ve tried to lose them along the way, but they just keep sticking on.”

“We know you’ll be lost without us guiding you in life,” Dammy teased.

“At least until we safely deliver you over to Nifemi next year,” Lara added, referring to Lola’s fiancé “You’ve kept the guy waiting long enough.”

“I know…” Lola sighed. “Well, the twins are older now, so I guess I can leave them with Deji with a freer heart.”

“But Deji has done very well,” Lara said. “And I’ve got a feeling the guy himself will be moving on soon. I mean, from the comments he’s been dropping recently, I won’t be surprised.”

Dammy giggled. “Yeah, heard about that too. Glad our Deji has finally opened his eyes again. Can’t wait to see how it unfolds…” She suddenly stopped and grimaced. “Ouch, why did you kick me?” she asked, glaring at Lola.

“Did I?” Lola asked innocently. “Pardon me, you know what long legs I have.”

“I wonder why you were not one of the models for the charity event,” Dammy muttered sarcastically. “Then we wouldn’t have needed Cerys.”

Lola made a face at her. “You guys don’t appreciate my beauty.” She turned to Yemi. “How did you get into fashion designing? I know you studied accountancy.”

“I’ve always liked fashion, I guess. Not in a crazy ‘Have to have all the latest trends’ manner, but I believe everything a lady puts on should make her more beautiful, and that in itself is an art.” She smiled as she saw the rapt attention on their faces. “So to me, it does not matter whether the clothes are picked up at a bargain or at a top designer shop. The important thing is that it should flow with your body lines. Your clothes should tell a story about you. It’s you in essence.”

Dammy looked down at her dress. “I hope this flows with my body lines?” she asked teasingly.

Lara shook her head solemnly. “I don’t think so, but at least there’s hope for you now that Yemi is our friend.”

Yemi enjoyed her time with the girls. She had never been someone who could have more than one girlfriend at a time, but these three girls could actually be mistaken for blood sisters in the way they related.

∞∞∞

When Deji sent her another “How’re you doing?” text message the next day, Yemi didn’t respond. She wasn’t dumb and knew she was the one that Lola and her friends had been referring to. There was no point encouraging him. She was not interested in him in that way.

She was in her office a few days later when he dropped by.

“Surprise,” she said a little coolly as he was shown into her office.

“I hope it’s a good one,” he replied, smiling at her. “New hairdo. Very nice, it suits you,” he said as he gave her long tresses an admiring look. “How have you been?”

“Fine, just trying to keep on top of my work. And you?”

“I’m good too, and work is fine as well.” He sat in the chair she offered him. He complimented her office decor and Yemi thanked him. She remembered he had only stopped at her reception the other time.

“I learnt you went out with the girls the other day. I hope you had a good time?”

Yemi smiled. “I did. They’re really nice, and I like the way they relate with each other.”

He smiled. “They’ve always been very close. Meet one and you have to meet the other two.”

They chatted about Lola and her friends. He was obviously as fond of them as they were of him.

“Have you had lunch?” he asked after a while, glancing at his wristwatch.

“No, but I’m not feeling hungry.”

“So you’ve had only breakfast, and it’s almost two in the afternoon?” He tutted. “There’s this very nice place around here. Their food is guaranteed to tempt your taste buds.”

“Thanks, but I’m fine for now. I’ll probably order a sandwich later.” She knew she was sounding a bit cold, but she felt this was the best way to go about it.

Deji looked at her face for a moment and then smiled slowly. “Why do I get the feeling that you’re trying to pass me a message?”

“Am I?”

“Aren’t you?” he countered, looking steadily back at her. “Okay, so you’re not hungry right now, but how about dinner any evening you choose this week?”

“I’m afraid that’s not possible either. I’m not free this week.”

He nodded slowly. “Confirmed.” He put on a hurt look. “A lonely old widower like me is asking you to have lunch or dinner with him, and you’re refusing? C’mon, girl, have a heart.”

She made a face at him. He was definitely not old. She could tell he was very likely in his early thirties. “I won’t be caught by emotional blackmail.”

He put his elbows on her desk and leaned forward slightly. “So tell me, how can I catch you?” he asked softly.

It was time to get straight to the point since he was refusing to understand what she was trying to say to him. “Have you forgotten my name?” she said, looking pointedly at him. “I’m Mrs. Yemi Kadiri.”

“I know that you are separated, have been for over a year.”

“Separated, yes, but still very much legally married.”

“I’m aware of that. Look, let’s take it slowly,” He replied. “I appreciate the fact that you’re still married, but all I’m asking for is an opportunity to be your friend.”

“My schedule is much too hectic. You’d find me very boring as a friend.”

He smiled. “Too busy to go out? Remember that you only have one life to live, and like the saying goes, all work and no play…”

“Makes this particular Jill a bright girl,” Yemi finished.

He laughed softly. “Small wonder I’m intrigued by you. C’mon, Yemi. Just dinner?”

“I’m afraid that’s not possible. I don’t play games.”

“I don’t either. I’m just asking you to be my friend.”

“We’re already friends.”

“So let’s have a friendly dinner.”

“Maybe someday soon.”

“Maybe this week?” he asked. She shook her head. “Next week?” he persisted.

She sighed and shook her head again. He just kept looking at her. “Okay, I’ll think about dinner some time,” she said, hoping that would get rid of him.

He didn’t look like he believed her. “I like you, Yemi, and I’m sincerely hoping that you’ll give us a chance to be friends, but I’ll leave you for now.”

Yemi was happy to see him go. She was beginning to get her life back—a career and maybe a chance at fulfilment and true happiness—and no man was ever going to be allowed to derail her again.

∞∞∞

Two days later, a delivery package was sent to her office. The package contained a bottle of Coco Mademoiselle by Chanel. It was from Deji.

Yemi remembered admiring Lola’s fragrance some time back when she had come into Yemi’s office, and Lola had told her the name of the perfume. It was just too much of a coincidence that Deji had bought her the same fragrance. She sent the package back, and a few days later, Deji sent it back to her again, this time along with a nice-looking bracelet. She shoved both gifts in her drawer at the office and ignored them.

Two days later, Sesan was in her office when a beautiful bouquet of yellow roses was delivered to her.

“Who is it from?” Sesan asked curiously.

“Some guy,” Yemi muttered.

“Nice flowers. I wish I had someone to send me flowers in the office,” he teased.

Yemi made a face. Thankfully, he had to return to his office and couldn’t probe her any longer. But when yet another package arrived a couple of days later and her manager gave it to her with a knowing smile on his face, Yemi knew that she had to stop Deji. She did not want the office grapevine buzzing about her. She called him.

“My day just brightened!” he said when he answered the call. “So how have you been?”

“I’m fine, thanks,” she said and then got straight to the point. “Deji, you really have to stop sending things to my office. It’s beginning to attract undue attention.” 

“Would you rather I sent them over to your house?”

“I’d prefer you don’t send any gifts at all.”

“To borrow your words, I’m afraid that’s not possible.”

Yemi sighed. “Deji, listen, I’m not ready for any of this. My life has been pretty simple, and I like it that way.”

“Like I said before, let’s go slowly. All I’m asking for right now is just to have dinner with you.”

Yemi just took a deep breath.

“Why are you finding this so hard? It’s just dinner. It’s not like I’m going to kidnap you or something.”

“Let me think about it and get back to you.” 

“Very well then,” Deji replied. “Expect some flowers tomorrow. Roses or orchids? Both suit you. Roses are pretty, just like you, and orchids remind me of your cool, detached air.”

“I didn’t know that you were a poet too,” Yemi said drily.

Deji chuckled. “It must be you. You’re bringing out the inner ‘Lord Byron’ in me.”

Yemi could not help smiling. “You’re a hard case.”

“So what do you say to dinner on Saturday?”

“I wonder why I even bothered calling you,” Yemi thought out aloud. “I should have just ignored your gifts.”

“Well, I’m glad you called. C’mon, Yemi, just dinner.”

“When?” Yemi asked wearily.

“You’re one tough lady.” She could hear the smile in his voice. “Saturday, seven in the evening?”

“All right. I’ll see you then.”

“I’m looking forward to it already, Yemi. Take care.”

Yemi put the phone down slowly. He was a nice guy, at least nice enough for his sister-in-law to be so fond of him. Dotun would not touch Akeem with a long pole.

She was still uneasy as she dressed up for her dinner date with Deji the following Saturday. She had avoided situations like that for a year and had built a comfortable wall around herself, only allowing a few trusted people inside it.

However, despite all of her reservations, she enjoyed her time with Deji. He was very charming and thoughtful. She knew he was still curious about her. She caught it in the looks he gave her, but he thoughtfully steered away from any conversation he noticed she was uncomfortable with.

“So can we do this again soon?” he asked as he drove her home later that evening.

Yemi sighed. “You’re a nice guy, Deji, but I’m not interested in having an affair with anyone.”

He looked hurt by what she said. “An affair? Yemi, from the first day I met you, I knew you were not that kind of lady.”

“So what do you want from me?”

“I think it’s the way I started that has scared you. Let us just be friends for now.”

“Deji, why can’t you just go after someone else?”

“Because I like you, Yemi. Please give me a chance to be your friend. I promise I’ll not put any pressure on you.”

Yemi stared ahead. She was not convinced by what he had said.

“Just friends, Yemi,” Deji repeated, glancing sideways at her.

“Deji, I’m not ready for a relationship with any man,” Yemi warned him. “And the friendship will be off if I get any pressure from you in that direction. Agree?”

“Agree,” Deji replied with a smile.

∞∞∞

Over the next few months, Yemi saw Deji regularly. He was a nice person, and the more she got to know him, the more she felt relaxed around him. She told him bits about her marriage to Akeem, and he was very understanding and sympathetic. He also told her about his late wife. They had been very close.

He was very keen to meet her family and anyone connected to her, but Yemi politely put him off that idea. She didn’t know how to explain him to others. “Meet Deji, my friend for now, but who would love to be more than just friends.”

No, that wouldn’t do at all. There were times when she felt uncomfortable and tried to break off their “friendship.” She felt Deji was too sweet to be wasting his time on her, but he seemed to sense when she was pulling away, and he would back off anything he thought was pressure from him and withdraw a little but remain very nice.

He and Aleena got along well. He planned outings so that Aleena and his kids could go along with them.

“I like Tolu and Tope,” Aleena said to Yemi after one of such outings. “Maybe they can be my sister and brother,” she added before frowning slightly. “But they are the same age as me.” She turned to her mother. “It won’t be as much fun as having my own little sister or brother, right, Mummy?”

Yemi had no answer.

∞∞∞

Dammy invited Yemi for her dad’s sixtieth birthday party a few months later. Deji picked her up.

The party had not started properly when they arrived. She could see Lola, Dammy, and Lara darting around, trying to get things organized. Dammy looked in their direction, and walked over to them.

“Hey,” Deji said, smiling as Dammy got to their table. “I brought your guest for you.”

“Thanks! Looking great as usual, Yemi,” Dammy said, looking at Yemi’s outfit. “And thanks for coming.”

“Thanks for inviting me. I got this for your dad,” she said, holding out the gift to her.

“Thanks a lot.” Dammy waved Lola over.

“Hey,” Lola said, first hugging Yemi and then Deji. “You look great, Yemi!”

“I was just telling her that,” Dammy chipped in.

“What about me?” Deji asked. “Feeling left out here.”

“It’s enough that you’re accompanying this very pretty lady!” Lola giggled. “But anyway, yes, you do look good, darling brother of mine.” She turned to Yemi. “My parents are here. They can’t wait to meet you.” She winked at Deji. “Your parents are here as well, Deji,” she added. “They are sitting over there.” She pointed towards the general direction of the front of the hall.

“I’ll see them later,” Deji said.

“Why don’t you guys come join us at our table?” Dammy asked.

Deji looked at Yemi’s face. “Thanks, but I think we’re okay here. We’ve got a good view of everything going on from here.”

Yemi brow’s furrowed slightly as she wondered what Lola had told her parents about her. They were Deji’s in-laws as well. It was very likely that she had told them she and Deji were in a relationship. The thought of that made her very uneasy.

The party swung into full gear about twenty minutes later as the compere took to the stage. He was a very witty man, and Yemi found herself laughing at his jokes.

She was talking to Deji a while later and was a bit startled when she heard her name.

“Hello, Yemi. So we finally meet.”

Yemi turned around to see a lady somewhere in her late fifties smiling sweetly at her. She immediately recognized her as Deji’s mother. She had seen pictures of her at Deji’s house.

“Good afternoon, Ma,” Yemi said, curtseying in the Yoruba traditional way. She felt a little uneasy. Coming to this party had obviously not been a smart move on her part.

“Good afternoon, my dear,” Deji’s mother responded, giving her a hug. She looked Yemi up and down. “You’re even prettier than Deji told us. His dad and I have been really looking forward to meeting you.” Yemi did not know what to say, but luckily Mrs. Phillips turned towards Deji. “I hope you’ve been taking good care of her?”

Deji winked at Yemi. “Have I?”

Yemi was feeling embarrassed and did not know how to respond.

His mother smiled indulgently at both of them. “You must really come and see us, Yemi. We would love to have you over for dinner sometime soon.”

“Thank you, Ma,” Yemi replied.

“We shall look forward to seeing you then,” Deji’s mother said as she prepared to move off.

“What did you tell your mum about me?” Yemi asked Deji after his mother had left.

He looked steadily back at her. “That you’re my friend?”

Yemi was not convinced. “Just that?”

He shrugged. “Honestly, that’s all, but my mum says I’ve changed since I met you.” He looked at her worried face and smiled slightly. “Hey, why that look? Much as I’d love to tell everyone that we’re more than friends, I haven’t done so because we’re still just friends, right?” he asked, looking searchingly into her eyes as if he wanted her to say otherwise.

“Right,” Yemi said.

He looked slightly disappointed but hid it quickly behind a grin. “So in that case, there’s nothing stopping you from having dinner at my parents’ place sometime soon, right?”

“Wrong,” Yemi replied, and he laughed.

Chapter 19

 

Akeem smiled as he watched Lois dance. Her long tresses were tossed around her pretty face as she moved along to the beat of the music. She was a good dancer, fluid and graceful in her movements. She stretched out an arm towards him, inviting him to join her, but he shook his head. He was having a good time relaxing on the lounger, and that suited him just fine.

He took a sip from the drink that was sitting by his side. It was a Saturday, and they were sitting by the swimming pool at his house. Aleena was away at Nadia’s son’s birthday party and would not be back until much later in the evening.

Lois pulled a crazy dance move and looked over at him. He laughed and gave her the thumbs-up. She was fun to be with. There was never really a dull moment around her.

She had been staying with him on and off now for a few weeks. She was aware of his marital status and apart from Sara and Hasan, she was cool with his other friends. Due to her friendship with Yemi, Sara made sure she maintained as little contact with Lois as possible. Hasan was a die-hard Yemi advocate anyday; he and Yemi were still very much in contact, and he had hopes that Yemi and Akeem would reconcile someday. But as far as Akeem was concerned, reconciliation with Yemi was something he was not going to lose any sleep over.

“Hey, handsome,” Lois said a few minutes later, dropping into the lounger beside him. She stretched herself luxuriously and turned to him. “Did you enjoy my dancing?”

Akeem smiled. “Yeah…you can move.” His eyes swept lazily over her body. That she was a pretty lady was not in doubt. Tall, with a figure that turned heads wherever they went, she was a girl most guys would be proud to be seen with. “But you can still brush up your act by watching the masters.” He grinned. “People like me.”

“Yeah, right.” Lois said as she popped her Gucci sunglasses on top of her head. “By the way, what do you have planned for tonight?”

“Nothing much. Do you have anything in mind?”

“I thought that we could go to Bresca,” she said, referring to an exclusive club in Victoria Island. “I’ve not been there in a while, and I feel like having a lot of fun this weekend—at least while I have your undivided attention.”

“You always have my undivided attention,” Akeem teased. He turned on his side and looked at her. “How can I not be attentive to a lovely lady like you?”

Lois smiled back at him, her eyes holding his. “And yet…” She stopped midsentence.

“And yet what, my pretty lady?”

“Not to worry.” She looked a little sombre, which was unlike her. Akeem looked at her quizzically. She shrugged her shoulders. “So we go to Bresca tonight,” she continued, snapping back to her usual self. “Let me see, do I have anything suitable to wear? Not sure. I may have to pop home quickly to pick up a couple of things.”

“That’s fine.” He looked up and saw Bassey coming towards them with a trolley. Lois saw him too and sat up.

“Good, I was just getting a teensy bit hungry,” she said. “I hope he has some spare ribs on that trolley. Bassey makes the most amazing spare ribs ever!”

When Bassey got to them, he displayed the contents of the trolley. There was fresh vegetable salad, the spare ribs Lois had been looking forward to, grilled fish, chicken, and some other finger foods that looked very inviting.

“Mmmm, so tasty, and spicy too, just the way I like it,” Lois said, taking a delicate bite out of one of the spare ribs. “Thanks, Bassey.”

“You’re welcome, ma’am.”

Akeem looked at his face. Another Yemi loyalist. He was always very official around Lois. Polite but distant. Bassey took out the bottle of wine from the ice bucket and tried to open it.

“Let me do that,” Akeem said, stretching out his hand for the bottle. He opened it and filled Lois’s cup and then his. “That will be all, Bassey. Thanks for the food.”

“I need to come and take some lessons from you, Bassey.” Lois smiled at him. “These ribs are amazing!”

Bassey smiled politely.

Cooking was not one of Lois’s strong points, very unlike…Akeem stopped abruptly and shook his head to clear the thought. He always tried to prevent himself from comparing her with Yemi. Lois had so many other good qualities. She didn’t need to be a world-class chef, and anyway he had Bassey if he needed gourmet dishes.

He picked out some grilled chicken and fish from the platter and added some salad on the side.

“Aren’t you trying the ribs?” Lois asked him. She held out a piece to him, and he took a bite from it. She started to add some to his plate, but he shook his head.

“They are nice, but I’m not really a spare ribs person. Bassey makes those because of you. Do you want to try the chicken? It’s spicy as well.” He held out a piece to her with his fork. She opened her mouth, and he fed her. She smiled and chewed it, and he found himself thinking again how pretty she was. Pretty and stressless.

“Hmmm, maybe we should have a little party soon, like a soirée.” An excited look came into her eyes. “We can use the garden, or even have it here by the poolside. What do you think?”

“I’m going to be busy for the next couple of weeks, but after that, why not?”

“Great! Lily will be back from the States by then,” she said, referring to her younger sister. “It will be a blast to have her there!”

He watched the animated look on her face as she talked about what she had in mind. She had enough steam to plan the whole of his social life for the next year if he allowed her to. She was a good social hostess, dressed nicely, and could hold a conversation with anyone, including his many business associates, without being fazed by them.

Even his precious daughter liked her. Aleena was not impressed with her cooking, though, and she had told Lois candidly, after one disastrous attempt by her to make lunch, that her mummy was the best cook in the whole wide world. But despite that, they still got on fine. Lois, on her part, had not been upset by Aleena’s statement. She was the first person to laugh at her own cooking skills anyway. That was another reason why Akeem liked her. She laughed at life and did not take things too seriously. What she lacked in cooking skills, she made up by having a warm, lovable nature. She loaded Aleena with gifts and arranged fun outings for her.

Yes, she would make a good partner. So he wondered to himself why the thought of getting more committed to her did not thrill him. He was okay with his relationship with her, but going a step further, getting a divorce from Yemi, and actually proposing to her was another matter altogether.

“Maybe I should draw up a list, nothing too big, just a few close friends,” Lois said, interrupting his thoughts. “Any particular people you’d like to invite?”

He shrugged. “You know my friends. Maybe you can add Fola Lawal from my office. That guy needs to unwind a little. He’s been working too hard.”

“See who’s talking about working too hard,” Lois teased.

“I’m a lot better now, aren’t I? Especially now that I have you in my life.”

She looked pleased at his comment, and for a moment she stared searchingly into his eyes. “I can’t fathom you out sometimes,” she finally said, shaking her head. “Sometimes I think I’ve got you all figured out, and then bam! Just like that, you do or say something to throw me off.”

Akeem smiled. “I thought I was a pretty easygoing guy.”

She sighed. “I wish, but well, my heart is stuck on you.” She looked quiet for a moment and then seemed to shrug off her mood and looked bright again. “So, I shall add Fola to the guest list. My friends will definitely like to see someone like him. That guy is such a looker!”

“Hey,” Akeem protested. “I better knock him off the list if my girl’s going to be looking at him.”

Lois giggled. “No need to sweat, handsome. Fola is good looking, but he’s got nothing on you!”

Akeem pretended to breathe a sigh of relief. “That’s better!”

Lois made a face. “Like you have anything to worry about.” She poked him in the abdomen and pretended to wince with pain. “How can I look at another guy when I’ve got you?” she asked, running her fingertips over his abs.

He smiled and looked into her eyes. At the same time, he wondered why he could not take what he thought should be the next logical step with this woman who obviously liked him so much.

∞∞∞

Yemi looked at her phone as a call came in. She saw from the caller ID that it was Deji. She decided she would call him back later.

“You can take your call,” Bibi, the Nollywood actress whose dress she was fitting, said to her. “I appreciate you seeing me at such short notice, and I’m not in a hurry.”

Yemi smiled. “Thanks, but let’s just sort out your dress first.”

Deji did not know that she was at work. It was a Saturday, and she had told him that she was not working that day, but Bibi had called that she wanted to collect her dress that morning. Ken and Francis were in the office, but Bibi was one of those clients whom she preferred to handle herself, so she had gone to the office to do the fitting and collection.

“Are you sure you want me to take it in any farther than this?” Yemi asked her. She had already taken the dress two inches tighter than what her actual measurements were, but knowing Bibi, she was never satisfied with a dress until it looked like she had been poured into it.

“Yes, I do,” she replied, holding the two ends of the fabric together at her waist. “Just a little bit tighter.”

“All right, no worries. I’ll do that, but do you mind picking it up on Monday?”

“I’ll send my driver to get it,” Bibi said, unzipping the dress right there and slipping out of it. Yemi had gotten used to ladies like Bibi who stripped in her office without any thought of someone else coming in through the unlocked door. There were changing rooms, but they probably felt they had such great bodies that they could flaunt it anywhere.

Bibi looked at herself in her lacy underwear in the mirror for a long moment before walking over to the changing room to put on her own dress which she had left in there.

“Thanks, Yemi, I’ll let you know what designs I want from the ones you showed me,” she said when she came back into the office a couple of minutes later. She stood before the mirror again and patted her dress in place. “I have about five parties lined up over the next few weeks, and I want to look seriously fabulous at each of them.”

“I’m sure you will,” Yemi replied. “Let me know as soon as you make up your mind what designs you want.”

“You know what? I’m just going to allow you to choose for me. But be careful, though. You know how fussy I can be,” she added.

Yemi smiled to herself after Bibi left. In the past, Bibi could kick up a fuss and would refuse a perfectly fitted dress depending on what mood she was in. She was a lot calmer now. Yemi was thankful for the fact that people’s attitudes rarely bothered her, otherwise there was no way she could have dealt with the divas that now frequented her fashion house.

Doing the charity fashion show with Cerys had been the best business decision she had ever made. It had opened her up in a good way, and celebs like Bibi felt she had to be good if Cerys was comfortable wearing outfits that she had made. The newspaper reviews had also helped. Now, she had a steady flow of customers, even in seasons when she knew there was a bit of a drought in the fashion world.

She brought out her phone and called Deji.

“Hey, I was just about to call you again,” he said. “Still in bed?”

“I wish. I’m at work.” She explained the situation with Bibi to him.

“At least you’ve sorted her out now,” he said. “I’m going to get some Chinese food and then come over to your place. Is there anything you’d like?”

“Haagen-Dazs, chocolate flavour.”

“Of course, I should have thought about that.” She could hear the smile in his voice. He was getting used to her sweet tooth. “Alright, see you in a bit.”

Yemi smiled as she disconnected the call. She had grown to like him a lot in the six months since they had become friends. He had a way of making her relax, and she absolutely loved his kids.

She valued his friendship and thought him a great guy, but that was all there was to it for her. There were none of the heady feelings she had once had with Akeem. She and Akeem could have a roomful of people between them, and yet one look was enough to convey their feelings. So it was easy for her to know that what she felt for Deji was very different. And even though she tried to will it, she still could not bring herself to think of him in any way other than as a friend.

∞∞∞

Deji arrived at her house about forty minutes after she got in herself. She opened the door to see him laden with Chinese takeaway bags and tubs of Haagen-Dazs. Trust him to go the extra mile.

“Hey,” he said, eyeing her in her pale-yellow, sleeveless dress appreciatively. “You look like a slice of sunshine.”

“Thanks.” Yemi smiled. She relieved him of some of the things he was carrying. “Whoa, you’ve brought lots to eat,” she said, eyeing the bags.

“I have to work hard to get you to eat properly, so I got a variety of dishes I knew you’d like,” he said, following her into the kitchen. He set the dishes on the granite work surface.

“Are the twins still with your parents?” Yemi asked him after they had set the table and settled down to eat.

“Yes, they will be there until the weekend when we fly out to Spain.”

“I’m going to miss you.”

He looked at her but did not say anything.

She knew what was going through his mind. He had asked her several times to come along with them, and each time, she had declined. “Don’t you believe me?” she said, rolling some Taiwanese stir noodles on her fork and popping them into her mouth.

“Then come with us,” he said.

“That’s too late now. The cost of tickets will have skyrocketed by now.”

“Just tell me you’ll come and leave the tickets to me.”

“The airlines will likely not even have seats anyway.”

He put down his fork and brought out his phone “I have a very good travel agent. She can normally arrange flights at very short notice. The worst that can happen will be us going in separate flights.”

“That won’t be fun,” Yemi hedged. “Let’s leave this for another time, and we’ll plan it properly.”

He picked up his fork again and resumed eating. She looked at him, and their eyes met. She looked away. They ate in silence for a while. She was taking a sip of her drink when she noticed he was still looking at her.

“What?”

He smiled slowly. “Someday.”

“Someday, what?”

“Just someday.”

They finished eating and cleaned up together. They were discussing Lola’s upcoming wedding when the doorbell rang.

“Abby!” she exclaimed with delight as she saw her friend standing on her doorstep. “What good wind has blown you my way today?”

Abby laughed as they hugged each other. “I decided to surprise you! You’re looking good, girl! Who did your hair?” she began, and then stopped when she saw Deji. “Hi.” She smiled at him “How’re you doing?”

“I’m well, thank you,” Deji replied. “How’s the family?”

“Good, good. My kids are with my husband so I decided to come see this lady!”

They chatted for a while, and then Deji said he had to be on his way. Yemi walked him to the door, but he stopped her from following him outside. “I’ll call you later tonight.”

“All right then, thanks for coming around and also for the food.”

“You’re always welcome. Let me know if you change your mind about Spain,” he added with a half-teasing expression on his face.

Yemi smiled back at him. “You may be surprised!”

“I’d love to be surprised.” He held her eyes for a moment. “So, shall I expect your call?”

“Let’s wait and see.”

“Don’t want to get my hopes up for nothing, so I shall take that as a no.” He touched her cheek lightly. “Take care. Speak to you later.”

Yemi closed the door to find Abby watching her with her raised brows.

“What on earth do you think you’re doing, Yemi Kadiri?”

“How do you mean?”

“Do you realise that guy is in love with you?”

“Is he? I’ve told him I’m not interested in a relationship with him, and he said he’s okay with us just being friends.”

Abby looked at her incredulously. “And you honestly believe that? His feelings for you are as plain as the nose on my face!” She sighed and shook her head “This is a dangerous game you’re playing, and someone is bound to get hurt.”

“Can’t I have a friend?” Yemi asked defensively. “He’s been very nice to me, and I like him.”

Abby exhaled slowly. “Yemi, the guy is very nice, no doubt, and I would fully support your relationship if you were single.”

“I’m single. A single mother.”

“Feel free to tell yourself that, but the last time I checked, you were still Mrs. Yemi Kadiri.”

“Thanks for the reminder, but anyway, I’m not in a relationship with Deji.”

“Then what do you call whatever it is that you guys have going on?”

Yemi rubbed her hand across the back of her neck. She didn’t need a lecture. “Believe me, I’ve tried to tell Deji several times how I feel, and he has assured me that he is content with just being my friend.”

“He is not being true to himself, and you’re making yourself vulnerable by being with him.”

Yemi frowned. Was Abby not getting things mixed up here? “Have you forgotten that I’m no longer with Akeem? And anyway, it’s not like I’m having an affair with Deji or anything like that.” She wrinkled her nose. “At least I’m still better than Akeem, who is going about with different women.”

“I’m not talking about Akeem. I’m talking about you.” Abby stopped and stared at Yemi. “Yemi, I’ve tried not to put pressure on you, but I believe you should take steps to deal with the issues you’ve been through.”

“Maybe the first step I should take is to get a divorce from Akeem,” Yemi muttered. “Come to think of it, he’d probably be relieved. That will free him up to marry his girlfriend.”

“So why do you think he has not instituted divorce proceedings against you?”

Yemi frowned. “Maybe he wants to be able to tell Aleena that the decision was mine.”

“I don’t think so, but anyway, I think the first step you should take is to ask God for healing concerning all the hurt in your heart, and then you can take it from there.”

∞∞∞

Yemi pondered over her conversation with Abby, but when she saw pictures of Akeem and Lois at some function a few days later, she felt herself getting angry all over again. She looked at his impeccably fitted tuxedo and the comments the papers had made about him and Lois. They were supposed to be a power couple because of their wealthy backgrounds, and the papers said they would make an ideal match. Of course, to make the story juicer, they went onto write about Akeem and Yemi’s fairytale-like wedding a few years earlier and how gutted they were that the marriage had not lasted.

Yemi was angry at the story and shrugged off her feelings of guilt over Deji. She wasn’t doing anything wrong, after all. Akeem was the adulterer. She just had a nice friend around her.

Deji invited her to dinner a few days later. She accepted and, because of her mood, went out of her way to look really good. She knew she had succeeded when she looked at herself in the mirror, and the way Deji’s eyes widened in admiration later on that evening confirmed it.

“You look absolutely beautiful!” he told her as he took in her one-shouldered, Sapphire blue, Grecian-style evening dress with a floor-grazing skirt. The dress lightly skimmed over her, showing off her slim figure to full advantage.

“Thanks, Deji. You look great too.”

“I’m the lucky chap here, escorting such a beautiful woman to dinner.”

Yemi smiled. She wished he had met him eight years earlier, but then again, he was happily married back then. She sighed inwardly; life could be so complex

She looked out of the window as Deji drove them towards Victoria Island. She loved the island at night. The dazzling array of multiple lights coming from every direction lit the evening skies, giving it a fairytale-like look. It was a very different look from the manic place it could be during the day.

About twenty minutes later, he turned into the parking lot of a restaurant. She looked curiously at the sign in front of the restaurant: La Crae. It appeared to be a new place.

“Hmmm…this place looks very nice,” she said as he opened the door for her.

“I’m trying to impress some lady, you know.” He smiled. “I’m hoping this may help me score some brownie points with her.”

“I’m sure she’ll be really impressed,” Yemi said, nodding solemnly. “I mean, she’s just got to be. Taking her here must cost a few pennies.”

“She is very special and worth every single penny.” He held out his arm to her. “Shall we go in, my lady?” Yemi laughed and took his arm.

She looked appreciatively at the interior of the restaurant. A waiter led them to the VIP section, where Deji had booked a table. They ordered drinks and the waiter left them with the menus.

“This is a lovely place. I’m already loving it,” Yemi remarked.

“Does that mean that I’m definitely scoring some points, then?”

She pretended to think about it. “A few,” she conceded.

“That’s not fair, but I’ll keep trying to improve my ratings. I’ll get there soon.”

She smiled at him. “You don’t need to try, Deji. You’re a great guy just by being who you are.”

He reached across the table and squeezed her fingers lightly. “Thanks, that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever told me.”

“Is it?” she teased. “Stick around, and you’ll hear some more.”

She regretted the words when she saw the hope that flared in his eyes.

“I intend to,” he said softly. He seemed to sense her discomfort and changed the topic; very soon she was laughing at his jokes. She didn’t know how he could relate such stories while maintaining a straight face himself.

“Whoa, this trout tastes so good,” Yemi said, savouring the taste of the fish when they were served their main course. Every bite of it was simply delicious. “I wonder how they did it.” She flipped a piece over, trying to decide how it was made; it was definitely baked. She would try to do it at home sometime.

“If you remain all smiley like this, I will order some takeaway for you.”

She smiled and took a sip of her wine. “Is that smile wide enough?”

“Hmmm.” He pretended to consider it. “Nice, but a little bit more will do nicely.”

She giggled. “Can’t smile any wider than this, but this is straight from the heart, so it should do.”

“I love it when you smile,” he said softly, looking into her eyes. “And yes, you will definitely get some takeaway, but you have to keep the smiling face up all night, otherwise you lose points.”

“Well, I can’t let that happen then, can I?” She took another sip of her wine and glanced casually around the room. There were a few other diners in the section where they were. She almost did a double take when her eyes collided with Akeem’s. Her smile froze. He had obviously been watching her. He was with a lady, but Yemi could not see her face because her back was towards Yemi.

“Are you okay?” Deji’s voice seemed to be coming from far away. She tried to compose herself.

“I’m fine.”

Deji looked slightly puzzled by the expression on her face. “No, you’re not fine. What’s going on?” he asked gently, taking her hand in his.

“Nothing, just that Akeem is here. He’s seated about three tables away,” she told him. Deji’s back was towards Akeem, so he would not be able to see him. “But please don’t look in his direction.”

Deji seemed to tense up a little, but he continued to stroke her hand. “He is not alone, is he?”

“No, he’s with someone.”

“So let’s ignore him and concentrate on our dinner. We’re here to have a good time, and we’ll do just that.”

He was right, Yemi thought to herself. Why should Akeem’s presence bother her? She glanced in Akeem’s direction again. He was still looking at her. She lifted her chin a little defiantly before looking away. He could think whatever he wanted. She took a sip of her wine and concentrated on what Deji was saying.

Deji talked to her about a course he was attending in a few months. She kept her eyes on his face and a smile on her lips, but she was only half listening because it seemed like someone somewhere was bent on having fun at her expense that night: the classical jazz music that had been playing in the background since they arrived had suddenly changed, and the next thing she heard was the strains of the song “I knew I loved You” by Savage Garden.

That had been their favourite song. Memories she didn’t want to remember contended for a place in her mind. Newly pregnant with Aleena, lying back on the recliner on the balcony outside their bedroom. Akeem by her side, stroking her hair and singing along in his deep baritone voice to the music playing softly in the background. The warm evening breeze whispering softly around them as she looked into the eyes of the man she thought she would spend the rest of her life with.

She looked towards him. He was looking at her too, and somehow she knew he was remembering as well. She forced herself to concentrate on what Deji was saying but knew the evening was getting spoilt for her.

A few minutes later, she looked up to find a familiar figure walking towards the section where she was sitting with Deji. She was more than a little taken aback when she saw that it was Justin, Shona’s husband. Just great! Another person she knew, she thought to herself gloomily. She wouldn’t be surprised if her mother-in-law walked in next. Maybe she should have just given out invites to the Kadiri clan and friends!

She averted her eyes, hoping that Justin would not see her, but luck was clearly not on her side. He stopped midstride when he noticed her and began walking towards them.

“Yemi, what a pleasure to see you here!” he said, smiling warmly at her. “You’re looking beautiful as usual. How have you been?”

“I’m fine, Justin. It’s good to see you too,” she lied, mustering up a bright smile. She introduced him to Deji and they shook hands. “Are you here alone?” she asked him, wondering where Shona was.

“Yes, I’m at work actually. I own this place.” He smiled at the look of surprise on her face. “I opened it about three months ago,” he added.

“Oh really? Congrats! It’s a lovely place,” she replied, wondering why no one had mentioned it to her. Not even Sara aka her freelance news broadcaster who took pleasure in giving her updates on everyone connected to Akeem.

“Thanks, you’re kind. I was told by my staff that Akeem was around, and I came out to say hello to him,” he said. “I hope everything is to your liking?” Yemi nodded. “Well then, I’ll see you before you go,” he added and then smiled at Deji before moving on.

“His wife was the one who did up my office,” Yemi explained to Deji after Justin had left. “They’re close friends of Akeem,” she added a little lamely.

Deji changed the topic. She tried to follow the conversation, forcing herself to make comments and willing her eyes to stay on his face, but it proved to be a struggle.

Justin was talking on his walkie-talkie by the time he was done with Akeem. He gave her a signal as he left the room, indicating that he would see her before she left. She nodded and gave him a small wave. She was relieved he had not come over again. She could see Deji was not comfortable with his connection to Akeem.

“Rule The World” by Take That, another favourite song of theirs, began to play a few minutes later. She thought it was a coincidence until “Everything I Do” by Bryan Adams came on immediately afterwards, followed by “Our Love Will Last Forever,” and then “I Knew I Loved You” came on again. She felt sure it was no coincidence. Those were their songs. She was not too sure how he’d done it, but she felt strongly that Akeem had something to do with the choice of music playing. From the corner of her eye, she saw the woman with him stand up and say something to him before walking away. Yemi recognised her; it was Lois. Yemi looked at her as she made her way across the room. Nice dress. Nice figure. Who cared?

Her eyes strayed towards Akeem again. His eyes were on her. She still could not shake the feeling that he was responsible for those songs. She felt he was playing with her, willing her to remember their time together while she was with another man.

She didn’t realise she was frowning until Deji’s “Are you okay?” brought her back. He was looking at her face with concern.

“Not really.” There was no use pretending anymore. The evening was ruined for her. “Is it okay if we skip dessert and leave?”

Deji inhaled deeply. “Because of him? Why do you have to be the one to leave?”

“Somehow I don’t care about that right now,” she said a little tightly. “But we can stay on if you want to.”

“No, it’s okay. I’ll just settle the bill.”

He took her for a drive afterwards. That lightened her up a little. She was sorry she had spoilt the evening he had carefully planned for them, but she was also angry with herself for not being able to sit through the songs coolly without giving Akeem the satisfaction that he had gotten to her.

Maybe Abby was right. Perhaps it was time for her to start dealing with all the baggage from her past.

∞∞∞

Akeem finished his meeting and headed back to the office. The meeting had gone well. Everyone seemed motivated and charged up about making Ka-Tell a household name.

Profits were at their highest yet. The network was expanding across the different states, and Ka-Tell was getting excellent reviews from the media. Life appeared good, so he should be in a good mood, but he was not. He had not been for a while.

Everything seemed flat and empty to him. What was it all for? The constant money spinning, the drug-like high of a new achievement. What did it all amount to when all he felt inside was nothing but emptiness?

“There is a delivery here for you, sir,” his personal assistant said as he entered his office. “I left it on your desk.”

“Thanks, Linda,” he said, striding into his office.

He got out a bottle of flavoured water from the fridge and took a sip before opening the big brown envelope that Linda had placed on his desk.

The address of the legal firm caught his attention first. He stared at it before scanning through the rest of the letter.

Dear Mr. Kadiri,

My client has instructed us to file for divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences…

Akeem felt a cold pressure run through his chest as he read through the letter.

“You’ve finally done it,” he muttered through clenched teeth as he pushed the letter away from him. He balled his fist and stared into space. So this was it. The legal end of his marriage.

He placed a call to his personal assistant. “Linda, I’m going to be busy for the next couple of hours. Please take all calls, and I don’t want to see anyone unless it’s an emergency.”

He stared at the letter again. His mind took him to the night when he had seen Yemi and the guy she had been with. Was that the reason she wanted a divorce? Freedom to marry again?

He knew he probably shouldn’t have done what he did, but seeing her that night at Justin’s restaurant with that man had rattled him more than he cared to admit. The cool look she had given him to indicate that his presence there did not bother her had made it worse. There he was, barely able to stop his eyes from straying to her every other minute, and she had appeared totally unfazed, smiling and flirting with her companion.

“I Knew I Loved You” playing shortly afterwards had unwittingly presented him with the weapon to put her coolness to the test. He had seen her reaction to the song when she had looked almost involuntarily towards him and knew that she remembered. Not that cool then, he had thought to himself as he saw her face.

When Justin had come over and asked him if there was anything he wanted, he had asked if the other songs they had both liked could be played.

Lois had looked at him curiously when he made the request.

“I didn’t know you were such a romantic,” she remarked after Justin had left.

He had smiled without saying anything. She had still not known that Yemi was in the restaurant, but when his eyes kept straying in Yemi’s direction, Lois had caught on that something was amiss. Her eyes followed his, and that was when she had seen Yemi sitting a few tables away. He had felt sorry as he saw the hurt expression that crossed Lois’s face. She was a sweet girl, and he didn’t want to hurt her, but obviously Yemi still had a way of getting to him and making him act uncharacteristically.

He took another sip of the flavoured water and then walked across the office to the window overlooking the busy Lagos street below.

The contents of the letter flashed through his mind again. He smiled bitterly to himself. “You aren’t calling the shots on this one, Yemi,” he muttered to himself. “The divorce will only happen when and if I want it to happen.”

Chapter 20

 

 

“Hello Yemi,” Akeem said as he was shown into her office a few days later. His eyes swept over her. She looked good in her peach top, black pants, and black high heels. “Sorry to come to your office without calling first,” he apologised as he sat down on the chair she offered. “I see you’ve done some work here. Very nice.”

“Thank you,” Her expression was shuttered as she looked at him. “How can I help you?”

He allowed his eyes to roam over her face. She still wore her hair the way he liked it, the shoulder-length hair framing her oval face. Classy without being fussy. He forced himself to concentrate on the reason why he was there. “I got the letter from your lawyers,” he said, maintaining eye contact with her.

“I’d have thought that you would want to communicate with me through them as well?”

He knew he had been right to not let her know he was coming. She would definitely have declined seeing him. “I believe we can still have a conversation without needing lawyers.”

“What do you want to discuss?”

He kept his eyes on her face. “I agree that we both need to move on, but the timing is not very convenient for me right now.”

“Convenient?” Her tone was icy.

“Well, as a matter of speaking, my company does not need the negative publicity it could generate. We’re doing a lot of media drive at the moment for Ka-Tell, and frankly, we want the focus to be on that and not on the personal life of the CEO.”

Yemi looked unimpressed. “I don’t see the media getting that interested in our divorce proceedings. We’ve been separated for quite some time. It’s pretty much old news.”

“I’m not sure I’m ready to take that chance. At least, not at the moment, anyway. Some pressmen may think it funny to run the story alongside the media drive Ka-Tell is doing. Those tabloids thrive on matters like this.”

“I can’t say that I agree with you, but what are you suggesting?”

“That you kindly hold off with the divorce suit for the moment. Or better still, that you withdraw it until a little later. I’m sure your lawyer will know what to do.”

She looked at him coldly. “Why should I put my life on hold because of Ka-Tell?” Her lips curled sarcastically. “Like your precious company has not done enough to me already?”

“I’m only asking for a little time. Surely you can give me that.”

“I’m not sure about that. I want this over as soon as possible so I can face other matters.”

Matters like getting married to Deji? At least that’s what his research had showed that the guy was called. He forced his face to remain expressionless. “I understand the delay this may cause to your personal plans, but kindly consider what I have said.”

“Like I said, I will discuss it with my lawyer, and he will get back to you about your request. I’ve got to think about my life too.”

He looked at the stubborn expression on her face and decided that it was time to lay his cards on the table. “I can’t stop you if you insist on going ahead with the divorce, but I would have to deal with it the way we handle anything that may affect the company negatively. Simply put, I’ll hand it over to our public relations team at KH.” He looked her straight in the eye. “And from my experience, I can almost tell you what the sequence will be. There will likely be a press conference as soon as possible. That way we hit the newsstands before the tabloids do. But I’m afraid the emphasis would be on protecting my image and that of the company,” He paused as he allowed the impact of his words to sink in. “I don’t know how prepared you or your lawyer are to handle the media attention or any negative backlash it may have on you.”

“And on your daughter,” she said sarcastically. “Or are you forgetting that?”

“Aleena will be protected as much as possible, but during this process I also intend to seek legal counsel on what custody arrangements would best suit her, especially now that you’re thinking of moving on.”

Her eyes flashed angrily at him, and he knew that he had gotten to her. “I don’t see what our getting divorced has to do with Aleena’s custody. The arrangement we have presently has worked well for the past two years.”

He looked back at her calmly. “The circumstances have changed. Moreover, I would think that I have significantly more to offer my child than you do, but of course that would be a matter for the courts to decide.”

Her anger at his words was almost palpable. He smiled inwardly. She might be successful in her business, but this beautiful wife of his still had some things she needed to learn. Rule number one in warfare: Never let an enemy, real or perceived, see how much effect he has on you. He will simply use it against you.

“There’s more to caring for a child than simply lavishing money on her!” she lashed at him angrily. “But then again, what would you know about that?”

He smiled. “What indeed? But believe me, I love my daughter very much, and whatever I do would be in her best interest.”

“Best interest indeed!” she said scornfully. He could see that she was struggling to keep calm. “How long do you have in mind?” she asked.

“At least a year.”

She bit her lower lip. He felt sorry for her. He knew Aleena was the only reason she would back down. Was she in that much of a hurry to marry Deji?

“And what would have changed by then? The media could still make a fuss.”

“Ka-Tell would be more stable by then. The distraction, if any, would be easier to handle.”

Her eyes were stormy as she looked at him. “I’ll speak to my lawyer and get back to you.”

“Thanks, I shall expect to hear from you,” he said and stood up. “Thanks once again for seeing me.”

She did not respond.

As his driver drove him back to the office, he stared broodingly ahead. He thought over their conversation and felt sure that Yemi would agree to what he had asked, primarily because she was scared he would fight her over Aleena’s custody. He had no such intention, but it helped his cause if she thought he would. Aleena was better off with Yemi. She knew how to keep his daughter in line and had no qualms about putting her foot down when needed.

He leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. He wondered why he was doing what he was doing. He had tried to avoid Yemi as much as possible over the past two years, only seeing her when it was absolutely necessary for Aleena’s sake, but the thought of her getting married to Deji, or any other man, left a bitter taste in his mouth.

His mobile phone vibrated, and he looked at the caller ID. It was Fola. Just what he needed, work. He picked up the call, glad at the opportunity to escape the disturbing thoughts going through his mind.

∞∞∞

“That’s normally one of the preferred ways that PR people deal with negative publicity,” Yemi’s lawyer said, looking at her through his dark-rimmed spectacles. Yemi wanted to explore her options and had gone to see him concerning what Akeem had told her. “They believe they stand a better chance of controlling what the public gets to know if they go to the press first.”

Yemi looked at him gloomily. “I had hoped that this whole thing would be resolved as quietly as possible. What’s the big deal about two adults consenting to a divorce?”

The lawyer drummed on the desk with his pen. “Your husband is a high-profile person, which makes the news interesting fodder for the press if he really does go ahead with the press release. The media would be after you in the guise of hearing your side of the story, and that would generate some headlines for them to sell their papers for the next few weeks.”

Yemi just stared moodily at him.

Her lawyer looked at her. “But I can guarantee you that we will win the case for Aleena’s custody if he brings it up. She is young, and her place is with her mother unless there is something unsavoury he can dig up to use against you and label you an unfit mother.”

“So you are suggesting that I just do as he says?”

“I’m advising you on what the scenario could likely be. It’s your right to seek a divorce anytime you like, and my firm will ensure that you get it, but it’s obviously going to generate a lot more publicity than we had expected.”

Yemi was not happy but knew that the wise thing to do was to go along with Akeem for now. There was no way she was going to let him get a chance to test if the courts would grant him custody of Aleena or not.

He was all sweetness and charm when she called to inform him of her decision.

“Thanks so much, Yemi. I appreciate the sacrifice you’re making.”

She could just imagine the smirk on his face. “Akeem, about Aleena, I don’t ever want her custody to be a matter for the courts to decide.” She struggled to say the next words: “I believe we can settle that amicably between the two of us.”

“I believe so too,” he said smoothly. “But not to worry, we have plenty of time to discuss our daughter’s welfare.”

She resisted the urge to bang the phone on him. She had really looked forward to shutting the door of her marriage to him permanently. And now the thought of remaining his wife, even if it was just on paper, for another year was far from appealing.

∞∞∞

She was still moody by the weekend when she took Aleena to Amanda’s birthday party. Even the sight of all the gaily dressed kids playing around with the party mascots that Teju had hired did nothing to cheer her up.

She sat back and watched the dancing competition later in the afternoon. With the way Eniola was wriggling her little body energetically, she was certainly going to win. It must be the influence of her mother, because Ayo had two left feet and could not dance to save his life. Yemi glanced at Aleena, who was dancing away as well. She was getting so tall, with long legs like her dad.

She remembered the row she’d had with Aleena two days earlier. Akeem had requested that she go with him for an impromptu holiday to America, and Yemi had declined. If he wanted to go on holidays with Aleena, then he needed to tell her in advance.

“It’s Amanda’s birthday. Plus, I’m taking you and Eniola to LegoLand during your half term too,” she told Aleena. “Remember, we planned this some time ago?”

“But I want to go with Daddy and Auntie Lois,” Aleena had insisted. “Daddy said that Auntie Lois is planning lots of fun outings…”

“Well, you can’t go with them!” she had cut in abruptly. “That would have to be another time,” she added in a gentler tone, feeling sorry that she had snapped at her.

Aleena had stared at her, her eyes filling with tears before she had run upstairs to her bedroom. Great, Yemi had thought to herself. What kind of a mother was she? Even her own daughter preferred another woman to her. Her already-bad mood dipped even further.

“Just a little more, and your face will touch the floor.” Sesan’s voice startled her from her thoughts.

“Huh?” She looked at him, a little nonplussed, unable to process what he had just said.

He smiled. “Your very long and gloomy face,” he said as he pulled up a chair and sat beside her. “You look like the weight of the world is resting on your shoulders.”

“Maybe it is,” she muttered.

“Care to share? A problem shared is a problem half solved, remember?”

“Spoken like the wise sage that you are, but thanks, I’m okay.” She was tired of constantly having issues to deal with and needing a shoulder to cry on. Her friends were not complaining, but she wanted to be problem free. She wanted to be the gay and laughing Yemi she had been before the advent of Akeem Kadiri into her life.

A text came in, and she glanced at it. It was Deji asking her if they could meet up later that evening. She texted him back and declined. She thought of Akeem again, a frown playing around her brows. That was how he had been all over her before he married her and yet, he had still treated her shabbily.

“It takes less effort to smile than to frown,” Sesan said, still looking at her face.

“You are brimming with advice this afternoon, aren’t you?” she asked sarcastically.

“I can’t help being so wise,” he quipped. “It just comes naturally to me.”

She made a face at him. She heard her name and turned around to see Teju coming towards them.

“Hey, Yemi, can you hold Jed for me?” Teju said, handing her thirteen month-old son over to her. “I need to supervise the caterers.”

“No worries,” Yemi said, taking the child. She smiled, and he mirrored it. He looked so sweet, and she held him close, breathing in his fresh baby smell.

“Shez, give me a hand, will you?” Teju called out to him as she went into the house.

“See you in a bit, Yemi,” Sesan said as he followed his sister.

Jed babbled some words as if he was answering his uncle, and Yemi smiled. His hand went for her earrings.

“You like my earrings?” Yemi asked him. “But you’re a boy. I’d share with you if you were a girl like me.”

She moved her head slightly away as he reached out to touch her earrings again. She rubbed her forehead on his, and he giggled. She looked at his laughing face, and it tugged at her heartstrings. He was Teju’s third child. All her close friends had at least two children. Some had three. She had gotten married before all of them and here she was, almost divorced.

The reverend of the church where she had grown up was fond of saying that the race was not for the swift, and now she knew the reason why. She had always been ahead of most of her classmates academically and had married before all of them. Allowing herself to fall for an attractive player from an evil family had stalled her life, and she didn’t know if she would ever recover from the scars.

∞∞∞

Aleena stood up from the footstool she had been sitting on while Yemi did her hair and looked into the mirror with delight.

“It’s so pretty, Mummy,” she said, touching the braids. “Can you do it all the time for me now?”

“We’ll see how that goes, honey, but if I’m not busy, why not?” Yemi told her. “Now let’s go have some lunch. Your dad’s driver should be around soon.”

Aleena told her about her sleepover at Eniola’s the previous night while they ate. She’d had a wonderful time and was in a chatty mood about it. Chloe had also been at the sleepover. Yemi could just imagine the racket that the three of them would have gotten up to at Eniola’s house.

“You know what, Mummy?” she said, looking at Yemi with a serious expression on her face. “Eniola, Chloe, and I have agreed to be sisters.”

“Good for you,” Yemi replied just as solemnly. Aleena looked happy that her mother had taken her statement seriously.

“But you know that they already have their sisters?” she continued, and Yemi nodded. “So I’m going to be their second sister and they will be my second and third sister.” She paused. “But do you think I’ll have my own first sister one day, Mummy?”

“Um…” Yemi murmured.

That seemed to satisfy Aleena, and since she still had more to tell Yemi, she continued her chatter.

Yemi’s mind went to the last hormonal assay she’d had done a while back. Her FSH was still high, according to the specialist, but the results varied each month, and she had just stopped doing them. What was the point, anyway?

They finished their lunch, and Yemi got Aleena changed and ready for Akeem’s driver. She had just finished packing Aleena’s case when she heard the doorbell. She looked down at her blue chino shorts and cropped flowery top and tried to wipe off some whitish stains from the shorts. It didn’t go off. She shrugged and let it be. It would just be Akeem’s driver at the door anyway. It would only take a couple of minutes, and they would be on their way.

“Hello, Yemi,” Akeem said when she opened the door. He smirked at her surprised expression. His eyes swept over her. “I thought I’d come pick Aleena up myself.”

She stared at him suspiciously. He had never come to pick Aleena up by himself in the past. If anything, he always acted like he wanted to avoid coming to her house

“Aleena is all ready to go,” she said shortly, looking over her shoulder into the sitting room. “Alee, your dad’s here to pick you.”

“Daddy!” Aleena squealed, coming towards the door. “You came yourself!”

Yemi stood aside reluctantly as Aleena launched herself at Akeem. He crouched to return her hug and lifted her up. She giggled up at him in excitement.

“How’s my princess doing?” he asked as he lowered her back on the ground.

“All good! Been having so much fun!” She began to describe her sleepover to her dad, who followed her into the sitting room. Yemi saw him glance around the room quickly, as if expecting to see someone else. He caught her looking at him and smiled maddeningly at her. He had probably been expecting Deji to be there.

“I’m glad you’ve been having fun, Alee,” he said, turning his attention back to Aleena.

“Daddy, you’ve never seen my room!” Aleena was blissfully unaware of the undercurrents of tension between her parents. “You have to see it. Mummy’s done it up really pretty!”

“That would be nice.” He looked towards Yemi again. “That is, if your mum doesn’t mind.”

She wished she could say no, but she had no reason not to allow him see his daughter’s room. “That’s okay,” she said, shooting daggers at him with her eyes.

He looked amused at her obvious reluctance. “Thanks…nice place you have here,” he said as he followed Aleena upstairs.

Yemi said nothing. She eyed his Levi’s jeans and snugly fitted blue Hugo Boss polo shirt. So what if he looked good? What was the use of an attractive player to any woman?

She remained downstairs while they went upstairs. She was almost seething with annoyance. She felt like her personal space was being invaded.

“Daddy likes my room, Mummy!” Aleena said when they finally came back downstairs. “I wanted to show him yours too. I told him about your big teddy. Daddy said he would have to ask you first before going in, but I know you would not mind.”

Akeem’s eyes gleamed with mischief as they met hers. “I’d have loved to see the teddy. What’s it’s name? Or is it a he?”

Yemi ignored him. “Alee, I’m sure your dad will like to be on his way now, so let’s not hold him up.”

“Oh, but he said he is not in a hurry. Didn’t you say so, Daddy?” Her father nodded. “Because I told him about the nice roast that we had for lunch and that we still have some leftover.” Aleena was obviously still very excited to see her precious father in her “other home” as she called it. “Daddy hasn’t eaten yet. He can have some, can’t he, Mummy?”

Yemi frowned. She glanced at Akeem, expecting him to decline, but he seemed to be enjoying her discomfort. “I’m sure your dad has plans for dinner…”

“I don’t have anything planned, and yes, it would be nice to stay to dinner,” he replied smoothly.

She stared at him, and he looked back at her innocently. She inhaled deeply. She looked towards Aleena, who was now distracted by the cartoon on the TV.

Did the Bible not say something about doing good to nasty people, and that by so doing you heap coals of fire on their heads? A small, wicked smile touched her lips as she looked at him.

“All right then,” she said, moving towards the kitchen. “Give me a few minutes.”

She dished out some of the food on a plate and popped it into the microwave. She could just imagine the coals of fire landing on Akeem’s head. That would help to wipe that annoying smirk off his face. As she turned to get some juice out of the fridge, she was startled to see him lounging by the kitchen door.

“Is there anything you wanted?” she asked him coldly.

He pretended to peer around the kitchen. “I didn’t understand that look on your face a few minutes ago, so I was just checking to see that there are no poisonous substances lying around.”

“As tempting as the thought may be, I still have to consider Aleena,” she retorted, bringing the plate of food out of the microwave. She reached for a tray to place the plate on.

“Would you really like to poison me, Yemi?” he whispered softly in her ear. She jerked around. She didn’t know when he had gotten so close. She glared at him.

“Leave my kitchen!” she said to him furiously, trying to keep her voice down.

“Will your boyfriend object to my being in here? You’re still my wife.”

“I can hardly wait to undo that mistake,” she said, creating more distance between them.

His eyes hardened as he stared at her. “Well, it’s a pity you’ll never be able to wipe off the years we spent together.”

“The memories get more blurred each day!”

“Maybe you need a reminder, then,” he said in a dangerously calm voice as he took a step towards her.

She backed away from him, but he moved closer still. “Keep away from me!” she said shakily. Her eyes darted around, trying to see if she could move past him, but he was blocking her path.

His eyes narrowed as he looked at her. “Is that really fear I see you in your eyes, or something else?”

“It’s disgust!” she said through gritted teeth.

“Really?” His eyes flickered over her face and lingered on her lips. “Shall we test that out, my lovely wife?” He moved closer still.

“Don’t you dare touch me, you filthy player!” she hissed.

He stopped and stared at her. A nerve clenched in his jaw, and she knew she had made him angry. “I’ve got no interest in doing so,” he said to her tersely “You hold no appeal whatsoever to me anymore.” He turned on his heel. “Don’t bother about the food, I’ve lost my appetite.”

She was still fuming after they left. How dare he attempt to touch her with the same hands that he had used to touch Lois, or whatever her name was. She felt his coming to her house had something to do with the divorce. His lawyer had probably advised him to start gathering evidence to prove what a caring dad he was. Maybe he even had some recording device somewhere, capturing every moment of him coming to pick Aleena up. Well, he was not going to succeed. It didn’t matter how rich or connected he was, he was going to have to kill her before she would allow him to take her daughter from her.

Chapter 21

 

It was about midday on a Saturday, and the sun was shining gloriously outside. Yemi hummed softly as she put finishing touches to the food she was cooking. She had woken up feeling refreshed and in a much more cheerful mood than she had been experiencing lately.

The doorbell rang. She wiped her hands on the kitchen towel and headed towards the front door. It had to be Deji. He had called earlier and said that he would pop by when he learnt that she was cooking. He absolutely loved her stir-fried rice.

“Hey!” Deji smiled when he came in.

“Hey,” Yemi said, smiling back at him. She locked the door behind him. “Right on time. I just finished cooking.”

“Great! I deliberately haven’t eaten anything all morning.” He put the bottles of wine he had brought with him on the table. Yemi thanked him.

“There’s plenty to eat, and you can also take some home with you.”

“Thanks, honey,” Deji replied, giving her shoulder a squeeze as she went past him into the kitchen.

They set the table together. Like she had told Deji, there was lots to eat. Grilled fish and chicken, stir-fried rice, vegetable salad, and a nice dessert she had whipped up that morning.

“Very tasty as usual,” Deji complimented her as they began eating. He took another forkful. “I don’t mind having this every Saturday.”

Yemi just laughed. After lunch, they washed up together and then moved into the sitting room.

“This is the life!” Deji sighed contentedly as he relaxed on the sofa. “Good food, great company. What more can a man ask for on a weekend?”

“What more indeed.” Yemi smiled at the expression on his face. “I’ve got this DVD that Dotun lent to me,” she said, getting up. “Let me get it.” 

She slotted it in the DVD player, and soon they were engrossed in the movie—or so she thought, until she looked towards Deji and saw that he was looking at her and not the movie.

“You don’t like the movie?”

“I got distracted, but I think I prefer this view.” He smiled as she averted her face. “You’re so beautiful, Yemi. I could look at you every day for the rest of my life and not get tired.”

“C’mon, Deji, let’s watch this movie, it’s really very interesting.”

“Yemi,” Deji replied, taking her hand in his and refusing to let go of it. “Look at me.”

She looked up for a second, saw the tenderness smouldering in his eyes, and looked away. She sighed inwardly. Why did he want to spoil a perfectly good day? “I’m listening to you,” she replied.

“Yemi, I love you. You know that, don’t you?”

She kept looking down at the carpet as Abby’s words came back to her.

“I’ve known you for over eight months now, and I love you more each day,” Deji said earnestly. “But it’s pure torture being close to you and yet not being able to say confidently that you are mine.”

Yemi didn’t know what to say. She tried to pull her hand away from Deji’s grip, but he would not let go. “Deji, I’m not ready for what you are asking for. I’m still married, remember?”

“But can you not give me some assurance that you will be mine someday?” he pleaded.

“I’m not ready for that, Deji. I still have too much to deal with.”

“Then let’s deal with it together, I know that you’ve been hurt and that you’re scared that it could happen again, but I’m not like that.”

“People who are hurting often hurt other people,” Yemi replied, finally managing to disentangle her hand from his. She stood up. “I don’t want to hurt you. You had a perfect marriage. I had some bad experiences. I wish I could say that I’ve risen above them, but I know I’m still trying to get back to being the woman that I used to be.”

“But I’m not complaining…”

She smiled wryly. “You don’t complain, but I know I hurt you at times with my mood swings.” She looked at his face. “How long do you think you can continue to deal with that?”

“Yemi, listen to me,” Deji said. He came over to where she was standing and put his hands on her shoulders. “I know it’s going to be a process to get you to trust me, and as much as I’d love to marry you tomorrow, I know it’s not possible, and I’m prepared to wait. But I just need some assurance from you that you will be mine someday.”

“Deji, don’t…” Yemi replied, detaching herself from his hold and hating herself when she saw the pain in his eyes. “You’re a good man, but not for me. Not now anyway. You deserve more.”

“Honey, let me be the judge of that.” He tried to take her hand again, but she didn’t let him. “Please, Yemi, give us a chance.”

“I can’t.” All the cheeriness she had been feeling earlier had fizzled out. “I knew this was going to happen. That is why I tried so hard not to get involved with you.” She turned towards him. “This has got to stop.”

“What do you mean?”

“We have to stop seeing each other. There’s just no point to it.” She turned away as he tried to stand in her way.

“Yemi, please don’t do this,” he pleaded. “Don’t just give up on us like that.” He continued trying to talk her out of her decision but her mind was made up.

“I’m sorry but it feels like I’m just stringing you along and I don’t think that’s fair on you.” She looked at him. “I’m really sorry,” she apologised again before turning back to the window and staring with unseeing eyes at the lawn outside.

He stood without moving for a few minutes. She refused to turn around. Her back remained turned to him until she heard him leave. She felt tears coming to her eyes and didn’t bother trying to stop them. She knew she had hurt him, and she felt sorry about it, but she was also crying for herself.

Akeem had moved on. He was in a steady relationship and, by all appearances, was having the time of his life. But here she was, sending away a decent guy who loved her so much. Was she going to spend the rest of her life alone? Lonely but too scared to trust again?

She felt confused as tears continued to run down her face. Maybe she should have kept Deji around and hoped her feelings would develop with time. But that wouldn’t be fair to him. Even the cheating Akeem had complained about her coldness and lack of emotional responsiveness to him after she lost the baby.

That coldness was still there, encapsulating her heart. It was like protective antibodies developed to give her some level of immunity against men and their wiles but unfortunately, it also swung into place for a seemingly nice and harmless guy like Deji, and she didn’t know how to selectively deactivate it.

∞∞∞

The next few days passed by slowly for her. She refused to take Deji’s calls and did not reply to his text messages. She knew she was not going to change her mind and blamed herself for not being firm enough with him from the beginning.

But what was more frightening to her was that it was not just Deji—it was about men in general. She did not think she could ever trust any man again, but she was still so young, and life seemed to stretch bleakly in front of her. She had thought success in her business would bring her fulfilment, but she had achieved some measure of success and yet there was still such hollowness within her. An emptiness she could not fill. As she meditated on those thoughts, she found herself depressed again and wishing she had never met Akeem.

By Thursday that week, she felt physically ill. Her head and heart ached, and her insomnia returned with a vengeance. The woman in the mirror confirmed she looked awful. At midday, she handed the affairs of the office over to Ken and left.

She took some painkillers when she got home and dropped onto the sofa. She hoped she would be able to fall asleep. Kufre was away on holiday, and she would have to go pick Aleena up later, but that was a few hours yet.

She was surprised about an hour later to hear her doorbell ring. She ignored the bell, but it kept ringing. Finally, she dragged herself to the door and was surprised to see Sesan on her doorstep.

“Shez,” she said wearily. “What are you doing here at this time of the day?”

“I had to see a client in the neighbourhood around your office. I dropped by your office afterwards and was told that you had left early because you were not feeling well. What’s wrong with you?”

“I’ll be fine, Shez,” she said, looking away from his concerned eyes. She raked her fingers through her hair. She knew she looked like a mess and felt like it. “I just need some rest.”

“Is that why you’ve been crying?” he asked gently, looking at her puffy eyes. “I thought we said no more tears?”

“I’m just so tired. I’ve tried so hard to be happy.” Tears started running down her face as she spoke. “But my life is so empty. Just empty and bleak.”

“Hush, Yemi, don’t speak like that. What or who has upset you?”

She dragged in a shaky breath and told him about Deji. “But am I going to remain like this for the rest of my life?” she asked, trying to wipe her eyes with the handkerchief that Sesan had given her. “I have nightmares where I see myself old, haggard, and all alone. And in some of those nightmares, even Aleena rejects me and blames me for everything that happened between me and Akeem.”

“Yemi, those dreams are a playback of what you’ve been thinking. They’re not real,” Sesan replied, stroking her hand gently. “I’ve told you that your thought process has got to change.”

“I know that, but I never imagined that my life would be like this.”

Sesan continued to stroke her hand as she sobbed. She could hear him praying quietly under his breath until her tears abated.

“Yemi, I know that you may not believe me, but you’re going to be okay.”

Yemi did not respond and just looked forlornly into space.

“You’ll be just fine,” Sesan said. “Where’s Kufre?”

“She’s away on holidays.”

He was silent for a moment before speaking again. “Mmmm…you know what? There is a concert taking place at my church tomorrow evening, and I want you to come along.”

Yemi shook her head. “I’m not in the mood for a concert, and certainly not in a church.”

“I’m really not asking you, I’m telling you,” he said firmly and then smiled when he saw her expression. “I am older than you, remember? You’ve got to respect your elders.”

It was an old joke between them. He was one month older than her and never let her hear the end of it, but in her present mood, even that could not elicit a smile from her.

She frowned slightly. Her head still ached. The painkillers did not appear to have worked, or probably it was because she had been crying. “And you think a concert at your church will make me feel better? Forget it, Shez.”

“One step at a time, honey,” Sesan said, continuing to stroke her hand. “The music is relaxing, and the atmosphere will be soothing for you.” He smiled at the expression on her face. “C’mon Yemi, it’ll not do you any harm.”

“I don’t feel like going to any concert.”

“Like I said, I’m telling you, not asking you,” Sesan replied.

Yemi shook her head. The last concert she had attended was at the London O2. She had gone with Akeem to see Jayzee live. It had been a good show, but she was not in the mood for anything like that at the moment.

“That was just entertainment,” Sesan replied when she told him.

She continued to argue with him, but it was obvious that Sesan had made up his mind and was not taking no for an answer. He was even more insistent because he was aware that she was going to be alone in the house the next evening. Aleena would have gone to Akeem’s place by then. Yemi finally agreed reluctantly. She was not really looking forward to staying alone, either. Her thoughts were so morbid that she was almost scared of them now.

“Now that we have that settled, what has her ladyship eaten today?” he asked.

“I’m not hungry.”

“Really? Then just wait until this chef rustles something up to tempt your taste buds,” Sesan said, pulling her up from her seat. “But I need you to sit with me and show me where everything is.”

“Don’t you need to be back at the office?” Yemi asked, following him into the kitchen.

“Not really.” He grinned. “I’m meant to work on my report from home. I’ll do that when I get home.”

He tried as much as he could to keep Yemi engaged for the period that he was there. Whenever he noticed that she was about to lapse into a moody silence, he would try his best to distract her. He drove her over to Aleena’s school to pick Aleena up and then stayed with them until late in the evening.

The following evening, Yemi grudgingly got dressed for the concert at Sesan’s church. She had tried to call and cancel during the day, but after trying Sesan’s line several times without any success, she knew that he was one step ahead of her. She sent him a text message telling him that she could not make it to the concert. He ignored the contents of her text and sent her a “See you later at six thirty” reply.

“I thought your phone was faulty until I got your text,” Yemi said grumpily when he got to her house later that evening.

“And a good evening to you too, Yemi,” he said, ignoring her comment. “You look a bit better than you did yesterday. Are you ready?”

“Am I dressed properly?” she asked, still frowning slightly. She had just worn jeans, a cotton top, and a light blazer. “Not sure what you guys wear to functions like this.”

“Your outfit is just great.”

Yemi was quiet during the drive to the church. Sesan slipped a gospel CD into the CD player, but he was in a quiet mood too and said very little during the drive. They arrived at the church about twenty minutes later. Sesan was obviously well known and liked at the church. He exchanged greetings with so many people right from the parking lot and all the way into the church auditorium that Yemi got tired of smiling politely at them.

She looked around when they finally sat down. She could not believe that she was finally at Sesan’s church. He had been inviting her for a long time, but she had always declined.

The programme started soon afterwards. Like Sesan had said, it was all music. Different gospel artistes performed or “ministered,” as Sesan called it, and the quality of their music was surprisingly good. After a while, she felt herself relaxing.

There was a particular artiste who gave a testimony about her personal life before she performed. Yemi was touched by the woman’s tale of how she had struggled with low self-esteem for many years because of what she went through growing up in an orphanage. She had been passed up several times for adoption because she was not considered as good-looking as some of the other kids. As she grew older, her constant craving for love and acceptance got her into a wrong relationship with a drug addict, and she became an addict herself.

Yemi listened sympathetically as the woman told the audience how her boyfriend eventually died from an overdose of drugs and she was left all alone again. She had attempted suicide, but she eventually met with Jesus when the doctor who saved her life invited her to his church. She had also discovered her musical talents there, and as of the time she was speaking, she had won several musical awards and was also happily married.

The story was very emotional. Yemi found herself on her feet, and clapping along with other people at the end of it. By the end of the evening, she felt strangely comforted. She could not understand it, but she knew that she did not feel as low as she had felt before the concert.

She found herself accepting, this time with less resistance, Sesan’s invitation to attend church service the following Sunday. She would not be missed at her own church anyway; it was quite large, and no one would miss a once-in-a-few-weeks, keep-to-herself attendee.

∞∞∞

Yemi attended Sesan’s church with him several times more. She liked it there. Everyone was always so friendly, but what struck her the most was the obvious joy radiating from the faces of the members. They always appeared happy; this was certainly different from what she was used to.

The sermons were also very practical, and Yemi found them comforting. It made God appear closer than she had imagined Him to be. She still had bouts of moodiness, but they were less frequent and further apart.

She was happy to see Lola at her office a few weeks later. She dropped by to say hello and to place an order for a dress. Yemi was initially reserved, not knowing how much Deji had told her. But her doubts were soon put to rest when Lola treated her with just as much affection as before.

“I had so looked forward to you and Deji getting together,” she told Yemi. “Deji really liked you, and I knew you would be the sort of person Feyi would have loved as a mother for Tolu and Tope.” She shrugged with a regretful expression on her face. “But I guess it didn’t work out.”

Yemi felt sorry again for ever giving Deji the impression that she could be with him. She hoped he would meet someone else soon, someone who would love and appreciate him for the great guy that he was.

She continued to attend Sesan’s church. There were times when she felt guilty and would go back to her former church, but she never felt the same way there, and she finally decided to go where she felt at peace and received strength for everyday life.

One particular Sunday, about three months later, Yemi attended and was initially disappointed when she found out that a guest minister would be preaching that day. She had begun to look forward to hearing Sesan’s pastor preach. There was always something useful in his messages that she could apply to her everyday life.

But from the moment the guest minister started speaking, Yemi was captivated by everything the preacher said. Her sermon was simple, but every word seemed to pierce right through Yemi’s heart.

She preached on the story of Ruth. Widowed and childless, Ruth did not give up on life or on God. What touched Yemi the most was the strength of character that Ruth had displayed in the face of enormous challenges. She had remained strong through her challenges, even offering to care for an old lady.

Yemi saw the picture of her own life flash before her eyes. She had more to be thankful to God for than Ruth, and yet she was far less grateful. As she meditated on those thoughts, she felt as if God was wrapping His hands around her. He was not condemning her nor judging her, but instead, He was telling her that He loved her and that He was going to be with her. Yemi felt tears well up in her eyes, but they were not tears of hopelessness anymore. All she could whisper over and over again was, “Please help me, Lord. Just come into my life and help me.”

After the service, she did not wait to say hello to Sesan but went straight home and just lay on her bed. She rolled from side to side, still whispering the words to God and asking Him to come into her life and take control. After a while, she felt peace and an awesome feeling of cleanliness flooding her. The fears and insecurities that had constantly plagued her appeared to dissolve. They were replaced with an assurance that all would be well.

The next few days were some of the most amazing days she had ever experienced in her life. There was an inner glow and peace within her that she found difficult to comprehend, let alone explain to anyone. She didn’t look different. She was still Yemi outside but yet so unlike Yemi inside.

She had always appeared like a confident lady on the outside, but she was the only one who knew that the confident look was just a façade, because within her were deep fears of the unknown and its power to hurt her. That was all gone now, and in its place was true confidence—not in herself, brains, or hard work, but confidence in God’s ability to help her and carry her through.

Yemi joined the foundation class at church. Sesan had advised her that it would help her understand more about the change that had taken place in her life. She attended each of the classes regularly and tried to absorb as much as she could.

It was as if she was in a love relationship with Jesus. He was her new lover and friend. She could feel him all round her, so gentle and yet so strong. She knew this lover would never fail her.

She now also understood what Abby and Teju had been trying to tell her all along, and knew that it was possible for someone to attend church all their lives but never experience God.

“I wish I had known you earlier, Lord!” she thought often to herself, but she was determined to make up for lost time.

Chapter 22

 

Akeem watched as Shona introduced her friend Tanya, to Hasan. They were all at the opening ceremony of Shona’s interior decor and furniture shop. Shona and Tanya had attended University College, London, together and had met up again when Tanya came into the country to work for Ka-Tell as an expatriate staff member.

The compere came to the podium again, and they listened to him talk about the different pieces of furniture on display. He then asked the guests to feel free to move around the showroom after the event was declared open.

The furniture were classy and unique, and Akeem liked most of the pieces. He could see that Lois was excited about them as well. Maybe he would ask Shona to do up his house again.

“How’re you finding Ka-Tell?” Hasan asked Tanya as they returned to their table some time later for some light refreshments. He looked teasingly towards Akeem “I hope my friend here is treating you well?”

Tanya laughed. “I like it very much, thank you.”

“I hope you heard the lady?” Akeem said to Hasan. “We know how to treat people well at Ka-Tell.”

“If you’re not happy, just let Shona know and I’ll fix you up,” Hasan said.

“Pretend you didn’t even hear that,” Akeem said to the laughing Tanya. She was a pretty lady. Smart too. Akeem had been present during a presentation that Tanya had delivered just a few days earlier, and he had been impressed. She had been a bit wobbly in the first couple of minutes, no doubt trying to get over the fact that he was present, but she had regained control and given a very brilliant analysis.

“Are you still going to Grace Tabernacle tomorrow?” Shona asked Tanya when she joined them later. She looked pleased at the success of the event.

“Yes, I am, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Akeem looked at her. So she was religious? But well, he should have known that since she was Shona’s friend. Shona, Justin, and Fayona were into all that stuff.

“Oh, I’ve been to Grace Tabernacle a few times,” Fayona said. “Very nice place, you’ll enjoy it.”

“It really is,” Shona added. “But if you don’t have a flow at Grace Tabernacle tomorrow, you can try mine and see how it goes.”

“You’ll be fine, Tanya,” Lois said in a slightly bored voice. “Church is pretty much the same everywhere.”

“Have you told Shona what pieces of furniture you’re ordering for your house?” Akeem asked Lois.

“Yes, I jotted down a few samples of what I want,” Lois replied. “I’ll look through the catalogue and add a few more pieces.”

“Let me know when you’re done,” Akeem said, and Lois smiled at him. He saw Tanya cast a quick look at them, but her face was expressionless. He smiled inwardly. He was sure she knew Lois was not his wife and was probably thinking what terrible sinners they were.

“I absolutely love those burgundy pieces for the sitting room, but I should get a good sister-in-law discount, shouldn’t I?” Fayona asked Shona.

“Your husband is a rich guy, so no discounts allowed,” Akeem said. He turned to Hasan. “C’mon man, bring that chequebook out.” he taunted.

“Thanks, Akeem.” Shona laughed as she watched the two men.

Hasan gave Akeem a cool look. “Don’t worry about the price, honey,” he said to his wife. He signed a blank cheque and gave it to her. “Order whatever you want.” He smirked as he turned back to Akeem. “Satisfied?”

Akeem grinned and patted him on the back. “Yeah, way to go, man!”

∞∞∞

Yemi sat listening to the Sunday school teacher, Tomi. She normally enjoyed her classes, but that was not the case today. Tomi was teaching on the topic of forgiveness, and she was saying that there was no wrong that could not be forgiven. The class was interactive. There were lots of tricky questions being asked, but so far either Tomi or someone else had been able to answer them well.

Yemi said nothing. She felt a lot of the things that were being talked about were theoretical. These people had never met anyone like Mrs. Kadiri. How many twenty-five-year-old women had been offered money by their mothers-in-law to go abroad in order to end their marriages? How many women had not just had their hearts broken, but also lost a child through their husband’s infidelity? How many women did their in-laws despise so much that they had never bothered to ask about their whereabouts for over two years? No, they certainly didn’t know what they were talking about, and she was not even going to bother taking any of it in.

The pastor’s message later that day was also centred on forgiveness. Yemi was a little irritated. Obviously she was not going to gain much from the church service. She would have to listen to a recorded tape when she got back home, something that would strengthen her for the week ahead.

She had not seen Akeem since the last time he had come to her house. She knew he was still seeing Lois. Ka-Tell had won an award recently, and Lois had attended the ceremony with Akeem. Yemi had seen their pictures in the papers. The press referred to her as Akeem’s girlfriend, which was just as well; they shouldn’t make too much fuss when the divorce became public.

But a few days later, she decided to call him to talk about Aleena attending church with her. Akeem had dropped all pretences of attending church, and since Aleena was with him on Sundays, it meant she didn’t go either.

“I don’t think that suits me, Yemi,” Akeem told her coolly. “That would technically mean I get to see her for just one day in a week.”

Yemi sighed. She had been expecting this. “Not really. It’s just going to be a few hours short of the time she currently spends with you. She still comes to you on Friday evenings, and I can pick her up on Sunday morning on my way to church, or your driver can bring her to my place.”

“I let Aleena sleep late on Sunday mornings, so I’m not sure how that will work,” he replied. “Let me think about it and get back to you.”

She had to be satisfied with that, but when he did not call her after two weeks, she knew he wasn’t keen on the idea. However, she made up her mind that she was not going to let the matter rest. She wanted her daughter to know God, and the earlier she did, the better.

“Just pray about it, Yemi,” Abby said when Yemi told her about it. “God can work on Akeem’s heart, and you’ll be surprised how easily he will agree to your request.” She smiled as she looked at Yemi. “You’re still a wonder to me. Self-righteous little moralist now so hungry for the things of God!”

“I still wonder at myself,” Yemi admitted ruefully. “I’ve just been so blind all these years.”

Abby looked at her carefully. “How do you feel about the divorce now?”

Yemi frowned. “How do you mean? I’m still going ahead with it, of course.”

“Have you thought about letting go? Forgiving Akeem and trying to mend things with him?”

Yemi stared at Abby. “Akeem is in a serious relationship with another woman, or have you forgotten that? The last time we saw each other, he told me he had no interest in me anymore, and that’s okay with me too.”

“Forget about what he said. Just work at genuinely forgiving him. You’ll be amazed what God will do.”

“Akeem does not even believe in God. And it’s not just about him; his family hates me. Even if I mend things with him, which I’m not interested in doing, how can I ever go back to such a family?”

“One step at a time, girl, and trust God.”

Yemi shook her head. “Even I won’t trouble God that much. He’s brought so much peace and joy into my life, and I’m really grateful, but concerning Akeem?” She shook her head. “Let’s just forget about him. He’s a closed chapter in my life.”

She found herself feeling uneasy for the rest of the day. Uneasiness and unrest had been a normal part of her life before she got born again, and she cherished her relationship with God and the ensuing peace it brought to her. So anytime she felt somewhat uneasy, she could retrace her thoughts or steps to when it started, repent of anything she had done or said, and she would again feel that cherished peace enveloping her.

She did so now, and she knew that she had started feeling that way right after her discussion with Abby. But, Lord, I was just speaking the truth as I felt it to be. There are too many complications concerning my relationship with Akeem and his family. It’s better to just let things be.

She didn’t feel any better. She watched T. D. Jakes’s program on TV later that night. His message was based on the almightiness of God. “I am the Lord, is there anything too difficult for me?” was one of the Bible verses that T. D. Jakes used. That phrase stuck to her heart. She pondered on those words as they kept ringing in her ears.

As she lay down later that night after putting Aleena to bed, the scripture came to her mind again. The thought of her in-laws flashed through her mind almost immediately.

“She will never be a part of this family…” Her mother-in-law’s words that she had overheard that day in the Kadiri country home came back clearly to her again, as did the disdainful looks she had gotten over the years and the constant rejection and attempts to humiliate her publicly. She shook her head and tried to push the hurtful thoughts away. How could she ever forgive them? She thought of her son. How could she ever forgive Akeem?

“I’ve given you everything, Lord,” she whispered. “I’ve held nothing back. The Kadiris hurt me too badly, and I don’t ever want to be vulnerable again.”

She kept talking to God and trying to convince Him why her decision was the best as she faded off into a restless sleep.

∞∞∞

Akeem looked lazily around the function hall of the five-star hotel where Hasan and Fayona were celebrating Fayona’s birthday and their wedding anniversary. Everyone was looking sharp. The men were in tuxedos, the ladies in glamorous evening dresses. He missed Lois’s vivacious presence. She was playing hostess to her dad at an event and could not attend.

He almost did a double take when he saw Tanya approaching their table with Shona. She looked so different from the woman he occasionally saw at the office. The wine-coloured evening dress she was wearing did her figure all sorts of favours and set off her light-complexioned skin beautifully. Religious or not, this girl was attractive.

“Good of you to come, Tanya,” Justin said to Tanya as she joined them at the table. “And I must say that you’re looking very pretty.”

Akeem tilted his head to an angle as he surveyed her up close. “Very pretty indeed.”

“Thank you, sir,” Tanya replied.

“Please call me Akeem. I much prefer it. Plus, I want to forget about the office tonight.”

“But, sir,” Justin quipped, “what if we occasionally forget to call you Akeem, sir?”

Akeem faked an irritated frown. “I wonder why they had to put me at the same table with you?” He turned to Fadel, who was sitting beside him. “Is it too late to ask for alternate sitting arrangements?”

“Just ignore Justin,” Sara replied.

Tanya smiled at their ribbing but he could see that she was still a bit self conscious. The stand-up comic came on a few minutes later. Akeem saw Tanya smiling politely but he knew she was struggling to understand the jokes he was telling. Akeem hid a smile. Tanya had lived all her life in England, and one would need to have lived in Nigeria for a while to understand those jokes.

He took a sip of his drink and turned to her. “So, how did you find the church you went to?”

She looked surprised that he had remembered. “It’s really nice. I decided to stay with them. I’m going through the membership classes at the moment.”

“Is that some sort of orientation?”

“You got it. They are classes designed to help new members know what the church believes in and how it operates. Which church do you attend, Mr. Kadiri?”

“Akeem,” he corrected, and she smiled. “I really don’t go to church much.”

“Um…”

He arched his brow. “Um? Is that bad or good?”

She laughed. “Um…neither.”

He smiled. “I’m sure you’d have said more if you didn’t have ‘boss’ stamped all over me. So c’mon, forget about me being your boss and explain the ‘um.’”

Tanya looked at him for a moment as if deciding if she should continue or not. “Have you always not gone to church?” she finally asked.

“I’ve been there a few times but lost interest. Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against church, and if it makes people happy, why not?” He took another sip of his drink. “I just don’t like some of the teachings.”

“Teachings like what?”

He smiled. “Teachings that brainwash people into thinking that their lives or outcomes in life are dependent on a higher being.”

“By a higher being, I assume you mean God?”

He smiled. “There you go. You say “God” like you expect everyone to believe he exists.”

“Oh, but He does.”

“How do you know? From what you’ve been taught?”

Tanya shook her head. “No, from what I’ve experienced.”

“From what you think you’ve experienced,” he corrected.

They argued back and forth. He had to say he was impressed, though. This woman knew what she was talking about. And misguided or not, she was very confident in her beliefs.

Shona came back to the table and listened to them. “I’ve been talking to Akeem for a long time,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Now I just pray for him, but maybe you’ll do better than me, Tanya.”

“Akeem will become a believer someday, and he will go farther than all of us,” Justin stated.

“Dreams are absolutely free.” Akeem grinned. He shook his head as he looked at Justin. “But I can’t even believe a smart guy like you can believe all that stuff you’ve been fed!”

“The gospel has nothing to do with smartness. It’s actually very simple, and that’s why people miss it.”

“You tell him ‘im, Justin,” Fadel quipped. “He needs to change all those heathen ideas of his.”

Sara turned around to look at her husband. “Honey, don’t even start! At least we all know Akeem’s stand. Where do you stand?”

“I’m still trying to get a religion that suits me,” Fadel replied loftily. “I’ll let you know when I do.”

They all looked up when the compere announced that they could start making their way to the buffet tables for dinner. Akeem was not really hungry, so he just picked up a few bits and pieces and returned back to the table.

“Some wine for you?” he asked Tanya as he attempted to pour some champagne into her glass when they returned to the table. She started to decline but stopped when she saw the teasing look in his eyes. He had already noticed that she had stuck to non-alcoholic beverages all evening. He poured himself a glass of wine and then poured some of the non-alcoholic fruit wine she had been drinking all evening into her glass.

“Mine is only twelve percent alcohol. Does that make me a candidate for hell?” Akeem teased.

“I don’t drink alcohol by choice. It’s hard enough being sensible when sober, not to talk of when one’s under the influence of alcohol.”

“Hmmm…first reasonable argument I’ve heard from a non-alcohol drinking Christian,” Akeem replied, lifting up his glass of Dom Perignon to her before taking a sip. “You’re still missing something, though.”

She lifted up her own glass and took a sip. “Very nice…and just imagine, my ability to make sound judgement remains unimpaired too.”

He chuckled at her statement. “My ability to make sound judgement also remains unimpaired.”

“What do you do at Ka-Tell?” Sara asked Tanya.

Akeem looked over at her. There was something about the way she was looking at Tanya, as if she suspected that there might be something going on between Akeem and her. Akeem smiled. He had a strictly “no dating staff” policy. Anyway, with her religious views, Tanya probably wouldn’t even touch him with a long pole.

“I work as a business analyst.”

“Is that what you did in England?”

“More or less,” Tanya replied.

But just as she was about to continue, the compere announced that Fayona and Hasan were about to take the floor. Everyone’s attention turned towards them. Celine Dion’s “Because You Loved Me” began to play and Hasan drew his wife gently into his arms. He touched Fayona’s cheek with his finger before bending his head down to kiss her, and there were catcalls and whistles all around. Akeem watched them. They were still as loved up as when they first met—lucky for some.

“So think about what I told you,” Akeem said to Tanya later that evening. “You’ve got to discard what you’ve been taught and analyse everything like the intelligent woman that you are.”

“I have a personal relationship with God, so it’s not a question of what I’ve been taught.”

He looked at her thoughtfully. He wanted to puncture her theory. “Let’s put this confidence of yours to the test, shall we?”

“I don’t need to test God. I know He is real.”

He laughed. “You’re already chickening out. See, that’s the problem with you guys. You’re all talk and little action, but I’m not going to let you get away with this.” He was amused at the wary expression that came over her face. “You said God exists? Prove it. Are you ready?”

Tanya just looked at him and did not reply.

He was not deterred by her silence. “There’s this person I know who is so implacable.” He swirled the drink in his wineglass as he looked at her face. “I want you to tell God to make this person do something uncharacteristic, and if this happens, then pronto, I’ll become a Christian. I’d even join a membership class somewhere. Deal?”

“God does not need to prove himself…” Tanya began.

He held up a hand. He had been right. Confident or not, this woman was no different from all the other so-called Christians he had met. “Save it…I was just trying to see if you can put your money where your mouth is. I’m pretty sure what I believe, and so far it’s not failed me. But you guys are the ones who need to check all these stories you throw around.” He smiled slightly again, trying to lessen the harshness of his words. “That’s just my viewpoint, Tanya, no offence meant.”

She maintained eye contact with him. “No offence taken. But God is real, very real.”

He shot her a mocking glance before changing the topic.

∞∞∞

“So invite your friends, family, and even your enemies…” Pastor Ben was saying as he rounded up his message with a reminder about the programme they were having a few weeks later.

Enemies? Yemi thought to herself as she popped her phone into her bag. How could a Christian have enemies?

What would you call the Kadiris? The thought crept in so quietly that it startled her. She froze momentarily as she tried to process the question. Where had that even come from? The Kadiris were not her enemies. They were her evil in-laws—or soon to be ex-in-laws. They hated her and had tried to make life uncomfortable for her. Hating them back was only just natural. She didn’t start the fight. They had.

That makes them your enemies, then. She shook her head. No, she didn’t have enemies. She had nothing to feel guilty about. They were wicked people, and they deserved the way she felt about them.

But from that moment onwards, her peace fled her again. She had managed to push the disturbing thoughts away the last time they had plagued her, but this time the uneasiness seemed like it had come to stay. Worse still, she found it difficult to pray.

The next day, Yemi had a thoroughly miserable day at the office. Not that anything unusual happened—the battle was within her. Her peace was gone, and she had no joy in her spirit.

She Googled the meaning of the word “enemy” and read through it. Someone who had ill feelings towards her and whom she also wished ill. That was so apt. She wished the Kadiris ill. She constantly hoped Nadia would experience problems in her marriage the way that she had. The only person she really didn’t wish any ill was Akeem, and that was because of Aleena.

She got home that evening and called Sesan. She felt she had to talk to someone or she would burst.

“So what do you think, Shez?” she asked him. “Are these feelings I’m having just a figment of my imagination? Maybe just my emotions running amok?”

“I think God is trying to talk to you,” Sesan replied quietly.

“Shez, they hurt me too badly. I was just a young girl. My in-laws gave me no chance, gave my marriage no chance to succeed. How can I forgive them?”

“You have to let go, Yemi,” Sesan said gently. “It’s for your own good as well. The hatred you have towards the Kadiri family can’t be healthy.”

“They don’t deserve it.”

“No one really deserves forgiveness. We all err, yet God forgives us. Let go, honey, and let God heal your heart.”

Yemi put down the phone slowly after their conversation. So many emotions were raging through her. It would have been easier if her in-laws were repentant, but they were not. She had seen Nadia just a few weeks earlier at a grocery store, and she had looked the other way, pretending she had not seen Yemi. That had suited Yemi just fine, and she had done likewise.

“They hurt me too much, Lord. I can’t let go,” she kept repeating to herself.

She attended the midweek service the next day and found it difficult to connect during the worship session. She felt so heavy within herself. On getting home, she could not concentrate on any task she tried to do, and she gave it up and decided to have an early night.

As she lay on the bed, tossing and turning, Sesan’s words kept coming back to her. “Let go and let God.”

“Not that easy,” she thought to herself wearily. “I don’t even know how to.”

∞∞∞

The next few days went by slowly for her. She went about her work mechanically. She missed the peace and joy that had been hers since she gave her life to Christ, but despite all this, she still struggled within herself.

She got home the following Friday, helped Aleena with her homework, and then went to her room. Akeem was travelling over that weekend, so Aleena didn’t have to go over to his place.

She went to bed early but found herself awake a few hours later. She looked at her bedside clock; it was a few minutes past midnight. She tried to go back to sleep but could not and sat up in bed.

She decided to study her Bible and hopefully fall asleep while doing so. She had been studying the book of Acts, and she opened to it. She flipped to chapter seven, which was the next chapter she was to read, but instead of falling asleep as she had hoped, she became wider awake as she read. It was the story of Stephen and how he was martyred. She was struck by the last prayer he had prayed before he died as he was being stoned: he had prayed that that God should forgive those people stoning him. She could not comprehend that.

The people stoning Stephen had not repented. They had not asked him for forgiveness. In fact, the last picture Stephen probably had before he died would have been that of faces filled with hatred. What a painful way to die.

Yemi stood up from the bed and began to pace the room. And yet, Stephen had prayed for his persecutors instead of cursing them. What gave him that strength? she asked herself. It had to be God.

She thought of her in-laws, of Akeem. Could she do the same? It seemed so difficult. The tears flowed down her cheeks, and she wept with all her heart.

“Lord, I choose to forgive,” she said brokenly. “I choose to forgive Akeem, Nadia, my mother-in-law, and Adil. I choose to forgive them all, but please help me!”

As she prayed and wept before the Lord, she felt the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit flooding her. It was as if God had wrapped her in a warm embrace, and she gradually stopped crying. She just lay on the floor and allowed the presence of God to bathe her.

Over the next few days, Yemi felt as if a heavy weight had rolled off her heart. She knew something had definitely happened to her that night. She still had the old memories, but she did not have the bitterness or the desire for vengeance that she had held on to for so long. She was able to pray, study the word, and worship again, and she knew within herself that she had won a major victory.

Chapter 23

 

Yemi bit into a strawberry, relishing the sour and sweet taste as she thought about the styles she had seen at the London fashion week. Purple was the colour of the season, and many of the fashion houses had paraded models wearing the colour.

She was in England for two weeks. She had flown in to attend the fashion show and tied it in with a little holiday. So far, she had been enjoying herself. She planned on going to central London the next day. She would leave the Bluewater shopping until the weekend.

She heard her phone ringing and fished it out of her bag. It was Sara.

“Hi girl, how’re you doing?” she sang into the phone when Yemi connected the call. “How is it going over there?”

“Great! The fashion week was so very inspiring!”

“You’ve got to put that inspiration to good use for me when you get back,” Sara replied. “I got so many compliments about the dress you made for me for Fayona’s birthday, and I want more of those!”

Yemi had deliberately avoided the party. There would have been too much attention directed at her. They talked some more. Sara wanted Yemi to get shoes and some other little bits for her.

“You know your mother-in-law is in the hospital, right?” Sara asked Yemi towards the end of their conversation. “She had to fly in to the UK for treatment three days ago.”

Yemi’s default response was to say that she didn’t have a mother-in-law, but she pushed the thought away. She was a changed person, and she didn’t have enemies.

She bit into another strawberry. “Aleena told me yesterday.”

“I learnt it’s quite serious. They’re even thinking of doing surgery, a quadruple bypass or something like that. Fadel was talking with Akeem about it yesterday.”

“Oh, that’s a major heart surgery.”

“Sounds like it is. Akeem was sounding so frustrated because they couldn’t get a flight out of Asia yesterday. That ash cloud stuff.”

Yemi had heard about it. Akeem and Adil were in China. She had planned her trip before his and could not cancel, so she had taken Aleena to Ayo’s place for the period that she would be away.

“I’m sure everything will clear up soon. Anyway, they have a lot of relatives in England that can look in on her.”

Yemi forgot about the conversation until later that evening when she was talking with Tola.

“No doubt she’s suffering for all her evil ways,” Tola said unsympathetically when Yemi told her about Akeem’s mother. “But anyway, she’s rich, so she can afford the best medical care possible.”

“I’ve forgiven her though,” Yemi said. The words still sounded like a wonder even to her own ears. “I can hardly believe it, but I’ve truly forgiven her.”

Tola made a face. “You’re something else these days.”

Yemi smiled. She knew Tola was still trying to get her head around her newfound “born againism,” as Tola called it.

Yemi watched the news that night. There were still problems with flights in and out of Asia. There had been a volcanic eruption, and it had spread to form an ash cloud. The cloud was considered damaging to the engines of the jets, causing most airlines to pull their flights in and out of that region.

Yemi knew that Akeem would be feeling really bad about not being able to get to his mum. As rocky as their relationship was, he still took her health concerns very seriously. He said his dad had always emphasised that responsibility to him while he was still alive.

She found herself praying for her mother-in-law that evening when she had a bit of time to herself.

Why don’t you go and see her in hospital? The thought came to her quietly.

She was already shaking her head before the idea could take root. It was ludicrous. She, Yemi, go see the matriarch of the Kadiri family? That could not happen because, ill or not, Mrs. Kadiri would very likely walk her out of the room.

That would show her that you truly hold nothing against her. The thought came again, quietly and unobtrusively.

But I have forgiven her, Yemi argued. I don’t have to go and see her to prove it. She is ill. She will not want me to see her like that.

She shook the thoughts away. This couldn’t be God. She had listened the first time, and she had forgiven them, but this was outright ridiculous. Akeem might not be around, but he had people he could ask to look in on his mum for him.

She pushed the thoughts out of her mind, spent the evening playing with Tola’s kids, and then watched a late-night movie with Tola and her husband.

The next morning, she woke up early and helped Tola’s kids get ready for school.

“What do you have planned for today?” Tobi asked Yemi as he prepared to drop Tola off at the train station. He worked in Kent and drove to work.

“Going to central London for some shopping,” Yemi said.

“Wish I could come along,” Tola said wistfully, and her husband playfully tweaked her ear.

They left a few minutes later, and Yemi went back upstairs to have her morning devotion. She prayed again for Akeem’s mother, asking God to heal her.

What if she died today?

But I’m no longer in enmity with her, Yemi began to argue again, wondering where these troublesome thoughts were coming from. And anyway, she may not even agree to see me. I may have forgiven her, but she still hates me for thwarting the plans she had for her son. She didn’t know whom she was actually talking to, God or her conscience, but she was not letting up. She was going to argue this one through.

What have you got to lose by seeing her? Another thought came in quietly, as she ironed her clothes.

Being humiliated? Labelled a hypocrite? That I’ve possibly come to gloat in her moment of weakness? No, I can’t do it. The stakes are too high.

She didn’t get any response this time, and she felt like she had made her case. She took her bath and went back downstairs for breakfast. Being away from home had given her a healthier appetite, and she found herself enjoying the buttery scones, bacon, and eggs.

Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.

Yemi almost jumped. That particular thought had come like it was from within her, and yet it was as if it was external too. This time around, she didn’t argue. She was 90 percent certain that it was God talking to her. She only had her pride to lose, after all, and she loved God enough to do that for Him.

She called Sara to get the details of the hospital where Akeem’s mother had been admitted. Sara didn’t know it either and had to call Nadia. Yemi had sworn Sara to secrecy, so Nadia had no idea that it was Yemi who was requesting the address. A surprised Mrs. Kadiri would be easier to deal with, and hopefully she would be able to make her escape before she recovered from it.

“You mean you’re actually going to see her?” Sara asked again incredulously, after giving Yemi the details.

“Yes, I am,” Yemi replied grimly. And heaven help me if God has nothing to do with this. She would have just walked into the lion’s den presumptuously.

She thought of dressing up in something classy to boost her confidence. An armour, as she used to call it those days when she had to meet with the Kadiris. She brought out all her new designer gear and looked at them.

“Lord, you’re my armour,” she said, discarding the idea.

She dressed simply in blue denim pants and a fitted, short-sleeved, blue and red striped, button-down shirt. She slipped on her black loafers and appraised herself in the mirror. All good and simple, she thought to herself as she slung her duffel bag over her shoulder.

∞∞∞

She got off at the tube station closest to the Royal Brompton Hospital, where Mrs. Kadiri was being treated. It was a ten-minute walk, and she had thought that she would walk to steady her nerves. However, upon exiting the station, she changed her mind and took a taxi. She didn’t trust herself not to turn tail and run if she had too much time to think.

Several emotions played in quick succession across Mrs. Kadiri’s face when she saw Yemi. Initially she looked dazed. Then a frown appeared, and then she looked wary.

“I was wondering which Yemi was here to see me,” Mrs. Kadiri said as Yemi came farther into the room. “I’d never have thought it was you.”

“Hello, ma’am,” Yemi said. She had deliberately left her surname out when filling the visitor’s slip. But despite Mrs. Kadiri’s somewhat hostile words, her voice did not sound very strong, and the fact that she was ill was apparent. She also looked like she had lost some weight. “I learnt you were in hospital, and I thought to look in on you.”

Mrs. Kadiri still looked slightly confused. “I didn’t know you were in England,” she finally said.

“I came in about a week ago,” Yemi replied. She didn’t know whether to sit or remain standing.

“You can sit down,” Mrs. Kadiri said, as if reading her mind. “Kande just left to get some things for me.”

That was good, Yemi thought to herself. Akeem’s aunt had never hidden her feelings about her.

“She should be back in a couple of hours,” Mrs. Kadiri continued. She closed her eyes briefly as an expression of pain crossed her face.

“Are you okay, Ma?”

She nodded. “That happens intermittently. That’s one of the reasons why they want me to do the surgery.”

Yemi felt sorry for her. Akeem had told her in the past that his mother dreaded the thought of surgery because she had lost an elder brother through it.

“Have they fixed a date yet?”

“In a couple of days,” she replied, looking a little pensive.

“I’m sure everything will be okay,” Yemi said. “I learnt Royal Brompton is one of the best for heart conditions.”

“That’s why I use them,” Mrs. Kadiri said, a hint of her old arrogance in her tone. She inhaled deeply. “But I’ve always hoped I wouldn’t ever need surgery.” She looked into space as she spoke.

She suddenly looked very frail, a look of anxiety flashing across her face. Yemi could sense her fear. It was so unlike her strong and haughty mother-in-law.

“I’m sure everything will be fine,” Yemi said gently.

Mrs. Kadiri didn’t look very convinced. She looked towards the television in her room. CNN was on, and they were talking about the ash cloud. Her face fell as she listened to the not-so-cheery news. Airlines were still cautious about flying. Mrs Kadiri heaved a sigh. “I wish my son were here. He has a way of instilling confidence in me…just like his father.”

Yemi did not have to ask which son she was referring to. Akeem was her son, the “buy one,” and Adil was the “get one free.” Unhealthy way for a mother to treat her children, but that was Mrs. Kadiri for you. She liked Akeem’s strong character, yet it was that same character she sought so much to control. Yemi forced herself to push the thoughts away. There was no point in dwelling on them anymore.

The silence stretched between them, and she was beginning to think that it was time that she made her exit. She had been there longer than she had thought she would be able to stay, anyway.

“Who’s Aleena with? Your parents?” Mrs. Kadiri asked, just as Yemi was about to tell her she would be on her way.

“She’s with my elder brother, Ayo. Going to school from there would be easier than if she was on the mainland with my parents.”

“She’s growing so fast. It seems like it was just yesterday that she was born,” Mrs. Kadiri mused.

“She is,” Yemi replied, smiling genuinely for the first time. “I can hardly believe it myself.”

“Just wait until she gets to be a teenager, and then you will wonder even more.” Mrs. Kadiri smiled slightly. “Kids? They grow too fast.” She tried to sit up a little and winced, her face contorting with pain.

“Are you okay, Ma?”

“My chest is hurting a lot more now. Maybe the painkiller is wearing off,” she replied, breathing in and out slowly as if the effort was hurting her.

“Should I speak to the nurse outside?”

“I’ll just press the bell,” Mrs. Kadiri said.

Yemi had to wait outside while the nurse administered some new medication. She came back into the room after the nurse left and stayed for another twenty minutes before she finally left.

“When are you going back to Nigeria?” Mrs. Kadiri asked her just before she left.

“This weekend.”

“Okay, then,” she said. “Akeem should be here before then, hopefully.”

“I’m sure he will,” Yemi replied. She could sense the fear in Mrs. Kadiri again and prayed inwardly for the success of the surgery.

Yemi gave thanks to God with all her heart on her way back to the tube station. The visit had gone better than she had even dared to hope.

She found herself going back the next day. She felt so much bolder the second time. She didn’t think she could ever be afraid or intimidated by Mrs. Kadiri again. By taking the step to visit her, she had also set herself free. She had no enemies—not Mrs. Kadiri nor any member of the Kadiri family.

This time around, Akeem’s aunt was there. She didn’t appear too surprised to see Yemi. Mrs. Kadiri must have already told her that Yemi had been there the day before. She was acting scared too at the thought of the impending surgery. That obviously was a weightier matter for her to consider than a visit by her nephew’s estranged wife. That suited Yemi just fine.

She learnt from them that the surgery had been scheduled for the next day and that Akeem had managed to get a flight and would be in England that evening. Yemi was not planning to return for another visit. She felt she had obeyed God, and she still had things to sort out before her trip back home that weekend.

“Akeem was not aware that you came to see me,” Mrs. Kadiri told her during the visit. “He was surprised when I told him over the phone. I thought he asked you to visit.”

“No, he didn’t,” Yemi replied, shaking her head.

Mrs. Kadiri and her sister looked at her a little strangely. Yemi maintained a neutral face as she met their eyes. Maybe Akeem’s mum felt that she and Akeem were still seeing each other secretly. She wished she could tell her that her son had categorically told her that he was no longer interested in her. How had he put it that day in her kitchen?

“You no longer hold any appeal for me,” he had told her brusquely before leaving her house with Aleena.

They had attended two open days together at Aleena’s school since then, but he had been cool and distant to her all through.

∞∞∞

The sky was aglow with the golden rays of the setting sun as Yemi parked her car in front of the church auditorium. She sat for a few minutes and admired the beautiful view before getting out of the car. She had barely taken a few steps when she heard her name. She turned round and saw Sesan getting out of his car a few yards away. They swapped stories on how their day had gone as they walked towards the church auditorium. Just before they got to the entrance, they saw Tanya, the new teacher that had just joined the teens department, which Sesan headed. Yemi smiled and waved at her.

“We are a little early, aren’t we?” Tanya asked after they had all exchanged greetings. “But I didn’t want to get stuck in traffic, so I left the office early.”

“Same thing here,” Yemi replied. “But well, we can just sit in the auditorium until it’s time.” She turned towards Tanya. “So how are you finding Nigeria?”

“That question again!” Tanya groaned. “I wonder why people don’t recognise my Abeokuta accent,” she said, referring to one of the suburban towns around Lagos.

Yemi laughed. The only Nigerian thing about Tanya was maybe her skin tone and even then, she was very fair complexioned.

“You can’t even pronounce ‘Abeokuta’ the right way,” Yemi teased.

“Or maybe Abeokuta is a borough in England,” Sesan added.

“It’s part of Essex! But all right, I give up. I came into the country about four months ago. I was recruited from England for a telecoms company.”

“Hmm…cool, so how is the job going?” Yemi asked.

“It’s been an amazing experience, and I’m loving it so far!” she said enthusiastically.

“Where do you actually work?” Sesan asked.

“Ka-Tell,” Tanya replied. “It’s a telecommunications company and part of the Kadiri holdings group.”

There was an awkward silence that lasted for a moment.

“Interesting…” Sesan finally said, shooting Yemi a quick glance.

“Glad you’re enjoying yourself,” Yemi said, ignoring Sesan. What did he expect her to do, give Tanya her autobiography on the spot?

“I sure am,” Tanya replied. “I had my reservations before I came in, but that’s all disappeared now.” She began to tell them some more about Ka-Tell and the expansion going on in their networks. Yemi saw Sesan almost begin to squirm with discomfort when Tanya started describing her brilliant CEO. She knew he was expecting her to say something about her connection to Ka-Tell, but the words wouldn’t come.

“So sorry, Tanya, but please excuse me for a moment,” Yemi said, cutting in and turning to Sesan. “Since we are a bit early, Shez, why don’t you take a look at my satnav? Remember I said it was slow in picking up signals?”

Sesan shot her a hard stare before he turned to Tanya. “Well, I guess we’ll see you later.”

Tanya smiled politely at them, but Yemi could see the quick look she gave them before continuing on her way to the auditorium.

“She’s bound to find out sooner or later about your connection to Akeem,” Sesan said as they made their way back to the parking lot.

Yemi bit on her lower lip. “I know.” Her marriage was not something she spoke about easily, and Tanya had caught her by surprise. Not many people in the church were aware that she was married, and even fewer people knew that she had a daughter.

“I don’t want it to appear like we deliberately kept her in the dark,” Sesan added.

Yemi glanced at him. Why was he acting like he had a bee in his bonnet? Or was he sweet on Tanya? He had introduced Tanya to her a couple of weeks earlier when she joined his department, but he had not said anything much about her since then. She would probe him some more later.

“I guess I’ll have to tell her at some point, but for now, I don’t want to say anything if I don’t have to.”

∞∞∞

Yemi wondered why she had not told Tanya about her relationship to KH. But it had taken her by surprise, and the reaction had been automatic. It was not the first time she’d met people who worked at KH. There were a couple more in the church that she knew about, but she always avoided them.

She had told her pastor a little bit about her marriage. She had initially just wanted to remain in the background at the church, but it was impossible to do so with someone like Sesan as her close friend. His likeable personality meant he was friends with practically everyone, and somehow the pastor had gotten to know her through him.

“Expect a miracle,” was one of the pastor’s favourite sayings. He believed in it strongly, and he said those words to her before she left his office that day.

She had not been very expectant. To Yemi, her marriage was a closed case. Now that she was saved, there was even more of a gulf between her and Akeem. With all his funny beliefs, they were like two parallel lines.

But the basket of fruits in her kitchen was a miracle indeed. Mrs. Kadiri was back in the country and had sent the fruits to her through her driver. Yemi could hardly believe her eyes when she saw it. Mrs. Kadiri had only ever given her birthday cards while she was with Akeem and even then, Yemi was sure she had only felt compelled to do so in order not to offend Akeem.

She was very thankful to God that the feud appeared to be over. She didn’t feel any leading to get in touch with Nadia or Adil. She knew that making peace with Akeem’s mother meant that she had made peace with them all, but she made a mental note to go out of her way to say hello to Nadia the next time she saw her.

Chapter 24

 

Akeem glanced at his wristwatch as he and Fola, the managing head of Ka-Tell, strode towards the entrance of the office. It was six forty in the evening, and the meeting they had just attended with some government officials had taken longer than expected. He felt tired but he still had a few things he needed to sort out in the office before heading home.

“Still got a lot to do this evening, Fola?” he asked the younger man.

“A couple of things. I should be done in about an hour or so.”

At that moment, Tanya Lawson stepped out of the entrance of Ka-Tell. She didn’t see them at first, and then when she did, she slowed down.

“Still in the office?” Akeem smiled as she walked up to them. It was an hour past her closing time.

She smiled at both of them. “I had something I needed to finish. It’s Friday anyway, so there’s no rush.”

Fola quirked his brows slightly. Tanya seemed to realise that her admission of not being in a hurry to leave the office on a Friday evening implied lack of a social life, but she didn’t seem embarrassed by it. She spoke to them for a few more minutes and then headed towards her car.

Akeem noticed the way Fola’s eyes followed her.

“Perish those thoughts,” he said, as they continued into the reception. He raised a hand in greeting to the janitor, who stood a little straighter on seeing him and Fola.

Fola grinned. “But she’s a hot little number, isn’t she?”

“She’s too good for you.” Akeem liked Fola, and their relationship went beyond that of boss and employee. But he also knew his reputation with women. And the thought of Fola going after Tanya didn’t sit well with him.

Fola laughed. “Who knows? She may well be the one to reform me.”

“How’s Zoe?” Akeem asked. “Oh sorry, it’s Lorraine now, isn’t it?”

Fola laughed. “Both of them were good the last time that I spoke to them,” he said. The elevator arrived, and they got into it. “Tanya does not appear to be easy, though. She is religious.”

“All the more reason to stay away from her. Stick to the girls that understand guys like you.”

“But it would be a sweet challenge to see how long her religious views can stand against me.”

Akeem was not amused. “I thought you liked my policy on not dating staff?” It was his personal policy and he could not hold anyone to it, but a few senior staff members had adopted it too.

“Yeah…I do,” Fola replied as the elevator stopped on their floor. “Tanya just got me temporarily reconsidering that resolve.”

“Tanya is close to Shona, and I really would not want anything unpleasant to happen to her.”

Fola grinned. “Yes, boss, but what if I really fall in love with her?”

Akeem lifted his brows cynically. “Elephants may as well start flying before that happens.”

Fola laughed, and they continued chatting as they went towards their respective offices.

Akeem got a call from his mum a few minutes later. She wanted him to stop by her house the next day. He assured her he would and disconnected the call a few minutes later.

He had been almost confused when she had told him about Yemi’s visit to her in hospital. Wild horses could not have dragged Yemi to visit his mum on her own when they were still together, and now she had gone to see his mum even with a pending divorce lawsuit against him.

His mind had immediately gone to the conversation he had with Tanya. The implacable person he had been referring to had been Yemi. But it had to be a coincidence, because Tanya had not been confident enough about God to accept his challenge.

The following Saturday, he saw Tanya at Shona’s when he dropped Aleena off for her son’s birthday party. He jokingly told her about the “uncharacteristic incident” without revealing the identity of the implacable person.

“Why do you think it’s not God?” she asked him quietly.

“Because you weren’t even sure He would answer you.”

“I said God does not need to prove himself.” She paused for a moment. “Do you always prove it to anyone that asks you if you are truly the CEO of KH?”

He chuckled. “You’re trying to be smart.”

“But do you?”

“It depends on the circumstances. For some people, yes. For others, they will get to know sooner or later.”

“That’s what I was trying to tell you.” She didn’t sound triumphant, just quiet. “God can decide to prove himself, or He may decide not to. He sees the motives in a man’s heart, and He responds accordingly.”

He laughed. “So He saw my motives and responded?” For goodness’ sake, the only motive he’d had was to disprove God’s existence.

“You know within you that God is real.”

He shook his head. “Oh no, I don’t. But not to worry, I’ll give what you’ve said some thought.”

She didn’t badger him; she just told him that she had been praying for him and would continue to do so. He smiled to himself. That made three people who were praying for him. Shona, Justin, and now Tanya. God had to hear their prayers for his soul—except it was too far gone, and he was not worth saving.

On the way home, Yemi came to his mind again. He remembered his visit to her house and the anger in her voice when she called him a filthy player. He had known then and there that he had to kill any thoughts he still harboured that they would ever work things out. For Aleena’s sake, he hoped that they could at least remain civil to each other, because even that was a problem for her. She was either ice cold or flaming mad.

But maybe by going to see his mum, she was holding out an olive branch to him. He would accept it but would maintain a safe distance from her. He didn’t think he could take any more bruises from her.

His phone vibrated. It was Lois. She had just arrived at his house. He leaned back in his seat after talking with her. He knew she really liked him. He couldn’t say he felt the same way, but she was a nice girl, and he was beginning to think more seriously about a future with her.

∞∞∞

Yemi looked around the field where her church was having the annual family fun day. The weather was nice and sunny, and everyone was gaily dressed. She glanced towards the barbecue stand where some of the men were busy handing out burgers, roasted chicken, skewered beef, corn, and other food items on disposable plates. Sesan was not amongst them, and she wondered where he could be.

She looked around the field, searching for him. She was looking forward to telling him that Akeem had finally agreed that Aleena could attend church with her. She had been planning on bringing it up with him again and had been preparing herself for another round of arguments, but he had surprised her by calling the day before and agreeing to it.

“I’m so expecting miracles now, Lord,” she whispered. “Just keep them coming.”

“Hey, Yemi!” She heard a voice behind her. She turned around, it was Bola, one of the ladies in her department. She was sitting a few yards away with some other women. “Looking good, as usual,” She said, looking at Yemi’s outfit admiringly as she got closer. “I love your cropped pants!”

 “Thanks, looking great yourself.”

 “Come join us!”

Yemi sat down beside her. The ladies were playing Scrabble, and she watched and cheered them on. The winners whooped with delight some minutes later, and then they all went over to watch the choreography being done by the teenagers.

About an hour later, she finally saw Sesan approaching. He was with Tanya. Yemi had noticed them getting progressively closer over the past few weeks.

It had been a bit clumsy when Tanya found out about her and Akeem before she got the chance to tell her. Yemi had bumped into Shona and Tanya at a shopping mall. Shona had assumed that Tanya was already aware of Yemi’s relationship with Akeem and she had talked freely with Yemi about seeing Akeem and Aleena the day before. Although Tanya had said very little that day, Yemi had seen the surprise on her face.

Sesan told her that Tanya’s attitude towards him afterwards had become rather cool, and it had made things uncomfortable between them at the department. Yemi felt sorry for the mess and had gone ahead to apologise to Tanya when she learnt of it.

“Hi, I’m Yemi Kadiri.” She had introduced herself again as if they were meeting for the first time. “I’m the estranged wife of Akeem Kadiri, CEO of the company you work for.”

Tanya had given her a small, rueful smile. “Yeah, I see what you mean.”

Yemi could see the compassion in Tanya’s eyes, but she had not said anything more than that and had changed the topic. Yemi had appreciated her discretion. Some Christians didn’t know when to not put their foot in it. She had been subjected to instant exhortations from a few “well-meaning” brethren who had found out that she was separated from her husband. She had tried to bear them politely, all the while wishing they would just shut up. Silence was more comforting than words at times, especially when you weren’t close to the person.

Yemi watched Sesan and Tanya as they drew closer to where she was sitting. Sesan was laughing at something Tanya had said. They made a good-looking couple.

“Hello, Yemi.” Tanya smiled at her. “Looking good.”

“Thanks, Tanya, looking very nice yourself too. Are you guys just arriving?”

“Yes, Sesan was kind enough to pick me up. My car developed a fault this morning, and he came over to my house to help me sort it out.”

“Hope it’s okay now?”

“Getting fixed,” Sesan replied. “The garage sent someone to pick it up. It should be back by Monday.”

“That’s good. It’s such a nuisance when a car gets faulty.”

“Tell me about it,” Tanya said, rolling her eyes. “Wow, that looks good!” she said as someone passed by with a plate of food. “I’m starving, going to get myself some food. Care for anything, Shez?”

“I’ll sort myself out later, thanks,” Sesan replied, as Tanya moved off.

Yemi found herself smiling at Tanya’s use of Sesan’s childhood nickname. “Hmmm…Shez, indeed! When did she start calling you that?”

“She overheard you, and she said she liked it.”

“That name goes way back, and only those who want to join our inner caucus can use it. So tell me, is Tanya such a one?”

“We’re just good friends.”

“Remember, you’re talking to me. So c’mon, ‘fess up!”

He smiled. “What do you want me to say? She is friendly, easygoing, pretty…”

“Aha!” Yemi said excitedly. “I’ve been looking at you and that lady for some time, and I sensed something there. Go on and tell me all about it!”

“There’s not a lot to tell yet, but what do you think? Do you like her?” Sesan asked.

“What’s not to like? She is lovely, and like you said, friendly and easygoing. So, do you like her?”

“How do you mean?”

“Shez!” Yemi said sternly.

“I do,” Sesan replied a little bashfully. “She’s really sweet.”

“Finally!” Yemi laughed delightedly. “Does she know?”

“Sort of. I’ve been praying about it, but I think I have the all clear now.”

“I’m so happy for you,” Yemi said, giving him a hug. “You know that, don’t you?”

“I know, Yemi,” Sesan replied, squeezing her hand. “Now I just have to convince her to stay in Nigeria.”

∞∞∞

Akeem made his way downstairs. He had just had a rigorous time at the gym followed by a shower, and he was feeling energised. Lois smiled at him as he entered the dining room.

“Hey,” he said, bending and brushing his lips against hers. “Sorry to keep you waiting.”

“Mmmm…you smell good,” she said, closing her eyes briefly as she inhaled his cologne. “How was your session at the gym?”

“Invigorating. You should have joined me. I feel so energised.” He poured himself a glass of wine and then refilled hers. “What’s for dinner?”

She opened some of the dishes. Fresh prawns. An assortment of grilled fish, roasted vegetables, and spicy coconut rice.

“Looks good,” he said. She dished some food onto his plate.

“Bassey can sure cook up a storm,” she agreed. “He said there’s some new type of dessert he’s made for us to have afterwards too.”

“I’ve got a huge appetite right now, so I’m all for it,” Akeem replied, digging into his food. Bassey knew how he liked his food. Everything was done to perfection.

“I was expecting to see Aleena and Kufre,” Lois remarked as she cut up some grilled fish on her plate.

“They are at Yemi’s place. It’s children’s day at her church this weekend, and she asked if Aleena could attend.”

“Oh.” She looked slightly taken aback. “I was thinking we could all go out tomorrow and have some sort of family-do to celebrate your birthday.”

“Sorry, honey.” His birthday had been two days earlier, and she had taken him out for dinner then. “I didn’t know you had more plans, but we can reschedule it for next week, can’t we?”

“Of course. It’s not a big deal,” she replied a little coolly, her eyes on her plate.

“Nice hairdo,” he said after a while. He was feeling sorry that he had forgotten to tell her that Aleena wouldn’t be around. “New, isn’t it? Really suits your face.”

She smiled, looking pleased at the compliment. “Got it done yesterday. There’s this new salon I just discovered. The hairdresser is really brilliant.”

She began to describe the place to him, and Akeem tried to listen to her attentively. Salons and hairdressers were not his favourite topics, but what could a man do? He had his little Aleena to think of too. She was already talking high heels and bags. According to her, her best friend, Chloe, already wore some form of heels. She had tried to cajole him into getting her a pair, but Yemi was very firm on her wearing just flat shoes for now. Maybe one day, Aleena might need his input on the best places to get the nicest hair extensions. He almost laughed out loud at the thought.

“Whoa, I love this mousse, and the cake is absolutely super!” Lois said later as she sampled a piece of the cake that Bassey served them. “My dad’s hosting some people soon. Maybe we can add this to the menu.” She turned to Bassey. “Please write the recipe out for me to give to Kevin,” she said referring to the cook at her dad’s house.

Bassey glanced at Akeem. “I made the mousse but…”

Akeem saw Bassey’s hesitation and completed the sentence. “Yemi sent the cake to my office, along with Aleena’s birthday present for me.”

Lois glanced at him but said nothing more. Bassey cleared some of the plates they had used and left the dining room.

They moved over to the sitting room after their dinner. Lois nestled her head against his shoulder while he flicked through the channels. An advert caught his attention, and he watched it briefly. The gubernatorial elections were getting closer, and there was a media war going on between the candidates as each tried to outdo the other. Chloe’s father seemed to be the new man to watch.

“Things are really heating up. Dad’s supporting Michael Ola-Daniels. He’s donated a lot towards his campaign,” Lois said. “What do you think of him?”

Akeem shrugged. “He seems okay. He’s got a couple of strong contenders, though.”

“Yeah, Dad said something about them trying to make him step down, and they’ve been offering him all sorts of juicy incentives, but the guy is not budging.”

Akeem wrinkled his nose distastefully. “Politics is not my thing, but Ola-Daniels should stick to what he believes in spite of any pressure.”

“You don’t sound too keen on him,” Lois said, looking at his face.

“I support the Liberty Party. Their policies favour me more as a businessman, but that’s not to say that I’ve got anything against Ola-Daniels. His daughter, Chloe, is Aleena’s best friend, after all.”

“Of course.” Lois laughed. “So we have that connection and can still get some favours even if you are not a staunch supporter of his ambition.”

Akeem laughed. “You’re talking like a politician now, aren’t you? Maybe we should sponsor you to run for a position in the next elections,” he teased.

She giggled. “Yeah. Just imagine me fighting for women’s rights, campaigning around the villages, etc.”

“In your six-inch heels, too…that would be great.”

“C’mon, give me some credit. I’ll swap the heels when appropriate. Wear flats when I need to, and wear the heels when I need to dazzle.”

Akeem smiled. “You should join my mum in those political meetings she goes to. And with you in politics, I’ll be guaranteed of at least one more reliable contact in government.”

“Yeah, and I’ll give you the fullest advantage,” she replied. Her eyes grew serious as she traced her finger along his jaw. “I never imagined that I could ever like someone so much,” she said softly.

He smiled, maintaining eye contact with her. “I’m one lucky guy.”

“But I’m really wasting my time, aren’t I?” she asked in a matter-of-fact way.

He was a little startled and shot her a quick look. Her lips were still smiling, but her eyes were serious. “What’re you talking about?”

“Me. You. Yemi. You still like her, don’t you?”

“We’re separated.”

She laughed softly but mirthlessly. “Separated, but she’s still got your heart firmly in her hold.”

“Lois…”

“Don’t try to deny it.” Her tone was not accusatory, just a little sad. “I may be playful, but I’m not blind or stupid. It’s been well over a year since we started dating, Akeem, and you’re no closer to drawing closure on your marriage than when we first began.” She looked away from him. “I saw your reaction to her at the restaurant. You could barely keep your eyes off her. Neither could you hide your jealousy that she was with someone else.”

Akeem shook his head almost in frustration. He did not like the hurt he saw in her eyes. He didn’t want to hurt her. Not for Yemi. So what if she had gone to see his mum in hospital? He had learnt from Sara that she was now “born again.” So that was her just trying to be a good little Christian. It did not mean that her feelings towards him had changed.

“Yemi is about to divorce me. She’s already filed the papers.”

She raised her brows slightly. “And yet you still keep a life-size painting of her in your study?”

He stared at her. She had never given any indication that it bothered her. “The painting used to be in the sitting room downstairs. I had it removed after we split.” The explanation sounded lame even to his own ears. Why had he not had that painting moved into storage instead of his study? “Believe me, Yemi has no feelings for me, and I don’t have…”

She placed a finger on his lips, cutting off the rest of his words. “Don’t lie to yourself, Akeem.” She swung her legs over the edge of the sofa. “I don’t know about her, but I know you’re not over her. Far from it.” She smiled sadly as she touched his face one more time before leaving the room.

∞∞∞

“Did Senator Dankaro tell you when I can see him?” Akeem asked, trying to keep his tone calm. He wasn’t exactly pleased at the cancelled appointment, but he wasn’t about to show his true feelings to the personal assistant. He had shelved many important things to be in Abuja for the meeting with the minister, only to have him cancel at the last minute.

“He didn’t, but I will give you a call as soon as I’m sure what his itinerary will be.”

Akeem thanked him and disconnected the call. He called Hasan. They were both in Abuja on separate business missions but planned to fly back to Lagos together that afternoon.

“These politicians can be so unreliable!” Hasan sounded exasperated on the phone when Akeem told him about it. “How could he let you fly all the way to Abuja only to cancel the appointment?”

Akeem smiled wryly. “They’ve got the power. Anyway, I’m on my way to your hotel. We may as well do some catching up, and I want to hear all about your new project.”

He thought about the cancelled appointment on the way to NiconNoga Hotel where Hasan was staying. He had come a long way in dealing with people in the corridors of power. He would contact the personal assistant again when he got back to Lagos. He knew the minister would see him eventually; He was aware that Akeem had too many connections to be ignored or messed with.

Akeem was looking forward to catching up with Hasan. An arm of Hasan’s company had just won a major government contract to construct some national roads, and he was excited about it. Julius Berger and some other heavies had also bid for the contract, but Hasan had managed to push his through.

But besides that, it would be good to just spend some time with Hasan. He didn’t know why he needed company these days. It must be some sort of hangover from his split with Lois. He still toyed with the idea of going after her. He knew he could get her back if he really wanted to. She loved him, and all she needed was reassurance that he was truly over Yemi.

He smiled cynically. Yemi, his soon-to-be ex-wife. They only had three months left on their agreement, and he had made up his mind that he would let it go through. She was still acting “funny” these days, though. She had actually tried to prolong their conversation on the phone a few days earlier, which was very strange. She normally just dispensed information about Aleena and ended the conversation abruptly after she was done. It had to be all that born again stuff Sara had told him about. But who knew what would happen when the fad wore off?

“A. K.!” Hasan hailed him as they bumped shoulders when he arrived at his suite. He looked admiringly at Akeem’s suit. “Nice cut. Alexander Amosu?”

He nodded. “Yeah…the guy is good. I’d recommend him any day.” He looked around the room as he sat down. “What have you been up to?”

“Nothing much. Been on the phone with my office. A few things crept up that needed sorting out. Should I order something for you to eat?”

“No, thanks. I’ve had lunch already.” Akeem stretched out his legs. He needed a good workout at the gym to release all the tension he felt. “Can’t wait to get back to Lagos. Got a lot to do, but wish I had been able to wrap up everything I came for,” he said, thinking of the cancelled appointment.

“I know, but they are like that sometimes. Did he fix another appointment?”

“His secretary said he would call and make another appointment with me.”

They talked about business. It was a good season for both companies. Hasan’s phone rang. “It’s Fayona,” he said before taking the call.

Akeem picked up one of the newspapers on the centre table. It was filled with news of the upcoming elections. Chloe’s dad, Senator Ola-Daniels, was gaining ground, much to the chagrin of those who had been before him. Akeem liked Ola-Daniels, but he still preferred the policies of the other party. However, he felt that he might need to extend a hand of friendship to him. He would make sure to send a personal donation to his campaign team when he got back to Lagos.

“Okay, baby, let the pastor know that I’ll see him by the weekend,” Hasan was saying to Fayona. “No, we will stop by his house on our way back from Shona’s on Saturday. We’re still going there, right?” He winked when he saw Akeem looking at him. “Guess who’s here?” He laughed at something she said and then held the phone away from him. “She said to invite you for lunch on Sunday, is that okay?”

Akeem ran his itinerary for that day through his mind. Nothing much. Aleena was going to be with Yemi. He nodded, and Hasan continued with his call.

“So you’re still in on all that church stuff?” Akeem asked Hasan later when he was done.

“Yeah…and really enjoying it, too. You should try it.” He laughed as he saw Akeem shaking his head even before he could complete his statement. “Honestly, it’s been amazing! I never knew I could have so much peace even in the midst of my crazy schedule!”

“I’ve got all the peace I need,” Akeem replied. “I have to talk to Fayona. She’s turned my friend soft.”

Hasan laughed. “By the way, she said she’s making your favourite on Sunday and for you to turn up on empty or else…”

Akeem smiled. “Will do. Fayona’s food is too good to waste.”

Hasan eyed him slyly. “I know another lady who cooks very well too. Her name is Yemi Kadiri. Would you know her, by any chance?”

“Not sure, but I’ve got a very good cook at home by the name of Bassey Ekeng.”

“I’ve eaten several types of food from acclaimed chefs worldwide, but no one does it like a loving wife.”

“The key words there are ‘loving’ and ‘wife,’” Akeem pointed out. “Mine doesn’t love me. She’s about to divorce me.”

“Go after your wife, A. K.,” Hasan said sombrely. “Pursue her like you did at the beginning. She’s bound to give in.”

He ignored Hasan’s comment. “Tell me more about this new project of yours. When do you start exactly?”

“We’re planning to…” He stopped. Akeem’s phone was vibrating.

Akeem looked at the caller ID. It was the minister’s personal assistant. He mouthed the minister’s name to Hasan, and the latter raised his brows questioningly. Akeem shrugged; he didn’t know why the assistant was calling either. Probably to fix another appointment.

“Mr. Kadiri, Honourable Dankaro can see you today after all,” the assistant said when Akeem connected the call. “He has an hour free this afternoon at 1:30 p.m., if that is okay with you.”

Akeem looked at his watch, it was almost noon. He was definitely going to miss his flight to Lagos if he saw the minister. “I’ll be there,” he said.

“I think it is better that you see him,” Hasan agreed when Akeem told him what the personal assistant had said to him. “Who knows when you will get another appointment with him?”

“I know,” Akeem said. “Why don’t we both push our flights back to later this evening so that we can still fly back together?”

“Hmmm…could work. Fayona’s handling an event and won’t be home until much later anyway.”

Akeem grinned slyly. “At least we know she won’t be pining for you.” Fayona had recently started an events planning business. Both Sara and Fayona had been motivated by Yemi’s success in her business, and that had prompted them to start their own businesses too.

“Go get your wife back. Then you can talk to me about pining.”

Hasan called his personal assistant to reschedule their flights. While he was doing that, Akeem placed a call to his driver and asked him to return back to the hotel. He didn’t want to take chances with traffic.

He had been right not to have gotten himself into a twist earlier on, he thought to himself as he made his way back into the minister’s reception office about an hour later. Things always worked out with a little bit of patience.

Just as he was waiting to be called in for his appointment, his phone beeped. It was Hasan.

“Sorry, A. K., I’m going to catch the earlier flight after all. Some things have come up, and I have to get to Lagos on time today so that I can start dealing with them first thing in the morning.”

“Oh, all right then,” Akeem responded, his eyes moving towards the door. The assistant was already motioning to him that the minister was ready to see him.

“The other flight is still on as scheduled by my office. See you in Lagos, bro.”

“Take care,” Akeem said and disconnected the call, before walking into the minister’s office.

∞∞∞

A few hours later, Akeem glanced at his wristwatch. He was happy that he had decided to stay behind for the meeting. The minister had been amiable, and the meeting had gone very well.

But now he had over four hours to kill before his flight back to Lagos. That had been the earliest flight Hasan could arrange on such short notice.

“Take me to Navagne, please,” he told the driver. He would just relax at the club before leaving for the airport. He didn’t have any luggage to check in and would only need to go through security.

He ordered drinks when he got to the club and sat back to relax. He leafed through his copy of the Times magazine. Glancing up casually a few minutes later, his eyes were arrested by a tall, slim lady making her way into the lounge. Similar height and build, but it wasn’t her. He kicked himself mentally, angry at his thoughts. What would Yemi be doing here anyway? he asked himself, feeling irritated. Someday I’ll be able to purge that lady completely from my system. He took a sip of his drink and forced his mind back to the magazine.

“Mr. Akeem Kadiri?”

He looked up. It was the lady he had seen earlier. “Hello?”

She smiled. “Whoa! Thought it was you. I’m Shola Dougherty,” she said, extending her hand towards him.

He clasped her hand while giving her a quick look-over. Pretty lady. “Pleasure meeting you.”

“I’m a huge fan of yours!” she gushed. “I think what you’re doing in the telecoms industry is amazing!”

He smiled. “Thanks, you’re kind.” He could see the look of interest in her eyes as she looked at his bare fingers.

“Can I join you? I came to see my brother. He owns this place. Just checked on him but he’s busy at the moment.”

“Of course you can.” Akeem pulled out a chair for her. He had some time to kill. What better way to spend it than with a pretty lady? “You live in Abuja?” he asked.

“That’s correct, but I also have a home in Lagos.”

He listened to her talk about herself, all the while thinking that her resemblance to Yemi ended in her height and build, because Yemi would never chat up a strange guy, even if he was the president of the United States.

Her brother came into the bar a little while later. He came over to say hello to Akeem, but Shola didn’t seem interested in seeing him anymore. Akeem was amused to see the look that passed between Shola and her brother. She was a pretty lady, but he didn’t think he was going to pursue it any more than that. He was still thinking of going after Lois. He was fond of her, and she got on well with his daughter. They could work something out.

An hour and a half later, it was time to head to the airport. He exchanged phone numbers with Shola. It was then that he remembered that his phone had been on silent since his meeting with the minister. He picked it out of his pocket to reset it, only to find several missed calls from Fola.

“Akeem! Is that you?” Fola sounded agitated when he returned the call.

The guy was calling his direct line. Who else could it be? “What’s going on?” He had never heard Fola sound so ruffled in all the time that he had known him.

Fola sounded relieved. “There’s been a plane crash! Your assistant said you changed your travel plans, but I had to make sure. The plane that crashed was the original flight you were scheduled to take…”

Akeem’s heart froze. “Hold on, Fola,” he cut in abruptly. “Are you sure of what you are saying?”

“It’s on the news! Has been flashing every few minutes for a while now. Where are you?”

Akeem could not answer. Some soft music was playing in the car. “Change to a news channel, Peter,” he almost shouted at the driver.

His heart was thudding hard against his chest. He opened his briefcase with shaky hands and brought out the initial boarding pass to confirm the flight number of the plane he had been meant to catch.

“Where are you, Akeem?” Fola asked again. His voice sounded faint over the phone, as Akeem was no longer holding it to his ear.

He could not answer. He waited impatiently for news of the crash. There was a commercial going on and then just afterwards, the news flash came on. He strained his ears to listen and then looked at the flight details on the boarding pass. His heart stopped momentarily.

“Akeem, are you still there?” Fola asked again.

Akeem’s head felt woozy. He didn’t know when he disconnected the call to Fola. “Take me to NiconNoga hotel,” he said shakily to the driver.

It couldn’t be true. Hasan could not be on that flight! He dialled his number frantically several times on the way to the hotel. It kept going to voice mail.

“C’mon, Hasan, pick up your phone!” he said desperately over and over again. “Pick up, man!” he repeated as he kept redialling the number.

When he arrived at the hotel, he almost ran into the reception in his haste to get in. From the sombre looks on the faces of the staff at the reception, he knew they were already aware of the plane crash too.

“Please, I’d like to see Mr. Hasan Idris,” he told the receptionist and gave her Hasan’s room number. He was hoping against hope that he would be told to go right up.

The receptionist checked the computer. “I’m afraid Mr. Idris has already checked out.”

“About what time did he leave?” Akeem asked, still clinging on to hope. Hasan had two plane tickets after all. He might have just left for the airport a few minutes ago and wanted to surprise Akeem.

The receptionist seemed hesitant about giving him information about a customer. She looked towards a guy who appeared to be a more senior member of staff. The guy nodded.

“He left here about four hours ago,” she replied.

Akeem gripped the edge of the reception desk tightly. The room seemed to be closing in on him.

“Are you okay, sir?” the guy that appeared to be the head receptionist asked.

He nodded even though he didn’t feel like it. He held up a hand in silent thanks to the lady who had given him the information. At the same time, his phone rang again. It was Fola.

“Akeem, are you okay? Are you still in Abuja?”

“I am,” he replied, inhaling and exhaling deeply. The faces of Fayona, Jayden, and Farah swam before him in slow motion. How would he face them?

The reception staff was looking at him, their faces registering concern and curiosity.

He forced his feet to move towards the entrance.

“Akeem?” Fola was still on the line. He was sounding worried.

“Fola, I think my friend, Hasan, was on that flight.”

Chapter 25

 

Yemi tried to keep herself busy in Fayona and Hasan’s house. It was the only way to keep herself from breaking down in tears. Sara and some other close friends were doing the same. Everyone was doing stuff, tidying, serving drinks, and whatever else needed to be done. Hushed voices. Averted faces. Eyes reddened from frequent trips to the bathroom to cry secretly.

She looked over at Fayona. Many times Fayona simply stared into space; other times tears flowed unchecked down her cheeks. Yemi bit her lower lip. How would Fayona cope with the loss of her adoring husband?

She had heard about Akeem almost taking the same flight, and the news had shaken her to her very core. He had been in and out of the house several times that day, trying to help coordinate things for Hasan’s funeral.

“I’m really sorry, Akeem,” she had said, going to him when she first saw him. His Giorgio Armani sunglasses were constantly on his face, whether indoors or outdoors. Her heart filled with compassion at what he must be going through. She knew how close they had been.

“He is…was your friend too,” he replied quietly. “Still spoke of you yesterday.”

She had choked up then. The lump in her throat was too painful. “Can’t believe he’s gone,” she said as a tear drifted down her cheek. Another one followed in quick succession.

“I can’t either,” he replied, taking her hand in his and squeezing it gently. They talked for a few more minutes, and then he had to go and attend to other things.

The funeral was held a week later. Fayona’s short eulogy to her husband moved anyone who was still dry-eyed to tears.

“I can’t say good-bye because there are no good-byes between soulmates,” she said, staring at his coffin. “But I know where you are, and honey, someday we’ll be together again…”

Her eyes had been dry, as if she was too spent to cry anymore. But that had changed when she got back home. It was as if it just dawned on her afresh that her husband was really gone. She became almost hysterical and had to be sedated again.

Yemi left after Fayona fell asleep. She planned to go back the next day. Fayona’s younger sister and cousins were going to be staying with her for some time. The plan was for her to travel with her kids to England when the schools broke up in a couple of weeks.

She kept thinking of Akeem when she got home. Her eyes had kept darting to his face during the funeral. His eyes were still hidden behind his Giorgio Armani sunglasses, but his face had been grim all through. She debated within herself a little bit but shrugged off her hesitation and decided to call him later that evening.

“Are you okay?” she asked him when he picked the call.

“Not really, but trying to be,” he admitted. “What about you?”

“Trying to be too.”

She would have wanted to go over to his place, at least for that day. There was something about losing someone dear that made everyone that knew the person want to bunch up together and just talk about him and the times they had all shared together, but she was too wary about bumping into Lois. Aleena had told her a few weeks earlier that “Aunt Lois” no longer came to her daddy’s house, but she had not known if the little girl was right or not. She had seen Lois from afar at the funeral, and she and Akeem had still acted pretty close.

“Is…is someone with you?” she asked warily.

“Sara and Fadel are here, and some other friends too,” he replied. He paused for a moment. “You want to come over?”

She was almost tempted to answer in the affirmative, but she felt Lois would likely be there too. That would make the place crowded as far as she was concerned.

“Um, I was thinking of it, but you’ve got people with you already.”

He didn’t say anything, and they were both silent for a long moment.

“Okay, then, Akeem. Take care,” she said.

“Thanks.” His voice was quiet. “Take care, Yemi.”

∞∞∞

“Ready to go?” Shona asked Tanya.

Akeem glanced at Shona. It had been over a week since Hasan’s burial, but her eyes were still reddened and puffy. He had just been to Fayona’s a little while earlier that day, and she was pretty much the same.

“I am,” Tanya responded.

“Akeem said he will drop you off at home,” Shona told her.

Tanya hesitated. “I can just catch a taxi. I don’t want to be in the way.”

“You’re not in the way,” Akeem assured her.

“Thanks,” Tanya said, still looking like she would have preferred to decline. She said good-bye to Justin and Shona before walking with him to his car. He opened the door for her.

“Thank you,” she said, as she did up her belt. “I’m really sorry about your friend,” she told him quietly.

“Thanks.” He had seen her during the funeral from a distance. He had been surprised to see Yemi chatting with her. Shona had explained to him that Yemi and Tanya attended the same church.

He drove in silence for a few minutes. “I didn’t really get what the pastor was talking about during the service of songs,” he said abruptly.

Tanya turned slightly in her seat. “I don’t understand.”

He stared straight ahead. “The pastor’s message. He said for people not to be sad because Hasan has gone to a better place.” His voice was tight as he recollected how annoying the pastor’s words had been to him then. “That’s pure balderdash if I ever heard any.”

Tanya was quiet for a long time. “I know it may sound like that, but anyone who dies as a Christian really does go to a better place.”

“Why can’t you all face up to the obvious fact that God, if he exists, failed Hasan by letting him die like that? Why be hypocritical about it?”

“God never fails,” she said quietly. “I don’t claim to know all the answers or even to begin to understand it, but God never fails.”

He snorted derisively. “This sure looks like failure to me. Hasan believed in God. He should have protected him.”

“The two most accurate witnesses in any situation is the person involved and, of course, God who knows all things. It’s a pity that we may not be able to get what really happened in this case, but Hasan really has gone to a better place, albeit a little early.”

“I know my friend had great plans for life. He wasn’t planning to go to a better place any time soon.”

Tanya’s voice was quiet. “Shona told me that he had actually rescheduled his flight but changed his mind at the last minute.”

“Good excuse. So you mean there was no other way he could have known that he was not meant to get on that plane?” He inhaled deeply, trying to calm down. “In fact, the plane could have been prevented from crashing altogether!”

He stopped at a traffic light. He was sorry he was taking it out on her, but he was angry, and the pastor’s message had been like adding salt to the festering sore in his heart over the loss of his friend.

“But do we also blame God for human error?” she asked gently. “I know the official report about the cause of the plane crash is not yet out, but we may well find out that the crash was due to that. Some people may have simply failed to do their jobs.”

He moved again when the lights changed. A few minutes later, he turned off the main road onto the street where she lived.

“And who knows, God may have tried to use you to get Hasan off that flight,” she said.

“I didn’t get on that flight because I had a rescheduled meeting. There was nothing supernatural about it.”

“There are some things we may just never understand on this side of life.” She paused for a moment and glanced at him. “But the state in which a man dies is what’s important. Everyone close to Hasan testifies to the fact that he had a healthy relationship with God. Such a person would have been at peace right to the very end.”

“I’m afraid I don’t see it that way.” The anger had drained out of him, and he felt weary. “But I’m sorry for taking it out on you.”

“That’s okay. I understand,” she replied quietly.

∞∞∞

Akeem felt better after his shower. He knew he needed to eat something, but he did not feel like it. Bassey was away in France on a catering course. He had discussed his plans to open a restaurant in the near future, and Akeem fully supported the idea. Bassey had been a faithful employee for many years, and even though Akeem knew he would have to look for a new cook soon, he had been happy to sponsor the course.

He poured himself a drink and turned on the TV. He hoped the drink coupled with his tired body would be able to lull him to sleep.

He settled on CNN and tried to listen to the newscaster, but Tanya’s words kept flitting through his mind. She always sounded so sure of her beliefs. He knew he had been bullish with her, but he had been irked by what Hasan’s pastor had preached during the service of songs. To him, there was nothing remotely joyful about his friend’s death. And he resented anyone calling it anything other than the tragedy that it was.

He took another sip of his drink as Tanya’s words about Hasan being at peace to the end came back to him. That had struck a chord. From the conversation they had that last afternoon at the hotel, he was almost certain that Hasan would not have been afraid of death. He wondered how he would have felt had he been on that flight. Fear was not an emotion he entertained, but would he have succumbed to it then? Would he have wondered if there really was anything to a life after death, as people like Tanya claimed? And if there was really a God, would he have been ready to meet with him?

Fayona talked about Hasan like she would see him again someday. Oh, she wept for long periods when the pain of his departure became too unbearable, but she was still strong even in the midst of her pain. She had even found the strength to encourage him. Akeem felt he should be the one encouraging her, but he had nothing to offer other than financial help, and Fayona would not need that anyway.

He took another sip of his brandy. Hasan’s death had made him begin to wonder what life was all about. Moreover, he had to admit that there was really something different about his friends since they started all their religious stuff, a kind of inner serenity that puzzled him. Something he lacked. He had money, connections, and privileges that many men would envy, but he also had an emptiness inside him that no amount of success had been able to fill.

He stared broodingly into space. “If you are real as they say, then show yourself to me,” he muttered.

He looked around as if he expected to see something, but came to himself and laughed out loud. What was he thinking? Losing his friend must be affecting his reasoning. He took another sip of his brandy and concentrated on the news.

∞∞∞

“Mummy, Daddy is…” Aleena brought her voice down to a whisper, as if she did not want to be overheard. “Daddy is very sad,” she told Yemi over the phone. “Aunt Kufre said he didn’t eat any dinner, just keeps drinking coffee. He is missing Uncle Hasan.”

“I know…” Yemi sighed. She was missing him too. It was all still so unreal.

Aleena was on holidays and was with Akeem. Yemi knew he had taken some time off work and had sent Aleena over to stay with him. She felt that Aleena would create a welcome distraction for him, but Aleena was meant to be returning back to her place that day.

“You know what? I’m going to come over there to see you both today,” Yemi said, making up her mind on the spur of the moment. She would also tell Akeem that Aleena could stay with him a little longer.

“Yay! I’m going to tell Aunt Kufre!” Aleena squealed. “But Mummy,” she said, hushing her voice again, “don’t tell Daddy that I told you that he’s sad.”

“Of course not, baby. I won’t, and don’t tell your dad I’m coming over either.”

Aleena was excited about the secret and promised not to tell. Yemi hesitated a bit but decided to ask the question burning in her mind. “Is Lois there in the house?”

“No, she’s not. I’ve not seen Auntie Lois for a long time, but maybe I should ask Daddy if she’s going…”

“No, don’t do that, Alee,” Yemi said quickly. “I’ll see you soon. Let me speak with Kufre.”

She finished up what she had to do in the office and went back home to change. She had been thinking of Akeem a lot lately and wondering how he was faring. Sara had also been dropping hints that she should go and see him, but it was Aleena’s statement that had finally made her decide to go. If the little girl had noticed that he wasn’t fine, then he really wasn’t fine.

“Hey, Akeem, I’m outside your gate. Can you tell the security to let me in, please?” she said to him on the phone when she arrived at the house about an hour later.

She gazed at the wrought-iron gates. Her once-upon-a-time home.

He was waiting for her at the door when she got there. His face looked leaner. His chin was unshaven, making him look even more rugged. If he was surprised to see her, he wasn’t showing it.

“Thanks for sending Aleena over,” he said to her as he led the way to the sitting room. “I was going to ask the driver to bring her back, though.”

“Does that mean you’re not happy to see me?” she asked lightly as she sat down in the sitting room. It felt so strange being there after such a long time, and yet it was all still so familiar. She could see some changes. Shona must have been there.

“I’ve been hoping you’d come by,” he said, sitting down. He stretched his long legs out in front of him. “At least because of Hasan.”

She tried not to stare at his legs or at the lean, muscular arms that showed through the polo shirt he had on over the knee-length cargo shorts. He seemed even more toned than she remembered.

“Didn’t want to barge in…I knew Lois would be with you, anyway.”

“She broke up with me a while ago.”

She shot him a quick look, and his eyes met hers. Was she supposed to say something in response to his statement? Because she didn’t have anything to say.

“Maybe you should let Aleena know I’m here,” she said, looking away. “But I’ve not actually come to pick her up. She can stay with you for the rest of the week. That is, if it doesn’t affect your schedule.”

He snorted. “My schedule? Hasan’s death has taught me a few lessons. The sun continues to rise and fall irrespective of anyone. I’ve made up my mind to begin to appreciate the simple things of life from henceforth.”

She smiled slightly. “Like bonding with your daughter?”

“Yeah…and other things.” His eyes flicked over her face as he reached beside him for the intercom.

Aleena bounded into the sitting room a few minutes later. She was very excited to see her mother, and her chattering began immediately. Yemi rolled her eyes at Akeem over Aleena’s head, and he nodded knowingly. They had always wondered where she got her ability to chatter ceaselessly from. Certainly not from either one of them.

“Have you eaten?” she asked him when Aleena had gone back with Kufre to the other sitting room to continue watching her cartoons.

“Not really hungry.”

She glanced at her wristwatch. It was almost four in the evening. Small wonder his face was looking leaner. “Right, let’s see what we can rustle up for lunch, or is it dinner now?”

He smiled and followed her into the kitchen. A wave of nostalgia hit her. Her kitchen. How many times had she lovingly cooked their meals there before her nightmare began? She pushed the thoughts away. God had healed her heart, and it was permanent.

Akeem told her about Bassey’s course in France while she checked the freezers and fridge. Bassey had stocked them up with lots of prepared dishes. She wondered which to heat up for their dinner but changed her mind and decided to make something fresh. He smiled when he saw her bring out the chopping board. He knew she liked her food fresh.

“Can I help you with anything?” he asked.

“Um…you can bring out some plates and help set the table. We can eat in the kitchen, can’t we?”

“Of course.”

She prepared a sauce using the sweet peppers and vegetables she found in the fridge and boiled some white rice to go with it. Then she popped some of the jerk chicken that Bassey had made into the oven.

Sometime later, Aleena and Kufre joined them in the kitchen. Yemi served them their meal, but when she started to dish some food onto Akeem’s plate, he stopped her.

“Can we eat in the sitting room or dining room?” he asked.

She raised her brows questioningly. He looked back at her, the expression in his eyes unreadable. She shrugged and nodded.

“Aren’t you eating with us?” Aleena asked, watching Yemi dish their portions onto plates and place them on trays.

“I want some time with your mum,” Akeem replied.

That seemed to satisfy Aleena. She went back to her conversation with Kufre. Akeem and Yemi took their food to the sitting room.

“Very tasty,” he said as he started eating. “I’ve missed this.”

“You’re just trying to be polite, aren’t you?” she teased. “You and I both know that Bassey cooks very well.”

He took his time to respond, chewing his food slowly, an expression of exaggerated enjoyment on his face. “You know what? Hasan said something about this very same thing the last time I saw him.”

“What did he say?”

“Something about wives and cooks.” He smiled slightly, his eyes holding hers. “He said no cook does food like your wife.”

Yemi felt heat in her cheeks, both at his words and at the way that he was looking at her. She looked away and concentrated on her food. About a minute later, she looked up again. His eyes were still on her, amusement evident in their depths at her obvious embarrassment, but thankfully he said nothing more.

She stayed for a few more hours after dinner. They reminisced about the past and laughed at the funny memories.

“I wish I had insisted that he wait for me that day. From what I eventually gathered, what Hasan had to do in Lagos was really not that urgent. It was just typical him wanting to get things rolling.” Pain appeared to shadow his eyes and, he sighed. “He could have still been alive today.”

“There’s no way you could have known,” she said gently. “But for that call, you could have been on the same flight too.” She reached out and touched his hand. “Don’t blame yourself, Akeem. Hasan would not want you to do that.”

He covered her hand with his. “Thanks.”

They both stayed with Aleena before she went to bed, which thrilled the little girl. Akeem read her a story, and Yemi sat back and watched. He was not just reading the story straight through like he used to do; instead, he demonstrated it as well, making his voice deeper or lighter when necessary. A giggle almost escaped her at his impersonation of a female character. She wished his staff could see him. He caught her amused look and gave her a mock frown.

They returned to the sitting room afterwards. She knew he really needed company by the way he would bring up another topic anytime she glanced at her wristwatch, but finally she felt it was late enough and decided to get going.

“Thanks a lot, Yemi. Have not felt this good for a while,” he said, standing with her by her car. “Hope I’ll see you again soon?”

Was he just lonely because he had broken up with Lois, or did he really want her company? “Will let you know when I’m coming,” she replied before getting into her car. “Take care.”

“I’ll call you later tonight. Drive safely.”

∞∞∞

Akeem still didn’t know about God and wasn’t sure if he really existed, but he knew that there was something different about Yemi. The anger and bitterness were gone; in their place, there seemed to be an inner beauty and glow that radiated from her.

They had gone out for lunch a couple of times in the past two weeks. Short periods, lighthearted chats, but thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless. They also spoke on the phone every day. He made sure of that. Speaking to her was the highlight of his day. For the first couple of days, he struggled to get over the fact that he could just pick up the phone and call her, and their conversation didn’t have to be about Aleena. It was amazing.

He was still being very careful though, so he resisted the urge to call her more than once a day. He didn’t want anything to stir up the animosity that he had experienced from her in the last three years. They still tried to keep their conversations light and easy. They avoided talking about the reason for their split, and he skirted around anything that could trigger bad memories.

He didn’t think the change in her attitude towards him was just because of Hasan’s death. After all, she had gone to see his mum in hospital before Hasan had died. Something had definitely changed in her, and it seemed real. She didn’t bash him with her new beliefs, either, but she was more confident whenever it came into their conversations.

“I’m attending Bible study tomorrow, so I won’t be able to talk with you in the evening,” she had told him the third day that they spoke on the phone.

“What time do you get back home?”

“At about eight thirty.”

“I’ll call you at about nine thirty, is that okay?”

“That’s fine,” she had replied.

He had done just that. He was taking it easy with her, but he didn’t intend to give her much space either. He had come to terms with his feelings. Lois had been right: Yemi still had his heart firmly in her hold.

∞∞∞

Yemi waited in her car outside the Ola-Daniels’ residence. Aleena sat impatiently in the backseat as they waited to be let into the house. Yemi noticed the increase in the security detail at the house. She had already filled out the visitor’s forms but she was still being told to wait for clearance.

She eyed the gun-toting security men with a little apprehension. Akeem had armed security men in his house, but their guns were always hidden away. These security men made theirs so obvious that it was frightening.

She tried Charlotte’s number. It was switched off. She was on the verge of turning back home when she was finally allowed to drive in.

“So sorry, Yemi,” Charlotte apologised when Yemi walked into the sitting room where she had been having what appeared to be a meeting with five other women. The women smiled politely at her as they left the room. “My husband is just trying to be a bit more careful with people going in and out of the house, now that the elections are so close.”

“I understand, but are you sure you’re okay with Aleena being around this weekend?” Yemi asked. She was feeling uneasy about leaving Aleena there now anyway. “I know it’s a busy period for you. We can rearrange the sleepover.”

Aleena turned towards her with a look of dismay on her face.

“Or better still, take Chloe with us,” Yemi added hurriedly, preferring not to have to deal with Aleena’s sulks.

“No, it’s okay. They will be fine here,” Charlotte insisted.

She reluctantly let Aleena stay. Aleena had set her heart so much on the sleepover, and Charlotte might have been a bit put off too if she had insisted on taking Aleena back with her. But Yemi made up her mind that she was not going to let Aleena do any more sleepovers at the Ola-Daniels house until the elections were over.

Akeem was coming over to her place that afternoon, and she was looking forward to seeing him. She knew that the attraction he had always had for her was back. It had been easy to convince herself that she no longer had any feelings for him when she’d been so angry with him, but with her bitterness gone, it was just like how it had always been, maybe more.

He arrived about an hour after she got home. It was the first time he had been there since their fight in her kitchen. How different things were now, she thought to herself as she heated up a meal for him while he walked casually around her kitchen, chatting with her and checking things out.

“Whoever fixed these cabinets did a lousy job,” he said, inspecting the shelves in her kitchen.

“What’s wrong with them?” she asked, peering over his shoulder and trying to see what he was talking about.

“Don’t bother,” he said with a knowing smile, and she laughed. They both knew he was a lot more detailed in such things than she was.

“I could send someone from the office to have a look at it. This wood will give way soon if not reinforced or changed outright,” he said, still looking at the shelf. He turned back towards her. “But on second thoughts, I don’t think that will be necessary.”

She looked at the shelf and then back at him. He didn’t say anything more. Just smiled and changed the topic.

“Would you like to play a game or watch a movie?” she asked after they had eaten.

“I don’t really mind either. What would you like?”

“Let’s play chess,” she said.

She beat him twice at it and was beginning to feel quite smug when she noticed the very serious expression on his face, like he was struggling to keep his face straight, and the truth dawned on her.

“You’re deliberately letting me win,” she accused him.

The innocent look he gave her convinced her that she was right. “Certainly not!”

She knew he was not telling the truth. There was no sweetness in the victory if he was deliberately conceding it to her. That would tarnish her bragging rights over him.

“C’mon, Akeem, give it your all.”

He did, and beat her soundly. She was not happy about the results.

“Let’s have another go,” she told him shortly, still smarting from the loss.

He obliged, and they started again, but three-quarters of the way through the game, she knew her efforts were futile as it was obvious he was going to win again. She glanced at him; he was still keeping his face studiously straight, but she could see the mirth dancing in his eyes.

“Stop looking so smug, you’ve not won yet,” she said. He looked at her but said nothing. They continued playing, and a few minutes later, he won the game.

She looked up to see his eyes on her.

“What?” she asked a little crossly.

He shrugged “Nothing…I mean, I wouldn’t dare say I’ve almost forgotten what a sore loser you are.” He chuckled at the expression on her face.

Yemi scowled, but a hint of a smile tugged at the corner of her lips. “You’re going to make up for beating me. You owe me big time.”

Akeem shook his head in protest. “I beat you and then I pay you? What if you had won?”

Yemi shrugged. That was how they had operated in the past. Anytime he beat her at a game, she would sulk until he agreed to treat her to anything she demanded.

“We’ll deal with that when it happens. For now, just know that you owe me.”

“What do you want?”

“Is that a blank check?” she queried. “Can I ask for anything I like?”

His expression remained unaltered. “Anything.”

“Hmmm…” She tilted her head to an angle and eyed him. Buying her things was going to be easy stuff for him. She wanted something that would make him sweat. “Get ready.”

“I’m waiting.”

She cupped her chin in her hands and made a great show of appearing to think hard. He smiled and began to put the game into its pack.

“Is it that difficult?” he asked a couple of minutes later when she still hadn’t said anything.

She put her finger to her lips. “Shhh…I’m trying to think here.”

He sat back, watching her, a smile playing at the corner of his lips.

A couple of minutes later, she tapped the table. “Aha! I know what I want!” she said triumphantly.

“What?”

She smirked. “You’ll have to make me dinner from scratch. A three-course meal too, and not ordered from any restaurant.”

He laughed. “Okay…I won’t order it.”

She looked at him suspiciously. He had given in too easily. Had his culinary skills improved so much in the time they had been apart?

He shot her a playful frown. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“I said you can’t order the food,” she emphasised. “You have to cook it yourself.”

“And I said I won’t order it,” he repeated. “As in order it from a restaurant. Satisfied?”

“You can’t ask anyone else to do it either. You have to make everything yourself.”

From the way he laughed, she knew that he had been planning to do just that.

“Hmmm…but be prepared to eat anything I cook, though,” he told her, still smiling. “But I can’t believe I’m paying for beating you! See why it’s easier to just let you win?”

“Whatever.” Yemi smiled and tossed her hair.

He leaned forward slightly, his eyes holding hers. “So what do I get for winning? Can I ask for anything too?”

She shook her head. “Nah.”

“But that’s not fair,” he protested. “You should extend the same benefit to me. I can assure you that I won’t take as much time to reply as you did.” He smiled slowly, looking at her through half-hooded lids. “I know exactly what I want,” he added softly.

Yemi felt heat radiating in her cheeks. There was no way she would give him that chance. She didn’t trust him, and that roguish look in his eyes was anything but honourable.

“No, the way we’ve always played this game is that the winner pays the loser. That’s the rule of the game.”

He shook his head. “I’m being bullied here. Who can I complain to?”

“Your daughter,” she replied, and he laughed.

∞∞∞

Yemi tried her best to eat the meal that Akeem prepared for her a couple of weeks later. Aleena and Kufre had opted to eat the pizza he bought for them instead. Smart choice!

She took another forkful of the marshy rice. She disliked her rice soft, and the sauce he had made to go along with it had so much seasoning in it that it was almost tangy in taste. Maybe he thought the more seasoning a food contained, the tastier it would be. Very wrong, Mr. CEO.

“You were warned,” Akeem said, watching her.

“Am I complaining?”

“I can read your face, little girl.”

She mouthed “old man” back at him, and he smiled. She pushed her plate back after a few more bites. “I think I’m done. Thank you for the meal. Please can I have the dessert now?”

He shook his head. “I’m not going to poison you.” He got up from the table. “I’ll just get you some ice cream instead.”

She hid a smile, and they cleared up together before going back to the sitting room.

“When’s Bassey coming back?” she asked as she settled in the sofa.

“In about ten days time, why?

She kept a straight face. “I wouldn’t want to see you poison yourself either.”

He laughed. “See, I knew you were just pretending. But not to worry, I’m going to take you out for a proper meal. What’s your schedule like? Are you free next week?”

She shook her head, and they fixed it for the week after. The men’s fellowship at her church was holding a business seminar the Saturday he had wanted them to go out. She had been hesitant about inviting him, but she decided to do so now that she knew he would be free.

“It’s very informal, nothing heavy. More like a business session actually,” she explained.

A shuttered look came over his face. “Um…I don’t think so for now, but will let you know,” he replied.

Yemi didn’t push it. She had just wanted to try. However, she was surprised when he brought up the topic later on.

“I’m still not sure about so many things,” he said to her. “I could just decide to go with the flow of all this ‘born again’ stuff because my wife is into it, but that’s not really me.”

That was another thing he liked to say. He called her his wife at every opportunity, whether necessary or not, as if to remind her who she was.

“I understand. I had a bit of a struggle as well, so I really do understand your hesitation.”

“But I’ve got to say that you’re a lot more confident about your beliefs now, though.” He grinned, his face looking incredibly attractive. “Those days, your words lacked merit. It was simply a question of the blind trying to lead the blind, as they say.”

She feigned a scowl and then turned round to grab a pillow from behind her to throw at him, but he was faster than her and grabbed her wrist. They laughed as they both wrestled over the pillow. He had the upper hand and held her hands firmly.

“Okay…I give up, I’m no longer throwing anything at you.” She laughed, but he didn’t release her.

“You’re beautiful when you laugh,” he said softly, looking into her eyes. She tried to look away, but he released one of her hands and used his other hand to tip her chin up so that she had to keep looking at him. Their laughter faded as their gaze locked.

Yemi felt her heart fluttering at the look in his eyes.

“You never asked me why Lois broke up with me,” he said a little huskily.

She almost couldn’t speak. It had always taken so little for this man to get to her. “Why?” she asked, hardly recognising her own voice.

He bent his head a little closer to hers, his cologne teasing her nostrils. “She said I was not over you,” he said as he trailed a finger along her neckline, leaving a flame burning in its wake. “And you know what?” he continued softly, his head dipping a little bit more. “She was right,” he added before covering her lips with his.

She didn’t bother trying to resist and kissed him back. There was no use pretending anymore. Akeem owned her heart and would always do.

Aleena’s coming into the sitting room a few minutes later was what made them draw shakily apart.

“Mummy, Aunt Kufre said…” The little girl stopped briefly when she saw them. She took in the scene and then continued as if it was the most natural thing in the world to see them like that.

It felt liberating to be able to admit to herself that she was still very much in love with Akeem, Yemi thought to herself as she drove Aleena and Kufre home later that evening. He wasn’t perfect, but neither was she, and she had just been as much to blame for the breakup of their marriage as he was.

∞∞∞

Yemi was pleasantly surprised when Akeem told her a couple of days later that he would be attending the men’s meeting.

He just wants you back, that’s all. A malevolent voice tried to whisper into her thoughts, but she shoved it away before it took root. She was done suspecting his motives. It hadn’t helped her in the past.

She prayed for him, as she was wont to do these days. She knew her pastor normally gave a short message during the programme, and she prayed that it would make an impact on him.

But as the day drew closer, she remembered his views on Christianity, and she soon forgot about praying and began stressing, hoping that he would understand the message. She even thought of dropping a hint to the pastor so that he could adjust his message appropriately to capture Akeem’s attention. As she pondered on those thoughts, she almost despaired. Could any message touch a man who had so narrowly missed death and yet was still sticking to his views?

But in the midst of it all, she heard a gentle rebuke in her spirit. Since the incident with Mrs. Kadiri in England, she was beginning to know how to distinguish God’s voice. So when the words is anything too hard for me? dropped quietly into her mind, she knew that it was God speaking, and she repented instantly and pushed all her doubtful thoughts away. If God could touch her, a person who had been such a self-righteous moralist, then He could touch self-sufficient Akeem also. She just had to keep on praying for him as people had prayed for her over the years.

“So how was it?” she asked him when they spoke on the phone after the programme.

“Not bad, actually. I enjoyed the break-out sessions. I got to talk with some sharp guys.”

She tried to pay attention to what he was saying, but she was not interested in the business networking session. She was dying to know what he thought of the pastor’s short message, but she refrained from asking him about it. She didn’t want to appear like she was pushing him, so when he did not say anything about that part of the meeting, she had to leave it at that.

She attended a programme at Abby’s church the next Sunday and was surprised to see Deji there. He told her he had gotten born again and had been attending the church for a few months. Yemi was even more surprised when she learnt that Abby was aware of it too.

“Well, I was planning to mention it to you at some point,” Abby said when Yemi asked her about it. “But maybe after you were safely back in your husband’s house,” she added.

Yemi just shook her head.

Chapter 26

 

Two days before their dinner date, Akeem sent her flowers and a gift. She almost gasped at the sheer beauty of the necklace and earrings when she opened the parcel. Thoughts of the diamond necklace he had given her after his affair came to her mind, but she pushed them away.

She made arrangements with Ayo for Aleena and Kufre to stay the weekend at his place but didn’t let him or his wife know that she was going out with Akeem. That was her private business for now.

When Akeem arrived at her house, his gaze lingered on the necklace around her neck for a few seconds before moving back to her face. Although he said nothing about the necklace, she could see that he was pleased that she had worn it.

“You look so beautiful,” he complimented her again as they made their way to his car.

“Thank you,” she replied, feeling strangely shy at the look in his eyes. One tender look from those dark, beautiful eyes had always been enough to melt her insides.

He didn’t tell her where he was taking her, but from the landmarks, she guessed where they were going. It had been one of their favourite places when they were together, and they had spent many beautiful moments there. The look in his eyes, as he held out his arm to her when he helped her out of the car, made her know he was remembering those times too.

They were led to the table he had reserved for them. A waiter handed them menus and withdrew discreetly after taking their orders for drinks.

“What are you having?” she asked him.

“I’m sure you can order for me.” He smiled.

He was right. She knew what he liked. Akeem rarely ate naughty things like she did. He ate healthy, probably because of his mother’s heart condition and growing up around her careful dietary needs.

He closed his menu. “Let’s do it this way, order for both of us, and I will add anything else I feel you missed.”

She looked through and picked out the starters, main course, and desserts for him, and then picked hers.

He laughed softly when she was done. “You still remember, and now let me add something you forgot…for yourself.” He took the menu from her and picked a mousse au chocolat for her. “I know your sweet tooth, and that dessert you chose does not seem like you.”

She giggled. “I’m trying to be good these days and not take my body for granted.”

“You’re beautiful just the way you are, but anyway I won’t mind you adding on a dress size.”

“No way!”

“But I don’t see any sign of weight gain anywhere.” He pretended to look her over, squinting his eyes as he peered at her.

She made a face at him. “I don’t want to be fat before I start to watch it.”

“Like I said, you are beautiful, and you will always be that way to me.”

The look in his eyes was tender. Their eyes locked, and neither one of them seemed able to look away. The waiter coming back to take their orders broke the spell.

“How did it go with your customers yesterday?” he asked her when the waiter left with their orders.

She giggled. She had told him about some new diva-like clients and how she had been dealing with their antics. He laughed about the funny things she told him.

They talked about his work. Things were going very well with Ka-Tell. She knew about that anyway. The telecoms company always had rave reviews in the media. It was practically a household name; it had been well received by the public, which was happy to finally get a reliable network.

“So what new plans do you have now that Ka-Tell is running smoothly?” she asked him.

“New plans?” He raised his brows. “Don’t you think I need to take a long break off from work?”

“I know you always have something cooking. So c’mon, tell me your new plan.” She lowered her voice conspiratorially. “I promise not to steal your ideas.”

“I don’t trust you,” he teased. “But you can come into partnership with me, and then I won’t have to worry about that.”

“Hmmm…that will be something. Tell me, what will it cost me?”

He lowered his voice too. “Nothing you can’t afford.” He paused and held her eyes with his. “Dinner and breakfast with me every day. An occasional massage thrown in, easy stuff like that. You should be able to handle it.”

She pretended to consider it and then frowned. “And just for that, I become your business partner?”

He nodded. “And cosignatory to all my accounts and anything else you’d like added to it.”

“Sounds too good to be true. We will need to sign contracts before I take you seriously.”

He leaned forward slightly. “I’m ready to sign it tonight if you are game.”

She looked at him suspiciously. “This businessman is in too much of a hurry. I will need my lawyer to look at the contract before I commit.”

“C’mon, you don’t need a lawyer,” he urged. “Why are you scared? You only live once.”

Yemi looked at him solemnly. “Not signing till I speak with my lawyer, but anyway, those specs of yours don’t even sound professional. What are you looking for? Partner or mistress?”

“A live-in mistress.”

She pretended to consider it. “All right…mistress it is then, but not live-in. That will spoil all the fun.”

He shook his head, a wolfish gleam in his eyes. “Nah…this guy needs his mistress permanently under his roof.”

They continued their banter, flirting with each other and laughing over silly jokes. It was like old times. They had never had a shortage of things to talk about. Somehow they talked and kept talking.

When he suggested that they take a walk along the pier at the back of the restaurant after their dinner, she was more than happy to go with him.

The night looked fairytale-like. The soft, blue light from the full moon bathed the pier, and they could see the bright city lights of the town across the river gleaming like little diamonds. A light breeze whispered along, rustling the leaves of the trees nearby and keeping the night from being too warm.

They strolled along the pier for a little while and then stood side by side by the railings and looked over the bridge.

Yemi was lost in the sights and sounds of the scenery before her. “This is so beautiful,” she said in an awed voice after a while.

“Very beautiful,” he replied quietly.

She glanced towards him; he was looking at her face and not at the water. He took her hand in his and just kept looking at her without saying anything.

“What?” she asked, feeling slightly self-conscious.

“Just thinking…” he said quietly. “Remembering us, and then these past two and half years. It’s a bit hard taking it in that we are together again.”

“I know.”

She tried to turn back towards the water, but he drew her gently into his arms. She could feel his heart thudding against hers.

“I love you,” he whispered as his head dipped towards her and he claimed her lips. Yemi wrapped her arms around his neck and returned his kiss. He drew back after a while but did not completely release her. “I love you so much. I tried hard not to, but could never stop loving you.”

She didn’t know whose heart was beating faster, hers or his. “I love you too.”

His arms tightened around her again, and he kissed her some more. They held each other for a few minutes before she drew back slightly.

“It’s getting late. Maybe we should start heading back?” she asked.

He was not in a hurry to release her and still held her close for a few more minutes. Finally he loosened his arms slightly and kissed her forehead gently.

“All right,” he said, putting his arm around her as they began to walk back towards the car.

∞∞∞

Well, whose business was it if she had just spent the past two days with her husband? Yemi thought to herself smugly as she dressed up for work the following Monday. And whose business was it if she also admitted that she had thoroughly enjoyed being with him? He was her husband, after all. Big deal!

After their dinner that evening two nights earlier, they had been driving towards her house when Akeem had suddenly taken another turn and started heading back towards Lekki, where he lived.

“I thought you were taking me home,” she said, when she realised where they were going.

“We’re going home, Yemi,” he had said, glancing sideways at her. “Our home.”

She had not bothered to protest, because frankly, she had not wanted their time together to end either.

The next morning, rather than allow her to go back home, he had popped out to buy her a few things she needed. Again, that was all good with her.

Bassey had happened upon them the next day. He had returned from France two days earlier and was unaware of their reunion. He stopped midway into the sitting room, his mouth comically half-open as he stared at Yemi snuggled against Akeem on the sofa. Then a pleased expression had come over his face, and he proceeded to make one of the nicest meals Yemi had ever sampled for lunch.

Akeem wanted her to move back immediately, but Yemi found herself hesitating. She felt they still needed a little time to gradually get used to each other.

“Let’s take things a little slowly, okay? No rush, is there?” she had said to him.

He had not looked too happy at her suggestion but had reluctantly agreed to give them some time to bond some more before she moved back.

∞∞∞

Yemi didn’t know when it started. Maybe it was when Akeem ran his fingers over her belly and told her that Aleena had asked him for a younger sibling.

“Maybe I should book us a trip to Portugal,” he had said softly.

Maybe it was then, or maybe it was when they were out together at the beach and she saw a couple of ladies openly eyeballing Akeem.

How could you even think of going back to him? The malevolent voice whispered. He cheated on you before, and he will do it again.

“Akeem loves me,” she had responded feebly.

He loved you then too, and yet he cheated on you, the voice whispered again. Don’t be taken for a fool twice.

She wrestled within herself to get rid of the thoughts, but just as she managed to push them away, fresh fears arose within her as she thought about her hormonal imbalance report. She knew Akeem wanted more kids, especially a son with whom he could have the same kind of relationship he had had with his father. What if she could not conceive, or if it took a long time for her to conceive? Would he be able to deal with it? She knew there would be many women who would be more than happy to have babies for him. Akeem had yielded to pressure before, even though of a different type, and there was no guarantee he wouldn’t do so again.

They were supposed to meet for dinner, but she called and cancelled. They talked over the phone, and she tried to keep her voice as light as possible so that he would not get a hint of what she was going through. She thought she had succeeded until he stopped abruptly and asked her what the matter was.

She sighed. She should have known it wouldn’t work with him. “How do you mean?” she said, still trying to feign ignorance.

“What’s up? You’re not yourself. Is it your clients?” he asked and then added teasingly, “Because if they are the ones stressing you, tell them you’re my wife and don’t need that money they’re paying you.”

“And go back to being a kept woman, right?” she snapped before she could stop herself.

She knew her outburst took him by surprise because he was quiet for a long moment. “Something is wrong, Yemi,” he finally said. “Tell me what it is.”

“I’m okay. Just a little tired.”

“All right then. I’ll release you so you can go to bed early,” he replied, in a quiet tone.

After the call, she felt sorry that she had been so waspish with him. How she wished she could discuss her fears with him.

Stop deceiving yourself. The ugly voice she hated so much came back. You’d better ditch him before he hurts you again.

“I refuse your counsel!” she said furiously.

The voice stopped.

She decided to just stay home the next evening and not attend Bible study. She was feeling a little out of sorts anyway, headachy and sore. She ate her dinner, felt a little better, and decided to watch a movie to help her sleep. Akeem would not call until much later because he would think she was at church.

The movie was about a man who cheated serially on his wife. The man’s wife got so psychologically traumatised that she tried to destroy him with the damaging information she had on his business deals. But the guy was smart, and as soon as he realised her intention, he manipulated the evidence, got away with it, and then had his wife sectioned.

Yemi knew she should have changed channels during the movie. The movie’s plot was not healthy for her current state of mind, but her eyes stayed glued to the TV set until it ended. There was going to be a continuation the next day, but she already felt sick to her stomach at what she had seen. The way the love between the couple had turned so sour that they were out to destroy each other frightened her. She hoped the lady would be able to get out of the psychiatric institution her husband had placed her in, but she had no intention of watching the continuation of the movie.

She didn’t take Akeem’s call later that night. She held the phone in her hand and just watched it ring until it stopped. She didn’t know what to do. The thought of moving back to his house actually frightened her now. She wished she didn’t love him so much; that would have been some sort of immunity for her, but the guy had taken over her heart once more and she was so scared of being hurt again.

The next day she was surprised to see Deji in her office.

“I thought I’d drop by to say hello.” He grinned at her surprised look. “How have you been?”

“So-so, and you?”

“Very fine. Have you had lunch yet?” he asked after they had chatted for a few minutes. She shook her head. “Why don’t we pop out and get something to eat?” He asked.

She checked her wristwatch. It was half past two already. “All right,” she replied, popping her phone in her bag.

They did some catching up while they ate. He was enjoying his new relationship with God; he told her about his conversion, and she shared hers with him.

“That’s so amazing,” he replied. “Almost about the same time too.”

It was a weird coincidence indeed. The thought that maybe God wanted a future for both of them ran through her mind. Otherwise, why would He bring Deji back into her life now that she was so confused about her reconciliation with Akeem? She and Deji were both saved. He had two kids already, so he would not mind if they couldn’t have more. Moreover, the guy had a good track record. He’d had a lovely marriage until the demise of his wife.

Akeem was not a Christian, and did the Bible not say something about a spouse being “free” if the other partner was unfaithful? She was not exactly sure where it was in the Bible or the exact quote, but she would get to it later that evening. In fact, she was going to study all the Bible verses on divorce. She loved Akeem, but it might just destroy her if he was unfaithful to her again.

Deji took her back to the office after their lunch. She was startled to see Akeem in the reception area. He stood up when she came in. Both men sized each other up. The look on Deji’s face was a little wary, Akeem’s grim.

“Thanks for lunch, Deji,” she said quickly, turning towards him. She wanted him to leave. The tension in the air was thick enough to slice through with a knife.

“You’re welcome. I’ll call you later,” he said as he read her expression correctly. He nodded at Akeem. Akeem didn’t acknowledge it.

“Let’s go inside,” she said to him once Deji had left.

“Is this the reason why you’ve been acting all funny?” he asked as soon as she shut her office door behind them.

“He just dropped by today,” she said wearily. “I ran into him at Abby’s church a few weeks ago. Before then, I had not seen him in months.”

He stared at her, a dark and brooding expression on his face. “I don’t want him hanging around you.”

She sighed. “He’s not hanging around me.”

His expression softened. “Baby, what’s going on? Why are you shutting me out? What have I done?”

She just looked at him. He looked sleek as always in his well-cut suit. Her eyes roved over his face. The strong cleft in his jaw, the well-defined cheekbones, the thick brows and lashes. Her incredibly handsome husband. She had forgiven him. Why could she not overcome her fears?

“Baby, what’s wrong?” he asked, coming around to where she was standing and taking her hand in his. “Please tell me.”

She looked into his eyes and felt tears stinging her eyes. “Akeem, I don’t think this is really going to work.” She looked away. “Maybe we’re just not meant to be together.”

“Says who?” he asked, his brows furrowing together in a frown. “We’re already together. We’re married, remember? Tell me who has upset you. Is it my mum? Any member of my family? Me?”

She shook her head slowly at his questions.

“Then what is it?” he asked.

“I’m not upset. I just feel like it is best if we leave things as they are.”

A nerve clenched in his jaw “That’s not going to happen. We’re married and will stay married, whatever it takes.”

“Akeem, I don’t think…”

“Look at me, Yemi,” He cut in as he drew her into his arms. His gaze was intense as he stared into her eyes. “I love you, and you love me. We belong to each other, and that’s how it will always be.”

“But Akeem…”

He silenced her with a kiss. She tried to stay stiff and unresponsive to him but didn’t know when her arms crept around him of their own volition. It always felt so right being with him, and she couldn’t hold back.

He lifted his head a while later, his eyes smouldering with passion. “Forget about us ever being apart again. It’s not going to happen.”

He left a little while later so that she could get back to work. They had just cuddled on the sofa and talked. She still didn’t open up to him about her fears. She felt reassured of his love when he was around, but she put her head in her hands after he left.

“What am I going to do, Lord? Please help me.”

She didn’t get a response and she went back to her work feeling confused and uneasy.

∞∞∞

The lesson from her daily devotional the next morning had “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not unto your own understanding” as the memory verse. She read it over and over to herself, hoping that it was not just a coincidence but a specific message for her in her situation.

“To trust in God is to believe in Him with all your heart and to have confidence in His word.” She said to Kufre and Aleena as she tried to explain the lesson to them during their morning devotion session.

Aleena screwed her face thoughtfully for a moment. “Like the way I trust Daddy? Mummy, is God like Daddy?” she asked.

Yemi smiled. “Much bigger than your dad, Alee. God can do all things.”

“Then I’ll trust in Him,” Aleena said happily, as if that settled it.

She wished she could have faith like the little girl. Life would be so much easier.

Akeem gave her no space to withdraw from him. He would come to her office anytime she didn’t pick up his calls or come over to her house in the evening.

“When can I send the movers to help you pack?” he asked her one evening as they all sat down watching TV in her house. “I need my mistress home with me.”

“We’ve not signed the contract papers, remember?”

“I’ve signed it on your heart. Didn’t you feel it?” he asked softly, pulling her close to him. Aleena looked towards them and giggled before looking back at the TV. Yemi made a mental note to talk with Akeem later; they cuddled too much in front of Aleena. But for now, she was too distracted with the delicious things he was doing to her with his kisses.

“You’ve signed on mine too. At Bluewater, remember?” he asked her.

She couldn’t answer and just allowed herself to get lost in his eyes.

He stayed overnight in her house for the first time that evening. She woke up briefly during the night and looked at him sleeping beside her, his face relaxed and boyishly handsome. She smiled to herself before closing her eyes again. She had become his mistress indeed.

Deji called her the day after Akeem saw him in her office, but she gently told him that she was trying to work things out with Akeem. He understood—or so she hoped.

Chapter 27

 

“What’s wrong, Akeem?” Yemi asked, trying to keep the panic from her voice. “Why’re you sounding this way?”

“I’ll explain when you get here.”

Yemi drew in a shaky breath. “Akeem, you’re freaking me out! What’s going on?” A thought came to her mind, and she froze. “It’s Aleena, isn’t it? Something’s wrong with Aleena!”

His silence confirmed her worst fears. Her heart stopped momentarily and then started doing sick flips.

“What’s wrong with my daughter?” she asked, trying not to shout. “Akeem, what’s wrong with Aleena?”

His breath was raspy in her ears. Calm and controlled Akeem? That was a sign that something was terribly wrong.

“Gunmen tried to kidnap Chloe. She and Aleena were walking out of the school gates together. Chloe’s bodyguards resisted, and the kidnappers opened fire. Aleena was hit in the process.”

The words couldn’t register and bounced around her. Her hands went clammy, and she transferred the phone from her right hand to the left and back again. “What do you mean by hit?”

“She was shot.”

Yemi swayed as the room started swimming around her. Akeem’s words reverberated in her head. Aleena had been shot. Shot. Shot…

“Yemi, are you there?” Akeem’s voice came to her over the phone.

“Is she…?” She couldn’t finish the question. Her breath was coming in short bursts.

“She’s alive but unconscious. I’m at the hospital. The driver should almost be at your place now.”

He kept her on the phone until the driver arrived. Yemi felt like she was in a bad dream. She was shaking so much that she could not control it. She called Sesan on the way to the hospital and asked him to pray.

“Dear Jesus, please save my child,” she kept saying over and over again.

She didn’t even know Chloe had bodyguards. That meant her parents knew her safety was threatened, and yet Charlotte had not thought to warn her. They had allowed her own daughter’s life to be endangered. Tears flowed down her face. The thought that Aleena might already be dead flashed through her mind. She panicked and called Akeem.

“Aleena is alive. Are you still far off?” he asked tersely.

She looked outside, trying to focus on landmarks, but nothing was registering in her head. She asked the driver and then told Akeem.

Akeem met her in the reception lobby when she arrived. He had taken off his suit jacket and tie. His eyes were red, his face tensed up. The only time she had seen him looking that way was when they lost their son. Were they about to lose their daughter too? No, Lord, she prayed feverishly. Please don’t let my child die!

“Where is she? Have you seen her?”

“She’s in the theatre at the moment. They’re trying to stabilise her and stop the bleeding.”

She felt faint and swayed. Akeem put his arm around her and led her to a chair. From then onwards, everything was a blur. Her pastor called; Sesan had told him. He assured her that he was praying. Her parents and brothers arrived separately some time later. Akeem’s mum and Nadia came shortly after them. Mrs. Kadiri talked in hushed tones with Akeem and then came over and just squeezed Yemi’s hands. For the first time ever, Yemi saw something akin to compassion in her eyes.

Senator Ola-Daniels came into the reception a few minutes later. He expressed his shock and sympathy at what had happened and told them the police were investigating the incident. He spoke outside with Akeem for a few more minutes. After he left, Yemi learnt from Akeem that Chloe had not been badly hurt. Hers was a flesh wound; the bullet had just grazed her shoulder. Her main bodyguard, however, was fighting for his life.

“Please save my child, Lord. Don’t let her die,” Yemi began to sob.

Everyone looked on helplessly.

A doctor came into the room some time later. “Mr. and Mrs. Kadiri?” he asked. They stood up, and he took them to his office.

“I’ll be frank with you. The situation does not look good,” he began. “She’s lost a lot of blood, and we need to take out the bullet, but the position of the bullet makes it a high-risk surgery…”

Fresh tears coursed down Yemi’s face as the doctor continued. Was it really Aleena he was talking about? Leaving the bullet in was dangerous; taking it out was dangerous.

“We’ve got one of the best doctors around,” the doctor was saying. “He was recalled back from his annual leave because of Senator Ola-Daniels’s influence. I believe he knows him personally. He is handling your daughter’s surgery.”

She and Akeem went back to the waiting room after the doctor had finished briefing them. Sesan had arrived while they were with the doctor and was sitting near Dotun. They told her Ayo was talking with one of the doctors. Everyone looked tensed, their eyes filled with compassion as they looked at her. She averted her eyes.

Was this the story of her life? People always gathering together because of one bad thing or the other that had happened to her. Was she always to be at the receiving end of sympathy? The loss of her son, breakup of her marriage, and now her daughter lying in a critical condition? Would they also gather to mourn with her if Aleena didn’t make it through the surgery?

No, she’d had enough. She was tired of it all. She didn’t need anyone’s sympathy. Aleena must not die. Akeem attempted to take her hand in his, but she shook it off. Her eyes stared straight ahead. Tears kept running down her face, but she wiped them away furiously. She didn’t need anyone’s sympathy. She needed God’s intervention.

∞∞∞

Akeem got up and made his way out of the waiting room. He needed to get out of there. He was fast losing it, and he needed time alone.

His precious daughter’s life hung in the balance, and he couldn’t do anything about it. His money couldn’t save her. He wanted to pound at something. Release his anger, and feelings of impotence on something. He remembered what Lois had told him about Ola-Daniels’s opponents trying to get him to step down. He had not thought they could go as low as trying to kidnap a little girl to use her as bait to force her dad to comply with their demands, but that was exactly what the senator had told him.

He didn’t know how it had even skipped his mind that Aleena could be endangered by her relationship with Chloe. They could have found a way to minimise Aleena’s contact with her, but then again, the two girls were in the same class. It would have been hard to do that without withdrawing Aleena from the school.

Akeem remembered the way Yemi had shrugged his hand off. He didn’t need anyone to tell him that his marriage would be effectively over if anything happened to Aleena. She had still been dragging her feet over moving back to his house, giving him one flimsy excuse after the other. This would be the last straw.

He needed help, and fast. He needed a miracle, if there was really anything like that. He brought out his phone and considered calling Shona but changed his mind and called Justin, who was shocked to hear the situation with Aleena.

“The doctors aren’t very optimistic. I need you to…to pray for Aleena.”

Justin’s voice was quiet. “I’m going to do that. I’ll let Shona know as well.”

Akeem noticed a slight tremor in his hands and clenched his fists to try to stop it. He glanced at his wristwatch. It was still going to be another one and a half hours. He thought of Tanya and remembered her quiet confidence, her assurance that she had a relationship with God. But would she not remember him deriding her faith? He swallowed his pride. Who cared about that anyway?

“Sesan has told me, and I’m already praying,” she said to him quietly. “We’re all trusting God to pull Aleena through the surgery.”

He muttered his thanks and went back to the waiting room. Everyone looked up when he entered. They were like two camps sitting on opposite sides of the room, and yet were all there because of a child who was as much a part of one family as the other. Yemi’s parents had greeted him when they arrived but had looked on coldly and barely acknowledged his mother’s and Nadia’s greetings. Ayo had said hello to him too, but Dotun had ignored him. Neither family knew that he and Yemi had reconciled. She had told him she didn’t want to tell her family yet. He had had no interest in telling his either.

His eyes searched his wife’s face. Her eyes were vacant and staring, reddened from constant tears. His heart tightened within him. She was in pain, and he was unable to help her. She had never wanted Aleena at Dartmouth International. He had arrogantly insisted that was the school the Kadiris had always attended. Maybe if he had listened to her, Aleena would not have come to any harm. He had caused her to lose their son and now this.

His heart burned within him, and he walked out of the room again. He walked to the far end of the corridor outside and paced restlessly. Aleena couldn’t die. He could not bear to lose her, could not lose another child. He lifted his eyes and looked heavenward.

“Please…” He paused and didn’t know how to continue. When was the last time he said a prayer? Well over twenty years ago. He swallowed hard. “I’ve scorned you and said you’re not real. I’d still prefer to believe you are not, but at the same time, deep inside me, I know that you are.” He was breathing hard. He stopped speaking and closed his eyes briefly. “I’ve seen firsthand the changes in people around me,” he continued, his breathing a little more even. “Something or someone must have caused these changes.” He paused and inhaled deeply. “Please, I beg you, save my child and don’t let her die.” His vision became blurry, and he wiped away the tears with the back of his hand. “Please keep her alive and…and I promise to serve you for the rest of my life.”

After those words, the rest was easier. He just basically kept pleading for Aleena’s life, guidance and expertise for the doctors, and strength for Yemi. He didn’t know how long he stood there, but by the time he was walking back to the waiting room, he felt a lot calmer.

He got to the waiting room and sat down on one of the empty chairs. Yemi’s head was bent over, and he couldn’t see her face. He closed his eyes and just waited.

“I thought they said two hours,” Yemi asked aloud a while later, her eyes darting constantly towards the door. “It’s been almost three hours now.”

“Sometimes it’s just an estimate that is given,” Ayo replied gently. “It could be plus or minus some minutes.”

“But this is almost a whole hour more,” she said, twisting her fingers nervously.

“I’m sure someone will come out soon,” Ayo said soothingly.

She flipped her phone open again. Akeem knew she was reading Bible verses because he could see her lips moving.

About thirty minutes later, the doctor who had spoken to them earlier came out again. His face was grim. He motioned to Akeem to follow him. Yemi got up too. Akeem looked at the doctor’s face. It was obvious that he didn’t have good news. His heart squeezed painfully. He had been so sure that he had connected with God. Had he left his apology too late?

“How’s my daughter?” Yemi asked brokenly, tears running down her face. “Where’s my daughter?”

“Maybe Mrs. Kadiri can wait here for us,” the doctor said.

Yemi shook her head stubbornly. Ayo got up and put his arm around her. She shook it off. Her mother started crying. Nadia gripped his mother’s hand tightly. Both their faces looked frightened. Everyone’s eyes were riveted on the doctor.

“Very well, then,” the doctor said, indicating that Yemi could go with them.

The walk between the reception area and the doctor’s office was the longest Akeem had ever taken in his life, and yet it was barely three minutes. He prayed all the way through. Somehow he knew Aleena was not dead—the doctor would have said so immediately—but still, something was not quite right.

“We’ve taken the bullet out and stopped the bleeding, but she has slipped into a coma,” the doctor said as soon as they were seated. “We’ve done what we can. We can only just monitor her now and hope for the best.”

Yemi appeared to lose some of her fear, but her face still looked stricken at the doctor’s words and tears were running down her cheeks.

“Aleena will pull through. She’ll be okay,” Akeem said. He didn’t know where the strength or confidence was coming from, but he believed with all his heart that she would be fine.

Yemi’s eyes searched his. He knew she might be thinking it was something to do with his old beliefs, the trust he had in himself. But he knew this was different. This was confidence in someone higher, someone who could help when everything looked hopeless. He wished he could tell her what had just happened to him, but there would be plenty of time to tell her later.

He looked at her face, puffy and weary with her continuous weeping, and he longed to hold and comfort her. Instead, he just took her hand in his and squeezed it gently. “Stop crying. Our daughter will be fine.”

Chapter 28

 

It was a clear cool evening and the stars seemed to sparkle like little diamonds in their dark blue velvety canopy. Yemi stood on the balcony just outside her bedroom and drank in the pretty sight. The weather had been very hot over the past few days, but it had rained earlier in the day and that had ushered in a refreshing coolness. The sweet earthy after-scent of rain still lingered and she breathed in the clean fresh air.

Her eyes widened with delight as she saw a shooting star. The old myth about making a wish came to her mind but she smiled and shook her head.

“I’ve got no requests, Lord,” She whispered as she looked up to the heavens. “You ‘ve already surpassed my expectations, and all I want to do is continually praise you.” She did just that, praising God and thanking Him for His many mercies and love, and as usual, she felt His presence enveloping her like a cosy blanket.

As she went back into her bedroom a while later, she heard the front door open and close. She knew it would be Akeem. He had gone out earlier that evening to get some takeaway for them. She went downstairs to join him and saw him in the kitchen bringing out the contents of the takeaway bags he had placed on the kitchen table.

He looked up as she came in and his eyes roamed over her in her new frilly peach silk pyjama top and shorts. He winked at her and Yemi felt the familiar thrill that only Akeem could stir up shooting through her. He was right, she thought to herself ruefully, he had signed his name on her heart and she could not but hopelessly love him.

She caught sight of the food he was dishing on the plates. “Sushi? No way am I eating that stuff! I asked for Nando’s!”

“And you have your Nando’s,” he said, pointing to the other bag. “But you need to lose your apathy for sushi, especially since you’ve never even tasted it.”

She shook her head. “No deal!” she moved past him towards the plate rack. “I’ll just get another plate for my Nando’s.”

“C’mon, have a taste,” he said, coming after her and holding out a forkful to her. She shook her head, moving backwards. He followed her, and she backed farther away, laughing as she tried to dodge him. “Akeem, I don’t want the sushi!” she protested.

He took her wrist with his free hand and led her to the sofa in the sitting room.

“Akeem…”

“Just open that beautiful mouth and take a little bite,” he said, holding the fork to her lips. “C’mon baby,” he urged. “Just a little nibble…see, not bad, is it?”

She made a face at him but took another bigger bite and chewed slowly. It was quite nice, actually. She didn’t know why she had always felt she would not like it. Akeem looked amused as he fed her more bites.

“Mummy…”

They both turned at the sound of Aleena’s voice. She stood there in her favourite PJs with Peppa Pig all over. Yemi’s heart swelled again with thanksgiving to God. He had given her back her daughter from the gates of death.

“What do you want, sweetie?” Akeem asked, putting the plate of sushi down and moving towards her.

“Can I have some milk, please?”

“Of course. Go back to bed, and I’ll bring it up to you in a minute.”

Yemi blew her a kiss as she went back up the stairs towards her room.

“I’ll be back,” Akeem told her as he went into the kitchen.

Yemi thanked God again. She didn’t think she would ever be able to thank Him enough even if she lived to be a thousand years old. Aleena’s recovery had been nothing short of a miracle that had surprised even the doctors. She had woken up ten days after she slipped into the coma, and her cognitive abilities had returned almost immediately. She had recognised her parents, knew who she was, and got better faster than the doctors had thought she would. She was discharged from hospital a week after she came out of the coma. That had been two weeks earlier.

Charlotte had finally found the courage to visit two days after the incident, and she had wept throughout the visit when she saw Aleena’s motionless body on the bed. She had been very relieved when Aleena came out of the coma. She told Yemi that she and her kids were travelling out of the country until the elections were over. Yemi didn’t blame her, but it was also almost a certainty that Chloe’s dad would win the elections. There had been a huge public outrage against the shootings, and the polls had tilted even more favourably towards him.

Both Akeem’s family and hers were now aware that they were back together again. Mrs. Kadiri had come several times to Yemi’s house to see Aleena since she was discharged from hospital. Nadia had come with her on two of those occasions, and somehow they had all conversed. Adil, Zara, and their boys had also flown in from Abuja. Their conversations were still all a little stilted, but compared to how it had been in the past, it was a miracle.

“There is this ladies’ meeting that I attend. It’s for women in business and politics,” Mrs. Kadiri had said to Yemi on her last visit. “I am one of the patrons, and there is another one taking place in a few weeks. I’ll be glad if you can accompany me.”

Yemi had looked up, very startled by the request. Akeem had been around during that visit and had seen the surprised look on her face. 

“Mum, I don’t think that is such a good idea for now. Yemi has had a gruelling time looking after Aleena, and she needs to rest and get her strength back.”

“It is fine, Akeem,” Yemi had said quietly. The event was still a few weeks away anyway, and she had told Akeem’s mum she would accompany her.

“Good.” Mrs. Kadiri had smiled. “My driver can pick you up on that day, and we will go together in my car.”

Yemi knew that was Mrs. Kadiri’s way of trying to make up for all that she had done to her in the past, and she was more than willing to accept the olive branch, especially since Akeem was bent on nothing ever coming between them again.

She smiled as she saw him coming back down the stairs a few minutes later. He practically stayed at her house most nights now. She told him she felt very mistress-like indeed. It was only mistresses who pulled guys from their homes to stay in theirs.

She held out a forkful of the sushi to him. “Have a bite.”

He looked at the plate. She had almost finished it. “I told you you’d like it. Trust me next time.”

“Of course I trust you,” she said as she dished out more of the sushi for him. “High-maintenance mistress like me?” she teased, flashing the beautiful diamond ring he had just bought for her. “How can I not trust you?”

“What high maintenance? You and Aleena are the reason I go out to work every day.” His eyes looked haunted for a moment. “I’m just so grateful to God that He gave you both back to me.”

That was another strange thing about him these days. He mentioned God freely now, which had been impossible in the past. Had Aleena’s near scrape with death touched him that much? It seemed too good to be true, but she didn’t want to probe him just yet.

“By the way, Linda confirmed that the removal company will be coming by next Saturday to move your things back home.”

That was news to her. He hadn’t discussed it with her at all.

He met her gaze. “I’ve been patient, haven’t I?” he asked softy. “I need my family home with me.”

“That’s fine.” They had been talking about Coral and their split and the ways it could all have been avoided. Yemi still had a few fears, but she had made up her mind that she was just going to trust God concerning her marriage. “This mistress wants to move in with her man too.” She faked a worried frown. “But what do you think? Will being a live-in mistress spoil the magic?”

“Can our magic ever fade?” he asked softly, bending his head towards hers. “But let’s test it again though, just to be doubly sure,” he added as he began giving her little kisses all over her face. “Can you feel the magic?” he whispered against her neck.

She nodded. “Deffo.” He was already lighting a fire in her. She pouted as she tried to kiss him on the lips and he moved away. He smiled and continued teasing her with little feathery kisses around her face and neck until she held his face firmly with both hands and kissed him on the lips.

“Mmmm…confirmed,” she murmured a little while later, gazing into his eyes. “This magic gets even better with time.”

“No doubt about that,” he replied, kissing her some more. “But we have to keep testing it, though, and as often as possible.” He touched his lips to hers again and then lifted his head, his eyes tender as he looked at her. “I love you so much, baby.”

“I love you too…” she began, but stopped as she felt her stomach heave. She tried to suppress it but couldn’t as another wave of nausea followed suit. Before she knew it, she was running to the bathroom, Akeem right behind her.

“Baby, are you okay?” he asked anxiously as she threw up into the toilet bowl. She slowly stood upright, but she felt so drained of energy.

“I’m not sure that sushi agreed with me after all.” She grimaced. “I feel so awful.”

Akeem looked worried as he stroked her back gently. “It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have made you eat it.”

They went back to the sitting room, but her stomach still felt queasy. “I think I’ll just have an early night,” she finally said. “I’m sure I’ll feel better in the morning.”

“No worries. You just go up. I’ll put off the appliances and join you.”

He came into her bedroom a few minutes later and sat by her bedside. She felt better but still had the occasional tingle in her stomach. She was definitely off sushi for life.

She looked questioningly at Akeem. He was frowning slightly.

“My ego’s been seriously dented. I kissed you and the next minute you puked.”

That made her smile. “It’s got to be the sushi because this girl definitely likes your kisses.”

He heaved an exaggerated sigh of relief. “I’ve still got to work on my technique, though. Can’t afford to get rusty.”

Like that was even possible. “You can use me as your guinea pig for testing your technique,” she volunteered solemnly. “But maybe…not after eating sushi.”

He tweaked her nose. “Yeah…otherwise you may just put my hard work to shame.”

∞∞∞

The nausea was back the next morning. Yemi tried to control it, but before she knew it, she was running to the bathroom again. She threw up into the toilet bowl and continued retching even when nothing seemed to be coming out.

“Take it easy, baby,” Akeem said, stroking her back. “You’re going to be just fine.”

She leaned heavily against him. She was feeling so ill. Her body ached, and she felt a headache coming on.

“Have a bit of water,” Akeem said, holding the glass towards her. She rinsed her mouth and then took a sip.

“You’ll be just fine, baby,” Akeem said again while leading her back to bed. She drew the duvet around her, shivering a little. She had thought she would be able to go to the office. Aleena was fine enough for her not to worry about leaving her alone with Kufre anymore, but the prospect didn’t seem likely now. Not with the way that she was feeling.

Akeem stood looking down at her thoughtfully.

“I hope I haven’t caught a bug. Some of that food is raw, isn’t it?” Even the thought of it was making her feel sick again.

“But I ate it as well, and I’m fine,” he said, sitting down by her bedside.

“It’s not been exactly easy these past few weeks. The stress must have taken its toll on me,” she said, remembering the sleepless nights she had spent at Aleena’s bedside. That drill was enough to break anyone down. The sushi had only triggered it. “I need a proper holiday soon.”

“That can be arranged,” Akeem said, but he was still looking at her strangely.

“What?” She grimaced, turning on her side as she felt another wave of nausea building up. There surely couldn’t be anything left in her stomach to throw up.

“Are you okay?” he asked, a concerned look on his face when he saw her squirming on the bed.

“I’m feeling sick again.”

“Hmmm…” he grunted, sitting by her and rubbing her back lightly. “Do you have a domestic kit in the house?”

She stared at him. “Why should I? I’ve been on my own for almost three years, remember?” She thought of Lois, and her eyes hardened a little. Had they been using domestic pregnancy kits?

“We’ve been together for over two months.”

Yemi frowned. He was beginning to make her headache worse. Did he think she didn’t know her own body? They were together for two years before she could conceive her son, and for almost eight months before their split. She hadn’t even conceived Aleena that easily. It had taken six months.

“Akeem, believe me, it can’t be what you’re thinking.”

“What makes you so sure?”

Her frown deepened. The skeptical look on his face was a bit annoying. “Because I’m sure.” She had just had a period not that long ago, and she told him.

She rolled a little on the bed. Her stomach was feeling queasy again. A strong wave of nausea had her running to the bathroom. Akeem rubbed her back while she retched violently and then led her back to the bedroom and tucked her in again.

“Do you have some ginger in the house?” he asked.

She nodded, too weak to answer him.

“I’m going to make you some of that drink you liked so much. Ginger and a bit of honey. That used to help your nausea those days with Aleena. After that, we’re going to see the doctor.”

She wished that he would stop. She didn’t want anyone building up her hopes. “Akeem, I’ve told you, it’s not what you think…”

He shook his head as he looked at her. “When I was a kid, they taught us about ‘Doubting Thomas’ at Sunday school.” He tilted his head slightly. “I just wonder if he had a sister called Yemi.” He smiled when he saw her indignant face. “Baby, even if you’re not pregnant, we still need to investigate the reason for the nausea.”

“Someone was trying to poison me with sushi,” she muttered.

He bent down and kissed her forehead. “That someone is still unaffected, and he ate more than you did. But not to worry; I’ll get the drink.”

∞∞∞

He was right. They were six weeks pregnant. Yemi stared in disbelief at the test result, tears of gratitude running down her face. The words to the song “How Great Is Our God?” reverberated around in her head. She could not stop crying or giving thanks to God.

Akeem tucked her up in bed when they got back home. Aleena was with Kufre downstairs. She would be so excited to hear the news, but there was plenty of time to tell her later.

“God is just so awesome,” Akeem said, staring into space. “I can’t believe how he’s worked things out, even for someone like me.”

Yemi looked at him. There he was again, talking about God so naturally. “Something’s changed about you, Akeem.”

He smiled slightly. “I had a little talk with God while Aleena was in surgery. I was desperate. My daughter’s life hung in the balance, and there was nothing I could do about it.” He paused, as if the memory still hurt to think about it. “It was a short discussion, but I know God heard me. I already had questions anyway. Life seemed meaningless, pointless, just a vicious circle. I felt like there had to be more than what I had seen or experienced.” He touched her face lightly with his index finger. “Remember that seminar I attended at your church?” She nodded, and he continued. “The pastor spoke about the peace that only God can give. I saw that peace in all of you. I scoffed at it, but deep inside of me, I found it very fascinating. This was not anyone Bible-bashing me. It was hard evidence before my eyes because, apart from Tanya, I knew everyone else quite well and could also see the changes quite clearly when they happened.”

Yemi stared at him wonderingly. And to think she had thought he was unaffected by the seminar since he didn’t discuss anything other than the business section.

“I called Pastor Ben when Aleena came out of the coma, and we’ve met up a few times since then. I told him not to let you know. I wanted you to notice the difference in me for yourself.”

She now understood why both of them had seemed so chummy whenever he called to ask about Aleena’s welfare. She had just thought her pastor was impressed with Akeem’s trademark charming personality.

“I’ve noticed you mentioning the name of God and all that, and I’ve been wondering about it, but it just seemed too good to be true.”

“Maybe we should really change your name to Thomasina or Thomasia. What do you think?” he asked with a straight face and then ducked when she tried to smack him. “Hey, be careful…my baby is on board,” he told her in a mock-stern voice.

She made a face at him but lay back against the pillows.

He took her hand in his and looked into her eyes. “About Coral…”

Yemi shook her head. “Forget about her.”

“Thank you, but I do need you to know that I’m so very sorry about what I did. I wish I could turn back the clock. I can’t, but just know that you mean the world to me. By God’s grace, I’ll never give you cause to doubt my faithfulness to you ever again.”

She touched his face. “And I’m sorry that I allowed bitterness take over me to such an extent that I didn’t care about my actions anymore.”

He covered her hand with his. “I’m not perfect, but with God’s help, I’ll try my best to be a good husband and father to you and our kids.”

She smiled up at him. “I’ll do the same, starting by moving back to our home and becoming your live-in mistress.”

“And wife,” he added softly.

THE END

About the author

 

Osar Adeyemi loves reading and started writing short stories which she shared with family and friends when she was a teenager. 

She believes that one of the effective ways through which God’s message of salvation, love and restoration can be related to the world is through fictional stories that readers can identify with.

Osar also enjoys cooking, traveling and teaching/mentoring teenagers and young adults at the charity she belongs to. 

She is an optometrist by profession and lives in England with her family. 

She loves to hear from readers and you can reach her at [email protected] 


After the storm

When Yemi meets attractive business man, Akeem Kadiri, during her holidays in the UK, she is swept off her feet. Despite the differences in their family backgrounds, Yemi feels secure in Akeem's love and believes in his promise to protect her always. But one mistake by Akeem, in a moment of weakness, leads to events that shake Yemi to her very core. Can their love for each other withstand the consequences of Akeem's actions or will Yemi find it easier to walk away? After the storm is a story of love, heartbreak, difficult choices, and ultimately finding the greatest love of all.

  • ISBN: 9780993539015
  • Author: Osar Adeyemi
  • Published: 2016-09-02 01:05:24
  • Words: 119726
After the storm After the storm