Sacrilege – Episode 9
© Adeola Nissi
Chris hung his suit jacket around Laura’s shoulders as they left the bar in silence. He wasn’t a fan of suits, left to him, he would rather wear casuals to work on a daily basis, but now, seeing his jacket hugging Laura’s body closely, he might just order an entire boutique of suits. The noise of the bar accompanied them to the roadside where Chris’ car sat awaiting them. Chris pushed open the passenger’s door for Laura and she got in. Quick steps took him to his side as he got behind the wheels and set the car in motion.
Away from the bar, silence enveloped the car and Chris cast several glances Laura’s way. She looked so lost. He had stopped by on his way from work at the children’s shop to get something fanciful for his niece whose birthday was days away. He hadn’t even found anything appealing when he’d felt Laura’s presence in the shop.
She stared out his car window now, looking about as lively as a tree in the desert. She had barely said a word to him in the bar; all she had done was drink the water he ordered, replying everything he said with silence. “Where are you taking me?”
Chris kept his eyes on the road. “You need to eat”
Laura’s mouth thinned and Chris heard her gentle sigh. “Turns out everyone knows what I need lately.”
Chris glanced at her and opened his mouth to apologize. “I’m being nasty, I know” she cut in. “It’s the only thing I can be today, obviously”.
Chris smiled, keeping his eyes on the road as he shunted into another lane. “You could be nice and eat with me”
“Not a good idea”
He gave her a flirtatious smile. “You are an appetizing sight”
“Not for my husband anymore, obviously”
Chris’ smile faded as he swallowed. He always got his words right, it was probably one of the reasons why he had so many people around him who loved him, but tonight, he seemed to be saying all the wrong things. “You know Deolu does love you”
“Doesn’t love me enough to stay faithful though”. She swallowed, giving the road a pained smile. “Part of me doesn’t blame Deolu. Who could put up with a childless wife?”
“This is not your fault”
She slanted him a look rife with meaning. “Isn’t it?”
Chris took one hand off the steering, stretched it over to give hers a comforting squeeze. “Don’t put this on yourself. You are not responsible for other people’s actions”
“A fine way of excusing your own faults” she countered, removing her hand from his. “The truth is, I am the barren wife who pushed her husband into the arms of his fruitful best friend”
Chris swallowed, glancing at Laura. “Self-pity doesn’t become you, Laura”
“What becomes me, then?” she snapped. “You know…” she laughed bitterly as she shook her head. “My sister said I’d be a great stepmother” she mouthed as she held back the tears that stung her eyes. “Maybe that’s what”
Chris felt his blood run cold. In a thousand years, he didn’t think he could understand Laura’s father and sister. “This is what she wanted, to hurt you. Don’t let her have that”
Laura nodded. “And if she’s right?” Laura looked at Chris with eyes swimming with tears. “What if ‘stepmother’ is the only thing I can be?” her lips shook.
Chris swallowed. His hands ached to hold Laura. He wouldn’t mind having her tears smear his shirt, all he knew was that he didn’t want to see so much pain in her eyes. It was the exact opposite of the lively lady he had known all these years. Even with the heat she faced in marriage, she still maintained a lively exterior. Damn you, Deolu! He swallowed, gripping the wheels hard, lest he give in to the temptation of touching Laura. “I don’t have answers to your questions, but one thing I know is that you are the best mother that any child could ever wish for.” He took his eyes off the road long enough to stare into her eyes. “You are loving, brave and strong, that’s how I know you would pull through this hurricane”
Laura stared at him for a moment longer before turning to the window, staring at the road. “You have too much faith in me”
Chris heard Laura’s words and remembered that he had spoken those same words some days back to Anita in his office. He swallowed, facing the road squarely. “You should eat and I know just the place”. Laura said nothing and he took the silence in affirmative as he drove to the nearest eatery.
“Oh no…” Teju stared in open-mouthed horror at the state of her room. Everything was in disarray. Her television was bashed in with the shattered glass scattered all over her tiled floor. Everything was overturned. The mattress was out of the bed frame, the bed spread was in ruins, and even her favorite pillow had its guts spilled all over her mattress. I have been burgled, Teju thought in horror.
She took cautions steps inside as a strange cold overtook her. Tip-toing towards the kitchen, she peeped to be sure no one was hiding inside, waiting to slice her throat in half. She swallowed a small panic sound as she did the same for the bathroom. She had the weird thought that she would find a dead body lying in wake, just like she had seen in movies. But nothing and no one was there that was out of place. Releasing a shaky breath, Teju turned to face the horror of her bedroom. Books and papers littered the floor, an exact opposite of what she knew her room to be. Her room was always anything but scattered. Teju’s brain raced through who could have wrecked such havoc. Her immediate instinct was to rush to her neighbours, question and get a bit of information but her eyes caught something hanging behind her television which made her pause.
Cautiously, Teju walked towards her destroyed television with her heart racing in her chest. Please, not a ransom note, she pleaded internally. The only person she had was her mother; she couldn’t afford any more drama in her messy life, right now. Teju extracted the white piece of paper poking out of the back of the TV and read out the boldly written words.
“I don’t make empty promises” the note read, “I have something of yours, squeal and I’d spill the beans”
Teju’s eyes roamed over the words on the piece of paper as her mind raced. “Oh my God! Tito” she had thought Tito was merely bluffing. How wrong she was. Teju became restless as she paced her disheveled room, her eyes still glued to the piece of paper. She had known Tito wasn’t to be toyed with and had always been wary of Laura’s cousin but no way had her subconscious mind predicted something like this. How on earth did Tito break into her apartment? I have grossly underestimated that snake, Teju thought. “Something of mine… something of mine” Teju chanted as she went about the room, wondering what Tito had taken. Her system was surprisingly intact. She had opened her wardrobe, checking her jewelry box for any missing valuable when something snapped in her brain.
Dropping the paper carelessly on the floor, Teju launched towards her small bedside drawer table, pulling out the first drawer. She extracted the file containing her credentials and there she fixed the puzzle… they were all gone. Her heart slammed as her face registered horror. “Oh my…” She froze. Her heart literarily stopped as her brain went on overdrive. A small sound of panic escaped her mouth as she jerked the drawer completely out of the table. “No no no no no…” she chanted as her feverish fingers perused the content of the drawer in frantic search. “Where is it?” her voice shook as she launched at the other drawer, dumping its content on the floor and scattering them with shaky fingers. Tears came to her eyes as she cast her eyes about. She had thought the note referred to her documents but she couldn’t be more wrong. “No, not my diary, no…” she wailed as she gripped her head.
Tito hid everything she took from Teju’s apartment inside the wardrobe. She didn’t have the time to go over that now; she was worried sick about Laura. It’s so late into the night yet, there was no trace of Laura. She had called Laura’s office and was told she was out of the office, so where on earth was Laura? “This girl would kill me before my time” Tito lamented as she paced the length of her spacious room, trying Laura’s number for the umpteenth time. It was switched off. Damn it all!
Tito paused as a ray of light flashed into the room. A car was coming into the compound. Dear God! Laura would get it from me today. Furious, Tito slipped into her slippers and pushed the door open. On getting outside, she paused. What on earth was Chris doing there? She frowned deeply as Chris got out of his side and hastened around the car. Only then did she see the person occupying the other seat. Laura. And where was her car? Tito stood frozen as she watched Chris open the other door, trying to bring out a sleeping Laura. What on earth was going on?
“You could give me a hand” Chris muttered as he moved Laura into his arms.
Tito frowned as Laura’s small frame snuggled instinctively against Chris’ broad chest. “You look like you’ve got it all covered” she finally said as her legs unlocked, moving towards them. She took out Laura’s purse from the car just as Chris marched towards her apartment, holding Laura firmly against his chest. Tito slammed the door shut, storming after him. “Care to tell me what you are doing with my cousin?”
“Nothing illegal” Chris got to the door and waited for her to open the door. Holding on to the reigns of her patience, Tito brushed past him and pushed open the door. His faint cologne assaulted her nostrils as he pushed into the room, heading straight for the bed like he had all the right in the world. Tito gritted her teeth. It was the second time Chris had stepped into her room and she absolutely hated it.
Leaving the door open, Tito dropped Laura’s purse on the only small couch in the room as Chris lay Laura gently on the mattress, leaning over her to pull the duvet over Laura. Tito stared at the scene before her, rotating her eyes from Chris to Laura and back as Chris finally straightened. “Should have known” she finally said into the silence, giving Chris a long look.
Chris took his eyes off Laura and stared at Tito. She gave him her usual unblinking glare and it occurred to Chris that he had never seen Tito laughing or in a really joyous state. He wondered if she was even capable of that. Distributing his weight evenly between his two feet, he buried his hands in his pockets. “Okay, before you give me the third degree, I was on my way back from work when I came by your cousin” he explained. “She was in a depressed state when I gave her a lift and forced her to eat something. She managed to eat a small chicken pie and dozed off in the car as I drove her here. Is that information enough for you?”
Tito raised her brow, folding her hands beneath her bosom without taking her eyes off Chris. “Where does my car come into this story?”
“The fuel is on red” Chris repeated what Laura had told him. Tito’s penetrating gaze made him feel like he was standing on thin ice. He eyed the open door.
“So…” Tito finally moved, taking a slow trek around the door. “Laura’s marriage hits the rock, she goes off to work in my car and it breaks down, next thing I see is you coming to my apartment with Laura in your arms, how convenient”
Chris frowned. “What are you insinuating?”
“I’m not insinuating anything that isn’t obvious enough” she smiled. “Who can blame Deolu? With friends like you, it is easy to see why he did what he did”
“Friends like me”
“Ladies’ man? Friends who find it convenient to toy with the hearts of gullible women, breaking hearts while keeping theirs unspoiled all in the name of being a player”
Chris frowned. “That’s not me”
“Of course, it is” Tito snapped. “But of course, I don’t expect you to accept it, do I?” She took a deep breath, taking two steps towards Chris as she lowered her voice. “Now, listen to me… Laura has been through enough, your friend has done enough damage as it is. If you know what’s good for you, you would leave my cousin alone”
Tito and Chris stared down each other; neither was ready to back down for the other. It was like two bulls at a pissing contest. Finally, Chris stepped around Tito and stormed out of the apartment. Tito blinked, taking a deep cleansing breath. She turned to look at Laura who slept on the bed and her eyes fell on Chris’ suit jacket still wrapped around Laura’s body. She turned, stalked to the door and slammed it shut.
Laura popped open her eyes, staring at the white ceiling of Tito’s room. The light streaming in from the window told her she had slept late into the day. Tito was nowhere in sight but the tantalizing scent of a familiar soup assaulted her senses, making her turn in the direction of the kitchen. Through the window, Laura saw the shape of someone standing outside and guessed it to be Tito, but she could hear movements in the kitchen.
A familiar figure emerged from Tito’s kitchen, making Laura’s face widen. Oh great! It had been years since she had seen her stepmother, what a great time to make a re-entrance into her life, Laura thought miserably. It surprised her that her stepmother still looked the same. Impressive height, one that every model would kill for, with a perfectly feminine shape to go with it. Same low cut that accentuated her round face in the most tantalizing way. “Family reappearance! I see that’s what’s in vogue”
“Thank God, you’re awake, Laura” Gloria smiled as she crouched before Laura. “I’ve really missed you”
“It shows” Laura shook her head. “Disobeying the almighty Mr Frank Johnson seems the popular thing to do lately, what are you doing here?”
“I know you are mad at me, and you should, but now is not the time. You should eat”
She rushed into the kitchen and emerged with a tray of piping hot Oha soup and Akpu, dropping it on a stool. “C’mon Rababy, it’s very hot”
She just had to call me that pet name! “I’m not hungry” Laura snapped.
“You must be, look at your state”
Laura scoffed. “Can’t be worse than my state of mind with you around”
Gloria smiled. “I understand you want me to leave but I’m not leaving till you’ve eaten” she sat on the bed, moving the tray of food from the table onto her lap. “At least, try a little, ehn” Gloria pushed. “Heaven helps those who help themselves o”
“And mouth takes what stomach wants, don’t force me, mum”
Being called ‘mum’ by Laura after such a long time pleased Gloria beyond measure but she hid it as she stared at the tray before her. “You don’t want this?” she asked. “Tell me what your stomach wants, I’d get it”
“Yeah? Can you get me a child? My stomach would very much like that”
“You can’t, right?” Laura was so tired of people trying to make things alright. The truth is it would never be. Laura sighed. “Oh stepmother, we are more alike than we thought. Guess what, I’m on my way to being a stepmother” she smiled drily. “I just knew we had a connection. Two stepmothers in one family, isn’t it amazing?”
The door busted open. “Okay, enough of this crap”
Laura’s eyes snapped up and her head literarily went off the pillow. It wasn’t as much the sound of the door but the voice of the speaker. Mr Johnson charged into the room like an army general, looking like the no-nonsense man he occasionally was when he wanted to put things straight. Laura was momentarily frozen in shock as she stared at the man who suddenly dominated the room. “Father?”
Gloria blinked. It wasn’t everytime she got to see her husband’s twin – Mark Johnson. The resemblance was scary, and if not for the voice difference, Gloria wasn’t sure she could differentiate the two brothers.
“Mark” she mouthed. “Didn’t know you were back in the country”
Mark Johnson glanced at her. “Tito was smart enough to tell me my house was on fire.” he responded, giving Laura a significant look. “You’d better be there when I see Frank, I just might kill him if we are left alone for a minute”
Mark Johnson faced his niece, his face taking on a serious look. “Alright young woman, enough of this self pity, get out of bed; we are going for a walk”
Laura caught Tito’s look of concern from the door as she turned away, tucking the pillow firmly beneath her head. “I don’t want to” she murmured.
“Woman, you look at me when I talk to you” Mark boomed.
Laura felt frustration welling up within her as she turned back to face her uncle reluctantly. Why was life so unfair? Why couldn’t she be left alone to wallow in her misery? She deserved that much after all the misfortunes that were befalling her. But she wouldn’t dare defy her godfather. As playful and loving as he was, there isn’t anyone born who could defy him in the face of his anger.
“I wasn’t asking, I am ordering. Now, get your behind out of that bed and meet me outside in five minutes or by God I’d come back in here and drag you out of this bed by the hair”.
Laura watched her uncle sweep out of the room, knowing from experience that he would do exactly what he said and more, if she didn’t do his bidding.
“You should… he doesn’t look like he’d accept no, besides, the walk would be good for you” her stepmother botted in.
Laura closed her eyes briefly and opened them, pushing sluggishly out of bed. Her body complained. She wasn’t accustomed to staying in bed for so long.
“Do you think I could be lucky and not meet you here when I return?”
Gloria appeared to give it a thought. “I don’t think so” she said, smiling.
Laura walked into the bathroom and rinsed her face. Staring at the image in the mirror, Laura didn’t look like herself. Great! Her face made a perfect show of how she was feeling – wretched.
Sighing deeply, she walked out. Without waiting for her, Mark Johnson eased into motion, marching out of the house. What the heck? She didn’t need this now. Of all the people Tito could summon to torture her, it had to be her godfather? Laura glared at Tito as she walked. Tito appeared to be reading something. “Thanks” she snapped.
Tito smiled. “You’re welcome”
“Keep up, girl” Mr Johnson boomed as he stalked down the street like a soldier.
The wind slapped at Laura’s face as she hastened up to meet her uncle.
Teju entered the small restaurant and adjusted the shawl around her face. She cast a glance around, relaxing when she found no familiar face. Hastily, she walked towards a secluded part of the eatery, sighting the person she came to see.
Composing herself, she made for the table and placed a small dry smile on her face. “Good afternoon sir” she greeted.
Mr Frank Johnson raised his eyes from his phone and smiled at Teju. “Good to see you, my dear”
Teju couldn’t say the same. Frank Johnson inclined his head towards a seat and Teju dropped into a seat, opposite him. “What was so urgent?” he asked.
Teju shifted impatiently. “There is a problem, sir” she mouthed and Frank frowned. “It’s your niece, Tito… I’m afraid she might have found out about that night… and… everything”
Frank Johnson stared at Teju for a prolonged moment, his calculative gaze reading Teju, then he relaxed his back fully on the chair, grabbed his drink and took a long sip. “Tell me everything”
To be continued