Funmi swallowed the last piece of grazed ham and pushed her plate aside. ‘I enjoyed this meal. Can we do this again next week?’
Charles laughed. ‘My wife, my wife, you like better thing abeg.’
Funmi wiped her mouth with a white napkin and looked around the restaurant. It was her first time there. ‘I love this place. How did you find it?’
‘Shola.’ Charles responded. ‘We hung out here with one of Shola’s friends. I knew I was going to bring you here.’
Funmi reached for her husband’s hand. ‘Thank you so much. I enjoyed my evening.’
Charles popped open a wine bottle and poured the content into two glasses. He passed a cup to his wife and raised his.
‘Cheers to the most amazing couple in the world and soon to be parents.’
They clinked their glasses. Funmi sipped her wine slowly while her husband gulped down his. Charles placed his empty glass on the table and stood up.
‘I’ll be back. I need to use the restroom.’
Charles had barely turned the corner that led to the restroom when Funmi saw the light of his phone come on. Charles had left the phone on the table and now a call had come in. She leaned towards the phone screen. No caller ID. Only an unfamiliar number. She remembered Charles turning off the ring volume of his phone because he didn’t want anyone to disrupt their date. What if it was an urgent call from his boss?
If it rings again, I’ll answer it, she said to herself.
The phone rang. She answered it.
‘Hello, Good evening.’
A female voice. This was not Charles’ boss.
‘Good evening ma’am. Please can I speak with Mr Charles?’
‘My husband is not here at the moment. Who am I speaking with?’
There was a hesitation on the other end.
‘Hello, are you still there?’
‘Oh yeah. Tell him Ayanfe called. I have an urgent message for him. He should return this call as soon as possible.’
The line went dead.
Funmi stared at the phone. The voice was familiar. An image of the lady that came with Big Mama to the hospital flashed across her mind. Aunt Toyosi said her name was Ireti. This lady is Ayanfe.
Ayanfe. Beloved. What a beautiful name. She smiled and touched her stomach. She had the right name for her daughter.
‘Babe, I’m back.’ Charles said, settling back into his seat.
Funmi raised her head and pointed at his phone. ‘A lady called. I answered it.’
Charles panicked. Did Ireti call? His heart raced as he stared at his wife, waiting for her to spill the name of the lady.
‘Why are you looking at me like that? Who called?’ Charles said, worried at the curious glance on his wife’s face. Was she already suspecting an affair?
Funmi cleared her throat. She wondered why her husband was suddenly tensed. ‘These were her exact words. Tell him Ayanfe called. I have an urgent message for him. ’
Charles sighed in relief. Ireti. At least, she used her pet name this time. When he poured himself another cup, it went the wrong way and splashed on the table.
Fidgeting, he wiped the table with a serviette paper. He kept cleaning the table even though the paper was already soaked. He was clearly avoiding Funmi’s eyes. She sat back and watched her husband.
‘Ayanfe said you should return her call.’
Charles forced a smile. ‘I know what she wants. You know, my boss just employed a new P.A. She is still trying to get a hang on the job. I’m sure she is calling to ask about one of our routines. I’ll speak to her later.’ He said and picked up the half-filled glass.
Funmi leaned towards him. ‘Why are your hands trembling?’
The wine spilled on Charles’ t-shirt. He reached for a table towel and brushed the stain from his t-shirt.
What was wrong with him? Why was he so clumsy?
Charles, calm down. He muttered to himself.
Funmi closed her eyes and let out a deep breath. Her husband had not said a word since they left the restaurant. The silence made her sick to her stomach
Who was this Ayanfe and what was her connection with her husband? Why did Charles fidget when she mentioned her name? Was her husband having an extra-marital affair? It was not possible. Charles loved her too much to hurt her that way.
Was it possible? Could Charles be cheating on her?
Funmi’s mind traveled in different directions, panic rising to her throat. When she glanced at her husband, his eyes were focused on the road.
‘Are you cheating on me?’ Funmi asked, softly.
Charles didn’t respond. He kept his gaze on the road.
‘Charles, I am talking to you. Have you been cheating on me?’
‘No.’ Charles lied. ‘I am shocked that you don’t trust me. That’s so sad.’
‘How am I supposed to trust you with the way you acted at the restaurant this evening. You hands were trembling Charles. You spilled wine on your t-shirt. I saw fear in your eyes. It was too obvious that something was wrong.’
Charles pulled up in front of a man selling suya. ‘You want some?’
Funmi knew her husband was hiding something. Whenever he tried to bribe her with a gift, he wanted her to forget a subject.
I’m going to get to the end of this, Funmi concluded. ‘I don’t want to eat suya. Just take me home.’
They drove the rest of the journey in silence.
Funmu’s eyes were heavy with sleep when they got home. She also felt nauseated. She made a cup of tea and went to bed.
Charles waited until his wife was fast asleep before opening the bedroom door and cautiously tip-toeing out of the room. He went to the living room and settled into the sofa facing the bedroom door. He dialed the last contact on his call history.
‘Why are you calling me?’ The woman on the other line barked. ‘Your wife picks my call and now you are agitated. Shior!’
‘Ireti, why do you delight in ruining my life? What do you want to gain from it?’
‘You caused it Charles. If you had not married that fool, we won’t be having this conversation.’ She sighed and her tone became softer. ‘I miss you Charles. It’s been how many weeks now since-’
‘I don’t want to have anything to do with you! Leave me alone Ireti. Gush! You are my worst nightmare. Listen, I love my wife very much. I will never leave her for you.’
‘So you don’t love me?’
‘I don’t! Okay? Please stay away from my family.’
Charles ended the call and placed his hand on his head.
Which kain wahala be this?
I am going to fight this, he said aloud as he walked back to the room. His child would not grow up to an irresponsible father.
That night, Charles tossed on the bed from one side to the other. He was restless. He leaned close to his wife and ran his hand over her bare stomach. His seed was growing in her. He was determined to set a good example for his children.
Charles kissed his wife on her cheeks and wrapped his hands around her.
Funmi woke up with a start. She felt a strong presence in the room and it filled her with dread. She turned to see her husband snoring loudly beside her. She relaxed.
The fear returned.
Images of the man with the cowboy hat mocking her. He had tried killing her once. He could reappear again. Did Charles remember to lock all the doors before going to bed?
Look, he is at the entrance!
Funmi’s eyes dashed to the door, her heart pounding loud. There was no one there.
He is standing by the wardrobe.
Her eyes turned swiftly towards the wardrobe. Nobody was there. Was her mind playing games on her?
Funmi pulled the pillow to her chin. Hunger pangs tore at her stomach. She had to get something to eat. What if the man attacked her in the kitchen?
When she couldn’t bear the hunger anymore, she went to the kitchen to heat the coconut rice she’d prepared the previous evening. Funmi lost her appetite as soon as she tasted it. She opened the fridge and took out a loaf of coconut bread.
A door slammed in a distance.
She glanced around in panic. Hands trembling, she opened the kitchen cabinet and rummaged quickly for the butter spread. In the process, the plate of salt fell, followed by other plastic containers containing spices. She did not bother to pick them up. She grabbed the butter spread and the loaf of bread and ran back to the room.
Funmi froze at the entrance. The loaf of bread and butter fell to the floor. ‘What the hell-?” Her words stopped midway as she stared at her husband on the bed, sweating profusely, moaning the way he did whenever he made love to her. His shirt lay careless on the floor.
Funmi ran to him and shook his shoulders. Charles’ eyes flew opened. He glared a her, furious.
‘Get out of this room!’ He barked.
In the living room, Funmi’s body shook vigorously. Who was this man she married?
What was going on in her home? How could her husband be making love to an invisible being?
Her eyes went to the wall clock. It was almost three a.m. She had no one to share her worries with. Her friends would only indulge in self-pitying talks. She was ashamed to call her mother. Her sister, Ebun was far away in Germany. She was alone.
‘God, I’m afraid. What’s going on here? Jesus. help me.’ Funmi said, tears glistening her eyes.
Ebun stopped praying and sat up on the bed in the hotel room. She had arrived Nigeria the previous night, excited to be back home.
She had her plans laid out. After spending a week with her fiance in Lagos, she’d stop by Ibadan to see Funmi before leaving for the family house in Ilorin. She’d remain there until after her wedding. Ebun was excited. She was finally getting married. She had wanted to marry before leaving for Germany but Izu would not agree.
‘Sweetheart, I’m not in a hurry. Go and complete your studies. We’ll get married after you are done.’
She’d thought it a great idea. Her sister had been making plans for her wedding at that time. Running two weddings in the same year would have been too much for her parents. Now that Funmi was married, It was time to build her own family.
She had been on her mind since Izu picked her up at the airport. Few hours after her arrival, her mother had called from the mission field asking Ebun to pray for Funmi.
All is not well with your sister, her mother had said.
She checked her time on her phone. 5 a.m. She dialed Funmi’s number.
‘Hello, good morning.’ Funmi said, drowsily.
‘I’m sorry to wake you up.’ Ebun said
‘Jesus! Who am I speaking with? Ebun?’
Ebun laughed. ‘Yes, this is Ebun.’
Funmi burst into tears on the phone. ‘Oh my God! I can’t believe this. Where are you calling me from? Are you back?’
‘Yeah girl. I landed last night. I wanted to surprise you that’s why I didn’t call you earlier.’
Funmi exclaimed in delight. ‘I’m so happy. Please come and say hi to me. I want to see you.’
‘Sure, I’ll be with you in a few weeks. But first, I want to spend some time in Lagos with Izu. I’ll definitely pay you a visit.’
‘Oh Ebun, I’m so happy you are back. Hope you didn’t forget to bring goodies for me?’
‘How can I? I have lots of chocolates and biscuits for you. How’s Charles?’
Funmi sighed. ‘A lot has been happening here. I can’t wait for you to come. I wish you were here already. I’ve missed you.’
‘I’ve missed you too. I’m sorry I hardly kept in touch.’ Ebun paused and glanced at her phone screen before placing the phone back to her ear. ‘Funmi, I need to go. Izu is on the line. We have morning prayers now.’
Funmi chuckled. ‘My spiritual sister. Not even two years in Germany could take that away from you. Alright sis. My regards to him.’
Ebun ended the call and dialed Izu’s number.
‘Good morning darling.’ Ebun said, yawning.
‘Who were you speaking with this early morning?’ Izu asked.
‘It’s Funmi. I was praying and I had this nudge to call her. How was the vigil with your friends?’
‘It was awesome.’ Izu continued. ‘There was a strong flow of the Spirit. We got new instructions and clearer direction. It was wonderful.’ He paused. ‘Sweetheart, you might have to go see Funmi earlier than you planned.’
Ebun hesitated. ‘Really? But I’ve not seen you in two years. I wanted us to spend some time together.’
Izu sighed. ‘I know and I’d more than anything love to spend every moment with you. But this seems urgent. We’ll pray more about it anyway.’
Few minutes into their devotion, Izu stopped praying.
‘I see blood splattered around Funmi’s bedroom. I see a woman and a lady standing at the entrance watching and laughing at her.’
Ebun eyes widened. ‘I saw something similar too except that my sister was lifeless on the bed in a pool of her blood. Oh my God! What’s going on?’
‘Sweetheart relax, okay? The weapons of our warfare are not carnal. God opened our eyes to see these things so we can avert the plans of the devil. See this battle won already. But you have to travel today. I’ll pick you from the hotel by 10a.m. At least I get to spend some time with you before you leave for Ibadan.’
Ebun let out a deep breath. God please keep my sister safe. She is my only sister. Nothing must happen to her.
‘Nothing will happen to her Ebun.’ Izu said, reading her mind. ‘Your sister is fortunate to be surrounded by warriors. Your mother alone can chase ten thousand to flight. Relax. God has not given us the spirit of fear. We’ve won this.’
Ebun placed her hand on her pounding chest. ‘Izu, thank you.’
‘I have to get dressed for work. I’ll see you later.’
After the call, Ebun sat back thinking. This woman and the lady she and Izu saw while praying, who were they?
She dialed Funmi’s number again. It was switched off. Ebun prayed quietly that when she was ready to leave for Ibadan, she’d be able to reach her sister.
‘Don’t touch me.’ Funmi pushed her husband’s hand away. Charles stared at her, puzzled.
‘What is wrong with you?’
Fumni pulled down a brown box from the top of the wardrobe and began to throw her clothes into it.
‘Where are you going to?’
Funmi stopped and faced her husband. ‘I’m simply moving my stuff to the other room. This place is getting congested. At least in most houses, the woman has her own room.’
‘But we already said when we get married, all our things will be in one room. Don’t you know that when couples start to have separate rooms, it is the beginning of the end of the marriage?
Funmi rolled her eyes at him. ‘I need sanity in my life Charles. This morning, you were having sex with only God knows who. I get scared every day. At first, I thought it was the house but right now, I don’t know anymore. I need some space okay?’
Charles opened his mouth to say something but closed it again. The dream had been real. Ireti had walked right into the room and began to unbutton his shirt. He’d wanted to stop her but his hands had lay numb by his side.
Oh God! I can’t ever be free right?
He followed his wife to the room adjacent their bedroom. She had cleaned the room and laid the bed. When Funmi turned to face him, tears pouring down her face. His heart broke.
‘Please tell me what’s going on. I’m tired of making assumptions. Tell me the truth please. Who is this Ayanfe? What connection do you have with her?’ Funmi asked, her eyes pleading.
Charles phone beeped. It was his boss.
Hey Charles. I know what I’m about to say is hard. I’m leaving for Europe tonight. I won’t be coming back for a long time. I have closed down the business. I’m starting something great there. You are a hardworking man and I’m certain you will find another job. When you get to the office today, let the workers know that the building has been leased to another organization.
Colour drained from Charles face. ‘What!’
Funmi folded her hands.‘What was that? Ayanfe?’
Charles knees trembled. Why would his boss do this without even hinting him? He was the head of administration for God’s sake! Was this the reason his boss’ brother had joined the company six months ago? He should have suspected with the way the man had acted in those months.
He deserved it. He deserved to lose his job. God was punishing him. This was his fault.
He had kept secrets from his wife and he was paying for it. But this was pure wickedness! Nothing had been said about this at the last management meeting. His boss had planned this all along.
‘I just lost my job.’ Charles said and walked out of the room. He tossed his blue tie to the floor and went to the living room. Funmi followed him, fear filling her heart.
How would they survive? She didn’t have a job and now her husband had lost his?
Funmi! Why were you rushing to get married. Look at the trouble you’ve brought on yourself.
A knock interrupted the silence. Charles looked at his wife.
‘Are you expecting someone?’
Funmi shook her head and ran into the bedroom to change out of her night gown. She stopped by the bathroom, splashed water on her face before wiping her face with a towel.
She returned to the living room. Aunt Toyosi was reclining on the sofa, talking to her nephew. A travelling bag and a bacco sac stood in front of her.
Funmi screamed in delight and ran to hug her. ‘Big Mama! Oh my God! You came at the right time.’
Aunt Toyosi threw her head back laughing as she pulled Funmi into her arms. ‘My darling Funmi. I couldn’t wait to be here.’
Tears of joy filled Funmi’s eyes. ‘Big Mama, I’m so happy. Why didn’t you inform me you were coming, I’d have cleaned the guest room for you.’
Aunt Toyosi looked around the living room. ‘This is a beautiful place. My son sure has a fine taste for colours.’ She winked at Charles. He turned his face away.
‘I have come here with my soup ingredients. All you have to do is relax and I’ll take good care of you and my son.’ Aunt Toyosi said, rubbing Funmi’s shoulders tenderly.
I’m not your son, Charles almost screamed.
Funmi could not contain her excitement at seeing Aunt Toyosi. ‘Big Mama, I have missed your efo riru. I’ll take your bag to the room, clean the room up and I’ll be right back.’
Charles grabbed his wife’s hand as she reached for the traveling bag. He turned slightly to Aunt Toyosi.
‘Please I need a few minutes alone with my wife.’
Aunty Toyosi squeezed her face and when Funmi looked her way, she smiled broadly.
‘That’s fine. Go ahead.’
When they entered the room, Charles faced her. ‘Who gave her the address to this house?’
Funmi looked at him, confused. ‘This is your mother. The woman who took care of you from the time you were a boy.’
‘She is not my mother okay? I call her mum yes but that’s just perfunctory. My mother is dead. You should have asked me first before giving her the address. ’
‘Why are you acting like this? If it’s because you are afraid I’ll tell her you are cheating on me with a lady called Ayanfe, then relax. I have no such intentions, at least not yet. But then if you do not tell me soon who this lady is, I’ll tell her.’
Charles was pissed at the naivety of his wife. Why couldn’t his wife just see things from his own perspective. She had led the lioness right into their house and she would not stop until she destroyed them.
‘Please don’t tell her you are pregnant.’
Funmi frowned. ‘Fine, I won’t.’
In the living room, a big bible with black leather cover was opened on Aunt Toyosi’s laps. Funmi smiled and slid in beside her. How she loved this woman.
Charles stood at the entrance to the bedroom, watching as they hugged warmly. Irritated, he left the house.
‘Mama, what will you eat? I can prepare rice for you. I still have chicken stew in the fridge.’
Mama squeezed her hand ‘I’m not hungry yet.’ Aunt Toyosi paused. ‘Ehn, Yesterday, while I was praying for you, I had an open vision. You were surrounded by three children. Two girls and a boy. I was so happy. I know by the mighty hand of God, you will carry your babies.’
Don’t tell her you are pregnant
Why would her husband stop her from announcing the news to Big mama. She wanted badly to spill the words out. She wanted to watch Big Mama dance around the house, praising God. Was he hiding something?
‘This one you are looking at me like this, abi, it has happened?’Aunt Toyosi said, tickling her softly.
Funmi decided to throw caution to the wind. There was no harm in releasing this kind of information. Aunt Toyosi was a good woman.
‘Mama, I am pregnant.’
Aunt Toyosi’s hands flew to her chest. She jumped to her feet and began to dance.
I have a Father who will never, ever fail me.
I have a Father who will never, ever fail me
Jesus is my Father, he will never ever fail me
Rock of Ages, never ever fail.
Funmi laughed at the funny dance steps. She stood up and joined Aunt Toyosi. She loved the woman’s vibes. From the first day she had met this woman, she’d loved her spirit.
‘Go and prepare that rice. Ah! This is celebration time.’
Funmi hurried to the kitchen, still laughing and dancing. She was glad Charles’ aunt was around. She knew with Aunt Toyosi, she would never be bored.
Funmi’s phone vibrated in the living room. Aunt Toyosi stared at the caller ID.
Was this not that useless sister of Funmi who was schooling abroad?
Aunt Toyosi remembered the first time she spoke to Ebun over the phone. Her body had begun to itch her badly. She’d been restless that day and had quickly handed the phone back to Funmi. Ebun was like her mother. Dangerous people. How she hated them.
Was Ebun back in the country?
Aunt Toyosi hissed and switched off the phone. She hurried down the narrow passage that led to a small courtyard and threw the phone behind a washing machine.
Funmi searched everywhere for her phone. She checked under the sofas, rummaged through her bags, upturned all the drawers, raised the mattresses in all the rooms and even dipped her hands into the sac of rice in the kitchen store. The phone was nowhere to be found.
‘Are you sure this phone is in this house?’ Aunt Toyosi said, bending down to peer behind the TV stand. She stood up and looked round the living room, a worrisome expression on her face.
Charles’ aunt continued. ‘How can a phone just disappear like that?’
Funmi slumped into the brown leather three-seater sofa and put her hand on her head.
Where did she keep her phone? She had not gone anywhere since morning. She looked around again, allowing her mind track her movements since she woke up. Her sister had called her early that morning to inform her she was back in the country. Had she been dreaming?
No, it had been real, Funmi thought. Her phone was in the house. She was sure about that.
Her eyes hovered round the scattered living room. ‘Where for God’s sake is this phone?’
Aunt Toyosi squeezed her shoulder. ‘Relax Funmi, you will find it.’
Funmi wiped the tears already welling up her eyes. She had never been without her phone. It made her feel empty, vulnerable and gloomy.
She dabbed at her teary eyes. ‘I should go start dinner. I’m sorry I was just worked up.’
Aunt Toyosi touched her chin tenderly. ‘Go in and rest a little. I’ll fix dinner. What do you say to yam porridge with plenty of stockfish.’
Funmi forced a smile. ‘Big Mama, I’ve really missed your cooking.’
Funmi remembered the times she had visited Aunt Toyosi while courting Charles. Every time, the woman had prepared delicious meals that had made her salivate for more. Charles said good cooking rests in the family. His late mother cooked so well that the neigbours were known to pay unexpected visits.
‘Mama, Thank you for coming. I feel so relieved. I’ll shower and join you in the kitchen soon.’ Funmi hugged Aunt Toyosi and went into the bedroom.
Aunt Toyosi chuckled and carried the bacco bag into the kitchen
‘Fool.’ She said quietly.