Desmond shrugged into his shirt and slipped the buttons in place, his eyes fixed on Lilian’s reflection in the mirror. Her chest rose and fell in a steady rhythm as she drifted away on the wings of the kind of sleep that beckoned after the time they had shared moments ago. His lips curled up in a rueful smile, eyes drifting back to his reflection. His time at the gym, good food and his natural endowments had done him well. Little wonder ladies crumbled beneath his charms. He slipped on his trousers and tugged his belt in place. Stephanie was due for another shopping spree. After all was said and done, she was the resident queen. Mother of his daughter and unborn baby. Another smile tugged up the corners of his mouth. Maybe an alert hitting her account right now would quell whatever suspicions were building up in her head right now. He would be a fool to let any of this slip. Akinbode Rotimi’s face popped in his head. A not so friendly version of him. He shrugged off the image. Being in the bad books of his father-in-law was the last thing he wanted, but then, a man had to do what a man had to do. He was going crazy from not being as intimate with his wife as he should with their second baby on the way. Her doctor had emphasised the need for extra care considering the episodes of threatened miscarriage she had experienced. This was not cheating. This was a man staying sane enough to keep fending for the family he loved.
Lillian stirred and rolled over in her sleep, unconsciously lifting the duvet a great way above her supple ebony thighs. Desmond tore his gaze away. He needed to leave now. Her bank account will be smiling at her by the time she was awake. Grabbing his jacket from the backrest of the chair and lifting his laptop bag, Desmond strode out of the room and shut the door softly behind him.
Freda pushed open the glass door and let herself into the reception of Trims and Trends. The smell of new fabrics hung in the air. She soaked in the full blast of the air conditioner that welcomed her. A soothing relief from the sun outside, especially with the poor air-conditioning of the cab that had just dropped her off. She made a mental note to call her mechanic. Hopefully, the car would be ready by end of work today.
Her lips lifted in a smile as Zara flashed her signature smile. No wonder Trims and Trends just could not stop getting more and more new clients. They had officially risen from the shadows to top five fashion house in town in two years. With a front desk personnel with a personality like Zara’s, any client would want to come back just to take a chunk out of her very tangible warmth.
“The Bishop’s queen showing up means it’s an extra special day of business for us today,” Zara said, still beaming. Bishop’s queen was a name that had stuck as her nick name over the last few years in her circle of friends. A name that reminded her of the days when she was so sure the future of her marriage was going to be as cheery and as bright as when they had set out.
Freda returned the smile. Her damp mood didn’t stand a chance around the warmth that Zara’s smile gushed. It was too contagious to ignore.
“How are you this morning?” A twinge of guilt pinched at her insides. She had planned to call her when she learnt that she had been ill but let that slide down her to do list with pity parties, filling most part of the list.
Freda eased her handbag off her shoulders and set it on Zara’s desk.
“I’m great. It was nothing serious.” Zara flashed another smile.
“I’m so sorry…”
“Oh please.You don’t have to be sorry for not calling. I know how busy you are.” Zara said plodding across the reception to arrange bridal magazines that were scattered atop the coffee table.
“What am I doing that makes me too busy to call a friend?’
Zara straightened herself, held out her palm and itemised what was on her Freda’s to do list with her fingers.
“You are wife to lead pastor of one of the fastest growing churches in town. You have a thriving confectionary business to run daily. My friend, that’s a lot to fill a plate.” Zara zipped past her and sank into her seat, twirling it around as she peered into her laptop screen.
“You spoil me with your understanding Zara, but thanks, anyway. I should do better.” Freda stifled the pain that rose in her chest. Busy with everything but one that mattered so much to her. Motherhood.
Her eyes trailed Zara as she ambled towards the water dispenser and back to her seat. Was Zara looking lighter in complexion or it was just because she had not seen her in a while? Hadn’t she read something about early pregnancy making women to glow?
“So what’s with the big announcement thing you posted on our WhatsApp group?” Curiosity laced with dread tugged at her heart..
Zara took a swig from her stainless steel cup and drained it in one gulp before answering.
“Don’t worry, you will be the first to know as long as you are online by 8pm tonight.”
Freda’s heart sank. Was Zara pregnant? Was that the big announcement? Had God blessed her with the one thing she desperately longed for?” Tears sprang into her eyes unannounced.
Tinuke’s door swung open, and she peeked into the reception from behind her door.
“Aha, I was sure I heard Freda’s voice. Thanks to Zara, who always has a way of hijacking my guests with her plenty talk.”
“Don’t mind her,” Freda said, forcing on a smile and heading towards Tinuke’s office. She was thankful for being rescued from the awkward moment.
Dropping into the sofa and in the safety of Tinuke’s office, Freda broke down and cried , her body racking in sobs.
Tinuke draped an arm around Freda. Freda was grateful for their one decade and a half of friendship. It was a long time for Tinuke to know when not to ask her why she was crying. They had been on the road together, trusting God for the babies to come. She wrapped her hand around her shoulder and let her cry.
When she had her fill of crying, Tinuke handed her a handkerchief to wipe her face.
“What’s the matter this time?”
Freda blew her nose noisily into her handkerchief. And kept her gaze on the crumpled up piece of fabric. “How do I begin to explain that I am crying because I suspect Zara is pregnant and I feel bad about it. How does that sound coming from a Christian that I secretly wish other women I know are also in the waiting room, just like me?”
Tinuke squeezed gently on her shoulder. “Freda, this too shall pass,”
“But why is mine not passing?”Freda asked choking with sobs and beginning a fresh round of tears.
“Now, Freda, I will tell you the truth at this point. You will agree that you have pushed your husband too far away from you and erected an unnecessary wall. How do you expect this baby to come with your new stance? With your hands, you are ripping away peace from your home. Things can and will be better if you choose a different posture.”
“You are not being fair,” Freda retorted with a pout.” It’s easy for you to say all that when you have your own babies. My husband will always choose to fast when it’s my fertile window in the month. He spends more time attending to Church matters than he does even taking note of how I look or what am wearing.
“And why wouldn’t he? You drove him hard to that length by accusing him of always wanting sex each time he honestly gave you a compliment.”
Freda sniffled into the dry portion of the handkerchief. “I’m tired of intimacy that reminds me that babies don’t seem to be within my reach.”
“Remember, two cannot walk together except they agree. I strongly believe you have a role to play here and you are now neglecting it.”
Freda shot her a look, anger bubbling up inside her. “Tinuke, please stop the judgement. If you will not be helpful, I’ll just go home.” Freda shot back at her.
Tinuke eased her hand off her shoulder and strode back to her table and chair. “Suit yourself and go home. That’s what you always do. Fight every good thing that happens to you. Whether or not you accept my stand, I will always be right here in your face, telling you the truth. Wise women build their homes and not tear them down!” Tinu’s fierceness matched hers right now.
“Fine!” Freda retorted, picked up her bag and stormed right out the office, past Zara and out into the parking lot. Just as she lurched out, she bumped into a man she had not seen as she charged out. He was quick enough to steady her from falling.
“Hey, easy,” he said in a tone that was far too gracious for how she had barged into himb she wasn’t looking at him.
Freda mumbled her apology and bent over to pick up a book he had dropped when she stumbled and handed it to him. Their eyes locked. Something about his gaze sent jitters skittering through her. She offered a more audible apology and hurried away.
Femi’s phone rang, pulling his attention the third time from the church reports spread on his table. He picked it and peered at the screen. That same number had called twice in a row the day before. This had to be an important call. He pushed the green phone icon and was greeted by a very cheery hello. A voice that dragged him all the way back to some many years back. Only one person could pull him down memory lane to his second year in University.
The caller laughed on her end of the line.
“Now, that is impressive after so many years!”
He bolted out of his seat. “Ivie! It can’t really be you!”
“It is me alright,” she said in a sing song response.
“How in the world did you get my number?” Blurry pictures of how he had combed the internet trying to just keep tabs on her danced in his head.
“Like seriously? A big famous pastor like you asking me how I got his number?”
“Oh, please, I don’t go pasting my number on every house in town.” He laughed.
“I actually ran into your friend, Gboyega . He gave me your number and told me you’re now this big, famous pastor with a very posh church.”
“Abbegy, leave the big famous pastor part. I’m just doing what God asked me to do.”
“I hear you.” She chuckled. A sound that brought back so many memories all at once.
“So what’s up? Where are you? What’s been happening with you?”
She filled him in on what life had been. She was married with two kids. Lived in Asaba and was Visiting Lagos with her husband and children for a part of the summer holidays. Social media was not really her thing so finding her online was difficult.”
“You should definitely attend our forth coming programme. It will be great to see you in person after fifteen years.”
“I will love to. Send me the details and I will be there.”
The phone call lingered with some light-hearted chit chats before she hung up.
Setting the phone aside, Femi sank into his chair, trying to get back to the reports he had been going through. Whenever he felt the need to go through reports carefully, slowly and also make comments on them, he always preferred the printed copies. His mind drifted from the reports to his phone call of minutes before. Ivie Edosa…a name that had been forcefully yanked out of his life by a single lab test result fifteen years ago. Leaning back into his seat, his mind pulled him down memory lane, to places he had left sealed for nearly two decades…