The restaurant at the end of the road was one of their favorite spots for lunch break. It was never crowded and the members of staff were well trained. Tunde and Karen sat across the table facing each with two plates of sandwiches and two bottles of Fanta in front of them. Tunde took a bite of his sandwich. None of them had spoken but they knew there was much to be discussed.
Karen smiled at him as he chewed into the bread, her heart refused to beat confidently but she steeled herself from showing any sign of anxiety.
“Aren’t you eating your sandwich?” Tunde asked after he swallowed. “You’ve been staring at me eating.”
Karen smiled again, “I’m not as hungry as I thought earlier”, she replied casually. “It’s not up to two yet.”
“Its lunch break”, he replied, smiling back at her. Neither one of them was brave enough to speak on what was on their minds. “Father is having his birthday get together this year.”
She nodded “I know that already and you know my answer.”
“I told Demilade the same thing but she insisted – though I see no reason why you shouldn’t come. Afterall, you’re also like family.”
“I thought so before”, she sighed looking away from him.
“I’m trying to understand what you mean by that.” Tunde poured the Fanta into a cup. “You’ve been acting up since the party. You didn’t pick any of my calls and you didn’t bother to return them”, he said as he drank a little from the plastic cup.
Karen looked at him, her eyes lit with irritation “You have completely ignored me, you called just three times after a month and that is because you wanted us to meet here”, she scoffed tossing an unruly strand of weave from her face.
“I’m sorry about that, I actually didn’t realize how much time had gone since the party” , Tunde took a bite of the sandwich and she did the same to hers. “Are you still angry about that?”
“No, it’s all water under the bridge” she lied staring at him confidently “How is she?”
“Your wife” Karen replied in a haughty tone.
“I’d prefer if you said that rather than she”, he ignored the cold look she threw at him. “She’s fine. Never been better”, he smiled a little remembering Priscilla.
Karen looked at him with bitterness. He was happy, even a fool would know! Her hand shook as she reached for her bottle of Fanta pouring it unsteadily into a cup “It seems things are going better now?”, she took the cup to her lips
Tunde smiled broadly unable to help himself “Honestly, I don’t understand what’s going on now. It feels like things are looking up, Priscilla’s a completely different person.”
“I could see that at the party”, Karen replied in a clipped tone.
“Karen” Tunde called gently stretching his hand to hers on the table. Karen pulled back not wanting to touch him, her eyes were downcast without the courage she desperately needed. “Karen”, he said again and she looked at him, his eyes were full of concern.
“Can’t you see where all this is heading?” she almost wailed fighting back tears “Can’t you see you are falling for this woman?”
He shuddered at her question “Karen…”
“Don’t.” She raised her hand up to silence him. “Each night, I kept waiting for you to call or turn up in front of my door but it slowly dawned on me that this was what was happening. Do you know we have never been apart for this long? No phone calls, nothing”.
Tunde sighed, “You also didn’t call or text Karen I think you are over flogging this issue”.
“Over flogging?”, she scoffed. “This is what it is! Can you not see that you are falling mindlessly into her schemes? Isn’t it funny that it was when the marriage was nearly collapsed that she started being the model wife?”
She had a point; Tunde stared at her listening as she spoke. Karen had a point and his head warned him but his heart kept pulling him back to Priscilla, it was hard to be logical when she came in. He did not know what he felt but it was something strong and unique, something that made him want to give the marriage a chance no matter her motives.
“Tunde”, Karen continued in a tearful tone. “I can’t understand what’s going on anymore.”
“I understand how you feel Karen and honestly I can’t deny that Priscilla and I have not gotten closer these past few weeks but then whether I like it or not the fact still remains that we’re married and she has a right to work at it”
She gave him a cynical look “Is that an excuse to keep being with her?”
“No”, Tunde replied, “It’s a fact, the fact still remains that I am married.”
Karen gritted her teeth holding back tears and she shut her eyes for a second trying to calm her heart “I can’t believe you are bringing up excuses for that thief.”
“Don’t call her that!”, he snapped in irritation that surprised them both. A wave of pity swept through him as he watched Karen fight to hold tears back, she felt betrayed and disappointed and he knew she had a right to that after waiting and waiting. “Karen”, he said soberly. “I don’t know what the future holds anymore, I’m tired of promising people and failing. Things have happened and I can’t begin to imagine what you’re thinking…”
“I’m thinking of how ungrateful and disappointing you are, Tunde.” Her tone was bitter. “All you are saying now is that you can’t promise me our future together anymore.”
“I said I don’t know what the future holds”, he bent closer to her hurting as she was. “Things are taking a new direction, Karen. Even if I went ahead to divorce her now, you know the company isn’t going so well at the moment with all the embezzlement allegations and all.”
“That’s an excuse Tunde”, she sniffed still finding her pride to maintain a leveled gaze with him. “We both know that’s a poor excuse.”
“It isn’t”, he said that more to convince himself than her. “I haven’t ruled you out; we are still as close as we’ve always been.”
She said nothing to that. “Do you still love me?” She fought to say that knowing that whatever he said could hurt her more than she wanted.
Tunde hesitated contented to look down at his half eaten sandwich “Yes” the word was heavy on his lips “Yes” he said again looking at her this time.
Karen plastered a smile on her lips at his response, from his hesitation it was clear that he was uncertain but she settled for that saying nothing for a while.
“Thank you Karen, for understanding” he touched her hand lightly in gratitude and she let him hold her hand staring at him as he did so.
Her mind was in turmoil but she did not show it, her hatred for the woman grew quickly as she watched the man she loved. “It is okay”, she made her tone light. “We will wait till the company issues have been solved then.”
He nodded and took a sip from the cup. “We would see how it goes from there; I just want you to know that whatever happens, you are still in my heart and no one can take your spot.”
Karen smiled again forcing herself to remain calm; she looked at her gold watch. “It’s time I leave Tunde”, she got up and he did the same. “I’ll see you at the get together then”
“So you are coming?” Tunde asked with a surprised look on his face, “Demilade would be glad”
“She would”, Karen replied and walked away from the table. “I’ll call you when I get to my office.”
“That would be good”, he replied smiling and he watched her as she left breathing as though he had held his breath for a long time. Tunde sat down and smiled wondering for the first time if he would leave his wife.
He held her closer to him as though he did not want to let her go. Priscilla smiled as her head rested on his chest.
“Its 7 in the morning”, she said softly to her husband.”You’re going to be late,” she said again
“I know”, Tunde replied holding her closer again and a small laugh escaped his lips. “I can’t believe this”
Priscilla moved her head up to see his face “What’s hard to believe?”
“We are here. Like this. If someone said that to me years ago, I’d have stoned him to death.”
She chuckled, blushing. “Is it weird for husband and wife to be this way?” she shifted to her side of the rumpled bed pushing the blanket to her chin. She placed her head on the pillow as they laid down staring at each other “I like the way we are if it helps.”
Tunde turned to stare at the ceiling saying nothing to that. His mind drifted to a month ago, the last time he saw Karen at the party: she had said this same thing once upon a time when they were dating, when they were young and in love. Love? As he looked back, what he felt then was pale compared to what he began to feel for his wife. What would he call what he felt for Priscilla? He turned to look at his wife who was still staring at him. More importantly, did she feel the same things he felt? On the other hand, was this whole thing a charade to protect her from losing out of her shares from the firm?
“What are you thinking?”
Her question sounded so sincere he felt hurt; sometimes he wondered if she knew how their marriage came to be. Tunde looked into Priscilla’s eyes; he watched her hand slide up his arm to settle caressingly on his cheek.”What are you thinking?”
“I think you’re beautiful.” He took her hand and pressed her soft palm on his lips watching her blush. It made him wish that they had married each other for love. Love, Tunde smiled a bit wondering why the word became more and more prominent in his thoughts.
Priscilla got up pulling on the shirt he wore home the night before. She felt his eyes settle on her as she walked round the bed to the bathroom, Priscilla smiled softly to herself feeling warmth spread in her heart. God, she loved this man with all her heart: she wished Mrs Bridget were here to hear her say it, Mrs Bridget would have been happy for her.
“We are having a thanksgiving dinner at my parents”, Tunde said from the room as his voice sounded nearer, he came to meet her in the bathroom as she ran water for his bath “We need to be there.”
Priscilla faced her back to him, she knew he wanted to see her reaction. “Okay, when?”
“Next week Sunday” Tunde replied in a clipped tone, he could tell she was hiding her expression from him “You don’t want to go, do you?”
“Does it matter?” The sound of the water running into the bucket hid the reluctant tone in her voice.
“It does”, Tunde said to his wife’s surprise. “Now it matters”, he could tell she blushed. Did she always blush that easily? His heart did a twist. “We have no choice, its dad’s birthday.”
Priscilla thought of Chief Ariyo’s previous birthday gathering. She shuddered a bit remembering how bitter it was for her with her mother’s disapproving looks and her in-laws taking constant jibes at them. She turned off the tap as the water reached the brim of the bucket and straightened, her husband came up to put his arms around her neck, pressing his warm body on her.
“Don’t worry” Tunde whispered softly into her ear “I’ll protect you this time”, he placed a light kiss on her neck. “Oh, and Karen is going to be there.” He felt her stiffen and he pulled back.
“She has never been to any of your father’s birthdays, I don’t understand why she has suddenly taken an interest to be in every function you attend”, Priscilla replied in a reserved note.
“She’s family.” His tone was clipped as he picked his words carefully. “I can understand your concerns but Demilade requested that she came.” Priscilla said nothing, refusing to look at her husband.
“We don’t have to fight about this”, Tunde placed his arms around her waist swinging her gently sideways.
“And yet here we are”, she closed her eyes letting the magic of his touch fill her up.
Tunde turned his wife slowly to face him. “Are you jealous?”
Priscilla looked into her husband’s eyes searching him, hoping she could see a trace of what he felt for her. She knew he wanted her, he had said that many times but she needed more and she needed to know what he felt but his eyes read no expression, just a slight trace of amusement laced with desire “I am”, she said simply watching his lips curve into a smile.
“No need to be” Tunde replied bending his head down to hers in a passionate kiss.
He got to work very late.
“I can’t believe this, things have changed”, Priscilla spoke to Mrs Bridget in her office beaming from ear to ear. “It feels like I…” , She could not put it in words.
Mrs Bridget smiled “I am so happy for you” she said looking at Priscilla tearfully “It reminds me of those days when Ayo and I were patching things up.”
“I feel different Ma, I feel as though I am reborn and I have grown to love my husband. The little things he does… I find myself watching: the way he eats, his expression whenever he wants to laugh, his face when he sleeps.”
“I can tell you are deeply in love with him, Priscilla” she teased laughingly. “You see how happy your home can be, are you still thinking of leaving him?”
Her expression darkened at the question “No”, she replied softly staring down at her clasped hands. “No, I can’t dream of it anymore.”
“What about your husband, have you discussed this with him?”
“No” she replied with her voice sounding heavy in her ears “I don’t know what he feels: all he says is he wants me but what I would really like to know is…”
“Shhh…” Mrs Bridget interrupted her looking into her eyes “Patience my dear. What you are feeling now is a good start, so do not push him. He will say it in his own time. What about his affair?”
“Karen?” Priscilla asked remembering the last time she saw the woman “I don’t know about her, whatever the case may be its just beautiful that he looks at me in a different way.”
“Be patient” Mrs Bridget said again” What matters most is to save your marriage”
Save your marriage. Priscilla’s mind drifted to Richard, Richard. A small smile played over her lips, she wondered how he fared now: if he thought of her now and then, how he felt…he still called but she never picked, deciding it was better to avoid him than to listen to his convincing voice.
She shivered at the sudden thought of Tunde finding out, how he would react or her mother. She felt the peace in her heart, knowing she loved her husband and he at least grew a grudging respect for her no matter how hard he tried to deny. The place was quiet as each woman was wrapped in her thoughts.
She smiled again, this time broader thinking of the days and how she had been feeling under the weather, the frequent bouts of nausea every morning and she had a feeling she may be pregnant. At least for that, if it proved correct, her mother would be happy and she would let her love her husband without her cold voice behind her feeding her with cynical thoughts.
She chuckled to herself at the thought of a baby; she desperately wanted to have a baby for him, to watch him as he held his child with joy and looked at her with pride. She knew that there would be laughter in her house and they would be complete. He would grow to love her and cherish their child.
What if she was pregnant for Richard? The scalding thoughts drained the color from her face. What if she was? The steady pace of her heart increased at the thought, maybe; just maybe, there was not much to celebrate until she knew what was going on.
Nevertheless, the thought was already buried deeply at the back of her mind.