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ENDURING (A Preview)

SYNOPSIS: She had always desired love, respect, and care from her husband, but instead, Ruth was subjected to emotional abuse and infidelity. Despite the hardships, she endured and adapted to her life, assuming the role of a submissive wife and providing a stable home for her children.

However, a series of unexpected events brought about change, confusion, and fear, leading Ruth to allow herself to experience love. This act was considered taboo, yet it was also beautiful and fulfilled her deepest dreams.

While grappling with the pain of past experiences and conflicting teachings, Ruth and the other women who crossed her path faced challenging decisions. They found themselves torn between societal expectations and prioritising their own needs.


Prologue

The Group

May 2010


He shoved me on the bed,” she said. Her voice was almost a whisper.

“And the next thing I knew, he was raping me.” Her eyes lowered to the hem of her skirt, where it touched her knees and she unclasped her hands to cover her knees as if attempting to hold down her skirt.

She was confronting the memory of the night she’d fought so hard to erase.

Once again, she felt his hands on her body and she cringed. She didn’t know she was crying until one person offered her a box of tissue and another patted her on the back, and she continued to tell the story that changed the events in her life.

That night, Ethel had been speechless from shock as he grabbed her and shoved her onto the bed. Her night robe flew open. Both of their hands reached for it at the same time but he was stronger. He grabbed her hands and pinned them above her head. Then Ethel found her voice but her scream did not make it out because his second hand smothered her mouth. With his knees, he forced her legs apart and took her forcefully.

“As he rolled off me,” she continued her narration in ragged breaths. “I told him Kosi would get him for what he’s done.” Ethel chuckled tearfully.

Emeka, her brother-in-law, had laughed at her when she made that statement.

“Get me for what?” he asked and shook his head. “You still don’t understand, do you? Why do you think Kosi travelled last night when your so-called IVF procedure is scheduled for tomorrow morning?”

Ethel had stared at him, refusing to believe what he was insinuating and he smiled.

“Do you think it’s a coincidence that I arrived the afternoon of the same day your husband chose to travel? For someone as smart as you, it’s beyond me that you believe my brother would allow you to use some donor sperm to fertilise your eggs. What if madness runs in their family line?” He shook his head vigorously. “Wake up, Ethel! My brother asked for my help. Our blood must run in the veins of our children.”

“My head was hurting and my hands were shaking,” she said as she looked around the room. The group was silent, all of them attentive. “Some part of my mind refused to grasp what my brother-in-law was saying but the events of the last week swirled in my head. I couldn’t dismiss Brother Emeka’s argument,” she sniffed, took tissue paper from the box, and blew her nose. “Kosi’s trip was sudden, leaving me alone with his brother. And before he left, they had serious discussions that stopped whenever I walked by. I remember his insistence that Brother Emeka should stay in the bedroom upstairs when the guest bedroom was downstairs…” she shook her head.

The realisation that her loving and doting husband was a part of the nightmare she suffered sent intense piercing pain through her body as she curled into herself and howled. 

Emeka was quick to clamp down on her mouth again, hushing her, whilst ignoring the pain as her teeth sank into one of his fingers. “Shh, shh. You don’t want the maid running up here. This is the best solution for us all. You and Kosi will have your children.”

He told her his brother often called him to discuss their childlessness. Emeka knew about the various clinics and doctors they had visited both locally and abroad. He knew about all the tests they had done and the disappointing results in their four years of marriage. At some point, Ethel blanked out and couldn’t hear him anymore.

“I stared blindly through my wall of tears at his moving lips. I had lost the will to fight, and he raped me over, and over, and over again that night. I made no move. I was no longer there. I was in a dark, dark place, oblivious of everything.”

Ethel fell silent, lost in the memory she thought was carefully buried. She wasn’t crying aloud, but her tears were falling freely. The emotions she had denied expressions to for so long were all bubbling to the surface.

Ruth reached out and placed her arm around the younger woman’s shoulders, comforting her.

“I lost track of what happened next,” Ethel nodded, then shook her head. “But I know I was awake throughout the night. I didn’t even know when he left my room. He covered me and left,” she chuckled sadly.

Ethel’s maid found her the next morning. Her madam’s condition scared her and she ran to call Emeka.

Ethel laughed tearfully. “Isn’t life funny?” she asked as she wiped her face again and blew her nose. “I ended up in a psychiatric home. Pregnant. I was suicidal too.”

Tina, a member of the group, shook her head and hissed.

The group members were silent. Nobody said a word. Nobody moved. They were digesting Ethel’s story. Ethel looked around. Their expressions said it all. Though her lips trembled, her shoulders were straight.

“Okay,” she said. “Okay. So, I had a set of twins―a boy and a girl. Twins that I tried every possible way to abort. I drank bottles of alcohol, some local concoctions, just name it, anything to free me from a lifetime of remembering what happened to me and my desperation left my son physically challenged,” she nodded, tears still flowing.

“I tried to kill two innocent children for no fault of theirs,” she said and then the walls crumbled as deep sobs wracked Ethel’s body.

Ruth silently comforted her as she looked around the room. “To answer your questions,” she told them. “Ethel is now a single mother. She’s been taking one step at a time and we thank God for where she is today.”

“It’s like a Nollywood movie,” Mina, another member of the group, spoke up and shook her head as she looked at her long bright blue-coloured nails.

The others looked at her and shuffled in their seats but it was only Bimbo, the newest member of the group, that responded to her statement. “Those movies are made from stories like this.”

“This is the 21st Century for crying out loud,” Richard said, the veins on his forehead visible. “Those two brothers are bastards!”

“And what would you say about my niece?” Regina spoke up quietly, wringing her fingers. “She tried to kill me and my 7-year-old son so that she could marry my husband.”

“Ahh!” Ify exclaimed.

Regina nodded. “It was my 22-year-old daughter that discovered it. I have just two children. Our divorce case is still in court but my soon-to-be ex-husband has sold off all the stock and equipment that we had in our factory and is living with my niece in another city,” Regina paused and looked from one face to another in the room. She saw pity in some of the eyes that were looking at her. “24 years ago, we put together our meagre savings from his mechanical job and my petty trade. We bought a used passenger bus for local transport. I was the driver, he was the mechanic and my cousin was the conductor…”

Ruth stared at each person in the group. They were seated in a circle, in her gazebo, listening to Regina’s story, and she thought about how far they had all come and how it all started… 


February 2009

Chapter 1

Tochukwu and Ruth

About 1:00 AM on Wednesday, when most responsible family men should be in bed, Tochukwu was driving back home from a boy’s night out, and Awolowo Road stretched out before him and his jet-black sports car. It was a smooth night and a smooth road to test the car and feel the cool night air.

The evening had been eventful. He smiled and felt the excitement rising to the brim as he remembered the girl he met. She was something else. He sucked in air through his teeth. Just thinking about her made him shift in his seat.

She had just finished her one-year youth service to the nation which is required of tertiary institution graduates in the country and already had a new job. Not only was she beautiful, she also had a mouth that went with it.

He remembered her venomous words, the smile that followed, the way her eyelids closed slightly and how she tilted her head just right. He remembered the way her voice softened and the way she bent down to pick up the pen he ‘dropped’. He smiled to himself. It is going to be good. She had been properly schooled on how to tease a man like him and he was ready for her.

Life couldn’t be better.

His phone beeped, and Tochukwu, popularly called Tochi, sighed. It was Dupe. He also noticed three missed calls from Onyeka who had been hassling him for money to furnish her new store. He sighed. Onyeka’s husband should help her with that one, he thought. He was getting tired of her anyway.

When he turned 50 the previous year, he started worrying that he was getting too old for the young ladies. Later, he realised he hadn’t lost his charm with age and the pesky grey hairs did not bother the babes.

He had them all wrapped around his finger, waiting to do his bidding day and night. He smiled again as he remembered the last time he was with Dupe in London. She was a wild one. He wondered how his newest addition will be and his smile widened.

Tochi had a good family, like most of his friends―a wife and two children. They were the perfect family. They were involved in various church functions and societies. He was a well-respected member of the church, a major donor to them and the various charity projects. Very few things happened in the church without his being involved.

His wife, Ruth, was a beautiful vivacious woman who was well-liked by friends and family. She had an amazing fashion sense, looked dazzling in whatever she wore, and had a great partnership with a foreign-based NGO. Ruth was always at her best. Known for being humble and caring, she freely dispensed advice to anyone who needed it, be it on fashion, gym equipment, teenage issues, new business, caterers etc.

She loved Tochi, who was four years older than her, more than she thought was possible. From the moment they got married when she was 27, her entire life revolved around him. Partnering her NGO (which she started after she left paid employment because she wanted flexible time to dedicate to raising the children) with the foreign-based NGO happened at the perfect time when she wished for a busier job to devote her energy to because the children were grown. Their son, Pius, was in his third year at the university and their daughter, Muna, was in her final year in secondary school.

Tochi swung into the estate driveway and honked. Immediately, the security personnel who knew the sound of his horn, and of course, verified it was him, gave him access and the electronic gate slid across well-oiled rails for his car to drive in. He drove the short distance to his house on Road 3 and hit his gate button to open the gate. A driver, who was sitting by a parked Mercedes, got up and knocked on a back window to alert someone inside the house that the boss was back, then he walked over to greet his boss and helped to carry his briefcase to the main door.

Tawa, already alerted, opened the door quickly as Oga, whom she called Uncle Tochi, hated being delayed at the door for any reason.

Thank God.  

Finally, she and Paul, the driver, could retire for the night. They were tired of the daily night vigil that wasn’t connected to prayers, but the jobs were their only source of livelihood and their madam, whom Tawa called Aunty Ruth, was nice to them.

Her, “Welcome sir,” as she opened the front door, as usual, wasn’t acknowledged by Tochi who simply walked past her to the staircase and climbed up.

Like always, Ruth was waiting up in the family sitting room watching a Christian programme on cable television. She got up to greet and hug him, ignoring the various odours that emanated from him.

“Hello, dear. Welcome.”

Tochi squeezed her waist and walked past her into their bedroom.

Ruth’s eyes, masking her emotions, followed him till he was out of her sight.

 

Chapter 2

Tina and Joe

You’re a useless fool! Idiot! Bastard!” Tina hurled, breathing heavily. Her eyes were locked on Joe.

He chuckled unpleasantly. “Is that all?” he hissed. “Continue, so that I can have a very good reason to break your teeth this night.” His forehead was deeply furrowed, a warning sign but Tina was far from caring.

“You can’t do anything!” she declared as she bounced on her heels. “Here at home, you are powerful. Almighty Joe! Then you go out crawling and begging those stupid girls to sleep with you… fool!”

One second, they were opposite each other, separated by furniture. The next, Tina heard a ‘thwack’ and the left side of her face went numb. She didn’t see him move. When she opened her mouth, Joe grabbed her by the neck with one hand and slapped the other side of her face with his other hand. Tina refused to cower. She struggled, clawed at his arm with her nails and then his eyes. His grip loosened slightly but then he punched her face and continued.

***

The house vibrated with the commotion. Martha and Thomas were used to the constant fights between their parents.

“I will never get married,” Martha said, looking up from the book she was trying to read to distract herself from what was going on in the sitting room.

Thomas, sitting in the only armchair in Martha’s room, blew his nose into a tissue. “Not all marriages are like this, you know,” the 13-year-old told his 15-year-old sister. “When I visited Aunty Monica in Abuja, she and Uncle were so … they’re so lovey-dovey … towards each other.”

“Really?”

Thomas nodded. “They watch TV together with our cousins. I heard them joking and laughing. Even their maids laugh. That’s how I want my home to be when I get married.”

Martha had a longing look on her face. “I’m sure they fight too,” she said finally.

Thomas thought about it. “Quarrel maybe, but no fights,” he corrected her. “Do you know that one morning after our cousins had gone to school, I saw Uncle and Aunty apologising to each other? It was after a short argument, then they hugged and smiled at each other.”

Martha was going to say something but a loud crash split through the air and sent them running towards the noise to see their father flat on the sitting room floor, with shards of glass around him and blood trickling from his head. Their mother stood a few steps away in an awkward pose, feet braced, gasping for air. One of her eyes was swollen shut and the other stared wildly at the still figure of Joe on the floor. Her face bore angry red marks and explained the unasked question of what happened to Joe’s knuckles. Her streaks of tears took on the colour of the red bed her face was, as she sobbed loudly.

Martha opened her mouth, but no sound came.

She tried again and this time, the scream was ear-piercing. 


Chapter 3

Ruth and Tina

Hours later that morning, Ruth was ready for work when Tochi clambered out of the shower, drying his newly dyed hair.

He saw her off, like he usually did on some mornings depending on his mood, then returned to dress up. Ruth wondered why he bothered at all. Their children were the strings that held their dead marriage together.

As Jack, her driver, drove out of the compound, she didn’t want to bother herself thinking of her marriage or her relationship with Tochi. She distracted herself instead and focused on her scheduled meeting with Thulani, a biracial South African, who was working with her NGO on a new project targeted at children who needed special care.

She looked through the windshield and saw Tina, her neighbour, looking lost, standing on the other side of her gate, in a loose tent of a dress. As her car got closer, she sighed, consulted her watch and told the driver to stop. They weren’t particularly close friends, but Tina met Ruth through a friend in church when Ruth needed to source aso-ebi for Tochi’s uncle’s 80th birthday. And then they discovered they lived in the same estate and on the same road, separated by three houses.

“Hello dear,” Ruth was already out of the car and by Tina’s side. “How are you?” she asked slowly, as she took in Tina’s appearance. She looked as though she had a bad accident and hadn’t slept in days. Ruth noticed a sunken eye and the other eye was like a slit, surrounded by darkened skin with large bruises. Tina had stapled stitches on her cheekbone and above one brow. What happened here? Ruth’s eyebrows furrowed from concern. “Tina?” Ruth tried to get her attention but all she got was a blank stare.

Tina could barely acknowledge Ruth’s greeting or presence as she stared with wild eyes.

“What happened?” Ruth asked gently.

Tina blinked sporadically and opened her mouth but no words came. She looked down at her hands, they were clean, but her fingernails were broken. Then she looked up and stared at Ruth. “Joe ...” she mouthed, then burst into a loud sob and winced from pain as her swollen eye throbbed. “We fought.”

Ruth gasped. She thought it was an accident. A fight with her husband? She was speechless as she stared worriedly at Tina.

“What happened?”

Tina’s shoulders shook from silent sobs. Ruth collected the ice bag Tina held and touched it to her face gently with one hand, while her other hand held Tina’s shoulder as she calmed her like one would calm a child. Ruth had never seen Tina that way—actually, she didn’t think anyone had seen Tina that way. Tina always struck Ruth as an iron-clad woman who would rather swallow nails than show weakness. She continued holding her and then gently led her to the gazebo by the side of the house and managed to sit herself and Tina down awkwardly.

Ruth reached for some pocket paper handkerchief, opened it, and offered one to Tina. She didn’t accept it, so hesitantly, Ruth started to mop Tina’s eyes gently.

Rivulets of tears ran down her cheeks as she cried and shook. Ruth continued to console her as she wondered when Tina would calm down. It’s been five minutes or more. Apart from the physical bruises and the obvious pain Tina was in, Ruth suspected the pain went deeper than that. She waited patiently, refusing the urge to look at her wristwatch.

Eventually, Tina was calm enough.

“That’s good,” Ruth soothed. “Please, take it easy. No matter what, remember that nothing is impossible with God.” Ruth thought Tina and Joe probably fought over another woman or in-laws’ issue. Those were common causes of domestic violence. Ruth knew because she was a victim of emotional abuse. She had suffered a lot in her marriage but bore her pain in silence. She had prayed and fasted over the years for a change in her husband’s lifestyle, but it looked and felt like God was away attending to other people every time her heart cried out to Him about her marriage.

Despite making him the centre of her world, Tochi constantly hurt her with his infidelity, clubbing, late nights, and uncaring attitude. To save herself and remain sane, she withdrew her affection as much as possible and devoted her time to prayer, her children, charity, and her work. 

Her in-laws were privy to his attitude but Tochi disregarded his family and was a law unto himself. His three siblings―two older and one younger―were tired. There was little his older brother could do because Tochi bankrolled his business. When Ruth confided in their Reverend in church, who in turn counselled Tochi, nothing came out of it. She eventually settled for the truth that Tochi was incapable of loving anyone. Tochi was self-centred. His fun ruled and every other thing was secondary.

He loved being the master of the home and relished controlling Ruth and his other relations. She couldn’t remember the last time her opinion mattered. His word was law in their home and as a dutiful wife, she obeyed. She didn’t want a repetition of the early years of their marriage when he severely punished her with weeks of total silence and so many unspeakable things because she had her own opinion. In the twenty-two years they’d been married, they had quarrelled openly and loudly four times. He had never physically abused her, but he was an expert at emotional abuse. She had spent more days and nights crying than she ever thought was possible.

Still …

There were times when she loved him deeply, when the emotions she’d carefully tucked away bubbled to the surface, tickled by some unexpected attention from Tochi, like when he listened to what she had to say, spent time with her and the children at home or went to church or a family function—the only time he took her out. Those felt really good.

Ruth was a homebody by nature. In their earlier years together, she tried to change that but realised she wasn’t cut out for all the social stuff. Their son, Pius, felt that Tochi used that as an excuse to take her for granted.

As she got older in marriage, she hardened up and had minimal expectations of Tochi. She didn’t have the heart to change the situation because of the children. They were already grown and, in a few years, she knew they would start families of their own and she would remain stuck with Tochi and his adulterous and uncaring attitude. She knew she couldn’t go on living that way forever.

No! All she ever wanted was to be loved by him and he was incapable of that.

She didn’t like thinking about her marital issues because she realised that despite working so hard to tuck her emotions away, she never stopped caring deeply about her husband. That was why his attitude hurt her a lot.

Not for the first time, she nursed the thought that she needed to make a decision about their relationship and avoid collapsing with depression or ending up with a heart attack. Should that happen, he would simply marry one of his numerous girls.

She sighed deeply as Tina’s voice pulled her out of her reverie. She didn’t hear Tina’s first words.

“... and the next thing I knew,” Tina was saying, “Joe was lying in a pool of blood. Now, he’s in the hospital and unconscious and the doctors are checking and, and, and…” she shook her head. “I don’t know how we got to this point. I don’t want him dead. God knows I don’t. I just don’t want to be his punching bag anymore,” her eyes filled again. “Please God, let him be well ... I promise I will change... I will...” and she broke into sobs again.

Ruth’s heart was deeply touched as she looked at her. She held Tina as she cried and rocked her gently. Tina’s words were ringing in her head. I promise I will change.

Tina lifted her battered tear-soaked face and mumbled something about severe concussion. Ruth rubbed her on the back gently, “I’m sure the doctors will do everything possible to help Joe. Worrying is not going to help. Where are the children?”

Tina hesitated and Ruth saw the uncertainty on her face. “I think…I think they’ve gone off to school.”

“Have you had breakfast?” Without waiting for an answer, Ruth gently led her into the house and sat her down. The maid had just finished cleaning up a few shards of bloody glass from the floor so Ruth got her to make something for Tina to eat.

It was her first time inside Tina’s home and she couldn’t resist looking around. Ruth recognised Tina’s good taste. The dark brown leather chairs were complemented by the painted family portraits that hung on the walls and the medium-sized decorative vases placed in various parts of the sitting room. She loved the alternating cream and brown marble tiles and knew how hard the maid had to work to make them shine as they did. It was near perfect, though, the curtains seemed isolated and not in sync with the rest of the d├ęcor, she thought.

When Tina gently blew her nose, Ruth returned her attention to her and thought of what else to say. At that moment, she almost wished she hadn’t stopped and immediately, she felt guilty and silently chastised herself for having such an un-Christian thought. “When do you have to go back to the hospital?”

Tina sighed. “The doctor said he’ll call.”

Obviously, the doctor needed Tina to give them space so that they could work, Ruth thought. “You should wait for his call then,” she said, calculating in her head the best time to get up and leave.

With her prodding, Tina took some light snacks.

Ruth knew she had to leave soon to make her meeting. When she finally gave in and looked at her wristwatch, the doorbell rang twice before she could give an excuse and leave.

The maid escorted a woman dressed in a kaftan into the sitting room. She nodded at Ruth and immediately turned her focus on Tina. Ruth saw the different emotions that played through the woman’s face as she carefully looked at Tina. “The devil is a liar,” the woman said as she nodded her head. “A big fat one for that matter. Hmm,” she shook her head. “No way!” She pointed at Tina. “It is not you that will kill my brother.”

Alarmed, Ruth’s mouth opened slightly. The sister-in-law. Was she for or against Tina?

“He has not killed himself all this while despite the rubbish he has been involved in, and now the devil wants to push it on you,” she hissed. “It will not happen. I reject it! He must recover and then he can do whatever he likes to himself. My God will not put you to shame, Tina.”

Ruth carefully released her breath. The good, caring and unbiased sister-in-law. Tina started to cry again.

The sister-in-law finally sat down on the other side of Tina. “Clean your face,” she said gently but sternly. “What are you crying for? Shebi he is not dead or has he...?” without completing her sentence, she looked from Tina to Ruth with raised eyebrows, waiting for an answer.

Tina’s head spun up. “God forbid!”

“Yes,” the sister-in-law agreed. “God should forbid now because it will not come from your hands; he will do it all by himself.”

Tina lowered her head again. Ruth seized the opportunity.

“I better get to the office,” she smiled gently at Tina. “I have some meetings this morning. I will check on you later. Please take it easy, eat a little more and rest.”

“Yes o, my sister,” the sister-in-law said to Ruth, “You have said it oh. Do you know that she has never rested since she married Joe? Never. Today this and tomorrow that. Never a moment’s rest or peace. Ahn-ahn! Is it a crime that you married him?”

Tina touched Ruth’s arm slightly. “Thank you,” she whispered, and Ruth nodded.

She made small talk with the sister-in-law and made her exit.

***

On her way to the office, her phone rang. Her face lit up when she saw the caller was Thulani.


Chapter 4 

Ruth and Thulani 

Thulani was the Country Director of the local office of the international organisation that he works with. Since the partnership with Ruth’s NGO, she became busier as more of their projects got funded and executed. They worked closely together and became good friends. They could talk about anything and everything. Well, almost everything.

She avoided talking about Tochi as much as was humanly possible so that she would not be reminded of his actions that depressed her, slowed her down, and caused her pain.

She and Thulani worked well together and were fond of each other. She wasn’t uncomfortable with their friendship. There was no reason to be. She was married and would never have an affair; she would not offend her God. In fact, she vowed that Tochi’s attitude will not lead her to sin; another reason she was reluctant to leave him.

Ruth was grateful for her work. It filled every vacant space in her life and having Thulani’s help was more than she could have asked for. He was the first person in her circle, and probably the only one, whom she shared so many similarities with.

They shared a fondness for cashew nuts and pineapples, the Titanic movie they both believed was one of the greatest movies ever made, charity work and helping out the less privileged―“joyful projects”―as Thulani called them, and a determination to be extremely successful. The last drove her when she closed her eyes to sleep and it was what woke her up in the morning, that need, that drive to do more and be more.

Their work schedule was heavy, but she and Thulani enjoyed what they did. As far as they were concerned, there was nothing better than having access to huge resources, which could be used to touch the lives of the less fortunate.

Whenever they had a project, Thulani always stayed around as much as possible because he was invested in the success of their projects.

***

As they discussed the issues of the new project on the phone, when she was on her way to the office after leaving Tina, they agreed to have lunch later that day. Whenever it was convenient, she, Thulani and one or two other partners had lunch together. Ruth always looked forward to their lunch because Thulani always selected the nice restaurants where they could all eat and discuss work. And because their ideas also ran along similar paths, when Ruth started saying her thoughts on some aspect of the project, Thulani would complete it exactly the way Ruth intended to and the other partners would smile.

It was uncanny. A smile played across her face thinking about Thulani and their similarities.

Tochi used to be like that with her, in the early days. Remembering that, her brows furrowed and the smile of a few seconds earlier disappeared. So did the pleasant thoughts. She sighed as her driver pulled into her office complex.

As usual, heads turned and admired her figure as she walked into the office building. Ruth was used to it. She got stares everywhere she went; from gentlemen and ladies alike. Some ladies would stop and compliment her, others asked where she got her clothes and what she used to maintain her beautiful chocolate silky skin. It was nice to be appreciated, especially since Tochi could not be bothered. Sometimes, she felt that he wouldn’t notice if she walked out of the house in her underwear.

Within a few minutes of sitting at her desk, Ruth was hard at work, thoughts of her philandering husband pushed aside.

***

Two weeks later, on the last Friday of February, Ruth and Thulani dined with a wealthy Zambian donor, Mrs Mambwe, and her legal adviser.

Thulani had arranged the meeting for Ruth and Mrs Mambwe. Initially, Mrs Mambwe was sceptical of Ruth’s NGO. It was an open secret that most NGOs were set up to benefit the proprietors and board of Trustees. However, Thulani made a strong case and sent enough documentation to convince Mrs Mambwe that Ruth was running the NGO professionally. Their dinner was to celebrate their agreement as Mrs Mambwe signed the papers that granted Ruth’s NGO $1 million per annum to be disbursed in four tranches and monitored by Thulani’s office.

Getting that donation was a major boost for the fundraising and a huge achievement for Ruth. She wished she could have celebrated with her husband but Tochi hardly ever supported Ruth when it came to her work. Where he could help, he never lifted a finger. Ruth told him about the discussions with Mrs Mambwe. She also showed him her presentations and informed him of the progress she was making. She carried him along every stage but not once did he offer a single word of advice or encouragement.

“Okay,” he would say and continue with whatever he was doing.

Ruth had invited him for the celebratory dinner but he said he was busy. He had an appointment with some friends at the Ikoyi Club. She did not let it slide and reminded him of the other occasions he refused to attend her events on the excuse of having an appointment with a friend somewhere.

“So, you think I’m lying?” he bore down on her menacingly.

Ruth had picked her words carefully. “I did not say that Tochi,” she replied. “It’s just that I gave you two weeks’ notice for this dinner. Now, you claim to have a meeting.”

He closed the gap between them. They were in the bedroom and Ruth had just finished dressing up for the dinner event but was still seated at her vanity table. He peered at her through the mirror. “So,” he said again, his voice deeper. “I’m lying. Is that it?” His countenance dared her to agree with him. He bent over her, placed his hands on her table and pinned her in. Their eyes met through the mirror. She saw his disgusted look and then a smirk at the corner of his lips.

“I don’t have time for any of your nonsense today,” he snickered, straightened up and walked out of the room and the house.

Ruth remained in front of the mirror for a while, staring at her reflection as different thoughts zapped through her mind. She had a reason to celebrate but Tochi squashed the flutter in her belly. She couldn’t understand why she continued hoping, knowing Tochi will never change.

When she arrived alone, she saw the unasked question in Thulani’s eyes but since he respected her privacy and didn’t ask aloud, she offered no explanations, but she felt vulnerable because she knew Thulani knew. He’s been around her long enough to have picked up on it. But Thulani delved into an unrelated subject that relaxed her before Mrs Mambwe and her legal adviser joined them, and by then Ruth was her normal self.

It was a successful celebratory dinner.

After bidding Mrs Mambwe and her legal adviser goodnight at the parking lot, Ruth and Thulani turned to walk over to Ruth’s car.

“I should have picked you up,” Thulani said suddenly. “Now you have to drive home alone at this time of the night.”

Ruth touched her hair. “It’s no biggie,” she said. “I just got $1 million in donations. I can fly,” she laughed and then sighed contentedly. “Thank you so much, Thulani. You made it happen.”

He smiled. “No, you did. All the information I sent to her was from your past projects. You are very passionate about your work, and you work very hard. You go the extra mile to ensure you satisfy everybody,” he said and hesitated. “And I love that about you.”

Ruth smiled. “Thank you, dear. I’m touched.” She took a step further. “But this would not have been possible without you. I do appreciate your support.” Her car was just a few steps ahead so she started to fish for the keys in her bag. She kicked her heel, tripped and lost her balance but Thulani was fast and he caught her.

Her face was flushed as she looked up at him. His arms were still around her. “Thank you ... too much champagne,” she smiled tremulously and Thulani in a spur of the moment just hugged her. Tightly. And reluctantly let her go.

“My pleasure,” his voice was suddenly husky as he looked down at her. “You are very hardworking, my dear. You deserve all this and more.”

Without warning, he pulled her back into his arms. In her high heels, her head was just beneath his chin. He could feel her breath on his neck and he swallowed. Ruth tensed, then tried to relax. It’s just a hug.

In the next second, he kissed her on the forehead. They were still. Then he lifted her chin and dropped a kiss on a closed eyelid. Then the other.

Ruth felt warm all over. She knew she should stop him and step out of his arms, but she didn’t. She couldn’t. She didn’t trust her knees to remain firm if his arms dropped.

Thulani lowered his lips and kissed her. Gently at first and then increasingly more passionately. Ruth was lost! Every part of her body was filled with sweet tingling sensations. She hadn’t felt that way in a long time. She didn’t know how to respond. An ensuing battle commenced within her as her instincts screamed for her to break it up and run. Instead, she tentatively parted her lips and gave Thulani access to taste her. Then she responded and kissed him in return. Thulani was like a man dying of thirst as he drank from Ruth’s lips.

His hands gently skimmed her back and he increased the pressure when she didn’t push him away. Emboldened and more passionately, he moulded Ruth’s soft body to his well-toned frame. It fitted perfectly.

Ruth suddenly broke the kiss but remained in the circle of his arms.

They held onto each other. Her head against his neck, she heard him swallow hard and her heart raced faster. She could also feel his heartbeat.

“I ... I have to go,” she whispered.

“I know,” he replied.

They remained. Neither one attempted to move away at that moment.

Ruth sighed. “This should not have happened,” she said shakily. “Too much wine, the excitement of the enormous donation…”

“Shhhh,” Thulani responded. “Don’t. Please.”

Ruth finally dropped her hands. “I really have to leave now.”

He nodded and stepped back so she could open her door and get into the car. “Are you sure you can drive?”

She nodded shakily as she started the car and pulled away slowly.

Thulani walked to his car, got in and drove behind her.  He was determined to see that she got home safely.

Twenty minutes later, she drove up to the gated entrance of the estate where she lived in Lekki Phase 1 and Thulani slowed down, waited for the gates to open and close behind her car before driving off to his plush two-bedroom serviced apartment that belonged to his office in Ikoyi.

Another twenty minutes later and back home, he called Ruth. “Are you okay?” She was. He wanted them to have lunch the next day.

***

She stood in the middle of her bedroom and stared at the phone in her hand. What did she do? She couldn’t believe it. She kissed another man for the first time since she got married.

She was confused. Fortunately, Tochi wasn’t back from his appointment.

As she undressed, she felt Thulani’s hands running down her back and imagined his breath on her bare skin. Ruth tingled all over, breathing hard. She felt her nipples harden.

Oh, God! How did I let this happen? She felt guilty for being aroused and quickly got to work to erase the memory. She brushed her teeth vigorously and rinsed out with mouthwash. Still, his taste lingered in her mouth. She got into the shower, flinched from the heat of the water, adjusted the temperature slightly and proceeded to scrub herself. She was bent on washing the night’s stupidity from her body. But she couldn’t stop feeling his touch on her skin.

An hour later, she knelt to pray and bind and cast. But as she closed her eyes, the image of herself being passionately kissed by Thulani was all she saw and the heat washed over her again!

Breathing hard, she cried. “Oh, God, forgive me, forgive me.”

“For what?” Tochi asked from the doorway and Ruth jumped. She didn’t hear him drive in, nor did she hear his footsteps on the marble floor.

“What did my dear mother Theresa do that requires forgiveness from the Almighty?” he had come into the room and was standing by the bed peering down at her.

She replied quietly. “It’s between God and me.”

“Sure,” he laughed. “Please keep it there.”

“Do you want dinner?” Ruth felt she had to ask even though she wasn’t in the mood to arrange it. He never came home early for dinner.

“No,” he said and walked away from her, stripped naked and walked into the bathroom whistling. Her eyes followed him longingly until the bathroom door shut. Her eyes remained on the door for a few more seconds before she finally got up and laid down on the bed. She prayed for sleep to find her quickly and bury the torment her body was in. She hoped for a fresh day.


Chapter 5

Tina and Joe

That same night, while Ruth was praying for the protection of sleep, Tina sat by Joe’s hospital bed, quietly sobbing and wondering how they got there. She couldn’t fathom how their marriage broke down, to the point that they were capable of almost killing each other.

She shuddered as the memory of that dark and horrible night returned. Her face started to throb from the pain inflicted by Joe. But she was healing gradually. She looked at her husband with sad eyes and her heart flooded with regret. 

Joe, who was heavily medicated, floated in and out of consciousness. His chest was swathed in bandages as he was injured in several places. That night two weeks earlier, when Tina shoved him off her to stop his fit of rage and the punches on her face, he lost his balance and fell onto the glass sideboard and the glass vase, glass figurines, framed family pictures, and the entire stand had crashed to the floor with him and various pieces of glass pierced his torso.

It was an accident. She told herself. Not that I wanted to hurt him.

How did they get to this point?

Tina and Joe were deeply in love when they got married. They nursed big dreams of running their family business together, having two children, living in a lovely house, and spending time together.

The only part of the plan that had materialised was the ‘lovely house and two children’. As her thoughts swirled in her head, tears fell from her eyes. Where did it all go wrong?

She shut her eyes and said a quiet prayer, asking God to see them through the tunnel. It had never been this dark and bad.

Her daughter, Martha, was very close to Joe. The first week after the incident, Martha wanted to spend every second by her father’s bed and had to be forcefully removed to go to school.

Tina knew that her daughter blamed her for the whole situation. That’s the reason why Martha refused to speak to her. But Thomas was more understanding. He even showed concern about the large dark bruises and swelling on her face and asked if she had seen a doctor.

She looked at Joe’s calm face again as he slept peacefully but nothing was peaceful with them. They were both hurt and scarred. By each other.

 

 

Chapter 6

Kathy and Cordelia

When she left home that Saturday morning, Cordelia wasn’t sure how her visit with her daughter, Kathy, would play out. She wished she didn’t have to go on this mission but it was her role as a mother.

She was never comfortable in Kathy’s house and Kathy refused to visit her so she had no choice. Sitting opposite each other in Kathy’s living room, a heavy silence descended upon them. Cordelia knew Kathy gave her the silent treatment on purpose, to make her uncomfortable. It also wasn’t lost on her that they didn’t hug when Kathy let her into the house. Well, their relationship over the years had gone down the hill and affection wasn’t something they shared or displayed. Kathy was glued to her blackberry as if her mother wasn’t there visiting.

Cordelia got up and walked to the window and peered around.

“What is the problem, Mother?” Kathy, whose eyes were still glued to her phone, asked. “What are you looking at?” she finally looked up and smiled. “Is something wrong with your SUV, or is your driver misbehaving?”

Their eyes met. “No, not at all,” Cordelia replied as she returned to her seat. She licked her lips, then focused on her daughter. “Henry came to see me two days ago.”

Kathy’s finger was still busy on her phone. “Is that an issue?” she asked without looking up.

“No,” Cordelia said too quickly, and paused, wringing her fingers. “Of course, not. He actually came to talk about… you.”

“Oh, really?” Kathy sneered, a smile on her face.

“Kathy,” Cordelia started carefully. “It’s unlike Henry to come and complain about you, I’m sure you know that. But you’ve been … keeping late nights, and … some of his friends … have seen you… at night clubs with some … another man.”

“Oh,” Kathy said again, smiling nastily up at her mother. “Really?”

Cordelia glared at her daughter.

“Well,” Kathy finally dropped her phone and got up. She smiled smugly. “At least, this time it’s a man they saw. The last time, he told me I spent too much time with my girlfriends,” she put her fingers on her lips, “particularly Tami, whom he claims is a well-known lesbian.”

Kathy was no longer smiling as she looked at her mother coldly. “Look, Mother, you have to stop wasting your time on this. I will go out with whoever I want to.” She waved an arm over the house. “Henry is hardly home, as you know, of course. There are always little projects at work. And when he is home, he spends every evening at their little club. So, what is he complaining about? Like, no, really, tell me.” She began to pace slowly, with her left hand on her left hip as if she was deep in thought.

“I make sure his laundry is done, the house is in order, and he gets his meals regularly. Is there anything else a wife does for her husband that I’m not doing for him?”

Cordelia got up and took a step toward her daughter. “How about the bedroom, Kathy? He says you won’t let him touch you, and, if he persists, you walk out and go to sleep in another room. Kathy, for God’s sake, he’s your—”

“Oh, spare me, Mother!” Kathy stopped pacing. They were facing each other. “What? Husband? You married me off to him!” she pointed to no one in particular. “Have you forgotten? Do I have to remind you?”

Cordelia didn’t know what to say but she hadn’t forgotten. She knew what Kathy meant.

Henry used to be Grace’s husband. Cordelia and Grace had been good friends, even though Grace was much younger than Cordelia. Grace and Henry had been married for years and childless. Her friend wanted help, advice, anything to help her give Henry a child. She didn’t want to lose her husband. Cordelia also didn’t want that to happen. If Grace was out of Henry’s life, she too would be out of his life and all the benefits that came with her friendship with Grace would cease.

Kathy was nineteen at the time when Henry started looking out and Grace was desperate. Kathy was old enough, Cordelia reasoned, to secure their lives forever. It didn’t matter to Cordelia that Henry was forty-seven. She was more interested in his money to secure a good life for herself and her girls. That was her motivation for throwing her daughter at her friend’s husband.

Kathy smiled, her eyes glinting with tears. “Thirteen years later, you think you can still tell me what to do or how to live my life?” she chuckled. “Now that I think about it, maybe you should have married him.”

“Kathrine!” Cordelia snapped. “Shut up!”

“Why?” Kathy asked, her voice raised. “Are you afraid to hear the truth? You masterminded this life and stole Aunty Grace’s wealthy husband when all she wanted was to give him a child. We called him uncle! Mother! I loved him more when he assumed the role of uncle. Then you put me … you put me in my uncle’s bed…” Kathy’s voice trembled.

Cordelia was guilty as charged. It was easy for her to monitor Kathy’s monthly cycle because Kathy used to have painful periods. She also fed her fertility boosters which she told Kathy were multivitamins. When Grace travelled, she sent Kathy over to cook and care for Henry. She selected the clothes Kathy should wear when she was at Henry’s place.

“Whatever he tells you to do, whatever he wants you to do, you do it,” she had told her daughter at the time. It was easy for Kathy to comply because her daughter loved the good life and Henry spoilt her. And then Kathy got pregnant.

“I’m not that nineteen-year-old girl who allowed you to control her,” Kathy said. “You want to play the mother? To me? Grandmother to my children? You? Who stole…”

“Shut up your mouth, you stupid girl!” Cordelia shouted.

“I WILL NOT!” Kathy roared. “Mother, you came into my house to talk. And now that I am responding, you want me to shut up? I WILL NOT!”

Cordelia told herself she was right for not wanting to visit. Despite how well Cordelia’s plan favoured Kathy, her daughter had refused to acknowledge her effort and distanced herself from her.

“I’m leaving,” she said and reached for her bag.

Kathy dashed to the door, locked it and held on to the keys. Then she faced her mother again. “No! You are not,” Kathy said. Her eyes were wild and her back was against the door. She was like a stalking lioness, hungry for blood. “Haven’t you always said I push you away, I don’t talk to you or visit? Today, you will remain here until I’m done talking.”

“Kathrine! Open this door right away or …”

“Or what?” Kathy asked, an unbelievable expression on her face. “You sold yourself and you sold me. For what? New house, new Prado, diamonds, foreign trips, huge grocery business,” she ticked off her fingers. “No, Mother. You’re not leaving. And you will listen to me, so, sit down!”

Cordelia knew when to back down. Her daughter had gone crazy. The madness in her eyes was scary. With a deep sigh, she dropped her bag and sat down quietly.

Kathy also took a seat. “You’re right,” she started, “I have a lover. I’ve had several in the past years and I have been discreet. I don’t sleep with Henry. I don’t even know why we still share a bedroom. He won’t let me move to another room. We haven’t had sex in the last two years and it bothers him but I don’t desire him in any way. My needs and desires are different and he cannot satisfy me. I’m 32 and he’s 59! We are at different stages of our lives and need different things. I don’t want to continue to live in the stage of his life instead of mine. This is not my plan for the rest of my life.” She noticed the alarm on Cordelia’s face and sneered.

“Calm down, I’m not planning to leave him,” she said. “Because I know that’s all you care about.”

Kathy had two children with Henry and knew she couldn’t manage on her own without his resources. She planned to give herself a good foundation before leaving him. She was developing a small housing estate—eight houses—and intended to buy a property in the US. She needed Henry’s resources for her real estate business.

Her mother watched her go to the bar, where she poured herself a drink, Hennessy. She returned to her seat and stared into space.

“I have given Henry the best of me,” she said as she swirled her drink in the crystal brandy glass. “My youthful body, my time, and our children. He owes me! He must pay!” She turned to her mother and stared as if she was seeing her for the first time that morning. “You’re wicked. Every time I hear your name, every single time I remember you, all I see is a wicked and devious woman who is self-centred,” she held up her glass to her mother in a toast. “You created this Katherine. For me, Henry got rid of Aunty Grace. Or was it for you?” she squinted and considered her mother.

Cordelia remembered that time. She had carefully hidden Kathy after Henry discovered she was pregnant and wouldn’t let him see her. When Kathy gave birth to her son in the US. and Cordelia sent Henry a picture, he was ecstatic. “You have to do the right thing or you won’t meet your son and he will never answer your name,” she had told him.

She remembered the day Grace came over crying because her fifteen-year-old marriage was over. Henry threw her out, after telling her his new wife just had a son for him. Cordelia pretended to be shocked and promised Grace she would intervene and speak with Henry.

Of course, she didn’t. Grace eventually moved out of town which favoured Cordelia’s peace of mind. But three years later, she returned to confront Cordelia, having found out who Henry’s wife was. Kathy then had just had her daughter.

You will never know peace, you will never be happy!

Those were Grace’s parting words to Cordelia. They didn’t bother Cordelia because she had gotten what she wanted. She could have kept Henry for herself, but Henry wanted children and she was 45 at the time and didn’t want to try to have a child. So, Kathy was her lottery ticket to keep his resources. She almost messed it up. It was the one time when Kathy caught her in a tight embrace with Henry but she lied her way out of it.

“There’s something I always think about,” Kathy said, drawing Cordelia out of the past. “Do you love anyone other than yourself?” she asked but didn’t wait for an answer as she went to unlock the door.

“You can leave now,” her voice was coarse. “But know this, Mother, you cannot get rid of me like you did your friend. I’m your blood, and I’m made of stronger stuff.”

Cordelia joined her at the door. “What are you even saying?”

Kathy held her gaze. “Why don’t you tell me,” She said before shoving Cordelia firmly through the door. “When Henry calls you for feedback on this meeting, tell him everything is just fine.”

 

Chapter 7

Tim and Tonia

Tim watched as Tonia placed a toilet bag inside her Hermes case. It was 7:00 AM.

If he were an artist, he would have painted a beautiful picture that captured the features of his delectable wife, against the scenery of their plush and soothing bedroom that she had carefully decorated. At five foot six inches, with a figure she worked hard to maintain, Tonia was a sight for sore eyes.

She was getting ready to leave, as usual.

Like a model on the runway, she swayed quickly into the bathroom, the light mauve rug she imported from Morocco swallowing the clicks of her Christian Louboutin heels. She returned and scanned the room, looking for anything she might have missed despite her list and methodical packing. Tim sipped his coffee and turned his attention to the TV, CNN, as usual. It was his daily routine, just as arriving and departing was Tonia’s.

She always had some project on hand that caused her to travel locally, or internationally. It got to the point where she had to acquire an apartment in another city just to be closer to her major clients. Tonia, who owned an Investment Advisory Business, lived in three local cities for two weeks and outside the country for another two weeks. Her portfolio included several wealthy clients who needed her expert advice—a bit too often, Tim felt, and he’d discussed his concerns with Tonia but nothing changed. She spent the least amount of time in their home.

Their two boys were away, studying in the US. The house ran like a well-oiled engine: a cook, a steward, a gardener and one of Tonia’s assistants, Felicia, whose job description was to supervise the domestic staff and ensure the home ran perfectly, which she did to perfection. Sometimes, Tim felt that Felicia would share his bed, if he asked her to, as long as it meant her duties were being carried out flawlessly.

Tim also felt that Tonia wouldn’t be bothered if she heard that Felicia was sleeping on their bed.

“I’m off,” Tonia cut into his thoughts. “I need to leave for the airport now, so I can catch my appointment with Senator Thompson this afternoon.” She picked up her Birkin handbag and rang the bell for Felicia to send the steward up to bring down her matching travel luggage.

Tonia walked up to the bed and kissed the air beside Tim’s cheek. “I’ll call you,” she said. Her breath was fruity.

“Okay,” Tim said. “Have a safe flight.” And she was gone, leaving a strong whiff of her perfume behind.

A few minutes later, Tim walked to the window and watched as his wife got into her new Mercedes G-wagon and her driver drove out of the gate of their Ikoyi home. The car stopped by another car on the road for Tonia to say hello to their neighbour who had just driven into the estate and she was gone.

He took a deep breath, walked back into the room, and sat down.  He was tired and wanted out.

Tim married Tonia against his family’s wishes. His sister-in-law had arranged a nice girl for him with his mother’s approval, which was no mean feat, but then Stella and his brother had learnt how to play their cards with their mother.

***

Peter, Tim’s older brother, was the perfect son. Six years older than Tim, he’d done everything according to their mother’s specifications. His wife of twenty-five years, Stella, had been chosen by their mother while Peter was in his second year at Florida Tech. He managed to date a few girls in school quietly but ensured he returned as soon as he graduated. Their mother had thrown a lavish party for Peter, with Stella, standing beautifully at her side.

Peter was twenty-seven when he married Stella to their mother’s delight. Her only disappointment was not having a grandson by Peter, who had three daughters. Nevertheless, that wasn’t enough reason for her not to hand over the management of the family business that was involved in shipping, property development, and a dozen huge groceries stores in various locations to Peter, while she appointed herself chairman.

In line with their tradition, the family was having a thanksgiving service to mark the second-year remembrance of their mother’s passing in a few days and Tonia, Tim’s wife, decided to be conspicuously absent.

Tim was tired.

Stella and Mother had been dead set against Tonia and Peter took sides with them. Mother had Tonia thoroughly investigated. Every sordid detail of her life was presented to Tim, most of which he had no clue about.

She was the exact opposite of Tim and his family. She loved to party and have fun to the detriment of everything else. Their mother’s investigation revealed that the rich uncle who sponsored her education in North Carolina was actually her lover. Tim had been speechless, but his love for her overshadowed all else and he stood up to his mother. He studied electrical engineering to please her and went to the university of her choice, but with Tonia, Tim put his foot down. Still, his mother set the conditions. If he must marry Tonia, she insisted that they should sign a prenuptial agreement.

Tonia’s investment business was accidental. The same rich uncle needed help with his investments and Tonia had introduced him to an old school mate and that was it. The uncle introduced her to his other wealthy friends and Tonia arranged meetings with her schoolmate and just like that, despite Tim’s objection, her investment business was born. 

He planned to set up a hospitality business for her but Tonia wanted to prove to Tim’s family that she didn’t care about their wealth, which wasn’t quite true, as Tim later discovered that Tonia used the family name to open more doors for her business.

Through his mother, he discovered Tonia had affairs with at least two of her top clients. Tim had not believed it but found out for himself that his mother was right.

The affairs explained her inability to be at home as often as she used to and why she was constantly on the Government’s economic advisory team, travelling to various countries. When she visited home, she was always tired, but in public, she was the perfect wife. Her extramarital affairs continued as her business grew bigger, and Tonia, more prosperous.

Had their sons not resembled him, Tim was certain his mother would have demanded a DNA test before giving them shares in the family business.

Tim gradually lost interest in her but in public, he was the perfect husband. He had been reluctant to end the marriage because of his sons, and because he didn’t want his mother and Stella to gloat.

After his mother passed on, Tonia felt she didn’t need to keep up appearances anymore. Sometimes, she would be gone for four months at a stretch, communicating with the boys via the telephone, while Tim visited them as often as possible. Their second son was quite intuitive and knew that despite the “all is fine” visits from Dad and expensive gifts from Mum, there was a problem. Tim, however, consistently reassured him that everything was fine.

A knock on the door interrupted his walk down memory lane and he carefully tucked them all away. He learnt to do that successfully over the years to save himself from the emotional turmoil caused by his mother first, and then later, Tonia.

The steward, Samuel, brought his shoes and he got up to get dressed for work. Tim joined the family business four years earlier when their mother fell ill, bringing in his property and renewable energy business. Peter had been grateful for the support and the new business line. They worked well as a team and their group of companies did great.

That afternoon, he was hard at work, going through some proposals when Stella walked into his office. Their relationship had not gotten any better after all the years, and despite Peter’s wishes, nevertheless, they tolerated each other quite well and both knew that when it really mattered, Stella could count on Tim. But not the other way round because Tim did not like to depend on anyone. Least of all, Stella.

He hadn’t seen her in a while. The smirk on her face cautioned him about her mission.

“How’s Tonia?” she smiled. “I saw her car driving into Radisson earlier today. Is she leaving town again? Today?”

Tim stared at her. She and Tonia never got along and never pretended to like each other. She was always ready for gossip. He wondered, not for the first time, how Peter could stand her for twenty-five years. But he understood. His brother grew to love her. They were happy. “Yes, she is.”

“So, she’s missing the thanksgiving on Sunday,” Stella noted and then smiled. “Well, I hope she gets to the airport on time. I hear there’s a bit of traffic on the way.”

“I’m sure she will be fine, Stella,” Tim said and went back to his work. He didn’t raise his head until he heard the door shut after Stella.

What was Tonia doing at the Radisson hotel? He wondered but decided he did not want to know.

***

Tonia made the flight and arrived on time for her appointment. Once she was done, she rushed to her home and got ready for her dinner date. She dressed in a long kaftan that showed a bit of cleavage and waited impatiently for her guest. When her doorbell rang, Tonia heard voices, which infuriated her because she’d instructed her housekeeper to leave after preparing dinner. A few minutes later, she walked into the sitting room and hugged Dupe, her new lover.


Chapter 8

Ruth

It was a busy Monday for Ruth but she was glad because work helped to push the bad thoughts away.

At 10 AM, she sent Thulani a message that she couldn’t do lunch because of several meetings. Thulani had wanted them to have lunch on Saturday but Ruth conveniently cancelled and agreed to a Monday lunch.

Thulani tried to reach her but she didn’t take his calls. Instead, she sent more messages about being occupied. She didn’t lie. It was the first working day of March and she was busy, but the events from Friday night, which haunted her throughout the weekend and made her feel naked at church the day before, kept invading her mind and she was determined not to let it happen again. That meant putting some distance between her and Thulani.

She didn’t want to be distracted. She had long conference calls and sent off her report to the Head Office of the partner organisation on the new development with the donation from Mrs Mambwe. Thulani, being the head of the local office, would have sent his as well. That was their procedure to ensure the roles played by both offices were being carried out effectively. Everyone was excited and a press conference was being planned for the formal presentation of the cheque. Mrs Mambwe and her group were also expected to be at the ground-breaking ceremony of the children’s hospital, once the date was set.

Ruth was showered with praise but she knew that without Thulani, she couldn’t have done it. There was so much work to do going forward and Thulani’s help would make a difference, but she didn’t know how they could continue working together after what transpired between them. She was haunted by that kiss. Remembering it, she had goose flesh and a tingling sensation ran through her body. She breathed deeply, flushed and shook her head at the craziness and tried to get back to work.

At 5:00 PM, the official closing time, she was wrapping up work for the day when she heard voices at her door that caused her to pause and look up as the door opened. Thulani walked in, dressed in one of his designer suits with the pink shirt clinging to his body. The top button of his shirt was open and showed off his gold crucifix. Ruth was transfixed and suddenly weak at the knees. Thulani walked around her desk, dropped a light kiss on her cheek and straightened up. Ruth’s pulse raced.

“Hi,” he said softly. “Looks like you had a very busy day.”

Ruth blinked; the fragrance of his Creed Santal perfume hung in the air around her. “Yes,” she said. “I did.” She swallowed nervously. “Lots of paperwork and meetings and phone calls. It’s been really busy.”

“Hmmm,” he put his hands in his pocket and remained standing by her side, staring at her. “I can see that,” he continued. “Since you couldn’t do lunch, I decided to come and take you out to dinner,” he finished and finally walked around to sit opposite her.

“I’m not sure I can,” Ruth said, avoiding his eyes. “I had some salad, biscuits ... grapes … I actually feel quite full,” she laughed nervously as she focused her eyes on a spot on her desk because she didn’t want to look at him.

“Okay, then no dinner,” he agreed. “When are you knocking off?”

Ruth’s secretary’s knock on the door gave her a few minutes of relief. She was dropping off some papers and wanted to know if Ruth needed her to still hang around. Ruth would have loved that. Knowing Lizzy was just outside the door would give her strength to wade out of the ocean she was sinking in, but it was closing time and the girl usually hitched a ride home with a friend in the office next door.

She dismissed Lizzy for the day and was left alone with Thulani in her office and Uncle J downstairs.

A few seconds of uncomfortable silence hung in the air after Lizzy shut the door behind her. She made a mistake and dared to look at Thulani. His soft brown eyes were on her. 

“Do you still have a lot to do?”

“Not really,” she admitted. “Just making some minor amendments to the hospital design. I will send it off in a bit.”

Thulani stood up and shrugged off his jacket as he normally did when they worked together. He went to the refrigerator, took a can of ginger ale and poured some into two glasses. She noticed that he looked tired. He took out the pistachio nuts and put them on a side plate,  and took them to Ruth.

She made a face. “Thank you, but I really didn’t need one.”

“So,” he started. “What are these changes.”

“Well ...” she breathed out, looking at the papers before her. “I … I think we should have four beds in every ward so that it will still be spacious and airy and …”

Thulani stood beside her looking at the design on her laptop and Ruth felt her insides quiver. “Yes, I agree,” he said. “You don’t need private rooms here. It will defeat the whole open plan concept with a nursing station inside each ward. However…”

They talked and worked for 45 minutes.

They made good progress, made amendments and improved the designs. All her nerves had fallen back into place and she was more relaxed as she smiled at his comments. She explained why she wanted a slightly larger courtyard and described the view she wanted the in-patients to have which could be achieved with the funds they were raising.

Thulani stared at her face which was animated with the descriptions of her idea of a playroom for the out-patients. She was so beautiful, he suddenly thought to himself and without thinking, bent down suddenly and kissed her, cutting her off in mid-sentence.

He caught her unawares, and her lips were parted. He kissed her gently, and one of his hands cradled her head. Thulani probed her parted lips and intensified the pressure. She returned his kiss and with their lips still locked, he pulled her up from her chair and into his arms.

Ruth was swooning. She couldn’t think. Her body and her mind were separated, as she remained locked in his arms. They broke the kiss but remained in each other’s arms. Her face was buried in his chest. She had promised herself, after Friday night, that she would NEVER allow a repeat … yet there she was.

What is wrong with me?

She couldn’t remember the last time she was held that way. She felt protected.  “Break it up, now!” a voice screamed in her head.

Ruth lifted her face to look at him, shook her head and pushed firmly out of his arms. “I can’t,” she said.

“You can’t what?” he breathed.

She tried to sit back down and he reached out to touch her arm gently.

“Please don’t.”

“I just want you to sit on the sofa, it’s more comfortable.”

Ruth stared at him. He was right. Her neck hurt from bending over her laptop all day. She walked over to the sofa and sat down.

“I need a stiff drink.”

She frowned. “I don’t have any.”

“I know that.”

Thulani ran his hands through his hair and walked back to her desk. “It’s not easy for me, you know. We have a great working relationship that I enjoy, and this was not in the plan.” He turned around and their eyes met. “But, God … you are beautiful.”

Ruth looked away and he grabbed a visitor’s chair and went to sit opposite her.

“I have a lot of respect for you. I see the way you work, your passion, your determination to succeed, and your generosity … I admire all of it. And then, you are a great mother and a very caring wife,” he smiled gently. “I have seen you juggle home and work, rushing from a meeting to the grocery store to buy something special to cook for your husband, despite …” he let his words hang. “You are one in a million and I honestly wish this had not happened.”

He sighed.

“But it did … since Friday night, I have been unable to get you out of my mind.” He raked his fingers through his hair again and stood up to pace. Their eyes met again and Ruth saw what he didn’t say.

“I can’t do this, Thulani,” she said shakily. “This has never happened to me since I got married,” she shook her head vigorously. “I can’t afford to do this.”

Thulani walked back and sat beside her. Ruth shifted and made to get up but he held her hand. “No,” he said. “Don’t.” They looked at each other. “I know,” he assured her. “You’re faithful to your husband despite…” his other hand gesticulated in the air. “Everything,” he nodded. “I see your determination to keep your spirituality up, attending church programmes and vigils.” He finally let go of her hand. “We’ve known each other for quite a while, Ruth. Believe me, I know.”

He paused. She was staring at her open palms on her lap but listening to him.

“This was NEVER in the plan,” Thulani added gently, looking lost. His cell phone rang. He ignored it.

He turned his body on the sofa to face her again. “I spent a lot of time this past weekend thinking about it all,” he said as he ran a finger down the side of her face, and Ruth tingled. He pulled her decisively into his arms and kissed her again in one deft move. When they eventually broke off, he held her against his broad chest and rested his back against the sofa. They were both breathing deeply.

Ruth was the first to pull away, then he stood up.

“I don’t want to complicate your life.” He looked down at her sadly. He planned to reschedule his trip and leave for Paris much earlier, and maximise his time in Doha by covering more work than planned. “So, I will be gone for about two weeks.” He wished he could be gone for longer to shake her out of his head but he had work in Nigeria to return to. “I’m going to wrap up everything I have to do here and get the office in Pretoria to send someone else here to replace me.” He picked up his glass which he dropped earlier and drained the content.

“First and foremost, you’re my friend and I don’t want to lose that,” he smiled wanly. “But with the way I feel now, I cannot trust myself around you.” He reached out to touch her cheek but stopped midway. “Send me anything you need my help with and I will make sure it’s sorted out. I’m always a phone call away.” It seemed like he wanted to say more, instead, he turned and picked up his jacket from where he left it. “You should go home. I’ll wait in the reception. I need to be sure that you leave here safely.”

Ruth took a deep breath after Thulani left her office, then got up and she gingerly walked to her desk. She mechanically saved her work, shut down and picked up her handbag.

Thulani got up as soon as she walked through the door and they walked out of the office building, leaving Uncle J, a part of the complex security, to lock up.

Thulani didn’t hesitate any further. He walked her to her car, opened the door for her and closed it and walked away to his car. 

Back home, he poured himself a glass of Glenfiddich 40-year-old single malt whiskey and gulped it down, poured another and drank it the same way. He poured a third and stood staring blankly.

This is crazy! he thought. His thoughts were jumbled. He remembered the store manager, where he bought the whisky in London, proudly told him the drink in his hand was a very rare, single malt whisky that had notes of roasted coffee, stewed apple, hints of bitter chocolate etc. and it was unrivalled by other rare whiskies of the same age. Thulani drank some more but the drink wasn’t working the way it usually did for him.

He didn’t understand what happened to him, He never looked and thought of Ruth that way but only as a great friend. Why did I kiss her? The kiss from Friday night changed everything. She was five years older than him, married and committed, and he couldn’t get her out of his mind!

In an attempt to get Ruth out of his head, he called Francesca and invited her to dinner. A night with another woman was what he needed.


March 2009

Chapter 9

Ruth and Thulani 

Exactly three weeks later, Thulani was back in town. Other than two work emails from Ruth, there had been no communication between them. His plan to get her out of his mind failed as she remained firmly planted. Even the night with Francesca, before he left, had been a disappointment. She was nothing like Ruth. She was hard to the touch and her voice grated in his ears. She had too much hair, too much make-up, too long nails, and too few clothes to cover her ample bosom which looked odd on her skinny frame. He knew Francesca made a lot of effort to please him that night and was prepared to do whatever he wanted, but his head was messed up with thoughts of Ruth.

Ever willing Francesca had lost her cool and called a Red Cab to take her home, but not without collecting more than her cab fare from Thulani, who was only too willing to give. He’d been glad she left and promised himself never to call her again. He didn’t know why he bothered with her when she wasn’t his type.

And then he travelled. With Ruth in his head.

All the time he was away, he couldn’t stop thinking about her; her silky skin, the softness of her lips and how well she fitted into his arms. Yearning to see Ruth, he called her office. 

Ruth was away, Lizzy told him. He was disappointed. He debated against calling her on her cell phone as he wondered where she went. But by the time he got to the office and buried himself in his work, Ruth was momentarily pushed aside.

Later that day, when his assistant, Toye, reminded him he was supposed to facilitate at a workshop in Abidjan, Thulani was floored. He forgot! He had even missed the reminders Toye sent while he was away.

Thulani knew he wasn’t in the mood to speak at any gathering but Toye appealed that it was too late to cancel. The programme was already on its first day and Thulani had to be there early the next morning to make his presentation which was scheduled for after the lunch break.

He had committed to the programme months ago and knew he couldn’t just pull out. Then he reasoned it was probably good. It was another opportunity to keep away from Ruth. It was obvious that she did not want to get in touch with him.

***

The speakers at the programme were amazingly good, Ruth thought. She was glad she decided at the nick of time to attend the programme. She even made a new friend, a Ghanaian lady, Gifty, who worked in an IT firm. They were in the same breakout group and had hit it off as soon as they were introduced.

Gifty was at the workshop with two other Nigerian colleagues of hers. Their entire group sat together at lunch discussing work-life and types of food in Ghana versus Nigeria. As they finished up on the evening of the first day, Gifty reached into her bag to give Ruth her card and discovered she didn’t have any more left. She collected a card from her colleague, wrote her phone number and room number on the back, and then told Ruth that after she freshened up, she should come to her room and taste some nice Ghanaian snacks.

***

On the second day, Ruth was sitting beside Gifty going over the events of the morning and comparing notes when Thulani’s name was announced as the next speaker. Her heart skipped.

She hurriedly scanned the schedule and noticed his name was on it. Surname first, followed by his initials. That was why she missed it.

As he walked up, in a charcoal grey Armani suit and a sky-blue Givenchy shirt, his Christian Louboutin shoes glistening, Ruth wished the grounds could open to hide her. Thulani was well put together. As always.

Thulani introduced the topic and immediately engaged the participants in the conference hall. Ruth’s mouth had gone dry. She couldn’t make out a thing he was saying. She tried to slouch down in her chair, but the Novotel Abidjan Conference Hall chairs were not made for slouching. Her folder, which was filled with conference papers, slid off the table. Gifty tried to catch it before it hit the floor but she lost her balance and almost toppled over. Her colleague reached out and pulled her arm, jerking Gifty and her chair back. The chair scraped on the polished wooden floor, causing people around to turn and look at Ruth and Gifty. Thulani too stared in the direction of the noise and saw her.

He stopped in mid-sentence as their eyes met, took a deep breath and continued with the presentation.


 Chapter 10

Tonia

Three weeks after she left home, Tonia was at her desk trying to book a reservation for Dupe and herself at the Burj Al Arab in Dubai.

“Yes, the deluxe, one bedroom. Two adults. Yes. Helicopter pick-up is okay,” she groaned. “Friday to Sunday. Fine. I will expect your email. Thank you.”

She sat back and smiled. The last two weeks with Dupe had been great, and the trip to Dubai was Tonia’s gift to her. Dupe had never been to the Burj. While Tonia had been there on several occasions with friends, this was the first time she was paying for it.

She did not mind one bit. Dupe had taken her to heights unexperienced before―to a new world, a pleasurable ecstatic world―and she felt that Dupe deserved the gift. Tonia was ready to spend as much as she needed, to make the girl happy. She could hardly wait for Friday to arrive.

The ringing of her phone startled her. It was Tim. She rolled her eyes and stifled a groan. “Hi Tim,” she answered, her voice perky. “How are you doing?”

“Good,” he answered, his voice icy. “James was trying to reach you. Did you get a chance to speak with him?”

Tonia furrowed her eyebrows. “No,” she said. “I was at a meeting and just concluded. I’m sure he is fine, I will send him some allowance later tomorrow.”

Tim was going to say something, but he stopped himself. “I don’t think it’s money that he needs. I think he was calling to find out how you are and to let you know he had been ill.”

“Okay,” she sighed. “I’m sure it’s nothing serious, he will be fine. The children always need money. Not to worry, I will ask my PA to get in touch with him.”

James was their first son. He had a heart brimming with love and care for his mother―unreciprocated affection. Tobi, their second son, cared about his parents and knew there were issues between them but he took sides with his father irrespective of what happened. He knew his father was unhappy and had developed a thick skin against everything his mother did.

“Well,” Tim said. “I’m off to San Antonio to visit the boys.”

“Okay,” Tonia said, rolling her eyes. “Great. Give them my regards, there is no way I can avoid the Dubai meeting but have a good trip.”

There was a pause, then, “Thanks,” and then he hung up.

Immediately, her thoughts swung back to Dupe and the weekend she was planning. She smiled deeply. Her assistant came with a file she requested and also to inform her she had a visitor.  Dr Damiye, her gynaecologist and ex-lover, had decided to visit her since she wasn’t taking his calls.

  

*****            *****     *****

Read ENDURING from the beginning to the end. Find out what happened to Ruth, Thulani, Cordelia, Tim and the other characters in this captivating story. 

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