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It must be Croatia’s loss (really wanted them to win) that is moving me to tears, not this episode…or, I like to tell myself that… I know you forgive me for not posting yesterday even before I ask. You can’t be mad at me for too long. I’d see if I can squeeze in a bonus this week, if not, it’s till Saturday loves, do bear with me till the end. Love you all.

Episode 25

PRESENT

“Laura’s dad?” Teju shook her head, her eyes glazed with visions of the past. “I was too scared. I couldn’t take the hand he proffered. Imagine! He clearly heard that I was pregnant for his daughter’s husband…” she shook her head. “It was so stupid to have met with Dupe at the bar” she said and swallowed. The monitor of the room dinged continuously. For a moment there, she hadn’t heard the sound at all. Mark Johnson lay so still on the bed, no single thing suggested that he had heard an iota of what she was saying. It was all well and good. The only reason she had enough courage to even spill it all was because she had a feeling that no one was listening to her. Many times, she finds herself wondering if she actually did those things.

Teju stood up from the foot of the bed and moved a bit, her nylon apron covering making funny sounds. “He came into my apartment; walked around the room like a lion sizing up its prey. I remember being scared of what he was going to say to me, or do to me… but he didn’t seem angry at first, if anything, he seemed… pleased…”

***** TWO MONTHS AGO *****

The room was drenched in silence and Frank was the only person who seemed comfortable in it. He took his time, giving the room a quick survey while Teju fidgeted, keeping close to the door so she can easily flee in case things went south. He unnerved her. It was weird seeing someone that looked exactly like Mark, yet knowing he was not the one. Identical twins scared her. Yet, there was this air about this man… something about him called to her and she could not just place her finger on what it was.

Frank finally settled his gaze on her. A small smile touched his lips. “You should seat.” He nodded at the only chair in the room. “Standing too much is not good for your… condition”

Teju fidgeted with her fingers, so nervous. “Please sir… I… I can explain”

“No, you shouldn’t. You gave all the explanation I need at the bar. With very acute ears and lip reading abilities, there is nothing you said to your dear friend that escaped my knowledge.” He gave her a brief mirthless smile. He turned to take a small walk around the room like the place was of rare fancy to him. “Including the part where you spoke about aborting your child – my daughter’s husband’s bastard” his eyes connected hers, allowing the words sink in.

Teju swallowed. Her mouth went dry as her heart slammed in her chest. She was lost on what to say. “But I have a solution for you so you don’t have to murder your foetus” Frank continued, turning away again, his back to her. “You see, when I saw you at Laura’s wedding six years ago, clinging to Deolu the way you did, I knew this day would come.”

The words settled and Teju frowned. “But you… you were not at the wedding” she stared intently at the man again. He had said he wasn’t Mark, right? But Mark had been at the wedding, not Laura’s father. Close to Deolu as she was, she had first-hand knowledge that Laura’s father was not in support of their union. Mark had walked her down the aisle that day. So how could Frank have seen her at the wedding when he was not even there?

“Oh, I was there…” he said, turning to face her, his eyes poking into hers. “I walked Laura down the aisle, not Mark… I knew no one would notice the swap, even Laura had too much of Deolu in her head to be able to tell us apart; and she could tell us apart” A pained smiled flashed in his eyes, then vanished, replaced with a dark cloud of bitterness. “But I knew it was all he wanted to do… I knew all Mark wanted was to walk Laura down the aisle and I’d be damned if I’d let him have that… be damned if I’d let him have that happiness” Frank looked almost murderous as he focused on a particular spot on the wall. “I sneaked to the church, called Mark out and took his place. Of course, he resisted but he knew he had no choice. He had a secret to keep” he smiled drily; a bitter smile that Teju knew had a very terrible story behind it.

Teju frowned at Frank. It was like looking at someone with a personality disorder. How come he had swapped with his brother and no one had noticed. She had heard of the atrocities of identical twins but it was the first time she was actually witnessing it. She couldn’t remember how the topic had suddenly shifted from her but the issue at hand was puzzling. She kept quiet, studying Frank who seemed to be having a moment. His hatred and bitterness came out through his words, his facial expression and even his body language. Teju wondered what Mark did to Frank to make him so bitter. His eyes fixed on the wall seemed to have forgotten her presence. Then the glint in his eyes was gone as he turned his eyes back to her. “That’s why your pregnancy is so perfect”

Teju blinked, her frown deepening. “I’m sorry?”

“You are going to sleep with my brother”

Teju froze. Paranoia was probably affecting her hearing because she couldn’t have heard him right. “I am?”

“Yes, you are” he said, matter-of-factly.

Teju blinked, then shifted, distributing her weight evenly on both legs as she squared her shoulders. “I am sorry sir, but no one dictates to me. You need someone to sleep with your brother, there are so many tramps out there” Something must be wrong with the world if people thought they could just pop in from nowhere and tell her what and what not to do.

“I have found my tramp” his eyes gave no apologies for the obvious insult and Teju could feel her anger rising. She didn’t care how old he was, she was ready to walk him out of her apartment. She opened her mouth to speak when he continued, interrupting whatever she had to say. “Besides, I wasn’t asking, I am telling you what you’d do”

Teju’s brow lifted. “Oh… and why would I do what you asked… sir?”

“You are pregnant for Laura’s husband” he stated like that explained everything. “You really think I would seat back and watch you destroy Laura’s home?”

Teju shifted, uncomfortable with the way it sounded. “So, if I get you right sir, you want me to… impose the child on your brother by sleeping with him”

“I won’t see Laura’s home destroyed”

“So, you would rather destroy your brother’s life” she’d bet an entire fortune that this was not so much about protecting Laura’s home. Something told her it was more to get at his brother; the hatred she had seen in his eyes said it all.

Frank shrugged, looking carefully blank. “His life is pretty useless anyways.”

Teju was silent for a while then shook her head. “And to think I thought Laura exaggerated her dislike for you” she mouthed. Frank’s eyes narrowed. “Why? Why do you hate him so much?” she asked. “What did he ever do you to make you hate him so much?”

“Make me raise a child that is not mine is what he did” Frank snapped. Teju tensed. She sensed a dark secret about to be revealed. The bitterness was back in his eyes, in his voice. He gesticulated with his hands. “You don’t know what it’s like to look at a child, spend all you have to raise her and yet know the child is not yours. People said she looked like me, had my eyes and my hair, but I knew who she actually looked like…”he took a deep breath. “How could I forget?”

Teju swallowed. It was difficult to look at Frank as different emotions flashed through his face. Pain, betrayal, rage, hatred… the list was endless… at a point she thought she saw tears shimmering in Frank’s eyes and she felt his pain. His words stuck to her head and she began to piece the pieces. The frown on her face deepened with each second… ‘raise a child that is not mine’… ‘all Mark wanted was to walk Laura down the aisle’…

Teju’s eyes snapped up as her mouth opened. “Laura? Laura is…”

She didn’t need him to confirm it, it was all in his eyes. It was all in the way he looked away from her, too ashamed of the truth. Teju couldn’t believe it. Mark was Laura’s father! She had thought Mark had to be a good man. Laura never stopped singing his praises. She could just imagine how bad Frank would feel, having Laura love Mark even more than she loved him. So, Mark wasn’t so good afterall.

Frank finally looked back at her. “He deserves to raise a child that is not his… he needs to know how it feels”

*****

PRESENT

*****
Teju swallowed. “I initially refused… though a part of me wanted to go along. I didn’t want to abort the baby, I wasn’t enthusiastic about the saga the pregnancy would cause in Deolu’s home either. Putting the pregnancy on you seemed like the perfect plan but I just couldn’t see myself doing it. But when you have a secret to keep, you can be made to do anything. Mr Frank knew that, and in days, he found a secret, one I was not ready to reveal to anyone, most of all, Deolu.” She swallowed. “He told me when you’d be the most vulnerable. July 18th. He said you were always vulnerable then that it was almost the only day in a year you ever taste alcohol. That was how I met you at the bar that night.” She paused, turning to look at Mark’s form on the bed. “I was right to assume that you never noticed me at the wedding because you didn’t recognize me. It was all weird, you were a lot older than me. At first, it was like meeting Frank but it didn’t take too long to notice the differences. You smiled more, complimented more, a little tipsy as you were, I was surprised you noticed my eyes were brown and not black, no man in my life had ever noticed that.” The wonder was obvious in her voice. “It was easy to see why Laura loved you” she blinked back tears. “I became confused. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go along with the plan anymore. We got to the room and… you treated me with so much care… better than anyone I had ever been with. I felt so good… so… special… but I couldn’t go through with it. I knew I couldn’t. Despite all that your brother told me, I just couldn’t do it.” She swallowed. “But then, when I said ‘no’, you didn’t stop. Maybe you were too far gone, maybe my ‘no’ wasn’t convincing enough… you simply didn’t stop. And I was sad and angry. I shouldn’t have done that to you… I have been hurt by too many men that I thought most men are trash, I felt so terrible for doing what I did to you – the only man who actually treated me like I was special, even though you’d only just met me. I was mad at you for not stopping when I said no but I was more mad at myself. I got home and I wrote in my diary… I needed to make myself believe it was rape, that you were at fault, that all Frank said about you were true… I mean… when someone goes ahead even after you’ve said no, it is rape, right?” she wiped tears from her eyes. “But I knew you weren’t at fault. Probably if I had been more convincing, you would have stopped. I told your brother about what happened and it seemed to make him happier… The plan was to wait a month and then tell you I was pregnant for you, but as the weeks passed, and you tried to reach me… everytime you searched for me and called me, trying to check if I was okay… I couldn’t bring myself to burden you with a child that is not yours. I couldn’t do it to you. That was when I made the decision to tell Deolu’s mother about my pregnancy. She was so happy that the plan actually pulled through. She never knew that a lot had happened after I slept with Deolu. I lied to your brother that Deolu’s mother found my doctor’s report and did the math. It was enough to make him back down for a while. He was not so pained though. It all seemed to suit him quite well” she said with a bitter frown.

“But I had to meet Frank again. When Tito found my diary and started digging, I had to meet him to know what to do. I knew if she dug enough, she would find the secret I was hiding. It was there but she didn’t notice it. It was in one of the documents she took along with the diary… it was then he asked me to tell Tito that the child was yours, that it would destabilize her enough to get her off my back.”

She moved to Mark’s wrapped form on the bed. “I am sorry… I am so sorry I involved you in my mess… you are a good man. Whatever it is you have done, I know it couldn’t have been intentional or premeditated. I am so sorry, please forgive me” she swallowed, touching the wrapped arm, staring at the exposed eyes, hoping… hoping that she would see a sign, a blink, anything at all to signify that he at least heard her… but there was nothing. Nothing other than the constant beep of the machine.

Taking a deep breath, she kissed her fingers and placed the fingers on his arm. Unable to utter any other word again, she turned. She had to be contented with the fact that she had told him everything. She prayed… prayed that against all odds, he had heard her. She silently wondered as she got to the door, why the nurse hadn’t come to walk her out. She had started with the long story, hoping the doctor would interrupt her and save her from saying it all, but the nurse was either asleep or had totally forgotten she was inside. Then she opened the door…

A strangled gasp escaped Teju as she stared at the faces of Laura, Tito and the nurse. Her face turned pale. “Laura…” her eyes rotated from one to another. She needed no sorcerer to tell her that she had just revealed it all to not just Mark but also to Laura and Tito. She now knew why the nurse hadn’t interrupted her since. Her mouth opened to give an explanation, anything at all, but no words were coming out.

“Save it” Tito snapped, her eyes blazing. “Just save it”, she turned and marched away.

*****

Laura and Tito entered the waiting room. They looked so drained and exhausted. Laura couldn’t wrap her head around it all. It was just too much. She had heard too much for one day, she just wanted to sleep… she needed to forget it all. She thought of Deolu’s mother and what she had just found out she did, Frank and all she just found out, and Mark… Gosh… it was too much. July 18th… that was the day her mother died… Laura swallowed.

Deolu sighted Laura and Teju immediately they entered and instantly knew that something was wrong. Laura had too much running through her face and for a second, he feared the worst. But as he stood and went to her, he had a feeling it was something different. His suspicion was further confirmed when Teju emerged looking almost sickly pale as she made for the exit hurriedly, keeping her eyes to the ground. He knew what had happened then. He got to Laura, touching her waist lightly as his other hand raised her face to his. He stared into her eyes. “Hey, you okay?”

Laura stared at Deolu. He had that crease in his forehead that always appeared when he was deeply worried. She wanted to cry. “Ad…” she shook her head, trying to ward off the tears. “I just want today to be over” her body shook from holding back her tears.

Deolu pulled her into his arms, holding her to him as he kissed her hair. He gritted his teeth. He was angry. Angry that he couldn’t keep her from getting hurt. He had promised to protect her and keep her happy. He had broken more promises than fidelity. “Let me take you out of here” he said. “Please” he needed her as far away from all these as possible. It was the only way he could remain sane.

Laura withdrew slightly. Deolu could see in her eyes, that she wanted nothing more than to get away from it all. But she shook her head, her eyes taking in the people in the waiting room, she didn’t see Gloria and the rest and guessed she and Jane took Margaret and Tess home to rest. “I can’t. I can’t leave Tito alone” she said, staring at Tito who stood just a few steps away.

“I’d stay with her”

Laura turned to see Chris. He had been so wonderful. His support had been so immense.

“You should go” Chris finished. Laura couldn’t even argue. She needed a bit of air.

“Thank you” she whispered, touching Chris’ arm lightly. She went to Tito, giving her a tight hug that Tito barely returned. Deolu nodded at Chris, his eyes conveying his appreciation as he led Laura out of the hospital.

Chris watched them leave, then turned to Tito. Tito’s face was bluntly vacant. Her eyes were veiled and her shoulders had that rigid fix to them that made it seem like she was trying to prevent herself from doing something. She raised her eyes to his and looked away, avoiding his gaze as she searched out a seat. “They are gone. You can leave now” She sat, brushing off hair from her face and she bowed her head slightly. Her voice was so lifeless that despite all Tito had done and was doing to him, Chris had the strange urge to hold her till her shields fell off.

“I’m not leaving”

“Leave” she forced, raising her head till she was looking at him. “Please… Leave”

Chris swallowed. How could he refuse her when she said ‘please’? She had never used that word to his hearing before. But it was not the word that drew at his insides, it was the plea he had seen in her eyes, the yearning…

He nodded. “Okay” with that, he turned and made for the exit. He buried his hands deep in his pocket, his hands fisted. Today had been a shitty day! As he got to the exit, for whatever reason, he chanced a look at Tito and felt a tight squeeze in his chest as he saw her dash the back of her hand across her face, wiping off what he was sure to be tears. Gritting his teeth, he walked out of the hospital into the darkness of the night and this time, made it home without turning back.

Sacrilege.

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