…continued from Unforgiven V
“Some men talk about their wives whenever they are with their mistresses. But…not you. Why?”
“I didn’t think my mistress would want to know my wife. Why do you want to know?”
“Because I want to know. Why don’t you talk about the Missus?”
“Well babes; I’ve long since learned not to mix my family and my extracurricular activities. We don’t want any mix-ups there.”
Unbidden, the conversation flashed in Ethel’s mind as she stood toe-to-toe with Charles’ wife. Why hadn’t Charles warned her about this? The woman looked intimidating and well…older, much older than Ethel and if she wasn’t mistaken, older than Charles.
But she was a beauty. In every aspect. And she was expensive. Everything on her reeked of wealth…from her finely starched designer shirt to her knee-length ash skirt that hugged her hips. Her make-up was finely applied and took away a lot from her age.
Why would any man want to cheat on this woman?
“Are you done analyzing me?” she sounded amused.
“I…uh…I wasn’t. I just…this is weird,” Ethel stammered.
“Meeting your lover’s wife?”
“You’re wrong. We are not lovers. We’re just supposed to have dinner together. I didn’t know you were in Abuja too.”
“He didn’t tell you that he accompanied me for a doctors’ conference. Typical Charles – chasing some bimbo while I’m working my ass off.”
“No. We haven’t had much time to talk. Believe me, there’s nothing between us.”
Ethel looked away. “Again. How did you know about today?”
“I’m not stupid. I’ve known about you for a while sadly I thought I’d gotten rid of you three years ago,” her voice was unsympathetic. “Charles has no idea I’ve got him within my sights.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Oh. When it comes to choosing between his family and extracurricular activities, Charles always chooses right,” sarcasm dripped from her words.
The words stung more than Ethel would admit. Extracurricular activities. Translation – you
“Madam, please explain what you mean by getting rid of me three years ago,” there was a tremor in her voice. She sensed that what she would not like was what she was about to hear.
“Remember the last time you saw him? That was my doing. I gave him an ultimatum,” she dipped her hand into her Prada handbag and pulled out an envelope, “he’s going to be here any minute. I’m glad we decided to have this talk. Meanwhile I’m sure you’d be pleased to know what information is in that envelope. It’d enlighten you about your err…relationship with my husband.”
“Why did you come?”
“Charles cares about his family more than he lets on. He was nothing when I married him but look at him now – every stray girl’s dream. No matter what happens he’ll always choose me, the mother of his children. Remember that when next you think of screwing him.”
Ethel was silent. She didn’t say a word as Mrs. Felicia Umoh dropped the envelope on the table.
“And oh…it’d be in your best interest not to mention our little meeting to him.” With that she stalked out of the house.
Ethel crumpled into the chair, her head whirling with thoughts. Her breakup with Charles had been painful. It hadn’t even qualified as a breakup because there’d been no teary-eyed goodbyes. He’d simply left one day without a word.
She’d been in the hospital; still recovering from her recent miscarriage. Her mind and body were affected and she had needed all the support she could get from him. The man she loved. But he’d been nowhere to be found.
The day she was discharged she’d rushed home to the apartment he’d rented for her, only to find it locked with a few of her things packed into a small duffel bag and kept with a neighbor. There was no note, no explanation and no way to get in touch with him. It had literally killed Ethel. The not-knowing, the silence, his unceremonial disappearance.
She had been left with nothing except a broken heart and depression. No home, hardly any clothes; so she’d gone to the one place she’d vowed she wouldn’t return to – her childhood home. With Mum.
Now what did this woman mean by she’d gotten rid of her? Ethel found herself too stunned to think. Had she had something to do with Charles’ disappearance from her life?
What did that matter now? Three years have gone by, Ethel. Just drop it.
She picked up the envelope. How was she going to face Charles today after such a visit?
Cancel the date.
Nah. Too late. You’ll suck it up and pretend he didn’t lie to you. Then you’ll get your closure.
At that precise moment the doorbell rang and, Ethel quickly tucked the envelope into her purse. She’d take a look at it later.
“Who is it?” she wasn’t going to be taken by surprise twice in one day.
She glanced at the time, 7:45pm. He was forty-five minutes late.
“I’ll be right out,” she didn’t want him in her apartment. She picked up her purse, took a deep breath and went out to face him.
He stood there confidently, looking so sleek and irresistibly fine. He had an aura, a certain contagious confidence that threw Ethel off balance when she first met him. It always pulled her like a magnet.
“You’re late,” she accused.
“Had some car issues. I’m sorry. You look gorgeous. Well covered up, I see,” he smirked.
“Get used to it,” she snapped, shrugging off his hands that went around her shoulders.
“What? Now I can’t hold you anymore? You forget…I’ve seen some intriguing parts of your body,” there was a twinkle in his eyes as they walked to his car.
She hid a smile. He’d certainly turned the charm on.
“What are you doing in Abuja?” she asked, taking her seat beside him in the car.
“Work. But I had to see you.”
Liar, liar. “What about your wife?”
“Thelia, this night is about me and you. No third parties please,” his eyes were on the road as he drove.
Why are you here Ethel? Why are you here with this man who is a danger to you physically, spiritually and mentally? Why do you want to torture yourself?
“No, Charles. I’m the third party here. You’re one with your wife and I’m nothing but a passing fancy. That’s what I’ve always been to you.”
“Why are you talking like this? I thought tonight was not about the past,” he reached out and placed a hand on her knee, “besides if you were a passing fancy then you really did a good job because you kept my attention for four years.”
Ethel moved her leg away from his touch refusing to admit how much it affected her.
She couldn’t believe that she’d given four years of her life to this man.
“Why did you leave without a word, Charles? You left me stranded when I needed you most,” she needed to know.
“Let’s have dinner first. Then we can talk. I want to give you a treat tonight.”
He stuffed her with food, spoiling her by insisting she take whatever she wanted. The evening was almost magical; it was like he was intent on stripping away the years that had separated them and bringing back the memories. Yet Ethel couldn’t take her mind off his wife’s visit.
Charles was nothing when I married him. He will always choose me, the mother of his children.
It was nine thirty pm when they arrived at her doorstep. As she stepped out of the car, Ethel felt a twinge of sadness at the thought that she might never see him again. She’d wrapped up this chapter of her life and it was over. The visit from his wife today had proved it.
“Won’t you ask me in?” he asked, following her closely behind.
“Of course not Charles,” she turned to face him, “before you leave I have a question.”
He was staring intently at her in a way that made her skin burn. God, why did the man have to be so damn attractive?
“Did your wife have anything to do with the…way our relationship ended?”
“Family always comes first, Ethel, you know that,” his face gave away nothing.
Yes, now I do. “That was my mistake, right? Falling in love with you?”
“No, no, no. We had an agreement, Ethel. Love was never part of the equation from the beginning. It was one of the ground rules you set, remember?”
Yes, she did remember. Oh she remembered so well. But what had she known then? She’d been just twenty-two, in her final year at the university and still very much in the claws of her mother. Meeting Charles had been like a miracle; he was older, charming, smitten with her and rich. What more could a girl like her want? She’d known he was married and it had added more to the thrill.
“Well I broke the rules at some point. Why couldn’t you? Was I that terrible to love?” she asked.
Careful, Ethel. Tread cautiously.
“No but I already had someone I loved. I had a wife! A family! I couldn’t risk all that for…for…”
“Say it. For me. I wasn’t worth it. I was always going to be the mistress, right? Not even when I got pregnant? What if I’d had your child?”
He was silent and unsure. He stood, looking at her, helpless. A first for Charles Umoh.
“Leave, Charles. Just leave. This is over. Thank you for a nice evening. I hope you have a nice life with your family,” she had to get away before she burst into tears.
“I’m sorry Thelia, I wish I could’ve been more,” he caught her hand in his and pressed it to his lips. “What? No hug or…even…a kiss? For old time’s sake?”
“No. Get out of my way Charles.”
“C’mon Thelia. Please. Just a goodbye hug and a peck on the cheek.”
Insane. Insane that she actually wanted his arms around her. Totally insane that she was actually thinking of hugging him.
“I said get out, Charles and let’s not make a scene.”
“You know me. I won’t leave until you give me that hug and peck. So how about that scene, Thelia? Please?” his eyes looked so beautiful when he begged.
“Don’t. Don’t call me that.”
“Why not?” he stroked her face.
Because it jumbles my head! Because it reminds me of whom I used to be! And I don’t want to be that person anymore. I’m better! I don’t want to be here with you; feeling this way about you! The voice in her head screamed but her mouth refused to move.
How could she be thinking this about a man that just told her she meant nothing to him?
One hug, Ethel and get this man out of your front yard. And out of your life.
Too risky Ethel, don’t do it. Leave him standing out here and walk into your house.
Oh I wish. Just one hug and I’m outta here.
Forgive my weakness, Lord.
She let him pull her into his arms and envelope her. Ah…it felt so good. So right. So warm. She’d missed this, Lord. She really had.
Pull away now, Ethel. He’s feeling you up.
Her head was obviously thinking straighter than her heart and her hormones.
She began to pull away but his grip on her was firm, caressing.
“A peck on the cheek please,” he whispered, huskily.
Ethel was afraid of what her neighbors would think seeing her locked in a seemingly passionate embrace with a man. Even though her front yard was dark she wasn’t too comfortable, so she reached up to plant a quick peck on his cheek.
And then he did something. He turned his head so slightly and her lips touched his. A shiver of apprehension sailed through her body as her lips began to part, slowly.
To be continued next week…
by Mimi Adebayo