While driving home Onna had to force herself to concentrate on the road. The past few days had been consumed with her last conversation with Joseph. She slammed her car door shut and impulsively kicked one of her tires in frustration.
She looked up to see Kayode approaching her with an amused smile.
“No. Everything’s just peachy,” she said sarcastically. She sighed. “Sorry. How are you?”
“I was just coming to see you, actually. I got my ass chewed out by Joey yesterday, so I’m also terrific,” he replied, matching her sarcasm.
Onna looked at him in surprise. “What happened?”
“I tried to advise him to be careful about Bimpe.” Kayode leaned against her car, stuffing his hands in his pockets.
Onna snorted. “I can imagine how that went.”
“Yeah, I hear you tried the same thing,” Kayode remarked.
“I asked him if he was sure she’s really pregnant,” Onna said in a quiet voice. “I managed to stop myself from asking how he could be sure he’s actually the father if she is,” she added bitterly.
Kayode looked surprised. “Huh. I didn’t think about her lying about being pregnant. I was mostly worried about him marrying her because he thinks it’s what he’s supposed to do.”
“Shit,” Onna said in horror. “He said he was going to marry her?”
“No,” Kayode assured her. “I think it was more my concern than it actually occurring to him, but I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t talk to him about it…I just hope I didn’t inadvertently put the idea in his head. If she’s not really pregnant that makes it even more worrisome – you know she’s really broke, right? And hasn’t been able to keep a job in two years?”
“No, I didn’t.” She slung her bag over her shoulder in determination. “We can’t let that happen,” she said fiercely.
“How do you plan to stop it?” Kayode asked.
She chewed her lip thoughtfully. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “But I’ll think of something.”
Kayode chuckled appreciatively. “I know you will.”
When Onna got home, she paced her apartment for several minutes, keeping an eye on Joseph and Bolu’s apartment window. When she saw Bolu walk through the room, she grabbed her phone.
Joseph was on his bed, the heels of his hands pressed into his eyelids. He was alternating between anger at Kayode’s accusations of Bimpe – as well as his last conversation with Onna on the subject – and extreme exhaustion. He was just so tired of this whole mess. He’d never thought seriously about being a father; even in the abstract the concept sent him into a panic. It didn’t seem possible that it was actually going to happen.
Sighing heavily, he dug his phone from his pocket and dialed Bimpe’s number.
“Hi,” he said when she picked up. “Are you at home? We need to talk.”
Onna was sitting nervously in front of Nosike and Lola’s apartment the next night, barely feeling the chilly rain, when Nosike and Joseph walked up to the house. Bolu, also worried about Joseph, had readily told her where Joseph would be tonight, and Lola had suggested she come over. Nosike was expecting her, but Joseph wasn’t, and the look in his eyes was one she’d never forget. Pain, anguish, regret, hostility, betrayal. He had never looked at her that way before. She felt instantly queasy but couldn’t look away. Nosike quickly disappeared inside and they stood there staring at each other for a long minute before speaking at the same time.
“I guess you still think she’s lying -“ Joseph said harshly.
“Don’t marry Bimpe -“ Onna blurted.
Anger flashed in his eyes. Onna swallowed hard.
“I don’t know if I’m wrong about her, but I don’t really care. Just – don’t marry her,” Onna said unsteadily.
“Just. Don’t. Marry her,” she repeated.
“Because -“ She stopped and pressed her lips together.
“Onna?” he prompted.
She shook her head slowly, opening her mouth but finding no words coming to her.
“Onna?” he said softly. “Why don’t you want me to marry her?”
“Because…having a kid is no reason to get married,” she said weakly. “It’s a big deal. No one should rush into it. Not when you barely know each other.”
“Is that really why?”
“Of course it is,” she said impatiently. “I’ve been through a divorce. It’s not picnics and rainbows.”
“Yes, I know you’ve been through a divorce,” he said sharply. “You don’t have to remind me.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You think I don’t know that your divorce is why you’ve closed yourself off to everyone? To letting anyone in? To letting me in?”
“I let you in,” she said plaintively. “As much as I could.”
“Right,” he said sarcastically.
“It’s nothing -“
“Onna, I swear to God, if you tell me it’s nothing personal one more time I am going to lose my fucking mind,” Joseph snapped.
“Fine,” she seethed. “What about you?” she blurted. “Like you’ve told me every little thing about you? You still haven’t given me a good explanation for why you freaked out on Deji that day, even after you saw how much it scared me. So don’t act like you didn’t keep parts of yourself from me, too.”
“What do you want me to say?” he shouted. “That I was scared out of my mind that he was going to hurt you?”
“But why would you even jump to that conclusion? It was like you were a completely different person.”
“Because I know what men can do, Onna. I’ve seen it. I know what kind of animals some men are – how they can appear to be perfectly normal to the world and then in private they beat the shit out of -“ He stopped, his eyes widening.
“What…happened?” she asked slowly, scared of the answer.
“Really? You’re just going to keep shutting me out? Joseph, you were my best friend. And now it’s…nothing. I hate it.”
“I hate it, too,” he said angrily.
They stood there in silence, their bodies taut with anger, their chests heaving from the exertion of shouting.
“Are you going to marry her?” Onna couldn’t help asking.
He rolled his eyes and ran his hand across his head.
“Why do you care?” he asked sadly.
“I care,” she said in a small voice. “Of course I care.”
“But why?” he persisted.
She looked up at him, staring at her with those deep black eyes, warm and tender despite the despair.
“You know why,” she mumbled, not even sure she knew herself.
“Tell me why,” he said slowly, walking toward her.
Just then Onna’s phone rang and out of habit she checked the screen. Joseph was standing close enough to her to see Deji’s name.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Joseph groaned.
“It’s not what you think -“ she began.
“Whatever,” he said, walking past her to the house. “I’ll leave you to your call.”
“Shit,” she muttered.
“Oh, by the way,” Joseph said, halfway through the front door. “She’s not pregnant. You were right. So congratulations.”
“What? Joseph -“
But he was already inside, the door slamming shut behind him.
Joseph angrily kicked off his shoes, forcing himself to pause before joining Nosike and Lola. He wasn’t sure what he was upset about – that Onna was still talking to Deji, that she was right about Bimpe not being pregnant, that she was just still so…Onna. So smart and beautiful and well-read and funny. And so infuriating and closed off and stubborn. Of course none of that angered him; even though those traits drove him crazy, they were all part of what made her Onna. And he loved all of them. He loved her.
He fell against the door, shutting his eyes. He loved her. “Dammit,” he muttered.
The hiss of a bottle opening brought him out of his trance and he saw Nosike walking toward him with a beer.
“Dinner’s ready,” Nosike said, handing him the bottle.
Joseph followed him to the table in a stupor, feeling their worried gazes. Finally he looked up and spoke.
“She’s not pregnant after all.”
There was a brief pause before Nosike and Lola spoke in unison.
Joseph couldn’t help but smirk. “Yeah.”
“She was lying?” Lola asked quietly.
“She says the test was positive,” Joseph said, shuddering at the memory of Bimpe’s tears during their confrontation. “The doctor said it might have been a defective test or that it was something else – I think a chemical pregnancy, she called it.”
There was a pause while they digested the news and he was surprised to see Lola looking outraged.
“Wasn’t her doctor’s appointment last week? Why didn’t she tell you right away?”
“She said she was waiting for the blood test results. To see if she was really pregnant before she told me anything.” Joseph recited Bimpe’s explanation flatly. “I don’t know if she was being honest,” he admitted. “But she kept crying and I couldn’t deal with it so I didn’t push it.”
“Oh.” Lola softened at the mention of Bimpe crying. “Poor girl.”
Joseph shrugged. “Yeah, but she’s better off not having a kid this way. It’ll happen for her with the right guy. I’m not that guy.” I’ll never be that guy, he thought.
“So, what happened with Onna?” Lola asked.
Joseph sighed, pushing the food around his plate.
“She drives me crazy,” he told them.
Nosike chuckled and Joseph shot him a curious look.
“Of course she does,” Nosike said. “That’s how you know she’s the one.”
Lola rolled her eyes. “I never drove you crazy, dear. You drove yourself crazy resisting me and my charms.”
Joseph forced a smile. “Well, I don’t think we’d work out, anyway.”
“Don’t be an idiot,” Lola said fondly. “You’re going to see her after dinner.”
“Am I?” Joseph asked, momentarily amused at the command.
“Yes. You two need to hash this out once and for all,” Lola told him firmly.
“There’s nothing to hash out,” Joseph protested. “She’s made it clear she’s not dating anyone and even if she was, I’m not boyfriend material.”
“Didn’t I just tell you not to be an idiot?” Lola repeated. “Maybe she’s scared, maybe you are, maybe it can work, maybe it can’t. You’ll never know if you don’t give it a shot and tell her how you feel.”
She looked at Nosike as if for confirmation and he grinned at both of them.
“I generally agree with whatever she says,” he told Joseph seriously. “It makes life easier for everyone.”
Joseph forced a laugh in the hopes that the subject would be dropped. He suspected Onna would never be willing to take a chance on him, but maybe if he were at least honest with her about his childhood and his reaction to Deji, they could get back to being friends. It would be better than not having her in his life at all.
He wondered glumly if he was brave enough to be that honest…