A fleeting worry about how she looked passed through Panlam’s mind as she caught a glimpse of herself reflected in the passenger window of her taxi but it was quickly suppressed by more pressing concerns. She pushed it aside the same way she’d tried not to dwell on the events of the evening, even though thoughts snuck into her consciousness whenever she let her guard down and tormented her. She didn’t bother waiting for Tariebi and her brother as she crossed the street to Farhad’s house and banged loudly on the white gate. She heard the harried slapping of feet against the paved compound floor and the door swung open. A frantic gateman not older than twenty ushered her in, spewing rapid fire Hausa at her interspersed with Kike’s name. Panlam put her arms around his shoulders and pointed to the house. He took the hint and led her and the others in.
None of them were prepared for what was waiting inside. Kike was a dishevelled mess, laid out on the richly coloured rug that served as a centrepiece for the living room. Her eyelids were squeezed shut and the hem of her dress all the way up to mid calf was greenish grey with dried mud and spirogyra. She moaned deeply, legs pressed together as though she were trying to stay a full bladder. A beautiful middle aged woman knelt by her side soothing her, wiping her head with a wet towel.
“Kike!” Panlam cried and ran to her side.
Kike’s eyes flew open when she heard her name. She turned to the sound to see Panlam knelt beside her, visibly shaking, Tariebi and a strange man-boy standing behind her. She tried to push past the pain in her abdomen and sit up but all she could manage was raising her head and upper body. It felt like the lower half of her was being controlled by someone else. Other than the now rhythmic tug followed by the blinding flash of pain she felt numb. She tried to smile, convince everyone she was fine, but she wasn’t doing a very good job because the worry lines on Panlam’s brow only lengthened. It was then she realised that someone was missing.
“Where is Saanyol?” she asked, trying to hide the fear in her voice. “You people didn’t come with him?”
“What is wrong with your phone?” Tariebi replied. She was fuming. “He’s been trying to call you all evening. You just told them you had an accident and went into labour and then switched off your phone. They’ve been searching all the possible routes from Ikeja to Yaba looking for any cars that had an accident.”
Kike shook her head several times as though to order her thoughts. Her reply came in breathy bursts. “I don’t know where my phone is, I don’t know where anything is. I can’t even think straight, I thought cramps were terrible but this, this is hell.”
“Why didn’t you just go to a hospital?” Panlam asked, not unkindly.
“The man who brought her here said she was in shock.” Everyone turned at the new voice. They’d practically forgotten Farhad’s mother, Mrs Usman was there.
“The taxi she was in before was trying to avoid a collision and careened into a gutter. The man said the other taxi man who was driving her helped her call Saanyol and put her into another car headed for the first address she remembered, which was here. I think her phone fell into the gutter during or after the accident. She obviously fell into it too.”
Tariebi joined them on the rug and tapped Panlam, gesturing that she give way. Panlam reluctantly obliged and Tariebi took her place, immediately checking her pulse and temperature. She turned to Farhad’s mother
“How many hours since her water broke?”
“About three and half.” The woman replied, sighing. “I’ve never seen anyone go into labour so fast.”
Tariebi nodded and turned back to Kike. “You went to an antenatal clinic right?” She waited for Kike’s response, a nod, before she continued. “Then you know what contractions are, thank God. Let’s measure how far apart your contractions are coming.”
The room went silent as Tariebi put a hand on the swell of Kike’s abdomen and waited as they counted the seconds between contractions. About three and a half minutes had passed when they heard noise at the gate and the gateman talking loudly. Panlam sighed in relief when she saw the gateman usher in Louise. Relief turned to horrified surprise as a very bloody Chibuzor came in behind her. The minute Chibuzor saw Tariebi and Kike on the rug he began to hyperventilate. Panlam had to drag him away from Kike’s line of sight and sit him down on one of the living room’s plush sofas, Louise following meekly behind them.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Panlam hissed. “You come in here and start panicking, scaring everyone half to death. And what the hell happened to your clothes? Did you get into an accident too?”
Xhiz huffed. “I wish I was that lucky. But it’s a long story, one I’m not quite ready to tell. Saan left me like a million messages. My phone was off and Louise’s phone was silent. We came as soon as we saw them. What’s wrong with Kike?”
“What do you think? She’s in labour, idiot.”
“Then what is she doing on the floor here instead of being in a hospital bed, and since when did Tariebi become a doctor?” Louise interjected, a little too loudly.
Mrs Usman replied, her voice shaking with indignation. “She got here about thirty minutes ago. She said she’d called Farhad to tell him what happened and that they were coming to get her. The taxi man who brought her said they’d been driving around for nearly two hours because she couldn’t quite articulate where she wanted to go. I’m the only one here with two small boys under five, and as you saw there are no taxis around here after ten pm. It would have been imprudent to leave when I had no certainty of going anywhere.”
“…and my mother’s was an obstetrics nurse, so forgive me oh mighty Louise for knowing a thing or two about pregnancy.” Tariebi finished, glaring over her shoulder at the occupants of the sofa.
She turned back to Kike and spoke to her very gently. “Your contractions are about thirty seconds long, three minutes apart between each contraction. We need to take you to a hospital right away.”
Kike tensed, using all of her will to raise herself to Tariebi’s eye level. “No! I want to wait for Saanyol. I can’t have this baby alone. He was the one who put it inside me; he has to be there to see when it comes out.”
Tariebi shook her head; the anxiety was making Kike irrational. “If we don’t take you to a hospital now, you’ll give birth to this baby right here, on this rug.”
Louise came over to them and took Kike’s hand. “We can go to my family hospital; it’s nearby on the island, just a twenty minute drive from here maximum. I’ll just introduce you as my cousin. I doubt my parents would mind.”
Tariebi gave it a second of thought and shrugged her assent. Saanyol and his pack weren’t coming any time soon and it wasn’t as though they had any other options. Tariebi saw Kike was still sort of adamant so she gestured to Panlam to come help her. Together they raised Kike to her feet and began to lead her to the front entrance of the house. Chechet stayed out of their way, skulking behind Louise and Chibuzor while Farhad’s mother flanked the rear, for once not bothered about covering the mound of curly greyish brown hair that fell down to her back. Kike mumbled something about not being able to find taxis to take them to the hospital and Louise piped up, her squeaky voice annoyingly cheerful, pointing to the dark blue bus parked in the compound.
“Thank God only the space van was available today. It should seat about four if Kike lies in the back.”
Mrs Usman shook her head. “No, you should all go. The girl will need people to hold her in a seated position and ensure she doesn’t get unnecessarily jolted during the ride. The car should take all of you. I’ll stay back with the twins and come with my husband when he arrives.”
Chibuzor nodded and took charge, banishing Chechet into the front seat after giving him a look of utter confusion. He helped the girls carry Kike into the car and sat her between Panlam and Tariebi before taking one of the middle seats while Louise took the other. The driver revved the engine and began to back out before Mrs Usman stopped them.
“Someone please remember to call my son and the others and tell them where you’re going. So they don’t come here in vain.”
Everyone in the bus gave a collective groan. They had all completely forgotten.
Louise was the only one awake, scrolling through the Omoge MuRa September issue when Saanyol and Farhad burst through the front door of the lobby. Everyone else was huddled on the steel benches in the eggshell coloured waiting room, trying to get some sleep. The boys headed for the reception desk, unsure of where to begin their search. Louise closed her phone and shuffled over to meet them, calling their names as loudly as possible without constituting a nuisance.
Farhad and Saanyol had not been spared the frenzy of the day; their identical white kaftans were now overlaid with a patchwork of dust and sweat stains and their eyes were wild with anxiety. They abandoned the bewildered nurse at reception and ran over to Louise and began peppering her with questions.
She tried to reassure them; yes Kike was alright, they’d just missed them wheeling her into the theatre, the accident hadn’t been serious enough to cause any serious injuries even though the doctors feared she might have some pelvic strain. Louise led them to the waiting room where she roused the rest of the gang, deliberately sidestepping Chechet. She wasn’t quite sure why but she didn’t feel she had a right to disturb his sleep. Panlam stood up from her chair and gave each boy a long hug.
“Thank God you both are finally here. Today must have been hell for you.”
“Describe hell, cos today might be worse than that.” Farhad replied as he took a seat. “Between me and Saan, I think we know every single side road that connects Ikeja to Yaba.”
“And meanwhile Madam was just chilling in his house, stopping my baby from coming out.” Saan added sardonically. “And of all the places you could have taken Kike to, you people chose frigging Reddington. Do I look like I have Dangote money?”
Panlam couldn’t suppress her mirth; it was just like Saanyol to always find the twisted humour in the most unpleasant of situations. She let herself sag for a second, looking around the room, observing everyone sitting around, gathered for Kike, an unexpected, and sometimes shaky support. Even she was surprised at how they’d rallied around a friend in need, putting personal beef aside. Her thoughts drifted to Kike and she wondered what it must be like, to be in that position and nothing she could think of quite matched what she’d seen that evening. She didn’t even realise Farhad was talking to her until he tapped her arm.
She started. “Huh?”
“I asked what happened to your face.”
“Oh.” She looked over at Tariebi. “I don’t still don’t quite believe it, but I was this close to getting raped today. I got slapped around a few times and throttled but at least he let me go before he could do any real damage.”
Saanyol shot to his feet. “What the hell?! When did this happen? Where? Who is the asshole?”
Panlam rolled her eyes. Chechet had woken up and was surveying all of them with a morbid curiosity.
“This is frankly not the place or time Saan. Kike’s the only person that we should be agitating about right now, not some idiot who thought he could take advantage of me.”
She rubbed Saanyol’s arm to calm him, her eyes shifting between Tariebi and Chechet, willing them to keep quiet about the details of what happened in Jeremiah Lawson’s hotel room. Tariebi was all too eager to abide and she nudged Chechet with her knee to make sure he was on the same page. She could tell it wasn’t over; Panlam had this look, now that the initial franticness was gone, she was beginning to wonder what she and Chechet were doing in the hotel room in the first place. She pushed away her worry, the time would come for that and when it did, she’d handle it. She was grateful when distraction came in the form of Chibuzor and his bloody shirt.
“Today wasn’t as bad as it was long overdue.” He said quietly. All attention moved from Panlam and refocused on him. It was then Tariebi noticed that Louise had been shadowing him all night.
“What’s up with him Louise?” She asked. “You guys came together from wherever it is you went. What happened there?”
Louise made a face. “He finally met Dexter.”
At that everyone perked. Farhad picked the thread. “What do you mean met Dexter? The Dexter that’s Lawrence and Pandorus and Luminous and all the other alter-egos?”
Louise nodded. “Everything sorta happened at the party Chibuzor convinced me to follow him to.”
“What is the great thing that happened?” Tariebi asked, curiosity getting the better of her.
Louise sighed. “He asked me not to talk about it but if you want an idea, not a drop of that blood on Chibuzor’s shirt and trousers is his.”
Panlam leaned over and reappraised Chibuzor’s clothes. There was a fair amount of blood on him, enough to soak through the fabric and drip onto the front of the pants. If the blood belonged to one person, then that person was probably in terrible shape. She’d never imagined Chibuzor as a violent person, that was an oversight she would have to correct, along with her overestimation of her capacity to get out of sticky situations. If she’d been more careful, running into her brother in the company of the least likely people in the universe wouldn’t have caught her so unaware. She turned to Farhad and Saanyol, casually noting that Chechet seemed to have disappeared from his place by Tariebi’s side. The sneaky, conniving… she would have to reconcile that situation later. It definitely wasn’t over. Not by a longshot.
“We’ve told you guys about our shitty days. So your turn, what stupid thing did you guys do, cos I know in my soul that Saanyol did something spectacularly stupid to push Kike into unexpected labour. Oya spill.”
Saanyol bent his head to hide a sheepish grin as Farhad cackled.
“Oh, Saanyol takes the cake. He basically tried to get Kike to accept an arranged marriage.”
Panlam’s eyes went wide. “What do you mean arranged marriage?”
Farhad howled. “He basically arranged the traditional introduction and brought both families together without Kike’s knowledge, then surprised all of us with the fact that Kike actually had never agreed to marry him. In his own words, ‘we’re having a kid together; it’s only natural that if I propose she’ll say yes.’.”
“Oh Saanyol.” Panlam sighed. “Forever the sanctimonious prick.”
“I was only trying to be romantic. This is why I’m a ‘take what I want’ guy, because romance is lost on you people. If I was…”
The words dried in Saanyol’s throat when he spotted a man in pale green scrubs walking briskly over to them. As a group they stood to welcome the man as he reached them. The man smiled when he saw Louise and waved her over for a hug. It was only then it became certain he was the doctor in charge of Kike.
“Who’s the father of the child?”
Saanyol pushed his way to the fore. “I am.”
The man frowned. “Where are your parents and the girl’s legal guardian?”
“We’re both above 18 and legal but our parents will be coming in the morning, they had a very traumatic evening so I made sure they went home to rest. Did something happen? Should I ask them to come?”
The man raised his glasses above his brow and rubbed his eyes. “No that won’t be necessary. Your…”
“Girlfriend.” Everyone responded at almost the same time.
“Ah, girlfriend. Your girlfriend was safely delivered of a child about twenty minutes ago. It turns out on examination, her labour had actually started this morning but she had dismissed the early contractions as cramps. She and the baby are ready to see visitors and please don’t ask the baby’s sex, I promised I’d let her tell you herself.”
The private ward was sunshine yellow with little suns painted on the walls, the bed sat in the centre of the room with a bassinet to her left and a drawer the height of the bed frame to her right. Everyone was huddled around the bed, beaming at a glowing Kike as she held the newborn to her breast. He was fair like Saanyol’s mother and had pink square fingers that poked out its swaddling and clutched Saanyol’s pinkie finger. Saanyol’s grin split his face in two as he watched.
“We have a boy, if it’s not obvious from how aggressively he’s suckling. I’m going to have sore breasts for the next two years.”
Saanyol turned to Farhad and pulled him into a bear hug. “You better thank me oh; I just gave you a nephew to spoil. Me, you and our little nigga.”
Kike gave them a wry smile. “See these ones, I always wanted a son. I don’t have strength to be plaiting anybody abeg.”
Saanyol raised an eyebrow. “Yeah right.”
Kike removed the baby from her breast and burped him. She made to hand him over to Saanyol but he declined, still grinning widely. “Let someone else hold him, I’m in no hurry. After all, I get to take him home.”
Kike rolled her eyes and turned to Panlam. Panlam blushed and leaned forward so Kike could put the baby in the crook of her arms, smiling as Panlam drew the baby close and nuzzled his tiny nose. She’d never seen any of her friends this soft and mushy, let alone all of them at once. Maybe having a baby really changes a person and the people around them. Louise and Tariebi hurried over to Panlam’s side and together the girls cooed and giggled while Kike rested her arms and back.
“Thanks. To all of you.” She said out of the blue. “I know we’ve had our falling outs this last year and there’ve been periods where I wasn’t sure where I stood with some of you but today, you guys were there for me, in a way I’d never thought I’d need you.”
She looked around the room at the all faces grinning so hard they looked like chipmunks and felt peace. No matter what happened, she’d always remember today and remember she was always among friends.
“Panlam, can Chibuzor carry the baby for a bit?”
Chibuzor met Kike’s gaze to check if she was sure, then quietly crossed over to where Panlam stood. He quietly thanked his stars he’d taken the doctor’s advice and changed his shirt just before he came in. Panlam showed him how to crook his arm and passed on the baby and hovered beside him just in case. That brought another smile to Kike’s lips.
“You guys don’t even understand how cute you both look. Panlam, Chibuzor, I want you guys to be my kid’s godparents. I think you both know why.”
Chibuzor felt Panlam put a hand around his shoulder and squeeze and he felt a blush rise from the pit of his stomach. He didn’t need to say he accepted because Kike knew he would, and he knew why she chose him. The rest of the gang circled around congratulating the new god parents while they fussed over the newborn.
“So what are we naming the baby?” Farhad asked, to no one in particular.
Kike stroked the sleeping boy’s head. “His names are Saanyol Adeola Olasinde Terwase; Saan after his big headed father cos this one has always wanted a junior, kept making noise about his name being unisex if we had a girl. Adeola after Farhad’s dad and Olasinde so he never forgets who his mother’s father’s people are.”
Saanyol leaned over and raised Kike’s chin so she met his eyes.
“I love you, mama Adeola.”
“Idiot!” she replied laughing as she raised herself up to meet his lips. “I love you too, baba Adeola. But you know this is just the beginning of our forever.”
“I know. I know.”