The feel of warm mist against Titilope’s earlobe woke her up. She opened her eyes and saw T.J.
“Mom, we’re leaving,” he said.
Titilope lifted her head and frowned when she saw a hairspray smudge on the textbook page. She’d borrowed the book from their public library.
“Are you okay?” T.J. asked.
She forced a smile. “Yes, sweetie.”
T.J. grinned when she reached out and rubbed his head. He was going to spend the night at his brother’s. “Did you bring down your backpack?”
He slapped his forehead. “I forgot.”
She covered a big yawn. “Go and get it.”
Tomide, who’d been looking through his wallet, spoke up after T.J. left the room. “Madam, is this how you to intend to study?”
Her CPA certification exams were only a week away. She still had lots of material to cover. “I keep nodding off.”
Tomide gave her a thoughtful look. “Abi, you’ve swallowed a cockroach?”
Her stomach turned as she imagined the despised insect sliding down her throat. “What kind of person eats a cockroach?”
Tomide chuckled. “I forgot you’re an ajebutter city girl.”
She pushed back her chair and stood. “Here we go again with the sob stories. Like you didn’t eat butter as a child?”
“Me? Who dash monkey banana? I’m just wondering if you’re pregnant.”
The thought of a baby made Titilope’s heart skip. Her periods were out of sync, and she had developed a craving for Brussels sprouts. She had thought it was all due to stress.
Her eyes settled on Tomide’s calm face. While he seemed fine with the thought of a second child, for her, it would be a major disaster.
Tomide slid his wallet into his pocket. “Take a walk around the neighbourhood. The fresh air might clear your head.”
Her hands shook as she packed her books. “I’ll do that.”
After Tomide and T.J. had left the house, she grabbed her purse, walked over to their neighbourhood pharmacy and bought five pregnancy test kits.
Behind the locked bathroom door, she dipped the fifth test wand in the urine-filled container, set it down on the counter and waited for the required three minutes. She got the same beautiful result. Not pregnant. Shaky, Titilope rested her back against the countertop.
“Titilope, where are you?”
The sound of Tomide’s voice sent her into panic mode. She shoved the boxes and wrappers into a plastic bag and hid it under the sink. “I’m in the bathroom.”
“I need to talk to you,” Tomide said from the other side of the door.
What could he want? “I’m almost done.”
“Okay. I’ll be in the living room.”
Titilope flushed the toilet and took some calming breaths before she washed her hands and face. After a quick look in the mirror, she hurried to the living room. “Hey.”
Seated on the couch, Tomide turned away from the television. “Kazeem called during my drive back home. The crazy man’s throwing a surprise fortieth birthday party for his wife. I told him we’d attend.”
It wasn’t the first time Tomide had confirmed their attendance at an event without discussing it with her. If she dared to make such a commitment, it would be war. “Okay.”
Tomide peered at her face. “Are you okay?”
The adrenaline rush she’d experienced at the sound of his voice had left her covered in sweat. “I think I need a proper nap.”
Tomide shook his head. “What you need to do is study. We can’t afford another repeat exam.”
Based on how her textbook sentences merged and mutated into random information, failure was a scary possibility.
“I won’t need one.” Her shaky voice suggested otherwise.
“I hope so. Before I forget, the boys are coming to watch a game later in the day. I checked, and there wasn’t anything interesting in the fridge.”
Titilope’s anger rose as she shifted from one foot to the other. During basketball season, the boys, Tomide’s friends, watched most of the games at their house. “You can order pizza and chicken wings,” she said.
Tomide winked. “Not when they know there’s a five-star cook in the house.”
She loved to cook. It relaxed her. She just didn’t like how Tomide invited anybody who was looking for somewhere to go over so he could play generous host at her expense.
“There’s nothing wrong with you making a meal for your friends.”
“You’re funny.” He picked up the television remote. “Go and take your nap. I’ll wake you in an hour.”
Titilope stood for a minute as she debated what to do. A strategic back door escape to the library or kitchen duties?
“Time’s going,” Tomide said.
She glared at him for several minutes before she stomped her way to the bedroom. One day, he was going to push her too far.
Titilope pulled the new firefighter bedding set out of its plastic bag. It matched T.J.’s fire-engine red bed.
T.J.’s deep brown eyes lit up as she shook it. “That’s cool,” he said.
She smiled. Cool was his new favourite word. “I’m glad you like it.”
T.J., who’d had been putting away his folded clothes came over and gave her a hug. “Thanks, Mom.”
She took a deep breath as her arms tightened around his little body. She was doing some things right. “You’re welcome, my love. I also bought some snacks. Go and get your bin.”
After she had restocked his emergency food bin, she decided that they’d done enough work for the evening. It was a school night.
T.J. had brushed his teeth before she tucked him in bed. “Sleep tight. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.”
T.J. laughed. “Dad said bedbugs couldn’t live here. They don’t have money.”
Tomide wasn’t a fan of moochers. “You know your father. Rent payers only.”
“But, I don’t pay rent,” T.J said.
“You don’t need to. Your hugs and kisses are more valuable than money.” She rubbed his head before she switched off his bedroom light and closed the door. She had a few things to do before she could go to bed.
Titilope packed their lunch bags with snack items, made sandwiches, wiped down the kitchen counters and loaded the dishwasher before she headed outside. On her way in, she’d neglected to check the mailbox.
The lone piece of mail in the box had her name on it. Her pulse quickened when she saw that it came from the Maryland State Board of Public Accountancy.
Back inside their brick townhouse, she tore open the envelope, read the letter and danced her way from the foyer to the living room. “Tomide!”
He came up from his basement man cave. “What’s going on?”
She held out the letter. “I passed my exams.”
Tomide had scanned through the document before he gave her a tight hug. “I’m getting closer to early retirement and a house husband role.”
She stepped back for a clearer view of his face. “You, a house husband?”
Tomide grinned. “I’ll be quite content to stay home to clean and cook while you make the big bucks. Bye-bye, nine to five. Hello, a life of luxury.”
Mr. Husband certainly had an interesting view about what she did all day. “Did you just say clean and cook?”
Tomide nodded. “You these abroad women always make housework sound so complicated. You have a dishwasher, a washing machine, uninterrupted water, and light. Your counterparts back home have way less, and they don’t disturb their men.”
What Tomide failed to recognize was that women back home in Nigeria often had helpers. “Your last visit to Lagos was eight or nine years ago? Bros, life has changed.”
Tomide snickered. “The truth is God equipped men and women for different tasks. Before you carry a protest placard with my name stamped on it, remember that nature decided that. And the sooner you and your gang of angry women accept that, the better for us all.”
Her teeth clenched as she swallowed her words. It wasn’t the night for an argument.
As she tried to move away, Tomide swung his arm around her shoulders. “This calls for a celebration. Is there a particular restaurant the newly board certified accountant wants to visit?”
“I’ll think about it. Right now, all I want is a long bath and two glasses of wine before I snuggle inside my one-piece flannel pajamas.”
Tomide scowled. “That onesie of yours is a romance killer.”
Titilope kept a straight face. That was why she wore the pajamas.
He pulled her close. “There’s wine in the upstairs mini fridge. And I’m quite good with a loofah sponge. If you find my service helpful, perhaps I can influence your nightwear choice?”
She lifted her chin. “You’ll have to use some top-notch persuasive skills.”
He pointed to the staircase. “I like a challenge. After you, madam.”
Yejide Kilanko was born in Ibadan, Nigeria. She is a writer of poetry, fiction, and a therapist in children’s mental health. Yejide’s debut novel, Daughters Who Walk This Path, was published in 2012. Her second book, Chasing Butterflies, is forthcoming. Yejide lives with her family in Ontario, Canada. Please visit www.yejidekilanko.com