TELLING your parents you’re dying would be way easier than telling them you’re getting a divorce, Kristi realised the next morning when she decided to brave it and face off the bull.
“You want to what?” Her mother first reacted, her expression utterly disbelieving.
And Kristi swallowed the sigh that tickled her throat. “I want to begin a divorce process between Levi and I.” Then she added in case they’d missed the explanation she offered before announcing ‘the shocking’. “We’ve been apart a year, eleven months now. That’s nearly two years and there’s no sign we’re getting back together.”
“What do you mean there’s no sign you two are getting back together when you both have just inherited the restaurant and are to manage it together?” Her mother demanded. “What better sign is there than that that you two should get back together?”
“That Mama was trying to bring us back together in that way doesn’t mean she has succeeded, or would do so, Mum.” Patience, yes, that what she needed. Loads of it. “We will do our best for the restaurant, but we both have a right to move on with our lives.”
“Is this something you want or has something prompted you to make this decision?” Her father, Obinna Nnadi, asked in his often quiet voice.
Her father rarely raised his voice. He was more often calm and quiet than anything else. He’d worked all his career in the State’s civil service until his retirement and has lived most of his life and brought up his four children in the commercial city of Lagos. He might be a quiet man though, but he wasn’t one who tolerated nonsense. And nonsense would be anything he didn’t approve of.
Like a divorce, Kristi thought and shifted her eyes to meet his. “Dad, if we were going to resolve this and be together again surely we would have done so all this time?”
“Answer my question and do not ask me one in turn just to evade it.” Obinna Nnadi reproved.
Her mouth twitched but Kristi stilled the desire to laugh. This wasn’t an amusing matter. “I’m just saying, dad, that I think we have both wasted enough of our time.” She could mention the woman in Levi’s life, but she didn’t want to. “I am a woman and time passes for me. I can’t go on putting my life on hold for a marriage that has probably ended long ago. I have the right to live a full and fruitful life, dad. I have the right to have a family of my own.”
“That is true, you have that right. You both do.” Obinna Nnadi agreed and gave his bald head a nod. “But you can live a fruitful life and have a family with Levi. He’s still your husband, Ifekristi. That you have been living apart almost two years doesn’t change that fact.”
Only her father, and her late paternal grandmother, used her full name. “That Levi hasn’t made a move to reconcile us probably is reason to change that fact, dad.”
“Not because you have forgotten, for I’m sure you have not, but let me remind you that the man tried twice but you were the one rejecting a reconciliation.”
“He came when the pain of what he did was still fresh in my heart, dad. I was hurt and justifiably angry.” Kristi responded quietly. “But over time that pain and anger have sort of faded and if he still wanted us back together, he would have tried again, not given up.”
“I agree with you that by now Levi should have come back again to seek reconciliation with you. I have even started to think lately that maybe our choosing to not butt into this matter as your parents has not helped matters at all.” There was a slight pensive frown on his face. “We considered that you were both adults and should be left to resolve your private matters. But maybe an interference from us would have made a difference.”
“I don’t want a reconciliation forced by our parents and not one we both want.” A man should fight for his woman and not because he was forced to. “If Levi still wanted a marriage with me, I think he would have come back to seek a resolution. But he didn’t—hasn’t because he probably wants an end to this marriage.”
“Probability is not certainty, Ifekristi.” Her father said. “I know your heart has not found somewhere else to rest.” His eyes studied hers and when hers did not flinch, he dipped a satisfied nod. “I think you should be patient. Just a little more. Do not make a hasty decision out of impatience. I know that divorce is now a fling of the hand in this day and age, but it is not something we want for you. And I doubt it is something you want for yourself. A little more patience, and if nothing changes, then by all means, we will support you in doing what you have to do.”
“But you don’t have to wait idly as you have been doing in the last many months.” Her mother waited until she looked at her before she gave her eyebrows a meaningful twitch. “Yes, a woman doesn’t have to play the inactive role in these matters. It’s your marriage, your life as you pointed out, so do something other than just waiting. And I think your mother-in-law handed you a baton in making you a part owner of the restaurant, run with that baton to the finish line.”
“And what if the finish line ahead of Levi and I is not the one we foresee?” Kristi queried.
“Maybe it won’t be. Maybe it will be. But make a move this time, don’t just wait.” Her mother said.
Make a move. But what move? Kristi wondered and wasn’t even sure if she agreed with her parents to be a little more patient and less inactive in this matter.
HE told himself he came to the restaurant to check on a business that was now half his responsibility, but Levi knew better, only he wasn’t ready to loudly acknowledge the thing he knew better.
He strode in through the back door, found the chef inside and this time with his kitchen assistant, Lance.
“It’s the boss himself. Good evening, Levi.” He hailed from the counter.
“Good evening, Cheta.” Why the man made him feel like he always needed an extra minute to compose himself, Levi could not fathom. Or he could, if he chose to ponder on it.
“Good evening, Uncle Levi.” Lance, somewhere in his early twenties, aimed a quick smile at him.
Since it was easier to do, he focused on the young man. “Evening, Lance. How are you today? And hey, how’s your mum? All better?” He’d taken a few days off to attend to his sick mother. So, Kristi had told him.
“She is, thank you, sir. She was discharged from the hospital yesterday.” Lance replied.
“That’s good to hear, Lance.”
“Yes, sir.” Lance beamed another smile before he went back to the local spices he was pounding inside the small mortar.
“Hmm.” Feeling better in control, Levi turned his gaze back on Cheta. He was slicing vegetable leaves with an effortless swiftness that ticked off an involuntary admiration. “So, chef, how’s it going this evening?”
“Busy in the kitchen, good business out there in the dining hall.” Cheta tossed him a smile before he grabbed a fresh batch of pumpkin leaves and resumed same fluid movements with his hand and knife. “How’s your own end of business?”
“Good.” He slipped his hands into his pockets, tipped up and down his toes. “How’s Chioma doing?” His cousin, a couple of times removed, had been hired as a waitress after the few weeks allowed her to recover from the loss.
Kristi had taken care of it as his mother had wanted.
“Wonderful. You wouldn’t know she’s only been a waitress for one week by the way she’s slipped into it. Kristi says she’s a natural and that she is.” Cheta shot a grin, emptied his chopping board and started on another batch of leaves. “Kristi thinks though that she should take some cooking courses and I quite agree. The girl’s a fine hand when it comes to baking. Kristi would coach her, of course, but a formal training and certificate helps.”
If the man said Kristi one more time and in that over easy tone, his ears might flare up in flame. “I’m sure that’s a good plan. And Kristi, where is she?”
“In the office, handling paperwork, I’m sure.” Cheta said. “And oh,” he patted his hand on his apron and reached across the table for a sheet of paper. “Could you pass this to her, please? I need her manager’s stamp and approval on it.”
Levi took the white sheet with bold scrawled writing. “You could get my manager’s stamp and approval on it too. But I will just pass it on to Kristi.”
“Oh well, thanks.” Cheta shot that quick grin.
“Yeah.” Levi gave a nod, started for the door, strode down the corridor and gave the office door a single rap.
“Come in.” Kristi invited.
Then said when he walked in. “Oh, I was expecting Cheta.”
“Were you?” He didn’t ground his teeth and Levi mentally applauded himself. “Well, it’s just me. But I have here from him this paper for your stamp and approval.”
Kristi glanced down at the paper he handed over. “It’s his shopping list. Thanks. I’ll drill him over it though before I give that stamp and approval. He shouldn’t get it easy just because I’m not Mama.” She chuckled, gestured to a chair. “Won’t you sit? How are you?”
“Good.” He sat, crossed his legs and studied her. “You’ve had your hair re-styled.” She rarely used extensions, but when she did, she favoured short bobs, like now.
“Oh yes.” She gingerly touched the hair at the nape of her neck. “I figured I was due for a different look.”
“Suits you.” It did. The side part and feathery edges gave her face a softer, more delicate look.
“Thanks.” She smiled, then tilted her head to the side in a thoughtful pose. “Would you like me to update you on business this past week?”
“Maybe later.” He wanted himself updated on the restaurant but now, he just wanted to talk with her and not about business. “How was your training session with Ima?”
“It wasn’t really a training session.” Kristi laughed and felt a tickle in her tummy at the grin that spread around his mouth. She’d missed that tickle. Missed that teasing smile on his face. “But it was fun. She was eager to learn and did learn fast as she tried her hand on a cupcake and it came out right, not dry at all. We had ourselves a lovely time. I think Tekena struck gold with his choice of wife this time. I mean I haven’t known her long but you have this right feeling about her. Unlike Jade who gave me bad vibes I just couldn’t explain.”
“I completely agree with you. Tekena got lucky this time. Ima suits him to the tee. I think they will go the long haul.”
“Yes, some marriages work, some don’t.” She kept her eyes on his, on the light of laughter in the almost black depth. “That’s life, we don’t always get it right the first time. Levi,” she deliberately paused, saw the flicker, the caution slink behind the laughter. “I think it’s time we move forward on this. I want to begin processes for a divorce.”
“Why not?” It wasn’t the first response she expected, so her limp shrug wasn’t entirely contrived. “We’ve been apart for nearly two years and we’re not getting any younger. Which certainly does not favour me. We should move on, not hold each other back. And if you are worried about the restaurant, I can assure…”
“I’m not.” Levi interrupted her, tucked back the rising disquiet. “We’ve established that you’re needed here at the restaurant and that we will figure things out later. What I’m asking is why now, after all this time?”
“I think it’s time we move on. We’re stuck in one place, Levi. We have been for too long. You have the right to go on living, I have same right, so let’s do something and not just pause our lives infinitely.”
Levi stared at her. His heartbeat had gone unsteady. “So, you want a divorce?”
“I’m a woman, Levi. I need to do something with myself.”
“Oh.” He searched his head, for something to say. What to tell her. No clear thought formed. “We shouldn’t act hastily.”
“Hastily?” Kristi laughed and the amusement was genuine. “Levi, it’s almost two years, that’s not impulsive. That’s slow; too slow.”
“Maybe.” He needed to think. He needed to gather his scrambled thoughts, put them together and know what to do. What he wanted to do. “But let’s just think about it. Talk about it later. I’ve got to run.” He shuffled to his feet. “Don’t, uh, do anything until we talk, please?”
Kristi gave her shoulders a casual tug. “Okay. Until we talk again then.”
“Yeah. Uhm, I’ll call you.” Levi gave a nod, turned and scampered out of the office, his head whirling.
SO, she’d made a move, spooked Levi and was now left wondering, what next?
“I told Levi I wanted to begin processes of our divorce.” She casually said it, her eyes on Cheta as he covered with sauce the dozen medium size croaker fish he was prepping to grill.
“Really? And what did he say?”
Kristi snorted. “And why are you not taking me seriously?”
“Because you love this man, Kristi.” Cheta aimed her a meaningful stare, picked up the oven tray he had the fishes set on, strode to the oven he’d already set to heat and slid it in. “You love him, have waited all this time for him to come to his senses, so it’s not a divorce you want. It’s him grovelling at your feet and gnashing his teeth for his many days of folly.”
“Why, that’s not a bad image. I can almost see it.” She grinned. “Anyway, I don’t know if I shouldn’t have meant it. Maybe somewhere in my subconscious, I do mean it. I can’t stand in this one place anymore, Cheta. I’m taking treatment for PCOS and it’s not exactly an act just to commune with doctors and drugs. I want a baby. I want a man. I need a man. Heck, I need sex. I’ve not had sex in one year, eleven months and a good many days… plus nights too.”
“Thank God the kids have gone home. I’d hate to ruin their innocence.” Cheta sighed and then grinned at her ferocious glare. “Hey, I get you. Yours truly have not had sex in months. Not as long as you, uh-uh. That’s dangerously way too long.”
“Really?” Kristi regarded him curiously. Cheta could be close-mouthed about his love life most times. “Wow, I didn’t know you are celibate.”
“Yeah, no woman and no personal interest in casual sex.” Cheta shrugged, returned to the counter and lowered beside her. “Anyway, we’re not talking about me. This about you and your desperation to have sex and a baby.” He evaded her jab with a laugh. “So, how did he take it?”
“He asked me why now, then said we shouldn’t act hastily and bolted.” Kristi frowned. “All of that could mean anything. He didn’t look like he liked my talk of a divorce but maybe that’s just initial reaction borne out of shock. Maybe he wants a divorce but is just shocked that it’s finally going to happen.”
“Okay, that kind of thinking you’ve got going on there is coming from where?”
“He came over here with his mistress. And yes, I like the term ‘mistress’.” Kristi defended with a scowl. “He introduced us. He introduced me, his wife, to the new woman in his life.”
“He introduced you to a woman. He didn’t say anything about her being his mistress or the new woman in his life.”
“He didn’t say anything about me being his wife either.” Kristi snapped, not mollified. “He didn’t say, ‘meet Kristi, my wife, Zikora.’”
“Zikora. I kind of like her name.”
“Really? You like her name?”
At the fierce stare she shot him, Cheta flipped up his hands. “No. No, I don’t like her or her name. Does that make you feel better?”
“No. Nothing about this makes me feel better.” Since she was aggravated, Kristi hissed. “He brought her here, where I can see her, and she had the nerve to stake her territory.”
“She has no territory on Levi to stake.”
“Well, she did stake it. She got up, drew closer to him and put her hand through his. That’s like telling me: ‘hey, he is with me now.’” It had burned then. It had burned but pride and dignity wouldn’t permit her to react. “And you know what? She’s right. He’s with her now, not me. I’m not in his home, I don’t have his heart… heck, I don’t even have his body.” And she bet Zikora had his body, Kristi thought and suffered a sting of jealousy.
“Ah, we’re back to sex. You need to get that itchy need out of your system.”
“I want to, believe me.” Wired, her eyes flashed. “But I’m married and just can’t go around grabbing men and jumping on their dick to get off.”
His mouth twitched, but Cheta was wise enough not to laugh. “I wasn’t actually thinking men but the man. But, let’s focus on the real issue here. I don’t think Levi wants a divorce. I really don’t. For one thing, he would have pressed for it or initiated if he did. Secondly, I get this feeling like he sees me as a rival. Not like some threatening or even real rival. But this undercurrent vibe and silent objection beneath the smiles and easy conversations that sort of hint at him not liking me too close to his wife. And it wasn’t there before. I met him thrice while you were still together and he was completely friendly, no hidden resentments. It’s a man’s thing; his way of staking his territory. And Kristi, that says to me that this man is not looking to divorce you.”
“So, he’s resenting you being close to me, huh? Good. It doesn’t hurt for him to think that other men can want me.” Kristi sniffed, then let out a sigh. “Frankly, this is not about Zikora or him coming here with her. I’ve no illusions he’s had women in his life since our separation and although that stings, I’m not naïve enough to make a fight out of it.”
She frowned as she looked down at her finger where her rings dimly glinted. “I just want to move on with my life, Cheta. I admit it, I love this man and I would rather things do not end forever between us. But I don’t want to be where I’m not wanted. He’s got to fight for me; to prove to me that he wants us back together. He has to want our marriage too and do something to put it back in place. He hurt me, Cheta. He hurt me deeply and he has to show me that he’s sorry for that and won’t hurt me in that way ever again. That is what I want. But if I can’t get it, then I guess we will both have to part ways permanently.”
“I don’t think it will come to that. I’m no romantic, but I like to think that you two will make it at the end.” Cheta gave her arm a soothing rub. “But, you’ve made the first move, so now you wait for him to make his own.”
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