CHETA set the plate of food on the tray and took a plastic bottle of Schweppes out of the refrigerator. “I’ll settle my bill later.” He said to Duke and turned back into the kitchen.

“Lance, the kitchen is under your watch for the next half hour. I’m taking my break.”

“Okay, Chef.”

He strode out of the kitchen and down the corridor that led to her office, to Kristi’s and to the large storeroom at the end of the corridor. This was third day in a row she was staying cooped up in her office and it has started to worry him.

He knocked on her office door and opened. “Hey, Accountant, brought you lunch.”

Fejiro looked up from the sales transactions she was documenting. “Fries and chicken, plus a drink? I can’t afford the expenses, Chef. I’ve run over my budget this month already.”

“The fries are free, you know that. The chicken and drink are on me, and for you to eat with no arguments.” Since there was only the one chair she was sitting on, he set the tray down on desk and folded his arms across his chest. “So, what gives?”

“What gives with what?” Fejiro picked up the tray of food. She hadn’t been thinking of eating, but now there was food in front of her, she felt hungry. “By the way, thanks for this.”

“You’re welcome.” Deciding he could perch on the desk, Cheta went around the side of the desk, shifted aside some files and sat. “What gives with you. You’ve been quiet and very busy in here the last two days. Something is going on, so what is it?”

“Nothing is going on.”

“Fej, talk to me. I’m your friend.”

Fejiro opened the drink, took a sip and set the tray back on the desk. “I think I should be committed in a mental institution.”

Cheta nodded. “Okay, why?”

She looked at him. There was concern on his face. One he wasn’t feigning. But she still felt so ashamed, so disgusted with herself. “I acted stupidly. Irrationally. I acted like an idiot. I don’t know what I was thinking. No, I wasn’t thinking at all. I was just… stupid.”

“What happened, Fej?”

“I slept with him.” She squeezed her eyes shut at the fresh feeling of shame. “I had sex with him at the end of our second date and without protection.”

Her face was covered with humiliation and regret. “Sorry.” He said quietly.

“I am stupid, Cheta.” Fejiro opened her eyes. “What kind of a woman sleeps with a man she’s not married to these days without protection? What sane, intelligent woman does that? It wasn’t even as if we were carried away by lust and couldn’t help ourselves. No, he asked me. He confessed he had no condom and I didn’t have any, and he asked me to let him make love to me without condom and I said yes. I said yes to unprotected sex and with a man I don’t know his status.”

She let out a dry laugh. “Well, he did assure me that he was HIV negative and had no infections. But what kind of assurance is that where there’s no proof? And why did I even risk it knowing HIV is not the only sexually transmitted disease to worry about? Gosh, Cheta, what is wrong with me?”

“Nothing.” Cheta took the paper napkin on the tray and handed it to her. “Nothing is wrong with you. You only acted human.”

“I acted like an idiot.” Fejiro hissed and pressed the napkin to her face to wipe off her tears. “A stupid idiot. I know it’s unbelievable, but really I’m not the kind of woman to sleep with a guy just after two dates. I’m not. And I’ve never had unprotected sex.”

“Once in a while we do something crazy we can’t even explain. It happens to all of us.”

“Risky sex shouldn’t happen to me. I’m an adult, an enlightened woman. I should know better.”

“Yeah, but the thing with the brain is that it sometimes stops functioning when feelings overwhelm it. Come on, stop beating yourself up over this.” Cheta soothed. “I know word of mouth is no guarantee, but it’s likely he spoke the truth and is negative. The guy I saw that Saturday didn’t look like he’s HIV positive.”

E no dey show for face. Haven’t you heard that, Chef?”

“I have. But that was just my weak attempt to get you to stop worrying.”

“I know.” Fejiro sighed. “I also know that being positive is not the end of one’s life. But I don’t want to be HIV positive, Cheta. I don’t want this to change my life. I’ve always been so careful about this. It’s one of the reasons I favour braiding to fixing hair extensions, just so to eliminate the use of needles. And now, what did I go and do? Have sex with a man and because I was too horny to say no. Stupid!”

“Human.” Cheta countered. “Yes, not the wisest thing to do and… well, stupid actually. But we act stupid because we are human. No one is above acting stupid, at least once.”

“Well, this stupid human has to wait a month, or so, to determine what her stupidity has earned her.”

“It’s going to be all right, Fej.”

“I hope so. At least, in that area. But I don’t know about other areas.”

“What other areas?”

Fejiro shrugged, picked up the tray and resumed eating.

“Fej, what else is wrong?” Cheta frowned.

“I don’t know if anything is wrong or if I’m being paranoid.” She raised her gaze to meet his. “I was being honest when I said that I am not the kind of woman to sleep with a man after only two dates. That wasn’t a fib to exonerate me of any guilt or responsibility.”

“I know you were being honest.”

“You do?”

“Yes. I think you’re one of the most honest persons I know.”

“Oh.” Fejiro blinked. “Thank you.”

“Go on with the other thing troubling you, Fej.”

She nodded, lowered her gaze. “Um, the thing is he’s been acting weird since that night. Actually, he’s at Accra at the moment. He has a job there—a wardrobe manager deal for a movie. Anyway, the next day after we, uh, had sex, he travelled to Accra and only sent a text message. Usually he calls, but he sent a text. And yesterday, he sounded like he was in a hurry when he called.”

It has been killing her; making her feel worse.

“This is someone who kept saying how much he’s going to miss me. Now, he’s sort of aloof. I tell myself maybe the schedule is hectic and he’s overworked, but I don’t know. Something’s wrong and the only thing I can think of is that he probably has started thinking me having sex with him like that says a lot about me.”

“It says a lot about him too. It was two of you there, not just you.”

“That’s a gallant thing to say, Cheta. But we both know that in matters like this, the woman is judged, not the man.”

“Well, I don’t believe in such double standards. And I don’t think a man who cares about a woman would start thinking less of her because they had sex—first, second or whatever number of dates after.” Cheta retorted. “You should stop worrying about this; about both issues. He’s going to be back in no time and you two will go back to your lovey-dovey romantic nonsenses.”

Before this mess, the last part would have amused her. “He’s going to be gone about three weeks. After Accra, their crew is going to Johannesburg for at least ten days.”

“Wow, he has an interesting job. Can you believe I’ve never been to Accra?”

“Me too. My exit out of this country was only to Cotonou and that was many years ago when my aunt took me along on one of her business trips.”

“You’ve been to Cotonou, I haven’t. That’s one for you, zero for me. Sad.”

Fejiro managed a smile. “Thank you. Thank you for coming in here to cheer me up. And if this blows up in my face, you have my green light to tell me, ‘I told you so.’”

“I will keep that in mind.” Cheta heaved to his feet. “The chef is going back to his kitchen. Stop hiding here. Come out, we miss our cheerful, optimistic Fejiro.”

“You miss her even when she drives you crazy?”

“That’s exactly why I miss her. My life’s been feeling too sane the last two days and it’s starting to bore me.”

She chuckled. “Be prepared then, because crazy is coming back and lots of it.”

“Can’t wait.” Cheta grinned.

But after he left her office, his worry for her remained, and because he had the unsettling feeling that she might have real reasons to be unhappy in the near future.

FEJIRO endured another three days of his aloofness and then confronted him on a late evening’s telephone conversation.

“What is going on, Kane? Why are you all of a sudden distant?”

He didn’t respond. Not for at least twenty seconds.

Then he said in a tone he tried to make jovial. “Nothing’s wrong, Fejiro. It’s just the job. You have never been on a movie location, it’s exhausting. Wardrobe changes, take, retake—it’s so repetitive. Nothing ever happens once. I’m sorry I’ve been neglectful.”

“You sure it’s just the job, Kane, and not something else?”

There was again a short pause before he replied. “Just the job, like I said. We’re on a tight schedule and everything here’s hectic. I, um, have to go now. There’s a crew meeting in a few minutes. We will talk again. When I can make the time.” He hastily added. “Take care of you.”

Then he hung up.

Fejiro dropped her phone on the bed and stretched out beside it. Should she believe him even when he didn’t sound believable? Oh heavens, what has she allowed to happen to her?

Feeling the desperation to cry, she closed her eyes and tried to think of something else.

BUT being HIV negative or having a man treat her negligently soon became the least of Fejiro’s worries. Her period had been late for three days and she worked up the courage to buy a home pregnancy test kit.

It came out positive.

Fejiro had started to dial Ima’s number before she recalled that she and Tekena travelled to Yenagoa for a family event.

“Oh my God! What am I going to do?”

She stared blindly into space for a minute before turning to stagger into the bathroom.

She bathed and dressed up without being completely aware of what she was doing. Then she took her handbag and left the house. All the way to the restaurant, she tried to keep her mind blank, so she wouldn’t succumb to the temptation to cry.

She walked in through the back door.

“Hey, Fej. Slept late today, did you?”

She didn’t stop. Not even when he called her name again.

Her hand trembled as she knocked on Kristi’s office door.

“Come in.”

She stepped inside, closed the door and started crying.

“My goodness, Fejiro, what is it?” Kristi sprang up and rushed to her side.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do. Oh God, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

“What you are going to do about what?” Kristi took her to the two-seater couch. “What happened?”

“I’m pregnant.” Saying it made her tears fall harder. “I am pregnant, Kristi, and I don’t know what I’m going to do. Where do I begin from?”

Kristi was momentarily perplexed. Then she asked gently. “Is Kane still not back?”

“No. He called two days ago, full of apologies and all what nots. He said something new came up; another job that’s taking him back to Accra. He would probably be there the next two weeks.”

“All right. Calm down.” Kristi dashed to her desk and came back with some serviettes. “Take these. Clean up your face and calm down.”

Fejiro wiped her tears. “This is something I never thought would happen to me, Kristi. I don’t want to have a baby out of wedlock. I don’t want to be a single mother.”

“And it might not come to that.” Kristi gave her back a soothing rub. “You haven’t told him yet, so you don’t know how he’s going to react.”

“Kristi, he and I are barely communicating. His call two days ago was the first in more than a week. It’s clear I was the fool who cheaply gave herself to him and now, I’ve wound up with a baby I don’t want.” What was she going to do? The question asked itself in her overwrought mind. “I’m going to have to have an abortion, am I not?”

“Of course not.” Kristi answered. “You are not going to have an abortion.”

“I never thought I would ever think of abortion. I always disapproved of those who chose that route. But now… now, that is the only choice I have.”

“That is not a choice. Not one you are going to make.” Kristi said firmly. “This may not be part of your plans right now, but you are not going to terminate this pregnancy.”

“Kristi, I don’t want to do it but I might not have a choice. I am an accountant working in a restaurant and earning barely enough to take care of me. How am I going to take care of a baby, huh?”

“There are a lot of questions and all of them will be answered in good time. But for now, you are not going to touch that baby. It is wrong, Fejiro, and you know it.”

“I know it’s wrong, Kristi. And I understand how this might be hard for you to consider given your struggles with conceiving, but I would be doing something really wrong here if I bring a child I can’t take care of into the world. Kristi, I don’t want this. I never once wanted this and I can’t do it.”

“It’s here whether you want it or not, and abortion is not the answer. Can you honestly tell me, Fejiro, that you will be happy taking the life of your own baby?”

The question, put like that, and asked in that very calm voice shook Fejiro. “No, I won’t be. I don’t think I will be able to forgive myself if I do. But…”

“But it is going to be all right.” Kristi gently interrupted. “It’s a shock now and it’s scary, but it will be all right. No matter what Kane chooses to do, you are going to be all right.”

“I don’t know if it’s going to be all right, Kristi. I’ve made a mess of my life. This was not at all part of the plan.” Tears formed again in her eyes. “I’ve made a big mistake. My God, what am I going to tell my mum? How am I going to tell her?”

“Don’t worry about that for now.” Kristi counselled. “I think the first thing should be to talk to Kane. You need to tell him.”

“I don’t want to tell him over the phone.” She wouldn’t know how to. “I think it will be better to wait until he comes back and we talk face to face.”

“Fine. That might be best. Meanwhile, pull yourself together, accept what has happened and put the thought of abortion completely out of your mind, okay?”

“Okay.” Fejiro nodded, cleaned her face and took a long, calming breath. “I’m sorry I came into your office like this and had a meltdown.”

“Nothing to be sorry about. We are friends. At least, I think so.”

“Yes, we are and I’m grateful that I had you to turn to. Also, sorry I talked about abortion or even considered it.” Fejiro offered a contrite smile. “It was not only wrong, but insensitive too. I know what having a baby means to you.”

“Yes, having a baby would mean everything to me, and to Levi. And it’s going to happen soon.” Kristi smiled. “I am pregnant, Fejiro. You’re the first to know outside our families. Actually, you’re the second, Levi has told Tekena.” She chuckled. “But it’s eight weeks old.

“You are pregnant? Kristi, you are having a baby?” Fejiro gave a whoop and hugged her. “Oh my God, this is such wonderful news! You’re having a baby at last. Kristi, I’m so happy for you. And for Levi.”

“We are very happy too. Ecstatic actually.” Kristi beamed. “I didn’t find out until about three weeks ago and we thought to wait until after the first trimester before publicly announcing it.”

“Pregnant.” Fejiro was still awed. “Oh my, it’s a miracle.”

“Yes, it is. And so is this one too.” Kristi touched her tummy.

Fejiro nodded but said nothing. In all honesty, she didn’t see her pregnancy as a miracle, and especially when she wished it didn’t exist.

SHE chose to tell Cheta—well, because he was her friend too.

“If I’m to tell you the truth, Cheta, abortion still looks like my best and wisest option.”

They were alone in the kitchen and she saw only compassion in his eyes, no judgment.

“It will look that way now. But in future, in the far future, you will be glad it’s an option you are saying no to.” Cheta said kindly.

“I hope so, even when I don’t see how that can be.”

“It’s going to be all right, Fej. You will see.”

“I am scared.” She confessed. “I am very scared, Cheta.”

“Of course you are scared. Something new is happening to you and it’s not something you imagined, at least not in this way. So yes, you are scared and have every right to be. But you are going to be fine. You and this baby will be fine, Fej.”

They kept saying that, but Fejiro didn’t see how. “Anyway, I’m travelling home tomorrow; to tell my mum.”

“Why the hurry? Especially when you and Kane haven’t talked.”

“Do you see anything positive coming from Kane knowing about this?” Fejiro scoffed. “He would probably deny it and claim I’m trying to ensnare him into marriage.”

“Then he will be the biggest idiot ever.” Cheta retorted.

“I think I am the idiot. The idiot who dreamed up romance where there was none, and who had sex with a man she barely knew without protection.”

“I thought we agreed that you’ll stop beating yourself up over that?”

“Yeah well, new developments bring back bad memories.” Fejiro shrugged. “Anyway, I’m travelling to Ughelli tomorrow. It’s actually like putting a seal on it. Once my mother knows, I won’t be able to do anything else but have this baby. She is going to be so disappointed.” That hurt her. She hated to disappoint her mother. “She did her very best for my brothers and I after my dad passed away. She’s just a secondary school teacher but she provided us with the best she could and this is how I pay her back—pregnant out of wedlock. Oh, so shameful.”

“Not so much these days.”

“Yes, it still is. No matter how modern and liberated we try to act, single motherhood is still considered a shame. She always preached abstinence; I should have listened to her.”

Cheta stared at her. He saw the sorrow in her eyes. There was a shadow of shame too and also fear. He took her hand and squeezed it. “Stop worrying, My Fej, doesn’t whine.”

“Your Fej is scared shitless.”

“She shouldn’t be. She’s got friends and family all ready to help her. And Chef Cheta guarantees that she is going to be fine. You hear me?”

“Yes, Chef.”

She would be all right. Maybe.

***

Not Fairy-Tale coming: 3 September 2018.