Previously on THE RETURN…
26 Years Ago
It won’t happen again. It won’t happen again.
Those were the words Cynthia repeated in her head as she layered her face with makeup while staring at her image in the mirror. They were the words she had continually murmured to herself the first time it happened, and the second and third. Yet it had happened again and again, until nearly a year had passed. And with each dalliance, she never got used to the guilt that pinched at her insides, the all to familiar feeling that was now biting away at her heart as she worked on her face.
She was so consumed by her culpability that she gave a slight start when she heard his voice from behind.
”What won’t happen again?”
She turned around. He was sitting up with his back against the headboard of the hotel room’s bed, covered only from his waist downward with the bed sheet. She felt a sudden revulsion run through her at the sight of his bare, ebony torso, which was hairy and flat, a far cry from her husband’s bulky and smooth-skinned chest. It would seem she had unconsciously said the words out loud enough for him to hear.
“This,” she answered after a beat. She paused for a few seconds, and then continued, “Us. We can’t continue. We need to put an end to this.”
Dare sighed heavily in response. “Do we really have to do this all the time, my love?” he asked in a voice that was heavy with exasperation.
Cynthia cringed at the use of the word “My Love”. Only her husband was permitted to address her with such an endearing term. But for almost a year, she’d let Dare get away with such endearment. Where once it had made her feel loved with him, now, she only felt wracked with more guilt. What was she doing to her husband – to her marriage?
A tense silence stretched between them for a few moments. It was broken when she stood up from the chair before the vanity mirror and said, “I feel awful doing this to him.”
“Doing what?” Dare asked, feigning ignorance.
She hissed, “Don’t play stupid with me, Dare.”
“Okay, okay.” He lifted his hands in a brief gesture of surrender. And then he said, “I just don’t understand why you have to sour all our meetings these days with this ‘I-feel-guilty’ talk of yours. We used to be so good together without your guilt.”
He sounded accusing, and the tone stung Cynthia into snapping, “I am married for crying out loud! And you are married too!”
“So?” he asked with an insouciance that both bewildered and angered Cynthia.
How did he not see that what they’d been doing was wrong, that it was not meant to be? Sure, he had made it clear to her that he was no longer in love with his wife, and that they were soon to finalize their divorce. But he knew that she loved her husband. She had told him this several times that this illicit affair between them did not translate to a lack of affection toward her husband. Yet he acted like she was somehow in the wrong for feeling bad, like cheating on her husband was something she was supposed to just do and get on with.
And now, as though to further brand her with her own shame, the fates had visited upon her a discovery that had her entire world teetering on the brink of disaster.
“So, we have to stop!” she railed. “I can’t keep hurting my husband this way.”
“Baby…” Dare began.
“Don’t call me that,” she hissed.
He did a double take. Then in a cajoling tone, he said, “Cynthia, come on, what he doesn’t know cannot hurt him.” He rose slowly from the bed as he said this. The sheets dropped from him, revealing his stark nakedness as he approached her. The sight of his nudity had always turned her on; Dare had a beautiful body for a man in his thirties. But now, she felt another jagged thrust of revulsion as he drew close to her. She couldn’t stop herself from recoiling when he stopped before her and raised his hands to touch her face.
“Sweetheart, stop being like this,” he said, sounding pained by her rejection.
Cynthia sighed. She moved away from him, putting some distance between them. Her expression was resolute as she said, “I’ve made up my mind, Dare. This can’t continue – it just can’t.”
He followed after her and tried to touch her again. This time, she smacked off the hand and stepped back again from him. “I mean it, Dare.”
“But I love you, Cynthia,” he said, his gaze becoming unfathomable with roiling emotions.
“And I love my husband,” she said. “This isn’t fair to him. It’s not fair to our son. It’s not fair to all that we’ve built these years.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to stop because you’ve suddenly realized he’s got all this money and provision for you that being with me can threaten?” He spat the words at her.
And before Cynthia could think, her hand was moving through the air, her palm striking his cheek with a sound that both shocked and satisfied her. She withdrew her hand to her side, and stood there before him. The two lovers glared at each other.
“How dare you say that to me?” she rasped. “He is my husband, and I love him, no matter the comfort of our marriage, and no matter what you think.”
Dare’s expression fractured and his ire melted away from his face, to be replaced with remorse. “I know, I’m sorry, baby,” he began sadly. He reached out for her again.
But Cynthia recoiled again. “”Don’t, Dare. Don’t.” She raised a restraining hand to his face. “I’m leaving now, and I never want to see you again.”
And before his astonished and pensive surveillance, palisaded by his total silence, she finished up her dressing, picked up her bag and walked out of the hotel room, quietly closing the door behind her as she left.
Cynthia arrived home exasperated. The gridlock on the road which lasted for hours made her journey back quite the tiring one. The help let her into the living room, and relieved her of her bag, ensuring that she didn’t want anything before quietly disappearing from the room as her mistress slumped into a sofa with a heavy sigh.
Cynthia looked around at the room, the microcosm of her home. It was a luxuriously furnished sitting room with a small cocktail bar in the distant corner, a television set, plenty of comfortable settees and a three-foot-wide padded window seat that ran the length of one of the walls, and a blue-and-white mosaic floor. She had decorated this room and most of the other rooms in the house herself, and it always gave her a sense of comfort whenever she reclined in one of the settees and observed her surroundings.
That was not so today. Now she just felt stifled, caged in, filled with a frantic need to escape. Feeling slightly overwhelmed, she got up and started for the master bedroom which she shared with her husband. She stripped her clothes off her when she was ensconced in the room, grateful to be rid of Dare’s scent which clung to her clothing. She’d taken her bath at the hotel, but she still felt the need to scrub off the entire affair from her body, if she could.
She walked into the bathroom and into a hot shower, feeling a slump rise up within her as the water sluiced down her body. The feeling of melancholy didn’t lift when she was done with her bath. She walked to the porcelain sink and stood for a moment in front of the mirrored panel, gazing at herself, at the damp hair that hung down like lank tendrils around a face that looked feverish. Her eyes flicked all the way down, over her body that still remained lean after just the one childbirth, and settled on her abdomen. She shuddered at the thought that arced through her mind, the thought of what was currently changing, gradually but surely, right at this moment within her.
I’m so sorry, my darling, she thought with sudden desperation. I’m so sorry I got so stupid, that I let this happen.
The silent admission shattered the restraint she’d held over her emotions since she left Dare at the hotel. A floodgate of emotions overwhelmed her – fear, remorse, guilt. They swirled inside her, scorching her, drowning her, fires of shame burning just under her skin and a deep emptiness filling her heart. Her breathing hitched as her knees grew weak and she slumped to the cold tiled floor. She couldn’t focus through the torrent of tears racing from her eyes, and covering her face with her hands, she turned her head downward and wept.
Except for her tear-reddened eyes, Cynthia was back in a semblance of control by the time her husband walked into the house later that night. She heard him from upstairs as he capered with Michael; the father and son had developed a closeness she oftentimes found herself envying. She was tense, but forced herself to relax when he eventually made his way to their room.
“Hey, my love,” he said, his face wreathed with a tired smile when he saw her.
“Hey, darling,” she replied, stifling the thought of another moment, another man, another voice calling her “my love”.
She walked into her husband’s embrace. He held her face gently between his hands and was bringing his face down to hers when he noticed her red eyes.
“Have you been crying?” he said, his gaze curious.
She shook her head, forcing a laugh. “Something got into my eye awhile ago and I’ve been rubbing at my eyes since to get rid of the discomfort.”
“Shouldn’t you go see a doctor?”
“At this time? No. Now please shut up and kiss your wife.”
His lips twitched with amusement before he brought his face down so close to hers that their breaths became one. Her eyes closed. She felt him briefly kiss each eyelid, then the tip of her nose, before setting his lips on hers. Her lips parted as his tongue moved between them, and the kiss promptly caught fire. Cynthia kissed him with some abandon, arching her body into him and grasping at his head with a passion that spoke to her of one trying to rebrand her body and soul with the touch and feel of the man she was supposed to be with.
When they broke apart, Dike gave a shaky laugh. “My, that was something.”
His wife gave him a coy smile. “You remain good, and perhaps you’d get something better later tonight.”
“What do I have to do to stay good?” Dike questioned with a chuckle.
She paused, staring intently at him for a moment, before she said with feeling, “I love you, Dike. I love you so very much.”
Her husband’s brow crocheted with incomprehension, as though he sensed something behind her sudden declaration. “I love you too, sweetheart. What’s going on?”
“Nothing.” She forced another laugh. “I just…we need a change of environment, that’s all.”
“A change of environment…” Dike reiterated.
“Yes. Someplace else to give our family a breather…”
“Are you saying what I think you are saying?”
“Yes.” A smile tremored onto her lips.
“You are finally okay with my suggestion of us moving to England…” Dike said, the inflection at the end of the statement indicating that it was a question.
“But you didn’t want to… You said you feel like our family would be better grounded here in Nigeria…”
“I was wrong,” she interrupted. “Let us move. It’s what’s best.”
What’s best for whom? A voice queried her from inside. To avoid answering the question, Cynthia pulled her husband back in for another kiss.
“I need you, Francesca. I need you now.”
Those were the words he whispered to her in a distraught voice the previous night seconds he took her lips with his and their tongues locked into a passionate kiss. And then it was several more seconds before they frantically undressed themselves, hands groping each other in the dark of her bedroom; before he drove her into a fevered revelry of pleasure, first with his tongue, and then with gentle, sensual strokes that drew breathless gasps and moans from her; before the orgasmic jerk from him and the shuddering descent from her that brought an end to their lovemaking.
But now, as he stood in front of the bathroom mirror, the sensual passions of last night had receded to a place he suddenly wasn’t familiar with as thousands of words resounded in his head. It was his voice over and over again.
Why?! Why in all these years did you treat me badly for what I knew nothing of?!
I did not deserve any of it…!
Did I ever stand a chance of earning your love?!
His father’s image appeared in the mirror. It spoke to him in the same hauntingly vituperative tone. No! You never stood any chance. You know why? Because I hated you! I hate you, James. I always have. And I am not – NOT – your father!
James took in one heavy breath after another, expelling them just as fast, to calm his nerves. His hands twitched uncontrollably, and his skin prickled with tension. When he finally calmed enough to function, he turned on the tap, scooped a bit of water and rinsed his face with it. When he drew back his hands to reach for another gush of water, he recoiled. His palms were stained red; dribbling from his hands into the sink were gurgles of blood. He gave out a strangled gasp, just as his peripheral vision caught the sight of something on the floor beside him. He whirled his head around and almost shrieked. His father was lying there on the ground, his eyes glazing over as he clutched at the broken bottle of whisky which James had lodged into the side of his neck. Blood was forcing itself out through the edge of the bottle buried into the skin, and gurgling sounds of death was coming forth from the man as he convulsed on the ground.
James stared in horror at the sight, knowing it couldn’t be so and yet feeling arrested by it. He blinked hard repeatedly. And then, the dying man was gone. The blood was gone too, from the floor and from his hands.
He took in another shuddering breath. “It’s not real, James,” he said hoarsely to himself. “He’s dead. It’s not real. He’s gone. And he got what he deserved.”
He stood there, breathing heavily, when he heard approaching footsteps. He turned to the bathroom door just as it was opened to admit his girlfriend, Franchesca. He switched on a smile at once, trying not to give away his distress through his countenance.
“Hey babe,” he said as casually as he could manage.
She didn’t respond. There was something in her expression, fear and worry. He was instantly on guard, a chill creeping toward his heart as he waited for something ugly from her.
“Babe, what’s the problem?” He moved slowly toward her. He noticed the tears that had clouded her eyes; when she blinked, beads of the tears tumbled down her cheeks.
“Oh Jamie…” she gasped. “I saw your dad in the news…” She said each word slowly, one by one, as if she could not bring herself to say it all at once. “Please, James. Tell me what happened last night. What did you do?”
Written by Tobby