When he married Ijeoma, Apham expected that Angela would back off, that she would respect the fact that he was no longer a bachelor, now out of her reach. She didn’t retract her claws though, if anything, it only seemed to grow longer, stretching across the country to reach them in Lagos from Abuja. While they stayed in the family home, Apham spent the majority of his time taking Ijeoma out and when they were at home, they went out of their way to avoid Angela, going as far as to miss their meals. If Apham’s father noticed this, he said nothing.

Angela was particularly angry at Ijeoma, backbiting her and talking maliciously at her. Once, Ijeoma forgot to take the clothes she had spread outside when they were dried and it turned to a quarrel between the two.

Another night, Apham was lounging alone in the room. Ijeoma had gone to prepare a late-night snack for both of them, but she was taking long. He was reluctant to leave the room which had become his escape from his step-mother’s clutches. His worry for Ijeoma had him putting on his slippers to leave the room. He imagined that she and Angela had gotten into a serious quarrel and she was getting a lashing out from the other woman. As he opened his door, he found his step-mother standing in front of the room, dressed in one of her short nighties that stopped short of her buttocks. Her dark nipples were shooting out through the transparent pink material.

“I thought you would never come out,” she said with a silky voice that sounded like sharp glass against his ears. What enticed him before, now disgusted him. He was even more disgusted with himself for ever touching her.

“Where is my wife?” he stressed the last words.

She smiled, folding her arms under her breasts pushing them even further. “She wouldn’t be back for a while. We will be done before she does.” She made to enter the room, Apham stretched his legs to block her. She attempted to bypass him, a futile task given his bulk of the weight.

“Baby,” her voice became unbearably sensual and had a frantic edge to it. “I missed your hands on my body. It keeps yearning for you. No one has made me feel the way you did.” She reached for his hand and placed it on her breast, stifling a moan when his finger brushed against a nipple as he struggled to pull his hand away. She felt bereft as soon as the warmth of his hand left her. For a brief moment, she had thought she was getting what she wanted.

Apham scrubbed his hand against his pajama trousers. “Sorry, mom. I cannot do that again. I am married and you are married to my father, something you seem to have forgotten.”

“B..but baby, I’m so hot for you right now. I took something and it is already-” She rubbed her legs together. “Please,” she whispered desperately. “Just once. I swear I will leave before your wife returns. She won’t find out about us.”

“She already knows,” Apham growled in a low voice. “You can go to my father to solve your problem for you. After all, he is your husband.” He tried to close the door but Angela stuck her foot in the little space.

“Why did you marry her?” The sensuality had disappeared from her voice, now dripping with bitterness.

“Because I love her.”

“She is not better than me in bed, is she? She doesn’t look like she knows how to-” she was abruptly cut off by a sharp kick to her foot. “Jesus!” Apham had kicked the foot that had been blocking the door and when she rushed to cradle it, he closed the door without a second glance in her direction.

“Luke,” she whisper-yelled from the door, knocking quietly and frantically. She called a few more times but Apham was bent on ignoring her. He was filled with worry about Ijeoma. Where had she gone? He wanted to call her but her phone was charging on her dresser.

“Where is Ijeoma?” he asked impatiently.

“Are you going to let me in?”

“No.”

“Well then, just wait until she comes up,” her tone was taut and cold. “This isn’t the end though. I always get a man when I want him.” She stood for a while, waiting for him to reply. When he said nothing, she muttered “goodnight” then the sound of her footsteps receded down the hall.

Apham waited for a few minutes to be sure that she had left before he opened the door slowly. He found Ijeoma in the kitchen, separating a large tray of beans.

“Honey.” Her eyes were filled with apology. “I’m so sorry. I came down and your mo…Angela was picking beans, I offered to help her and she left the whole thing for me.” She still couldn’t refer to Angela as his mother.

He rolled his eyes then eyed the tray of beans. “What are we using all these beans for? Is it not too much for one meal?”

She shrugged her shoulders. “I asked her, she said she wants to separate all at once so that she wouldn’t have to be doing it every time she has to cook.” She pointed at a cup of milk on the kitchen counter. “I made your milk. I’m sure it’s already cold.” She smiled apologetically.

“It’s okay.” He reached for the cup and downed the milk, grimacing at how cool it was. “Can’t you leave it till tomorrow. It’s late. Have you seen anybody picking beans at this time?”

“I know,” she sighed. “It’s just that you know how Angela is. I don’t want to worsen matters between us.”

He scoffed, “Right, so she gave you a mountain of beans to pick.” He carried the tray of picked beans and poured it into a blue gallon that was sitting beside Ijeoma with a funnel.

“What are you doing?” she screamed when he reached for the tray she was working on and started to turn it into the same gallon.

“Let us go and sleep. Why will you be picking beans by this time? I didn’t bring you here to become the housemaid.” Apham growled.

She frowned. “Alright. I will go up with you. But don’t mix the two of them together. I will still continue it tomorrow.” She took the tray from his hands and poured it into another container. When she started cleaning the stray husks that had fallen around the kitchen, Apham reached for her hand and dragged her out of the kitchen saying, “Let’s go and sleep.”

As they were climbing the stairs, they met Apham’s father, dressed in shorts heading downstairs. “Pretty eager this night, are we?” he gave Apham a knowing wink.

“Dad, we would be going back to Lagos tomorrow.” Apham said.

Thomas chuckled. “Okay. You have stayed long enough, I know you young ones need your privacy. Don’t worry, I will tell my P.A to book a flight for you.”

“Thank you daddy,” Ijeoma said in a small, shy voice.

Thomas laughed, “Go on.” Then he hurried down the stairs.

Apham cast a knowing smirk in the direction of his bedroom, certain of what was waiting for him if everything Angela said about taking a sort of medicine was true.

“Is anything wrong?” Ijeoma asked with a frown.

He smiled and put his hand round her shoulder. “No. Everything is perfectly okay.” Together, they retired to their bedroom.