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Chapter One

“The mobile phone you are calling, is currently unavailable. Please try again later.”


On hearing the automated voice, for the fourth time since leaving the spa an hour ago, I groan and drop my phone back into my bag. After saying goodbye to Estelle, and watching her saunter down the garden path to her front door, the cab driver takes the short trip to my home, around the corner. I’ve been trying desperately to reach my ex-fiance, Maxwell, to get some answers about my unwanted creepy spa visitor who claimed she was his wife!

The driver manoeuvres around a gang of noisy road diggers, then beeps his horn at a small group of baggy-clad teenagers to move out of the way. He beeps again, but they refuse to budge and instead perform wheelies on bikes and whizz around on Segways. He’s left with no choice but to swerve around them too. He pulls up and parks outside my block of flats.

‘Thank you.’ I grin, swiping my travel bag off the floor, gathering my keys and handbag.

‘You’re welcome,’ he replies, his eyes on the satnav while he waits for me to get out.

I step out of the cab, close the door and take a deep breath. What a relief it is to be home again, although it’s only been a weekend spent in the countryside. It’s great to be back among the buzz of traffic, city life and the smell of local takeaways.

I smile up at my block of flats hoping to spot Charlie peering out the window like he normally does. Striding across the small patch of green next to the residential car park, I sigh when I see my car in its usual space. I must find time to take that thing to the mechanics before it really does break down. It’s not okay to keep driving it while it overheats.

Reaching the communal entrance, I raise my fob to the sensor, wait for the beep and step inside.

The lift doors slide open when I reach my floor and step into the quiet hallway.

Trundling past number 37, I’m greeted with the usual smells of soiled nappies and baby powder, every time taking me back to my childhood. The baby powder, that is.

From number 39 come the familiar voices, arguing over some crappy game show on TV, and finally, I reach my door.

I place my ear against the warm wood. It’s quiet inside. I wonder if Mum and Charlie are at home? They should be, at this time, unless they’ve gone to the park.

Sliding my key into the lock, the door swings open and the smell of Mum’s cooking embraces me like the arms of a loved one. I sigh happily, putting my bags on the floor and kicking off my shoes into the corner next to the coat stand.

As soon as I hang up my coat, Mum and Charlie appear in the living room doorway, grinning like a pair of happy cats.

‘Mummy!’ Charlie runs up to me and dives in for a hug, his tiny hands grabbing onto my waist, and I pick him up, planting huge kisses on both his cheeks and head.

Mum comes bustling over, smiling. ‘My, my…don’t you look amazing,’ she says, sliding her glasses off her head and onto the bridge of her nose. She leans forward for a closer inspection. ‘Look at your skin. I can’t believe it’s only been a couple of days. I really want to go to Glitzy’s now.’ Mum laughs, gently stroking her warm hand against my cheek and squeezing my arms in admiration as I lean in to hug her.

No way did I plan to hold on so tight and for so long when hugging Mum. I suppose I feel lucky to have arrived back in one piece, and hearing Charlie’s voice makes it all the more emotional.

Mum is amused by the intensity of my embrace as I continue to hug both of them. ‘My goodness, you’ve missed us that much, have you?’ she chuckles again. ‘It’s only been a weekend, love.’

Yes, so much can happen in just a weekend. If only she knew. Unable to hold back my tears, they roll out of my eyes, and I begin to sob in Mum’s arms; my body trembling against hers.

‘Constance?’ she gasps in my ear and pulls back to study me with her all-seeing eyes full of worry and confusion. ‘Why the tears? What happened to you?’

I open my mouth, trying to find the best way to tell her I got attacked in my luxury suite just two hours ago. But I can’t.

‘Come on, spit it out,’ she urges me.

Charlie is vying for my attention, tugging on the end of my skirt and waving a piece of paper covered in colourful scribbles, shapes and smiley faces.

‘Constance?’ Mum continues. ‘I would have never imagined you’d come home from the spa with tears in your eyes; it doesn’t make sense. What on earth is going on?’

Mum observes me further until her worried expression suddenly morphs into a frown. She stiffens and folds her arms across her chest. ‘Please don’t tell me it has anything to do with…with…that man.’

I feel a prickle of unease as I stare at her, unable to answer her immediately, and I close my eyes.

She stomps from the hallway to the living room and turns the TV off. Before coming back to me, she opens a box of Play-Doh and empties the contents onto Charlie’s tiny play table.

His little brown eyes light up, and he leaves my side.

Mum pulls me to one side and asks me again. ‘Tell me.’ Her eyes blink furiously.

I wipe my tears with the back of my hands. Where do I begin? Where do I start telling her something like this?

My stomach grumbles and Mum glances down at my belly.

‘I’ll tell you what,’ she continues. ‘We’ll have a sit-down and have something to eat. Look.’ She leads me to the kitchen and gently pushes the door open to reveal the table spread out with delicious home-cooked food; fried fish, plantain, rice, doughy bread, a pot of tea, carrot juice and Guinness punch.

I smile weakly at her effort.

‘And you can tell me all about what happened at the spa. Yes?’

‘Yes,’ I finally manage to say. 

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© 2019 Anne John-Ligali