Both stared at the phone and boy was it a tense moment “Well? Answer it.”
She gulped, “No I'm not going to. I want to know what you did.”
“You don't even want to know who your caller is?”
Iphey snatched up the phone and checked the ID. Her stomach plummeted when she recognized it but she wouldn't allow herself to be deterred. “Look, don’t change the subject.”
James remained silent and she summoned all the firmness within her, "James, what did you do?"
"Iphey I- It was- I had to -for the sake of my family. I borrowed money…” He was stammering in anxiety, nonetheless his eyes held a mysterious glint, one too dangerous for comfort.
“That doesn’t sound too bad,” she shrugged, regaining her composure.
“Iphey, stop interrupting me please, just listen…” demanded James. “At first it was from the bank but when their payments came up, I couldn't make it. And the last thing I wanted was for them to start sending letters to my office or the house. I had to find somewhere else to get the money. Look, it was my only choice; either that or the bank would sue me or Ngozi would find out. I wanted none of that to happen”
It began to dawn on Iphey what might have happened. The suspense was driving her insane. She wanted to wring his neck to get the truth out but simply gestured for him to continue.
“I had been gambling heavily, losing a lot of money but still hoping for my big win. Luckily the owners of the place agreed to loan me money in advance to pay off the bank. I would then owe them...wait before you say anything!” Seeing Iphey about to talk, “I now know I was stupid, but then I was like a man possessed. I won a little sometimes, and it felt good at that time because I could pay off some of the debt, I could buy stuff for your sister and pay my son's bills. It felt like I was working again, like I was a man...” He leaned back with a faraway smile on his face.
Without warning, she sprang from the sofa, towering over him. Iphey’s mind raced a hundred ways and her heart pounded with seething ferocity. This was too much too bear. “Of all people James, you should know better than to stoop so low. How could a man in his right mind abandon his wife, and don’t let me get started about Obi. You allowed yourself to be sucked into gambling? As a man my dear in-law, family must always come first, regardless of any financial woes you may have incurred.”
He stood abruptly, fuming “What would you have done in my shoes? Gone to church to pray for your debts to be cleared in an instant?”
“You abandon your loved ones and you stand before me expecting pity? So now, have you paid off your debt? HAVE YOU?!" Unable to control her thoughts, the damage was done as the bile spilled out.
"DON'T YOU DARE JUDGE ME!" His voice was raised to match hers. "Tell me what to do because I have waited for God to send money down and it hasn't happened. He may have answered your prayers but not mine. So NO! I have not paid it back."
She backed down shaking, however, he had set her mind in motion; she had judged Chinedu too. Acted as an arbiter and almost written him off because of his past. And here she was doing the same to James, will she never learn?
He began talking once again “I messed up big time, borrowed more money from the group and couldn't pay because I kept losing...”
"That's still not enough reason. James...” She began more gently, “Whatever action you took in the past is in the past. I’m not in the position to blame or point a finger at you, but please let's go see Ngozi..."
“Iphey the people I owe are after my family. I owe them millions! The gang are after Ngoo and Obi. That's why I had to leave, for the protection of my family. ”
Her mouth fell open. "Oh my God..."
James turned sideways and glared at her with dark eyes, coming closer till they were an inch apart “You see why I left them? Why I cannot go with you? Not this time and not ever. You never saw me, I was never here and I don’t exist...are we clear on that?”
Iphey nodded vigorously. He’d changed. She was right, the James everyone knew, the kind-hearted one who humbled most with his modesty, was gone and so was the spark in his eyes, in their place was the remnants of a wounded man and shattered dreams.
"Don't mention this to your sister. If you do, I know she'll come looking for me and I can't allow that. That was why I followed you here. I managed to get away before the gang could trace me or my family. Still I remained in Lagos to keep an eye on all of you just to be sure. Coincidence rocked the boat when we met this evening. Don't tip it over. It would be disastrous."
Iphey was speechless. What on earth was she supposed to think at a time such as this? Waving away her thoughts, she willed herself back into reality to see James storming out the door in a hurried manner.
"Why?" she mouthed at his retreating back. The heavens sympathised and joined in her despair, a drop at a time. She stood at the door unable to close, knowing she had to go out again. She couldn't keep it to herself, she had to tell Ngozi. Nausea flooded her every being, overcoming her senses but she wouldn't allow it.