“Oga, na dis street?”
Khalid answered the question with a distracted nod. His eyes were fixed on the exterior of his house where a utility van was parked.
“Just stop here.”
The cab rolled to a halt at the sidewalk of the quiet street that led to the house.
“We’ll wait small,” Khalid told the cab driver. The man looked like he wanted to protest but one stare into Khalid’s face gave him a change of mind.
The wait was a long one and all through the period, Khalid secured his eyes on the van. Finally, the pedestrian gate of the house opened and a young, fine-looking man with a fit body in a pair of denim pants and a shirt, stepped out and got into the van.
“Quick! Drive to that van!” Khalid pointed. The cab driver revived the engine and aimed straight for Khalid’s house.
“Oga, you don make me tay for here o. You go add small money.”
Khalid said nothing. His eyes remained on the repairman and his vehicle until the cab stopped behind them. Khalid jumped out, leaving the passenger door open. He took the repairman by surprise as he threw open his door and dragged him out by his t-shirt, slamming his back on the van.
“What did I tell you the last time?!”
The man, clearly afraid, stared back without an answer.
“WHAT DID I TELL YOU?!”
“You-you-you s-say I sh-sh-should not co-come here.”
“Then what are you doing here?!”
“Ma-ma-ma-madam c-called me! The-the freezer was n-n-not working.”
Khalid brought his eyes to slits. “The next time I see you here, I’ll kill you!”
The man nodded. “Yes sir. Yes sir.”
Khalid hurled him off the van and he tumbled over the street.
The dazed fellow hurried back to his vehicle, got in and drove off like the wind. Khalid stood until he vanished from view. He turned to the cab driver who looked rather scared.
“How much you say I dey owe you?”
“Just bring wetin we agree before.”
Khalid counted some notes from his wallet and handed to him. The man passed him his traveling bag and before Khalid could turn towards his building, he drove off.
Still steaming, Khalid entered his house.
Sachi was in the kitchen when he barged in.
“You’re a shameless cunt, Onsachi!”
Sachi gave him a casual glance.
“You and that electrician again?!”
“He came to fix the freezer.”
“Don’t lie to me!”
She began towards the door. Khalid grabbed her waist and pulled her towards him roughly. His anger still burned but the bruises on her face wrought by his hands brought him to his senses on instant. It felt like he was staring at a mirror and looking at his ugliness. It was an unpleasant sight.
“I’m not cheating on you, Khal. You know that.” Her voice was gentle and as much as his feelings for her were absent, something about the way she spoke calmed him. “You know I love you. I’ll never cheat on you.”
“But I told you I didn’t want him in this house again.”
“The other guy I called was out of town. He was the only one available and things were melting in the freezer. I’m sorry.”
With that simple explanation, she pacified him. How time and again, she undid him, he had no idea. With the same manner she got on his last nerves, she also brought him to calm.
Still he hated her.
He pushed her away but she refused to budge. She clung to him.
“It’s been almost a year, Khal,” she whispered. “The last time was on Valentines’ day. Not even a kiss since then.”
He wandered away from her penetrating eyes.
“I want you. Just one time. Just today. Pretend I’m someone else…”
“Please stop.” He succeeded in disengaging from her.
“You don’t find me attractive anymore, Khal.”
But he did. In fact very much so, and on the occasion, he would dash off to Uju’s to quell the fires she stirred in him. Even as she stood close to him now, wearing a long kimono that hid her beautiful body, distracting thoughts of her grazed his mind. It had been long since he saw her nude and he knew it was as easy as taking off what she was wearing, but he wasn’t going to give her that power. Almost a year was not enough punishment. He was going to make it a full year, right after he delivered the divorce papers to her.
He walked out of the kitchen.
Sachi felt painful tears pool up in her eyes. Khalid was the devil himself. She didn’t know why she still loved him. She could easily have him out on the streets; but no matter how many times that crazy thought visited her mind or how much her friends urged her, she just couldn’t tear herself away from him. He was a terrible addiction. Thank goodness she had found some temporary means to still the desires he never bothered to fulfill. But she needed to be careful. Imagine if he had walked in on her and the electrician going at each other in the living room. No doubt, he would have killed them both.
I’m a good wife. I’m just lonely. I’m not a cheat. I love my husband.
“Yes, darling,” she replied and hurried out. She saw him at the front door, his laptop bag hanging off his shoulder. She knew he was headed to his whore’s house in the next street.
“I’ll be back late. Don’t bother waiting up.”
They both knew the information wasn’t important but Khalid was an ass sometimes and enjoyed the pain he dished her whenever his demons surfaced.
“Khal, wait…” She took quick steps to him. “While you were away I met this woman that said she could help us… help me and my condition.”
Khalid turned to her.
“She’s helped a woman who’s been married eighteen years without kids. She doesn’t think my problem is serious and says she has the right treatment for me. She believes we can get pregnant.”
Khalid chuckled. It was more of a leer.
“Don’t let anyone deceive you, Sachi. You heard what all the doctors we visited, including the ones outside this country, said. You can’t have kids. So give it up. The other day it was that you’d bring some girl for me to screw and knock up and now this? Please, don’t bother, because whatever you do, I won’t even be here to be part of it. This marriage is over.”
He left the door open on his way out, letting in a draft of cold air. Sachi was in a good mood else she would have gotten herself in a knot over his callous words.
She went in for a shower. It was time to take matters into her hands. She had played games long enough. Khalid was definitely kidding himself with the divorce threats. She was ending his madness today.
After a rushed shower, she dressed in a long boubou, donned on a pair of Versace sunglasses and left the house to her mother’s in her SUV.
Bankole was tired and hungry. Whoever said night journeys were comfortable obviously didn’t join the type of bus he did. First it broke down and then they had to spend three long hours on the highway until it was fixed. He arrived at Calabar just as daylight was appearing.
The air was freezing and Bankole wasn’t wearing anything warm to protect himself. The weather was very bad for him; he could feel an asthmatic spell on the way. However, he consoled himself with the thought of being pampered by Beatrice. She always knew how to care for him whenever he was down. He saw himself lying on her couch, wrapped in a blanket and a plate of steaming peppersoup served to him while she filled his ear with office gossip. Subsequently, she would squeeze in with him underneath the blanket and they would cuddle like an old couple warming frail bones.
Affectionate moments like that had been many when the times were good for them. They didn’t need anything else in the world then, just themselves. But Beatrice’s parents and friends thought different. Beatrice was too beautiful and intelligent a lady to be tied down to a broke man with no future. They began to pressure her to find someone else to settle down with. She had fought them at first, letting them know that she loved Bankole and was content with the way things were, but they held on and eventually got to her, and things went downhill very fast from that time.
Bankole remembered when she gave him a one-month ultimatum – to shape himself up financially or lose her. He didn’t take her serious. He felt she understood his situation and how difficult it was to get a good job or to excel in his type of business in such a short period. He held on to faith and believed God had something for him around the corner. Beatrice believed different. And had begun to act different too. He saw the changes in her, the aloofness, the disrespect, and the late nights she claimed were spent in the office working overtime. He saw all of that but counted them as nothing, telling himself it was just a phase. Well, the phase wore on and came to a climax when she ended their four-year relationship, kicking him out of her house.
He remembered almost losing his mind and the pain in his heart that felt like a million bullets going into him all at once. Over the past two days he lived in a bubble, unable to understand how his Queen Bea could hurt him that way. Surely, she was still going through a phase and would come to her senses soon. He knew she still loved him; he had seen it in her eyes the night she dumped him. It was a struggle for her and to him, that had been an open window which he was going to crawl back in through and make things right. Thank God, fortune had smiled on him at last. Monet was undoubtedly in heaven for her kindness to him. She had made him a millionaire in a blink of an eye. He didn’t want to believe that it was because of that one sinful night they shared together seven years ago. He simply pinned it to pure luck because he was nothing near the type of guy someone like Monet would care to remember. Yes, she had gushed over his looks and had been held bound by the words of wisdom and visionary he whispered to her in bed about her future; but that was all there was to it. What Monet saw in him that night that made her throw her successful brand unto his laps was still a mystery. She had left a video saved in a memory card taped to the cover of the file he received from Mrs. Tunji that explained her actions. He was yet to watch it. A more important issue, which was Beatrice, held his mind all through. He couldn’t wait to share the good news with her and restore their romance.
He knocked on her door and got her neighbor’s dog barking; life in the neighborhood was yet to stir. Bankole dropped his backpack on the floor to ease the weight off his shoulders. He knocked on Beatrice’s front door again and it opened from within. A sleepy-faced Beatrice with hair tucked into a hairnet peeped out. Her facial features came to a mild surprise after a few blinks.
“Banky?” she called in a hush. “What are you doing here?”
He smiled. “Hi baby.”
She turned her face away and yawned.
“It’s too early to be here, Banky. You got my text nau. We’ll meet and talk properly but not now.”
“Bea, I have good news. You’ll love to hear this.”
“Not now.” She held the door.
“Just let me in. I took a night bus from Lagos just to get here and share this news with you.”
“Oya, come in,” she said through another yawn.
Bankole stepped into the house and breathed in the familiar air with a smile. He hugged her. She didn’t stop him but she didn’t hug back. Slowly, she pulled away from him.
She pointed at a sofa and sat far away from it, tucking her legs beneath her in habit. Bankole sat down. His eyes were on her. She was beautiful even at that time of the morning, even though half of her brows were missing and her lips were suffering the effects of the harsh harmattan. The fullness of her curves and love handles were not hidden beneath her cotton nightshirt. Beatrice was a heavy girl, termed fat by many, but to Bankole she was just perfect and her weight was never an issue to him.
“Talk nau, Banky. And hope you remember that we’ve broken up. You can’t just come in here anytime you like and be looking at me with those eyes like we have unfinished business. I’ve moved on and you should better do the same. God knows I can’t go back…”
And just like that, he saw it. Dazzling, golden and expensive, it wrapped her middle finger regally, like it belonged there. It was the characteristic manner in which she was waving her hands around that made him notice it.
His heart sank.
She didn’t hear him. She was still speaking. Obviously, some things hadn’t changed. She was still her talkative self. So he sat quietly and listened, not making much of what she was saying because of the ring. Finally, she caught on and followed his eyes to her middle finger.
She stopped and blurted out, “I still love you!” Tears filled her eyes.
She stood up and marched to her bedroom. He gave her a few minutes alone as the image of the ring on her finger haunted him. He should be angry but sadly, all he felt was despair. If she was engaged to another, it was his fault.
He walked to her bedroom and stood by the door. She was seated on the bed, legs to the floor, knees knocked together, toes fiddling with each other.
She looked at him. Somehow his news didn’t make any difference to her. He saw in his eyes that she didn’t believe him.
“The guy…his name is Paul. He’s been toasting me for over a year and… Banky, I’m so sorry. He is who my parents want me to marry. He’s bought me a car already and he’s building a house and he’s been giving my parents money. He was the one who paid the last rent for this house.”
“Have you slept with him?”
“No. No, I couldn’t cheat on you. You know that.”
“But you did. You kept a man outside our relationship who was financially providing for you and you think that’s not cheating?”
Beatrice buried her head in her hands and sobbed. Bankole was beginning to feel the first strings of annoyance and he didn’t like it. He knew that if it grew, it could turn deadly. To suppress it, he sat beside her and offered a forgiving hand. She took it.
“Leave him and let’s continue our lives together, Bea.”
“You can. I’m rich now. Very rich. And I can give you everything you want.”
“Rich?” she looked at him. “Where did you steal money from?”
He told her about Monet’s benevolence and the position he signed for at Guru and Monet. Beatrice was speechless for a while but then burst into tears. Bankole saw no need for her weeping. That was how much he loved her. She was forgiven and all forgotten. He took the ring off her finger and flung it across the room. He kissed away her tears, reminding her of how they started and all the years they shared. They made love filled with intense emotions. Beatrice cried all through and held him snugly when it was over.
“Will you move to Lagos with me?” he asked, staring into her eyes. He expected a positive answer but she turned away from him and rose from the bed.
She paced around the room. “Banky, please go.”
“Bea?” He sat up.
“Paul will be here any minute. Please, go.”
“Bea, didn’t you hear me, baby? I said we’re rich. I’m heading the Visual Merchandising and Graphic Design departments at Guru and Monet. Baby, it’s huge. I already have a house and a car waiting…”
“Well, you’re too late! You had all the time to be rich and you were just lazing about! See what you’ve caused! It’s all your fault!”
He exhaled. Beatrice was always such a big baby but this particular behavior was odd. He knew she was hiding something.
“You’re sure you didn’t sleep with him?”
“I already told you I didn’t nau!”
“So why can’t we get back together?”
“Because of this!” She flung a red envelope at him. Banky opened the envelope. There was a card within, white with gold edges. It was a traditional wedding invitation. His Queen Bea was getting married to the same man who put the ring on her finger.
Bankole felt his world collapse. He put the envelope away and stood up. Silence hung in the room as he wore his clothes. There was nothing more left to do or say, still he offered a line.
“I’ll be in Lagos if you change your mind.”
He left the house heavier than he came. Life was taking form in the neighborhood now. Bankole had only eight thousand naira in his bank account. He found the nearest ATM and withdrew all but a thousand naira. He took a bus headed for Lagos.
Monet looked like shit in the video. Cancer was a bitch and it had dealt her a blow so heavy that it was hard for Khalid to sit still and watch the recording to the end. Monet used to be full of life and one could have sworn she had fifty or more years to live.
But why didn’t she get treated on time? She had the money and lived in a part of the world where healthcare was good. How did she let cancer get her to her grave?
Khalid stretched out his legs over a small center table in Uju’s sitting room and braced the rest of the video, trying hard not to let emotions get the best of him.
But Monet was smiling, laughing in her pain, smoking from her red, bedazzled pipe without a care in the world. Her message was supposed to last two minutes tops, but it ran thirteen long minutes, injected with unnecessary prattle and random information Khalid didn’t need.
“Take care of her for me. I know you’ll make a good dad. Love you, Khal.”
With those last words, the video ended. Khalid sighed. Just then Uju walked into the house. She laid out laundered clothes on a couch in the sitting room.
“Your laundry,” she announced and handed Khalid a piece of paper. “The receipt.”
“Thanks.” He put the receipt aside as she settled beside him.
“You’re kind of moody today,” she complained, her fingers making lines on his bare skin. Khalid was silent. His mind was a mill running several things at the same time. Having signed to be the head of Fashion Marketing at Guru and Monet, he knew his life was going back in the direction his dreams at some point steered him.
He remembered the large, high fashion boutique on Avenue Montaigne in Paris where he started his first job as sales personnel to the business of a wealthy French woman just at the age of twenty-four. A fresh graduate of business marketing with a first class and an enterprising mind, Khalid became an extraordinary asset to the woman’s trade and she thrust on him the responsibility of managing the boutique in no time. However, she made the mistake of getting into his pants and falling for his charm. When he turned twenty-five, she married him and relinquished almost half of her income to him. The marriage lasted only two years. Khalid walked out of it a French citizen with a lot of cash. Young and full of life, he decided that his calling was to bed, satisfy and maybe wed rich women. Business marketing was shoved aside, although he later acquired an MBA just for the sake of adding some distinction to his résumé. The more cultivated a man like him was, the richer the women that flocked around him. But it seemed all of that was over now and he was to face life as a grown man, to work honestly in a highly competitive industry. He wasn’t so excited about it, yet the freedom it offered was going to be nothing like he felt before. He embraced his future with an uncertain clasp.
“Na wa o. You’re not even responding to anything I do.” Uju’s voice came to him like a pestering mosquito whining in his ear. His eyes followed her hand down to his boxers and realized she had been trying to arouse him without success.
“It’s this your Lagos trip. You’ve refused to tell me what happened there.”
“Nothing happened.” He removed her hand from his boxers and rose up.
“Where are you going nau?”
“A man can’t go and piss again? See me see wahala.”
Khalid entered the guest bathroom and shut the door behind him. An annoyed Uju sat with folded arms, wondering why he was distant. She picked the collar of her t-shirt and nibbled on it as her mind pushed her in the direction of wild thoughts. She knew it was unnecessary to fret over his mood but she was of course, only a sidechick, and from experience, knew that Khalid could be done with her at the snap of a finger. Hence, it was normal to worry whenever he went glum with no explanation and didn’t respond to her sexually. He hadn’t tasted the meal she prepared for him, either. All he had done was take a lot of alcohol, so much so that she expected him to be drunk after so many hours.
He walked out of the bathroom and stood by the door. “Where are the clothes I wore here? I’m going home.”
“Home? But I thought you’d spend the night, Khal. It’s past eleven.”
Khalid ignored her and went in search of his clothes in her bedroom. Uju was restless. She went after him, trying one last time to arouse him, but her efforts were met with an irritated dismissal that put her in tears. Khalid snubbed her and left the house with his laundry.
He drove home, wondering why he had been unnecessarily cold to her.
Whatever. He just wasn’t in the mood for any female’s stress at the moment. The only female on his mind was Monet’s little girl. How on earth was he to care for a six year old when he had the morals of a dog? Having grown up on in a slum with no home training, he lived his life by his own rules. He was born Muslim but hadn’t seen the four walls of a mosque in his entire existence. He was a proud atheist, and of the worst kind, believing not even in human goodness or principles. So how on earth was he to become a role model to a child overnight? Of course he had always wanted to have his own kids but to his thinking, he was to start fathering them from the moment they were born, that way he would grow into the role. What on earth was a six-year old supposed to learn from him?
“Monet…” he complained with a shake of his head.
And to think the child could even be mine…
“Welcome sir,” his gateman greeted as he drove into his house. He parked the car and went inside. The house was dark. It seemed Sachi had turned in early.
After a drink of water, he entered their bedroom and was surprised to find her awake, watching something on the crime channel. The woman was poles apart from most women when it came to her choice of entertainment. She had no stomach for Telemundo and the likes.
“I told you not to wait up for me,” he said to her. She replied by leaving her position on the bed to stand before him. She began unbuttoning his shirt. Normally, he would push her away but he was a tad tipsy after a long day on the bottle.
“So, I have good news.” She smiled.
“Mommy died this morning,” she revealed, her smile maintained.
Khalid was in the process of scratching his ear but stopped at the news.
“Yes. Finally. I went there to see her and walked into the room and she was…dead.”
Khalid was shocked by the news. The last time he saw the woman, she was healthy enough to tease him about his ugly looks, and that was just on Christmas day. How come she was dead?
“I think she died in her sleep or something. Well, I’ve cried my tears but it was about time abeg. She was sitting on all that money my dad left me.”
Something in Sachi’s tone gave Khalid a shiver. Or was it her chilly hands over his groin area, helping him out of his belt? He looked at her but her head was lowered. He wanted to read her eyes.
“Now, it’s all ours, darling.” She giggled and kissed his bare chest as his jeans hit the floor. “Imagine what we’ll do with it. We can even buy babies.”
He looked into her eyes and found them cold. He didn’t want to believe she murdered her mother just to have the family wealth. She couldn’t be that evil. But the money was enough to kill for; and even thinking about it gave him a rush he hadn’t felt in a while.
“When she’s buried, you and I will sit with an accountant and open a joint account and finally you can have access to all I own and see how much I love you and I’m willing to give you everything, Khal. If only you’ll love me back.” She kissed his neck. “You used to love me before. What happened?”
She was right. He really did fancy her once. But she lied to him, promised him the world and gave him nothing. Now, she was back with all she had promised.
“Will you love me again?”
She kissed him and he kissed back. He hated her, still. But maybe he could love her again – the money side of her, that is. She now possessed an excess of it and it would be reckless to throw it all away over pride.
He found himself getting aroused for no reason. He grabbed her waist and crushed her body into his.
“You’re such a dirty bastard, Abdul Khalid. Look how money turns you on.”
This wasn’t one of those moments one could blame on the alcohol. Khalid knew what he was doing as he laid his wife on the bed and went down on her. This was who he really was – the man that did everything to get what he wanted. It was his skills in bed that got him the Guru and Monet position and now, it was going to deliver into his hands wealth and estates he had dreamt of from the very first day he set his eyes on Sachi. No one was divorcing anyone yet. God knows he never married Sachi; it was her money he made his vows to.