It took just three weeks to get them all out of sorts. Meetings upon endless meetings birthed sleepless nights where they had to come up with the year’s calendar, embark on researches, build a system on the foundation of a pre-existing one with a mix of a totally new fashion culture to fit the market, and finally to emerge with fresh designs for a new era of Guru and Monet.
It was total madness!
What came as a blessing to all four guys was fast turning into a burden and they found themselves stretched beyond their limits.
For Madu who was in charge of public relations, he devised a way to lessen his load. Being the lastborn in his family, he was accustomed to having people do his duties, hence he simply thrust the bulk of his responsibilities to some young dude who was only too glad to be employed gainfully. While the boy went about Madu’s business, Madu concentrated on other things – like Guru. He was fast developing an unhealthy obsession over the twenty-eight year old.
Khalid, being a hard worker, charged himself into his duties to the extent that he surprised himself. Having been away from the fashion world for more than a decade, there was so much to get acquainted with. The market in Africa was a lot different from the one in Europe and to be able to find his footing, he wasted no time in using the privileges of his office to contact the necessary shakers of the industry. Fortunately, his team was made up of experienced, capable minds that knew their onions in fashion marketing and merchandising. Khalid hated the workload but he was very certain it was going to pay off in no time.
Bankole was by no means left out of the whirling pool of exertion. At first, it was difficult to understand his roles but the regional manager, a middle-aged man, who was sympathetic enough to all of them, helped him immensely. Luck had it that the man once managed Bankole’s position under Monet back in London. He walked Bankole through his duties and kept him under a watchful eye in the first week. By the second week, the man had to take a trip to London and Bankole was left to work alone. At this point, he understood what was expected of him as he tackled duties on a roaster already marked out for him. It was tedious, no doubt, but he loved it. The downside was forced insomnia; the upside was the attention he was beginning to get from the opposite sex. Having dashing looks had never felt this good. From the ladies in the office to the ones he liaised with on the outside, everyone wanted a piece of him. His flashy car wasn’t helping matters either. He couldn’t help but muse every now and then how one minute his life was of no consequence and the next, he was a man of considerable significance. It felt like he was living someone else’s existence; sometimes, he would slap himself to remind his brain that he was still Bankole Gomez, a nobody. He never felt full excitement over his new status; to him, it held no meaning without Beatrice. Three weeks after that cold morning, he was still heartbroken.
Guru. He was an enigma of some sort to everyone. Where he was concerned, there arose many questions. If he was the Guru in Guru and Monet, where had he been all these years? How come Monet never mentioned him to anyone? How can a twenty-eight year old have so much experience in fashion? Did he really come up with all those designs all by himself?
He held the entire G&M, home and abroad, in awe. Many in the former management and design team initially kicked against the idea of him being the new head of design, but there was nothing much anyone could do. Thence, they observed him, everyone waiting for him to fail. But the boy performed beyond expectation and antagonism. Madu concluded he was under the influence of drugs even though his process wasn’t hidden from anyone. They watched him create designs, inspire the junior designers and attend to his responsibilities right under their noses. His office, being the largest was turned into his workroom and there he buried himself, stepping out only to share brilliant ideas or to take short breaks. The breaks were always on Madu’s mind, and during that first week, he had employed someone to mark Guru closely. He wanted dirt on him. No one was that genius.
Guru was completely oblivious of the focus on him. So much had changed in his life over the past three weeks. Back in Cape Town, he was working with a top designer who made sure he remained in the shadows and yet created the best pieces for the line. It had been a brain-draining experience but in G&M, he was boss. He couldn’t believe he was taking over Monet’s place and often wondered if that had been her plan all along. There were so many questions he had for her that the short video she left for him couldn’t answer. Why had she thrust her world into his hands? What was she high on when she made that decision?
These were the things he often pondered on when he took his short breaks to clear his head. He would usually take the stairs down instead of the elevator, headphones over his head to avoid human interaction, and walk out of the five-storey building to get some air. He would pace in slow steps, hands tucked in his pockets as he headed down Broad Street in Marina. The famous street which was one of the oldest in Lagos, held both feudal and modern architecture and was listed as part of Guru’s favorite places in the city. He remembered when as a little boy, his father had brought him on his first tour there. He recalled the long walk they took and the stories his father told him about the area being part of the Brazilian Quarter where most of the slave trade returnees from Brazil chose to settle. The man conjured images in Guru’s mind that took him back to a time he never witnessed. It was Broad Street that bore in him his love for the vintage, a part of him that had colored every design he ever made.
His walks would sometimes take him to a spot where an old Yoruba woman sold herbal mixtures to help cure an assortment of ailments. It was a tight space between an old stone building and a skyscraper. It held two long benches facing a table and Guru would sit and order for a cup of steaming herbal concoction to renew depleted energy. He never knew what the woman mixed together; all that mattered was that it felt refreshing. While he sipped, he would listen to the men there who came from a world different from his, share their lives’ experiences or just banter about issues bothering them. It was weird that they really didn’t like talking about politics, unlike the people in the office who had nothing else to do with spare time except argue over who was better between the president and his most formidable opponent. Being away from that environment occasionally was therapeutic.
It was during one of such walks that he bumped into an old lover from university. He was stepping out of the joint when a girl with full, natural hair, left to the mercy of the wind, wheezed past him, leaving a scent of eucalyptus and something floral. He hadn’t paid her much mind but had wondered about her peculiar style. It wasn’t something one saw in Lagos. She had on brown ankle leather boots over black woolen stockings that traveled up long legs disappearing beneath a mini skirt. He didn’t see what she wore on top as a brown jacket covered her torso.
He was turning away from staring at her when suddenly she stopped in her tracks like she had come upon an obstacle. The action also brought him to halt and curiosity held him standing. Slowly, she turned around and glared at him.
His head didn’t process anything for the first few seconds. For eyes, she had geek glasses and her full hair took central theme of her face, thus he couldn’t recognize her. But the voice caught him somewhere that triggered a fuzzy memory.
She shrieked and ran up to him, wrapping him in a tight hug. The eucalyptus scent was stronger now and the floral just beneath the surface. Guru draped his arms around his ex-girlfriend and the feel of her in his hold brought warm memories to him. But she pushed away from him and blessed him with a nasty slap that caused passers-by to turn.
Guru said nothing. He knew he deserved the slap and even worse.
She kicked him in the sheen and hit him with her hand bag before she began walking away in anger.
He turned. “Ure? Ure!” She ignored his calls. “Urena!”
She stopped and spun round. He pointed in the opposite direction.
“I thought you were going this way.”
Urena held an embarrassed look before she threw her head up defiantly and continued on. Guru ran after her and stopped her.
“You broke up with me through a text!”
“It wasn’t intentional, Ure.”
“It wasn’t intentional? The phone typed the text by itself abi?!”
“A text! God! You’re an idiot! Who does that?! I know sometimes your head doesn’t work well, but a text?! You’re just a beast!”
“And I’m not forgiving you! Never!”
They both went silent until she spoke after she calmed.
“I forgive you.”
“And I’ve moved on. You’re not that important anymore that I’ll still be hung up on you like that. When I realized the breakup was real, I started dating another person.”
They went silent again.
“So how about you? Any girlfriends?”
“No. None since then.”
“You haven’t stopped that joke.”
“Just trying to see if it still gets to you.”
“So have you…?” she raised her brows slightly. He stared down to the ground. She was asking about his sex life. The last time they were together, they were both virgins.
“Have you?” he threw the question back.
“Yep.” She smiled. “So how is life treating you?”
He shrugged. “Lost my dad.”
“I heard. Sorry.”
“I worked with a bank for a year and then moved to South Africa to work with some designer. How about you?”
“Nothing much. Went to Vogue Style School of Fashion and Design in Ghana,” she said proudly. “Came back, started a small sewing business on the side while looking for a job. I’m still on that.”
“What’s with the glasses?”
“Woke up one morning and realized everything was blurry. Thought it would go away but…” she shook her head. “The doctors gave me the glasses and things went back to normal.”
“Do they hurt?”
“No. Your eyes.”
“If I take off the glasses, yeah.”
They went silent for the third time. Guru felt a gust of cold wind slap over his chest and wondered why he chose, of all days to underestimate the weather. Cape Town was by all means, colder but the harmattan in Nigeria gave a different meaning to the word ‘chilly’. It was the dust it came with that he wasn’t comfortable with.
Urena, on the other hand, looked well-prepared for the weather. Beneath her heavy clothes, Guru remembered a slim frame that wasn’t so curvy. She had small breasts, slim hips and a petite, although shapely backside. But she possessed a smooth, dark skin that was spotless and unbelievably soft. Her lips, too, Guru recalled, were luscious.
“Let me be going, Roy. My mom sent me to see a guy in that bank who’ll help me get a job. Hopefully, I’ll be lucky this time.”
“And forget fashion?”
She sighed. “It’s not easy jare. There are no jobs and I’m not as rich as you to start something on my own that will go anywhere.”
“I’m not that rich again. When popsie died we lost everything.”
“But things are back to normal now, I guess. Hey…what if I help you get a job?”
Guru took her hand and led her towards G&M. Something told him he was making a mistake, letting her back into his life, but his heart was beating in a way it hadn’t in a while. He had never stopped loving Urena even though for reasons he never shared with her, he had been forced to leave her. Both of them had unfinished business. She wasn’t just a friend; she was his muse. With her around, he would keep his head above water. The key was to make sure things between them was platonic. As long as they remained friends, he was going to be fine.
“So do you have a boyfriend now?” he asked as they neared the entrance doors of Guru and Monet.
Guru laughed. It was to be his first show of happiness in a while.
Bankole woke up with a sour taste in his mouth and a bad headache. He felt a chill over his body and realized that he was naked save for a white bedsheet over his legs.
He needed no reminder of what transpired the night before as it came rushing back to him unmercifully. He was going to regret it, for sure. Just a week before, he had gone to church to rededicate his life to God and to seek help to guide him in his new career. Now here he was, with a hangover, lying on a strange bed after a night with a woman he knew little of. If it had taken him just three weeks in the job to get to this point, what was his life going to be like in the following months?
He shuddered and exhaled. His companion for the night was having a shower in the bathroom. He felt it was a good time to dress up and sneak out.
It was easy not to blame himself. After all, the girls were all over him and it would take a eunuch not to give in to that type of temptation. But he remembered his mother always told him that temptation never barged into anyone’s house uninvited and brought them down. It usually knocked on the door a few times until the person answered.
This had been his case. The lady in the bathroom was sent to him for a photoshoot. She was a professional model, the covergirl for the February issue of G&M magazine. Bankole was not into skinny females but the moment she walked into his studio on the last floor of the G&M building, he was held bound.
It was professional at first. She seemed to him a sad woman beneath her poses and smiles. At their first location at Elegushi Beach, she sat by while he set up equipment with a couple of guys on his team. From stolen glances, he discovered she was trying hard to remain emotionally stable.
The shoot began when the sun started to set. Initially, she was scared of the waves but he assured her that she was going to be fine, leading her to the edge of the ocean where the waters splashed about rocks set there to break unruly surfs.
In time, she relaxed and seemingly found succor as the foamy waters slapped around her legs and dug around her heels. She was great beneath the lens much to Bankole’s relief. Of all the models he worked with so far, she was the best.
However, when a wild wave from nowhere, flounced upon her, surged far beyond its barriers and carried everyone off the shore, she lost her cool. Bankole had gone after and rescued her, helping her unto a mat on dry ground. Subsequently, he checked on his team and found everyone okay. Later on they would discover that her car key was washed with the waves. It was at this point she broke down and activated a diva mode so alien to Bankole that he stood by helplessly until she put herself together. He sent his team back to town and stayed with her to have a word.
She told him of her man and how he was upset with her because she wouldn’t give up her career as a model. She cried for so long and so despairingly, that Bankole hardly heard anything she said after a while. He basically consoled her and offered to drive her home. There was a second photoshoot at the studio the next day and he needed her rested and refreshed. That night she thanked and gave him a peck on his cheek in his car. When he left her house, with the help of a colleague, they found a mechanic that got her car out of the beach area.
The next evening, she was at his studio and back to her springy self. When the photoshoot began, she requested to be alone with him. Since models were known to make strange requests, no one fussed about it. The shoot went smoothly and in a short while, they were through.
And then she made a stranger request.
“Can I take off my clothes?”
Bankole, who at this point, was turning off the lights, paused.
“I need to take a few personal nudes. I haven’t done so in a while. Can I?”
Bankole broke a sweat. He remembered his regional manager telling him models had no qualms going stark naked under the lens. The man told him to get used to it and also used to the fact that most of them were women of loose morals.
“In fact, all of them are hoes,” the man had added with a sneer on his face. “Be warned.”
Bankole swallowed. “Sure. Go ahead,” he told her.
He turned away as she undressed, and prayed to God she would change her mind.
“You can turn now.”
Bankole heard a little voice in him whine as he faced her.
Damn! She was hot! His face shot down immediately.
“Am I making you uncomfortable, Bankole?” she asked.
“No, no. Uhm…” he went behind his camera. “How do you want us to do this?”
He cringed at his question.
“I meant, what’s the concept?”
“No concept. Just nudes.”
“Okay, give me a moment.”
He set his camera.
“Are you ready?”
She nodded and he began. It was the most silent shoot he ever took. He gave no directions, stayed behind the lens and clicked off at every pose she took. After they were done, she walked up to him and gave him a hug.
“Thanks. You’re sweet.”
He recalled his boss’ words and stepped away.
“Your car’s in the parking lot.”
“Oops! I forgot my spare key. Could you drive me home?”
“I’d love to but I’m stopping somewhere for a drink with friends.”
“Really? I’d love to go with you. Can I? Please? I’m so bored and lonely these days.”
Bankole found himself trapped. She was too beautiful and too nude for him to resist.
“Okay. Just dress up.”
She walked to where she discarded her clothes and shimmied into her thong. Bankole didn’t know why but he stared and caught a glimpse of her backside. And he felt himself on the verge of an erection.
He hurried out of the studio.
They hung out with a couple of his friends, the ones who had housed him when he first moved to Lagos before he occupied his new home. The guys were as smashed over her beauty as he was and urged him, when she took a bathroom break, to ‘enter her runs’ without wasting time and forget about Beatrice.
They had a lot of alcohol to drink afterwards, although Bankole kept telling himself that he wasn’t so tipsy. The night dragged on and by twelve, he parted ways with his friends and took her home. He was to say goodbye at her doorstep but she dragged him in and raped his lips with kisses. So many times, his mind begged him to stop but she was too intoxicating to pass up. How they ended up in her bedroom was a blur to him but the rest of what happened there was going to be etched in his memory. She was wild and gluttonous, like one starved of sex for years. Bankole, on his part, couldn’t believe he was having it that easy. Girls as beautiful as she never went after him, let alone give him so good a time.
He slept like a prince, sated and smiling. Surely, it had been therapy for his soul. However, he didn’t feel the same when he woke up, especially when he turned to the wall on his right and saw his boss in a picture hanging off the wall, holding the same woman he had just slept with in a warm embrace.
Bankole tumbled off the bed in fright. He gave the bedroom a quick tour and discovered he was in the private space of a married couple. He reached for his boxers on the floor and wore it just as his one-night affair appeared from the bathroom.
“Stay away from me.” He put a hand out, his chest thumping painfully. She gave him a puzzled look.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were married?”
Her expression was maintained. “Erm…I did. The other day at the beach…”
“Yes, I did. I told you I was married.”
“You did not! And you’re married to my boss?! You missed that part out too?!”
She rolled her eyes. “You didn’t exactly want to know anything about me. You just wanted to screw me.”
Bankole’s mouth fell open.
“Well, you got what you wanted. You can go. He’s coming back from London today.”
Bankole was tongue-tied. Suddenly she seemed ugly to him. She wasn’t the same woman he had in his arms the night before.
“You weren’t bad, though, for a fine boy,” she stated.
He wanted so badly to cuss at her.
“Who is Bea, by the way?” she crossed her arms.
“You kept calling me Bea yesterday. Who is she?”
Bankole picked his shirt off the floor. “Somebody you will never be.”
She walked forward and lifted his jeans off the bed post, flinging it at him. He didn’t bother to dress up. He packed his belongings and headed for the door.
“You’re not going to tell my husband, are you?”
She made him stop.
“Why would I do that?”
“Just making sure.”
Bankole gripped the door handle.
“Call me.” She blew a kiss just as he walked out and slammed the door.
“Shit!” he swore. His phone rang. He stared at it. Mrs. Tunji was calling.
“Good morning, ma,” he answered.
“How are you?”
“You remember you’re having lunch with me today?”
Bankole shut his eyes. He had totally forgotten. “Lunch?”
“Yes, lunch. You’re meeting Monet’s daughter today.”
“1pm. Don’t be late.”
The line went off. Bankole dressed up in a flash and left the house, the weight of what he had just done heavy on him. He needed to go to church to purge himself.
Mrs. Tunji put away her phone and stepped out of the elevator. The offices were scanty, being that it was a Sunday, but she was certain she would find Guru at work. She opened a glass door which led her to the design and creative wing that held several cubicles with work tables. Most of the tables were neatly arranged except for the ones that had people working on them. Mrs. Tunji nodded to the greetings of the staff and proceeded to their boss’ office.
Guru was lost behind his sewing machine. She stood for a while and watched him with a bit of warmth, remembering her son whom she hadn’t seen in quite some time.
“How are you?”
Guru took off his headphones and stared in her direction.
“How are you?”
“Great. One minute.”
He freed the piece of cloth he was sewing from the machine and strolled to her. He gave her an unexpected hug. She stood coldly in his arms.
“Why did you do that?”
“I was trying to know your size.”
“I want to make you something. Heard it’s your birthday next week, so I hugged you to know your details.”
The woman wasn’t so sure how to react to him. “By just hugging me, you can tell?”
“I can tell by just looking at you but I get an accurate fit with a hug.”
Her face turned back to stone. “Next time, use the tape.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He smiled. She was fond of the boy. He was easy to love, never given to the things that worried everyone else. He was dedicated to his job. Hard to understand or relate with but possessed a good soul beneath. Anyway, three weeks was too quick to conclude. Children of these days often turned out as disappointments in the end.
“I was told you hired an assistant.”
“Yes, I did,” Guru answered.
Mrs. Tunji looked around his scattered workspace like she expected to see the assistant hiding in some corner. Instead she found lifesize graffiti of curvy, faceless women in spicy lingerie on the walls.
“Goodness! Roy, what is this monstrosity?”
“Inspiration. You don’t like them?”
“No. Please, get a painter to pain over them.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t. They talk to me.”
Mrs. Tunji raised her brows and saw that he wasn’t joking. She sighed. Monet had warned her about his oddness and added that he was not to be hindered to do anything he desired.
“If he wants to come to work in his briefs, let him be. His demons are weird like that.”
Mrs. Tunji sighed once more. “Lunch is by 1pm. Hope you remember?”
Mrs. Tunji lifted the side of her lips in a smile but let it down again.
“How are you feeling?” she asked.
She lowered her eyes into his and uttered in a quieter tone.
“I know about your HIV status.”
Guru slowly pushed his hands into his pockets. “She told you.”
“Yes. And it was good thing. Such information is very important. And trust me to guard it with my life.”
Guru smiled blandly.
“But I do hope it won’t be a problem for us, here?”
“Good. It should never leak out. Never.”
Guru gave her no reply.
“See you at lunch.”
She walked out as silent as a ghost.
Guru remained standing for several minutes. When he finally came to, he returned to his sewing machine, listening to Jhene Aiko’s Bed Peace.