They were kept waiting for three hours. Madu, in his annoying nature, complained the entire time and threatened to leave, every now and then.
“Maybe there’s no child sef,” he kicked off a fresh whine as the clock struck half past three. “I mean, I knew Monet. We were very close and she never mentioned a child. Not once.”
“So you’re saying Mrs. Tunji is lying?” Bankole asked him.
“What else? I see no other explanation. She said come for lunch and see Monet’s daughter. We came and she’s kept us here since 1pm. Something smells fishy abeg.”
“I don’t think she’s lying to us,” Khalid stated. “There must be some reason for the delay. With the little I know about Mrs. Tunji, she’s not tardy.”
Madu didn’t take Khalid’s explanation. He walked off to the minibar in the corner of the living room where they were seated and poured himself his third glass of liquor. Letting the drink down his throat, he spied Guru who was sitting outside at the terrace. He seemed asleep, a sketchbook and pencil held loosely in both hands.
Madu walked back to the other two.
“What do you guys know about this Guru kid?” he asked. Khalid ignored the question. Bankole shrugged.
Madu sat. “I tried digging dirt on him.”
A frown passed over Khalid’s face. “What for?”
“Come on, you mean you guys have not been curious about why he’s being paid more than us and holds a higher position?”
“He is Guru,” Bankole emphasized.
“Naa! That’s not enough reason. Anyway sha my sources will soon come up with something. In my line of work, I’ve come to learn that no one is that clean.”
Khalid gave a chuckle and relaxed his back on his seat.
“What?” Madu looked into his face. “You laughed.”
“Nothing. You just crack me up.”
Madu grinned. “I know. Everyone says the same thing about me.”
Khalid laughed again and Madu failed to see that the amusement wasn’t a compliment.
They waited a little longer. And finally, just at a few minutes shy of 4pm, Mrs. Tunji appeared.
“I am so sorry, boys,” she said, looking a bit off-color. “My apologies. I didn’t plan to keep you waiting this long.”
“It’s okay, ma,” Bankole replied.
“Is Roy gone?” she inquired, looking around.
“No, he’s outside.”
“Please, call him for me.”
Bankole stood up and went out to the terrace to get Guru. When they returned, Mrs. Tunji apologized to Guru as well.
“Boys, I know I promised to introduce you to Monet’s daughter today during lunch but something came up and that is why we have the delay. She’s upstairs and a bit under the weather. Would you like to see her?”
“No, it’s okay,” Madu replied quickly. “When she gets better we’ll come back.”
Khalid gave him a frown. “We would love to see her, please.”
Bankole nodded in agreement. Mrs. Tunji turned to Madu, a stony look on her face. “You may leave if you wish, Ibekwe.”
“No, it’s fine. Let’s see her.”
Mrs. Tunji led the way up a small stairway that steered them to a part of the house which had belonged exclusively to Monet. Facing them were three doors and Mrs. Tunji opened the one on the right slightly and turned to the guys.
“Please, keep it low,” she whispered before letting them in. One by one they filed into the room and walked into a scene that left them dumbstruck.
A little girl was lying on a bed, covered with a duvet. A pale skin and a thin frame told of a debilitating illness. There were tubes connected to her wrist and chest that delivered medication into her frail body. Over her head rested a woolen cap and above her eyes lay no eyebrows. She was a distressing sight to behold, even though she looked beautiful lying there helplessly. All four men were speechless.
“Boys, this is Hope. Monet’s daughter,” Mrs. Tunji introduced. “She was up and bubbly this morning but just an hour before you came, she complained of dizziness and ran into a fever and then…this. But the doctor said she’ll be fine. She just needs to rest.”
There came a knock on the door and Mrs. Tunji turned to it. A maid poked her head in and asked to see her. She left the room.
“Na wa o. So na the pikin be dis,” Madu said. No one replied him. Bankole was instantly struck with sadness as he stared into Hope’s face, wondering why a little girl had to be in so much pain. He also briefly pondered on the possibility that she could be his.
Khalid shared similar thoughts and wondered if the girl’s illness was the reason why Monet kept her away from everyone. He also gazed into her face and saw that she was a spitting image of her mother. There were no signs of anyone else’s DNA there. Was she his?
Guru, more than all of them there, understood what Hope was going through. He reached out a finger and touched her hand. She responded with a slight raise of her pinky which he noticed was painted bright red like the others. He smiled. He was certain she would be fine. Somehow he just knew by staring at her peaceful face that all of what he saw before him would pass.
“Are you sure?”
He looked up and saw Monet standing behind the bed, the concern of a broken mother weighing on her shoulders.
“She is so sick.” She stroked Hope’s forehead. “You’re sure she’ll be fine?”
Guru didn’t give her a reply. Whenever he went into any of his abstractions, he found that he was never able to speak.
He looked around him, Bankole, Madu and Khalid were still there but they were now comic characters, as everything in the room had turned to black, white and gray. When he turned his eyes to where Monet was standing, he saw that she was gone but he glanced at the bed and found her there in place of Hope. She took his hand. A surge of current flowed through him that made his veins run red with what looked like blood. She clutched his hand tightly and he began to feel pain. He tried to pull away but she held on until her hand and his became one and their fingers fused into their flesh and bones.
She left a haunting look in his eyes and then burst into a million pieces of silver and red specks, the particles falling on the bed like fairy dust.
He came back to reality. Mrs. Tunji was standing by the door, staring at him. He was holding Hope’s hand. He let go. Mrs. Tunji strolled to the foot of the bed and held the post.
“What’s wrong with her, ma?” Bankole, unable to hold his curiosity, asked.
“Neuroblastoma,” she answered, fingers locked over the bedpost. “Cancer.”
“Cancer?” more than a voice repeated. “The type Monet had?” Bankole added.
“No. Monet had cervical cancer. Hope’s is different. She was born with it. Monet had a pretty healthy pregnancy. Standard scans to check anomalies showed nothing but then she fell ill on the thirty-eighth week and was booked for a cesarean section. It was successful and Hope was born but she was having trouble breathing. The doctors assured Monet that she’d be fine and told her to rest but the next morning, they came with news that they noticed Hope’s legs weren’t moving. An ultrasound revealed a tumor almost the size of her heart pressing on her spinal cord. Monet was devastated at the news, naturally. They began tests and luckily, we were told that Hope’s chances of survival were high and there was a ninety percent possibility that the tumor would go away.”
Bankole could tell how difficult it was for Mrs. Tunji to relay the ordeal to them. Her cold exterior was gone and he saw a woman with a bleeding heart.
“They told us that because the tumor had spread to her chest, surgery would be dangerous, so she was to undergo chemotherapy.”
“Chemotherapy?” Khalid asked. “On a baby?”
Mrs. Tunji nodded. “It was hell. She was only a week old when the chemo started but by God’s grace we got through with it after six months. The tumor shrunk and totally disappeared and Hope was set to live a normal life.”
“But…?” Guru questioned.
Mrs. Tunji freed her fingers and looked down on them.
“She’s been healthy over the years, although she’s had to use walking aid because of the damage done to her spine by the tumor.” Mrs. Tunji looked up. “The cancer returned just a month after Monet’s passing. The doctors don’t know why. She’s been on chemotherapy for the past couple of months. She just concluded the first round of treatment and came back here to start off a new school as Monet desired but today she just…”
The woman shook her head despondently. “She was fine,” her voice broke. “She was fine.”
Bankole caught a tear behind her glasses.
“She’ll be okay,ma,” he said firmly. “We’re here for her and by God’s grace things will get better.”
Mrs. Tunji looked at him gratefully.
“Look, boys… Hope is an amazing child and when she gets better I want her to live a happy life. For reasons lost on me, Monet felt she could trust you with her. I want to trust you too. Can I?”
“Sure,” Bankole answered immediately.
“Yes,” Khalid nodded. Mrs. Tunji looked at Madu.
He shrugged stiffly. “Of course.”
But he was lying. The air in the room stifled him so badly that he wanted to run out and drive straight home. He had no business being in that room. He was very certain he was not Hope’s father. He had used protection with Monet and remembered only that one incidence where the condom tore. He was sure that that alone couldn’t have been enough to make him a father. There was no way he was going to feel responsible for any child, let alone a sick one. What was he supposed to do for her that her mother’s money wasn’t already doing? He didn’t even like his siblings’ kids. How could he like this one?
“You haven’t told us about Monet’s illness,” Khalid mentioned and Mrs. Tunji’s tough exterior returned.
“I didn’t invite you hear to talk about Monet.”
With those words, the visit ended. She held the door open for them and like they had come in, they filed out, Madu leading the way.
“Monet was a bitch o!” Madu exclaimed later that evening as four of them sat down for a drink in a bar near the estate where they lived. Khalid had invited them over to his house for lunch which he prepared himself and afterwards, took them to the bar for drinks.
“Bitch, how?” Khalid asked Madu. They were seated at the bar table, facing a huge flatscreen TV on the wall that was showing a football match.
“As in, she knew her child was sick but failed to mention it in the contract we signed. And even that evil Mrs. Tunji was tightlipped about the whole thing. Which kain winch behavior be dat one? I swear if to say I know say na sick pikin dem carry put for my head, I wouldn’t have taken the job.”
“You can still quit now,” Guru, who was sitting next to him, replied silently. He stared down at Guru.
“It’s just pure wickedness! You don’t shove a child from nowhere in a man’s face like that. A sick one for that matter!”
“Madu, a child is a child, sick or not,” Bankole educated him.
Madu leaned over to table to get a good look at Bankole who was two seats away from him.
“So you would choose a sick child over a healthy child?”
“No one wants a sick child, guy. But these things happen, even to the best of us. Look at Monet. She was rich, she had everything and yet God blessed her with that beautiful girl.”
“God?” Madu scoffed. “Na God you dey blame now? How you sure say Monet no try commit abortion after she don fuck up and down, come discover say she get belle?”
Guru gripped his bottle of beer tight, annoyance rising in him. Bankole chose not to reply Madu’s insinuations. He faced the television screen.
“And what’s with the ‘don’t do DNA test’ thing?” Madu continued. “I’m sure all that one she told Mrs. Tunji that she didn’t know who the father was, she was lying! And I can bet you that none of us is the father of that girl!”
“But you slept with her,” Khalid mentioned.
“So that’s why she’ll dump another sick man’s child on my head? A child quarter to die?!”
In a flash, Guru raised his arm and rammed his elbow hard into Madu’s face. The force of the blow threw Madu off his barstool and had him falling backwards to the floor. A dazed expression filled his face as he struggled to get up. Bankole, oblivious of what had happened, looked about in confusion.
“What happened?” he asked. Khalid shrugged. Guru remained on his seat, his eyes on the screen. The barman and other customers were as confused as Bankole.
Madu finally regained his composure. He faced Guru.
“Consider yourself dead in this Lagos!” he raged. “Just go bury yourself!” He hit the table. “Because I swear, I go finish you!”
Guru ignored him, as did Khalid. Bankole walked to him and drew him away from Guru. He tried to calm him but he pushed Bankole off and marched out in a storm.
“Dude, what was that?” Khalid asked Guru and Guru merely smiled. Khalid burst into laughter.
“What happened?” Bankole repeated his question and Khalid, amidst laughter related what had taken place.
“The guy deserved it abeg.” Bankole took his seat. “His wahala is too much.”
Khalid couldn’t stop his laughter. “The way he fell was epic. I wish I had recorded it. But Guru, you sef you be dangerous guy o. I go dey fear you from now on.”
“I didn’t mean to. It was just reflex to bullshit.”
This time around, Bankole joined in the mirth. Khalid ordered a fresh round of drinks and they enjoyed what would have otherwise been a sad evening after visiting Monet’s daughter.
Madu pounded into the woman beneath him like a wild bull. She was screaming for him to stop but he was deaf to her pleas. He was angry and humiliated and was taking it all out on her. The bed underneath them rocked to his movements, also complaining with a rhythmical noise about the ill-treatment. Yet Madu fired on. The woman’s saggy left breast was squeezed painfully in his right hand and used as a grip to help drive in more agonizing thrusts. He went on for an endless moment and at last came to a climax with an equestrian cry. The woman pushed him away and stared down between her open legs in panic.
“You wounded me.” She touched her vagina and lifted her fingers to show him blood.
“You’re probably on your period,” he replied, taking off his condom.
“You idiot!” she hit him. “You peeled me.”
“Is it my fault that I’m big?” His rage had died down now. He cackled smugly to himself at his statement.
“Just get out of my house!” The woman hit him again as she got off her bed to the bathroom. Madu wore his clothes and attended to his ringing phone. When he saw that it was his father calling, he flung the phone back to the bed with a grunt.
He hated his family. And the feeling on their side was mutual. Madu was the black sheep. He was born to a father that didn’t want him from the moment of conception and hated him the day he was born because his birth took the life of his adoring wife. Madu grew up well cared for financially but unloved by the old man. When he hit his teenage years, he turned to every parent’s nightmare, doing all he could to get his father’s attention; but his rebellion fell on a brick wall. He was basically trained by his siblings and they also had little affection for him. The only sister who cared enough to be there for him died in a tragic fire accident whilst trying to save him after he passed out drunk, leaving a cigarette burning on his bed. The tragedy tore him farther away from his family and left him scarred. To kill his pain and guilt, he became outgoing and made friends, seeking for companionship from strangers. He threw lavish parties regularly and spent heavily on girls just to have their company. With time, he got the recognition he was searching for. Celebrities made friends with him, females flocked around him and somehow his opinion in the world of entertainment came to matter.
When he got his first PR job, it was by chance. A celeb whose name had been muddied by a rape scandal was an acquaintance of Madu’s. Madu, to pay back a favor, made a phone call to a popular blogger and told a dissimilar account of the story. Before the day ended, the Celeb’s name was cleared and the accuser became public enemy. Madu was offered a job to become the celeb’s PR by his manager. He gladly accepted, head swelled with pride over how much clout he held on social media. Later on, he was to find out that the celeb had actually raped the girl and she hadn’t been his only victim. But Madu did not care; he was having a blast with his new job
From thenceforth, job offers were thrown his way, many of which he declined. He carefully chose his clientele and became known as a celebrity PR king. He loved keeping his reputation controversial online just to remain relevant. He particularly enjoyed engaging with feminists and presenting the façade that women were subservient to men, having discovered that by experience, if you got the female folk entertained, you got a good following. And for that reason he opened a fashion blog on the side, run by a team of women. The blog was a hit from its inception and it connected him to the influencers of the fashion industry. Money from advertisements flowed in constantly. Madu’s life on the outside seemed a success. He had the name, the cash and the attention.
But Madu remained small and broken inside.
He went through phases of different types of addictions to fill his void but nothing had helped so far. Presently, he was obsessed with older women. It was a recurring addiction, one that had led him to Monet in the past, who was six years older than he was at the time. Right now, he nursed a huge crush on Mrs. Tunji, even though he knew it was going to be futile and disastrous to make moves on her. For the meantime, he was stuck on a divorcee whose first son was about his age. He also frequently visited a forty-something year old Indian call girl who lived like a lowlife but had rich clients. It was where he was presently. He hated his existence but couldn’t find the redemption he was looking for. Life offered temporary pleasures and cures to his pain like the hate-sex he just had. It was for such brief moments he lived.
The Indian prostitute returned to the room, limping from the pain of his abuse. He counted some money from his wallet and handed to her. She threw it back at him.
“After rendering me useless for a week you’re giving me ten thousand naira,” she bellowed in pure Nigerian accent. “Are you mad?!”
“See me see trouble. I didn’t even go up to thirty minutes sef.”
“You dey craze?! Before I open my eyes and close them, put twenty thousand naira on my pillow now-now-now and get out of my house! Oloshi!”
“Sanji…” he got on his feet and tried to appease her with kisses but she held firm her stance. When he saw that he couldn’t have his way, he asked for her POS machine. She produced it from a locked drawer under a reading table beside the bed and had him pay his bills.
“Can I stay the night since you won’t be taking more clients for a while?” he presented the money previously offered to her. “We’ll lie in bed and watch movies.”
She took the money, handed him his phone and had him by his ear, dragging him to the door. She hurled him out and slammed the door.
In her sitting room, he found two men waiting. “She’s out of service,” he said to them. “She’ll only give blowjobs.”
He left the house and felt his anger rise again as his father’s call came in the second time.
“Good evening sir,” he answered and listened to the old man’s frail voice. “I’ll be there.”
He terminated the call.
“Do and die abeg.” He drew a long hiss and stepped out into the darkness. “Old fool.”
Bankole was already exhausted when he drove to his friends’ house. He didn’t know why he was tired, being that he hadn’t done anything all day. But somehow he was and he found himself yawning behind the wheel.
The time spent with Guru and Khalid was relaxing after a week of stress at the office. They had talked about different things and as much as they tried not to bring Monet and Hope up, they naturally fell into the topic. From what Bankole garnered, Khalid’s relationship with Monet had exceeded a casual affair. In the man’s eyes he saw someone who once held strong feelings for Monet. The words he had used to describe their relationship were laced with affection, not the type one used for an off-the-cuff encounter. They had also talked about Hope, her illness and about being there for her. None of them held Madu’s sentiments.
Bankole had left them at the bar when his friends called to tell him they needed to see him urgently. He arrived at their house with sleepy eyes. Whatever they wanted him around for, it better be quick. He needed a good night’s rest to prepare for a hectic day tomorrow.
He got down from his car and walked to the front door. He heard familiar laughter from a female voice as he knocked on the door but his mind was too tired to register who it was.
He opened the door and walked in on his friends in the company of a lady whose smile brightened when she saw him. She left her seat and ran to him, giving him a warm bear hug. He hugged back but pulled away to look into her eyes.
“Bea, what are you doing here?” he asked.
She smiled shyly. “I’m sorry, Banky, for all I did. I left Paul. I couldn’t continue with him knowing I still love you.”
Her eyes filled with tears.
“I’m so sorry.”
“Hey, it’s okay.” He caught the first tear that came down and hugged her again. It felt good to have his woman in his arms once more. They didn’t stay long at his friends’. He put her luggage in his trunk and drove her home.
“I wanted it to be a surprise, that was why I didn’t tell you I was coming, so I went to them Mike’s house,” Beatrice explained when he parked his car in his driveway. She leaned towards him and kissed him.
“Let’s go in.”
He led her into his tastefully-furnished living room and left her gasping at the sight. He smiled to himself; sometimes he had the same reaction when he woke up in the morning and walked in there half-asleep.
“Wow! I don’t know what to say. All of this is for you?” she asked.
“Yeah. Three bedrooms.”
“Are you serious? And they furnished everything?”
“Everything. I didn’t even buy a broom. It was all here when I moved in.”
“Wow! Can I see the bedroom?”
Bankole led her to his bedroom, which was a mess, but it didn’t stop her from her show of amazement. He stood by and watched her. He loved her still. However, something in him was bitter over the way she appeared from the blue like she hadn’t caused him tears and a broken heart. It was a small, virulent feeling but it was enough to cast a shadow over his affection for her. To kill it, he pulled her to him and kissed her lips. She tasted familiar and therapeutic at the same time. He breathed out with a smile.
“So you left him? Your Paul?”
“He’s not my Paul.” She squeezed her lips in a scowl. “And yes I left him.”
“What happens to the wedding and everything he gave you and your parents?”
Beatrice lifted and dropped her shoulders imperturbably.
“Hasn’t he paid your bride price?”
“He has but it doesn’t mean. I don’t like him, not to even talk of loving him sef. The guy is just tiring abeg. The whole time, I was still in love with you. You’re the man I want to marry, Banky mi.”
“So how long are you staying here?”
“How long? You told me to come so that we’ll build our lives together nau. And that’s why I’m here. Permanently.”
“You quit your job?”
“Nope.” She giggled. “I just up and left Calabar like that.”
Bankole let out a smile that didn’t come from the heart. Something didn’t seem right with Beatrice’s decisions. She was not the type to just up and leave like that. And he found it unsettling that she had left her fiancé without any notice, the same way she had carried on behind his back with the same man without his knowledge. Two weeks ago he would have been excited about this new turn of events but not now. Something about him had changed. Work, his new status and responsibilities made him see life differently; and weirdly, Beatrice was giving him bad vibes. He wondered if this was the same manner of conversation she had with Paul about him when she decided to betray his love. If she referred to the guy as tiring, what had she called him – a leech? A broke-ass?
“What’s wrong, boo?” she asked him as his body shifted away from hers unintentionally.
“Nothing. I’m just tired.”
“Oya, lie down lemme massage you.” She dragged him to the bed. “Your wife is here now. You can never be stressed again, Banky mi.”
As he lay down, his mind brooded over the word ‘wife’. Beatrice had never used that to describe her status with him before.
What the hell was up with her?