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The boardroom was alive with voices raised in intense argument. The topic was over the type of models to use for G&M’s first fashion show in Nigeria and Bankole noticed that the person who ignited the debate was not participating in it. Guru was busy with two junior designers in a corner, their chairs surrounding a small coffee table.
Banky wasn’t contributing to the noise as well. He watched in indifference. His colleagues were an interesting lot, comprising of all types of people—the fashionable, the very fashionable, the gay, the straight, the superficial, the talented, the business-minded, the troublemakers, the troubleshooters and the lazy.
When he was tired of trying to read each person, he faced his laptop and commenced editing some photos.
Just as he started, his phone lit up on the table before him. It was a ping. When he checked it out, he found it was from his boss’ wife. She had sent him a selfie of herself giving him a blowjob. He quickly turned the phone over.
“Nice,” a voice said. He turned in the direction of the person who had just spoken. It was a lady seated beside him. She had seen the selfie and paid him a generous smile. She was a temptation for him, having been the first to make moves on him when he first began work. Her name was Ruky and she had a killer backside which made her top the list of every straight guy’s fantasy in the office. No one was yet to have her and she wasn’t interested in any of them. She wanted Banky alone and made it known every chance she got. At the moment, her eyes went murky as she showed that she was impressed with what she had seen in the picture.
“S’that your girlfriend?” she asked.
Bankole threw a quick look in his boss’ direction. The man’s voice was raised at the moment, asking everyone to pipe down.
“She’s sha enjoying.” Ruky winked at Bankole and swiveled her chair to face another colleague, giving him a full view of her backside He took his eyes elsewhere.
Another ping came in. He snatched his phone off the table when he saw Ruky glance at it. He brought it to his face and opened yet another pic which the boss’ wife tagged ‘Got Milk?’ In this one, his face was buried between her breasts.
He grunted in annoyance at himself. How on earth had he gotten so careless? If those photos came out, he was dead. If his boss didn’t kill him, G&M would fire him and he would be back on the streets.
Ruky touched him and he looked at her. She pointed at the boss; he was demanding everyone’s attention. Bankole put his phone down.
“Guru, you have anything to say about this, being that the argument started because of your designs?” the boss asked. Guru left the coffee table he was at and pushed hands into the pockets of his Boy London knuckle joggers as he faced his colleagues.
“I have curvy women in mind and they’ll walk that runway.”
“That is ridiculous!” Madu countered. “The novelty of plus size models has worn off and we’re back to fitfam and skinny bitches. Take your every woman campaign elsewhere!”
Guru shrugged indifferently. “I have designed what I’ve designed.”
“And I agree with him,” the boss said, drawing a few murmurs of protest.
“Every woman, apart from the obese, should be represented in the show. This is not us campaigning for femininity; it’s business. There’s a market out there and we have to hit it hard. We still have the London, New York and Paris shows to use our regular models. But this is Nigeria and Africa. We can’t do without big, beautiful booty.”
There was general amusement at his last statement. Ruky also got some attention from the guys, of which she handed them her middle finger.
The meeting moved on to another issue when the noise died down. Bankole went back to his phone. He had gotten a third ping and it read: still waiting…
He sighed regrettably. The woman had guts. He had come to work to find her waiting in his office. He had dashed out immediately and stayed in Khalid’s office until the meeting kicked off. It was three hours and counting now, and she was still there.
Bankole knew he was in trouble. No matter how the situation turned, he didn’t see it ending well for him.
Finally the meeting came to a close and he didn’t stay back to fraternize. He got into an elevator and went up to the last floor where his office was located.
He pushed the door open, walked in and she was still there. He shut the door.
“Hi.” She lifted her eyes from a magazine she was reading.
“Does your husband know you’re here?” Bankole took his seat.
She rolled her eyes. “Of course not.”
“He is in the building,” Bankole informed her. “He could walk in here.”
“What do you want?” He tried to maintain calm.
“I came to get my nudes.”
“I’ll email them to you. Anything else?”
“Maybe a quickie…”
“Look,” he said, interrupting her, “what we did was a stupid mistake on my part. And I am not known to repeat stupid mistakes. So please, don’t come back here again. If you do, I’ll be forced to tell your husband what happened.”
She laughed. “You’ll tell my husband you slept with me?”
“Yes. You never told me you were married.”
“Yet somehow you came into my house, walked past the parlor that had my wedding photos framed on the walls, carried me up the stairs, into my matrimonial bedroom and banged my brains out on my husband’s bed.”
Bankole shifted in his chair with unease.
“Good luck with your story for the gods.” She stood up. “I’ll text you my email.” She picked her purse from his table and catwalked to the door. She stopped there, lifted her skirt slightly, pulled off her G-string, and then flung it at him. It landed perfectly over his face, the scent of her filling his nose instantly. She blew him a kiss and continued out.
Bankole flung the underwear into a drawer. Fuming, he tried to wipe the smell of her off his face. A phone call came in. he stared at a strange number on his screen.
“Yeah?” he answered.
“Good morning. Is this Bankole Gomez?”
“Yes, this is he? Who is speaking?”
The caller cleared his throat. “My name is Paul. Paul Savior.”
Bankole made a leer at the corny name.
“Paul Savior? Do I know you?” he asked, knowing perfectly well who was calling. He was more curious as to why he was calling.
“You don’t know me or maybe you do, I don’t know. I am your ex-girlfriend’s ex-fiancé.”
“Ex-girlfriend?” Bankole planned to make things difficult for him.
“Yes, ex-girlfriend. Beatrice.”
Bankole cringed at the way he called his sweetheart’s name. It sounded something like ‘Biyatrix.’ The man came off like one of those people who lived abroad and developed some phony accent over a thick native tongue.
“What do you want?”
“I’m just calling to discuss some things with you.”
“Look, I’m busy…”
“I won’t take long.”
“I will not waste time in telling you about how me and Biyatrix met and started courtship. But we have been together for almost seven months.”
Bankole felt his heart miss a beat.
“She told me that you and her are no longer together and I believe her because I am hardly in Nigeria and anytime I come, I stay in Abuja and she will come and meet me, you understand?”
“Mm-hm.” Bankole shifted his chair back a little. He remembered Beatrice’s trips to her ‘village’ to visit her parents and how he always questioned her decision to stay only for a day.
“Along the line I propose to her and she accept, and this is after I have meet her parents and entire family and invest so much on her. You understand?”
“In November, the parents call me and told me that they think I should come and pay her bride price and fix wedding date. I call Biyatrix and ask if it is what she wants, she tell me yes. So, that weekend, I come to Nigeria and we travel to her place and did all the planning for a whole week.”
Bankole recalled the week in question. Beatrice had told him she was going on a trip to Uyo with her boss and colleagues.
“I did all the necessary and we set a date for our traditional wedding, slated for the 7th of February, which is tomorrow.”
“So what is my own in this whole matter?”
“Bros, please allow me land.”
“So concerning church wedding, we visit my pastor who say we have to start marriage counseling this January. You get me?”
“So we rush through the counseling this last week because I have to travel back to Europe. On Thursday, they schedule us for pre-marital medical tests and we went. On getting there, they take our blood and urine and test this and that and tell us to wait. After some time, the result come out and my dear Beatrix is discover to be six weeks preginant!”
Bankole sat straight.
“I was shock! Very shock! The last time me and this girl sleep with each other is in November and even then I use a condom, like I have been doing from the beginning. I have never do it without condom. I ask Biyatrix, who is responsible for this pregnancy? How did it come about? She cannot talk; all she is saying is I’m sorry, I’m sorry. But is it I’m sorry I will marry? Or I’m sorry I will tell my family when I carry another man’s child to them? No way! But before I can even say anything, she run out of the clinic and since then, my brother, I have not see her with my two eyes. I know she enter plane back to Calabar, so I went there and find her house but I see that it is lock. Throughout Friday, I wait for her to no avail. I call her, text her, call her parents, her friends but nobody have see her; only the neighbor who tell me she see her come and pack her clothes and left. So, me I come back to Abuja on Saturday and up till now, as I am talking to you, I have not see her. Honestly, I am shock! This girl do me serious once chance.”
Bankole was seething. He was angry, not at Paul, but at Beatrice for her lies. Unfortunately, Paul was going to get punished for how he was feeling.
“So why are you calling me to tell me? Didn’t you steal her from me? Were you expecting that she’ll stay with you too?”
“I am just calling in case you know where she is. I don’t care about the money. It is nothing to me but please, tell her to return my ring. I have sent her text already but in case she is with you…”
“Why would she be with me?”
“Because her neighbor tell me that you are with her throughout last year until this January before you leave, that means that pregnancy can be your own. In short, I am suspecting you in this whole matter. How am I sure that two of you did not plan to dupe me?”
“You must be a bastard!”
“Tell her that I will send police to arrest her if I see her o. She should just return that ring. Even you sef, I will arrest you if I see you, so better be warn.”
Bankole insulted him in Yoruba and cut off the line. He loosened his tie and un-cuffed the sleeves of his shirt, then leaned back on his seat.
Beatrice was a liar and a cheat. How hadn’t he known this? Had he been that stupid in love?
He massaged closed eyelids to ease the pressure building up around his forehead.
Due to the strain in their relationship the previous year, they had stayed off sex through November and December. The last time he remembered being intimate with her was that day in January when he arrived at hers from Lagos, and that was just a month ago.
So if the baby was not his nor Paul’s, whose was it?
Uju wiped at her brow in habit and looked around her. Everything was set but somehow she felt she was forgetting something. She sighed in exhaustion. Anyway, there was no need to stress herself. She still had the whole day to pack everything she needed for her trip. First she transferred some items to the sitting room.
She returned to the room and collapsed on her bed. She was sleepy. Last night she and Khalid stayed up and played computer games, making love in-between. He had come for his mother-in-law’s burial and after the ceremony, stopped by at hers to spend the night.
He complained about being tired as dawn neared but she wouldn’t let him drift off. She hadn’t been with him in weeks and found it totally unacceptable that he would spend just a night with her and disappear again.
“Let me come and stay with you in Lagos nau?” She had thrown in the request, very certain he would decline. But he let out a long yawn and pulled her close to kiss her.
“You want to come to Lagos?”
“Will you finally agree to have my baby?”
She didn’t hesitate with her answer. This was something she had taken her time to ponder on in his absence, when she had realized out of the blue that her feelings for him were stronger than she had known.
“Yes. Let’s have this your baby.”
He looked at her with a smile. “Oya, come to Lagos.”
Uju could hardly believe her ears. She plastered his nude body with kisses that sent him to sleep. He woke up two hours later, showered and transferred money into her account for her trip. When he left, she sat in her bedroom and gushed over him like a little girl. She was truly in love with him. Before this time, she was merely infatuated. Now, it was the real thing and as much as she was thrilled, she was also scared. To put at bay the mix of emotions in her, she had set about packing her belongings in boxes in readiness for her trip. But the feelings returned full force as she presently lay on her bed. This time, fear took center stage. Something told her falling for Khalid was going to spell her doom.
She heard the front door’s buzzer go off in the sitting room. Someone was at the door. She hissed and cussed as she dragged tired legs out of her bedroom. Whoever was out there was pressing the buzzer like they owned the house. Making it across the sitting room by wading through box of clothes, she got to the door. She threw it wide open to the face of the last person she wanted to see.
Uju frowned at the woman before her.
“Can I come in?”
The woman’s request was left hanging as she had half-heard her. She was recalling the last time they had bumped into each other and how badly it had gone.
“Can I come in?” the woman repeated. “Or do I have to force my way in, since the house was paid for with my money?”
Uju stepped aside and let her in. Sachi walked in with an air of superiority. She waited until Uju shut the door before she made herself comfortable. She claimed a two-sitter and sat in.
“I can see that you’re packing,” Sachi mentioned. Uju ignored her.
“Why are you here, Onsachi?”
Sachi looked at her. “Haba Uju, is this how you talk to a friend?”
“Friend?” Uju walked to her. “You saw me at the mall and because you were with your fake friends, you thought you could give them a show and humiliate me.”
“It’s not my fault. One of them said she had seen you and Khalid about town a few times and they all pushed me to confront you. I’m sorry.”
“Really I am. I had to put up a show for them or it would have seemed out of place.”
“Abeg, spare me all that one.” Uju sat on the biggest box.
“So where are you going, this one that you’re all packed?”
Uju looked at Sachi. “Where do you think?”
Sachi read her face and an unpleasant expression filled her features.
“He asked me to come live with him.”
Sachi sat up and put her phone and car key aside. “And you’re going where?”
The congenial air instantly disappeared. Uju saw a fight in the works.
“Calm down, Sach… let me explain.”
“It’s nothing serious. I’m just going for a month or two…”
“And you packed all these things, Uju?! Are you mad?! Abi you’ve forgotten your place in this whole arrangement?! You are just a sidechick!”
Uju didn’t appreciate the words used to describe her.
“You cannot come and snatch my husband away from me! Know your place!”
“My place is too keep your husband happy and to keep him from straying and that is what I am doing. He is in Lagos. You and I don’t know what he’s doing there. I’m going to keep him faithful to you, Onsachi, just as I have done for over a year.”
“The only thing you accomplished in doing for over a year was keeping him out of my bed and now you want to go and completely take him away from me?! You must be out of your mind, Obianuju!”
Uju got off the box and went to the kitchen. Sachi, at the moment, was unreachable. It was best to let her calm down and then speak sense into her.
Uju put together a cocktail and served it into glasses for both of them. When she returned to the sitting room, she found Sachi in deep thought. She placed a glass of cocktail in her hand and lifted a strand of hair off her face to look into her eyes.
“Are you trying to steal him away from me?” Sachi asked. Uju read desperation in her eyes.
“Sachi…” she sat on her laps. “Look at me, baby. You know I’m as gay as they come. Khalid means nothing to me, hon. I’m only doing what you asked me to do. Your husband is in safe hands with me. Have no fears.”
Sachi wanted so badly to believe her but she sensed something was off with her. Once upon a time, she could trust her completely. They were best friends then, and sisters, brought together by shared pain. Uju was a motherless child whose father worked as a servant for Sachi’s family. As little girls, they played together whenever Sachi’s mother was out of the house. Sachi shared her dolls with her and the little treats either of her parents gave her. Despite Sachi’s mother’s objections to their friendship, the girls drew closer as they grew older. They both hit dark times at the turn of puberty when Sachi’s father began to molest them individually. The girls told no one, scared that the man would kill them as he had threatened. They swapped stories and comforted each other with hymns from an old hymnal Uju had in her possession. Her father was a staunch Christian and made sure to imbibe God’s word in his daughter’s heart. Uju, in turn, shared her faith with Sachi to strengthen her. With tears, they would sing and then pray for God to give them the strength to escape someday. But they never got that chance. One night, Sachi’s mother caught her husband in bed with Uju and their world turned upside-down. Uju and her father were kicked out of the house and Sachi was left to face the perversions of her father alone. She suffered through painful abortions right under the nose of a mother who was more interested in her investments than her family. When Sachi finally found her freedom in her first year of university, Uju was a distant memory but a fond one.
They would reunite in a restaurant one random day when Sachi, having just scared off one of Khalid’s mistresses, broke down as she sat before a meal of Ofada rice. She hadn’t looked into the face of the woman whose table she had asked to share because the restaurant was full. But the woman was staring at her and reached out to offer a serviette for her tears when they began to drop into her meal.
“Onsachi,” she had called her, like someone who knew her intimately. Sachi had looked up and for a while, couldn’t place the face.
“Jesus knows all about our struggles,”Uju sang in a husky tone.
“He will guide till the day is done…”
Sachi’s hands covered her face as memories poured in. The hymn sung by Uju had been her favorite in those days and she had always asked her to sing it to her each time her father raped her.
“Uju?” she could hardly speak. Uju looked different, years younger. She could even pass for a twenty-something year old.
“Is this you?”
Uju left her seat and settled into Sachi’s for a hug. Sachi cried for what seemed like eternity while Uju ate her food to keep from breaking down as well.
She told Sachi how life had been hard on her and her father, and how the man had died, blaming her for their woes. He never believed her own version of the story about her and Sachi’s father. To him, the devil had entered his daughter and sent her to destroy a good family. After he died, Uju lived with an uncle who was gracious enough to pay for her education. His family was as accepting and caring as he was and took Uju in as their own but she was a damaged girl and lived, not trusting anyone. In the university, she kept away from boys and developed a liking for girls. However, the female folk couldn’t put food on the table for her, so she got involved with a married man who took care of the needs her uncle couldn’t meet. And accordingly, she lived her life, finding fulfillment with women but facility with other people’s husbands.
“So you’re the type of woman I hate,” Sachi told her with a non-judgmental laugh.
“Yeah.” Uju laughed back.
And then Sachi shared her own story, about marrying a man she loved, who loved her money more than her. She told Uju how he kept women outside and how she had had to chase off every one of them, and how she was now tired and didn’t know what else to do.
Uju told her to simply divorce him and move on with her life but Sachi insisted that she loved him and would do anything to keep him. She was convinced there lay a good man inside of him.
The ladies talked about other things, staying in the restaurant until dark. But as they were leaving, Sachi took Uju’s hand and presented a request that shocked Uju to the bone.
Uju had laughed, long and hard, and rejected her offer.
Sachi had begged.
Uju had told her it was a foolish idea.
Sachi had explained that it was the best way to ensure that her husband remained with her.
“At least, it’s with somebody I know. I don’t have to be looking behind my back or worrying about him bringing a child home or some disease. Please Uju, don’t say no. I can’t stop him from straying. He’s doing it intentionally to hurt me because I lied about so many things before we married.”
Uju shook her head. Sachi was deflated. She let it be and never brought up the issue, but one day, while shopping, Uju saw Sachi and Khalid from a distance and Khalid threw a stray glance at her that caught her eyes and lit up a spark in her no man had ever done. She called Sachi that same day and accepted her offer. Sachi taught her how to pursue Khalid and how to get him but Uju didn’t need much tutoring; she was old in the game. In less than a week, she had the man in her bed. In the first few months, she gave Sachi updates, never leaving out even intimate details. But as time rolled by, the women began to drift apart. Anytime Sachi asked to be updated, she would get a casual, “he came, we had sex, he dropped some money and left.” Sachi accused Uju of being insincere; Uju assured her that she was totally faithful to her.
Now, Sachi was sure Uju was hiding a lie behind her mask of innocence. Was she to ask her to break her relationship with Khalid to save a marriage that she had no control of in the first place and then risk having Khalid in another stranger’s arms?
“Sachi, trust me.” Uju gently caressed her cheek.
“But you should understand my fears. He relied on me financially all these years and now he is on his own. What if he decides to leave me?”
“He is not planning to, Sach.”
“He is. He just wants half of what I own and once he gets it, he’s gone.”
“Then don’t give it to him,” Uju advised. She didn’t want Khalid to divorce Sachi and move her up the ladder. It would mean her being in Sachi’s shoes while somebody else took her place. No, she liked the present arrangement.
“Here, take your drink and let’s not think about men for a while, baby.”
Sachi sipped on her cocktail and looked up into Uju’s eyes. She still couldn’t trust her.