“Erm…I don’t know if I should invite you for my party or not.”
Madu stood before Guru’s desk, waving a black party invitation card before his face.
“Considering what you did to me…” he continued, “you don’t deserve to be invited. It’s a party for hotshots and unfortunately, you aren’t one.”
He struck Guru’s nose with the card.
“You’re just Guru…”
He dropped the card on the desk.
“But that’s cool.”
Guru stared at the card and looked up to find Madu’s fist extended genially to him. He let out his own fist and bumped it.
“Yeah, that’s how we roll. Bros over hoes.”
Guru looked confused. “What hoes?”
He walked to the door and turned. “Keep your head above water.”
He made a gun with his fingers and pointed it at Guru before leaving the office. When the door shut, Guru’s eyes settled on the card again. He wasn’t going for the party.
Someone knocked on the door and before he answered, Urena walked in.
“Time for your four o’clock, boss,” she announced and then her eyes caught the invitation card.
“Oh my God! You’re going for the Valentine Smush party?!”
She dashed to the desk and picked the card.
“Why won’t Madu invite me nau? Everyone’s going but me.” She grouched.
“You can take the IV. I’m not going.”
She gasped as though Guru had uttered something blasphemous.
“You’re not going for a Smush party?”
“First of all, what’s Smush?”
“The best parties in Lagos! Ever! There’s the New Year’s Smush, Val Smush, Easter Smush and Sallah Smush. Madu is an ass but throws the hottest parties in the world!”
“I’m serious. All the celebrities come and some of them even perform. There’s a red carpet and you get to see people wearing couture and vintage pieces!” She looked heavenwards and batted her eyes ecstatically. “Oh! I think I’m about to cum just thinking about being there!”
“Do that outside, please.”
“And then it’s sponsored by big brand names so you have all these free, expensive drinks and if you’re lucky, you get a gift bag. Last year, my friend went and she came back with a dress from CLAN! CLAN, Roy!”
Guru wasn’t moved. He didn’t go for parties and he certainly wasn’t going for this smush or whatever it was called.
“Plus, I heard that there’s going to be a G&M pop-up shop there!” She did a silent clap and squealed.
“I’m happy for them.”
Her face crumbled. “You’re just a killjoy and the most boring designer in the world.”
She hurled herself up on the desk and put her hands on his shoulders.
“It’s okay to be social, Roy.” Her eyes bore into his. “You won’t die if you party, hang out with celebs, get drunk and let some strange girl kiss you wherever she wants to.”
Guru said nothing.
“You’ll get a girlfriend sometime in this century, sha?” She genuinely looked concerned.
“Get off my case.”
“And have sex?”
“And who says I haven’t?”
“You have?” She let go of his shoulders. “Gist me.”
“Ure, get off my table and let in the people waiting outside for the four o’clock.”
“Yes, boss.” She did a slow rolling of her eyes as she stepped down from the desk and went to the door. She stopped and ran back for the Smush invitation card.
“We are going together, even if it means I have to tie you and throw you into your car and drive you there myself.”
“Ure…” He sighed. He was exhausted. She was exhausting…
She opened the door and let Bankole, Ruky and two others in.
“Hey guys,” Guru greeted as they settled down.
The meeting was impromptu and off the books. It was for an upcoming photoshoot. He wanted them to work on a fresh idea he had for an ad; a previous campaign done by someone on Bankole’s team hadn’t impressed him. He wanted something different. It had been a long day and they were all tired but the job needed to be done urgently.
They kicked off and surprisingly, the table was fresh with ideas. The meeting lasted less than an hour and he noticed that Ruky was openly flirting with Bankole who made no attempts to stop her. Guru pretended not to observe; it was Bankole’s prerogative how he dealt with the female attention he was getting on the premises. Besides, a lot of things went down in the building and Guru found it best to always act clueless. It was the fashion industry and as young as it was in Nigeria, it was beginning to stink badly. Just like in entertainment, sex was not a big deal. In fact, sexual harassment was called compliments. He had seen underage girls who were dying to walk runways forced to give blowjobs just because penises of middle-aged men were shoved in their faces without permission. No one spoke out against such things nor really gave a damn about what another person did with their private parts. Sex was just one of those things to them. It was all about living for the moment, scandalizing each other and getting to the top by all means; a place where they all hung on superficiality and forgot they were human. People on the outside saw the glitz and glamor. Those on the inside knew the dirt and how badly it stank.
Guru hoped Bankole would stay grounded. From the little he knew about him, it seemed he had limited experience about the world of fashion and the piranhas that frolicked in its waters.
The meeting ended a few minutes to 5pm. Bankole stayed back. He picked a soccer ball from a work table by the door and while waiting for Guru who was on the phone, he dribbled it around the spacious office.
“What’s up?” Guru called Bankole’s attention after his phone call. Bankole walked to him, now bouncing the ball as he went.
“How far with today’s match?” Bankole asked.
There was a Chelsea FC versus Everton football match in a couple of hours. Both guys were Chelsea fans.
“Normal nau. So, your place or Khalid’s?”
They already had a ritual of watching football matches at either Bankole’s or Khalid’s. Guru’s house was too much of a family home to host their sports get-togethers. As for Madu, he hardly stayed home.
“My place. Khalid is watching the Man U game.”
Bankole nodded, bounced the ball one last time and passed it on to Guru before he left. Outside he bumped into Ruky.
“I thought you had gone,” he said to her.
“I was waiting for you.” She jabbed a finger on his chest. “I’m going home with you today.”
“Um…no, you’re not.”
She laughed. “Relax. I’m going your way today because my friend who lives near you just had a baby and I need to stop by and say hello.”
“And then maybe stop by at your place for a drink when I’m done and catch up with the Chelsea game?”
Bankole began walking away. “My girlfriend lives with me, you know.”
“I heard.” She trotted after him.
“You heard?” he looked at her. “The way people gossip in this office.”
“What do you expect? Fine boy like you…”
She was interrupted as a girl who was walking past, grinned widely at Bankole.
“See what I mean?”
They got out to a long hallway and stood before an elevator with double doors.
“But hey, I thought you had a car,” he mentioned.
“It’s with someone.”
“So, I’ll just grab my handbag and meet you downstairs?”
“Okay. Hurry. Traffic might not be so good. I’ve wasted an hour already.”
Bankole got into the elevator and watched as she swayed her massive backside away.
“Bea is way hotter,” he said to himself as the doors shut.
The ride was brief and led him to the last floor where he made a beeline for his office. He walked in and it was as though he had entered a different version of his place. His personal space had been invaded and bore a resemblance to a photo gallery gone bad. Taped to the walls in no particular order were the nude photos he had taken of the model he slept with. Bankole became instantly weak. He put a hand on his head in frustration. No one needed to tell him who had paid him a visit in his absence.
He began to pull down all the pictures without hesitation. He counted exactly one hundred of them, each marked with a kiss from red, glossy lips. He marched out of his office and went to the security personnel that stood guard at the entrance doors.
“Oga, who enter my office as I commot?”
The guard merely shrugged and pointed at the girl at the front desk. Bankole marched to her.
“Did you let anyone into my office while I was away?”
“Yes. Someone was in my office not long ago. Who went in there?”
“Nobody, sir. I went to use the bathroom for like ten minutes…”
“Don’t worry,” Bankole said, steering away. He left the floor and took a ride down to the first floor to see Human Resources. He was ushered into a tight office that had more shelves than space. A woman about Mrs. Tunji’s age was behind a computer. She poked out a tired head at him.
“Good evening, ma.”
“Ba won ni? Hope all is well?”
She offered a seat but he declined. “I need a secretary or a personal assistant.”
“I already told you one will be provided for you.”
“It’s taking too long, ma,” he stated politely.
“Next week. I promise.”
He released a sigh. “Okay, ma.”
As he turned to the door, she asked, “Iyawo nko?”
Damn, office gossips!
He looked at her with a smile. “She’s good.”
He dashed out. He headed back to his office and walked into yet another unwelcome surprise. This time, it was the model herself. He had scarcely closed the door when she pushed his back to it and took his lips in hers, grinding her body into his.
“For God’s sakes, Angela!” he shoved her away. “You’ve lost your mind. You need psychiatric help. This is not normal.”
She smiled coyly and gave one side of her lips a wipe.
“I just want one more night,” she purred. “One. And I’ll leave you alone.”
“No. You’ll leave me alone now.” He pointed at the door. “Leave, please.”
He tried to keep his voice low.
“But I don’t want to go, baby. I want you.”
Bankole was sure he was playing out a character in an American movie. He remembered watching something similar a long time ago.
“You’ve read about the adulteress from the Book of Proverbs in the bible?” Angela blinked subtly, sticking out the tip of her tongue between her lips and taking it back as she took a step towards him.
“No but I’ll tell you what. If you ping, text, email me or come to this office one more time, I’ll have to tell your husband everything.”
She giggled. “Telling my husband will be a bad, bad idea. If you love your freedom, keep your mouth shut.”
“I’ll take my chances.”
Bankole opened the door and let her out.
Urena stood at the junction that she always stood to get transportation home. She was waiting for a bus to Obalende. Usually, they were a dime a dozen at any given time of the day but for some reason today, none was present. She craned her neck and looked in the direction where they normally emerged from and noticed there was some raucous involving the transport union workers and the police. She grumbled and thought about finding an alternative. Just as she was about doing so, a BMW M3 pulled up beside her. The passenger window let down and a voice called out her name. She took a peep. The annoying smile of Madu flashed from a mound of beard.
“Going to Obalende?” he asked.
“Yeah,” she answered in hesitation.
She dithered for another second before she opened the door and stepped into the posh vehicle. It smelled of new leather, cologne and male arrogance. Madu had an unlit cigar between his lips which she found corny. Phyno was rapping up something in Igbo from the speakers.
“So, hi,” Madu muttered.
He gave her a full stare and piloted the car back onto the street. “I like what you’re wearing.”
“Thanks.” She straightened out her short skirt which had hiked up, exposing her thighs.
“So, erm… I didn’t just pick you up because I want to be nice. In fact, I don’t do nice and I don’t have any business going to Obalende.”
Urena glanced at him.
“Plus, I don’t just let anyone into this car. But today I make an exception because you and I have business together.”
She did not respond.
“I need you to do something for me. But the thing is…if I tell you what, you’ll say no and get all dramatic and ask me to drop you.”
“Maybe you can just drop me now.”
“Chill, madam eyeglasses. And yeah, what’s up with the glasses sef? They don’t fit.”
Urena straightaway regretted why she took the ride.
“Can you just say what you want to say?”
“Yeah… my point is being that you’ll give me drama, I’ll use a different tact.” He reached for his phone and while he scrolled through it, not caring for traffic ahead of him, he rapped alongside Phyno, bumping his head to the music.
“Take a look at this.” He shoved the phone in Urena’s face. “Look.”
There was a video playing and when Urena took a peep, her face soured.
“Where did you get this?” her voice came out in a croak. He grinned and put his cigar away.
“Correct me if I’m wrong here. You didn’t graduate from Vogue school in Ghana, right?”
She made no reply.
“You were kicked out because of what’s in that video, right?”
Urena turned her face to her window.
“And the story was you stole an IPad and some dollars from the Dean’s office and you got caught by one of the security guards who took you to the guardroom and he and his colleagues humiliated you. In fact, you would have gotten raped if the dean had not walked in and saved you, right?”
Urena’s sweat pores went on automatic steam-letting.
“He pardoned you but sent you packing and made sure this particular video taken by the security cam was done away with. And now, you’re wondering ‘how did he get it?’”
Madu laughed. “It’s called dirt, you little thief. And you don’t need to dig hard to find it. It’s usually on the surface.”
“What do you want?” her voice carried annoyance.
He grinned. “I just need you to do something very little for me.”
Urena was mad at him point but knew she was trapped. She just hoped he would go easy on her.
Uju was beginning to irritate him for obvious reasons. First, he noticed she was clingier. Second, she no longer came off as the distraction she once was to him. The presence of Hope in his life had taken center stage to all that diverted him away from the world that once burdened him. The dynamics were different now; Sachi was not a daily presence anymore, Uju was now a constant and Hope was that breath of fresh air he needed.
It was Valentine’s Day and he had stepped out to do some last minute gift-shopping for the women in his life and for Hope. When he returned home, he walked in on Uju in the sitting room with a tray of beans on her laps which she was picking. He stopped and took in the scene for some seconds before she turned away from the television to stare at him.
“And you’re picking beans.”
“Because that’s what I want to eat.”
“You’re picking beans,” he repeated. She registered a mild perplexed expression on her face.
“Is anything wrong with that?”
“No.” He walked into his bedroom and shut the door.
Everything was wrong with what he just saw. It was his mother and his terrible childhood all over again. He was forced to remember her, sitting docile at home, every single day, waiting and hoping her husband would return home after he had disappeared just a week following Khalid’s birth. He remembered the abject poverty that trailed his childhood and how beans was the most luxurious meal they could afford. He remembered the love-hate emotions that ran deep in his blood for his mother. One moment, he understood her plight; the next, he wondered why she couldn’t dust herself up to fight for a better life. When she eventually decided to amount to something, it was only to become the neighborhood slut. Almost every married man slept with her. They would come in at all times of the day and she would entertain them without shame. Yet his mother would look into his face every day and lie that his father was sending money from a faraway city for their upkeep.
It was she who planted the seed in him to despise deceptive women. He also hated women who lived weak, cliché lives. And of course, he hated beans.
Khalid put the presents he bought aside and went back to the living room. Without permission he took the tray of beans off Uju’s laps and emptied it in the kitchen bin.
“What did you do to my beans?” she asked when he came back to the living room.
“Nobody eats beans in this house.”
“Ha-ahn. But me I want to eat it.”
“I said nobody eats beans here. Cook something else.”
“Ha. Which one is all this now, Khal?”
“Did you not hear me?”
Uju was stunned by his odd behavior. Khalid had mood swings that she was aware of but this was unlike him. Was she finally seeing the monster Sachi spoke about?
“He will just change like that for no reason,” Sachi had told her once. “And if you press his buttons, you’ll get the beating of your life. It’s like he blanks out and becomes this monster from hell.”
Uju had scoffed in her head at Sachi’s tale. Khalid was sweet to her. He could never hurt her.
“Khal, is anything the matter?”
Khalid was seated now, flipping TV channels with a remote control in his hand. He ignored her.
“I hope you remember this is not a permanent arrangement. I mean, your stay here. The moment you get pregnant, you go back to Abuja.”
It was the second shock coming to Uju. “That was not the plan, baby.”
“I never said you were staying permanently. So get ready to leave once you take in.”
Uju turned cold at his voice. She fixed her eyes on him but he wasn’t staring back.
“Have I done anything, Khal? You seem so mad at me.”
He gave her his attention. “Uju, have you looked at yourself of late?”
“Looked at myself?”
“What are you wearing?”
Uju stared down. She had a wrapper tied around her waist. Above, she was wearing an oversized t-shirt.
“Familiarity is breeding disrespect now abi?”
Uju was at a loss for words.
“No makeup, no perfume, hairnet on your head, tying wrapper anyhow, not jumping into my arms when I come home… you’ve seen too much of me now, is that it? No respect again.”
Uju was dumbfounded.
“Remind me what you are again?”
“What I am?”
“You are a mistress! Mistresses don’t act like wives! Get that into your dense brain! I have a wife already and I don’t need another one! Having my kid does not put you in her place! So, go into that room and come out looking like what you’re supposed to be!”
At this point, Uju was mad. No man had spoken to her the way Khalid just did. It was unacceptable. Throwing caution to the wind, she remained on her seat and crossed her arms in defiance.
“Didn’t you just hear me?”
“I’m comfortable this way.”
“You’re talking back, Obianuju.”
“I am not your wife. You don’t use that tone on me, Khalid. Whatever arrangement we have doesn’t give you the right to treat me like shit…”
She had barely spoken when a throw pillow, flung at bursting speed, hit her face.
“If I get up from this chair, Uju, you’ll see blood today!”
Uju rose up, holding her face. “It’s just been a week o, Khalid, and you’re already being an ass.”
“Get over it.”
“You’re just a coward!”
He shot up on his feet and dashed towards her but she was fast enough to make it to the bedroom before he touched her. She locked the door behind her.
Khalid was enraged. To calm himself, he popped open a bottle of wine gotten from the fridge and sat to consume it. Remorse began to set in minutes later when all he was left with was Sam Smith singing on TV and his conscience cautioning him. Like an addict feeling guilt after indulging in a fix from his addiction, Khalid was hating himself for what he had just done. The feeling wasn’t new to him; it was one that had replayed in his married life with Sachi over eight years. He would hit her and then totally feel remorse. Sometimes his remorse came immediately. Sometimes, it took hours, even days, depending on the circumstances. But he always felt guilty, even though of late, his pride prevented him from showing it.
He truly was a coward, as Uju put it. But it was not for any reason other than it was learned from the man who claimed to be his father, who had walked back into his mother’s life after years of abandonment, and claimed his place as manor of their crumbling castle. The man had hit his mother almost every night for no just reason until the woman ran away early one morning. And then he turned his anger on Khalid until he also had no option but to escape.
Hadn’t Khalid grown up hating him and vowing never to be like him? What then had gone wrong?
The doorbell dinged and the sound seemed to come from somewhere faraway. Khalid sat put. The doorbell went off again.
He got up and went to answer the door. He unlocked it. Standing outside was Sachi, her handbag in hand and a box resting on the steps beside her.
They didn’t speak to each other for the first few seconds.
“How did you find me?” Khalid finally asked.
“Are you going to leave me outside?” Sachi could tell he was in a foul mood but she was in one of hers too. How dare he spend Valentine’s with someone else?
“You didn’t answer my question, Onsachi. How did you find me?”
She pushed him aside and walked into the house. She looked around her, hoping to catch a glimpse of Uju but she saw nothing. The living room was classy in a masculine way. In the dining area stood a pool table and bar stools. The couches were black and contrasting with the white marbled floor beneath. Army-green drapes of rich texture parted by silver cuffs decorated spotless glass windows. It was all in Khalid’s taste. There was nothing in the house that was reflective of her or depicted his marital status.
She wasn’t happy about it. How long before he erased in her from his life eventually? Uju was definitely working outside the perimeters of their agreement and the mere thought of that had given Sachi sleepless nights. To compound issues, Uju hadn’t picked her calls or replied her texts since her arrival to Lagos. Something was just not right and she was around to fix it permanently.
“I came with documents that I need you to sign,” Sachi said to Khalid, putting her handbag aside. “I am taking over my dad’s construction consortium and signing to be in control of all he owned. But as I promised you, you’ll get half of everything and that’s why I’m here.”
“Still you should have called.”
A door squeaked opened and they both turned. Uju appeared and a moment of silence followed.
“Khalid, who is this?” Uju asked.
“His wife,” Sachi replied, playing her part in the script. Khalid scratched his eyebrow uncomfortably. “And I’m guessing you’re his new side margin?”
“New?” Uju scoffed. “Don’t deceive yourself.”
The animosity between both women was strong. Khalid could feel it.
“Well, I’m here now. I think your temporary arrangement is over. You should leave.”
“Leave? Are you sure you want me to do that?”
Uju was throwing in a silent threat. Sachi caught it but called her bluff.
“Get the hell out of my husband’s house!”
Khalid came to the rescue and pulled Uju aside. Sachi could hear them whispering but couldn’t pick out the words. She sat down. A door slammed and Khalid returned to her. He stood by the entrance that connected the sitting room to the kitchen and watched her keenly.
“I’m surprised that you didn’t pluck out her eyes.”
“How does it make you feel, leaving your wife alone and living here with another woman?”
“You always knew what I was, Sachi, and yet you married me. Don’t play the victim now.”
“But I am the victim, the woman who can’t give you a child, the one who doesn’t excite you sexually anymore…”
“The one who holds my balls financially. Trust me, Sach, that gives me more pleasure than said sex, more than any woman out there can do for me. And you do excite me but there’s just this one thing. I don’t trust you. I feel like if I give you a gun now, you’d kill me if you had to.”
“Then that makes two of us.”
“And yet I’m the one whose neck is scarred by your hand.”
Sachi forced away the memory of the night she had put a knife to his neck while he slept. She hadn’t meant to kill him. She only wanted to scare him but he had moved and the knife went in smoothly like butter. That day she had died a million times, seeing him bleed and thinking it was her last night with him. She went to church every day following his survival and prayed for help to be a good wife to him, to tolerate his infidelity and coldness towards her, to help her accept the things about him she couldn’t change. But it seemed God didn’t hear her. She lost him to Monet after that and created a beast that physically abused her every time his pride was threatened.
She knew that whatever he had become was not her fault but she blamed herself still. If she had the opportunity to make things right, she was going to do so no matter what it took.
He strolled to her seat and sat beside her. She missed him. Just sitting close to him and feeling the warmth of his skin close to hers was driving her crazy. She freed her feet from her slippers and lifted her legs up on the couch to cuddle up to him. He didn’t stop her. She drew his face to hers and engaged him in a deep kiss. She didn’t give a hoot about Uju’s presence in the house. In fact, her actions were partly inspired by her desire to have Uju walk in on them. He was still her husband, after all. Uju needed to know that.
A door squeaked open and Khalid stopped kissing Sachi just as Uju walked into the living room.
“I’m going, Khalid,” she said with steel in her voice. She was dressed and had a small luggage in her hand.
“Sach, give me a moment.”
He went to Uju and together they left the house. He came back several minutes after.
“Is she coming back?” Sachi asked.
“She’s none of your business,” he answered and planted his lips back between hers, continuing where he left off.