So the truth was out. Joyce had been a deadbeat mom to Tayo and his younger brother, Dapo.
She had engaged in extramarital affairs with other men to put food on the table because her disabled husband had been unable to care for her and her sons.
Big deal. Wasn’t it the man’s job to ensure that the family was well-catered for? If he failed in that department, was the woman to be branded a whore even when she did everything to ensure that her sons fed well and got an education? Did the same sons have any right to judge her?
Anger brewed in Lade as she listened in on Tayo’s heated row with his mother. They had been at it for almost half an hour, spilling family secrets that had previously been hidden from her. She couldn’t help but loathe her husband, having now heard the entire story of his past with Joyce. The manner in which he disrespected her with his words and tone of voice set Lade on edge. How could someone treat their mother that way?
This was a woman that suffered the pain of losing her first child via the treacherous hands of a trusted friend. Whilst Joyce pursued her education as a teenage mom, she often left her little baby in the care of her friend, a mistake which she hadn’t forgiven herself for. The friend had, on one day, while Joyce was in class, taken her baby and made away with her, leaving no leads. Joyce was blamed by friends and family, and months of searching for the child led to nothing. But her troubles had only just begun.
Her husband, a truck driver for a food packaging company, ran into an unfortunate spell when his truck tumbled down a ravine and left him paralyzed in a wheelchair. His mishap took what little finances he and Joyce had and thus she was forced to start hawking food to survive.
Five insufferable years went by and she watched her youth which had scarcely begun, ebb away. But fate threw a fine, young soldier her way one day while she was hawking. The army warrant officer had a short afro and a shiny green Volkswagen bug. He hardly smiled but his eyes were affectionate. He wanted someone who would entertain him on certain nights for a handsome fee. For Joyce, he was answered prayers and easy money. The first few weeks were awesome but ultimately, she fell pregnant and when the baby was due, she birthed him, a healthy boy she named Omotayo.
Tongues wagged. The boy looked nothing like his father. He took Oga Soldier’s fair skin tone.
Joyce ignored them and carried on with her lover two more years, falling pregnant a second time. Sadly, Oga Soldier was called back to his base in the north and never saw the birth of his second son. Joyce was heartbroken but being the brave woman she was, she continued on her own as much as she could. However, she ran out of money fast, facing the demands of caring for two little boys and a disabled man.
It wasn’t long before she sought for cash by the only means she knew. She went for the capable men in the small community they lived in—a supermarket owner, the prophet of a large white garment church, the police DPO, her landlord, the Igbo man who owned the beer parlor her husband liked frequenting.
As it was with girls who slept with other women’s husbands, Joyce faced harassment in public places by members of the community, especially the women. Still, she continued her affairs. Her boys needed to eat. They had her alone to care for them. But it all ended when the local furniture maker died while having sex with her on a rainy evening.
Joyce had tugged at his lifeless body in panic and slapped him around but met no reaction. Without looking back, she fled from the slimy hotel room and went home. She packed a small bag, kissed her sons goodbye and left the town just as a mob was trying to break down her door. She never went back, although she always found a way to send across money for the upkeep of the boys because somehow, through the years she straightened out her life, acquired the education she always wanted and became something for herself.
To Lade, that was a happy ending. But not for Tayo. He wanted his mother to hang for her past.
“I will never forgive you!” he roared. “You stand here and remind me that you sent money to us! What fucking money are you talking about?! Was that supposed to replace you?!”
Lade itched so much to storm out and give Tayo a piece of her mind. Where she came from, mothers were irreplaceable, no matter what their mistakes and shortcomings were. Tayo needed to grow up and let go of the past.
“And your father?” Joyce’s voice came on, broken but firm. “He’s the saint in all of this as usual. The good husband. The handicapped man everyone pitied.”
“At least he wasn’t the one who whored around!”
“He was worse than an infidel, Omotayo! He lost his legs but not the use of his hands! He sat in that wheelchair and refused help from family and friends because of his pride! And yet he ate the food my whoring around put on the table! And after he washed his useless hands and cleaned his mouth, he’d turn around and call me names just because he wasn’t man enough!
“Your real father was man enough! Because of him you went to the best schools! Ask that infidel to tell you who paid your fees until you finished secondary school and I took over! Ask him!”
Lade clutched the doorpost of Ife’s bedroom, still itching to walk out and caution Tayo. He had banished her back there, following their last fight. Since then they hadn’t spoken to each other and she was okay with it. Memories of Ife still brought her peace. She didn’t believe in reincarnation but she felt that the baby growing in her was a re-embodiment of all she had lost. Gone were her earlier thoughts of desiring an abortion.
“I was a bad mother, Omotayo,” Joyce went on. “I have never defended myself against that. Yes, I did horrible things but I was just a girl and I didn’t know better. I was barely twenty-two when I ran away but I knew even then that leaving you boys was my worst crime against you ever. And so I turned my life around. I worked hard. Very hard to get to where I am today. Many times, I wanted to come back for you and Dapo but I was scared. Scared that I’d be locked up by the police for murder. Scared that you would not remember me. Scared that I was going to make more mistakes with you–”
“Bullshit! And I want you to take all that garb and leave my house this minute!”
Lade felt she had heard enough. She barged out with reprimands on her lips but stopped when she heard Joyce’s shattered tone.
“I’ll leave since it’s come to this but you’ll soon realize that I am not the problem. This anger, this hate… you’ve dumped it on your poor wife. That girl has done nothing to deserve the way you treat her. With all the loss she has suffered, you still hurt her just like your father did to me. And somewhere, not far from here, you have your long lost sister whom you hate for no reason too. You will not even attempt to look for her. Why this much hate, Omotayo? Why?”
“Leave to where?!” Lade made her presence known. “Tayo, what is wrong with you?!”
“Stay out of this, Omolade!”
“No!” Lade put her arms around Joyce in tears. “This is your mother! Our mother! You do not talk to her like this! I don’t care what pain you’re feeling or what happened in the past, you don’t do this, Tayo! What is wrong with you?!”
Tayo ignored her and stomped out of the sitting room. Shortly after, the gateman appeared.
“Take that box out!” He pointed at Joyce’s luggage. “A taxi is waiting outside!”
At this, Joyce crumbled. The strong exterior she always carried around gave way to quiet tears.
“See what you’ve caused, Tayo!” Lade screamed. “Mommy’s crying! See what you’ve caused! How can you do this to your own mother?! Better go on your knees and beg her o!”
“Don’t get on my nerves! I’ve told you to stay out of this!” He charged at the gateman. “My friend, carry the box outside!”
Throwing an apologetic look at Joyce, the gateman did as he was ordered.
Joyce dabbed her face with a scarf hanging off her shoulders. “It’s okay, Omolade. Stop crying. Everything is fine.”
“Come and walk me outside.”
“It’s okay. Let him be.” Joyce grabbed her hand forcefully. “Let’s go.”
Leaving furious eyes on Tayo, Lade followed Joyce outside the house.
“You don’t have to go, mommy. He’ll calm down and see that he acted stupidly. That’s how he does.”
“No, darling. I really must go.”
“Mommy, please. I’m begging you.”
Joyce took her face in both hands. “I’ve overstayed my welcome, my dear. I have to leave.”
Lade held her hands and lowered to her knees.
“What are you doing?”
“You’re leaving without settling things with Tayo and it’s a bad omen for him…for us. That’s why I want to beg on his behalf. Please, forgive him. He didn’t mean those things he said to you; he was just angry. Please, forgive him and pray for him, mommy. On his behalf, I apologize. I…”
Joyce pulled Lade up.
“I’ve forgiven him, Omolade. He is the way he is today because of his father. The man poisoned his mind and Dapo’s against me. It’s going to take a while for Tayo to erase all the filth that man has heaped on him. But he will come round. As for you, please, pursue whatever dreams you have. I see them in your eyes and it’s the saddest thing to have them trapped in there. Don’t be afraid of Tayo. Follow your heart and do what’s right or one day you’ll regret it.”
Joyce wrapped her arms around her and afterwards gave her an envelope she pulled out from her handbag.
“That’s a lot of money in there, Lade. Use it for yourself.”
Lade opened one of the backdoors of Sule’s cab and Joyce let in. They hugged one last time and the car fired away, leaving silence in its wake. The neighborhood was yet to stir.
Lade stood until the cab disappeared, clutching the collar of her pajama shirt, feeling sorry for how she had distanced herself from Joyce.
She turned back to the house and saw Tayo getting into his car. She gawked at him, feeling her restraints snap. Once in a year or maybe in two, she was known to lose her calm. At such moments, the soft-spoken Lade would morph into an extreme version of her. It took a lot to get her to that point but Tayo had been pressing her buttons for quite a while.
As she charged towards him, she didn’t care for what he could do to her; she was going to give him a piece of her mind.
At the first sight of her daughters playing outside Comfort’s home, Salma gasped.
“She loosened their hair.”
“You mean, Comfort?” Folarin turned off his car engine.
“Yes. I took my time, making their hair on Sunday and she’s loosened everything and has done this horrible thing to them.”
“Actually, I think they look cute.”
Salma released her seatbelt and opened the passenger door. Deejah saw her first. She abandoned her sister and ran towards her.
“Hey, mami.” Salma scooped her up. “How are you?”
Leelah showed up next. She flashed a huge grin at Folarin. “Uncle Folawin!”
He stooped down. “Yes, my love. How are…?”
She wrapped her arms around him, forcing him into startled laughter. He had almost forgotten what it felt like to be doted on by a little girl. Vanessa hardly had his time these days. She would rather hang around Cyrus.
“Where is Fahad?” Salma asked, putting Deejah down. “I got something for you guys. It’s in the car.”
She had scarcely finished when the girls bounded towards Folarin’s car. Fahad and Raheem popped out from nowhere and joined them.
“Everyone has a bag! Fahad, don’t dip your hand into your sisters’ bags!”
“How do you cope?” Folarin asked with a smile.
“I’m used to it now. Fahad gets the naughty room at least once a day. Deejah’s not trouble but when her bad day comes, she can be worse than Leelah and Fahad combined.”
An elderly lady popped her head out of Comfort’s front door.
“Good evening, ma,” Salma greeted.
The woman came out to meet them, and despite her age, she bent a knee to greet Salma. They had met only on one occasion.
“Is Comfort in?”
“No, aunty. She never come back from work.”
“Okay. I just came to check on the children.”
The woman hung around a little, unsure if she should stay outside or go in. Salma told her it was fine to go back in. Curtsying again for no reason, she returned to the house. Salma and Folarin sat at the entrance.
“Have you ever cheated on Christie?” she asked. In her hand was a twig she tugged off the soil beneath her. She broke its thin stem in bits.
“I’ve never cheated.”
“You didn’t want to or you’ve never been tempted.”
“I have but I didn’t give into it. There was this girl. She was really beautiful. South African. We barely knew each other but I was deeply attracted to her. If I had as much as touched her hand, she would have followed me to the ends of the earth but I just couldn’t. It’s stress at the end of the day. Lies, secret phone calls, hotel dates, hush-hush trips to wherever, broken hearts, all of that. Just not worth it. I lived that life in the past and it’s no longer for me.”
Again, Salma wondered why Raji was not like Folarin.
They talked until the sun went down and Comfort’s car pulled up in the driveway. As the kids rushed to welcome her, Salma stood up. She didn’t want Comfort to feel at ease around her. Nothing would ever change the fact that she had come between her and Raji.
Salma merely smiled at Comfort’s greeting as she came towards them.
“Good evening, sir.”
“Hello Comfort,” Folarin replied. He was Comfort’s boss at work. The job was given to her based on his relationship with Raji.
“Salma, I thought you said you were going away for a week,” Comfort mentioned with an easy smile.
“I did say that. And I’m still going to be away for another week. I don’t want to be a burden on you, so I’ll take the kids.”
Comfort stared at her son playing with his half-siblings.
“Actually… I think the kids are all happy to be with each other, Raheem especially. You and Raji can enjoy the holidays. We’ll be fine by ourselves.”
“Yeah. Oh! Lest I forget, I have their term reports with me. The school said they tried calling you on Wednesday and Thursday but you didn’t pick up. They couldn’t reach Raji too but I think the headmistress mentioned that he was there yesterday morning. Wasn’t sure I heard well.”
Salma didn’t explain her absence to Comfort. She had been a mess from Wednesday night and the whole of Thursday. She hadn’t taken any calls, even when Raji called first thing Thursday morning.
“Did they do well?”
“Yes. Trust the girls. They were exceptional. Fahad also aced but they complained about the playfulness. It’s all in their report cards.”
“Okay. Please, keep them. Raji would be bringing more clothes. You can hand them to him.”
“Thank you, Comfort.”
“Well, enjoy your holiday.”
“We will be leaving,” Salma announced and turned to the kids. She kissed each of them while Folarin waited in the car.
A sad Deejah stood, clutching her doll as the car drove away.
“Are you sure this is what you want to do?” Folarin asked as they settled into a confortable drive.
“I just have to.”
“No, I mean the night travel thing. Why not just wait tomorrow and take a flight?”
“I love night journeys, Folarin.”
“Well, I don’t.”
“It reminds me of my past. My family was not poor but we were not rich as well. Air flights were a luxury. Even if my dad managed to give me money for a plane ticket, I would stash most of it and take a bus, preferably a night bus because I loved to just go to sleep and wake up the next day in my destination. I did that a lot while dating Raji. I’d board a night bus and by 4am I’d be at his door.”
Salma was smiling distantly.
“He’d scold me always and then transfer money into my account. He spoilt me a lot. And I used to think to myself that it was love. Now, I know better, that a man can do all the right things that can be done to a woman and still have no feelings for her. He buys me flowers every weekend, Folarin; flies me out during the holidays, makes love like I’m the best thing that ever happened to him, calls me all those sweet names and yet…”
“Do you still love him?”
“I hope this trip gives you better perspective.”
“Folarin, I am going to cry on my mother’s shoulder and she’ll scold me after cleaning my tears and remind me how my dad was no different from Raji and I should endure. I dare not even mention divorce. My parents will disown me if I leave him. I’ll lose him and lose them and probably lose my kids because I don’t have the means to fight for them in court.”
Folarin took her hand. She was beginning to cry.
“I thought we said we’d do none of this.”
“I feel lost, Folarin. I have all these emotions. I hate Raji. I’m mad at Christie. I’m already angry at my parents for what they would say to me. I feel weak and helpless…”
“It’s okay. You will rise over this.”
“How? With what, Fola? I abandoned my job when I had the twins. I started living off the money Raji gave me. I have nothing. Where do I start? How do I start?”
“By not going home…”
“Just listen to me. You already know what your family will say. I think it would be best if you stayed away from them for now because they will influence your decision. Go somewhere, a hotel or something. Stay there, eat well, sleep well, pray, read, watch TV, and entertain yourself. Trust me, you’ll have a better perspective when you get back.”
“I’ll be fine. I’m sticking to our plan of letting nothing out. I want to catch them together, Salma.”
“I wish I was as strong as you are.”
“I am not.”
Salma sighed in silence. Folarin went from holding her hand to slipping his fingers between hers. It comforted her to a certain degree.
“If Christie comes home right now and wants to have sex with you, would you oblige?” she asked.
Salma huffed. Folarin laughed.
“The little man does not care if I’m heartbroken or not. He will get what he desires.”
“How can you look at her, knowing she slept with your best friend, and still sleep with her?”
Folarin was laughing again. It wasn’t the normal robust laughter that always came from his belly. It sounded bitter in Salma’s ears.
“Sal, I’m the type of person that will be planning evil and still be smiling. I can live comfortably with my enemy and they will never know how I feel about them. Right now I am dying inside but I can’t express the pain; I’ve never been that person. I seem to take it all in.”
“Me, I can’t pretend.”
“Christie will be home today, by the way. She called.”
“I’m still hoping that we’re imagining things.”
“Then stay back and let’s find out if we are or not. If we’re together on this, we’ll be stronger. Let me be your strength.”
Salma exhaled. She rubbed her eyes. “I hate hotels.”
“I have a place you’ll love.”
“Where is that?”
“A friend’s place. He’s out of the country and I’m sort of the caretaker. I’ve been looking for a tenant.”
“What’s wrong with the place?”
“Nothing. It’s just really expensive. Should I take you there?”
“I get scared staying alone.”
“There’s a woman there with her daughter. They clean the place and have a shop in the gateman’s room. You won’t be alone.”
“Is that a ‘yes, take me there’?”
“That’s my girl.”
Folarin kissed her hand.
“You’ll be fine.”
He let go and turned the steering in a different direction.
Only bastards fixed brainstorming sessions on Good Friday.
Bastards like Izu.
Toni sensed she was going to kill him soon. She would come to work, her hand clutching her favorite Chanel purse which would be holding a petite pistol. She would march into his office, aim it at him and just fire. Once, twice, and thrice for good measure.
She looked up and saw one of her colleagues staring at her with a smile. He was some guy whose name she always forgot. She knew he had a crush on her. Any other thing about him, she didn’t care to know. She didn’t like guys that smiled at her a lot.
He was grinning now, in that creepy way he did every time they bumped into each other in the parking lot.
“Your phone is ringing.”
Is that why you’re grinning like a fool?
Toni attended to her phone which had now stopped ringing. It was her father calling. She sighed.
What does he want?
She sat upright as much as she could and tried to resume her earlier rumination but she forgot what it was about. Instead, she watched moving lips, hands pitching about in descriptions, fingers swiping over screens, faces animated in hilarity or frustration… None of it affected her as much as the pain thumping in her head and the burning feeling in her throat.
She was tired and probably ill. It had been a long day and it wasn’t going to end soon; no thanks to the brainstorming session Izu somehow felt wise to toss her into. Covet had a presentation alongside other ad agencies the following week. They were to present their ideas for an ad campaign to BMW who were officially launching one of their new automobiles, M235i into the market. The creative department believed they were done with their pitch but Christie who was Head of Creative had, over a video conference call, decided it wasn’t good enough. Her deputy, under his own stupid directive and maybe Izu’s, felt brainstorming on a holiday was the solution.
Key persons from the different departments were instructed to attend. Toni had requested to be exempted, citing that she was feeling under the weather but Izu insisted her presence was needed. It wasn’t a surprise when he spent the bulk of the time staring at her.
Where was Christy?
Toni was sure she wasn’t the only one asking that question. She hardly was invited to brainstorming sessions but the few times she had worked with Christie she was left awe-inspired. It probably was the way Jesus’ disciples felt around him. That feeling a mere mortal had in the presence of a god.
Toni stretched and yawned at the same time. Two young boys from creative had just burst in, excited at three rough video ideas they had come up with. Toni had an urge to slap them and pull their ears. Didn’t they know she wanted to go home?
They played their videos, one after the other, on a huge screen in the room. The verdict was that one was brilliant, a clear winner, and the other two were safe but lacking in innovation.
Head of strategy and the client’s advocate account supervisor immediately connived to have the better footage killed. It was at this point that Toni rose up. She was craving for a smoke.
“Guys, madam will hate it, the clients will hate us too,” the account supervisor stated.
“Edzatily!” Head of Strategy exclaimed.
Toni almost guffawed at the way he pronounced ‘exactly’. On a good day, she and Leticia would have a good laugh as they always did each time he spoke. But Leticia had traveled home for the holidays. She missed her.
Toni waited by the door to hear what more ‘Edzatily’ had to say.
“It’s off-point,” he continued. “What happened to the other three essential copy points I put in the brief?”
“I do love how it all goes but can we use it for a celebrity instead of a car?” Izu added pointlessly.
Toni felt for the two young guys, both aged under thirty. She hated how the agency was doing its best to kill the spirit of the millennials. Everyone knew they had all the great ideas.
One of them boldly spoke up, “I think the first idea is great. We have to present it!”
“I think you’re wrong.”
“Why don’t we let Mrs. Christie decide that?”
Toni walked out, knowing that an argument was imminent. She walked past Raji’s office. The door was thrown wide open and she was surprised to find Christie with him. They were speaking in hushed tones and giggles.
She turned around.
“I didn’t know you were back, Christie.”
Christie smiled at her. She wasn’t dressed in her normal work clothes. She had a blouse and jeggings on. A fresh glow was spread across her skin. Her trip seemed to have done her well. She was wearing her natural locks loose.
“My flight just came in. I was supposed to stay till next week but this BMW thing won’t let me coddle. I haven’t even been home yet. How are you?”
“I’m good. Tired. Going home. I think they need you in the idea room before the place blows up.”
“Yes. Let me straighten things out and head home too.”
Christie gave Raji a hug and made her way out of his office.
“Shut the door, Toni.”
Raji went for a bottle of liquor on a table beside a couch. He poured out two glasses and handed one to Toni after she shut the door.
“I got a call from our friends from Finland early this morning. They want to meet after the Easter break. I asked them why. They said they canceled their ad campaign with DFL. They want to come back here.”
Raji put his glass to his lips for a drink.
“I don’t want to know how you did it but I want to say I am proud of you and I unofficially welcome you to senior partner. You now own a five percent stake in Covet.”
Toni’s eyes popped out. “Shit. You weren’t kidding.”
She swallowed the content of her glass in one go. She could hardly believe what she was hearing.
“Christie and Izu know about this?”
“Yes. And they think it’s a welcome development.”
“You’re sure about that? Izu, especially?”
“Yeah, he was difficult but he came around. Congratulations, partner.”
Toni pointed her glass at him. “More.”
Raji served her a refill and together they clinked glasses in a toast.
“No one has had the better interest of this agency than you, Toni. We’re glad to have you with us. But I do hope you know that being partner means more responsibilities and sometimes, sacrifices.”
She gulped the drink as she did the first one. “I know.”
“Paperwork will be done on Tuesday. Make sure you’re at work on time. And erm…the BMW presentation will be spearheaded by you.”
“Yes. Any problem?”
“Well, I think we should sometimes let the boys in creative present their own ideas.”
“Not with a client this huge, Toni. And no offence but sex sells and you’ve got lots of it.”
Toni hated times like these when her sensuality was called to save the day. The feminist in her would have put up a pout but now that she owned a stake in the company, she knew she had to play her part to ensure its success.
“And I’m guessing the news of you being partner will leak out?”
He smiled and took her glass cup from her.
Toni walked out of the office a lot lighter than she went into it. The day may not have been bad after all, and if she learned anything, it was that hard work still paid.
The morning before, she had gotten a phone call from her contact at DFL Creative. The guy let out information regarding the pullout of one of the senior partners from the agency. He was leaving to start something new and wanted to sell his shares. It was rumored that Nkechi was the top bidder. Immediately after the phone call, Toni dialed Mark. He was already up and about. She could hear the sound of a busy street from his end, though it was still dark.
She asked to meet with him in the next hour. He agreed, adding that there was a place he wanted to show her. They could talk there.
An hour later, he had her in a house that was best described as a gallery for the life they once shared. Upon entry, her eyes fell on a huge framed photo of both of them that had been taken in a phone booth somewhere in London. At first glance, Toni felt a stirring in her pits.
The sitting room was a larger replica of the apartment they had both shared while they were dating. The colors and setting left her rather uncomfortable. She shot questioning eyes at Mark.
“I’ve had this place from the moment I lost you, cuddle bear. I just couldn’t let go.”
He was standing beside her, his pinkie linked to hers as she took in the sight before her.
“Now you know I’m not lying when I say I loved you and I still do. This is my escape when things get really nasty with Nkechi. I just come here and get lost in time. Remember how you always fought me for space on that couch?” he asked pointing at a green, worn-out piece of furniture that could hardly take two people.
“And how we’ll end up having sex on it, you always on top?”
Toni blinked the memory away.
“Or how you’d bury your face in that throw-pillow and cry if I upset you? Always that throw-pillow.”
“Mark, I didn’t come here for this. We have to talk.”
“We will but first…”
He put his hand behind her head and drew her in for a kiss. She forced down strong emotions that threatened to engulf her.
“Let’s talk.” She pushed away.
He led her to the couch they used to fight on. He sat and had her on his laps. Being that she was wearing a skirt, Mark didn’t hesitate to have his hand underneath it. He began caressing her.
“I want to buy your partner’s shares at DFL,” she revealed, lighting a cigarette.
Mark’s hand stopped moving for a second. “Who told you there were shares up for sale?”
“A little bird.”
“Because you want Nkechi to have it?”
“I’d sooner die.”
“Good. Then I’ll buy the spot.”
“Toni, I have different plans for us. DFL is just not it. Yes, it’s a big deal but what I plan for us is bigger and better.”
Toni pushed his hand away and stood up. “This is like the past all over again. I get work at DFL and you give me this long speech about two of us maintaining a working relationship and not being seen together as a couple, only for you to go behind my back and fuck Nkechi.”
“Why are you bringing up the past, Toni?”
“Because you have me standing right in the middle of it! It’s as if we’re continuing where we left off! You saying the same nonsense and trying to shove me off what should be mine!”
“Calm down, Toni.”
She wasn’t angry or upset. It was all an act. She pretended to mellow down.
“Imagine DFL and Covet merged as one agency,” she said, eyes twinkling into the air. Mark smiled first, brows squeezed, and then broke out in deriding laughter.
“Is it funny?”
“DFL and Covet in one place?”
“As one agency.”
“Together we’ll be able to beat the giants like Insight and 141 and Noah’s Ark… Help me hold this.” She handed him the cigarette in her hand, knowing well he had ditched his smoking habit years ago.
Slowly, she unbuttoned her shirt and took it off. Mark ogled like a teenager. She sat on his laps again and continued smoking. Mark was only interested in having his face between her breasts.
“I want to buy into DFL. Make that happen, Mark. And I’m not coming in as Toni Braithwaite. You will buy the shares in your name but I will own them. When the time is right, I will come out publicly.”
Mark loosened his tie a little and clutched her hands. She came down on him with a kiss.
“Is there anything else you want?”
“I want you guys to pullout from any ongoing negotiations you have with the Finnish phone company.”
“Come on, Toni…”
“Your wife screwed, or might still be screwing their brand manager for the campaign.”
Mark frowned. “What are you talking about?”
“Like you didn’t know? Doesn’t she get a certain percentage for reeling them in?”
“Who is telling you these things?”
“Word goes round, Mark. Or rather, Nkechi goes round.”
Toni almost smiled as she watched his annoyance grow. His earlier mood was lost but he maintained calm.
“You’ll get all you want, cuddle bear.” He tightened his tie back into place. “I have to go to the office. We should leave. Put on your shirt.”
“I don’t even get the chance to thank you?”
“We’ll arrange something this weekend. I promise.”
They shared a long kiss.
“I love you, Antonia.”
He wasn’t lying. He really did love her, she could tell. And the other thing that was obvious was how much he was burning to unleash his rage on Nkechi.
Things were going smoothly.
“Too smoothly,” she muttered to herself as she drew out of recalling the moment she had shared with him. She was out on her balcony, having the last stick in her pack of menthol cigarettes. She leaned on the metal railing that kept her protected and peered across the street to see that Andre’s office had its lights on.
He was still at work?
Her phone rang. She looked at it. He was calling.
“The Federal Ministry of Health warns that smokers are liable to die young.”
Andre snorted. “How are you?”
“Tired. About to go home. Are you in your office?”
“Thinking of a million different ways to get my ass off my chair. I have a cold. Slight fever.”
“Aww, poor you. You want me to come over?”
“Are you a good night nurse?”
“I’m a bad one.”
The call ended and she found herself beaming from ear to ear, an act that somewhat annoyed her.
“Calm down,” she pacified herself. “He’s just a man.”
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