The first time they met she had been sitting across the hall from him, her red lips igniting the dimly lit room.
He’d stared long and hard at her until she turned, conscious of being watched.
He’d raised a glass, head slightly bowed in salute but she’d ignored him, her pretty brown eyes focused on the man before her.
Sho, they had called him. The guy she was currently with and the only son of an Oil mogul. Sho was the type of man girls like Susan dated, the type of man guys like him couldn’t take a girl from.
But he had fallen fast and hard for her from the very moment his eyes caught hers. He had wanted her and so, the power to ‘unlook’ had not been left to him.
“I was saying hi to you the other time.” He said to her when he met her on the way to the car park hours later.
The party they had both attended had been one of those loud ones thrown by one of the popular guys in school whose friends cut across the bougie and razz crowd.
It was why he could have been in the same room with someone like Suzie Benson. Or Suzie Bee as some of her pals called her.
‘I hate when they call me Suzie Bee,’ she’d once said after sex, ‘makes me feel like someone who works on Allen Avenue.’
And so he’d called her Suzie Bee after then whenever he wanted to mess with her.
When she wouldn’t talk to him that first night, even on her way to the car park, he’d stood in her way. “I want to make you fall in love with me and marry you when you cannot stop thinking about me. But first, you have to actually speak to me.”
She’d held his gaze for so long he actually thought she was going to slap him and walk away. But she’d simply dropped the cigarette stick between her fingers, crushed it with her red stilettos and chuckled.
“You’re cute,” she’d said simply, tapped his shoulder twice and walked away.
So the following Monday, he borrowed his friend, Tomiwa’s, Passat. It was a badly used car, because Tomiwa hung his rumpled shirts with a broken hanger by the window and dumped his shoes in the backseat.
He’d also crashed it so many times, the vehicle looked like it had been used during the civil war as a shield against war weapons.
One headlamp was broken, the other barely bright enough to see at night. It was a moving accident, really.
Still, he had borrowed it and driven it all the way to her faculty where she had just finished a class. When she stepped out with her posse, he’d driven right before them and parked.
“Hi, I borrowed this car from my friend to get your attention and to take you out to lunch in it…”
“It’s an ugly car,” she’d said, giving it one quick glance.
“But I’m a fine guy. And I will make you love me, give you the world and offer you more than any man could ever give you. All you need to do is step in.”
She had given him that long and hard stare again, the type she had given him before she crushed a cigarette under her heels two nights before. And somehow, Femi had imagined another cigarette falling from nowhere and her brown wedges stomping it.
She hopped into the Passat and slammed the door. “I’m coming with you because I am hungry.”
“I can live with that.”
He slammed his foot on the accelerator and sped out of the admin area, lined with different departmental blocks.
Then he drove her to the school’s buka area, where they ate steamy party jollof rice and fried goat meat with sweaty glasses of chapman.
It was not somewhere she normally went to, she’d told him, but it was somewhere he wanted to take her to. It was an invitation into his world, a taste he hoped she’d love.
They spent the day together, eating ice cream in cones and talking about music, books and babies. He was not sure which had landed them in Tomiwa’s bed later that evening – the sexual R&B music they seemed to prefer, James Hardley Chase novels or the art of making babies – but they landed in his room anyway and they fucked for the first time. It had been wild, amazing and noisy because Susan moaned when he thrust into her.
“You’d have to break up with your boyfriend,” he’d said matter-of-factly post sex, while rolling up a blunt.
She’d shrugged, as if it was the normal thing to do. But it was the normal thing for both of them, because they’d both fallen so fast and hard for each other the way it never happened to anyone out of a romance novel or a romcom.
It was unusual, unheard of but it was their love.
And even though Sho tried to bully him, Femi still stole the girl from the guy nobody dared to steal from and he’d proposed to her one night while they stood apart from a large crowd on her father’s yacht.
“My Parents think I’m preggers,” she’d said to him one day, her naked butt arched as she flipped through a cosmo magazine. The virgin human hair she wore cascaded her back, her side boob hardening him where he lay beside her. “They think that’s why I said yes to you.”
“Did you tell them why?” he’d asked, she turned around, her beautiful oval face facing him.
“Of course. I love you.” Then she continued chirping about an expensive fragrance in the magazine spread out before her.
Susan was spoilt and she liked to get her way. His friends had referred to her as the ‘typical daughter of a wealthy man’ but she was his Susan. The woman who had the world but was willing to settle with a man who didn’t have the world yet but could offer her the world.
He loved her because of that and he kept her even when the incessant arguments began.
“Why won’t you work for my Dad?”
“Because I don’t want to.”
“Why don’t you want to?”
“Because I don’t want to.”
“That’s so stupid.”
“Still the truth.”
They fucked many times after arguments but somehow, their relationship worsened. Sometimes, it was because Susan wanted a more expensive cereal than the cheap one he could afford. Then other times it was about paying for a cheaper bouquet on DSTV when she could pay for more.
He was stubborn, she was heady.
Still, they got married.
And then the arguments intensified; they became more heated and eventually graduated into fights.
When she left him, he felt he could trace the beginning of their terrible fights to one Saturday morning.
He’d just abandoned his job at an online media house which caused him to work every single hour of the day in and out of the office.
They had been managing the little they had and Susan had seemed content with that. But then his birthday came and she threw him an expensive one.
It had been a surprise birthday – his friends, former colleagues and even his mother whom she could barely stand were invited.
The expensive champagne, costly cake and food told him she had spent a lot of money. The receipt he found the next morning had confirmed his suspicions. She’d spent a whole lot more than he’d suspected even.
When Susan stepped out of the shower, her light skinned body still moist from the hot water she’d bathed in, a crumpled receipt was standing in her face.
“What’s this?” she asked unable to make out the details on the crushed paper.
“My point exactly, Susan. What’s this?” his anger could barely be contained, “After I told you we don’t have to throw a party you go and spend over 250k on a house party?” he thundered.
She toweled herself dry and yanked off her blue shower cap. “Relax, I didn’t touch the money in our savings account.”
“So where did this money come from?”
She strolled past him, he followed. “My Parents.”
He gasped, because of how flippant her response had been.
“Don’t start, Femi. It was your birthday, I wanted to do something nice.”
“But I told you not to!”
“You were happy. Clearly, listening to you wasn’t the right thing to do.”
“That’s the most stupid thing I’ve heard you say.”
“I’m not stupid.”
“I didn’t say you were, I said you said something stupid!”
And it became worse from there. “Your problem is you take this husband thing too seriously. Like I am supposed to just bow at your feet when you say shit!” she’d spat when he told her she should have respected his wishes.
The arguments became worse after then and for every time they fought, she ran off to her parents.
He’d hated that and he’d talked to her after numerous visits to them.
But it never stopped. One day, they fought, she fled there and returned.
Her parents came this time and told him with stony glares not to ‘kill their only daughter.’
He was nearing his limit.
Still, he tried to fight for them. He knew she tried her best too.
But one afternoon, while they lay on their bed, the only thing they wore being their shiny wedding rings, their little fingers entwined, something told him they were going to crash and he was going to hurt. Still, he wasn’t prepared. Because it was one thing to anticipate the worst but it was another to actually feel the worst.
“Don’t call me that it makes me feel like a beer parlor.” She offered a weak chuckle, he smiled.
“You said it was like someone who worked on Allen Avenue when we first met.”
“These days it’s like a beer parlor in Oshodi or Mushin.”
He inhaled deeply before he asked her the inevitable.
“Where were you yesterday evening after we had a fight?”
There was a slight pause before she told him, “My parents.”
But she hadn’t been there because after they fought and she slammed the door hard in his face, he’d swallowed his pride and driven his tokunbo car to her parents’ in Ikoyi.
It was the first time he was going after her. Because he badly wanted them to stop fighting.
His media company was coming together nicely, he was on the way to becoming the man he’d always wanted to be.
They had picked the name of the company together and they’d been hopeful about it together.
So he’d wanted to fight for her that one time. To make her parents see he was right for her, that their marriage may have been plagued with incessant fights and quarrels but she was still the only woman he’d ever loved so hard.
That the bigger house she needed and he also wanted was going to be real in some months.
But when he saw the blank expression on her parents’ faces which eventually gave way to disgust, he’d feared the worst.
“So I see you have graduated to chasing her away from her own parents. Where is she now o?” her mother had asked, a look of disdain on her face when he said he had no idea.
“But I will find her. And I promise to let you know when I do. Please don’t call her before she thinks I don’t care,” he’d pleaded.
They had reluctantly agreed.
He’d returned home and waited for her. She’d returned the following morning.
“I was at your parents’, you weren’t there, Nneka.”
It was the first time he’d called her by her Igbo name.
She began to cry before she responded. He’d gathered her in his arms when her body shook from violent sobs because what he feared was what had happened. And because even though a dagger had been driven right into his heart, he needed to hold her to let it all sink in.
He knew it before she voiced it.
“I was with someone,” she’d managed to let out in between sobs.
When she stopped crying, they made love. It was slow, steamy and emotion-laden.
It was the first time lovemaking felt so deep between them and it was sad because it was the beginning of their end.
He made pancakes after. She was dressed in his shirt and slides. He was barefooted and bare-chested, a pair of Armani boxers she’d bought for him on his waist.
“We had sex,” she’d told him in the middle of dinner, her manicured fingers toying with the tall glass of orange juice before her.
He remembered focusing on the white color of her fingernails. He couldn’t bear to look in her face because he knew he would cry. Not just cry, bawl like a baby and be inconsolable.
“Do I know him?” he’d asked after a few minutes of silence.
Nothing had hurt him more when he found out. He had wished for so long after she left that it had been someone else. Some faceless dude he didn’t know and that he could pretend didn’t exist.
“I’m sorry, babe.”
A tear had slipped down his face as he grabbed her hands. This time, he looked into her eyes. She was crying too.
“I’m hurting but I still want you to stay,” he’d told her. He knew it was bad, that it was going to take him a while to get over it but he wasn’t letting her go still.
And he thought it was working until one day he woke up and she was gone.
He went to her parents’ house but they had traveled out of the country and she was gone with them according to the security guard.
How he drove safely to his apartment that day still remained a mystery to him. His heart had been shattered into pieces, his throat dry, his insides hurting and his eyes blinded with tears as he returned home.
Too many cars honked when he drove on the express because he had not been in control, his wedding band glittering in the sun was literally the only thing he could focus on as he neared his house.
She’d left him and she’d broken him.
When he parked his car, he didn’t remove his key, neither did he lock his car. He’d staggered to the front door, opened and slumped into a sofa. And only then did he see her wedding and engagement rings lying on the glass coffee table before him.
He wasn’t sure for how many days he lay on the sofa because night turned into day and day into night while he was on that couch, half-conscious. But one day, his mother came to visit after his friends had called to ask if she had heard from him. He’d collapsed after he opened the door and she’d bathed him, cleaned him up and fed him.
The coming days were hands down the worst of his entire life and the beginning of a brand new man.
The man who everyone now knew.
He was leaning over the railings and looking into the lagoon beneath him, a glass of champagne in his hand.
He wasn’t drinking, he was just holding the pale liquid because his friend who owned the Bar had insisted on serving him something.
The water rocked the Bar gently, pulling back and forth whenever the wind dictated.
He wished his insides were that calm but that wasn’t the case. For a week now, he had been torn and, numb.
She had returned.
She had returned and turned his life upside down. Two years before, her return would have made him the happiest man in the world. Now, all it did was confuse him and throw him in a range of emotions he couldn’t understand.
He didn’t turn when he heard her voice. He simply looked on at the water below, enjoying the light the moon cast upon it.
When she stepped closer, he turned slightly. His eyes caught the blue velvet dress she wore. It was the first gift he’d ever given her. And it still clung to her body as seductively as it did years ago.
Susan knew him and she knew him too well.
“You haven’t come home in days,” she said, her hand gently touching his. His eyes didn’t miss the fact that her wedding and engagement rings were back on her fourth finger.
The woman clearly hadn’t come to play.
The morning she strolled in and excused Umi still stood clear in his memory. Umi, the woman he thought about too much these days and who had refused to speak to him since the incident.
Well, except that one text where she said; Sorry I slapped you but stay the hell away from me. Cheers.
Messages, calls and gifts had gone unacknowledged. And he knew he should go to her, yet he didn’t.
“I am purposely staying away from you,” he said in response to Susan’s question.
“That’s not a good way to treat a marriage,” she replied. She looked older and her beauty, even though it was still as striking as ever, was more mature.
She’d grown from the gorgeous woman with that wild beauty into a more mature, more demure woman with a more tamed beauty.
And she spoke like an older woman too.
“You talk about treating a marriage like you know what the heck you’re talking about,” he said calmly, his gaze tearing away from her to a ship that sailed away in the distance.
“We’ve all made mistakes, baby.”
“You didn’t make a mistake, you committed murder.”
“And I’m sorry for everything I did. I’m back to make things right.”
He bit back the urge to laugh. Since she returned, he’d had different times during the day when he just threw his head back and laughed at her return.
At first, even he thought the behavior strange.
However, as time passed, he realized it was the only way his body and mind reacted to the homecoming of a woman who had almost taken away his life.
The woman who had killed the man he used to be. The man only Umi seemed to be able to reach now and could bring back.
Damn, he missed her so bad. He ached for her warm body beneath his, he longed for her touch and he wanted to bury himself inside of her so bad.
But all of that had to wait.
He didn’t want to complicate anybody’s life at the moment.
“I’m returning home tonight.”
Her face lit up. “That’s good, Femi. They say baby steps would help us.”
His brows furrowed. “Who’s ‘they’?”
“Marriage counselors, therapists…” she dismissed the rest of the statement with a wave of the hand. “All that don’t matter right now. Let’s just go home.”
“There’s no ‘us’ and my house isn’t your home.” He began to say. When she touched his arm, he gently shrugged it off. “And take that freaking ring off your finger. I am no longer tied to you.”
He abandoned the liquor in the glass on a table on his way out of the bar. He was aware she wasn’t following him but he couldn’t care less.
Outside, it was drizzling. A van drove past the entrance of the Bar and reminded him of Umi.
His heart skipped several beats when the thought of her popped up in his mind. He was tempted to drive all the way to hers but he held himself back.
Swiping his thumb across his phone to unlock, he texted her; Hey, I miss you so bad. And I wish you’d talk to me soon. Can we please do lunch, tomorrow? I promise to be good. X
He entered his car and exhaled deeply. Hopefully Umi missed him as much as he missed her.
However, when his eye caught Susan stepping out of the bar, her legs strapped in heels heading towards her car, something told him the drama in his life had just commenced.
And somehow, he knew he wasn’t ready for Umi. So he picked his phone and sent another text; Hey, ignore the last sms. Never mind. Have a good evening. Cheers.
His heart tore into tiny shreds when he hit send. But one thing made him happy; he was protecting the one woman he was beginning to fall insanely in love with.
She read his text a second time. It made no sense to her. But then Femi had always had the inclination to be juvenile. And stupid. So she put her phone away and went for her drink which filled her mouth with fire and ice at the same time, and Femi was soon forgotten.
The sports lounge was dimly-lit like most sports lounges were. A group of men lost in some football match were being noisy in a corner of the room while she sat in her little space, trying to enjoy a senseless personal night out.
She hadn’t given herself a treat in ages. Today had felt like a good day to do so. After she received an SMS from her bank in the morning, informing her of a delicious deposit made into her account, she felt the need to take a holiday. In celebration, she went on a shopping spree for herself and Zainab. And now, she was out alone, having drinks and pretending some part of her was not thinking of Femi.
She was on her fourth glass of cocktail. Her head was still in the right place, although she was a little tipsy. The idea was to get a lot more tipsy, speed-dial her cab driver who would come and take her to a nearby hotel where she would spend the night sprawled on a large bed in an expensive motel suite, bare-butt naked, just for the fuck of it.
This was her idea of dealing with heartbreak.
But I am not heartbroken.
“Not now,” she said to herself, shutting down the arguing voices in her head which had been at war with each other since the moment Femi’s wife walked in on her and Femi and tossed her in the middle of a Nollywood family drama.
From then on, Umi had experienced moments when she felt fine, and others in which she was so overwhelmed with tears that remained heavy in her and just wouldn’t spill. Her emotions went back and forth without mercy, and when she became exhausted by them, she swallowed her pride and opened up to Chibuzor.
He didn’t judge. He didn’t remind her that he had warned her about Femi. He simply hugged her and offered her a bowl of ice-cream which they both ate from.
“If you have to wonder if you’re heartbroken or not, I don’t think you are,” he had said to her, wiggling his giant toes in a pair of flip-flops. The light from his massive plasma television reflected in his small eyes as they sat on the floor of his living room with the lights dimmed and the windows wide open to let in cool air.
That night, she slept over in his place and was served breakfast in bed the next morning by his smiling, bearded face. For a moment, when she opened her eyes, she had seen Femi. And had felt a tug in her heart when it disappeared and Chibuzor’s face came into full view.
If there was any justice in the world, she would make her best friend happy and Femi would be history. But the world was known for its fair share of assholes, of which she was one.
Umi finished her fourth cocktail in one swig and called the barman for another. He brought it over, and then a sixth, before she realized that she had reached her limit. She took out her phone and dialed her cab driver as planned. When he came, she was grateful that he had the commonsense to come all the way to the bar to get her. The walk to the cab would have simply been too long.
In the backseat, she fell asleep and dreamt about being in a similar cab with Femi. While the driver took them to their destination, she was all over him – lips between his, hands in his pants. There was laughter, there were raunchy words told in whispers, like there hadn’t been a break in their affair.
She didn’t ask about his wife. He didn’t talk about her. They kissed and smooched all the way to his house and to his bedroom where they had sex like crazed animals. When, at some point, it appeared to her that he was unsure if he wanted to be with her, she egged him on, taking control of the heat, riding him until she was out of steam. And because her dream, like other dreams, became fuzzy and weird, she didn’t know how it all ended.
When she opened her eyes the next morning, hit with the mother of all hangovers, she was wondering why the room was familiar but looked nothing like a hotel suite.
And just then, she felt a giant arm pulling her into the snuggle of a hairy body. She gave a sharp turn and found herself in bed with Chibuzor.
Shock had her on the floor in seconds, falling backwards as though she had just seen a ghost. Chibuzor stirred, lifted his head to have a peep at her.
She yanked off the bedspread and sprang up, ignoring the ache in her head that had just gotten worse.
“Mmmm?” He had gone back to sleep, eyes closed, face smiling. Umi picked a pillow and slammed it over his head.
“What am I doing in your house, in your room and on your bed?!” And while she waited for an answer, she shut her eyes and began to mutter, “God, please let it not be true. Let it not be true. Please, God.”
Lackadaisically, Chibuzor sat up and placed the pillow between his legs. “Open your eyes, Umi.”
She obeyed, dread on her face. “Please, tell me we didn’t…”
Umi gasped and left her mouth hanging open as if frozen in time.
“And it was awesome,” Chibuzor added thoughtlessly.
She snapped. “Awesome?! AWESOME?! CHIBUZOR, I WAS DRUNK!”
“No, you were not…”
“I was drunk, Chibuzor! Dead drunk! And you took advantage of me?!”
She looked around for something to hit him with and there was nothing except for the bedside lamp. She yanked it off its connection to the wall and hurled it at him. He ducked. She picked one of her heels from the floor next and charged towards him in rage. He jumped off the bed.
“Umi, chill.” He went round the bed as she dashed after him.
“You called me last night to come and pick you. I told you my car was down but you insisted, so I got a cab and picked you,” he explained.
“I didn’t call you!” she screamed back. “I called my cab guy! You followed me! You’re stalking me!”
“You called me. I came and we sat in the back of the cab and you were all over me. I didn’t know you were drunk, Umi, or I would have stopped. You seemed only a little tipsy. I swear!”
“You knew I was drunk! And you took advantage of me! You raped me!”
Umi’s heel flew from one end of the bed to the other, hitting Chibuzor who was weakened by her words.
“Rape? How can you say that?” he asked in a broken voice. “I would never.”
“I didn’t give you permission to touch me!”
“You were all over me. You begged me to fuck you. You kept saying, ‘fuck me, Bubu,’ even when I told you over and over again that I wasn’t Femi. You said Femi was with his ex and you didn’t see why you shouldn’t also have a good time.”
“You’re lying!” Umi screamed, tears filling her eyes. “You’re lying!”
“I’m not lying, Umi. You asked for sex.”
“I didn’t.” Umi suddenly became sapped of energy and fell to the floor where she broke into tears. Chibuzor came to her.
“Go away,” she sobbed.
“Go away, Chibuzor! Go away, you rapist! You’re scum! Leave me alone! Go!”
She arose from the floor, and went about picking her clothes as Chibuzor made his exit from the room. It took her a long time to get into her dress and heels. When the heels didn’t feel right on her feet, she pulled them off and held them in her hand.
She found Chibuzor in his living room, carrying a morose look on his face. Upon seeing her, he rushed to her and fell on his knees. Knowing he won’t stop begging her until she was forced to forgive him, she remained standing all through his apology. When he was tired, he moved away and she headed out of the house to where her cab man was waiting.
“Take me home,” she muttered.