This episode is dedicated to Bimbo. Keep shining babe 😘
Dapo couldn’t keep his legs still in Toni’s living room. He paced around, almost as if to a beat no one could hear. Now and then, Toni would lift her head from her laptop and peek out, especially when he slowed to give his phone his attention.
“She’s not answering her calls, she’s not in the office, she’s not at church, she’s not with any of her other friends… Where is she?”
“Relax, baby boy. Your girl is fine. She’ll come home. If not tonight, then tomorrow.”
It was the second time Dapo was hearing those words, but he gave Toni the same expression he gave her the first time she uttered them. It was a downward tilt of his head at her as if she was some little child that had uttered a cuss word at an adult. Just like in the first instance, Toni smiled at him. The smile also received its own special reaction.
“I can’t. What if something has gone wrong with her?”
Toni slammed her laptop shut and pulled a leg up on the couch while the other rested on the center table.
“Leticia does this every two, three years. She finds something that gets her really depressed and she sinks into it scarily, but in the end, she pulls through. She will survive.”
“I’m very sure.”
“Does it come with late nights?”
“Dapo, it’s just a few minutes past twelve. That’s bright as day in Tisha’s world.”
And so Dapo tried his best to be patient. He couldn’t stop pacing around, though. It took quite some time but the anticipated sound of Leticia’s car finally came.
Dapo peeped out to confirm it was her and then returned to have a seat.
“Don’t say anything to her when she comes in,” Toni advised. “Good or bad.”
Leticia walked in. She threw a stare at Dapo and then at Toni.
“Hi guys.” It was barely a mumble. She picked a chair and sat, saying nothing more as she stared into space. Unable to hold back his week-long restlessness, Dapo moved to the edge of his seat.
She looked at him as though he wasn’t there.
“Tisha?” Toni called. Toni also got a stare. “This wasn’t how I saw you in the office. And I know this sweater doesn’t belong to you unless you bought it today, but it looks old already and oversized. Why are you dressed like this? What happened?”
Leticia let down the hood of the anorak covering her face, revealing an injury on her cheek and also bruised lips.
“What the fuck!” Dapo exclaimed as he went to her. “Who did this to you?”
Leticia looked at him, eyes glaring with unshed tears. Embarrassment was written on her face. She clutched the sweater as if trying to hold back her emotions, but it was useless. She burst out like a broken dam, throwing herself in the familiar comfort of Dapo’s chest. But Dapo wanted answers, as did Toni who was now seated beside her. He moved backwards a little to peer into her face.
“Your lip is bleeding.”
Still having his arm around her, he went for a piece of tissue paper from a box on the table. When he pressed it over her bleeding lip, he asked, “Who did this?”
Disappointment fell on Dapo’s face.
“You warned me. You told me this was going to happen… I’m sorry.”
Leticia looked at him, waiting to be scolded, waiting for an I-told-you-so, but instead, Dapo sponged off her tears.
“Tell us what happened,” Toni pressed.
“I left the office quite early.” Leticia sniffled, recalling the moment she snuck out of Covet, wishing she had stayed back.
Out on the streets, she relied on her knowledge of the Lagos metropolis to take her to her destination. It was a fashion and design outfit belonging to a woman whose husband was once Leticia’s sugar daddy. Leticia remembered an encounter in which the woman had caught her with her husband, but had been lied to by the man that Leticia was a friend’s fiancée. The woman who hadn’t asked any more questions, smiled and walked away. She had come across as religious, dressing conservatively and carrying about a modest visage, much like Bernadette.
Leticia alighted from her car, ready with her confession. Her throat burned for a drink of water but she ignored it. She couldn’t ignore Dapo’s warning voice in her head, though.
“You’ll get yourself into trouble with this nonsense you’re doing,” he had told her the day after storming out of the house, following the visit to Bernadette’s. She had gone to see him to apologize for their fight, but Dapo had reiterated his displeasure at her mission. “Leticia, they’ll beat you o. You’re being stupid and quite honestly, ridiculous.”
His words had gotten her angry. They fought about it a second time and she retaliated by walking out on him and staying away since then.
Now as she headed towards the woman’s shop, she felt a sense of foreboding she couldn’t shake off. She entered the place, a long room with multiple sewing and design machines, operated solely by ladies. There was a front desk. A girl holding a festooned fabric asked Leticia whom she was there to see.
The girl pointed. There was a tubby woman standing over an overweight woman who was stationed at a machine. Leticia wasn’t sure exactly whom she had come to see until the one behind the machine turned.
Leticia drew in her breath. She was certainly the one, but she was fatter now, bleached, with makeup and jewelry on.
“How can I help you?” she asked, and then called one of the girls to get Leticia a chair. The chair was brought, but Leticia requested for privacy. The woman’s forehead gathered in a knot as an expression that looked like recognition appeared on her face.
“I know you,” she said.
“Yes. I know you. Are you not Diamond?”
“Yes. You’re Diamond.” There was sudden aggression in her tone.
“No, ma. I’m not Diamond. I’m Leticia.”
“You are Diamond and you’re the evil witch trying to destroy my marriage!”
“Shut up your dirty mouth! Home breaker! Husband stealer!” She clapped as she jerked to her feet and moved towards Leticia.
“Let me explain…”
And Leticia’s last word was silenced by an earsplitting slap, loud enough to stop every activity going on in the shop. Leticia held her cheek with both hands as the woman came at her again. The subsequent assault happened so swiftly that Leticia couldn’t defend herself on time. And even if she had tried, she would have been no match for the giant of a woman. Help came her way, however, in the form of the other overweight lady who tore her boss away from her and stood between them.
The raging woman charged forwards to continue her attack but was held back, giving Leticia enough time to make her escape. But Leticia hadn’t gone quite the distance when she turned and saw that she was being chased with a glinting weapon in her assaulter’s hand. Leticia put her feet into a sprint and ran so fast she went past her car. She stopped, but only to return to it. Unfortunately, the scorned wife was at the other side of the automobile, flashing what was clearly a pair of giant scissors.
Leticia retained her position in a slightly-crouching pose, with her feet ready to move again.
“God will punish you! I’ll kill you today! You think you can use jazz on my husband abi?! I’ll kill you and that jazz will scatter! Unfortunate prostitute!”
“I’m not sleeping with your husband!”
“Shut up with your stinking lies! God will disgrace your generation today! Your father, your mother, your brothers, your sisters! Your whole family! God punish all of you!”
Both women maintained a dance, moving from left to right on both sides of the vehicle. Each time Leticia tried to add some speed to her movement, the woman paced up. Passersby were beginning to gather.
“Ashawo kobo-kobo! Olosho! Shame on you! Shame! All you people know how to do is destroy marriages and make men useless after eating all their money! Shame! I will naked you here today and kill you and nobody will do anything! I have suffered in you people’s hands! But no more!”
The other chubby lady from the shop was now on the scene, staring wearily at her boss. She made a quick attempt to hold her back but got a shove that nearly knocked her to the ground. Using the opportunity afforded her, Leticia then dashed in the direction of the driver’s side. Unfortunately, she got assaulted a third time, narrowly escaping the stab of the scissors, only because her helper had pounced on her boss once again, knocking the scissors to the ground. But Leticia’s blouse was already torn and her face and neck injured. A debilitating pain inflicted on her collarbone had her dizzy and almost falling to the ground.
Moving away from the line of fire, Leticia watched painfully as the woman inflicted scratches on her car with the scissors she had just picked from the ground.
“He doesn’t have money for me but he can buy you this?!”
“I’m not dating your husband!” Leticia screamed back, almost crying. She sought for her inner angry person but met a weakened one. All she wanted was to get away from the drama. With her life intact, preferably. A stranger was touching her, asking if she was okay. The gathering of onlookers was crowding in on her.
Somebody hauled her up. Her blouse fell open and she held on to it. The scorned wife had been dragged away. The other chubby lady came to her, taking off the sweater on her back.
“Be going,” she instructed, helping Leticia open the door. “Don’t worry about the sweater. Keep it. Just go before my aunty comes back for you.”
Leticia entered the car, shaking. Her hands barely gripped the steering after she shut the door. The sound of the engine coming to life was probably the sweetest sound she had heard all week. But just as she was about to move, she heard a sharp hissing noise from the back of the car. Afraid to step out, Leticia looked through her side mirror and discovered that her assaulter had deflated a rear tire. Leticia lost what little strength she had and broke down. She knew she was soon going to toss her pride away and call Dapo. But first she needed to have a good cry.
Someone knocked on her window. She ignored it, hiding her face. The knocking wouldn’t stop, however. It continued until Leticia lifted her head and dared to stare out.
A lady, tall and big-boned having a motherly air, was looking into her car. She motioned for Leticia to let the window down. Warily, Leticia spied the area to be sure she was safe. All she saw was the crowd that had gathered. The crazy lady and her niece were gone. She let the window down.
“My dear, are you okay?” the stranger asked. Leticia simply gawked at her.
“I can’t even remember her name,” Leticia narrated to Dapo and Toni. “She was there with her driver. They were driving by and stopped to use that ATM when they saw the whole drama. The driver changed my tire. After that I just went straight to Daisy’s. She cleaned my wounds and gave me drugs. I slept off and I just woke up like an hour ago.”
Dapo gave a long sigh as Toni unzipped the sweater to get a better look at the injuries.
“That bitch is mad,” she uttered. “We’re going there tomorrow for Part Two. She’d better be ready.”
Leticia rejected the idea with a strong shake of her head.
“You’re not serious.” Dapo frowned. “If I don’t have her locked up…”
“Which one is no? Have you looked at what she did to you?”
“I don’t want to fight her. Too much drama abeg. Let’s just forget it…”
“Forget what, Tish?” Toni cut in.
“You guys… I’m fine. Seriously, I am. I just want to hide away.”
“Awww…” Toni pulled her into a hug she didn’t respond to. She was still upset with her.
“Sorry, baby. You’re sure we shouldn’t pay that cunt a visit?”
“No, we have to.”
“Can you stop?! Two of you, just stop it!”
She released her pain in tears again. Neither Toni nor Dapo soothed her. Somehow they understood her need to be left to feel her pain alone. She cried for a good stretch of time and stopped.
“One moment you’re happy and optimistic about how you’re going to be fine.” Her voice came in a broken tone. “Or at least you’re pretending to. Another moment you’re profoundly sad and you start thinking you’ve been cursed with unhappiness. Don’t even get me started on the waterworks. You’ll just be crying at the slightest thing. I saw a ‘Baby on Board’ sticker when I was in traffic and I just broke down.”
Toni felt a lump in her throat that brought tears to her eyes.
“I’m struggling with my faith. Struggling to believe that there is a bigger picture, that everything will be alright, that God has a plan and this period of pain is part of it. Struggling to believe that I’ll be happy again.”
Toni took her hand. She looked at her.
“I want to hate you and get so jealous of you because of that baby you’re carrying, Toni.”
“From the first day.”
Toni’s eyes released their own tears. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m happy for you. Why are you crying?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t want to hurt you by telling you.”
“And that was stupid and hurtful. Don’t you know me again? I’m your best friend. Your sister, Arinola. Why hide such a thing from me? Dapo knows, doesn’t he?”
“You told him.”
“I just told him today.”
“But you should have told me before everyone else.”
“All that matters is that you’re happy and Andre is happy. And that makes me happy.” She showed a smile that made Toni chuckle a little.
“So no more confessions to wives of your exes?” Dapo asked.
“And the other thing?”
“What thing?” Toni inquired.
Leticia broke her first smile in the week. It was a bashful one. Toni almost missed the glint in her brother’s eyes directed at Leticia. She cleared her throat.
“There’s a cool bed and breakfast place on the next street,” Dapo said to Leticia. “We should go there. Stay in for at least, two days? You can’t go to work like this tomorrow.”
“That’s a good idea,” Toni concurred. Leticia was fine with it. She allowed Dapo pull her up. He led her to the bedroom where they packed a small bag for her. After their departure, Toni had a warm shower and lay in bed. She dialed Andre’s number and he answered promptly, laughing with someone else who was with him. There was some background noise from his end.
“You’re still in the office?” Toni pushed her legs underneath her blanket.
“Yeah. I’m just about done. You want me to come over?”
“Please. The door is unlocked.”
She shut her eyes and dozed off after she hung up. Andre snuck in a while later, spooning her, his hand protectively resting on her tummy. He was ready for a shuteye but Toni had other plans. Soon they were engaged in an intense lovemaking session that lasted for the best of an hour.
Andre awoke before Toni when morning came. She heard him moving about the room but was still too sleepy to bother. A while later, she felt his touch.
“Mon chou, you have to wake up.”
Toni stretched and smiled. The best part of her day was waking up to Andre’s kisses. It was like waking up to a constant daydream.
“I know you don’t want to get out of bed.”
“Let’s not go to work.”
“I wish I could but…”
“Come and cuddle.”
“Remember we have we have a meeting.”
“Fuck.” She became alert, throwing off the blanket. “What time is it?”
“Shit! The kids…”
“They’re already dressed for school. I took care of everything. They’re having breakfast.”
Toni looked at Andre appreciatively.
“You can thank me later. Go and shower.”
She left a peck on his forehead before dashing into the bathroom. After she was done in there, she came out to the living room. Ruby and Duke were waiting for the school bus which was unusually late.
Andre looked up at Toni and asked her in French if it was a good time to tell the kids about the baby. She shrugged and took the space beside him.
“Ruby? Duke?” she called. Duke responded but Ruby was lost in her phone. “Ruby?”
The girl looked up. Toni spread out her hand and the phone was placed on it.
“So, we have some good news. We—Uncle Andre and I—are expecting a baby.”
“A baby?” Duke asked.
Ruby rolled her eyes. “She’s pregnant. Duh!”
Toni and Andre looked at each other. The boy cocked his head to one side in a curious expression.
“You’ve not had the talk with him?” Andre whispered.
“What talk?” Toni whispered back.
“How babies are made.”
“Why would I want to do that?”
“Why are you people whispering?” Duke asked.
“We can hear you,” Ruby stated.
“Duke,” Toni continued, “we made the baby.”
“How?” the boy looked even more confused.
With impatience, Ruby explained, “They had sex and Aunty Toni got pregnant.”
Both adults had their mouths hanging open.
“How did they have sex?”
“Stop asking stupid questions!” Ruby shouted.
“Stop shouting on me!”
“Hey, it’s okay. Stop it, two of you,” Andre instructed. “Aunty Toni and I are not only having a baby, we’re moving to a new house, and we’ll all live there like a family. You two and Jozi. It’s a big, beautiful house.”
“Yay!” Duke pumped his hands into the air. “I don’t like this house. It’s small and Ru is always farting in the night.”
Ruby smacked his head. He hit her with an elbow.
“You, stop it.”
They got interrupted by the honk of a horn.
“The bus is here!” Duke jumped to his feet. Ruby also stood up. “First to enter the bus!”
“I’m not doing that with you.”
Toni noticed Ruby had gotten into one of her moods.
“Ruby, wait a minute.”
Duke ran to the door, stopped and turned. “Aunty Toni, what is sex?”
Andre let out a laugh.
“I’ll tell you later. Go to the bus.” Toni gave her attention to Ruby. The girl had dropped her eyes to the floor, resting them on a fidgety foot.
“Are two of you going to get married?”
“Yes,” Andre answered.
“No, dear,” Toni repeated. “At least, not now.”
Ruby lifted her head. “Please, don’t ever get married.”
She began to walk away.
“Wait.” Toni followed her. “Why would you say such a thing?”
“Daddy said marriage is nonsense. He said it doesn’t work. Somebody always gets heartbroken. You too, you always tell Aunty Tisha that marriage is rubbish.”
“I think it’s true. Look at Vanessa’s mommy and daddy, they also got divorced.”
“They didn’t. They got separated and they’re back together now.”
“Me I’m not going to get married sha. I hate boys.”
Toni was stunned. “Can we talk about this when you come back?”
“If you won’t let us go to mommy’s house this weekend.”
“Ruby, you know I can’t stop you from going to see your mommy.”
“I don’t want to go.”
“Why? What does she do to you?”
“They’re waiting for me in the bus.”
And with that Ruby ran off.
“That child is the weirdest, sweetest girl I ever met,” Andre commented.
“I know, right. She baffles me all the time.”
“It’s the age.”
“I hope she doesn’t get more difficult in her teenage years.”
“Go and dress up.”
Toni returned to the bedroom. Andre brought her breakfast. It was fries and scrambled eggs. He had taken out his time to spice the eggs with fresh pepper. Unfortunately, Toni didn’t have the time to sit and savor the meal as she would love to. She dressed up and ate at the same time. Andre entered the room when she was almost through.
“Can we go now?”
She asked for an extra minute to slip on her earrings. Afterwards she picked her handbag, wore her shoes and followed him out. He began to talk about moving some of their things to the new house during the weekend. He had already begun packing. He wanted to know if she needed help. He asked this as they made their exit from the house. Toni was about to respond when she saw Rita Harrison saunter into the compound.
“How does she always find me?”
Andre, who was locking the door, replied, “She’s creepy.”
“Please, could you wait for me in the car?”
“No, I’ll wait here,” he replied, his eyes on Rita.
He locked the door and hung at the porch as Rita approached Toni.
“I thought I was done with you, madam,” Toni said.
“Nice one, Antonia.”
“The High Mistress thing… It’s all over the internet.”
“Oh, that,” Toni said casually, but she had no idea the news had hit the web. Madu was supposed to have waited until the next day as they had planned.
“Somehow you knew I was going to use that against you, so you went ahead and broke the news. I’m impressed.”
“No, I’m impressed that you found out I was High Mistress and also about my pregnancy.”
The woman smugly laughed like one who had been paid a compliment. “Well, that’s me. I can go to any length to get what I want.”
“And yet you can’t keep your man or his money.”
Rita’s smile vanished. “I have a deal for you. A juicy offer.”
“No.” Toni looked at Andre. “Fab, let’s go.”
But Andre remained standing, glowering behind dark sunshades.
“Just listen to the offer,” Rita said.
“I own five percent of CIPRON Oil. I want you to have it.”
Toni gave her a suspicious look.
“I’m not lying. But I only own it on paper. It’s nothing without an heir.”
“What sort of arrangement is that?”
“When I met Imade, I was desperate to get married to him because he promised me a lot. I didn’t really read the fine print in our prenuptial agreement. My father’s company was dying. He came to rescue it and me too from inevitable bankruptcy. I signed the damn papers while high on wine and his dick.”
“You were stupid.”
“I know. And I need your help, Toni. You’re the only person he’ll listen to.”
“No, no. Not this shit again.” Toni started towards the gate.
“Please! I’m desperate and running out of time here.”
Toni stopped. “Out of time?”
“I’m pregnant, but not for him. If he finds out…things would be worse for me than they already are.”
“Why don’t you just lie to him that the baby belongs to him and get all you need from him?”
“Lie to Imade?” The woman laughed. “It’s like you don’t know him. He’ll want a paternity test immediately. He won’t wait for the baby to be born. Look, I don’t want to stay married to him again. Two days ago, I wanted to, but then, yesterday I discovered I was pregnant. Now, I want out, and I want to walk out of that marriage a rich woman, and only you can do it for me, Antonia. Take my stake in the company. I give it to you. Just get me a good deal from that bastard.”
Toni made to object but Rita added, “You owe me. At least, for being the other woman.”
Andre walked by without uttering a word to them.
“Please,” Rita added. Toni saw the desperation in her eyes. She was stirred by it.
“From one expectant mother to another…” Rita milked it. “Please.”
“I’ll think about it.”
Toni began out of the gate. “I’m curious, though. How did you know about me being pregnant?”
“I didn’t. You just told me now. When I went public with news of my divorce, I only added the pregnancy part to make it juicy.” She flashed a malicious smile. “Enjoy your day, Toni.”
As Toni watched the woman get into her car, she wondered how someone could derive extreme pleasure in making herself unlikable.
Toni turned towards Andre’s SUV where he sat waiting. The moment she got in, he said, “No. Not now. Not ever. Not when you’re carrying my child. You’re done with the Harrisons.”
“You didn’t even let me talk…”
“There’s nothing to talk about, Arinola. Can’t you see that their drama never ends? What next after this?”
Toni hated his tone on her, but she refused to react to it. He fired up the car and they rode to the office under taut silence. She realized that by the time she got out of the SUV, she had worked herself into annoyance. She didn’t know if it was the Harrisons or Andre’s silent treatment that got on her nerves. Nonetheless she accepted Andre’s kiss.
“I’m sorry for the way I spoke to you earlier,” he said. “I just want you to end that part of your life. You have me and the baby now. You don’t need any stress.”
Toni said nothing. He kissed her again. She started towards the building, taking out her phone and dialing Imade’s number. She waited for it to ring. The man answered as she entered the reception.
“Dear High Mistress,” he purred.
“Lunch at Radisson Blu. 2 p.m.” She got into the elevator.
“You’re always full of pleasant surprises. But I’ll be there.”
“Come without your cock.” Toni terminated the call. When she looked up, Andre was staring at her from outside the elevator. The doors were sliding shut. She pressed the hold button and they parted again. He came in and stood beside her.
“Don’t fucking piss me off, ma chatte.”
The doors slid shut.
Raji liked his fried plantains chestnut brown, with a bit of beans porridge on the side. He had made this clear to the lady in charge of the kitchen. But every single time she did as she pleased, bringing him more beans, and plantains that looked a pale shade of golden brown. This morning, he was burning to fire her, angry that he couldn’t do so solely for his personal reasons. She was a good cook and cutting her loose might lead to an uprising from her loyal fans.
Raji was a terrible cook, a lazy one. He was tired of eating from restaurants and wasn’t entirely certain he wanted to hire a personal caterer. He missed Salma’s cooking. He missed everything about her. He didn’t feel confident about getting her back. Two nights ago, when he stopped over at the supermarket to pick a few items and to spend time with her, he endured listening to her on the phone with Maliq. It was torturous. Yesterday he had had a session with Khanyi and spoke about it. These days all they did was talk about Salma. Work issues took a backseat, and usually Khanyi would steer the discussion back, but she allowed him the freedom to express himself. She believed he was doing the right thing to pursue hard after Salma.
“It’s reflecting in your duties here,” she had told him the day before. “You use the same hunger and doggedness to run Covet.”
“I just want to get back the life I used to have.”
“And does that include Christie and Folarin?”
Raji looked thoughtful. “I don’t know if I want to do that.”
“Oh, you do. Badly.”
“I’ve accepted that Christie and I can never get back to that place again. But Folarin…”
“You miss that relationship, don’t you?”
Raji left her question unanswered. He didn’t want to express how much he wanted to reconnect with Folarin. But fate threw him a lifeline when he got a text from him in the middle of lunch. He choked when he read, and suffered a brief coughing spell. He took a long swig of water and waited for the coughs to subside before reading Folarin’s text again.
Drinks, 7pm. You know where. Let’s talk.
Raji read it a third time, feeling a sense of lightheartedness that brought on sudden gusto to his mood. He abandoned the plantain and beans and took a walk around the establishment. To his employees, he was doing a routine check on things. To him, he was taking a fun stroll, like one would in a park on a cool day. He went to the executive floor, poked his head into offices and stopped in one of the boardrooms where Andre was having a chat with students from a popular private university. Raji slipped in and listened in. He had missed being in Andre’s position.
“Content marketing is about generating brand awareness, traffic growth, lead generation, or customers,” Andre pepped. “It’s common for people who want content marketing to expect instant results. What they don’t realize and what we keep having to reiterate to our clients is that it’s a long-term play. Best case scenario, six months. More likely, twelve months. Here’s what you should be doing instead…”
Andre’s voice left a soothing effect on Raji. In fact, anything could have soothed him at the moment. He sat in like one of the students, following the conversation enthusiastically until he got interrupted by his phone. He left the room to respond to the call. This led him to the elevator area where he stood until he was done. Coincidentally, Christie was headed out of the floor.
“Hi,” he greeted as they both waited for the elevator.
“How’s your day going?”
They got into the elevator, Christie entering first. Raji hated that he still noticed little things about her, like how her hair had started growing back after suffering hard times during pregnancy; or how her favorite shade of lipstick these days was melon orange. He hated more the fact that he couldn’t express his admiration like he used to when their friendship was still pure.
“So Fola and I are having drinks tonight,” he mentioned.
“Does that make you happy?”
“You think he’s ever going to forgive me the way he forgave you?”
“I don’t know.”
“How are you guys though?”
Christie stared at Raji. He was elated to see nothing hostile in her eyes. “We’re good. Things are getting back to normal.”
It appeared as if she was going to say more, but the elevator stopped and the doors parted.
“See you.” She strode out. Raji continued to his floor where he remained until the close of day. He got into his car and drove to the spot that used to be his favorite, where he, Folarin and Izu liked to sit and have drinks on most evenings. Nothing had changed since the last time he was there. He picked their favorite spot beneath the canopy of a tree and ordered a beer for himself. He had come early. He occupied his thoughts with a game of football on TV and his phone.
Folarin came in shortly after. He stopped at the bar table before walking to where Raji sat. They shook hands firmly and Folarin took his seat.
They made small talk about the weather, their jobs, family and the state of the country. This saw them way into almost finishing their first bottles of beer. When they called for a second round, Folarin took on a serious air.
“You know what this is about, right? This thing we’re doing here right now.”
“I have a good guess.”
“Christie wants you to be forgiven. Salma wants us to bury everything and get back to being friends…”
Folarin scratched the side of his face in habit. Raji took note of a new tattoo on his wrist. ‘Tami’ was inscribed there.
“I don’t see that happening automatically. Guy, I still resent you. Those videos with you and Chris… They can’t leave my head. Your betrayal was…” Folarin shook his head. “How you do me that kind thing, Raji? Why?”
Raji didn’t have an answer. Folarin didn’t want the truth. He could not handle it. Raji loved Christie and would never stop loving her, even though he had sworn not to cross the line again. He was one of those few people capable of creating places in his heart for more than one person, loving them the way they deserved to be loved. Folarin was the opposite. He had a heart for only one, and it would always be Christie. Raji respected that more than ever now. Christie never loved him in that sense. In fact, the affair had been entirely one of lust for her. Nothing more. Raji had long accepted that she and Folarin belonged to each other. He was happy that she was back with her man.
“Thirst,” Raji answered Folarin’s question. “Envy. I wanted what you guys had. I messed things up with Salma and Christie was there for me and I… I wanted her. That’s all.”
Folarin shook his head again. Raji saw that he was out of words. He allowed him a moment with himself.
“Am I supposed to trust you again? I mean, if I let you back in, how am I sure you won’t do the same thing a second time?”
“You know me, man. I’m not that stupid.”
“You cheated on Salma twice.”
“I know, and I’ve learned my lesson. Losing Salma is the most painful thing that’s ever happened to me. I don’t want to be the reason either you or Christie would feel that way. You deserve to have a happy ending. I swear with my life that I would never go near her.”
Folarin apprehended his eyes for a prickly stretch of time before looking away. “I want our families to be connected again,” he said. “I want Sal and Christie to go back to the way they used to be. I need you to clean up good and become worthy of Salma once more, to be there for the kids. They should wake up and see you at home. Regardless of everything, Raji, I still want the best for you.”
His words cut Raji in a place of emotions.
“Nothing should be rushed though, but everything has to change.”
A waitress came to their table with their second order. Raji had a first sip of his fresh bottle of beer as Andre walked in and came to them. He took one look at the live football match playing on the TV screen, sat down and asked, “Scores?”
“Two-nil,” Raji answered, sharing a handshake with him.
“Liverpool just dey play rubbish this evening,” Folarin muttered. Andre called for a drink and got out his phone after apologizing for doing so. Folarin and Raji continued talking about the game until Andre was done and his beer was brought. He flirted with the waitress a little, leaving her giggling as she strode away.
“Do you just swing out that French accent to confuse babes, abi it comes out when you see a fine one?” Folarin asked, making them laugh.
“A bit of both jare. E get the kind woman I go see like this, English go disappear from my head.”
The laughter continued.
“Na Toni sabi scatter my brain like that. She go wear some kind dangerous outfit like this ehn, I go just enter my native language.”
“So do you think in French or English or your language?” Raji asked.
Raji’s question was left unanswered as the waitress returned. She bent a little and whispered into Andre’s ear. Raji and Folarin watched them nosily until she disappeared, giggling again.
“What was that about?” Raji probed.
“She wanted to know if it would be fine with us that their photographer takes some pictures of us for their tenth anniversary. They want to share them on their Facebook page. I told her they’d pay. She said we’ll have grilled fish on the house.”
“I suppose dey carry you come here every time, Andre.”
“The babe likes you,” Folarin noted.
Andre dropped a piece of paper on the table. On it was scribbled a phone number.
“Ah!” Raji exclaimed. “The babe is not playing o.”
The three men set their eyes on the waitress and she returned a demure smile.
“See me see wahala. The moment Toni and I got engaged, devil just started sending these girls my way.”
“Speaking of Toni,” Folarin became serious, “the thing about the High Mistress, is it true?”
“Lies,” Andre replied.
“How would you even believe that, Fola?” Raji questioned.
“I just wanted to be sure.”
“All lies. Some rival PR person wants to spoil her name. The best is to remain silent. It will blow over. How’s she taking it though?”
“Unfazed.” Andre smiled.
“Good. She should just ignore them.”
“We have good news, though,” Andre declared, straightening up. “We’re having a baby.”
“What?” Folarin exclaimed.
“Toni is pregnant?”
“Antonia is pregnant? My Antonia?”
“Wonders shall never end. Guy, how on earth did you…?”
Andre’s laughter mellowed down to a self-assured smile.
“No, this calls for a celebration. I hate champagne but we suppose pop one for you guys.”
“Naa,” Folarin countered. “It’s how we do.”
Raji signaled for the waitress as Folarin congratulated Andre. Raji leaned back and smiled in satisfaction. The evening had gone by smoother than he had anticipated. Maybe it was sign of better things to come.
Toni had few moments like this in which she simply sat and watched television.
A movie was on. She was following it, eyes on the screen attentively, eyes on Jozi who was finding it hard to fall asleep. The older kids were asleep but he had stayed with her, asking persistently for his dad. When he got tired of asking, he spread himself on her and played with her necklace, muttering to himself. Toni concentrated on her movie until the boy finally fell asleep. She gently placed him on the couch and picked a file on the center table. There was a pen resting on it which she picked up as well. She opened the file, eyes on the CIPRON Oil logo that was displayed on the first page of a collection of confidential documents.
She recalled her meeting with Imade. He had listened to her with unfamiliar patience when she talked about Rita.
“You want me to let her have almost thirty percent of all I’ve toiled for?” he had asked quietly.
“It’s only fair. She deserves even more.”
“Toni, this is the same person that thought it wise to tell the whole world that she was dumping my ass because I was cheating.”
“Technically, she wasn’t lying.”
“Technically, she was sleeping with my cousin.”
“Imade, just give her what she wants. She came to me and offered her five percent of her shares to me. She’s desperate.”
“She offered you her stake in CIPRON?”
“Yeah, and it’s totally useless to me considering the clause that comes with it.”
It was at that point Imade began to nurse a sinister smile. “I see.”
But Toni didn’t see what he was seeing, and she definitely didn’t sense it coming either until he hit her with it.
“Let’s make a better deal. I’ll let Rita have what she wants only if you agree to buy into CIPRON Oil.”
“And why would I want to do that?”
“The energy sector will rebound. OPEC countries agreed to extend production cuts until the end of this year, limiting glut supply that messed up oil prices since 2014.”
“Speak in plain English.”
“I know you understand me perfectly well, Scarlet. I also know you’ve been wanting to invest your money somewhere. Invest in us. I can show you our company fundamentals, dividend data and all, if you don’t mind.”
She gave a shrug.
“That would be in my office, though.”
Toni was wary about riding with him in his car, but she was curious as to what he was offering. She followed him to a high-rise glass building owned by CIPRON Oil, and in his office, she was given a presentation of what the company made, lost, where they stood in the stock market, and their expected turnover for the year. The numbers were impressive.
“That is if all goes well with oil this year,” Toni muttered, straight-faced.
“Yeah. All will go well.”
“Why me? I’m not the richest person you know.”
“Ever heard the word ‘obsession’?”
Toni took off her glasses.
“I’m obsessed with you. I didn’t convince you to have my baby or live in the house I got for you and it sucks. So this is my way of keeping you close.”
“Imade, I’m close enough. I am your PR.”
“You’re so much more than that. Anyways, you get to gain if you invest in CIPRON, despite my obvious obsession.”
He pushed a file to her. “Speak to your broker. Let him advise you further. I’m very sure he’ll ask you what you’re waiting for.”
“I’ll speak to my fiancé first.”
Imade’s face showed irritation. “And when did that start? When did you become the woman that seeks a man’s permission to make her own decisions?”
Toni went up on her feet.
“Don’t let this man take all of you,” Imade emphasized. “Don’t become someone else because of him. It’ll be tragic if I lose you, Antonia.”
Holding the file in the darkness of her living room, Toni evoked his words and chewed on them, asking herself if she wasn’t losing too much to Andre. For a long time, she made her decisions and answered to no one. These days she found herself seeking his mind on even the littlest issues. She was beginning to fear that she might soon become so fused with him that she would cease to exist as an individual.
She flipped through the pages of the eight-page document. Earlier she had chatted with a stockbroker friend, showing him the papers. The man had scarcely looked them through before assuring Toni that it was a good investment. He had been following the company for a while. He was also going to buy into it. He was certain something good would come out of it.
To tell Andre or not to tell?
Toni shut the file and lay back. “Fuck. This is hard.”
She heard Andre’s car driving into the compound. She shoved the file beneath the couch, rested her head on a throw pillow and pretended to be asleep.
She heard him enter the house. Soon he was bent over her, kissing her lips and forehead. His breath smelled of beer.
She kissed him back.
“How was your day?”
“I don’t recall seeing you after lunch. Did you stubbornly go to see Imade?”
“How did it go?”
She suddenly felt defensive. She didn’t feel he needed to know the details.
“Good.” She threw her arms around him. “Let’s go to bed.”
“You won’t gist me what the ass of a man did or told you?”
“He did nothing. Can we go and sleep?”
Andre rose up. “Go in. I’ll take Jozi to bed.”
As Toni walked to her bedroom, she felt awful for not being forthcoming with him. But she also felt it was her right not to tell him everything about her life.
“This is hard,” she said a second time.
Images: www.bar5015.com, Pinterest