I know I said Stranger In Lagos would come every two weeks, but Dear High Mistress is still cooking.
So enjoy, this episode. Meanwhile, do well to follow me on Instagram. You won’t regret it soon.
It is from him I learn that seduction is art.
It begins with a stare. A careless gaze from harmless eyes that are clear as water. They smile at me. They follow me everywhere I go, even when he doesn’t. Like ghosts haunting a murderer, the memory of them lingers in my head once I go to sleep. It takes mere days for me to fall.
And I fall like a boulder. Fast, hard, helplessly. My five senses are betrothed to the affection he offers. For days I think of nothing else but him. My head in the clouds, my feet walking on sunshine. He wheedles me until I become a slave in want.
Deep conversations during lunch hours, stolen glances, silent smiles no one else sees…desire becomes me.
And thus one night, in a hotel in Lagos, my real life far away from me, I become entrapped in his lair. It’s like I’m being carried by giant arms and twirled around until the world becomes one with my pleasure. The gratification is beyond description, but just as it starts, it stops.
I am brought down to earth and my feet can’t hold the dazedness of my whirlwind romance. Reality hits hard. I want to be lifted high again and taken back to the throes of pleasure but I know I must face my life. And it is a life where my fate is tied to another.
My groom awaits me. A marriage is our destiny. My name is Halim and this is the story of how a night of lust almost ruined my life.
The mannequin in the white wedding dress which stands in the middle of my bedroom is my most trusted companion. I call her ‘Bride’ and speak to her each night before I go to bed. Everyone thinks it is creepy to have a mannequin in the middle of one’s room but I always remind them that my wedding would come soon, and since I designed the dress from scratch, I need to keep an eye on it at all times.
On most mornings and sometimes in the middle of the night, I would jump out of bed like one possessed by a demon, and add a sequin or two here, loosen a stitch there, or even piece apart the entire outfit to start all over again. On all occasions, Bride is there, faithful, reliable, doing her bit to make my dream of being married to the perfect man come true.
But sometimes I close my eyes in sleep and dream that Bride takes on a human form and walks down the aisle in that same dress with my fiancé, Eben. I would wake up from the nightmare, walk to Bride and gaze into her eyes for a long time before laughing the silliness of the dream away. I never talked to anyone about it. I blamed it on an overactive mind, one that had been filled with fantasies of having the perfect wedding.
Today, however, I’m not imagining things. Bride is unhappy with me. She seems to be judging me, saying to me, “I know what you did last night.”
Her cold and grey eyes hold mine for hours; and I sit, staring back, unable to get the guilt I have carried all day off my shoulders.
Now, for me, guilt is not me exactly burying my head in the sand or spending a stretch of time crying over what I can’t undo.
Guilt is silence. Total quiet. And that is torture for me because I am boisterous. I pulse everywhere I go. But right now, I can’t speak. It’s like the party in me died and I’m standing alone. It’s a sinking feeling.
I long to sleep but my eyes just won’t put a lid on my remorse. I have been awake since I snuck into the house in the early hours of the morning, following a long and energetic night in the arms of a man that is not my fiancé.
Surely, hell awaits me. God will not forgive me. Eben will dump me. And my world will fall apart. What in heaven’s name have I gotten myself into?
My door throws open and my mother pokes a head full of expensive weave in. She gives me scrutinizing eyes.
“What’s wrong with you? Are you on your period?”
This is a typical Aunty Ada question. One’s menstruation is always to blame for any bad mood. She is a woman too distracted to worry about life’s problems. With a mind always thinking about money and restless feet constantly engaged in one material pursuit or the other, Aunty Ada is all I have in the world.
She is not your average Nigerian mother. She has never been married, but at some point, was comfortably helping out married men sort out their sexual inadequacies. It is a past she has shamelessly opened up to me about, down to the dirty details of her sexual escapades. A past I well remember.
Like every mistress out there, it was mostly about the money for her. However, Aunty Ada was more than a side piece to the men she had helped out. She had used them to gain for herself a place amongst the influential and wealthy in Abeokuta. For an Igbo woman without a husband in a Yoruba setting, it is scary. People fear Aunty Ada; especially the wives of the men she slept with. For those whom she chooses to extend her staff of camaraderie to, she keeps them as friends. Her present circle is a collection of mostly divorcees and bitter wives. The only odd person amongst them is Aunty Bisi, my fiancé’s mother. She is believed to be in a happy marriage that is blessed with four children. No one has ever understood how she is Aunty Ada’s best friend. Not even me.
“Try and take something for the pain but meanwhile, your mother-in-law is here.”
Usually, Aunty Ada would say, “Aunty Bisi is here”, but from the moment both women got it into their heads to match Eben and I up, Aunty Bisi had to be addressed accordingly.
“Wear something nice and come and say hello.”
Aunty Ada retreats to the living room where she is hosting her friends for their usual Sunday hangout. It is a regular gathering in which they drink expensive champagne, eat kebab and gossip about men and other women and how much they waste money buying things they do not need, just to ‘oppress’ people they do not like.
I roll my eyes at the thought of showing respect to women I particularly don’t care for. Aunty Bisi whom I fondly call ‘Mommy’ is the only person I adore there. Sometimes I love her more than I love Aunty Ada. The woman is sweet and courteous, and although she occasionally gets too sanctimonious for her own good, she always means well. I know Aunty Ada holds a terrible secret of Aunty Bisi’s, else there would be no common ground between them.
Aunty Bisi is married to Greg Nosakhare, regarded as the richest non-native of Abeokuta. He is a blood relative of the Oniro of Iro, one of the Obas of Abeokuta. On her own, Aunty Bisi is from a wealthy Lagos family. According to what I was told, in her teenage years, while she still lived in Lagos, she met Aunty Ada who lived next door with a relative. A bond was formed between both girls that blossomed into what it is at the present time.
“Halimnye!” Aunty Ada yells.
I drag my feet to the door and paint on a smile as I step into the living room where five women are lounging. All of them, except Aunty Ada, are plus size. In fact, one can easily pass Aunty Ada off as my elder sister, and no one would dispute it.
“My darling!” Aunty Bisi smiles with radiant pride as I approach her. We hug and she forces me to sit on the armrest of the couch she is on. I greet the other women and answer questions about my wellbeing.
Nothing is new about the setting; it is the same as last Sunday – women with bleached skin, gold trinkets, designer wears, expensive perfumes, excessive makeup and flowing weaves like Aunty Ada’s. There is nothing modest about any of them. The décor in the living room that boasts of cool shades of peach and mint green is more entertaining. It is not that I judge them. I’m just not in the mood to be there with them at the moment.
“Your husband is coming in from Chicago tomorrow,” Aunty Bisi announces. My tummy churns. “Would you want to go with Conrad to pick him from the airport in Lagos?”
I’ve always wanted to be that woman that waits at an airport’s terminal to welcome her man. But Eben has never given me that opportunity. This is a perfect occasion to fulfill that desire…if only my guilt would let me.
Eben is a busy man who does an excellent job managing his father’s chain of electronic and computer hardware business. He is also presently running his company. Upon taking over the family business some five years ago, he had quickly opened a branch that dealt solely on cellphones. Two years later, he expanded to Lagos to render internet services to the southwest, partnering with a larger company to ensure a wider reach and longevity of the business. Towards the end of 2013, he took a leap and bought out the shares of the larger company to sustain his brain child alone, against the advice of many. The outcome almost ruined the business but Eben rode through the waves and came back up again, scaling down to Lagos alone. Now, he is on his journey to expanding it once more.
His successes and failures were the only push I needed to pursue a relationship with him. I saw in him a man who wasn’t dependent on his family’s wealth or name to make it to the top. The type of man I needed. But beyond his achievements, I will admit that I felt pressure from Aunty Ada to date him.
Love wasn’t necessarily the binding force that brought us together; familiarity was. I doubt that Eben is capable of romantic expressions. He is hard to read sometimes, especially when we get into the love zone. But when we sit and talk as friends, I flow with him. And I don’t want that alone. I want a deeper connection if I’m going to be his wife. As a girl who loves to be adored at all times, attention is key to my existence. I need him to want and desire me. To pursue me the same way he chases after money. But regrettably, I’m treated as indifferently as he treats everyone else. Save for our regular dinner dates on the random Saturday, the only other place we bump into each other is at church.
He is yet to do more than kiss me, and for someone who has been animated from the word ‘go’ I got easily lured into another man’s arms last night after harboring the heaviness of unfulfilled desire. It’s no excuse, though. I have messed up; I’m yet to recover from the shock of my betrayal to Eben.
“I don’t feel so well,” I lie to Aunty Bisi. “I’m on my period.”
“Eiya. No wonder you were not in church today. Pele. Oya, stay back. When Eben comes in, I’ll send him over to come and see you.”
“And so that two of you can finally start putting into place, plans for your wedding,” Aunty Ada adds.
“Of course. You’ve worn that ring one year too long, my darling. I can’t wait to call you Mrs. Nosakhare. Iyawo wa.”
Normally, I would blush, but an uneasy smile crinkles my lips.
“I need to go and lie down,” I plead.
“Of course, my love. Give mommy a kiss.”
I peck Aunty Bisi on the cheek and head for my bedroom, hearing one of the women make a comment about missing my usually chatty air.
I fall on my bed and pick my phone. A text had come in from the man I spent the night with.
You won’t pick your calls, hun. Just want to know how you’re doing. You forgot your bracelet. Should I bring it to work on Monday?
My eyes go heavy with tears but I control my emotions as I type a quick response to him.
Paul, please stop texting me. Please, I beg you.
When I send the text, I free the tears. They are laden with guilt and a broken heart. Paul is not just a lay or some random guy in my office. He is a man I am smitten by.
Years after Tope died, I still retain my hate for Lagos. I haven’t been there in a while. It always worries Lekan how close it is to Abeokuta and yet, how I have felt no need to go there as often as he does. The pizzazz and appeal are not strong enough to exorcise the ghosts from my past. The most I do there is my shopping. That is all the stinking city has to offer.
Unlike me, Lekan is a social butterfly who cannot do without the nightlife of Lagos. Abeokuta is a town too quiet for him, but because he is yet to get the dream job he has been jostling for, he manages his time in a boring telecoms job here. Nevertheless, whenever his best friend, Eben, is around, he spends most of his weekends with him in Lagos, except for those moments when Eben stays back in Abeokuta to handle business.
Eben and Lekan are unalike in many ways but they have somehow managed to hit it off constantly through the years. A lot of things have happened since that day in 1996 when Mommy bundled us in a cab and carried us off to Osogbo. Daddy lost all he had and ended up in a psychiatric hospital. We were then forced to move to Abeokuta so Mommy could take care of him. She opened a local restaurant and provisions store outside our house to keep things going. She would not accept help from anyone, especially the Nosakhares. On her own, she paid the rent, our school fees and Daddy’s hospital bills. We lived a life below our means, one we were not used to, but somehow we managed through until Daddy regained his health and sought for another job at the university. He also kept the line open with the Nosakhares, from which the bond between Lekan and Eben grew.
I wasn’t as friendly with them, but in my teenage years I developed a crush for Eben that had the characteristic of burning brightly and remaining so. I have had boyfriends and a healthy dose of men in my life. But Eben remains a constant. These days, though, what I feel for him overwhelms me. My feelings heightened when almost three years ago I began to notice that he was getting friendlier with Halim. I had caught them lunching out a few times and noted some sort of chumminess between them during church meetings. I had a boyfriend at the time, who had lost his mind and proposed to me in front of my family. I had turned down his offer and incurred Mommy’s wrath. She gave me an earful for weeks and even today, she reminds me of how stupid I was to say no to him. The guy was rich and from a prominent family like Eben was. He was everything mommy wanted in a son-in-law but I had not only turned him down, I had ended things with him.
“Tope wouldn’t have behaved this way,” Mommy told me one random morning not long ago. “You are twenty-eight. You’re no longer young, Eniola. I married your father at the age of nineteen. Keep turning good men down. By the time you’re thirty, you’ll be begging for a man to even look your way.”
I dared not tell her that the only man I wanted looking my way was Eben. Her disdain for Aunty Bisi was still strong; but soon, I had my own reason to despise the woman. Information gathered from Lekan revealed that she was the facilitator of the relationship between Eben and Halim. She and Aunty Ada did everything to ensure that their children hooked up. Eben wasn’t one who was particularly interested in looking for a woman to spend his life with. He was too invested in his business to care. I believed he simply went with the flow when Halim was picked for him so as not to upset Aunty Bisi.
It hurt me. I felt betrayed by her because I had tried a few times to present myself as a potential daughter-in-law. I formed a bond with her daughters who were younger than I was, and visited their house now and then behind Mommy’s back. Apparently, my efforts had gone unnoticed. A year ago, Eben proposed to Halim and I was officially out of the picture. That was when my dislike for Aunty Bisi took roots. However, I have kept my beef hidden. I don’t think it’s wise to show hate to the woman who would one day become my mother-in-law.
I don’t yet have a plan to take Halim’s place but I know I’ll come up with something soon. I know she’s supposed to be my friend but what I feel for her is akin to what I felt for Tope. It’s both good and bad, and these days, the bad engulfs me. It’s not my fault. I just don’t want to be the one who gets to lose out on love I deserve. I know I deserve to be blessed with Eben after all I’ve been through in life.
Early last year, our senior pastor, just before he passed away, told us single ladies to sow a seed of faith and pick a wedding date. I put in a whooping fifty grand and picked my birthday next year as my wedding day. I also fasted and prayed for a month. All that is left is a sign from God and I will zoom in and claim my man. I am practical like that. That I’m a Christian doesn’t mean I don’t know the ways of the world. That’s the difference between Halim and I. She likes to act like she’s better than that prostitute she has as a mother, carrying the Bible on her head, forming most dedicated usher in church. Well, let’s see whom God rewards for faithfulness with the premium husband. It will come to her like a thief in the night.
A typical working day in my family house sees no one at home during the morning hours. We are all off to our various businesses, jobs and pastimes. But this morning, Lekan and I are at home, getting set to make a trip to Lagos to pick Eben from the airport.
“Remind me why you’re following me again?” Lekan asks, combing the bush he calls his beard – a collection of angry hairs that leave scanty patches on his chin.
“I need to get a pair of Levi jeans in Ikeja,” I reply.
“Or you just want to see Eben.”
I turn nasty eyes on my elder brother and hiss as I make my way out of the house. I get into his car, screaming his name before I sit down. Lekan walks out and takes his place behind the wheel.
“We’ll be picking Conrad from their house and you’ll be paying for fuel.”
I hiss again.
After a short drive to Obasanjo Hill Top where the Nosakhares live, Eben’s younger brother, Conrad, joins us and we begin our journey to Lagos. I sit behind, lost in Instagram, listening to music as the guys chat away on banal topics. In a little while, I fall asleep and wake up only when Lekan calls out my name. When I sit up, I realize that we are already at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos.
I follow the guys out to the arrival lounge where we wait for Eben whom I am told has just flown in. But it’s not a long wait as I see a throng of people flooding the lounge.
As soon as I spot Eben coming towards us, I become flustered. Not to worry; it’s a familiar feeling. He does it to me all the time. And it doesn’t help that I am fair. It always shows on my face.
Lekan gives me a glance and chuckles. I flash him the middle finger as my other hand adjusts my t-shirt. I have chosen something that does a nice job of resting on my rounded breasts and stressing the fact that I have a flat tummy and thin waist. I’m also wearing a short skirt. Almost every man that has walked past has gawked a second time but I pretend not to notice. I am more concerned that Eben in his usual manner would not take note of my finer assets.
Holding a calm smile, I stand a short distance away from Lekan and Conrad as Eben approaches us with a small luggage. I watch the guys greet each other, and how Lekan and Conrad tower over Eben with their six foot frames; but I enjoy how he commands respect in his dapper combination of a pair of trousers and a fitted shirt, folded at the sleeves. He is the only one I know that would travel for more than ten hours by air, dressed like he is going to meet a world leader. Today, weirdly, he ditches shiny leather shoes for a pair of sneakers. This adds to the charm. A neat haircut, a well-groomed beard and the calm of a man with money in the bank. Eben is my constant wet dream.
He turns, looks at me with eyes that unnerve me, and I present a shy smile.
“Nini, how far na?” He alone calls me that. Everyone else uses my full name or Eni for short. “You’re forming shy abi? Come and hug me jare. When last did we see?”
I go to him and get blessed with a hug that leaves me lightheaded.
“You’re all grown,” he says and we both laugh. It is something he has been saying to me since we were teenagers. The first time he said it, he had just come home for the holidays and noticed that I had grown breasts. That entire summer was the best time of my life. Eben, just three years older, had not stopped staring at my chest. He had asked to touch my breasts but because I was too shy and they hurt me a lot, I never let him. But I allowed him kiss me. It was my first kiss, and the only one I ever received from him. Fifteen years later, I’m still longing for another taste of his lips.
“Come and gist me about work.” He takes my hand and leads me out of the airport. In the back of Lekan’s car, we sit and I tell him about my day job which I love. I work as a lab technician in the clinic founded by my late pastor who had been a doctor. It had started as a small establishment, particularly to help the members of our church with affordable basic medical treatment. But somehow, it expanded to become the clinic that catered to the health needs of Christians from other churches and denominations in Abeokuta and nearby towns. It is particularly known for its diagnostic center that runs all sorts of tests, ranging from DNA tests to full blood work for couples planning to get married.
“Cool,” Eben mumbles. I fear that I have just bored him, although I enjoy talking about what I do. It is the first time he is asking about details of my life. It makes him more stimulating.
“Why were you asking, though?” I am playing with wisps of my weave that have fallen to the side of my face. He makes me nervous. It’s something about his thinking eyes and serious expressions. Eben always comes off too serious. No one would guess he is just thirty-one.
“I can’t inquire about my baby sister again?” he jokes, replying to my question. I giggle a little to hide the disappointment at being called his baby sister.
“So what did you get for me from your trip?” I ask.
“Nothing,” he answers with his typical straight face. “Was I supposed to get you something?”
I make a puppy face.
“I didn’t know you wanted something, Nini. You could have said so the last time we met before I traveled.”
“Well, now you know I like gifts.”
He smiles, and for a second his eyes linger. I feel a spark. I hold on to it. I’ll store it with the other little vibes I get from him.
“Eni, are we still stopping at that boutique?” Lekan asks, breaking off a discussion he is having with Conrad.
“Yes. It’s at Opebi.”
“After that, we should drive to my place, abeg.” Eben yawns. “I need to pick a few things.” He looks at me. “Have you been to my house on the Island before?”
I shake my head.
“Well, you’ll see it today.”
I am ready to say something about how I don’t feel certain places on Lagos Island are fit enough to be called part of the city but Conrad makes a comment on some police encounter he had recently and Eben’s concentration is diverted off me. I stay out of the conversation that ensues and fix my stare outside, watching the expensive cars that zoom past and telling myself that soon I’ll like this city – when Eben makes me his wife and brings me here.