Lovely weekend, everyone!
I am unable to post the concluding episode of Dear High Mistress and second episode of Biyankavitch. This week was a busy one for me. I had appointments back to back and then NEPA totally messed me up. And finally my kids have been ill. Please pray for them.
So to make up, I’ll let you have double-bill episodes of Stranger In Lagos. I will try my best to reply your comments. But if I don’t get the time to, please know that I appreciate and love you. *kisses.
The year is still 2011 and I’m still mad at my parents a day after they break the unpleasant news that all our asses basically belong to Halim. I still haven’t found a way out of my dilemma. But I can’t stop thinking about how much I like Halim, how I find her intriguing and refreshing. I remember the night we had sex and how I had to lie to her the next day that nothing happened because it had been amazing and I was too scared to have anything to do with her for the sole reason that I was focused on my goals.
Those goals are responsible for my inability to be in a relationship with her or any other woman. And not even the threat of losing everything will stop me from pushing through.
And so, I take out the proposals that contain the blueprint for moving Khare Electronics to the digital age and pore over everything until my eyes get too tired to read. But I have come up with a plan for the future of my family, to save us all from the Diobis, if shit ever hits the fan. I sleep over it and the following morning, before the sun rises, I take the proposal to my uncle, the Oniro of Iro. I explain to him that I need a loan to kick off the business. The man is not only rich by royal wealth. He has oil money and rumor has it that he doesn’t know what to do with it.
He gives the documents a read-through and instructs me to leave, promising that he would get back to me. Before I am halfway home, I receive a call from my dad. He is mad at me. How dare I go to my uncle to beg for money? Don’t I know that I’m a Nosakhare and Nosakhares do not beg? I tell him to trust my decision but the sharp man already knows what I’m up to.
“Ebenezer, Khare Electronics is funding the new branch of the company and there is nothing you will do to stop it. I know you want it to be free of anything Diobi. I commend you for that, but the only way out is to get married to Halimnye.”
“Is it by force? Jeez, dad! I don’t want to!”
“I am not forcing you but I have told your uncle to ignore you. You can’t go disgracing our family like that.”
I bite my lip to keep from retorting nastily. “I will get that money, no matter what, even if it means going to a bank.”
The line goes dead.
The months that follow are tough for me. I run around, looking for the capital to expand the business but doors close in my face. Knowing what my dad is capable of, I am aware that he is behind every obstacle I encounter. Even in Lagos, no one is willing to help. It is when I decide to throw in the towel and abandon the project that I get a call from my uncle on a random night.
“See me immediately,” he says. I drive over to the palace and I’m let in by the guards. My uncle is sitting in his garden – a quiet place with dim lighting, red flowers and a lush lawn.
“Your father has never really forgiven our grandfather for disowning and cursing his mother,” he says as I rest on a wooden garden bench facing him.
“Your father is so proud of his wealth that he sees no need to show regard to the throne. Even after our grandfather gifted him with acres of land and accorded him the respect meant only for nobles, he still won’t acknowledge the throne.”
I inhale and breathe out slowly.
“I don’t blame him. His blood, like yours, has been tainted with the blood of a commoner.”
My uncle regards me with keen eyes.
“But you interest me, Delomo. And this is why I’ll give you the loan.”
My eyes lift up.
“Yes, I will. For the sake of blood. Pay me whenever you feel like. But know that I’ll demand something of you in the future. I don’t know what it would be but everyone has their use and I think one day, you will come in handy.”
“Thank you very much, Uncle.”
My upbringing will not let me sit on the bench and show appreciation. I prostrate with one hand to the ground and thank him. For the next hour, we sit drinking, talking about politics and business. We call it a night when one of the guards comes to whisper in his ear.
I drive home, hazy and happy. I sleep well.
The project kicks off in a week and goes on for months. My parents don’t ask how I get the money; neither do they pressure me to marry Halim who has gone to serve the country in Jigawa. I hardly think about her and the whole case seems forgotten for a while. But in 2012, she returns, and our mothers employ themselves in the business of matchmaking us. They look for every opportunity to have us in the same space. But like me, Halim has better uses for her time. With a hunky boyfriend and a bank job, I am the least of her worries.
We resist each other for two years, much to my mother’s frustration. The excuse is that I am too engrossed in work to even bother about anything else. I have brief affairs, none of which are serious enough for me to stomach. They all fall under a poor attempt to shun Halim; but soon, like a mouse circling around cheese on a trap, I get caught. A phone call from Aunty Ada sees me finally falling into our parents’ plans.
Aunty Ada informs me that Halim has just been dumped by her boyfriend and is in a bad place. Can I come over and talk to her? It’s not something I want to do but I honor the invitation. When I get to the house, I find Halim in her bedroom, hunkered over a sewing machine, working on a dress. She lights up when she sees me.
Standing at the door I give a wave. “Hey.”
“Let me guess. Aunty Ada asked you to come and cheer me up.”
“Is that a bad thing?” I ask, looking around. This is the first time I’m being allowed into her bedroom. It’s not as girly as I expect. I am impressed by the black and white wallpaper, matched by blue furniture and dashes of deep pink in the curtains and beddings. The place is a bit of a mess, though.
“Come in, jare.”
I step in.
“Sorry about the mess. I haven’t cleaned the room today.”
It’s fine.” I sit on her bed, pushing away strips of Ankara material.
“Give me a minute, let me tack this.”
“Take your time.”
I stay silent, listening to the sound of the sewing machine as it does its work. Soon, she stops and leaves her work area to stand before me with the dress she has just sewn.
“It’s aso-ebi for a friend’s wedding,” she tells me.
“Let me wear it and you tell me what you think.”
She disappears into her bathroom and returns wearing the dress.
“It’s beautiful,” I compliment. “Really gorgeous.”
“Yeah, except for that spot on the hip that doesn’t quite fit.”
Her eyes follow my pointing finger. “That’s true. Wow. You have an eye for detail,” she says, straightening out the spot. “I’ll fix it.”
She dashes back into the bathroom. When she returns, she is back in the long, pink t-shirt she was wearing which drops down one shoulder. She doesn’t have a bra on. The outline of the roundness of her breasts and pert nipples are visible from beneath the t-shirt.
“You don’t look like someone who is heartbroken.”
She laughs. “Trust me, I am.”
“So why did you guys break up?”
Halim sits on her chair before the sewing machine, facing me, picking out loose threads from her dress. “It’s because of sex o. He wants to do. I don’t want to do. He says he can’t marry someone who won’t do. I say ‘who wants to marry you in the first place?’ Dude gets angry and dumps me. Total waste of nineteen of my life.”
I see sadness in her eyes but she covers it with a smile.
“How are you doing, though?”
“Great. I’ve moved on. We broke up like three weeks ago. I’ve cried all my tears while the horny thing moved on to one of my friends.”
“Good riddance to two heaps of rubbish. I can’t kill myself over a man. So, how about you? When are we seeing this your secret girlfriend?”
I give a dry laugh.
“I don’t have a girlfriend.”
“Yeah, right. All the money and education just wasting like that.”
“Crap! I didn’t offer you anything.”
She jumps to her feet.
“It’s fine, Halim.”
“I’ll be right back.”
She dashes out and comes back with a dish of yam and plantain porridge, which is, interestingly, my favorite. One look at the meal with its assorted meats and fish in pasty peppered sauce makes my mouth water.
“Aunty Ada says I should make this today for her, so I decided to splurge.”
I smile secretly, aware of what Aunty Ada is up to.
“Have you eaten today?” I ask Halim. She shakes her head. “Go and get a fork and join me.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Your mom says you’ve been starving yourself.”
Halim smiles shyly.
“Get a fork and come and eat. In short, come and sit with me.”
“Okay, just come and taste.”
She hesitates a little but comes to me. After she says a short prayer, I let her have the first bite, and that first bite becomes like an opener of sorts that unlocks the door to other things.
We eat, talk, laugh and generally act like the chemistry between us is non-existent. Hours later, when I’m about to leave, she stands at her front door, holding and swinging it. She thanks me for making her feel better.
We hug, I walk away. And then on impulse, I turn around.
On her way to closing the door, she stops.
“Can I be your rebound boyfriend?”
My question takes her off guard.
“Can I be your rebound boyfriend?” I repeat. I’m not known to have different ways of saying one thing.
She is silent. I expect her to tell me she will think about it or take the matter to God in prayer. Or even ask why I’m doing it; but she doesn’t. After the silence, she nods. “Okay.”
“Do we celebrate it with a kiss?”
She shakes her head strongly.
“Okay, no kiss. I’ll call you later?”
I continue to my car and drive away. Out on the road, I get a series of slaps from my commonsense.
“I really like her,” I say out loud in defense. “And she’s the prey here. She doesn’t know about her past or how much she’s worth. I only want to protect her.”
My commonsense tells me I can say all I can to convince myself that I’m doing the right thing but I know I’m only being selfish and the money is my goal.
I don’t argue further. Instead, I engage in a long business call that ends when I get home. Taking a shower, I promise myself not to invest my emotions in the relationship. I will continue to be her friend but the love part can take a backseat.
And it is with this approach I date Halim. Our relationship grows at its own pace, quietly and smoothly. We don’t demand from each other, never going beyond the barebones, which include lunch and dinner dates, the movies, other outings and the occasional kiss. I fight hard not to fall in love with her. I don’t know how we will end; I don’t want either of us to be heartbroken.
But the harder I try not to fall, the deeper I do. One day, while having drinks with Lekan and a couple of friends, I announce that I want to propose to Halim.
“Ah!” Lekan exclaims. “Are you guys that serious?”
“You don’t want to sample the goods first? Know if it is viable before the wedding night gives you a shocker?”
My friends laugh. I ignore them. A few days later, I buy a 19-carat diamond ring, and in the quietness of my apartment, after one year of being Halim’s rebound boyfriend, I propose to her.
I receive more slaps from my commonsense later at night. I fear it’s all going to end in a disaster the moment Halim finds out the truth about her wealth. Again, my motive is questioned, with a part of me refusing to believe that I proposed to her on the basis of my feelings.
I am reminded of how intoxicating money is. And maybe it is what drives me to keep dating her while hiding the truth. Or maybe it’s just that I’m in love with her so much that I’m scared to lose her. But whatever it is, it keeps me on the path of commitment which sees me wanting to make things final.
“I’m proud of you, Delomo,”my mom says to me a couple days ago, after I return from the church where Halim and I went for marriage counseling. “Thank you for doing this for your family.”
“I didn’t do it for anyone,” I reply. “I love her.”
I guess it is the first time I am expressing my feelings about Halim to anyone. My mom looks at me in surprise, like I am incapable of love or Halim is incapable of being loved.
“Well, that’s even better. I wish two of you a blissful married life.”
And she goes off blessing us in Yoruba while I stand there, throwing ‘amin’ to everything she utters. The following day, I pick Halim from work and we drive to Lagos. I bring her to see the house we’ll be living in. She loves it at first sight but gets overwhelmed when it hits her that she is really getting married.
“We’re actually doing this,” she murmurs, putting her arms around me.
“Give me a moment to process everything.”
She lifts her head up and takes a breath. She lets it out, still clinging to me.
“Let’s do something different,” she suggests.
“Clubbing?” I chuckle. “You want to go to a club?”
“You think I’ve never been to a club before?” She pulls back, looking at me defensively.
I remember the night we had sex. It was Conrad’s birthday and we celebrated it at a club. I wonder how much of that crazy night she recalls.
“Can we just go before I change my mind?”
I accede to her wish but first, I take her shopping, to pick a dress and a pair of shoes. She also has her makeup and nails done. Soon after, we hit Club Quilox, set in Victoria Island. Like a bird set free from its cage, Halim loses herself to the music and parties hard. This is the part of her I always want to see. We dance until I am too tired to move. I take her home and it’s while I’m trying to tuck her in bed that she asks to cuddle.
“No sex,” she says.
I don’t mind. I only want to hold her. But she won’t let me do just that. She begins to grind into me, telling me she can’t wait for our wedding night. I’m amused and aroused at the same time. Halim is high.
“Have you slept with anyone since we started going out?” she asks me. I stop moving. I’ve had a couple of regrettable encounters with two different girls.
We fall back into our dry humping.
“I mean, it’s okay if you did. I’ll forgive you.”
My hand reaches for her breast.
“Same way you’ll forgive me if I cheat, right?”
I’m not interested in this talk. The softness of her breast is killing me, but she won’t let me feel its bareness.
“Yeah, I’ll forgive you.” I don’t imagine she will ever cheat on me. She’s not the type.
We keep humping. She’s moaning and I’m losing my mind. For her own good, I stop.
“Go to sleep, Hali.” I rise up and kiss her. In kissing back, she pulls me to her.
“Maybe just this once.”
“Our wedding is only two months away, baby. We can wait.”
She eyes my boner and kisses me again.
As I start to walk away, she says, “We’ll fall in love when we eventually get married, right? That’s how it happens. Marriage, sex and then love – eventually.”
Her question hurts me a little. I am already in love with her. It is she who is finding it hard putting together the love part. This explains why she has been okay with me being aloof to her.
“Yes, Halim. We’ll fall in love. Goodnight.”
She murmurs as I leave. Taking the guestroom, I force myself to sleep through the rest of the night. When I wake up and go to the master bedroom where I find her still sleeping, I get tempted to abandon my meeting with an important client and stay in all day.
But I help her out of bed and wait outside while she showers and dresses up. As we drive back to Abeokuta, I notice that she is quiet.
“I was drunk last night, wasn’t I?” she mumbles.
“And I asked for sex.”
“Not in those words, but yeah.”
“I can’t remember most of it.” She leans her head on the window. “Are you ready for this thing?”
“Marriage. Are you ready? You’re just thirty-one and I’m twenty-seven.”
“The counseling sessions with Pastor Love have been helpful.”
“Are they enough?”
“Stop worrying, Halim. We’ll do fine.”
“Sometimes I feel like we’re together because our parents pressured us into doing this. Do you feel pressured?”
I know what I feel for her but my motive is not all clear. She is a year past twenty-six and Aunty Ada has been gracious enough not to follow the dictates of the deal signed by our fathers. In this whole thing I have played my part. But where does it all end and love come in?
“I’m not pressured.”
Halim looks at me like she wants to say more but she goes back to resting on the window where she sleeps off until we get to Abeokuta.