“You weren’t going to show me this until I asked about your past?”
Dugo was amused at the expression displayed on Ace’s face as he lifted his eyes from her laptop and cast them on her. It was as though he was just realizing that she was a woman. The expression also came with X-Ray vision. She could tell he was trying to find on her the same assets he was viewing on the laptop. She had just presented him with one of her porn videos. Ace was having a jaw-dropping moment.
“But seriously, this cannot be you.” His eyed had been drawn to the video again. She gave him some time with it, and when he found his voice once more, he asked if she truly was the one.
“Watched any of my stuff before?”
“No. Just seeing it and I’m stunned. She doesn’t look like you.”
Dugo gave an understanding smile as she sat on a couch facing the one Ace was on. They were in the living room of her three-bedroom apartment on what would have been a boring night of just listening to the rain outside had Dugo not given him a glimpse of her past.
They had gone from being acquaintances in Zanzibar three months ago, to housemates and close friends. There hadn’t been any type of romantic or sexual encounter between them. Dugo was not interested in having a relationship, and Ace was getting over a broken heart. He needed a friend.
She needed someone to help find her footing back in Nigeria and improve on her oral English. She had an accent, stuck with adding German expressions and words to her sentences, although she had upgraded her knowledge of English via an online course and was almost perfect with it. Ace simply brushed up on what she already knew. In-between, they discovered great friendship.
“Ace, that was me. I was Deedee, with the constant black lips, heavy makeup and hairstyles that covered my eyes.”
“Was this deliberate? Were you hiding yourself? Because this really looks nothing like you.”
Dugo stretched out on the couch, straightening long legs that peeked out from her night robe. She didn’t like rummaging through her past, but Ace was not just anybody. He deserved to know the truth.
“I was hiding my identity, yes. I wanted it like this from start. I knew that one day I would get tired and need to live a normal life.”
“Tell me more.” Ace placed the laptop on the glass table before him and gave Dugo his attention. He was a great listener. She loved that about him.
She told the story of her past to him, difficult as it was to recollect. He was wordless when she was through.
“Wow. Just wow. I don’t know what to say.”
He went to the kitchen for a glass of water, returning with a bowl of popcorn for her.
“So this woman, this…Madam America, you knew her from Benin?”
“Yes. She lived not far from us. She was Edo, married to a Tiv man. The husband and children were hardly around.”
“So, she somehow convinced your mom to send you out of the country?”
“Yes. She told her to pay fifty and hundred thousand.”
“Hundred and fifty thousand,” Ace corrected.
“Yes. She said she will send me abroad for a better life. We were happy. Only my brother was not sure.”
“Where is this Madam America now?”
Ace’s question gave Dugo a stab in the chest. She had no idea where the woman behind her enslavement was, but she knew who would lead her to her.
“I don’t know where she is.”
“We’ll find her. I’m hoping she’s not dead. You need to find her to get closure.”
Dugo appreciated his words, but closure wasn’t what she wanted from Madam America. She wanted retribution, to get back the years she took from her and the other girls whose lives she had ruined. For over two years, Dugo had searched for madam America’s victims across Central Europe. It had been a journey of pain and brokenness.
Only a handful of the girls had managed through their lives without ending up in the dirt. The other girls were either declared missing, dead, in jail or lost in the world of petty prostitution. Of the three that had returned to Nigeria, Dugo made contact with just two. The other girl hadn’t been found. Dugo was still looking for her.
They had been best friends, having first met in a slave camp in Libya and then ended up in an underground brothel for underage girls in Turin, Italy. On the morning Dugo escaped from the brothel, her friend was sold off. They had planned to leave together.
“I wouldn’t have known this was your story had you not told me,” Ace said, his voice heavy with compassion. “I’m so sorry for all you went through. You’re one strong woman.”
Dugo ate from the bowl of popcorn resting on her chest.
“I’m going to help you find that Madam America.”
“You don’t have to worry yourself with that.”
“Please, don’t talk like that, Dugo. It’s the least I can do to say thank you for putting up with my lazy ass.”
Dugo laughed. He had developed a habit of bashing himself since his breakup. His girlfriend leaving him turned out to be a good thing in the end, pushing him to become productive.
Presently he managed a virtual boutique for men’s designer wears, delivering to his customers at their doorsteps. The profit wasn’t massive, but it was a lot better than doing nothing. On the side, he was learning to be a professional photographer.
“I should be going to bed,” Dugo said, rising up from the couch. “Can I have my laptop?”
“Hell no!” Ace replied. Dugo tossed a handful of popcorn at him playfully.
“You’re not going to wank to my videos, are you?”
“You’re disgusting,” she reacted in laughter. “Show some respect.”
“I respect you, and Deedee Holiday, of course. That’s why I’ll spend the night respectfully feeding my eyes with…”
Dugo stopped him with a raised hand. “I don’t even want to know.” She dropped the bowl of popcorn on the table. “Just don’t get addicted because Deedee is like a drug.”
“One question, though,” he said as she began towards her bedroom. “Did you enjoy any of this?” He had the laptop on his laps again. The sounds of Deedee Holiday moaning cuss words in German had taken over from the sounds of the dying rain.
“Um…” Dugo stopped. “It’s like a drug dealer getting high on their own supply.”
“Answer the question, aunty… Wait!” He drew the laptop closer. “Did you just squirt? Whoa!”
Dugo walked to him and slammed the laptop shut.
“Why nau?! That was the best part!”
She seized the laptop from him. “No, I didn’t enjoy any of that. How do you enjoy when someone is constantly calling you schlampe and fotze?”
“I’m guessing those are words for…?”
“Slut and cunt. Look, it’s all acting. I felt the physical part, yes, and I got orgasms. But no, I did not enjoy them.”
“How can you not enjoy an orgasm?”
“And your normal sex life?”
“Normal?” She looked bemused. “I didn’t have a normal anything.”
“I meant you and your boyfriends…”
“I’ve never had a boyfriend, Ace.”
“Not even one?”
“I did not fall in love.”
“For real? Not ever? Have you been kissed before? Like, kissed by a man who felt something for you?”
“Yes, wow. I am strange, I know. Good night, Ace.”
She continued into her bedroom.
“I’ll still watch the videos online!” Ace said after her. Dugo entered her bedroom smiling, but when she lay on her bed, she became overwhelmed with thoughts.
Tomorrow, she was going to embark on her plan to take back her wasted years. As it were, she was already a student of the National Open University. It hadn’t taken much to get herself enrolled, but for tomorrow’s appointment, she had used Ace to twist some limbs to get her through. And even that had taken two whole months.
She didn’t know why she felt anxious. Her thoughts kept her awake for a long time. She fell asleep eventually, and woke up early the next morning. Ace was waiting when she came out dressed and set for the day in a pair of pegged pants, a tuxedo shirt and a schoolboy blazer.
“I feel overdressed,” she stated.
“You look good, Deedee. I mean, Dugo.”
Dugo scolded him with side eyes.
“I’ll use an Uber,” she told him. “You can take the car.”
“I’ll drop you off. Stop being nice to me. It’s your car.”
“I know, but I don’t need it.”
“I’ll chauffeur you, and when you’re done, call me.”
Ace was characteristically noisy on their way to Dugo’s destination. She also kept true to character, speaking only in response to his questions. Maybe a little quieter than normal. Ace noticed this.
“Is everything okay?”
“Relax. It’s going to be fine. I’m sure they are impressed by your CV.”
“My CV is fake, remember?”
“Yeah, that… You’re still not going to tell me why?”
“It’s fine. I’ll just shut up as I’ve been doing. No questions asked. Just do as your highness desires.”
“Keep quiet, Ace.”
Dugo rubbed sweaty palms as the car stopped outside an intimidating building walled in by an aluminum fence. It was the administrative block of an international primary and secondary school.
“You’ll do fine, Dugo, fake CV and all.”
Dugo alighted from the car and went into the building. At the reception, she dropped her name and purpose of visit.
“The boss is expecting you,” the receptionist announced. “You’re a bit late. He doesn’t like lateness.”
“He’s at the left side of the building where the primary section is. Follow that corridor out and walk down until you get to a picket fence. You’ll see the school there.”
Dugo received a visitor’s tag. She followed the directions given and arrived at the primary section where another receptionist directed her to Grade 4.
Dugo drew in a heavy breath when she got to the classroom. She heard the sounds of laughter from young children. She exhaled and entered. No one took notice of her, not even the woman that stood a few paces from the door with adoring eyes fixed on a man who was entertaining the children with some fantastic tale about dragons.
Dugo remained by the door, eyes on him. She hadn’t seen him in fifteen years. He had changed a lot in looks. Back then he was lankier and carried about a signature frown, face plagued by pimples. But at that time she had only known him from a distance. The distance that separated the rich from the poor.
She lived in a face-me-I-face-you compound, sharing a single room with her mother and brother, while he lived in one of two mansions in their neighborhood. Dugo crushed on him as a teenager, but she had meant nothing to him, especially after taking her virginity and leaving her pregnant. Today, old feelings she thought had died began pushing themselves to the surface. And with them came a lot of bile.
He looked up and caught her eyes. Only then did the woman ogling him acknowledge her presence.
“How may I help you?” she questioned Dugo.
“It’s okay, Mrs. Bello,” he responded. “She’s my guest.”
The man arose, eliciting complaints from the pupils. After assuring them that he would continue his fantastic story some other time, he walked towards Dugo.
He extended his hand. She took it and found the familiar touch of his soft palm.
He led her out and back the way she came. Their stop was his office, a place that was typical of a principal’s workplace.
“Have a seat.”
When Dugo pulled a visitor’s chair and sat in it, the first thing that caught her sight was a framed photograph of Madam America hanging off the wall.
“So, I looked through your résumé, Ms. Ganiru,” the man took his seat.
“Adaugo. Beautiful name. You’re not quite what I expected, even after Googling you.”
Ace had left footprints for her on social media to compliment the fake work history she had built for herself.
“Well, since we’re on a first name basis, my name is Luper. Spelled L-U-P-E-R, but pronounced loo-pay. Like Lupe Fiasco.”
Luper angled his head to the right to give her a scrutinizing stare. “Have we met before?”
“Are you sure? I feel like we have.”
Adaugo gave a nervous laugh. “Unless you’ve been to Berlin, I don’t think so.”
“I haven’t been there, but you really do look familiar.”
Dugo felt relieved that he didn’t recognize her. Fifteen years ago, she was known as Charity. He had slept with her on a couple of occasions and then returned to the UK where he schooled before she discovered she was pregnant. She had gone looking for him, but met his mother, instead, whom she spilled the news to after a terrifying session of interrogation from the woman. Madam America, without Dugo’s mother’s knowledge, took Dugo to have the pregnancy terminated, and then sold the idea of a better life outside the shores of Nigeria to her.
As far as Dugo was concerned, Luper was the reason she went through hell. The reason why she hadn’t been able to open her heart to any other man. He and his mother had ruined her, and she was back to take from them all she had lost.
“Your résumé is impressive, Adaugo. But we’ll have a little talk, shall we?”
He smiled, she smiled back. Again, he looked at her curiously, and then the expression vanished.
“Tell me about yourself.”