The last thing Dugo wanted when she returned home after a tiring day was a chat with Ace’s women. But that was exactly what she did. First it had been Joana, and then, her friend, Titi.
Dugo had burst into the house, wondering which she wanted so badly. A shower or a drink of water. Or maybe even a full body massage. Luper had taken her to get one of those the weekend before. She had forgotten to ask the name of the spa and the directions to the place. Now that she was driving on her own, she needed to do these things for herself.
She dumped her handbag in the living room and barged into the kitchen for a drink of water. Standing before the sink and peering out the window was Joana. She turned. Their eyes met. Dugo opened the fridge.
“Hi,” Joana greeted.
Dugo closed the fridge. “Hi.”
“Just coming in from work?”
Dugo threw her head backwards and had a long gulp from the bottle of water in her hand. When she lowered her head, she found Joana still watching her. This was the longest they had ever been in each other’s presence. Long enough for Dugo to accept that Joana was beautiful without trying. This evening she wasn’t wearing makeup and her hair was in simple cornrows. She had the type of lips that were naturally shaped into a pucker. They were plush. Dugo could see why any man would be distracted by her.
“Can I ask you something?” Joana requested.
Lately, she had been extra cordial to Dugo. But Dugo had kept her distance
“You’ll be honest with me, right?”
“I don’t know.”
“It’s about Ace.”
“I know you guys are really close and he’s probably told you everything about us and everything that’s going on now… Do you think he’ll give me a second chance?”
“Yes. Do you see us getting back together?”
Dugo didn’t know how not to be blunt. She saw that her answer affected Joana. It gave her no pleasure.
“Will he ever forgive me?”
“Seeing that you two still have something going on, I think he has forgiven you.”
“What we have is… It has no roots. We see each other twice a week now. It used to be almost every night, but he said he needed his space. Anytime I come here, we just have sex and that’s all. We don’t talk like we used to…”
Dugo caught pain in Joana’s eyes. She almost felt sorry for her.
“I don’t want to lose him, Dugo. Please, tell me he still feels something for me.”
Dugo shook her head slowly.
“He told you that?”
“No. But I know.”
Joana breathed in and out for strength. “I love him. Very much.”
“Then why did you break his heart?”
She pressed her lips to stop tears.
“You have no idea what you did to him, no? He almost lost his mind in Zanzibar. I brought home a broken man. He would not eat or sleep or do anything. I fought with him every day to have his bath. All he wanted to do was sit in his room with the curtains down, listening to stupid sad songs. Imagine if he didn’t have me.”
“I’m sorry,” Joana whispered, eyes thronging with tears.
“I’m not the one you should be telling sorry. But even if you tell him now, it’s already too late. Ace has moved on. You should forget him and marry your man.”
“About that…” Joana sniffled. “I don’t know if I can go through with it.”
“Is your traditional wedding not around the corner?”
“Yes, but I’m having doubts.”
“Doubts, after you have used the man? You’ll break that one’s heart too?”
Joana sniffled again as she wiped her eyes. “I’m not the person you think I am, Dugo. You have no idea what it means to be my age and to remain unmarried in Nigeria. I’m sure it’s different in Germany.”
“Oh, blame it on the society now.”
“I was pressured to get married by my family. And my friends, almost all of them had husbands. I had Ace, but he was literally living off of me. Four years and he showed no signs of being the man I wanted him to be. Trust me, he wasn’t the only one that had a broken heart. It killed me to break up with him, but it had to be done.”
“Good for you. You did what you had to do. Now, live with the consequences. Look, I have to go and shower.”
Dugo left the kitchen. Joana followed her.
“I’m ready to leave my fiancé for Ace. I just want to know if I’ll be wasting my time.”
Dugo entered her bedroom, and turned to give Joana her attention.
“You’ll be wasting your time. I suggest you keep enjoying what you people have right now until it ends. Your boy has moved on.”
“Just one more question… Do you think he’s seeing someone else?”
“You should ask him that. Can I go and shower now?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
“Where’s Ace though?”
“He went to the supermarket to get some things.”
Dugo shut the door. She had hated being painfully blunt with Joana, but she didn’t see how else she could have communicated with her. She didn’t owe her niceness, or the truth. And the truth was that Ace was still infuriatingly in love with her. It was the reason he saw Titi on the side. His own malicious way of dealing with the pain. Joana was oblivious of this, of course. But Ace didn’t care if she found out. In fact, he hoped she did. He wanted her to hurt as much as he had done.
Dugo went in for a shower. Upon returning to the bedroom, she heard a knock on her door. She opened it. Joana was standing there again. But this time she was dressed. No makeup, still. There was a wig on, though.
“He’s not yet back and he’s not picking his calls. I have to go home.”
“Sebastian needs you?”
“Dugo, please, stop judging me.”
“Okay, I’ll stop.”
“Tell Ace I had to go. Goodnight.”
Dugo stood by her door until she left. She was thirsty again. Heading to the kitchen, she kept repeating to herself. “Be nice, Ada. Be nice.”
She returned from the kitchen to the living room and to the sound of a knock on the door. Thinking it was Luper, she wiped off droplets of water from her face.
But it was Titi who was standing outside the front door with a smile that Dugo was now used to, after hating it on their first encounter.
The girl was always bubbly and giggly. And maybe it was because she looked like a doll. Fair-complexioned, a baby face and an infantile voice. Her body, however, was nothing innocent. She bore the famous Yoruba backside and hips, and also a Calabar waist that Ace claimed was inherited by her mother who was from Cross River state. Dugo had seen that waist in action once, having entered the house through the backdoor and walked in on Titi astride Ace in the cowgirl position, on his bed. They hadn’t noticed her. She had not enough perversion in her that evening to watch them. But from then on she had understood why Ace stuck with Titi despite her childishness.
“Ace is not home,” Dugo informed Titi.
“I know. Good evening.”
Dugo let her in. But she hung around, fiddling with the flap of her handbag.
“Can I talk to you?” she finally asked in her small voice as Dugo began towards her room.
“Not again,” Dugo muttered in German.
“Nothing. Go ahead.”
“First of all, I brought you this hairspray since we’re both natural hair sisters.” Titi giggled as she opened her handbag and pulled out a hairspray. “It’s for your edges.”
Dugo’s edges were full. She didn’t need the ass-kissing gift.
“It gives you that baby curl and makes your hair softer. Your hair is already soft, though. I wish mine were like that.”
Be nice, Ada, Dugo repeated in her head. Be nice.
“I usually don’t take gifts from strangers…”
“Ah-ahn, we’re like family nau.”
Dugo put on a smile. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. If it finishes, ask me and I’ll get another one for you. It’s expensive, but what are friends for?”
Dugo maintained her smile, but it came with uplifted eyebrows.
“So what I wanted to talk to you about… Ace… Do you think he’ll ask me out?”
“Ask you out? I don’t understand.”
“As in, ask me to be his girlfriend officially?”
“Over a few knacks?”
Titi made a sad face.
“You realize it’s just sex, right?”
“But he said he likes me.”
“I’m sure he’s not the first guy to like you during sex.”
“Should I start buying him gifts? I’m not as rich as Jo-jo, but I can try. What do you think he likes?”
“Why don’t you ask him?”
“Do you think he’s still in love with her?”
Dugo was done with the questions. “Look, Titi… I’m only Ace’s friend. His sex life and love life are none of my business. Please, don’t come to me with these questions again.”
Titi looked profoundly sad, but the moment Dugo entered her bedroom, she heard her singing some Katy Perry song in the kitchen.
Dugo fished out her phone from her handbag. Mila was on the line for a video call. Dugo didn’t have the time for one, but she took the call anyways.
Propping the phone on a pillow, she packed a small bag. Luper was coming to get her in a bit. She was to spend the weekend with him. Their relationship was a little over three weeks old. Enough time for her to choose between seeking revenge and letting herself fall for him.
She saw herself picking the latter. Each day she was finding a million and one reasons why he was to be forgiven. The force of her feelings for him were hard to contend with. And oh, she had tried. Especially on that week after their first kiss. She had tried to stay away, tried to remind herself of the heartbreak Luper had caused her, tried to recall the pain that had followed her all the way to Italy and the years of sexual abuse she endured. She had fought to remain angry at him. But her efforts came to nothing. The more time she spent with him, the harder she fell.
Dugo had packed her bag for her getaway with Luper by now, having chatted with Mila for almost half an hour. She was presently stripping off her bedspread. Half a jar of homemade hair conditioner had spilled on it. Mila had gone from having a regular conversation to having her boyfriend’s black penis in her mouth. The unexpected sight had caused Dugo to jerk, toppling down the jar of leave-in-conditioner. Normally, such things didn’t make her flinch, but she didn’t consider herself normal these days. Luper was doing a number on her.
“Mila, I have to end this call.” Dugo wasn’t staring at her phone screen, although Mila and the penis in her mouth were out of shot.
“Bye!” It was Mila who ended the call. Dugo dumped the bedspread in a laundry basket in her bathroom and returned to the bedroom to pick something to wear. She went for a t-shirt and a miniskirt. The idea was to be casual, but the more she checked her reflection in the mirror, especially at the skirt, the more she felt she was coming off as seductive.
She and Luper were yet to do more than make-out. She didn’t want him feeling like she was planning to push him into sex.
“Is this too much?” she asked Ace who had just walked in. He had his concentration on his phone. He looked at her.
“Can you make it shorter?”
“Shorter? This is not short enough?”
Ace shook his head with mischief in his eyes.
“Go away. But seriously, does this skirt say ‘I want to get it?’”
“Don’t you want to get it?”
“I’m not ready.”
“Dugo, I’ve seen you in action. You’re ever ready.”
“First of all, porn is not reality. Second of all, I’m actually very old-fashioned when it comes to sex in real life. Third of all, do you still watch me?”
Ace covered his face with his phone. “You’re still in the top ten on Paradise Films.”
“Idowu?” Dugo crossed her arms, almost laughing.
“You’re laughing. Me, that I’ve subscribed and paid sef. I hope they still pay you, though?”
“A lot. And they’re offering me heaven on earth to come back.”
“Well, you’re worth it. On some days when I’m lonely, your movies keep me company.”
“How can you be lonely when you’re banging two friends?”
The smugness that came to Ace’s face made Dugo laugh. She picked a small silk scarf for her hair. The stripes on it matched the ones on the skirt.
“Joana and I had a talk earlier,” she told him. “Same with Titi.”
“What?” Ace chuckled. “Seriously?”
“What were you ladies talking about?”
“About you. Joana still loves you and doesn’t mind leaving her man for you.”
“She told you all that?”
“And Titi is wondering when you’ll officially ask her to become your girlfriend.”
Ace hissed. ‘’Ignore them abeg. They’re both mad.”
“But are you ready for when Joana finds out about you and Titi? You’ll be breaking best friends up.”
“That will be on them o, not me. It’s not my fault that Jo couldn’t shut up about my unrivaled mekwe skills.”
“What is mekwe?”
Ace winked. Dugo rolled her eyes.
“It’s also not my fault that Jo dumped me and opened the door for Titi to come in. Also, not on me that Titi is a backstabbing friend. Jo warned her to stay away from me, but she wouldn’t listen.”
Dugo reprimanded him with a sharp stare.
“Hey, I’m just on my own and these women are rushing me. What do you want me to do?”
“Answer all their questions, so that they don’t disturb me again.”
“I’m sorry they did. It won’t happen a second time. I promise.”
“Thank you.” Dugo moved away from the mirror.
“For a sleepover, your outfit is perfect. And no, it doesn’t say ‘fuck me’”
“Unless you’re subtly telling him to. Is that what you’re doing?”
Dugo sighed. VAR, which was short for Video Assistant Referee, made famous by the recently concluded World Cup, was Dugo and Ace’s code for being absolutely honest with each other. The moment either of them mentioned the acronym, the other had to tell the whole truth.
“Okay, VAR… I want him bad,” Dugo confessed.
“So bad that I can ask for it. I’ve not had real sex for years.”
“In years,” Ace corrected.
“And I want to feel what you and Joana feel. But Luper is…”
“Religious, I think. Maybe he’s not having sex right now. I don’t know. He doesn’t talk about it at all, but he kisses me and touches me very…”
“I think that’s the word. Ya.”
“Well, maybe this weekend it’ll happen.”
Ace fell backwards on the bed, pulling a pillow to rest his head on.
“So, third week and counting… Do you still feel like strangling him for his past?”
Dugo sat on the bed. “I hate that I’m falling for him again. Yesterday, after school, we went for dinner. It was my treat, but I got moody.”
“Because I saw how much I liked him and I got angry with myself. The dinner became boring. I avoided him all day in school today. Ace, I’m scared. And maybe it’s more than my emotions. I think it’s because he’s hiding things from me.”
“You’re hiding things too. A whole truckload of them.”
“Mine is for a good reason.”
“What reason? You and your grand revenge plan that fell flat on its face after one kiss.”
“The plan is still there for his mother. She can’t get away with what she did.”
“So what do you think he’s hiding from you?”
“He doesn’t like to talk about his past.”
“Forget about me. You know my past. What do you think a man would hide about his past?”
“I don’t know, Deedee. And I think you’re being impatient. Give him time to trust you enough to open up. That’s the only way to get your answers, and eventually, your revenge on his mother. But know that the longer you stay with him, the deeper you fall, and the harder it would be to hurt his mother.”
Dugo knew this, but she was determined to remain in Luper’s life to accomplish what was left of her plan. She also knew that whatever she did to his mother would hurt him also and hurt their relationship in the end. It was a risk she was willing to bear. Feelings or not, Luper was a means to an end.
“He’s here,” Ace said, rising up. Dugo hadn’t heard the knock on the front door until it came the second time. Ace left her bedroom. Luper walked in shortly. He bore the exhaustion of the day on his face. He threw his weight on her bed and dragged her along. He smelled of a new cologne. Or maybe it was his soap. She could tell that he had just bathed.
“Have you finished vexing for yourself over the way you feel about me?”
His question was unexpected. But it wasn’t new for him to read exactly what was going on in her head.
“Mmm?” he asked, kissing her. He had one hand on her waist and the other in her hair.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Dugo tried to move away but Luper had her on her back with his body over hers.
“My house sounds like a boring place to spend the weekend. Let’s do a hotel instead. We stay in all through, eating hotel food, watching cable and doing other stuff.”
Dugo gently rubbed his cheek. “What other stuff?”
He gave his lips in place of an answer. She accepted his kiss gladly, and the ticklish pecks he administered on her face and neck.
“Seriously, what other stuff?” she asked again.
“You’ll soon know. Come on, let’s go.”
He lifted her off the bed with an arm and she clung to him, legs wrapped around his waist. She pointed at her packed bag and phone. He handed the phone to her and picked the bag.
“Is it me or you’re getting heavier? The last time I carried you, you weren’t this heavy.”
“Stop being lazy, Torkuma.”
The last time he had carried her, she had experienced difficulty walking after a table fell on her foot in school. She had managed to get into his car, but had been unable to move later on, even after returning from the doctor’s. Luper had taken her to his house and carried her to his bedroom where he nursed her for two days. The time had been a bonding period for them and the most intimate they had spent together. Lately, activities in school had taken the bulk of his attention. It was a good thing they were rounding up with the term’s exams. He was going to be free for the long holidays, having come to an agreement with Shipinen to take over from him for the length of the summer classes. Shipinen had not liked the bargain, but it was the best anyone could squeeze out of Luper. He did it for the sake of peace. He didn’t want her becoming a problem to Dugo.
Dugo comprehended this and appreciated it. Secrets or not, he was proving himself to be the type of man she had always desired.
This evening he seemed quiet. Withdrawn. He was usually chatty whenever he was driving, but he had little to say to Dugo on their way to the hotel he had picked out for them. It was she who kept him engaged, telling him about Joana and Titi.
“I don’t envy Ace,” he commented. “I can’t handle two women. One is enough wahala.”
“I don’t think he’s handling them. He’s just there, enjoying the best of both worlds.”
Luper went silent again. Dugo let him be. She figured he needed to sort his thoughts out. Whatever they were.
They arrived at the hotel. It was in a busy neighborhood, bragging of a garden with an enormous stretch of green lawn and luxuriant shrubs and flowers. Gazebos were erected in the place and every evening people visited to enjoy their famous barbecues and fresh juices.
But Dugo and Luper had not gone to the garden upon arrival at the hotel. They paid for a suite with double beds, per Dugo’s request. When they entered the suite, Luper stretched out on one of the beds as he had done on Dugo’s earlier.
“Can you give me a couple of hours to sleep?” he asked, yawning. “I’m very tired.”
“Take the whole night if you want.”
“Just two hours is what I need. Order anything you want.”
He was soon asleep. Dugo stayed up, watching a movie and sometimes peeping out to observe the activities going on in the garden. There was a live band there and some lady who seemed to have had too much to drink, entertaining the crowd with a drunken dance.
The movie Dugo was watching eventually ended and another began just when her eyes became heavy. She didn’t fight the drowsiness. She burrowed into the blanket and dozed off.
At the break of dawn, she found herself in Luper’s embrace. She was confused for a moment, until she realized he had left his bed for hers.
He smelled fresh out of a shower. She didn’t respond to his greeting, and when he tried to kiss her, she didn’t let him.
“Trust me, I love morning kisses whether your breath is fresh or not.”
She made a face and pushed him away, getting off the bed. She went into the bathroom, but returned to the room to pick her toothbrush. After freshening up, she returned.
“Now, you’re ready to kiss me?”
“I prefer when you say ‘ya’. Sounds sexy. Reminds me of all the German porn I used to watch back in the day.”
“You still watch porn?” Dugo observed his face curiously.
“No. Rarely. Sometimes.”
“No. Unless I accidentally come across it. So, enough about porn. I’m starving. Would you want their complimentary breakfast or do we order something heavier?”
Luper picked the phone beside the bed and gestured Dugo over to sit on his laps while he called the kitchen for their meal. His palm cuddled her bum as he spoke. Using her fingers, she familiarized herself with the wavy lines in his hair. When he was done, he lifted her off his laps and laid her on the bed.
“Let’s plan our day. I want to take you shopping.”
“Shopping? For what?”
“Hmm… See her frowning. I hope you’re not about to give me that ‘I’m an independent European woman’ bullcrap you gave me the other day when I tried to buy you fuel for your car.”
“Why do you want to take me shopping, Luper?”
“Chill nau. You don’t even know what we’re shopping for.”
“What are we shopping for?”
“Anything you want. In Nigeria, since you don’t seem to remember anything about this place, men here spend their money on their women. Have you watched any romantic Nollywood movie?”
“One or two.”
“The man always takes the lady shopping after they play around in a garden and eat ice-cream off each other’s hands and the chick waves her ice-cream in his face and it gets on his nose and she runs off and he chases her…”
Dugo was laughing.
“All I’m saying is that shopping is part of the romance. Allow me buy a thing or two for you. Not because I’m obligated to, but because I was at the mall the other day and I saw this badass gypsy Ankara skirt that you just have to have. It will also go with the earrings I saw in this other shop and the top in that other shop. And after we’ve bought the outfits, we’ll come back here and I will slowly take those clothes off your body and see you nude for the first time.”
“And what if I buy you clothes too?”
“No problem, as long as you undress me.”
“We could do other stuff, but that’s totally up to you.”
“But know this. If anything happens…”
“You mean sex?”
“Yes. The moment that happens, there’s no going back. You become mine. I don’t hit and run, and I’d love it too if you held the same values.”
“I cannot be fornicating for nothing. You have to be committed to us. Once I start, I’m not going anywhere. Do you have plans to leave me?”
“Or fall for some other guy?”
A voice told her that he was demanding too much, too early; but Dugo understood. This was the aftermath of what he had gone through with Shipinen.
“You’re the only one I’m falling for.”
Later on Dugo would be stunned at how easily she had said those words. But right now, she enjoyed the cocoon they had built for themselves, garlanded with the kisses from each other’s lips and the feverish caresses they shared.
As they waited for breakfast, Luper entertained her with a raunchy song in the Tiv language and even gave a dance to accompany it. She marveled at how lithe his tall frame could bend under the difficult machinations of the Tiv folkdance.
“Wow! You should teach me that,” she said.
“Em… How good is your dancing generally?”
“Sorry. I can’t teach you. If you’re bad at normal dance, you’ll be horrible at Swange.”
“It will shock you the things my body can do.”
He put on a naughty smile and returned to the bed, resting his chin on his hands. “Tell me.”
At that moment, their breakfast arrived. They ate out on the balcony. After the meal, they visited the mall as planned. Everything Luper said he’d buy for her was waiting in a shop that belonged to his friend’s wife. He had gotten them a while ago. Dugo picked a combo of t-shirt and jean shorts for him with a pair of sunglasses. Together, they looked like tourists, walking hand-in-hand as they window-shopped for the rest of their stay at the mall.
By the time they got back to the hotel, it was dark and the garden was beginning to teem with barbecue-hungry customers. Dugo was dying for a taste of their fish and chips, but was not in the disposition to sit outside for it. They made their order and went upstairs to their suite. While Dugo entered the bathroom for leak, Luper remained by the door. Dugo returned to find him waiting there, hands in his pockets, in a pensive mood.
“Before we go all naked with each other, I have something I need to tell you,” he said.
Dugo didn’t know why his words made her a little uneasy. It was in the way his face had suddenly gone serious and how his voice became deeper.
“I have a daughter,” he revealed. He stopped there, watching Dugo, waiting for her to respond.
“She’s about fourteen years old. I didn’t know she existed until earlier this week. And since I’ve found out, I’ve not been myself.”
“Okay.” Dugo had nothing to say. His confession had no effect on her emotions.
“So on Monday evening, after I got back from school, I was chilling and the doorbell rang and there was my mom who was supposed to be far away from me at that moment. She was standing there with this teenage girl I had never met in my life and telling me that she was my daughter. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or slam the door in their faces. How do you bring somebody’s past back to them like that without warning? And my mom knew about this girl the whole time! She kept her away from me all these years, talking about protecting me and shit!”
“What about the girl’s mother? Was she there with them?”
“No. She was wherever she was, hating me to death.”
“Why? Did you deny the pregnancy?”
“Pregnancy? I didn’t even know there was a pregnancy until Monday. The girl’s mother and I, we’ve met a few times over the years, but she never told me she had a child for me. The only thing she made clear was that she still hated me like she had done since the night we…” He stopped, running his palm over his head. He seemed distressed.
“Luper, it’s okay. It’s fine.”
But Dugo wasn’t exactly fine herself. She was calculating dates. Fifteen years ago was when she had known him and gotten pregnant for him. There had been another girl as well? Was that what he was all about? Going around and impregnating girls? How many more of such children did he have out there?
But Dugo held her wilding thoughts together before they began to affect her emotions. All she knew was what he had told her already. He was all about being honest. She would give him a long rope to come clean.
“Where’s the girl now? Your daughter?”
“Back with her mom. She’s writing her exams. She’s in SS2.”
“And your mom?”
“In my house, annoying the hell out of me. I told her not to visit, but she did not only defy that, she came with stress that I could have been warned about. You don’t shove a child at somebody from nowhere. So no, everything’s not fine, Ada.” His face went soft. “But I look at you and I feel like it will all get better.”
“What am I supposed to do with a fourteen-year old for God’s sake?”
“Let her into your life. Be her father.”
“How do I start? What if she hates me as her mother does?”
“What did you do to her mother? It can’t be that bad.”
“You don’t want to know.”
“I want to. You said we have to be honest with each other. I want to know what you did.”
“I did a horrible thing, Adaugo. If you know, you’ll hate me.”
“It can’t be worse than getting her pregnant and disappearing and your mother forcing her to abort it.”
“It’s actually worse than that.”
“Okay. Tell me. I’m listening.”
“I…” He bent his head. “I raped her, Ada.”
Again, he paused for the news to sink in. Dugo was staring at him with wide eyes. She felt like her heart had been ripped out of her. Her chest literally hurt.
“My daughter came into this world because I raped her mother,” he whispered. “I was a beast that night…”
The cramping sensation in Dugo’s chest grew worse. But she got on her feet and went to him. She lifted his face and searched his eyes, hoping she would find that he was joking.
“Tell me you’re lying, Luper. Please, tell me you’re lying and I’ll believe you.”
“I’m not lying, Ada.” He shook his head, regret in his eyes. “I’m sorry. I raped her.”