Archie wasn’t sure he was normal. He was certain his mind was on its way to losing itself. There he sat, in the company of three of the sexiest women he had laid his eyes on, all of them next to nude, but he was miles away from them, his thoughts on Bianca.
His mind had been on this undertaking of seeking Bianca at the oddest moments. Thoughts of her would occupy him unexpectedly, forcing him to recall the intimate sessions they had shared. Sometimes they would leave him smiling to himself. Other times, they gave him reason to worry. Why had she suddenly become a distraction? Why did he feel like he constantly needed to be with her? Why did he want to threaten his present existence with fantasies of bolting away to some place with her?
This was the night before his wedding, his bachelor’s eve, when he was allowed to engage in all manner of debauchery before he got committed to Muna; but his head was doing a dance around memories of her sister. And not even the women who had been given to him for the night could take his thoughts away from her.
One of the girls had just taken off her bra, reining free breasts so full and rounded and firm. She proceeded to sit astride him, thrusting the twin mounds in his face, placing his hands on her plump backside as she began grinding into him.
The music was loud, even in the privacy of the VIP room of the high-end strip club his friends had brought him to. They were out there in the main lounge, having a good time, having thrust him here with the girls to have a better time.
“Anything you want, they are at your service,” Olajiga had told him earlier with a wink. “You are allowed to do and undo.”
Archie had taken the ‘undo’ part seriously. There was no single desire to do anything with the strippers. The first girl had tried every trick in the book to arouse him, but he had sat there as an unwilling participant, filling his guts with glass after glass of champagne. Now, her colleague was giving it her best as she turned around and parted her butt cheeks to reveal that the bejeweled G-string she had on covered nothing. Archie fed his eyes with the moist folds of her vagina. The presentation was supposed to stir something in him, but not a muscle twitched.
She took his hand. She made it rub against her bum, guiding it towards her vagina as she expertly wound her waist to the beat of the music playing. But just at the moment his finger was to make contact, Archie withdrew his hand as if stung, sprang up and maneuvered himself away from her.
“I’m sorry, ladies. You’re all beautiful and sexy, but…” He shook his head. His behavior was met with puzzled looks as he made his way out of the VIP room. Out in the lounge, he caught his friends in a corner being entertained by a couple of girls. Archie slipped out of the club unnoticed. As soon as he was away from the noise, he dialed Bianca’s number.
She was perfect for the camera. Perfect for the crowd and the flattering eyes of her admirers, a flawless image of what a bride-to-be should look like. She wore her glamour with pride that flowed from her DNA. The sort of pride belonging to people born in prosperity. The world was going to know that a princess was getting married to a prince. This had been her dream for years. She wanted the aftertaste of her nuptials to linger long after her groom took her home. The wedding was more important than all she had accomplished in life. More than her family. More than the groom himself. She cared little for him. Maybe there had been a time she loved him. Nobody was sure. With Muna, you only got what she wanted to show you. And she had shown me more than I wanted to know. Today, I had seen another dark side of my sister.
“Cocaine, Munachi?” I asked. I tried to force surprise into my tone, but nothing seemed to shock me about Muna anymore.
We were at her new home, the one she would share with Archie once they got married. It had been furnished before now. The house was one of the coziest I had seen in Lagos. It was weird that it didn’t have the type of large rooms Archie liked; and even the gym space could only take a couple of treadmills and a few other equipment. It had a large compound nonetheless.
“I chose the house by myself. Archie wanted something bigger. I said it was unnecessary,” Muna told me earlier. “It’s freaking expensive sha, and the owner didn’t want to sell because of the sentimental value.”
“His wife died here.”
“Creepy, right? He wanted to keep it, but he was broke. I asked Archie to pay extra so we could have it. Do you like it?”
“I’m happy it’s not a duplex. I am sick and tired of going up and down the stairs, up and down… This house makes it easy for Archie and I to fuck fluidly, from one room to another. Ugh! I’m so tired.”
She had been complaining about being tired all day. Yet she had dragged me with her to some unnecessary shopping adventure and a spa treatment. And now, we were at her new home with her friends for a bachelorette party. I felt like I was temporarily living the life of someone else. I wanted to be out of the place fast. But Muna had me locked in the master bedroom where she was sniffing coke and being a nuisance. Out in the living room, her friends get themselves high on expensive champagne, taking selfies they were soon going to share on the gram. Why Muna had chosen her home of all places to hold her party was something I didn’t understand. Privacy and security clearly meant nothing to her.
“Have I told you about my sex life with Archie?” She spread herself on her conjugal bed.
“It’s amazing! You know what they say about Calabar people.” She touched her neck sensually and laid herself on her back. “Archie is…” She sighed longingly, turning suddenly to her side, head resting on her hand. “Let me give you details?”
“Ugh! You’re so stiff, Bibi. Loosen up. You don’t even have a man. Like, seriously? Are you going to be that one member of the family that ends up not getting married?”
“Maybe.” I was unperturbed about her concerns. I just wanted to get out of there.
“What do you do to get high, Bibi?”
“Nothing. You know I don’t get high.”
“You see my point? So stiff. But if you were to get high, what would be your poison?”
“Ugh! Have you done weed before?”
“You know I have.”
She laughed, recalling a party she threw after we wrote our final WAEC exams. The party had been at Yohan’s first apartment. Idris and Victoria had been away. Yohan provided us with everything illegal. That night, teenage girls lost their hymens to older guys.
“How about heroin?”
And that was a lie. While in custody under Captain, I had been run through some extreme drug experiments to see if I would crack under the influence of mind-altering drugs.
“Muna, no.” I was lying to her still. I had done them all and more, including substances that were illegal and difficult to get. Captain screwed our minds up for a month with them.
“I’ve seen your house now, can I go home?” I said to my sister. I longed for my apartment and a soak in a tub.
“This is my bachelorette party, Bibi.”
“I’m supposed to be with Archie too, remember?”
She gave a grunt.
“But I’m tired. I just want to go home.”
I watched Muna go for her second line of cocaine.
Smiling at me, she dusted off particles of coke from her nose.
“Want some?” she asked. I hurried to the door.
“I’ll walk you outside.”
Grumbling that I was a spoil sport, she walked me past her partying friends and out the front door. She was high when we got outside, singing loudly. But then, she stopped to tell me she was happy that Archie forgave her.
“I’d have died if he didn’t!” she said above the noise coming from her living room. “Daddy says I have to replace the car though. So I’ve called a dealer and my baby will have a sweet wedding present at the reception. Instagram will go gaga for it and it’ll be a win-win for me. By the way, daddy’s paying for the car.”
She held out her tongue, laughing like a sorceress. They said I was the black witch, but that was only because they hadn’t met my sister. Munachi was the Black Widow.
“Ugh! I hate these bodyguards,” she whined, staring at a car parked outside the gate as we neared it. “I didn’t even know they existed until recently. It was Archie who noticed that I was constantly being followed.”
“Just try to ignore them,” I responded. I was the only one in the family that didn’t have bodyguards constantly on my trail. For some reason, Idris and Victoria knew I could do well on my own.
“If it’s a guy you’re going to see, he’s totally invited to my wedding,” Muna stated. “But you have to get his IV for the reception party. It’s strictly by invitation. Nobody even knows the venue. It’s all hush-hush.”
“I’m not going to see a guy. I’m going home.”
“Meanwhile, you’re going to be my chief bridesmaid.”
“Why the hell would I want to do that?”
“Because you’re my only sister and I got you a dress. A really gorgeous one. Stones and all. It’s black, but I can see you shine in it like a witch. But come to think of it, there’s something dark about you, Bibi. And it’s not just one thing. So many dark things. I’ve seen some, but the others… I can’t see.”
“Muna, I am Archie’s groomsman.”
“That has not made sense to me since the day I went shopping for your tux. I’m not having you on the other side. You’ll be my chief. Case closed.”
“Your best friend is already your chief.”
“She called me a bitch when I told her what I did to Archie’s car. And then she said I didn’t deserve him. Of course, she was joking, but I didn’t take it funny. That type of person will go behind my back and fuck my husband. I can’t have that. I need somebody beside me I can trust. Anyways, she’s been crying and I told her she is free to be my chief during the reception. That way, you can go back to your tux and be Archie’s whatever at that time.”
“I’ve never been a maid of honor before.”
“There’s a first time.”
She made a sad face. “This is my wedding, Bibi. My big day. You have to do what I want.”
I repeated, “No.”
She went back into her compound while I waited for my ride to come. My tech guy, Duru, was on his way to pick me. For anyone who cared to know, he was my houseboy and occasional driver as well.
While I waited, I received a call from Archie.
“It’s really important that I see you. Really important.”
“Are you dying or something?”
“No. But it’s important.”
He hung up. He didn’t sound like it was a life and death situation. He probably just wanted to talk. He could wait. My bathtub couldn’t, however.
Duru pulled over. I got into the car.
“Back where you came.”
His left hand worked the wheel while his right handed me a tablet. On it was a photo of Kashimu’s younger brother, Bakare. Fearfully referred to as Baka. Baka was a thug, a lout, a ruffian. He was also in charge of Kashimu’s crime network. He dabbled in all manner of law-breaking activity. Kashimu was the refined one, the one who sat with proper gentlemen and ladies of business and politics, who always pretended to himself that he was a man of sophistication.
“He’s been snooping around too,” Duru said of Baka.
“Should I be scared?”
“Na me you dey ask?”
I was bored with staring at Baka’s photos. He was an annoying guy to look at. His appearance made no attempt of hiding his nature. Dirty-looking dreads, unnecessary jewelry and tattoos on his neck, all enough to convince anyone who cared that he was up to no good. He was a little chubby and liked to wear white shirts which he left unbuttoned at the top to display his tattoos.
Baka was going to be my biggest obstacle to getting what I wanted from Kashimu. Rumor had it that the older brother trusted the younger with his business and life. If I was going to infiltrate the ring and bring it to nothing, I had to break the bond between them.
“Contact the home office,” I instructed Duru. “I want everything on Baka. Every single criminal case.”
I had gotten my intel on Baka before now. But he had been away for a while, following a fight between him and Kashimu. His return wasn’t expected. I wasn’t fazed by it, though.
We arrived at my apartment. The gateman was just an innocent aboki without a transistor radio but with a smart phone he enjoyed fiddling with. I had thought Captain would station one of his guards at my gate, but he enjoyed mixing the innocent with the rest of us for the fun of it.
Kadir was from Niger Republic, lanky and tall as they came. He liked to smoke unbranded substances. He was smoking one now as he slid the gate open for us.
Duru drove in. I stepped down and waited for him to unlock the door. He was following closely behind as I went in. The moment my feet passed the threshold, I knew we had company. There was the distinct presence of a man’s perfume dominating the air. I was sure it wasn’t Duru’s. It belonged to someone who was cocky enough to wear something so overpowering and expensive while making himself comfortable in a space he wasn’t invited into.
I put my left hand behind me and stuck out my fore and middle fingers. Duru pulled out a weapon I was certain he had on him and placed in my hand. Having worked with me for six years, he understood my instructions without me saying them. He stepped out of the house while I freed the safety of the handgun, at the same time slamming the door at the wall behind to surprise my unwanted guest who I was certain was hiding there.
I heard a grunt in response and in seconds, I was directing my weapon in the face of a huge guy who was rubbing his forehead with one hand and wielding a gun with the other.
“Put the gun down, Bianca,” an unfamiliar voice ordered from behind me and I turned around, Beretta pointed at Baka. He had just stepped out of my kitchen, eating an apple leisurely. The perfume I inhaled a few seconds ago was stronger now as he neared me.
“Bakare,” I said as if we had known each other already. “You should have called before coming.”
“She knows me.” He laughed. “Put the gun down.”
I heard the front door shut and suddenly felt the heat of the huge guy behind me. I allowed him disarm and put an arm around my neck.
Baka came closer. The strength of his perfume left a taste in my throat. His eyes washed over me, from my head to my feet.
“My brother has said a few things about you,” he revealed. “And because of those things I am here.”
I gave no response.
“What do you want from us?”
I continued in my silence. I owed only Kashimu explanations.
“You won’t talk?” Baka wore a sinister smile that showed a side of his dentition where a tooth was missing and the one next to it, plated in gold. The smile gone, he wedged the apple in his mouth and made to touch me, but I gripped his hand and twisted it so painfully he groaned. The man behind me tightened his arm around my neck. I began to choke. I released Baka.
“Let her go,” he ordered. I was released as well.
“Wear something modest.” He winced. The anger on his face amused me. “Kash wants to see you.”
I went into my bedroom, locked myself in for a shower and came out to meet Baka after I had worn something that would make even the pope go hard.
“You wasted my time,” Baka stated. He was eating another apple while watching something on TV.
I was led into an SUV parked outside the house. Baka and I sat behind while his men took the front seats.
“Nigerian Intelligence Agency eh?” he said. “What do they want with us?”
“Not with you. With your brother,” I answered.
Baka laughed. I was sure this was his refined side. He didn’t strike me as someone who spoke this articulately or had the time to be polite. His reputation of being uncouth and abusive preceded him. He was trying hard to be nice to me because Kashimu had probably told him to. I couldn’t wait for the beast in him to present itself.
Well, it didn’t take long.
His phone rang and in seconds he was telling the person on the line in Yoruba how he was going to fuck his mother and all the females in his family and burn them alive if he didn’t get his money. He said the words, screaming, holding out his phone to his lips as spittle rained on the poor digital device. The men in front didn’t seem to care for his tirade. They were discussing in low tones while he shouted.
The call ended and he made another. This time he sounded softer. It was to a female. He wanted her in his place later on. She seemed to have replied that she wouldn’t be able to see him.
“What fucking client?!” he bellowed from nowhere. “If I don’t see you in the next thirty minutes, you’ll regret your useless, dirty life in this country! Fucking cunt!”
He finished his outburst in a long sentence spat out in Yoruba before dumping the phone in the space between us. I got a cold smile from him before took out a second phone with which he got busy. I was glad to be ignored from that moment until we got to Kashimu’s house.
I have seen pictures of the place already, during my investigation of him. I knew he was a man who lived a simple life, despite the type of dirty money he had. His house, somewhere in Banana Island was a simple duplex of six rooms. He lived with his domestic help, a convalescent sister and two dogs. And then, there were the armed guards that protected the place like the president lived there. Kashimu had other houses in Lagos. One was specifically for the women in his life which he changed so frequently, another was for just getting away, while the rest were spaces for business.
“Wait here,” Baka told me, ushering me into a small living room that gave no clues as to its owner being the most feared arms dealer in the country. The parlor seemed like the sort of room you would find in a home where there was love, warm food and prayers.
I remained standing until Kashimu appeared. Unlike his brother, he carried an air of refinement. His attire was casual. A pair of shorts and a plain white t-shirt. There were no dreads, tattoos or choking perfumes. Just an unassuming man with murderous eyes that could sap the soul right out of you.
“The lady who wants to make my dick burn,” he said. His voice was coarse. His smile, infectious. It was sweet, actually. “Sit down, Bianca.”
I took the couch nearest to me, aware that my dress had gone all the way up, leaving my thighs exposed. I wasn’t sure if I had worn it for him or for Archie.
“Sorry for this impromptu, rude summoning,” Kashimu stated, scratching his head with his pinky and then running his palm down, all the way to his neck. “I’m a very busy man, so I try my best to squeeze time in-between for other matters.”
“I would have liked it if you had called me yourself,” I told him. “I don’t appreciate strangers with guns sneaking into my house uninvited.”
“I apologize again, Bahago. Do you want something to drink?”
He sat on a sofa that faced mine. He crossed a leg over the other and began to slap his flip-flop against the sole of his foot.
“What does the NIA want with me?”
“I see you went asking around.”
“Yes. I know you work for them. What do they want?”
“They want information about your business and how it’s run.”
“And you’re to give it to them?”
“By getting into my life and offering your body so that I can lose my mind and spill secrets.” He seemed amused.
“Something like that.”
“And yet you had chosen to reveal yourself directly to me. Why?”
“Because I know you’re a smart man and you’re well-connected to people in the government, and you’ll find me out eventually.”
“Actually, you’re the smart one.”
His brows twitched up. “Cocky too.”
“You’re the one with the cock.”
“Funny as well.” He laughed. “So, let’s talk about how we’ll fool your bosses into believing that you’re here, doing your work?”
“You tell me what your plan is. You’re the criminal who has successfully evaded them all these years.”
I could see that he was undisturbed that I had called him a criminal.
“I am curious, though…” He dropped his foot to the floor and leaned forward. “Why would you be so careless as to come to me and reveal yourself, knowing I would go poking around and find that you work as an NIA agent?”
“Because I know a witch-hunt when I see one. I’ve worked long enough in the system to know that people like you are aided by the same men who swear to get your kind thrown into jail. You evaded being locked up all these years because you always paid a wankload of cash regularly, even though your top customers were in the government. But recently, you snapped and told them to go fuck themselves, that you were done being drained. They were ruining your business. From the ports to the secret deals done under the table, you were losing millions monthly. Ergo, you simply stopped being bullied by them, and this is why they want your head. You have stepped on too many greedy toes. They will come for you. I’m just a first step.”
“I know. But we will use your presence in my life to buy time while I go after the persons in charge of this witch-hunt. I’ll give you all the information you need, which I’m sure you’ll be too glad to share with them. So should I rightly conclude that you don’t owe the NIA any allegiance? You don’t care about cleaning the streets of men like me?”
I smiled. “I’m a Bahago. Dig deep. That name should show up somewhere in the annals of your world.”
He chortled quietly.
“Why the Nigerian Intelligence Agency, though? Why did you join them?”
From afar, Kashimu had struck me as someone who was perceptive. I wasn’t disappointed that he was asking these questions. But I couldn’t tell him that Captain had made me join the NIA. “It’s the best cover for the kind of work you do,” Captain had told me. “They want the bad guys as much as I do.”
“Why do you want to know?” I responded to Kashimu’s question. “It’s personal.”
The element of mystery was always a classic. Never tell them everything.
“I see. So, I will mull over your offer…”
“I didn’t offer anything.”
His smile tilted to one side. “Intruding into my life means you want something. You need me. You want me. I am not sure I feel the same. But I will think about it and get back to you. Maybe beat your offer and give you something better.”
He picked his weight up, rising to his feet. I followed suit.
“Thank you for coming, Bianca.”
He came closer. He left me instantly feeling undone under his scrutinizing gaze.
“You’re beautiful.” He touched my cheek without permission. It was a show of dominance. “And a Bahago. Great combo.”
I lifted his hand off my face and dropped it.
“And strong too. I’d like to see you in your element one of these days. I was told you are skilled in all manner of martial arts.”
I smiled. “Goodnight, Kashimu.”
I went for the door. He came behind me. His hand pushed the door back into place.
“Call me Kash.”
I gave him a side glance. “Goodnight Kash.”
The SUV I had come with transported me back home. I got into my car and went searching for Archie. I found him waiting at the reception of a four-star hotel. He had called me five times already.
“I was about starting to worry. I kept trying to reach your line. Are you okay?”
“I should be asking you that.” I accepted his hug.
“Yeah. Yeah, I am. Um… My cousins and their friends are here at the lounge. Care to join us?”
I was acquainted with his cousins. I wasn’t familiar with their friends on a personal basis. But I knew all about them on paper. I wouldn’t exactly call them socialites, but they were their own glitterati. The circle was so tight that one had to be literally married to one of them to be accepted. And yet I heard that they were the friendliest bunch when amongst strangers. They had none of that snobbish thing the Lagos café society carried around. Muna had tried to fit in with them but she had been unsuccessful. I, on the other hand, didn’t care. I had never been accustomed to the wealth in which I was born. I was grateful for the luxury, but that was all. If I found myself under a bridge tomorrow, I would survive.
“Okay, here’s what…” Archie grasped my hand. “I’ll take you to the lounge, but I need one minute of your time. Just one.”
Walking backwards, he dragged me into the elevator behind him. When we got in, Archie poked the button that would lead us to the eighth floor. The door slid shut.
“I want to kiss you,” he said. “And I’m not going to stop until we get to my room. And that’s because I’ll be taking my mouth off yours to kiss your other lips.”
I was leaning on the elevator wall, away from him, but with my hand still in his. I looked at him as he said those words. There was strange fire that looked something like passion, glowing in his eyes.
I was tugged towards him and he began to fulfil his promise of kissing me. When we got to the eighth floor, he took a break for a second and continued until we arrived at his suite.
“You’re crazy, you know that?” I told him. “Anybody could have caught us.”
Archie ignored my words and pulled me into the suite.
“I’ve not been myself, B,” he said when his mouth freed mine. “This is crazy. What have you done to me?”
I drew him towards me. With one flick of my finger, the button on the waistband of his jeans was undone. One thug and the zip went all the way down as well. He took my hands and pinned them to the wall with both of his.
His eyes were looking into mine, desperately searching for something. I could see the confusion in his eyes, the unanswered questions.
“I think…” He was breathing arduously. “I think I’m feeling something very strong here, Bianca. Something deep. And I don’t know why. I don’t know why!”
He moved from me, turning his face away.
“You’ve always been there. Always. I could have fallen for you and we could have been something, but nothing happened! Until now that I have to commit my life to your sister!” He spun around. “Why?!”
“I don’t know–”
“Don’t give me that! Give me an answer, Bianca! Why?!”
“Archibong, I don’t know.”
“Fuck!” He held on to his falling jeans by the crotch and sat on the bed. “I’m not even thinking about the sex we’ve had which is so wrong. That’s not my problem. My problem is what I’m feeling for you.”
“It will go away, Archie.”
“Will it? Or will it get worse?”
I was standing in front of him now. I palmed his cheek. “It will go away. This is just infatuation. Lust. That’s all. After tomorrow, after you’ve said your vows, it’ll be the end. So, let’s enjoy this moment and then tomorrow, we can pretend that this never happened.”
His face showed seriousness.
“I think…I’m in love with you, B. I don’t know, but I think I’m just realizing that Olajiga has been right the whole time. It should have been you.”
I sat on his laps. His hands found my bum. We began kissing again. Slowly, and then hungrily. I wanted him more than he wanted me. So badly, I could have cried for it. Of course, I didn’t know this until he was in my arms. I could have gone for another thousand years of wanting him and dying in my want until a single touch from him would resurrect me.
He grasped my waist and turned me around so that he was between my legs. Our clothes left our bodies so fast that later on I found it hard recalling how that had happened. There was no foreplay, no preliminaries. Archie plunged hard into me, and when I gasped out, he stopped and apologized. The look of worry on his face threw me into laughter. He watched me laugh, eyes twinkling in adoration.
“You’re so beautiful,” he murmured, kissing my lower lip and moving deeper into me. I brought my knees up and the wild dance of hungry bodies began. It was fierce and hardcore. Screaming, I dug my fingers into his back in steep pleasure, teetering at the edge already. Like I said, I had wanted this desperately. And Archie gave it to me like I had never gotten it before. My body vibrated with each thrust. I held him in and onto him, praying the ride would last a long time. But it came to an end after a short while, and with it, apologies from Archie.
“You make me lose control, B,” he whispered after we both caught our breaths. He kissed the pack of my hand which was held in his before leaving the bed to get a drink of water. He came back with a chocolate bar and we fed off each other’s mouths while we talked about matters that had nothing to do with what had just happened. But the conversation steered back to us eventually. He began to tell me how hard he was finding it to get me off his mind.
He believed he was falling for me. In the normal world, people looked forward to, and even dreamt of having that magical moment in their lives when they got to share their existence with someone else. In my world, such a moment would never materialize. And even if it did, I would walk away from it like a hero did in a movie, walking away from an explosion while the world behind them burned to ashes.
But my world and Archie’s was burning, and neither he nor I were walking away. We were diving headlong into the inferno. We shared the same aching as we both burned. While mine burned with a familiar pain, Archie’s fire was new to him, reaching down into his element and threatening to singe away all he was.
He was scared and excited both. Scared because of what would happen if our secret affair continued after he got married to my sister. Excited because, according to him, this was probably the most amazing moment of his life.
The soft glow of the lights in his hotel suite made for something of a starry-eyed setting as he asked me what I thought about eloping.
“You mean we should go away?”
“Yes. Today. Get our passports and just disappear to the nearest vacation spot in West Africa.”
“Archie…” I said with a lazy grin, staring at the smooth cut of his hairline. He was a fine man in an unfussy way. His face had strong masculine contours and none of that beard gang thing that had taken more than half of the male population. He always kept a clean shave and a neat goatee over skin that was a mix of dark chocolate and tawny brown. His eyes belonged to people from the riverine area where he found his roots. The eyes were hazel, and as I was told, came from his father’s side of the family. He was a Kentoro-Abassi and his mom was Yoruba, from Lagos State. Archie always talked about how beautiful she was and how people said he hadn’t taken after her. He would often joke that if he had, the world of women would have been in trouble because of his looks.
“We can’t go away, Archie,” I said to him.
“I know.” He gave a sad sigh.
We didn’t have to talk about why we couldn’t be the selfish lovers we wanted to be. Muna was unstable and Archie cared too much for her state of mind to leave her to herself. He also needed to carry through with his plans to get married to a Bahago for the reason that he needed to claim a spot in the circle of the wealthy and respected. He had already made a name for himself through his career, but for Archie, that was not enough. Having a place amongst the rich and prominent was something he had desperately fought for. I had met no man as hardworking as he. And he had done it all alone, with little support from people. He had come this far. Muna was the final step to where he was headed. Of course, he could replace her with me, but I was not cut out for that life. Plus, there was that little thing called honor. Archie would lose face from all parties concerned if he dumped Muna for me.
So, there we were, secret lovers on the eve of his wedding to my sister. He was just discovering how much his emotions for me were deepening.
We had sex once more. It was almost as wild as the first, but it lasted longer. Archie’s phone had begun to ring. His cousins were looking for him.
Archie looked rather sad when I put on my dress.
“The sex has to stop,” I made clear.
“This is beyond sex for me, B.”
“Whatever it is, it has to stop. By the way, I’m letting Jiga have the coveted position of your groomsman tomorrow. Muna wants me as her maid of honor.”
I kissed his cheek and then his lips. “This is not the end of our friendship.”
“You can still talk to me about anything, Arch. Anything, especially when Muna starts to hit you again.”
He laughed. “She won’t. She signed the prenuptial earlier, in the presence of your dad and my aunt. No domestic violence allowed.”
We kissed our way to the door and stopped.
“You should be my wife.” He pecked my hands softly.
Our elevator ride was quiet. There was no holding of hands or passionate kisses. Archie had gone moody. As we stepped out to the ground floor, I adjusted my hair and dress, following him. He led me to the lounge. It was a large, dark room with cozy corners and the ambiance of soft music.
Archie’s cousins and their friends had already gotten themselves comfortable with drinks and grilled fish.
“Archie, my man!” one of them greeted first, rising up to give him a hug. “You always intimidate me with these your abs.”
Archie laughed. They shook hands after the hug and Archie turned to me.
“Bianca, meet Leonel, my cousin. Leo, this is Bianca. Muna’s sister.”
“Oh, I know Bianca,” Leonel said, eyes staring right into mine. Leonel was Captain’s son. We had known each other in the biblical sense more than a few times in the past. Back then he had a ravenous hunger for women and I, an obsession for his dick. These days he was married with kids. In fact, his wife was right there in the lounge.
“Hey stranger,” he called as he drew me into a hug.
“How have you been, Biyankavitch?” Leonel asked with meaning. He knew what I did for his father. He had never approved of it. Leonel, like his twin brother, David, were men of honest means. David worked with the military and sometimes with the NIA. He and I had been on a couple of projects together. I had always marveled at the passion he possessed for his occupation, wondered how Captain had fathered a son that was bent on destroying him. Leonel, on the other hand, was Captain’s favorite, although they weren’t always best of friends. Leonel was a businessman. He owned the hotel we were presently at. It was where the wedding reception would take place tomorrow. Captain and my parents were in the dark on this, including the guests that would be attending. If any of the parents had gotten information that things would go down this way, they wouldn’t have let it happen. It wasn’t news that the Bahagos and Igwes were not in cordial terms. Captain was also at war with the Kentoro-Abassis. Leonel was surely going to get a dressing-down from his father tomorrow.
“I’m good, Leo.”
“Great to know. Stop being a stranger,” he added, taking my hand and leading me towards the others.
Archie was sharing hugs and handshakes around the table. Amongst those present was Lanre. He sat in silence, sipping from a bottle of beer. He and I were not supposed to be acquainted in public, so when Archie introduced me to him, I simply shook his hand.
I was also introduced to the others. It was a merry, little crowd of husbands and wives, and for the first time in my adult life, I began to long for a man I could call mine.
At that moment, Muna made an appearance in an all-pink ensemble that made her look like a human Barbie doll.
“Archie, I know you’re supposed to be doing your thing and she’s supposed to be doing hers right now but I needed to see her before the wedding,” David apologetically said. “I’ll be leaving Lagos in a few hours for important business.”
“That’s a bummer,” Archie responded as Muna came towards us. “Hi baby.”
He kissed her and I smiled inwardly when I remembered how I had cum all over his mouth not long ago.
“I thought you were going to sleep,” Muna said to me, eyes washing over my outfit. I knew I was going to be harangued later for abandoning her bachelorette party.
I broke away from the group and went towards the bar table to take a call from Duru. He informed me that Baka and his man had planted bugs in the house.
“Typical,” I responded. “Take them all out. Do a second sweep.”
He dropped some information he deemed important before hanging up.
“You want something to drink?” It was Lanre asking. He had come to sit beside me. “You seem awfully quiet, B. Anything bothering you?” He had his eyes on Archie whose laps were presently occupied with Muna’s bum.
“I was making a call.”
Lanre signaled the bargirl. She came over.
“Give this gorgeous lady a Sidecar. I’ll have a Manhattan.”
The bargirl went for our orders.
“Beautiful dress,” Lanre complimented. I responded with a smile. He went silent, as did I. We watched his friends chat heartily. There were jokes and laughter and the regular show of affection between couples.
The bargirl showed up with our drinks.
“I hope you were treated kindly by Baka?” Lanre inquired, pulling his Manhattan closer. I always appreciated that he kept tabs on me. I didn’t know if it was the job or that he cared.
“Kashimu summoned me.”
“I know. Are we in yet?”
“Not yet. He’s…contemplating.”
“The house in Elegushi, the car… Are they from Captain or your dad?”
Lanre already knew the answer to his question. I couldn’t lie to him. “Captain.”
“Why? What’s he got you on right now?”
At this point, I felt it was best to keep Lanre away from the truth.
“Some case I can’t talk about.”
“I hope this doesn’t conflict with what you’re doing?”
I tasted my drink. “No.”
He searched my eyes as if he knew I was lying, but then he smiled and told me he missed me.
“I think we should join the others.” I lifted my Sidecar off the table.
“Stop fucking Archie,” he muttered as I began to walk away. If we were alone, I would have turned around and splashed my drink in his face. He knew I hated being told what to do when it concerned my sex life. Yet, he tried to control me outside our job confines. The truth was that Lanre would jump at the opportunity, just like Archie, to whisk me away for a happily-ever-after. He had gotten to the stage where he was tired of the life we lived. But I was not there yet. Not even Archie with all the emotions I had for him could break me away from Biyankavitch. I was still the Black Witch. There were scum out there I needed to get rid of.
However, I couldn’t do away with the jealousy that danced in me each time I looked at Archie and saw him display his affection towards my sister. She didn’t deserve him. She was going to hurt him. Didn’t he see it?
I returned to meet the group arguing about sex and money, if it was okay for a wife to seek material gifts from her husband before or after sex. It wasn’t my type of discussion. I liked to talk guns and wars and gadgets and politics. I always considered people who spent their time discussing relationships as basic. But here were young men and women, accomplished in their careers, engaging in banal discourse. Maybe Muna was right. Maybe I was stiff after all. Lacking in social skills.
“There is nothing wrong with a man giving his woman a Balenciaga after a hot blowjob, especially if he nuts in her mouth without asking first.”
There was an uproar of laughter. The woman who had just said those words was named Amaka. She was striking in beauty and had the juiciest cleavage I had ever seen on a woman. Her husband sat beside her, shaking his head in amusement at her statement.
“Good Lord, Amaka!” Leonel’s wife exclaimed. “Is this you making a point or sending a message to someone here?”
There was more laughter. Amaka’s husband, James, had a look of embarrassment now, but he recovered when he dropped an epic clapback.
“And what does the man get after he sticks his finger into his wife’s butthole because it gives her strong orgasms?”
Amaka turned red as the table went wild again.
“I’m so here for this!” Leonel raised his glass. “To nuts and buttholes!”
They cheered loudly. I found myself laughing. I was beginning to understand why Muna wanted to be part of them. I could get used to this type of camaraderie and openness.
But I reminded myself of who I was. I couldn’t get carried away. This was not my life. Not my reality. I could never be normal. And I didn’t know if that made me happy or sad.
“Lanre, what are your thoughts on sex for money in a relationship?” Leonel asked.
“What are you guys talking about?” Lanre replied with a straight face. “I’m a virgin.”
He got a robust reaction for his statement.
“What are your thoughts, Bianca?” Leonel turned to me. “Should people in a relationship exchange sex for money? Or should it be all about love?”
“Love?” I asked and suddenly burst into laughter. I got silence from them, and only realized this when I was done laughing. “Sorry about that, but the love part really cracked me up. I don’t believe in love. I believe people get into relationships or get married for what they can gain from their partners. It may be sex, money, kids, status…any other thing. But not love. Love is ephemeral. Or intermittent. Or just not there at all when you need it. Love is a scam.”
“Wow,” someone muttered.
“So to me, I’ll advise that you fuck whoever you want to fuck for whatever reason or marry whoever you want to marry and leave love out of it.”
The silence and stares I got after my speech could have killed a weaker person, but I sat there, sipping from my drink quietly until Kyenpia raised her glass at me.
“I like you already, Bianca. You say it as it is. Love is a scam.”
I saw Leonel give her side eyes and she returning his stare with a defiant one. Glad to know my speech hit some sore points. But Amaka, the one who constantly stared at her husband with love-struck eyes disagreed with me.
“Love is not a scam. It exists and I pray you find it.”
“I pray not.”
“Then I’ll personally pray for you. You’re such a sweet person. You deserve a man who would treat you well.”
I was in a dark place. I could sense it. I didn’t know if they could.
Emotions were pulling up in a heap inside of me. All because of Archie. I didn’t know I would be this much affected by his impending nuptials to my sister. I didn’t know it would hurt this deeply. I had been strong about it, pushing down my emotions because it was who I was, what I was taught to do. You push them down without acknowledging them and keep them there locked forever. But I should have known better that they’d always find their way up and creep out through cracks you weren’t monitoring. And that was what just happened to me in the midst of friends and strangers.
I was desperate to bolt out of the place before my mouth betrayed me again.
I guzzled my drink and rose up. “Ladies and gentlemen, I had fun. Pleasure meeting all of you, but unfortunately, I have as much work as the bride and groom in a few hours.”
“Yeah, she is going to be both maid of honor and groomsman,” Muna said.
“Really? How’s that even possible?” Kyenpia asked. I could tell that this one liked me already. I wished I could like her back, but friendship with people outside my world was a difficult, near-impossible thing to do. I had space in my heart only for Archie. The same Archie that was making me bleed.
I received hugs from everyone and a peck on both cheeks from Leonel.
“You need to talk to someone,” he whispered in my ear. “You’re hurting. I’m here if you need me.”
He was a psychotherapist when he wasn’t running his chain of hotels. He had helped me in the past, but it always came with him ending up between my legs.
“I’m not trying to fuck you. I seriously want to help.”
“Not this time.”
“Well, if you ever need me or need to leave his clutch, you know where to find me.”
Archie walked me out to the reception. He booked a suite for me and afterwards asked if I was okay.
“Love is not a scam, B. I really do love you.”
I wanted to scream at him. I wanted to claw out the skin off his face.
I headed into the elevator. And just as the door closed, Lanre slipped in.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” I indicated. So he said nothing, but he followed me to my suite and shut the door behind us. He leaned on it, eyes on me, as I struggled to force my pain to that place where I always kept all things broken. But it seemed someone had left the gates open and everything was rushing out like a waterfall.
Lanre put a hand forward. “Let it go,” he said.
I let him tug me into a cuddle. I held the tears in; I could hardly breathe.
Don’t cry, Bianca. Don’t cry. You can do this. Don’t fucking cry!
But I did. Like a baby. Like a mother who lost her baby. Like a lover who lost her man. The fucking dam broke and all that had hurt me until that moment was let loose.
“It’s okay, B. It’s okay.” Lanre rocked me. “You’re going to be fine.”
I could have laughed at his words if I wasn’t crying. I was weak and broken. I needed Idris and Victoria. I needed to tell them all that had happened to me, all that their daughter had become. I needed Archie to tell me he loved me and me alone. To take me away and to never come back to this life.
But all I had was Lanre. And for now, he would do.
He was wrong though. I was not going to be fine.