“Hi,” Beatrice greeted.
“Hi,” Bankole replied.
Uncomfortable silence supervened as they gawked at each other.
“I’m here to take Hope out for ice-cream and snacks. Is she in?”
Bankole presented a confused face. “Ice-cream?”
“Yes. We spoke over the phone. I promised to take her out. I hope it’s okay with you?”
Bankole shut the door and went to Hope who had suddenly become engrossed with watching television.
“Yes Uncle Banky.” She turned.
“Can you explain to me why Aunty Beatrice is here?”
“She’s here?” Hope lit up. The act was poorly performed.
“Hope?” Bankole demanded an answer.
“I just wanted to see her.”
“That puppy face will not fly with me, baby girl. What you did was wrong. You could have told me Aunty Beatrice was coming.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just that…I miss her.”
Bankole knew he couldn’t win against the child’s emotions. He left a warning finger on her as he walked back to the door. He let Beatrice in.
“Aunty Beatrice!” Hope threw excited hands in the air. Beatrice walked over to her and gave her a hug with an ensuing peck on her forehead.
Bankole watched them both, Beatrice especially. Her presence, though unwelcome, brought color into his crib. She was radiating in a pair of tight-fit stonewashed jeans and a black top that hugged her upper body, revealing that she had lost some weight. Her hair was the same from the previous evening – blonde, short and curly, with streaks of gold. Her lips were glossed with her favorite light-pink shade. Diamond studs adorned her ears. The pair had been a birthday gift from him. He remembered the day, two years ago. A friend had sold it to him at the cost of one of his cameras. Beatrice knew nothing of the sacrifice made but esteemed the gift above every other she received on that day. He remembered the tears in her eyes when he presented them to her as she hugged him snugly.
The memory stirred something in him. He imagined – fleetingly – holding her that close once more. He followed the trail of her perfume (another gift from him) and stood a couple of steps away from her and Hope.
“So Hope, since Aunty Beatrice is here, she can take you out while I handle some things in town?”
“No!” the child bit back. “You said you’ll take me. You have to take me.”
Bankole was only putting up an act. He wanted to see if Beatrice was interested in the outing as he was but with her head bent, it was hard to tell.
“Aunty Ruky and I are going out, Hope.”
The information was said for Beatrice’s benefit. Again, he wanted to read her expression.
“It’s not fair!” Genuine tears hit Hope’s eyes as her cheeks turned red. She flashed an angry stare in a particular direction and Bankole turned to see Ruky standing there.
“It is okay, Hope,” Beatrice spoke up. “You and I will go and have a good time.”
“No, it’s fine.” Ruky put on a patient smile. “You guys can go, Banky. I’ll be waiting.”
Beatrice looked up and locked stares with Ruky. Something passed in Beatrice’s eyes that almost brought a smile to Bankole’s lips. It was a look of jealousy, one he was very familiar with.
“Okay baby girl, we’ll have it your way,” he said. “But only because Aunty Ruky said so.”
Hope wiped her eyes and smiled appreciatively. Bankole gave her a harmless reprimanding look and she buried her face on Beatrice’s laps.
“Nice to meet you again, Beatrice,” Ruky said.
“Yeah.” Beatrice reply was without warmth. Bankole went for his car key on the dining table and they left the house. The trip was a quiet one between the adults. It seemed Hope was the only one with a tongue in the car. She yapped the whole way.
When they arrived at the ice-cream joint, Beatrice picked a secluded table in a corner where two glass walls met while Bankole and Hope went to the serving counter to place their orders.
The air was chilly and Beatrice was glad she chose a spot far from the air conditioners. Still she shivered beneath her clothes. Bankole and Hope joined her at the table in a short while. He placed a tray before her, containing a milkshake, chicken pie and coleslaw. A warm flush spread over her as she stared at her tray. He still remembered her favorite things. She wanted to show appreciation but thought against it; she wasn’t sure how he would react.
“I didn’t order for these things,” she mentioned.
“Ehn, it’s as dumping them aside and going to the counter to pick what you want,” he answered, helping Hope into her seat.
“Aunty Beatrice, the milkshake is really nice. You’ll like it.”
“Okay, I’ll try it.”
Bankole took his seat opposite hers, settling for a coke and slice of fruit cake. Clearly, he had gone back to his sugar addiction or maybe he was just doing it to spite her. He dipped a fork into the cake and took a bite, licking his lips as he looked into her eyes.
“Who wants a taste of my ice-cream?”
Together they angled their heads in Hope’s direction. She had a scoop of chocolate ice-cream up in the air and it was clear she was going to play with the whole cup. She hadn’t been craving for ice-cream at all.
“Don’t do that,” they both scolded her simultaneously.
“Oops. It fell already,” Hope muttered without remorse at the ice-cream scoop which was now a brown, mushy mess on the table.
“Clean it,” Bankole instructed.
“Aunty Beatrice, when will you come back?” Hope asked. She was wiping the mess she had created and making it worse.
“Um… I…” Beatrice stammered and picked a serviette off her tray to clean the muddle herself. She wiped furiously as Hope waited with expectant eyes.
“Answer her,” Bankole taunted. Beatrice served him a bad stare.
“Soon,” she lied.
“What about today?”
“Not today, dear. I live with my sister. She gets very lonely, so I have to stay with her. Same way Uncle Banky got Aunty Ruky to stay with him.”
Hope crossed her arms in disappointment. The explanation didn’t hit fertile ground.
“Aunty Ruky wants to marry Uncle Banky. You have to stop her.”
Bankole’s mouth dropped. “Hope?”
“It’s just like what happened to Glen’s daddy. Glen’s mommy went away and Ms. Baker came to live with them and soon she married Glen’s daddy. Glen cried a lot. I cried too. Mommy said it is what adults do they just stop loving each other after some time. Uncle Banky, do you still love me?”
“Of course, I do.” He pulled her chin. “You know that.”
“Do you still love Aunty Beatrice?”
His touch lost warmth on her chin. He pulled back and gave Beatrice a stare. It was no doubt what he still felt for her. Beneath the anger and betrayal, there was love that had roots running deep.
“I do,” he replied.
“Yayy!!!” Hope pumped her fists into the air, and then went ahead to celebrate with the first taste of her ice-cream. As she did that, Beatrice pulled out her earphones from her purse, fixed them to her phone and turned on the music player. She moved towards Hope.
“Baby girl, Uncle Banky and I want to discuss some adult stuff, so…”
“It’s okay.” The child picked the earphones with a grin and pushed the earpieces into her ears. “Aah! Ariana Grande.”
Bankole squeezed his face. Beatrice had always been a fan of Ariana and he had never understood why.
“So why didn’t you pick my calls or reply any of my texts?” Beatrice questioned. “Do you hate me that much?”
Bankole picked a piece of fruit from his cake before replying. “I guess that’s what people who break up do. They stop communicating and move on.”
“You never gave me a chance to explain myself. That was why I was calling.”
“Okay,” he muttered.
“Okay? That’s it? That’s all you’ll say?”
“Bea, we’re over. It’s all water under bridge now.”
“No, it’s not. You accused me of abortion and claimed the baby was not even yours.”
“I still don’t believe it was mine.”
The fragments left of Beatrice’s heart shattered into smaller pieces. She stared at him for a while, unable to speak. On his face, he wore no expression.
“Why are you like this?” Her voice came out in a broken whisper. He saw that she was getting emotional. He leaned towards her.
“I have questions of my own. One, if your Paul Savior had not discovered you were pregnant, would you have left him and returned to me? Two, if my fortune had not turned, would you have come back?”
She swallowed. He held his gaze, desperately wanting to hear what she had to answer but at the same time taking her features in. He was going to bed with the picture of her in his head, just as he had done last night. It hadn’t been Ruky he made love to but her.
“You can’t answer, can you?” He showed his disappointment. “Your return was all about the money…”
“Don’t bother with any explanation. You’ll just make things worse. I’m sorry for last night’s phone call. I wasn’t thinking straight. Even though we’re not together, I still think you’re beautiful person and someone like that Seriki guy will be bad for you. But hey, what do I know? Maybe you like bad guys after all.”
There was intense pain in his heart, jealousy too. He didn’t want her with anyone, yet he couldn’t take her back because he couldn’t trust her. He feared that she didn’t love him enough.
“I’m not going out with Seriki, Banky. We were just out on a date.”
“And yet he was kissing your neck sensually.”
“Beatrice, don’t lie to me, please. It’s the worst you can do right now.”
“I’m not lying,” she replied desperately.
“I don’t even care.”
“But why do you judge me when Ruky is living with you?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Aren’t you sleeping with her?”
Bankole turned his head away.
The admission caused Beatrice’s mouth to go dry. She picked her milkshake and put it to her mouth with trembling lips that begged to be freed in a sob.
“When exactly did it start?”
“What does it matter?”
“When Bankole? The night of the Smush party?”
He smiled smugly. He was enjoying her pain. It mirrored his. “What do you think?”
Beatrice couldn’t take the heat any longer. However, she couldn’t let her emotions show with Hope being present. Putting her hands beneath the table, she emptied her cup of milkshake on Bankole’s crotch, picked her handbag and stood up. Bankole threw angry eyes at her and jolted up.
“Hope, dear,” Beatrice called. Hope took out the earphones and looked up at her. She bent and gave her a peck on her nose. “My sister’s not feeling too well. She just called me. I have to go and take care of her.”
Hope threw a sad look at her as she flashed her phone. “But she didn’t call.”
Beatrice shut her eyes at her blunder. “I’m sorry, baby girl. I just have to go.”
“I know. I have an umbrella.”
Beatrice looked at Bankole who was futilely mopping off the milkshake from his jeans with serviettes and garnering attention from people around them. “Please come and unlock your car, let me get my umbrella.”
“Gladly,” He slapped a serviette on his tray and marched off. She hugged Hope.
“I’ll visit soon.”
Picking her phone and earphones, she made her exit to the car. Bankole was already waiting with the umbrella when she got there. He handed it to her without as much as looking at her.
He turned his back to her and walked into the fast food joint. It was then she let the tears free.
He sat in his car for a long time. The music coming from the house alone was driving him crazy. Calming himself with unspoken words, he kept a lid on his anger. Nmachi was going to hate him after he gave her a good scolding in the morning. Did she think he was that stupid? Or that he didn’t browse the internet at all to see that his darling girlfriend was throwing a pool party? What sort of crazy was she on?
He turned his car away and found a hotel nearby. There he settled for the night. Early the next morning he drove back home. Most of the partiers were gone by then. Those left were sprawled asleep around the house. The intrusion put him in a bad way, adding fuel to the anger he carried through the night. He had a good mind to kick them all out but thought against it when he imagined the bad press it would generate. With a frown not ready to leave his face, he walked towards his room. It was concluded in his mind to meet up with Madu in the office to let him know he was no longer interested in the arrangement with Nmachi. He didn’t see himself continuing one more day with her. The girl was impossible. He had sacrificed his privacy enough; he couldn’t cope anymore.
He burst into his bedroom. Nmachi was lying on his bed, spread like a Cheshire cat in nothing but a pair of bikini. The sight of her had an immediate effect on him. Helpless, he felt his anger lose steam. She made him uncomfortable. His eyes stayed on her for a long time until her poodle broke out in a yap. Nmachi lifted her head from a fluff of pillows and found Guru staring at her with unreadable eyes.
Nmachi pulled herself up and yawned. “What’s your problem, boyfie?”
“Get out,” he repeated. “This fake relationship thing is over. I’m calling Madu and I’m ending it today.”
“Why?” Her face spelt cluelessness. “Because of the pool party?”
“Because of everything, Nma. You got what you wanted from me already. You’re famous now and hang around celebs. Mission accomplished. Now pack your stuff and leave.”
Nmachi yawned a second time and tossed full locks of hair to the back with a blasé attitude. “You’re dumping me?” She laughed. Her poodle climbed over her and she kissed its nose. “He’s dumping us Papa.”
The dog barked.
“Is that fair?”
“Okay, I’m sorry about the party. I was bored and had some loose change and…”
Guru grabbed her hand without warning and she let out a yelp. She fought against his hold, slapping his hand until she freed herself. She made a quick turn away from him but he seized her by the waist. She struggled, kicking her legs up in the air but her efforts were useless. He carried her to the door where her feet finally found the floor. She held the doorposts and wrestled against been pushed out. The entire time Papa was woofing, hopping around Guru.
“Nmachi, don’t let me rough-handle you o!”
“I am not going anywhere! Our contract is not over. You can’t dump me!”
Guru pried one of her hands away from the doorpost but she yanked it off his clutch and dashed back into the bedroom.
“I’m calling Madu now.”
“Whatever!” Namchi slumped on the bed. “I’m not moving an inch! In short, I’ll start sleeping here until the six months are over!”
Guru was without words. He left furious eyes on her before stomping off into his bathroom.
There were many things about her that he hadn’t known. Seated on the floor of their massive closet space, he was surrounded by her past. There were diaries that dated back to her life as a teenager and it had shocked him when he first discovered them. He never knew her to be the journal-keeping type but the leather-bound books before him told of a different Sachi than he used to know. Every single day of her life had not gone unrecorded. She had honored her diaries in a faithful and conscientious manner.
But there was nothing beautiful about the life Khalid had read in the diaries. Her past kept him awake all night as he journeyed with her through the sexual abuse she faced, the neglect from her mother and disturbingly, the murderer she became. Her first victim had been her father. Words described in detail how she stabbed him thirty-six times without balking.
I enjoyed the feel or his warm blood on my face and the way his eyes slowly drained of life as they held mine. The high was beyond this world. Years have passed and I’m yet to feel anything else for what I did. Am I normal?
That had been an entry on her twenty-fourth birthday, when she started nursing morbid thoughts to murder her mother too. But that had only come to culmination a few months ago.
Her room was cold when I walked in. Death was already waiting for her. I sat with her for a long time; she could barely recognize me. She looked helpless, this woman who had never loved me as a mother, who had unlooked as that evil old man pummeled me almost every night. When I felt it was time, I turned off her oxygen supply. She didn’t struggle much but looked me in the eyes the same way daddy had done when he was dying. The high returned and I pulled closer to let it soak in deeper. When it was over, I came back to my senses but felt not a thing. I was as cold as the room, colder than the corpse lying before me. But then I was satisfied. I did it all for Khalid.
Khalid stopped at this point, unshed tears burning his eyes. He had been with a woman who needed his help but had been too selfish to notice she was crying out.
Uju has to go. She has taken over the man I love. Khalid no longer knows I exist. She must go.
The dawn was rising now. Khalid was plagued with gritty eyes and pain in his shoulders but he remained on the floor and read on until he got to a page that was different from the others. It was worn out and torn from the assault of the pen that had put down the words.
Khalid must go. Khalid must go. Khalid must go. Khalid must go. Khalid must go. Khalid must go.
The diary entry had been recorded just a few days after Uju’s death. It was the last thing she wrote. Khalid flipped through empty pages before closing the book. He leaned on the wall behind him and sipped from a bottle of beer at his feet. It was morning already. In a few hours he was to report to the police station for interrogation. The evidence needed to exonerate him was right in front of him; everything to prove he was innocent. But he had made up his mind not to drag Sachi’s name in the mud. If they wanted to charge him for both murders, he was willing to go through the whole drama as long as Sachi’s image was spared. It was the highest honor he could pay her; the only way he could show how much he loved her.
He left the closet and took a slow walk around the house. Her essence was in every room. The times they shared, moments he thought were completely erased from his memory, played before him in full detail. At some point, he became overwhelmed and sat on their bathroom floor to stare at a blank wall. He didn’t know how much time had passed until he heard his phone ringing from the bedroom. He drew himself up slowly and went to answer the phone call.
Mrs. Tunji was on the line. She was sending her chauffer to pick him in thirty minutes. He barely mumbled a reply and ended the call.
He stood under a scalding shower and felt nothing. The water flowed until it ran cold. Only then did he lather his body. After a single rinse, he walked to the bedroom, slipped into clean clothes and waited.
“I want out.”
Madu scratched his beard and stretched out short legs over his glass table.
“You want out of…?” he asked.
“I’m done with Nmachi,” Guru said quietly.
“Is it me or six months doesn’t feel over yet?”
“I said I’m done.”
“You signed a contract, Guru.”
“Screw the contract.”
“No, fuck you.” Madu let his legs down. “You be fool. Who you think say you be sef? Because she threw a party without your consent, you want to form boss and mess up my work? Go ahead nau! Dump her and see what happens with the gay rumors. Watch them resurrect!”
Guru pushed his hands into his pockets and stared directly into Madu’s eyes. “You’re behind all this. You set me up on the night of the Smush party. You used Urenna.”
Madu leaned back, scratching his bearded cheek.
“She innocently played into your game and then you dumped all the guilt on her. And this whole Nmachi thing is your way of getting me back for when I elbowed your face. What are you, a freaking six year old?”
Madu pulled at his beard.
“Tell Nmachi to leave my house and you, leave Urenna alone. She’s my PA, not yours.”
“E be like say you no dey hear. If you try to walk out on that agreement, I’ll fuck you up.”
Guru ignored him and stormed out.
Duro’s eyes were fixed on the laptop before him. He watched without flinching, Angela and Bankole having sex in his bedroom. It was a long video and he had been at it for over an hour inside the confines of his office. Finally, it drew to an end and he shut the laptop. The first thing he did was call Angela.
“Hello?” She had a sleepy tone.
“You did it again.”
“Did what again?” she asked in a yawn.
“I found the video Angela, the video of you and the guy in my office.”
“Bankole, you mean?”
“How many times have I told you to stay away from my office? Do you know what this could do to me if it blows open that you shagged someone that works here?”
“He was hot. I couldn’t help myself, Duro.”
“And you’re still sleeping with him?”
“No. He doesn’t want to come near me anymore.”
Duro was silent. He was neither upset nor angry. This was their life as a couple. She had her men and he had his, and sometimes they had each other’s men. And this was going to be one of such times. He had crushed on Bankole for a long while but had refrained because he didn’t mess around with office staff. He always picked a stranger, especially one who had the same sexual preference as he. But having just watched the sex tape, he knew he just had to have Bankole.
“I want him,” he said to Angela.
“No, Duro. No.”
“He’s one of the good ones, please. I’ve done everything to sleep with him again but he won’t budge and has even threatened to tell you.”
“Angela, I want him.”
“What is wrong with you? Don’t you have other guys? Why him?”
“You know why.”
Angela was annoyed. He could tell from her fast breaths over the phone.
“I’m tired of this Duro! Tired!”
“Hey, stop complaining. I’m giving you everything.”
“You’re not giving me what I want.”
“I’ve told you there are millions of sperm donors in Lagos, Angela. Pick one and have your kid.”
“But I want yours.”
“It’s never going to happen.”
“Yes, it is.” He could hear her rising up from the bed. “When I got married to you, I didn’t bargain for this.”
“But you bargained for the money and I told you you’ll be well compensated, so what else do you want?”
“A baby.” She had that tone that usually paved the way for a sob. “I’m twenty-eight years old, Duro.”
He didn’t want to hear her cry. “We’ll make a deal, then.”
Duro smiled and carefully spelled out the details of the deal. Angela readily agreed to it. When he rang off, he went back to the video and started from the beginning.
Beatrice began the day earlier than usual. She woke up while it was yet dark and cleaned the apartment with an obsession. By the time Sharon roused by seven, the entire place was shipshape.
“Na wa o Bea. Wetin enter you dis morning wey you clean house like dis?”
“Nothing,” Beatrice replied, folding a t-shirt that came from a heap of clothes on the bed.
“Yes, I’m fine. Stop asking me questions jor.”
“Sorry o.” Sharon stretched and yawned. “I just dey ask ni. So how far with your activities today? You dey go shop?”
“No. I’m going out with Seriki.”
“And I’m going to agree for him.”
Sharon’s face showed disbelief behind her smile. “Say that again?”
“I’m going to date him. Hope you’re happy.”
Sharon sprang to her feet and hugged Beatrice tightly, kissing a particular spot on her cheek incessantly.
“I love you!” She gave one last kiss and threw her hands in the air. “Thank you, Jesus, for pepper resting and for maga paying! I can close that my pako shop now!”
She began doing the running man and got Beatrice laughing.
“Thunder fire all the Bankoles of this world!”
As Sharon danced her way to the bathroom, Beatrice went over her decision to date Seriki once last time. She was surprised at herself that she wasn’t nursing any uncertainty. After the tears and nights of pining for Bankole, she was finally done with him. The last straw was the incidence of yesterday. She still loved him and didn’t think she could love any other man, but she was through with him and his intolerant heart. Her relationship with Seriki was going to be the perfect way to get over him. The promise of a better lifestyle would be the best distraction. She didn’t care if all Seriki wanted from her was sex. She was going to give it to him unreservedly.
She folded the clothes on the bed, arranged them in a pink wardrobe standing in one corner of the room and went for a shower. By now, Sharon had left the house. Seriki was going to be around any minute. Beatrice took her time with her makeup, applying more than she usually did. Following that, she settled for a crop top and white, Ankara skirt. Seriki arrived just as she was slipping on her earrings. When she opened the door for him, he had his jaw to the floor.
Beatrice smiled coquettishly, wore her shoes, picked her purse and followed him to his car.
“I hope you’re not scared of water?” he asked.
“No. I’m a good swimmer,” she replied, admiring the signet ring that adorned his little finger. She forced her mind on wondering how much it cost. She also tried to sum up what his entire outfit had taken from his pocket. If she was going to be with someone as influential as he, then she had better start thinking like people in his circle. It was always about the money for them and she needed to master their values if she wanted to become a socialite. Soon Bankole was going to eat his heart out when her name began appearing in the tabloids.
“I’m taking you on a short boat cruise, just around Lagos.”
Seriki put the car in gear and drove out to the streets.
“You drive?” he asked.
“I don’t have a car.”
“You want one?”
“Easy there. We just started dating.”
Seriki stepped on the brakes. He looked at her. “Can you repeat that?”
“We just started dating,” she reiterated, not sharing the excitement she saw in his eyes. He leaned towards her and kissed her slowly. She found his lips warm and sweet but his kiss lacking.
A car honked behind them. He kicked up the engine again and took her hand as the other steered the wheel.
The boat cruise was all the distraction she needed. They navigated the entire island and stopped in the middle of nowhere just to watch the waves and the coastline.
“I got an alert from my bank,” she said as he came up behind her and wrapped her in a hug. “Thank you.”
“It’s just the beginning, cookie.”
She pecked his cheek.
“So what do you want us to do next? Shut down G&M for the day or go car shopping.”
She turned to him with a rascally grin. “Shut down G&M.”
“Your wish is my command, baby.” Seriki took her face and kissed her slowly. He pushed his body into hers and she felt his arousal which caused her tummy to churn in apprehension. She had prepared her mind to sleep with him but her body was totally against the idea.
“I so want you,” he confessed.
“Me too, but shopping first.” She put a finger to his lips.
She took his hand and led him down to the cabin. Seriki gave orders to stir the boat towards the marina. After that, he called his driver to get his G-Wagon waiting. When he put his phone away, he found Beatrice munching on a plum, her red, glossy lips causing him unease.
“Damn! You’re fucking hot.”