I just want to drop a quick one about membership on moskedapages because I have been getting a lot of emails. If you have purchased In The Name Of Papa on Okadabooks, all I need is a screenshot from you when the time arrives. Please, don’t send in anything now. I’ll ask for it in the near future to be able to send you an invite. For those of you who have purchased from me, I will send you an invite as well.
Please, enjoy today’s episode
They watched her like she was a fragile experiment waiting to fall apart, set in a glass box. Concern lined their faces, whispers escaped their lips as they deliberated on her situation.
“I think she needs a child psychologist.”
“Child psychologist keh. Please, it’s just a phase. It’ll pass.”
“Phase that we wouldn’t have to go through if the judge had not given her ho’ of a mother visitation rights.”
Toni got a side-eye from Khanyi.
“But it’s the truth. This nonsense started since she returned on Sunday. She’s been having mood swings.”
“Well, the good thing is that she is drawing.”
“She draws when she’s upset and when she’s happy. She’s upset right now. Lord knows what that woman did to her. I have asked and asked and she won’t say anything.”
“Maybe I should talk to her.”
“Ruby or the mother?”
“Why didn’t you think of that since? Go on. Go ahead.”
Toni pushed Khanyi towards Ruby. The child was seated on the floor, lost in a drawing she had begun the night before. She looked up when she saw Khanyi approaching and a frown covered her face.
“I think we should give them privacy.” Toni dragged Leticia to the kitchen. They had been in the activity of wrapping up presents for the Asepita twins whose birthday party was to kick off in a couple of hours. Leticia abandoned Toni to complete the task while she concentrated on warming up a meal of fried rice. Toni kept her eyes on her, noting the faraway look she bore as the plate of rice spun around in the microwave oven.
“Tish?” she called. Leticia continued to stare into the air. “Tisha.”
She turned. “What?”
“You should answer his calls or just give him an audience.”
“I thought you were on my side.”
“I was. I am. It’s just that…you’ve been miserable since your fight. Give him a chance to say he’s sorry.”
“Toni, please leave me.”
“Dapo is not sorry. He asked me to tell him all about my past and hold nothing back. I did and he slut-shamed me. Now, he’s bugging my phone with calls and texts. I’m not in the mood to talk to him or even see him in the next decade. I can’t believe I fell for his trick.”
“If you followed every word the High Mistress told you, you’d have learned a long time ago that you don’t disclose your body count to a man. You don’t tell on your past.”
“Yeah, I fucked up.”
Toni pinned a ribbon to a wrapped box. She waited for it to stick and then lifted up in the air to admire her work. “I can make a living doing this.”
“I was so stupid.”
“And I am so disappointed in my own brother. I haven’t gathered the energy to insult him yet. But this is a good thing. You should allow him back in, trash the prenup or demand for half of all he owns.”
“It isn’t about the money.”
“Don’t be any more stupid than you already are, Leticia. Ask for more.”
Toni dropped the box and pushed her glasses to rest properly on her nose. The microwave chimed. Leticia took out her rice and set it on the table.
“You know what we should do?” Toni asked. “Let’s spend the weekend at the new house.”
“The new house? The one Imade got for you?”
“It’s now the new house? I thought you didn’t want to have anything to do with it.”
“Well, now I do. We’ll take the kids and invite Vanessa and anybody else Ruby wants, so that they can come and do a sleepover with her.”
“Sounds like a plan but I’m seriously not in the mood.”
Toni enfolded her in a hug, resting her chin on her head. “You and that little mommy’s boy are going to be fine. He just needs a little ass-whooping and some re-orientation.”
“He’s always had issues with my past, and I’m scared that it would keep popping up. I can’t believe he was even asking me for names of the men I’ve slept with.”
“Ignore him. He will learn.”
“The world is really unfair to women. Dapo that I know has slept with nothing less than fifty girls…”
“Fifty?” Toni laughed. “Then you don’t know your man.”
“You see? And he’s there, judging me, telling me that the standards are not the same, and as a woman I should have had more discretion. I came this close to slapping him.”
“I’ll do the slapping for you. Don’t worry. My hands have just been too busy this week. After this children’s party, we’ll go to the house and just have fun. Us girls alone. No men. No tears.”
Khanyi walked in. Toni looked at her hopefully.
“Your baby girl is hiding something. She won’t talk, but I think her painting says what’s on her mind.”
“What’s she painting?”
“Herself, Duke, her daddy and you. When I asked her why her mother wasn’t there, she said you were her mother.”
“Awww.” Toni touched her chest.
“Give her time. She’ll eventually open up to you. Her mom did something she doesn’t want to talk about. I’m very sure of that.”
“If she hit her…”
“She said she didn’t. I don’t think she’s lying about that.”
But Toni wasn’t convinced. She dunked her fingers into the back pocket of her shorts and tugged out her phone. In seconds she was dialing Nkechi’s number. A drowsy voice came on as Toni switched to speakerphone mode.
“Hi. Got a minute?”
“Yeah.” The muffled sound of a man’s voice was heard in the background. “Go on, Toni.”
“It’s about Ruby…”
“She’s been moody since she came back from yours. I’ve asked her what the problem is but she’s not speaking. You have any idea what’s wrong?”
“Moody? She was okay while she was here. She played a lot. Maybe she wasn’t happy to go back to you.”
“Ha-ha. I’m serious here, Nkechi. Did anything happen while she was with you?”
“No. See, you should try and understand that child. Ebube was born with a mood. That’s the way she is. You have to learn how to ignore it.”
“I’m sorry I can’t. The Ruby I know doesn’t get into moods anyhow. Something always triggers it and if I find out that you did something that got her there, you’ll be sorry.”
“There we go again. Toni, can you get over yourself? We’re not fighting over the same dick anymore. Mark is dead and gone. I’m not your rival.”
“Shut the fuck up.”
Toni put an end to the call.
“She’s right, you know?” Khanyi stated. “You’re still mad at her…”
“Because of Mark? Please! I’m mad over the fact that she came back into the children’s lives as if she had not hurt them at all. I just want her to disappear from the face of the earth completely.”
Khanyi took a fork and sat to eat with Leticia. She was a foodie. It was one of the things Toni liked about her. She was unashamed about her food issues.
“That can be arranged, you know. My last date strikes me as a serial killer.”
Leticia laughed. “Khanyisile and the strange Nigerian men she dates.”
“I dey tell you,” Khanyi said with a serious face. “Dude was so fascinated with the macabre. Kept asking if I’ve watched this horror movie or that cannibal true story. I was weak. He told me he loves sex with a bit of pain and small blood. I said ‘uncle, which one be small blood now, biko?’ He said, ‘a bite mark here, a razor mark there…’ And he said all this after inviting me to his house o. I now disinvited myself, borrowed some brain and deleted him from my life.”
“You met him where please?” Toni asked with a chuckle.
“He’s one of Raji’s clients o. Chance meeting at a restaurant. Raji introduced us. Later on, Raji called and said the guy wanted my number. I said why not? Na so we start to dey see each other until his fangs started showing. He’s now asking Raji what he did to me.”
“My dear, run fast,” Leticia commented. “Men ain’t shit.”
“She’s right,” Khanyi agreed.
“But you and Raji seem to be quite close.”
“Nah. Nothing there. I can’t be with a certified cheat. Let me not come and die because of high BP.”
“Aunty Toni, can I have ice-cream?” Duke was standing at the door, bearing a cute smile.
“He’s so adorable,” Khanyi whispered. “How do you say no to him?”
“Like this,” Toni answered. “Baby boy, we’re going for a party, remember? There’ll be plenty ice-cream there, and burger and popcorn. So wait until then, okay?”
“Okay.” He shrugged and walked away.
“Wow. He’s obedient.”
“Somebody that his brain will reset in thirty minutes and he’ll come and ask for the ice-cream again,” Leticia said.
“But how did you do it, Toni? You went from not liking kids to becoming this awesome mother.”
“Well… I don’t know. I just… I guess it was responsibility that fell on me and I sort of went along with it until I fell in love with the kids.”
“Or you did it because of what you still feel for their father.”
Khanyi had her perceptive expression on; the type Toni always got whenever she was having a session with her during work hours. She hated being read by her.
“I don’t still feel anything for Mark. And even if I did, it isn’t legit because he’s dead.”
“I’m glad he’s dead. Our dearest Andre shouldn’t be competing with anyone.”
Toni smiled. She picked the presents and left the kitchen without saying anything further.
The twins’ party was a blast. It didn’t have the showiness it normally came with; nonetheless, it was fun for both kids and adults. Maliq’s cousin was good at her job as a party planner, although she kept insisting that she was just starting out. But she had had help from Maliq himself. Salma had been delighted to watch him muddy his hands a little to ensure that the kids had maximum fun.
It was in one of such moments of watching him do his work that Folarin came up behind her and whispered, “You really like this guy.”
She turned with a laugh. “And it’s tragic that I’ll never do anything about it.”
“Why?” she looked confused. “We can’t work. Our backgrounds don’t match.”
“So? Folarin, I don’t even want to start entering that type of drama. My family won’t allow me go near a Yoruba guy for starters. A struggling one for that matter. My mom would be like ‘so this is the rat you left Raji for?’”
“Yes, she would call him exactly that.”
“Sal, he’s an honest guy, from what I know. He works hard for his money. One day, he’ll be up there.”
Salma smiled, eyes following two little boys fighting for a balloon. “Are you talking about yourself?”
“Yeah. I struggled for many years but I’m here today. Don’t strike him off because of his financial status. He may just surprise you.”
“I don’t know… I’m just not ready.”
“I feel like I’m even doing the wrong thing thinking about another man.”
“You still have feelings for Raji?”
“I do. But it’s beyond that. I feel like I shouldn’t be with someone else.”
“It’s been a year since you got divorced. You are free to be with any man you choose to be with. Don’t hold back.”
“I wish I could be like you.”
“Trust Raji again the way you’re trusting Christie now.”
“We’re taking things easy.”
“So, who would you advise me to go for? Raji or Maliq?”
Salma set her eyes on Maliq who smiled back at her.
“No one puts new wine into an old wineskin.”
“Raji’s the old wineskin? Maliq is the…? I don’t understand.”
Folarin let out a chuckle. Meaning came to her eyes. “I’m the old wineskin? What’s wrong with you?” Laughing, she pinched him.
“You have to purge out the old to start afresh, Sal. You can’t start something new with the baggage of the past.”
“Yeah. Oops. Tamilore just fell. Give me a minute.”
He started out.
“Why didn’t Christie come? I invited her.”
“She’s em… you know…”
Salma nodded. She understood.
The party went on without snags. She continued to keep her watch on Maliq, discovering new sides of him she never knew. When the guests began to leave and she needed help with the gifts, he offered to take them upstairs. She could tell that Raji disapproved of him being comfortable in the house. He put up a pout all through the ceremony and bore it until the last guest made their exit. It was just three of them left. Maliq’s cousin and her crew were also leaving then.
“That’s the last of the presents I just took upstairs,” Maliq said, coming down the stairs. Raji had just emerged from the kitchen with a bowl of peppersoup and an ugly frown. “I should be on my way.”
“Please, wait,” Salma said. “I need to give you something.”
Maliq disappeared into the living room. Raji came to stand before Salma. “You told me there was nothing between you two.”
“I did, and that’s the truth.”
“And yet he has easy access in and out of my house…”
“Yes, my house.”
Salma laughed. “Raji, this has been a very tiring day. Don’t stress me, please.”
“Have you guys had sex yet?”
“Because you think everybody is like you shey?”
“It’s a simple question. I need to know because of my kids. Have you slept with him?”
“You have no right to ask me that.” Salma began towards the kitchen. Raji followed.
“I need to know who hangs around my kids, Salma. I have every right to demand answers. I don’t want some criminal-looking man in dreads thinking he can play daddy to my kids when I’m not here. A man who’s probably in your life to fuck you and suck you dry.”
Salma swiveled at him angrily. “I can’t believe you’re trying to take the moral highroad right now, Raji Asepita! After all you did to me and how you broke this home apart!”
“I’m just looking out for my own.”
“Keep at it and you won’t have anyone to look out for!”
“You’re threatening me again–”
“Yes I am! You do not come here and try to police my life and accuse me of having sex just so that you can control what I do and with whom I do it!”
“And you cannot keep a sidecock, upgrade and manage him with my money!”
“He’s not a sidecock if he’s the only man in my life!”
The raw anger in Salma’s voice put a chill in both of them. Raji’s spoon clattered to the floor. Salma looked past him to see Maliq standing at the doorway. Silence supervened.
“Maliq, I’ll be with you shortly,” Salma said.
“I’m actually here to talk to Mr. Raji.”
“I couldn’t help but overhear you two. You were both shouting…”
“What do you want?”
“I… Your wife…”
“Ex-wife,” Salma corrected.
“Ex-wife. I’m sorry. She’s just my client. Nothing more. We don’t have anything going on. I am not after your money. Neither do I want to take your place. And if my presence in her life as a hairstylist makes you uncomfortable, I’ll withdraw my services.”
“You’re not making me uncomfortable, Maliq. And I’m the only one that should matter here.”
“I apologize, sir, for whatever you think is happening between us.”
Salma was aghast. “Is it that you don’t see me here, or even hear me, Maliq? I’m inconsequential in this conversation?”
“I’m sorry, Salma. I don’t want to cause problems in your home.”
“What home? We’re divorced!”
“I’m sorry. I’ll take my leave.”
“You should,” Raji stated.
Maliq bowed and disappeared. Raji looked at Salma.
“Get out.” Her face was set in iciness. Raji placed the unfinished dish of peppersoup on the table. “Take the kids with you,” she instructed.
Raji left the kitchen while Salma sat and consumed his peppersoup. She sat there until she heard his car leave the compound before she arose to her feet. There was a heap of dishes in the sink. She didn’t have the energy to clear them. She washed her hands and helped herself with a serving of chocolate cake. Leaving the kitchen, her eyes caught the shadow of Maliq making its way into the kitchen from the backdoor.
“Can I come in,” he requested, walking in.
“To apologize, at least.”
“Make it quick.”
“I didn’t know you felt that way about me.”
“You said I was the only man in your life.”
“Didn’t you say you were here to apologize?”
“If you had said something… Shown a sign, maybe…”
“There was nothing to show because there’s nothing. I don’t feel anything for you.”
“But I do.”
His words threw her aback a little, but she showed nothing of it. “Why did you tell my ex that you don’t?”
“I was trying to leave with my head still on my neck.” Maliq smiled. “I like you, Salma. And I know I’m not supposed to because we’re from two different worlds. But I do.”
“Good. Now, please, leave.”
“Do you really want me to leave?”
“Okay. I will, but I have to say I’m deeply sorry. I apologize.”
“And I want to thank you for all the work you did here today. I will wire you some money…”
“No, Salma. I did it pro-bono.”
“Thank you, then. You can leave.”
He began to walk away but she had a change of mind. “You didn’t eat all day. There’s rice and chicken and cake and some burger… You should stay and eat before you go.”
Maliq stayed. He ate. They talked. Salma was pacified. They laughed and talked some more. When it was time for him to leave, Salma walked him to the door but when she tried to open it, he held her hand and drew her to him. The feel of his body against hers was different from Raji’s. It left her unsure of what it was they were doing standing so close to each other.
“It’s really late. I think maybe you should stay.”
Later on, she would regret these words and feel like she had lost her dignity when she uttered them. She had never made a move on a man before. Never been brazen enough to expose her heart to a man she fancied. Salma was in all ways modest, but this night, something in her gave way. It felt like she was a different person altogether when he held her face and kissed her. He was tentative, like he was waiting for her to back away, but when she didn’t resist him, he kissed her again. Deeper, hungrier. She knew, long before things got out of hand, that she was going to be reckless with him. She knew she would wake up in the morning and hate herself for what was going to happen between them. But she let it happen anyway. She preferred to fantasize that she was out of her senses, inebriated by audacity and carefreeness.
By morning, she was alone. Her eyes opened and the night came back to her slowly. Not because the memories couldn’t rush in, but because she wanted to savor them before the guilt took her. There had been no sex or anything overly physical.
They had been seated together on a couch in the living room, kissing, holding hands, sometimes touching…and yet he kept his hands away from her most treasured spots. It had been a temptation too great to fight, but no matter how much she tried to subtly give all of herself to him, he resisted her. Yet what they shared was rewarding. She felt the weight of Raji’s transgressions on her being shed off. She was like one reborn in Maliq’s devotion. The way his eyes abandoned everything else and gazed into hers as she spoke. The manner in which he sometimes broke into a vigorous laugh from nowhere at something she said. The wonder he became when he transformed from her hairstylist into an intimate friend. It all sauntered into Salma’s mind like quiet rain on an afternoon when the sun still shone and the sky held no clouds. She had slept off on his laps in exhaustion even though she had desired to stay up until the morning came.
Salma now lay on that same couch, reminiscing until the clock struck ten o’clock. She warmed up leftover food for herself. Later on, she went to her bedroom to shower and change. It was while she was engaged in these activities that she learned something unusual about her jewelry box. She discovered it had been tampered with. Upon inspection, Salma noticed that every single expensive piece of jewelry she had was gone, which was basically almost everything. A shiver coursed through her. It took almost a minute to get through the first phase of shock before she began a frantic search around the room for the missing pieces. While doing this, she also discovered that an envelope of dollars gifted to the twins by their uncle, Raji’s elder brother, was also gone. When he had given it to her, she had been too busy to keep it in her safe, hence she tossed it into her closet, leaving it unattended.
Salma cussed at herself for her carelessness before she sat on the bed and stared at the box in numbness, trying to come to terms with the fact that she been robbed. She tried not to suspect anyone, but it was pointless because all her mind wanted to do was come up with a culprit. Try as she may, however, she couldn’t imagine how any of the guests could have had the guts to steal from her. Her thoughts distressed her. The first person she thought to call to express her unfortunate situation was Maliq, but when she tried to reach his line, an automated voice informed her that his phone was switched off. She called Raji next. She narrated her sad discovery to him.
“I’ll be there in a bit.”
Salma remained sitting, waiting for him without coming up with a suspect. At his arrival, she returned the box to the table. He entered, eyes looking about.
“Tell me all about it.”
She explained in detail, recalling the most she could about the day before.
“You didn’t lock the door?”
“I did…but I forgot to lock it after I came to drop the dollars. I so hate myself right now.”
“It’s not your fault, sweetie.” Raji was gentle. “You were very busy yesterday.” He pulled a chair and sat before her. “Now, I’m going to ask you some questions that would be hard to answer but you have to.”
“How well do you know Maliq?”
Salma’s eyes slowly journeyed from the jewelry box to Raji. “Maliq? You think Maliq…?”
“I didn’t say that, but…”
“Maliq? Come on, Raji.”
“He had access to every single room in this house last night…”
“So? That automatically makes him a thief? Raji, I know you don’t like him but this is very unfair. Maliq is a friend.”
“How much of a friend is he? When did he leave this place last night?”
Raji’s questions began weighing heavily on Salma. She had slept off on Maliq’s laps and had not known when he left. Could he have snuck upstairs and robbed her?
“Sal, when did he leave?”
“I don’t know. I was sleeping.”
“In this room?”
“He stayed really late, didn’t he?” Salma gave no answer. “Have you guys been intimate?”
“What has this got to do with the stolen dollars and jewelries?”
“I just want to establish that he bought your trust and emotions…”
“Just so that he will rob me? Can you hear yourself, Raji?”
“Salma, Hameed gave you a thousand dollars. How much is that in Naira? And let’s not forget that all that was stolen from that box amount to nothing less than thirty million. I know what I bought for you over the years. So please tell me how someone like Maliq who has never seen that type of money before is not a suspect. Have you even asked yourself what he is doing in your life?”
“He’s my hairdresser,” Salma said weakly as tears gathered in her eyes.
“A hairdresser who feels he has a right to be part of your life, who stays when everyone else leaves, who warmed his way into you just so he can rob you blind.”
“He didn’t warm his way into me. We haven’t had sex or done anything beyond kissing. Maliq is my friend.”
“Stop saying that, Salma. You are smarter than this. Catch sense please. He stole from you.”
Raji groaned in annoyance. He shot to his feet. “We need to have him arrested.”
“Salma, your jewelry and the kids’ dollars need to be returned and he will produce them. We have to hurry now and get the police involved or the chances of recovering everything would be slim as time passes.”
“Anyone could have entered here,” she whispered.
“When Hameed gave you the money, how many guests were present?”
“Very few. Almost everyone had gone.”
Salma couldn’t think straight. She got off the bed and moseyed around.
“Did you even call him?”
“I did but couldn’t reach his line.”
Raji gave her a ‘you see?’ look. She sat on the bed again in a daze. Raji went to her and leaned over, hands resting on either sides of her.
“Darling, I know this is hard to accept, but you have to accept it and do something about it. You know nothing about this guy. You can’t vouch for him.”
Salma burst into tears. Raji sat beside her and drew her into his comfort.
“He didn’t do it. It could have been anyone.”
“Who else do you suspect?”
There was a frustrated shake of her head.
“Sal, you know the caliber of guests you invited. They’ve invited the kids to their houses for birthday parties too. Do our friends strike you as people who would steal from you when some of them are even richer than we are?”
“Maliq didn’t do it.”
Raji chose not to argue further. He allowed her go through with her tears. He waited patiently for her to change into fresh clothes which took quite some time as she went about it at a slow pace. Finally, they were in his car, heading for a police station where a relative worked as a senior ranking officer.
“Hey Isabella, are you gonna come out and dance with me tonight? The world looks beautiful outside. So, so beautiful…”
Omolade’s eyes came to focus on Dapo as they were forced away from half-clad dancing girls on her television screen.
“How many times have I told you to stop croaking in the name of singing?”
“A man can’t even cheer you up again, iyawo mi. Iz dah how you used to do? Smile for me nau.”
“Stop acting jare. Smile for real.”
“Lade.” Dapo snatched her hand off her lap and moved closer. The blueness of her living room which always made for a calm and restful setting was anything but that at the moment. “You’re supposed to be happy. You’ve come this far.”
“This far?” Her voice cracked.
“You don’t like the surrogate mom you and Tayo picked?”
“I do. She’s perfect.”
“Or is it that you don’t want Tayo’s baby?”
“Dapo stop pretending like you don’t know what’s bugging me.”
“Will worrying about the fact that you can’t carry your unborn baby change anything? Me I’m not going to join you in your pity party. You’ve come this far; better start looking forward to the birth of your child.”
He squeezed her hand.
“Promise me you’ll stop stressing.”
“Promise me you’ll stop singing.”
“Isabella!” he sang stubbornly, clutching her hand to his chest. “One day I’ll be a superstar! We’ll go to America! Big show in a stadium!”
She punched him lightly but he croaked on.
“So put on that dress that hugs you tight and we’ll go and dance the night away. Away, away with you ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh…”
His voice came to a disturbing squawk that put Omolade in laughter. “Stop it! It’s painful to hear!”
Tayo entered the living from Omolade’s bedroom, patting his tummy.
“I hope you flushed everything,” she inquired. “You and your bad habit of leaving your shit un-flushed.”
Dapo’s phone buzzed. He hopped to his feet and dashed to the kitchen to pick Toni’s call.
“Baby boy,” she said.
“How are you?”
“Okay, so…she’s agreed to finally speak with you. I’ll give you an address where you can meet us this evening. Come with your best behavior. I don’t want drama.”
“Talk to you later.”
Dapo returned to the living room.
“I have to leave you two lovebirds and dash to see someone.”
“Lovebirds keh.” Omolade placed a throw pillow on her thighs as Tayo sat beside her. “You don’t know your brother has replaced me tay-tay?”
Tayo snatched her waist with one arm and tugged her to him. “But you abandoned me in search of fame nau.”
“Take your hands off me,” she said in Yoruba, giggling. Tayo pursed his lips at her and she pushed away. But he dragged her until she was on her back, legs trying to kick him away. He lifted himself and rested between her thighs.
“Okay, see you two. I’m out.”
Neither of them heard him as he left the house.
Toni, stretching like a cat, let out a loud yawn. When she brought her hands down, she had a frown for Leticia.
“This is not how I planned to spend my holiday o. You’re stressing me, please.”
Leticia ignored her. Toni lifted herself off the floor where she had been seated and let her eyes scan the entire berth of the living room. There were hamper baskets, hamper gift items, wrapping sheets and paper ribbons. She was also in the company of other females that were exhausted as she was. For three hours they had been at the chore of putting together Covet’s Christmas hampers for companies and clients. Toni grimaced over the fact that they were only halfway to completing the task.
“How much are you even making from this sef?” she asked.
“Enough to do ‘Happy Christmas’ for my parents,” Leticia answered. “So, shut up.”
“Aunty Tisha?” Ruby called.
The girl and her friends, Vanessa and Callista, had also been conscripted by Leticia to help with the hampers. They were at Toni’s new house for the weekend. The change of environment and presence of friends was telling on Ruby. The day before no one could get her to smile. Now, she couldn’t keep her cheeks down.
“You’re tired?” Leticia asked.
“Yes,” the girls chorused.
“Okay, take a break.”
“Can I ask another small favor?” Ruby requested.
The girl presented a shy pose. “Can we come back here again next weekend?”
“Next weekend?” Toni struck a thinking pose.
They bopped their heads expectantly.
“You’re having fun?”
“Well, I’ll have to check with your moms first. Callista, you think your mommy would let you come here again next weekend?”
Callista was a slightly-chubby girl with a low-cut hairstyle. She was the most talkative of the three and from Toni’s deductions, the most exposed. She was also budding a pair of infantile breasts on her chest.
“Say yes, Aunty Toni.” Ruby had both arms resting on her friends’ shoulders.
“Okay, I’ll talk to your mothers.”
“Yay!” Jumping, the girls hurried off in excitement.
“I wonder what it feels like to be ten again. No money troubles, no work, no deadlines…”
“No men,” Khanyi added.
“No men. Praise Jesus.” Toni added. “Aunty Tisha, can I take a break too?” Toni requested in a baby tone.
“A cigarette break.” She was already reaching for a pack of menthol slims and a lighter. After she lit it and inhaled, she found some space on a couch behind her to rest her aching back.
“I think we should all take a break,” Khanyi suggested. Leticia nodded.
“I’ll get juice. Who wants?”
Toni raised her hand. Leticia disappeared into the kitchen and returned shortly with glasses of freezing cranberry juice and slices of cake.
“So Covet does this every Christmas?” Khanyi inquired as she took a serving of cake.
“Yeah,” Leticia answered, “and it used to be more expensive than this. Usually, Shoprite handled everything for us and we’d pay them. But this year management did a budget cut and gave me the contract.”
“Don’t lie,” Toni said. “You lobbied for it by walking into Raji’s office without a bra and asking for the contract.”
Khanyi leaned on a cushion, her legs stretched out. “This is a lot of money spent here.”
“Are you telling me? And one company can get up to ten or fifteen hampers. APCON alone is getting twenty.”
“What is APCON?”
“Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria. They are the government people that like to eat all our money. Imagine how much they make every day from approving adverts on TV, newspapers, billboards and radio.”
“And we have to give them twenty of these. And they are just one agency. Let’s not talk about the rest.”
“But generally, I think Covet did well this year,” Khanyi noted.
“Thanks to Andre,” Leticia stated. “Dude just walked in like a hurricane and turned things around in marketing. Generally, ads were on a low. Companies were feeling the recession badly. The best decision Covet ever made was buying that marketing company. In short, making Andre partner was the best decision.”
“Dude knows his job.”
“And he works his ass off. He doesn’t play.”
Toni rolled her eyes.
Khanyi continued, “I’ve come to learn a lot from him. Even during my sessions with him, he’s so focused and sometimes fun. When he switches from Nigerian accent to that French drawl… Lord have mercy.”
“Are you telling me! And sometimes he forgets himself and veers into French completely.”
“Dre is bae.”
They stopped and looked at Toni who stared back at them through a haze of smoke. “Go on. Don’t stop wanking on my ex, dirty sluts.”
“But it’s a shame you’re treating such a fine man so nastily.”
“A fine man that is steadily getting knacked.”
“Which wouldn’t be happening if you hadn’t dumped him.”
“Spare me the bullshit, Khanyi.”
“And you, you’re not knacking shey?” Leticia accused. “Your vagina didn’t get you a Maserati and this house?”
“Nope. Imade’s dick did.”
They fell into laughter. Toni lit a second cigarette.
“Toni,” Khanyi called, “we should also be thanking you for copping CIPRON Oil and the three federal government agencies you got this year.”
“In the words of our dear Frenchman, merci beaucoup. We’re already going hard for politicians that would be contesting in 2019. All that election money must be coveted.”
Leticia raised her hands. “Amen to that!”
“I think Covet is going to be around for a very long time.” Khanyi dusted off cake crumbs from her flair skirt. “Raji is an exceptional boss. His management skills are laudable. I was there when he had to lay off those thirty-five employees. It was heartbreaking but he handled it so well that they even thanked him for getting fired.”
“Heard the severance pay more than compensated them.”
“Raji’s a cool guy.”
Leticia peered into Khanyi’s face. “Are you falling for the boss?”
“Falling for who?” Khanyi giggled. “No, please. He’s still very much into his ex-wife and having anything with him would be a work hazard.”
“Is that why you’re blushing?”
Khanyi slapped both palms on her cheeks, chortling. “Go away, Antonia.”
Duke burst in with a puppy clutched to his chest. Following him was the housekeeper. He was middle-aged and loved to cook, sing loudly whilst cooking and spend most of his time tending to his dog that had just birthed five puppies.
“Aunty Toni, see!” Duke thrust the puppy at Toni.
“Awww, he’s a so cute.”
“It’s not a he. It’s a girl. Uncle Jaja said she’s a bitch.”
Toni looked at Jaja who simply smiled back. She took the puppy from Duke after stubbing her cigarette in an ashtray.
“Is she really a bitch, Aunty Toni?”
“Yes, she is.”
“Then why do you like calling Aunty Tisha bitch?”
“Yikes.” Leticia muttered silently. Toni laughed out so hard, she snorted.
“I’ll explain it to you later. Why don’t you look for a nice name for this little pup?”
“I like bitch.”
This time it was Leticia and Khanyi that were taken over by mirth.
“No, Duke. Bitch is what she is. You can’t name her what she already is.”
“She’s a puppy.”
“Yes, a bitch too.”
“No, ‘Bitch’ is her name.”
Toni looked up at Jaja. He had a bemused expression on. “Uncle Jaja will help you name her, okay?”
“Here you go.” She gently passed the puppy back to him. “Follow Uncle Jaja outside.”
The boy acted upon her instruction, calling the puppy ‘bitch’ as he went away. When they were gone, Toni faced Leticia. “Bitch, why are you laughing?”
“It would be nice if he names the dog ‘bitch’, though,” Khanyi stated. “I’ll buy it off Jaja, take it home and have reason to cuss every day. I’ll be like, ‘hey bitch, you ate my Louboutins? Fuck you, bitch.’ And if she’s barking, I’ll be like, ‘bitch, please.’”
“It’s enough o, two of you.” Leticia tried to pull herself together but ended up in amusement again. Toni smiled. She was happy to see her friend out of her mood. Leaving the house to spend the weekend with the girls was a great idea. Toni herself was beginning to fall in love with her new home. It was a portrait of elegance and luxury. It had more than everything she needed. It reminded her of the homes her mother obsessed over in her monthly issue of Better Homes and Gardens. The houses in the magazine, just like this one, were inspired by nature and modern architecture. Toni, however, had no plans to keep it. When she was tired of Imade, she was going to return the keys to him.
“Dapo is on his way.” Toni said out of the blue as she lit a third cigarette.
Leticia gave her a hard stare, eyes blinking rapidly. “I told you not to.”
“Tish, he’s been bugging me.”
“Please, let him come and apologize.”
“And that would do what exactly? Change the fact that he made me feel horrible over my past?”
“I appreciate that you mean well, but don’t ever try that shit with me again.”
“I’m sorry. But you’re my best friend and he’s my brother. I hate seeing both of you sad. Allow him apologize…”
“Fine. Let him just come, let me know where we stand. As things are right now, I’m ready to dump him.”
“You and I know you’ll never leave Dapo.”
“It’s not about the money.”
“Did I say anything about money? Tish, I know you love that boy, and that’s why I’m all for you guys getting back together.”
“I do hope that when it’s my turn to try to fix things between you and Dre, you’ll be as nice as I am.”
“Haven’t you tried that already and failed woefully? Stop trying, Tish.”
“Is it that you’re waiting for him to get married to somebody else before you realize you’re messing up? Oh, wait… that may be the plan. You actually want him to get married so that you can be his sidechick. That way you have your cake and eat it.”
Toni shook her head. “You’re not as smart as you think.”
The doorbell went off.
“Well, looks like Dapo’s already here. Try to behave.”
It was Khanyi who went for the front door. She invited Dapo in and disappeared to the kitchen. Dapo shared a hug with Toni, accepting a cold greeting from Leticia who had suddenly returned to the task of putting together the Christmas hampers.
“Let me leave you two…”
“Please stay,” Leticia entreated.
“I need someone to calm me down if I get really angry.”
“Stay,” Dapo agreed.
Leticia rose up from the floor. She sat on a side-stool and continued with her activity. “I know you came here to give me some sorry excuse for why you were an asshole and to beg me to come back to you.”
“Basically.” Dapo took up space beside Toni.
“I’m not interested in that. I want to specifically know why you would tell me to open up to you about my past and the men I’ve slept with and the number of abortions of had only to turn around and slut-shame me.”
“It was a stupid thing I did.”
“I am not interested in your sorry. I want to know why.”
“Just be honest,” Toni said to him. Dapo moved to the edge of the couch.
“I… I suspected you were hiding something from me about you not getting pregnant. You insisted on seeing the doctors alone each time the test results came out. It felt like you didn’t want me to know stuff. Besides, I did my own research about abortions and how too many of them or how one that was wrongly done could cause scarring and make it hard for you to get pregnant again. I felt that was the case and you knew and you were hiding it from me. So I was angry…”
“DP, I’ve had only four abortions in my lifetime. Not too many. And that’s not me making excuses for the stupid mistakes of my past. I’m just saying that I am not any worse than you are who has had women abort pregnancies for you. So why the hell would you judge me?”
“I’m sorry. Call me old-fashioned or chauvinistic but I don’t think a woman should have the kind of past you had.”
“Stop being a misogynistic piece of shit,” Toni cut in. “For fucks sake! That nonsense your father put in your head about women has to be left behind in 2017! In short, dump that shit today! And I don’t care if you’re still hung up on what mommy did but it is all in the past and you need to grow the fuck up, Oladapo!”
“I’m trying. It’s just so hard to reconcile the amazing person Leticia is right now to the person she was in the past.”
Leticia stood up. “Toni, I can’t listen to this crap one more second. Dapo, enjoy your life without me.”
Dapo also rose to his feet. “Tish, no. Please, stay. Chill.”
Leticia shook her head, biting her lips to stop from sobbing.
She sat again.
“You too sit down,” Toni instructed. He obeyed.
“I’m really trying, Tish. I love you stupidly. I’ve not had a relationship that lasted this long. Heck, I’ve not even had a relationship before you. It’s been all about sex, mostly with older women. But then I’d find out something about their past or even their present and I’d just flake out. You’re the first woman I ever wanted to be with all the time. The first I ever proposed to. Tish, I gave almost half of all I owned to you. That’s how much you mean to me. And that’s what scares me, because you’re so beautiful and you have men all over you, all the time. I feel like I don’t fit into your world; like I’m just your plaything and some richer, older guy would soon steal you away from me. I’m also scared that you don’t want a commitment. You’re all about the money and glamor. Sometimes I ask myself why you’re even with me. I can’t be the best dick you ever had. I throw tantrums, I act like a teenage boy, I demand too much respect and care from you… I’m scared of losing you, Tish.”
Toni tried not to be affected by his words. She saw that Leticia had gone soft.
“I’m sorry for those things I said,” he kept on. “I was just being insecure.”
“Dapo, all I wanted was for you to get yourself tested too. That was what started all this madness. Your insinuations that the abortions I had are why I can’t get pregnant are baseless. I am fine. Yes, I wanted to get the test results from the doctors myself because it’s my right to retain that privacy. But it’s also your right to know if anything is off. And if anything is, I would tell you. But so far, I’m good. It’s you who needs to go get tested.”
“I will, since you insist. But like I said, I’ve knocked people up before.”
“How are you sure it was you?” Toni questioned.
Dapo looked away uncomfortably.
“You have to be a hundred percent sure, Dapo.”
“I am sure.” He raised his head. “Tish, I have my own little confession to make. You bared your past before me. I should tell you about mine.”
“I don’t want to know.”
“You need to know.”
“Let him talk, Tish.”
“I seriously don’t want to know.”
“Remember last year when we had that huge fight and we broke up for more than a month?”
“I was with someone else.”
“And…she got pregnant.”
Toni turned fully to give her entire attention to Dapo. “Please, tell me she aborted it.”
Leticia’s hands stopped moving. She let go of a box of candy she was holding and focused on Dapo.
“Daisy’s daughter is also mine.”
Silence descended on the room.
“I’m sorry,” he muttered.
“What?” Leticia asked.
“I’m sorry, Tish.”
“Daisy? Our former neighbor? The one that already has two kids from different fathers?”
“Yes. I was so mad at you. I…”
Toni smashed his face with a throw pillow as she sprang up.
“You’re a useless fuckboy! I can’t believe you’re my brother! Get the fuck out of my face abeg!”
She marched out of the living room in anger.
“The best thing would be for you to go, Dapo.” Leticia’s voice was barely heard. Dapo nodded.
“I’ll see you tomorrow and we’ll talk,” he said.
“Yeah. Just go.”
He walked to her. She looked up at him with heavy eyes. She didn’t push him away when he left a peck on her head.
He sauntered out. Leticia turned her face away from the front door and towards the one that led to the kitchen. There she saw Khanyi standing, compassion on her face.
“You’re going to be fine,” she said to her.
Photo – @xonscience