She was having one of those days. Mark was responsible for it. She had returned home after her night with him and hated herself. Buried under her blanket, she wondered if it was all worth it to settle scores in the manner in which she did.
Sleeping with men she felt nothing for was easy. It never left a dent on her. But it was not the same with Mark. He still held portions of her heart and she found he had chipped at it with just that one encounter.
Toni felt sick to her stomach. She was desperate to have a good cry just to let it out but she had sworn never to shed a tear for him. Instead, she spoke to Leticia about it, in the hopes that her friend would understand, but Leticia went ape on her. While she ranted, Toni smoked. It was not a good idea to give a retort even though she badly wanted to.
“He will just break your heart and you’ll lose your mind again!”
“I know what I’m doing, Tish.” Toni appeared calm but she was lighting her fourth cigarette. She wanted to tell Leticia how she hated that Mark had given her pleasure and how she had wanted to claw his face when he mentioned that they were to get back together.
“You don’t know what you’re doing, Toni.”
Toni maintained her quiet. Tears were somewhere around the corner but she would not let them out.
“Imagine what happens when Nkechi finds out. You know that one is one bush animal. You will just enter jungle mode with her. Bitch is crazy. You heard what she did to one girl that Mark was seeing on the side?”
Toni had heard. Nkechi had gone to the girl’s church, where her family and fiancé worshipped, and stood by the gate distributing flyers that had the girl’s picture in the nude, calling her a husband snatcher and home wrecker. The chaos she caused in the church that morning was no small thing. Mark almost had her fired from DFL afterwards.
“You remember that story, right? You’re dealing with a woman who doesn’t give a fuck about her reputation as you do, Toni. Better catch sense o! Catch sense!”
“It’s okay nau.”
It wasn’t okay for Leticia who was hard of hearing. She enjoyed being a nag, and so she went on and on until Toni lost her patience and they had a fight. Words were exchanged that plunged Toni further into her mood.
The following morning, Leticia threw a tight greeting at her in the kitchen but Toni, known for her vindictive nature, ignored the greeting. It was at this juncture Leticia flew into tears and revealed that she had told Andre things about her. Toni was enraged. She called Leticia a meddling slut and stormed off to her bedroom.
And there, the morning was ruined.
Neither of them felt the need to go to work. Leticia called in sick but left the house to have her hair and nails done. Toni, on the other hand, decided it was time to face Andre to give him a piece of her mind but before she drove over to his office, she got a depressing phone call from a private investigator who had been trying to trace her roots.
Five months ago, she had overheard her parents having a casual conversation about finding her biological mother and she almost went into shock. Having taken a flight that morning from Lagos to Port Harcourt, she wanted to surprise her mother whose birthday it was. She sneaked into the house, dumped her bag in her old room and tiptoed to their bedroom but stopped short when she heard her mother pleading with her father to find her biological mother.
“It would be the best birthday present for me, Henry. Knowing now that Antonia was stolen from her mother, my conscience cannot hold up any longer. Please, tell me you’ll find her family.”
It was not the type of talk a daughter wanted to hear from the lips of her mother. Toni felt like someone had reached into her and yanked her heart out but she endured listening to her parent s speak until her father stepped out and saw her.
That morning they revealed to her that she had been adopted after years of being unable to have kids. And the moment they brought her home, her mother was then able to conceive, giving birth to three other children after her. This explained why Toni had no resemblance to any of her siblings.
They explained that the woman who brought her to them lied that her biological mother was a teenage orphan who bore her but had no means of caring for her. All she wanted in return was some money to continue her life. They had given her a miserly five hundred naira, which was a huge sum then, in exchange for Toni. Now, thirty-two years later, the woman who made the exchange, was telling a different story on her deathbed.
Toni had actually been stolen from her real mother and no one could trace the woman or her family.
Toni wept miserably and nothing her parents did consoled her. In fact, upon learning of the truth, she felt a disconnect from them. She flew back to Lagos that same morning after getting information about the woman who did the exchange. She visited her home in Kwara state and was shown her gravesite. She had died with credible information on how to find her family.
Never known to let anything weigh her down, Toni moved on with her life but severed warm ties with her family. She hired a private investigator to trace her roots. They said her real parents bore the surname Ogunfuwa and had lived in squalor in one of the many villages in Kogi state. That was where she was abducted from. The private investigator made long promises, assuring her that he would find them, but now, five months later, he was telling a different story.
Toni was depressed. How many times had she gone on Google and typed in the name Ogunfuwa to see if images of anyone came up that bore some sort of resemblance to her. All that was left was for her to go on local TV or social media for help. She would simply put up her photo and beg her family to contact her. People would spread the word through shares and maybe she would be lucky enough to get feedback since the private investigator had been of no help.
That would have to be her final option.
She sat glumly, eyes to the bedroom door as she stirred a green smoothie in a glass cup she was holding. Her phone buzzed beside her. The screen flashed the name ‘Andre’. He was returning her call. Earlier, she tried calling him but his line rang off the hook.
“Hi Andre,” she answered.
“Morning, Antonia. How was your night?”
She didn’t miss the insinuation in his voice.
“Great. I had fun. You?”
The picture of the curvy girl he left the lounge with flashed in her mind.
“Erm…it was okay. So, you called?”
“Yes. I need to see you.”
“Okay. I’m at home. You want to come over?”
Toni rolled her eyes. He probably had designs to sleep with her.
“Okay. Just text me the address.”
“Do I make breakfast?”
“No. Bye, Andre.”
She put her phone down.
Why hadn’t she just spoken to him over the phone? Why meet him in his house, though?
Lade didn’t want to leave the bathroom. It was her only sanctuary at the moment. She wished she could stay in forever and escape what awaited her outside.
Tayo was going to divorce her. That much was certain. Heck, she would divorce herself as well, considering all she did the previous night.
The recollections came all at once and she wept. She had started crying when she woke up thirty minutes ago and remembered that she spent the night with Manny.
Initially, they had been with friends. Lulu invited her over to keep her company and soon their mutual friends showed up, turning the place into a party. When Manny arrived, he stole her away from the crowd and in Lulu’s bedroom she told him she was pregnant and couldn’t take the lead role in his movie if it was offered to her. Manny was disappointed but he let her cry in his arms. They had some alcohol. In fact, they had a lot of alcohol over long talks about what she wanted to do with her life. She wanted a house in Banana Island like Linda Ikeji, Birkin handbags, a yacht, first class trips to see the exotic cities of the world, a name among the stars and awards as an exceptional actress.
Manny said he could at least give her some of that and the rest, he would push her towards them. But he could do nothing if she stuck with Tayo and the baby.
They talked, danced, kissed and drank some more, hence she didn’t put up much resistance when he took her to a hotel, booked a room and laid her on the bed as his fingers continued from where they left off on that Christmas evening at Lulu’s.
He got bolder, stripped her and did with her what he had desired for years.
He felt better than Tayo. Way better. And on her own volition, she asked for more. They had sex all night or so it seemed, because she lost track of time. She wasn’t even aware of when she gave in to sleep. She snoozed fitfully, held in Manny’s arms. It felt like heaven but the morning woke her to a different reality, one she wished would go away.
Her head throbbed under every heartbeat but her hangover was the least of her problems. She was fashioning a believable lie to tell her mother-in-law and Tayo. She hurled herself over the toilet bowl and threw up. She couldn’t tell if it was alcohol-related or morning sickness.
Manny knocked on the bathroom door. He tried the handle. The door was locked.
“Lade, are you okay?”
“Go away, please.”
Lade bit her lips. More tears came.
“Is this about what happened last night?”
“Manny, it shouldn’t have happened.”
“Well, it did and we can’t undo it. Lade… I wish I could just take you away with me. You deserve so much more, baby. It hurts me that you have to go back to a man who abuses you when you can be with me instead and I’ll love you right. I’ve always loved you, baby.”
“Go away, Manny.” She drew in a long sniffle.
“Come on, Lade. Stop punishing yourself in there. Please, come out and have breakfast.”
“Breakfast?! Manny, I spent the night out of my matrimonial home! I got drunk and slept in a hotel with you! Without condoms! And you’re there talking about breakfast because somehow a cup of tea and some toast will magically erase everything I have done?!”
“No, but it will help with your hangover.”
“I don’t need help with any hangover! And I don’t need you right now! Just go away so I can think!”
“I’m going nowhere. You’ll eventually come out and come to terms that we both had a great time yesterday and there is nothing we can do about it.”
She hated to admit that he was right. Still, she didn’t want to be around him at the moment. Manny was toxic. A clear representation of the devil that loved to sit on people’s shoulders.
“I’ll break this door open o, Lade.”
She knew he wasn’t joking.
“I’m coming out. Just call a cab for me or something. Or rather, don’t worry. I’ll call Sule.”
Lade stepped into the shower stall. She had a long, warm shower in which she continued with her tears. When she finally walked out to the hotel room, she found Manny waiting with a breakfast tray.
“Come and eat.”
“I’m not hungry.”
Manny went to her and held her tightly. She didn’t struggle. It would be useless to.
“Leave him, Lade. He doesn’t deserve you. Just walk away. You don’t even need to go through legal means since you guys didn’t have a court marriage…”
“I love my husband, Manny. What you and I did yesterday shouldn’t have happened. I got lost in the moment, aided by alcohol. It’s not enough for me to leave Tayo.”
She pushed him off.
“Yesterday was a huge mistake.”
She turned away from him and switched on her phone, holding her breath under a heart that wouldn’t stop racing.
As expected there was a message from Joyce. She had been worried, asking why Lade had not returned home. Was she okay?
Lade found a new reason to cry.
“Haba nau!” Manny enclosed her in a hug. “You’re making me feel really bad when I shouldn’t. You were awesome. My feelings for you are deep, Lade. Everything that happened yesterday was real. I felt all of it and I know you did too.”
She hadn’t felt a thing except temporary rebellion and freedom of choice. For a short while, Manny gave her back her old life.
Her phone rang. She jumped and disengaged from him. Tayo was calling. Her hand began to shake.
“He knows. He knows I didn’t sleep at home. His mother told him.”
Manny took the phone from her. “You don’t have to answer the call, baby.”
He wiped her tears.
“Let’s call your cab.”
After the phone rang out, Lade dialed Sule. She could hardly recall the night before but she clearly remembered his judgmental eyes when he came to Lulu’s house to convey her and Manny to the hotel. She was scared that he would tell on her. She planned to give him some sort of explanation to clear her name.
“Hi Sule,” she said into the phone. “Please could you come and pick me up at that hotel?”
“Will you be long?”
“Ten minutes tops.”
Manny took the phone off her hands again and replaced it with a cup of coffee.
“This will help.”
She was tired of crying and fighting him. She accepted the coffee, sent down a mouthful into her throat and dumped it. It smelled nasty. Manny wore his clothes and together they waited for Sule in the hotel’s lobby.
The address Andre texted Toni was difficult to navigate. She was directionally challenged, often getting lost trying to traverse the convoluted road networks on Lagos mainland. It was in times like this she needed Leticia who was Lagos born and bred. But she chose the next best option – a cab.
It drove her right to Andre’s house which was nowhere near the slum she imagined it would be in. He was living in a compound all on his own in Bode Thomas. A modest flat of three bedrooms.
He was waiting with a hug when she walked in. She was stiff in his arms. He did not deserve a hug or anything genial from her.
The sitting room was spotless and looked every bit like a bachelor’s space. The only thing out of place was the plate of half-eaten sausage and baked beans left on the center table. Andre was yet to finish his breakfast.
“Can I get you something?”
“No, Andre. I came here to have a serious talk with you.”
He sat down, adjusting his jeans. Just seconds ago she had spied the label and seen that he was wearing a Gucci ‘Genius Jeans’, apparently known to be pricey. It added to her annoyance. Why had he pretended to her that he was less than what he was? Why was he hiding his identity? Who really was he?
“How was your date last night?” he enquired. Toni hated the smile on his face.
“You already asked me that on the phone, Andre.”
“I’m guessing you had fun.”
“Andre, that’s not why I’m here.”
“Okay.” He pushed back into the settee and placed his feet on the table. Long toes wiggled at her.
“Andre, who are you?”
“I am Andre.”
“No, I mean, who are you? There’s so much spookiness around you. First, you lied to me that you’re a delivery man and I come here and see that you’re actually richer than you let on. And the delivery business, you own it or what?”
“Does that turn you on?”
“Second, you stalk me. What was that you did yesterday? Showing up and paying for our bill and then disappearing?”
“I should have asked your permission first?”
“Yes. You should have.”
He laughed. “Now, you know how it feels.”
“Are you five years old or something? You’re trying to get back at me?”
“And you shouldn’t have listened to Leticia. She had no right telling you things about me.”
“She loves you. She cares.”
“What do you want from me?”
“You. Just you. But you’d rather have sex with your ex and strange men in hotel rooms without caring about your safety just because you want money or just to feel some form of control. People die, Antonia. Women like you get involved with the wrong men and end up dead. You should stop living like it’s fun to spread your legs for strange men. It is not.”
Toni couldn’t believe the guts on him. “Andre, you should leave me alone. My life is none of your business. None. The next time you stalk me or show up anywhere around me, you’ll taste my wrath. Have a shitty day.”
Toni stood up and spun in the direction of the door.
“Dear, High Mistress,” Andre spoke, “I think my husband is having an affair.”
Toni froze. She turned around. Andre’s facial features had taken on a contemptuous look.
“Her name was Mrs. AFK. Anouk Fabrice Kouassi. She was your fan, High Mistress. She adored you but you led her to her death.”
Toni’s eyes went dry at the gory photo displayed on Andre’s phone screen thrust in her face.
Mrs. AFK was dead?
Sule had taken longer than ten minutes, blaming traffic for the delay. Manny led Lade out to the hotel’s entrance where the cab was waiting.
“Lade, I’ll call you.”
He hugged her and left a kiss on her neck because she wouldn’t give her lips.
“But please, call me if he hits you or things go wrong. Please.”
Lade nodded and entered Sule’s car. As they drove away, she kept her eyes on Manny, who remained where she had left him. When he disappeared out of sight, Lade turned her attention on Sule.
“Hi Sule. Please could you play Sauti Sol?”
“Don’t you get tired of Sauti Sol?”
“You listened to Isabella on repeat last night.”
“I love the song.”
“It holds meaning for you?”
Lade considered the question sarcastic. Isabella told the story of young lovers, high and in love, who were out on a night to dance. They had dreams to be great but for that lone moment, they enjoyed their time together because life was too short to stress over trivial things. That had been her and Manny last night – shamelessly kissing and necking in Sule’s car.
“Actually my Baptismal name is Isabella,” Lade replied his question. “I’m Catholic.”
The song came on and Lade shut her eyes, head thrown back into a relaxing pose. It was all she could do to take her mind off worrying about what Tayo would do to her when he returned home.
For Lade, the song obviously held more meaning than it just bearing same title as her name. She wanted to be young and in love again. She desired to be free. Yesterday, she was Isabella. She danced. She laughed. She forgot her loss and shortfalls. Yesterday, she was not Omolade.
But Tayo was going to take it all away soon and then she would fall into guilt; so for the moment, she enjoyed the calm of the song and the state of grace Sule’s car brought.
However it lasted a short while. When they neared her neighborhood, she sat straight.
“Sule, I left my scarf here yesterday. Did you see it?”
“Yes. I took it to your house earlier. I thought you’d be home by then.”
Lade’s tummy tossed.
“My mother-in-law asked about me, right?”
“Was she worried?”
“What did you tell her?”
“I told her I didn’t see you.”
Sule stared at her through the rearview mirror.
“Was I supposed to say I dropped you off with another man in a hotel?”
Lade constructed her next words carefully before letting them out.
“Manny is not just another man. He is… He…”
She was going to lie that she loved him but the words got stuck.
“Sule, it’s complicated.”
“I am not a child, ma. I understand the complexities of human relationships.”
“Please stop calling me ma. My name is Omolade.”
“I prefer to address you as ma.”
She became annoyed at his attitude. He sounded like an Android. “Don’t call me anything if you won’t call my name.”
“You’re probably thinking I’m loose or something, after what you saw last night.”
“Ma, I’m just an Uber driver.”
“Don’t call me ‘ma’.”
“I’m just a driver and my perceptions about my clients don’t matter.”
“Oh, you have perceptions about me.”
“It would be strange not to.”
“I want to know what they are.”
“Tell me what you think about me.”
Sule locked eyes with her for a second and let go. “I’d better not.”
She almost hissed. She was on nerves, a jumble of emotions left her with sweaty pants. Worse was the damning hangover headache she had.
“But I understand what you’re going through…”
Lade looked up and didn’t find Sule’s eyes in the rearview mirror.
“Just take things easy–”
“Manny is just a friend. An old friend. We reunited on Christmas with other friends that I haven’t seen in a long time. We had fun and have kept in touch since. He’s a producer and owns an entertainment company. He’ll help me get a role in a big movie like October 1st…”
Sule cut her off as the car slowed. “We’re here, ma.”
The car stopped. Lade lost her need to continue her tale. Sule seemed uninterested. She rested her eyes on her house.
“How much do I owe you?”
“Your friend got you covered for both trips.”
Lade picked her handbag. She hesitated for a moment.
“I’ll be waiting here just in case…” Sule offered.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. My husband’s not home.”
“Actually, he is.”
Lade’s heart stopped.
“When I went in earlier to drop your scarf, he was there.”
Lade’s squeezed her hands into fists. “Did he ask after me?”
She felt a sudden need to throw up for the second time. She let out dense breaths and finally opened the door.
The air outside was clammy. It hung onto her skin, causing her more irritation. She ground into her teeth and made it to the front gate of the house in a slow pace. She seized her breath all the way to the entrance door. The doorbell got just one stab of her finger and Tayo was standing in front of her.
His eyes did a full sweep of her.
“Good morning,” she mouthed.
He stayed mute, stepping aside to let her through.
“Darling!” Joyce sat up from her position on a settee. “You left us so worried.”
“Good morning, mommy.” Lade curtsied.
Lade glanced at Tayo before she let out the story she had conjured from the blue. “I bumped into some old friends. They threw a party and invited me over. I had planned to stay just a short while but I was having so much fun and I lost track of time and it was too late to come back… I’m so sorry, mommy. I was going to call you but I couldn’t find my phone. I just saw it this morning.”
“Then you could have used a friend’s phone to call Tayo so that he would inform me.”
Lade looked at Tayo. “He would have been mad at me if I told him I was sleeping outside.”
“Well, it’s fine. Thank God you’re safe. Next time, just make sure to call your husband and inform him first before you go hanging out with friends.”
“Yes, ma. Thank you, ma.” Lade curtsied again before turning her eyes in Tayo’s direction one more time.
“Your friend… male or female?” he asked.
“Female,” Lade replied.
Tayo asked nothing further. He left the sitting room.
“Follow him,” Joyce instructed. “Just go in there and fix your mess and try not to aggravate him for the rest of the day.”
Lade gripped her handbag and sauntered to the master bedroom. Tayo was waiting, one leg to the bed and the other on a pillow that was lying on the floor.
“Tayo, I’m sorry…”
“So I tell you I will be back in the weekend and you go out partying and spend the night with strangers?!”
Lade kept mute. It was the best reaction for his mood.
“I need to know who these friends are! Every one of them! I need their names and numbers because I don’t trust this your tale!”
“Don’t Tayo me! Give me names and numbers!”
Lade suddenly flung herself into a fit of dramatic tears. “So I hang out with friends and you want to punish me for it? Why do you keep treating me like I’m nothing, Omotayo? Is this why you married me, to make me a less than I am, to pull me down at every chance? What did I ever do to deserve what I get from you?”
“Please! You sound pathetic. You probably went to screw some guy and you think you can come here and tell long stories and put up an act and I’ll fall for it. Nice try. But you didn’t quite pull it off. Now, get out of here and get me something to eat.”
At that instant, Lade felt hate for Tayo, and her guilt was turned to justification. For that point in time, she felt no regrets for having sex with Manny. It had given her nerve enough to agree that Tayo did not deserve her. She could do so much better than him.
She took hold of the door handle.
“You didn’t give me results of the pregnancy test.”
“Negative,” she replied. “We’re not having a baby.”
She wasn’t lying. She was telling the truth. They would not have the baby.
Toni couldn’t remember when last she cried over someone else’s pain. Her perception of tears was that they signified weakness. She didn’t particularly think she owed anyone her emotions. Besides, what has crying ever solved?
But this was different. Andre’s story had smashed her in that place where only angels could touch. He had scarcely gone halfway when she hit the waterworks. Knowing she was half-culpable for Mrs. AFK’s death, it left her in a worse state.
In the beginning, she met the story with much resistance. She came at him defensively and hard but when he showed her a video of Anouk— one he had not seen until after she passed, in which she was wishing him a happy birthday in advance, telling him how she missed him and wanted him home —Toni melted in tears.
For the first time, there was a face to the fans that wrote to her. Anouk was every woman who sat behind her laptop or phone and sought her help, but all she could give them was a manual on how to make the worst out of their lives.
Andre’s story messed Toni up from the core. Who would have thought that on a random day like this, she would be forced to rethink her life?
Prior to this, she prided in having no conscience. To Toni, all humans were by nature, created to be selfish. The cosmic flow of the universe required that we all answered to that selfish nature. When people tried to work against that tide, they lost themselves.
Thus, she answered to her indulgencies and self-centeredness as she desired. She only bothered about others after she was done caring for herself.
“Toni, stop crying.”
Andre handed her a box of tissues.
“I’m so sorry, Andre,” she blubbered. “I didn’t know.”
He fought to stay angry at her but he failed. He wanted Anouk back, no doubt. He longed to serve Toni some form of revenge but the plan came up short when he watched her fall into vulnerability.
What next did he want? He had gotten her where he wanted, hadn’t he? What was the plan? To rape and kill her too? To have her shut down her blog and change her lifestyle? To force her into a relationship where he would make her existence miserable?
He wasn’t so sure what he wanted anymore.
“Toni, please stop.”
He didn’t do well with crying females. Tears always left him either annoyed or confused but Toni’s made him want to leave where he sat to hold her. But he didn’t. He preferred to wait until she stopped crying. However, that was going to take some time. Toni was the type that didn’t give into her emotions easily but when she did it was hard to pull herself together.
He went to her and took her hand. “You should go home and rest.”
She fixed her eyes on him. “I understand what it feels like to want to make someone pay for the pain of loss, Andre. I’m sure that’s what you want from me. Go ahead, do whatever.”
Something about the way she said it touched him. He slipped in beside her and held her.
“Hey, I don’t want to hurt you. Funny thing, I am crazy about you. How it happened, I don’t know. I guess there were a lot of emotions in me when I was going after Anouk’s killer and when it led nowhere, I directed it all towards you. So, it came with the good and the bad. There’s a love-hate thing going on here.”
“Or like. Or attraction.” He swept his eyes over the smooth edges of her hair.
“Or nothing at all,” she said.
“I like you, Tone.”
“You shouldn’t. I can’t…”
“You can’t love?”
“It’s just… after all you told me about your wife and knowing I was directly involved, it would feel awkward to be with you. And yes, I can’t love.”
“I understand. I’m not looking for a relationship either.”
“So then what do you want?”
“Dinner or lunch a few times. Netflix and chill?”
She shook her head and realized he was drawing circles on her upper arm with his finger. She drew away. Two nights ago, she would have let him draw more than circles on her arm. They would have gone all the way but after what he just shared with her, his body was the last thing she wanted. Her mind was elsewhere.
“Please, what’s the name of the politician that killed your wife?” she asked. Andre gave a name. It didn’t ring a bell with Toni. Yet she stored it.
“I’m going home.”
“You want me to drop you off in my billboard car?”
“It’s not even available but I have a substitute.”
He entered his bedroom and came out with a pair of helmets, handing her one.
“Hell no,” she chuckled.
“Delivery man tins. Here.” He stretched out the spare helmet to her but when she went for it, he grasped her hand and pulled her to him.
“Can I kiss you?”
“No, Andre. I kissed another man last night…”
“I don’t care.”
The scent of his perfumed soap filled her head in a pleasant way. It was different from his signature scent. She knew he was going to kiss her even though she said no – because her lips said yes; and so she stepped back. But Andre won’t let go. He closed in again as if she hadn’t moved and made his first attempt on her mouth. She was expecting him to be hard and demanding in accordance with his nature but Andre went slow and soft, almost defenseless, like a virgin between her lips and yet giving her pleasure that only a grown man with experience could offer.
“Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” he asked and only then did she realize the kiss was over. In her mind, he hadn’t stopped making love to her mouth.
“Let’s go, Antonia.”
He held her hand and led her out. Maybe the day was not going to be bad after all, even with a sad start. She thought about Anouk but she didn’t feel miserable because she already had a plan on the way.
Dear Mrs. AFK,
I will bring your killer to justice but until I do, please let me kiss your husband one more time.
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