They ran their tests. Checked this, read that, listened to this, examined that and everything pointed to the fact that something had gone wrong with her. They brought in another set of doctors with their students who went through the entire routine again for a whole day, asking endless questions. Finally, on Sunday morning, they called in the top consultants from the neurosurgery, psychiatry and clinical psychology departments and they conferred with each other in a corner before they invited in Dominic and Eva.
Lexus didn’t really bother about the expressions on her parents’ faces when the news hit them. She was lost in her own world, somewhere in the past, and she didn’t want to return. She half-listened to what the doctors were saying, catching a few words here and there. The prognosis was that she was suffering from dissociative amnesia, usually associated with stressful or traumatic events where the patient couldn’t recall traumatic periods, certain important happenings or people in their lives.
Lexus silently snickered. What a joke. Incompetent doctors. First, they had argued amongst themselves over what type of amnesia she had, whether it was retrograde or transient global amnesia or some other amnesia they couldn’t quite diagnose. Finally they had settled on Dissociative Amnesia and were pinning it on the loss of Nimi, the trigger being the blow to her head. Didn’t they realize from her answers that she remembered everything that happened the day Nimi drowned? If the tragedy was responsible for her amnesia, then her memory would have deleted it totally.
“So you’re saying some events in her life are erased?” Eva had a choking sound to her voice.
“No, they’re not,” a doctor replied.
“They’re still there but will surface on their own and in time. Certainly, not immediately.”
Eva went into one of her theatric wails. Lexus sank deeper into her pillow and drowned out their voices. Was there a way she could sleep and never wake up, and not have the memory of Nimi’s death stinging her as if it had just occurred hours ago? That had been her wish when she got up the day before. Nimi was the first thing on her mind because she had been the last thing in her subconscious. In her drug-induced sleep, Nimi was alive and they were together.
It was the Christmas of 2008. Grandma was at her wits end over a new tattoo Lexus had just acquired on the small of her back.
“Your father will kill you if he sees this!” she almost screamed away her barely-existent voice. “Better go and wear a long t-shirt to cover that mess before he comes back!”
“Grandma…” Lexus complained but the old woman pointed her in the direction of her bedroom. She marched there in annoyance, wondering when Uncle Martin would return to the country from a prolonged trip. Despite the intimacy between them, she was yet to have the balls to even think of him on first name basis. The fear he instilled in her was pregnant with promise to do her real harm if she ever let the cat out of the bag. Threats were now part of their sex life, and although she heard them mostly when she was in the core of pleasure, she always took his words seriously. The mix of fear and pleasure gave her orgasms.
She missed him. She desperately needed to see him.
“Lexi!” Nimi squealed in delight as Lexus walked into her bedroom.
“What are you doing here?” Lexus shut the door. Nimi was nosy, restless and a real pain in her neck, just as her mother was to their father.
“I’m drawing a picture of you!” Nimi pushed away a long tuft hair off her face and scratched her eyes with the back of her hands. Like Lexus, she had inherited their grandmother’s full mane. “Look!”
She showed Lexus a pathetic drawing of a stick girl with bow legs. Lexus was somewhat touched by it, but not so much when she discovered Nimi had torn out pages from her favorite sketchbook. All of them had held sketches of the new guy she just met in school whom she liked to watch from afar.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?!”
“Uh-oh,” Nimi put her hand to her mouth, “you said the bad word.”
She presented a clueless grin at Lexus that was devoid of two lower teeth. Lexus picked up the torn pages of the sketchbook off her bed and put them together.
“I should smack you senseless now, only that you’ll go and tell your mommy and they’ll do family meeting on my head. What do you have to say for yourself?”
“No, you’re not! You’ll look for another useless thing to do next!”
“Lexi, is it ya boyfriend that ya drawing? I like him.”
Lexus took her hand and led her to the door. Nimi held the doorposts and bucked Lexus’ efforts to push her out.
“I’ll slap you o! Leave my room!”
Nimi shook her head and held tightly. If Lexus employed more force, Nimi would fall to the floor and throw a massive tantrum.
“Go nau! I want to change my clothes!”
“You don’t want me to see that earring that you put in your pee-pee ba?”
Lexus lessened the weight of her hold on her and dragged her back into the room in a flash.
“What did you just say?”
Nimi hopped to a reading table by one of the windows and climbed over the chair before it. She tapped a finger on the keyboard of Lexus’ open laptop and a picture of Lexus appeared. She was nude with her legs spread open, flashing a new piercing on her clitoris that was adorned with a captive ring. Lexus shut the laptop and pulled Nimi by the ear.
“If you ever touch my laptop again or if you go and tell anybody what you saw, I will cut off this ear and your hands and your amebo mouth and feed them to the sharks hiding in Uncle Martin’s swimming pool!”
“Sharks?” Nimi popped out her eyes. “But I want to go there and swim!”
“My friend will you leave my room!”
Lexus pointed at the door and Nimi marched to it grudgingly. Lexus opened the door and pushed her out, but the child crossed her arms and shook her body obstinately.
“What’s wrong with you nau?!” Lexus cried out in frustration.
“Woyintonbra, what is going on there?”
Dominic had just returned home and at the sound of his voice Nimi fell to the floor. She produced tears fast and entered a pathetic wail. Dominic came to her rescue and carried her away. That night he got a good word with Lexus. She was scolded over how she was treating her sister, the new tattoo she got, the clitoris ring and the nude pictures in her laptop. Lexus was mad at Nimi and went to bed without dinner, but late at night, Nimi crawled into her bedroom and under her blanket. She held Lexus tight, totally oblivious of the pain she had caused her. And they fell asleep, both of them sucking their thumbs. Nimi went home to her mom the following day.
The next time they met was on Valentine’s Day at Uncle Martin’s in 2009. While Lexus was upstairs with him, testing out the feel of her clitoris ring, Nimi was downstairs, drowning to her death in an adult-size swimming pool.
Lexus didn’t want to pull her eyes away from the seaside painting that was hanging off the wall facing her. It had a hypnotic effect that made her feel detached from hospital atmosphere which was heavy with the smell of antiseptics and her parents’ sadness. One of the doctors, the psychiatrist, appeared in her view and she was forced to turn to Dominic. The worry in his eyes and the tears in Eva’s almost touched her, and if they had hugged her then and told her they loved her and were sorry for being assholes, she would have let the whole truth out and confessed that she had no amnesia; that she merely wanted to go through the pain of mourning Nimi again just to punish herself because that was the only way she knew how to say she was sorry for what she did.
“Are you okay?”
She couldn’t say more. Dominic held her hand.
“Do you remember what happened to you, how you got here?”
Lexus shook her head and felt the point where Jordan had punched her. If there was one thing she trusted her dad for, it was his way of getting back at his enemies. Jordan was going to pay, that she was certain of.
“Do you know this guy?”
Dominic moved away and Kasi came into view. He smiled at her; she didn’t smile back. In 2008, she had met him but they hadn’t spoken to each other. He was the guy she loved to sit and make sketches of. His long legs, fit body and Will Smith ears always came out good on her papers. She spoke to him officially when school resumed in 2009. Their friendship blossomed from then on, and even when she left Unilag and kept changing schools, they maintained the bond. Somewhere inside her, she suspected one of them had feelings for the other. She just didn’t know who.
“Tonbra, do you know this guy here?” Dominic repeated his question.
“I’ve…seen him in school but I don’t know him.” Lexus trained her eyes on the floor to avoid looking into Kasi’s face.
“It’s me, Lex. Kasi. I’m your best friend.”
“I’m sorry.” She shook her head. “I don’t know…I can’t…”
It was killing her to lie to him, but it was necessary to keep up with the act if it would give her and her parents a new slate to erase the past and start all over again. The past five years had been hell. She wanted to rewrite them.
“It’s me. DJ Kasbi. You gave me that name on my birthday in 2010?”
“Uhm… let’s see… I made you a mixtape last Christmas. I asked for a tattoo on the sole of my foot and you wrote your name there and added that all girls should back off, that I was already taken. When I saw the tattoo I was mad and didn’t talk to you until the New Year’s when you baked me the worst cake ever… Lex, you remember all this nau.”
Lexus shook her head again. Kasi didn’t give up. He got out her phone from his pocket and began to show her pictures from a folder named ‘bestie’. As he scrolled past pictures of them together, her emotions threatened to betray her. She turned her face from him and touched her head.
“Are you okay?” Dominic asked.
“Kasiobi, I think you should stop.” Eva’s tone was harsh, protective.
“Yes, I think that’s enough for today,” the psychiatrist who had been observing her, chipped in. “She has been through so much. I think she should rest.”
“Can I keep the phone?” Lexus asked Kasi in a whisper. No one else heard “Please? If it would help me remember?”
He left the phone with her. “It’s yours and it’s touchscreen. It’s not so hard to use… wait…”
Kasi took the phone from her and she guessed he was deleting everything relating to Jordan.
He handed it back to her.
“Password is Nimi. And if you don’t understand anything there, just Google it. You remember Google, don’t you?”
Lexus smiled. “Thanks.”
Kasi touched her cheek. “Please, come back, bring my Lex back. This life is shit without you. I miss you.”
Lexus tried out the blankest stare she could muster. She waited until she was and then she allowed herself breathe.
He loved the solace of his bedroom. It was spacious and dim-lit and everything in it was either a shade of black, grey or brown. He was addicted to wood. For his house he had canvassed the world and picked the most expensive types, some of them for their classiness, others for durability, beauty and enduring fragrance. And then some, just because they were extinct and illegal to ship out of their countries. Only the floors and walls of his house were not made of wood; everything else was bedecked with it.
Dominic liked to think he was a custodian of wood. To transform a tree into furniture, to him, was not the death of it. He believed a tree could never lose it essence. It would simply take on a different form and if one was sensitive enough, they would become one with that essence. Sometimes, just staring at his bookshelf or his reading table, he was transported to some forest somewhere, connected to the green and brown of nature and the smells attached to them. It was this same scene he infused into the theme of his entire house. Both indoors and outdoors, he embraced life. Trees, shrubs and flowers surrounded him and most mornings he dedicated good time just to hear nature awaken.
He kept pets too. Two dogs, a cat and a peacock. The cat was his constant companion, a brown and white feline with a nasty attitude. Dominic had christened her Vhasti, after Nimi’s mother. Both of them had a lot in common. The human Vhasti had never forgiven him for this.
Sundays were lazy days for him. He usually sat out on his balcony, catching up on trending business news around the world or if sleep allowed, spread out on the floor of his bedroom as Vhasti purred and pawed her way all over him. Today was one of such afternoons and the floor had him. His bed was kept exclusively for lovemaking and the moments after. He couldn’t remember the last time he had a good night’s rest there. To manage his insomnia, the floor was his preferred resting place.
He yawned. There were only three hours before he went back to the hospital to see Lexus. He was determined to have a snooze before he headed out. Vhasti had crawled upon his back and sat up straight, whipping her tail in a manner that revealed she wasn’t in a good mood. A feisty series of meows followed and she made her feelings known by walking the length of his body. He wished she was heavier to put pressure on his aching muscles, but her prancing seemed to send tickles down his spine instead. He plucked her off his back and she clawed as she let go. He flung her away and had her gnarling before hopping on the railing that protected the balcony.
Dominic felt the stinging scratches she had wrought on his back and he hissed. His troubled muscles still throbbed. He begged for sleep.
It came in due course, as two doves cooed by his balcony. Evidently, Vhasti was gone or they wouldn’t have dropped by. He always fed them in the mornings before he went to work. Whenever they saw the balcony doors opened they would stop by. He understood their language. They lulled him to sleep.
A soft rap hit the bedroom door in and he was jarred from his nap. His housekeeper had a habit of being interruptive and it annoyed him.
“Iya Idaya, what is it na?”
The door creaked open without his permission and he sat up, ready to scold the housekeeper, but Mofe stepped in. She closed the door behind her.
Dominic calmed immediately. He drew a leg up and yawned. “Hey. What a surprise.”
His eyes took in her appearance. She was looking good, as usual. In a casual pair of jeans and a chiffon top, Mofe maintained her picture of calm and poise. He got to his feet and placed a kiss on her cheek. He was beginning to find her simple face striking, just noticing for the first time the fiery streak her weak, brown eyes could turn. Plus, her lips…they seemed a lot fuller. Or was he just yearning to kiss them? He wanted to touch her skin too. The dark-chocolaty sheen it possessed always left him wondering how they would feel underneath his fingers…
She took the chair before his reading table and sat to face him.
“Can I ring the housekeeper to get you something?” he asked and slipped into a t-shirt picked off his bed.
“No, thank you, Dominic.”
Her curt answer and the fact that she chose to call his full name unnerved him a little.
His brows plunged into a V but he obeyed her request. Curiosity gnawed his insides. Mofe took out a memory card from her purse and lifted it up for him to see.
“I found this amongst Jibo’s clothes. I can call him by his name, can’t I? Because I know you know who I’m referring to.”
Dominic’s questioning face disappeared as he stared at the card and back at her. Her message was received well.
“I knew something was not adding up when I first Googled you. I was different from all the women you had dated; none of them looked like me or did what I did. So it pushed me to search deeper, to try to connect the dots. But the only thing I found that connected us both was your NGO. They had pushed to get my case dismissed by the court. I was wowed by that act of generosity towards me. I told myself I was lucky to finally have God bless me with a man that would take all my pain away, but stupid, stupid me. I never asked myself why a whole Ditorusin would even care that I was set free. That was until I stumbled across this.”
She placed the card on the table and gave him her attention again.
“You lied to me, Dominic. From the first date, I asked you why you wanted me and you lied. I asked you over and over and still you lied. All you’ll tell me each time is, ‘you’re the type of woman I need in my life. I need a companion and a friend’. But you never needed a companion nor a friend. No, Dominic, you needed someone to cover up your sins. You needed that memory card.”
“Allow me clarify…”
“This is not your day to talk and cook up more clever lies. I gave you all the time to do that. This is my turn to talk.”
“Wait, you watched the video?”
“I did. I saw everything. Every single thing you did. You told me you didn’t kill that man…”
“But I saw it all!” The volume of her voice ascended. “You killed your friend. He stopped fighting you but you wouldn’t stop! You kept hitting him and hitting him and hitting him until he stopped moving! What type of animal are you?!”
Dominic got off his bed and stood by the balcony doors, facing the guest wing which was some feet away from the main building.
“How could you have done such an evil thing?”
Dominic turned. “Eyimofe, he was sleeping with Woyintonbra. My best friend was sleeping with my daughter…”
“I don’t care!” Mofe picked the card from the table and marched to him.
“All I want to know is why I found this amongst my husband’s clothes.”
Dominic turned away, but she pushed and held him back.
“I want to know. What was the connection between you and Jibril and this card?”
“Was he blackmailing you? Were you the one that called the police on him? That day he came back home with his clothes stained with blood and the card. What happened, Dominic? Please, tell me!”
“I’m sorry.” Dominic gave her a dead stare. “I can’t tell you anything.”
Her hands were left on him for a while and they held each other’s eyes. She was trying to read him, but he was doing his best to remain indecipherable. He couldn’t tell her what she wanted to know. She had gone through enough already.
“I’m sorry, Mofe.”
Her lips trembled and tears flooded her eyes. “You and Jibo are the same. I finally let go of him yesterday, and today, I’m done with you. It’s over, and like him, you are dead to me.”
“Mofe,” Dominic pleaded and held her, “Don’t do this.”
“Then tell me what happened.”
“I can’t.” He drew her close but she wrestled him away with weak jabs on his chest.
“So you’re marrying me because you know I have the memory card that can put you in jail?”
“At first that was the plan, but I met you and everything changed. Now, I honestly like you, Mofe….”
“Don’t LIE TO ME!”
Silence pervaded and the look Dominic gave her showed that her behavior was unwelcome. She put a hanky to her eyes and dabbed beneath them.
“It’s people like you that make this country useless. You killed a man and paid money to stay out of prison…”
“Yes. Yes, I paid. Not because I wanted to but because I am rich and in Nigeria, the rich simply cannot stay in jail. And by the way, I did not kill my friend. He survived but someone else killed him in the hospital. The autopsy was there to prove it but nobody cared. So yes, I paid to free my name. I paid to have that video buried just so that the law would stop chasing shadows and look in the right direction. Satisfied?”
Her answer came as a sob.
“Let buried things stay buried, Mofe. And as for why I want to marry you, I’m doing it because it is the right thing to do. For me, for you, for Jibo.”
“So he died because of you.”
Dominic gave no answer.
“Okay.” She nodded bravely. “Okay. No problem. If that’s the way you want it…”
“Mofe…” He went for her but she hurried to the door. He dashed to it before she did and stopped her.
“Don’t let a good thing die.”
“Whatever you did to Jibo, your friend and the person whose blood it was that stained Jibo’s clothes that night is your cross alone to carry. You will not use me to smear your conscience.”
A desperate kiss from him met her lips. It was forceful and demanding as if he was trying to compel her into submission. But she pushed him away and opened the door. He caught her again.
“Eyimofe, please… Stay. I’m…I’m not a murderer.”
“You are. And the sooner you accept that your hands are stained with blood, the better for you.”
She opened the door and he shut his eyes in defeat. When the door closed in his face, he opened it again.
One of his dogs barked and that was the only response he got. He retreated into his room, picked his phone, strolled out to the balcony and stood. It was dark now and almost an hour before his visit to the hospital. Dominic chose to pass the time listening to the voices of the new inhabitants in the guest wing. The sounds of their conversation rose above the hush of the entire compound and it felt quite good to be surrounded by life again. He peeped down to catch a glimpse of them but a huge tree with abundant branches that stood between both buildings obstructed his view.
His initial plan for the two-story guest wing was to cut it off from his own residence and put it up in the market for sale, but for some reason parting with it had become easier said than done. He was glad now to have a reason to keep it. Genesis was assigned the ground floor while the others were to stay above. But it seemed the housekeeper had mixed-up the instructions in her typical fashion and had Genesis upstairs instead.
A well-rounded figure was the first sight that met Dominic’s eyes as he turned his attention away from the ground floor. Genesis’ body was silhouetted behind the closed glass doors of her balcony. She was doing nothing in particular that could make him uncomfortable, but knowing she was just a few feet away gave him enough reason to fret.
Vhasti stole up behind him from nowhere and began a circular motion around his leg, whining about not being fed. He picked her up, and at that moment Genesis stepped out to her balcony. She spotted him and gave him a shy wave. He returned the gesture with a nod and made a U-turn to his bedroom.
“This is not good,” he mumbled and Vhasti meowed. “Yes, Vhasti. A balcony and a sexy woman always make for a juicy but tragic story. I wish King David was here to give me pointers.”
Vhasti meowed a second time. Dominic shut his doors.