“So, why did you ghost me?”
Nero’s question was a right one at the wrong time. Cheta wished he had waited until much later to ask her. Not now when her parents were having a row in the next room over her love life. She wanted to be as calm as he was, but she couldn’t stop thinking about what was to come after this moment.
Her plan to shock her father had not worked out as she had wanted it to go. Her mother had gone ahead of her and told him about Nero while she was still outside the reception venue, taking selfies with Nero. When the old man came out and stood at the top of the stairs, observing them, Nero saw him before Cheta did. He nudged her and she looked up, locking eyes with Julius. Nnedinma stepped out next, guilt on her face.
“Meet me in the house, right now!” Julius said, stomping past them as much as his aged bones could allow. “Both of you!” Then, he barked orders at one of his protocol officers who was standing in his way.
“He’s mad at us, right?” Nero asked.
“Yep. Momsi told him.”
Nnedinma followed after, refusing to stare at Cheta. The older couple got into their car and left the premises.
“How much trouble are we in exactly?” Nero asked.
“Don’t let it bother you,” Cheta answered. “I’ll be back.”
She went into the building and informed Obi and Naza that she was leaving. When she returned, Nero was already waiting in his car. She got in and they drove to her house.
“Do you want me to wait here or…?” he asked as his car pulled up outside her gate.
“No, come in.”
Cheta led him to the guesthouse. From outside the building, they could hear Julius’ raised voice. Cheta felt worn-out already. She wasn’t prepared for whatever drama the old man was bringing. The excitement over him finding out about Nero was now gone. As they sat in the living room of the guesthouse, trying not to be bothered about her father’s tirade in the next room, Cheta asked Nero if she could stay at his place for a few days.
“You don’t need to ask. I’ll give you a spare key.”
“No, I don’t want…”
He shook his head at her, stopping her complaint.
They sat in silence for a little longer as her father went on. She was glad that his outburst was in Igbo, because his words were becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. Any minute now, she would burst in on them and give him a piece of her mind.
“So, why did you ghost me?”
Cheta didn’t have an immediate response to the question. “I…” She looked at him. “It was all wrong from the start, Nero.”
He smiled in understanding.
“I… lied to you about who I was and what I was doing in the hospital…”
“You were there for my mom. That was what you were doing there, Cheta.”
“It was out of guilt.”
“Yes, but you were there for her, and that counts.”
“Then you came, and the moment I saw you, I just knew that I had to talk to you, be around you. Trust me, it wasn’t lust, because sex was the last thing on my mind. I was drawn to you.”
“But the sex happened. Then, you left…”
“I lost my brother and I blamed myself for his death. I thought it was God or karma paying me back for what I did to your mom and the sex we had. There was no way I could tell you the truth, Nero. No way.”
“I understand.” He reached for her hand and took it. Just then, Julius materialized from the bedroom. His eyes fell on their linked fingers. Cheta looked up at him and felt anger coming to the surface. They had been in situations like this many times. He would say something, and she would bite back, and they would go back-and-forth until she took the higher road or Nnedinma stopped them.
“Young man,” Julius called.
“Yes, sir.” Nero rose to his feet.
“I understand that you’re Obiedika’s father?”
“And you’re also Hadiza Abdullahi’s son?”
“Well, understand this. You cannot marry my daughter.”
Cheta put a rein on her anger.
“I don’t know if you are aware that there was an ungodly relationship between my wife and your mother before you were both born?”
Nero was silent.
“And, I swore, that as far as I could help it, no member of my family would have anything to do with anyone from yours. My wife and I prayed about it, and we spiritually severed all ties with your mother. Maybe you’re a fine gentleman and maybe my daughter is in love with you… I don’t care. None of that matters to me. You, your mother, and everyone in your family, are not welcome into ours.”
“And Obiedika?” Cheta asked.
Julius looked at his daughter as though she was a disturbance. “He’s an unfortunate consequence, but he is ours. He has always been, and we will continue to love and take care of him. But as for you…” He gave a firm shake of his head at Nero. “I will never endorse anything you have with my daughter.”
“Dad…” Cheta called, but he shut her down.
“Stay away from her. Completely. Am I understood?”
“Yes, sir.” Nero maintained his calm.
“I’m done with you. You may leave.”
Cheta sprang up. “I wasn’t expecting any different. Thank you for keeping to your nature.” She glared at her mom, and then, looked Nero’s way. “Let’s go.”
As they headed towards the door, Julius added, “Don’t try to be stubborn about this, Chichetaram. There will be consequences.”
“Like what?” Cheta shouted, spinning around. “You’re going to hit me? Refuse to take care of me? Disown me? Abandon me? What do you want to do to me that you’ve not done before?”
Julius smiled. “When I said consequences, I meant that I cursed Hadiza and all her generations. That accident she had and what happened afterwards was God honoring his word through me. If you defy him and go ahead with this relationship, Chichetaram, you will pay dearly for it.”
Cheta seemed like she might reply him, but she gave him a long stare and joined Nero, who was already waiting outside.
“Are you okay?” He searched her eyes.
“I’m good. Trust me, this isn’t the worst you’ve seen of us.”
He held her waist as they began walking towards the gate. “I’m sorry that you’ve had to endure this type of toxicity from your own parents.”
“Story of my life.”
“You don’t deserve any more of this. I want to show you a different kind of life, show you and Obi what family really means.”
“I don’t think I’m ready for that yet.”
“Cheta…” Nero stopped, making her stop as well. “I know you think that I’m trying to swoop in and save the day or something. I’m not. I just want you and our son to live a happier life.”
“I know.” Cheta kissed him. “I know.”
They walked to his car and she informed him that she was staying back.
“I had this whole idea of you and I in my bathtub, listening to music…”
“I want to have a talk with my parents.”
“There are things you shouldn’t let take your peace away. Learn to ignore.”
Cheta gave him a sudden hug, seeking comfort in his body.
“Hey, everything’s going to be fine, okay?”
She pulled back and kissed him. “I’ll call you.”
“Just in case you think the bathtub idea is a good one, I’ll be waiting for you at home.”
She waited until his car disappeared before she returned to the guesthouse. Julius was seated, watching a football match when she barged in and stood before him, blocking him from viewing the television.
“I suppose you have a lot to say?” he asked.
“What was that all about?”
Julius ignored her. He shifted to one end of the couch, drew a throw pillow to support his back, and continued watching his football match. Cheta switched off the television.
“Come, I don’t have time for nonsense, this evening,” he said in Igbo.
“Daddy, what was that all about?”
“The words I said to your boyfriend?”
“Yes!” Cheta’s heart pounded so hard, she could almost hear it.
“I will not repeat myself. And look, I don’t want to fight, because I am too old for it. Don’t you get tired of it all, Chichetaram? When will you and I ever come to a middle ground over something? We’re always at each other’s throats, and it’s all because you feel that the only way to communicate with your father or make your points to him is to fight him. Always! When will you grow up?”
Cheta went speechless, despite her burning rage. Tears of frustration thronged her eyes.
“And here come the tears,” Julius mocked.
“I hate you,” she finally muttered.
She turned away in haste, as words she didn’t plan to say tried to burst out from her lips. Nero was right about learning to ignore things that could steal her peace.
She marched out and let the tears free. But she didn’t allow them linger. She wiped her face as she marched into the main house. Up in her bedroom, she packed a suitcase, after letting Nero know that she would soon be on her way to his. He asked if he could turn around and pick her up, but she declined.
“Who told you about Hadiza and me?”
Cheta looked up from her suitcase and saw Nnedinma standing by her door. The woman had a habit of moving about quietly, unnoticed.
“I already told you that it doesn’t matter.”
“It does, Cheta. I need to know who told you.”
“So that you would do what?”
“Did Hadiza tell you?”
Cheta didn’t give her a reply. Nnedinma walked into the bedroom and shut the door behind her.
“Cheta…” She sat on the bed. “I wish you could find some other man to date…”
“Why?” Cheta shouted, finally letting her anger free. “So that you won’t feel guilt over what you did to her? So that you don’t have to live with a reminder of your past, when you could have chosen love and walked away from an abusive man?”
“Cheta, what Hadiza and I did was sinful. It was against God—”
“Of course it was!” Cheta cut herself short before she could remind her that Julius was a rapist. In frustration, she slammed a pair of jeans to the floor.
“Chichetaram…” Nnedinma called softly.
“For once, Mommy, do the right thing! Stand up and fight for me! I know you’ve never been able to stand up to your husband, but for my sake, do it! How have you lived with yourself all these years, watching him treat your only child like shit? How do you sleep at night? Hmm? Didn’t you ever love me? I know I was not the male child you wanted, but didn’t I ever mean anything to you? Not even for once?”
“Then, why did I live my whole life being unloved and abandoned? Why didn’t you ever show that you cared?”
Nnedinma’s response was a sigh.
“Of course, you won’t say anything!” Cheta slammed her suitcase shut. “I wasn’t expecting any different!”
“It’s not like that. I—”
“It’s okay!” Cheta responded in Igbo. “I don’t even want to know.”
“Cheta, listen to me.”
“Mommy, no,” she said, forcefully lowering her tone. “I’m done having this talk that never goes anywhere. Let everyone just face their front, abeg. But anything you people see from me, take it like that. I’ve tried.”
Cheta zipped up her suitcase and placed it on the floor. She picked up her phone to request a ride.
“Do you love him?” Nnedinma asked. Cheta glanced at her from behind her phone. “Oghenero. Do you love him?”
“I’m not telling you people anything about my love life.”
“I don’t want you to do something you’ll regret.”
“Maybe you found out about his mother and me, and you thought that it would be a good way to get back at your dad and…”
“Really, Mom? I found out about you guys seventeen years ago and I went and got pregnant out of spite, then kept it a secret? You think I’m that malicious?”
“That’s not what I mean.”
“Meeting Nero was a coincidence. He didn’t even know about Obi until a short while ago. So, relax! Not everything is about you!”
“Calm down, Cheta. I only wanted to know…”
“Like I said, we don’t need to have these conversations anymore, because they are tiring.”
“Have you met Hadiza?”
“I’m not answering you, Mommy.”
“Yes.” Cheta drew out the pull handle of her suitcase. “Mommy, no more questions, please. I just want to live my life without any more drama.” She walked to the door and opened it. “I’m going downstairs to wait for my ride.”
“When am I going to see you again?”
Cheta looked at her mother tenderly, softening towards her. It was always difficult to stay mad at her. All it usually took was one look of helplessness from the woman’s weak eyes to melt her anger.
“Mommy, I’ll call you.”
“Do you need anything? Money…?”
“No, I’m fine.”
“Okay.” Nnedinma stood. She gave Cheta an affectionate look marred by guilt.
“You should leave while you still can,” Cheta told her.
“We’re leaving tomorrow.”
“No, Mommy. I meant your marriage. You can still do it now. Walk away.”
“Chichetaram,” Nnedinma put up a smile, “you know God hates divorce.”
“I know. Still, leave.”
She smiled again.
“Bye, Mommy.” Cheta fought the impulse to hug her. She hurried out of her bedroom before her kindheartedness betrayed her.
If Gold thought that being alone in a room with Basim was not her brightest decision in recent times, then she was convinced that making love to him three times in three hours was absolute foolishness.
But that hadn’t been the hardest part of this evening. Letting go was. She remembered kissing him outside Nero’s front door for a long time and declining his repeated requests to let him take her home. He asked if they would see again, and she told him she wasn’t sure.
“My mom is not as bad as you think,” he explained. “Don’t judge her before you meet her.”
“I shouldn’t judge her? Bas, I told you about what she did to Ozzy—”
“Can you stop calling that bastard’s name whenever you’re with me? For fuck’s sake!”
“I’m sorry, but that is my reality. My ex was locked up in prison for seven years over money that he and I shared. Money that I stole. Do I need to remind you how dangerous your mom is?”
Gold was tempted to let him know that Hadiza was presently trying to pay her off so that she could disappear from his life.
She had received the woman’s call last night while she lay snuggled under a blanket in Ransome’s living room, watching a movie. Upon hearing Hadiza say out her name over the phone, Gold threw off the blanket and sat up, goosebumps spreading across her skin.
“I know about you and my son, and I know you haven’t been with him in a while. I’d like to think that he’s used you and he’s tired. But I know Basim too well, and that is why I need you to walk as far away from him as possible, Gold. Very far.”
Gold tried to say something in agreement with her, but the woman wouldn’t let her speak.
“I could easily threaten you, but that would be a mission in futility. I could also use the same method I used on Oswald, but you’re a woman, and I am known to be kind to my own. Besides, you’re an orphan, as I am. I know what it means to lose both parents. So, this is what we would do. I’ll offer you enough money to leave Nigeria for a while. You don’t have any serious ties here, asides Chichetaram, so nothing is keeping you in this useless country. Find somewhere and start all over again. East Africa is fine, but if you want to go to Europe, I can be kind enough to make that happen. Of course, I cannot offer you permanent residency or citizenship to wherever you end up. That’s up to you. I can only help you get there and keep you engaged in something for a while. Just let me know what country works for you.”
It was hard for Gold to reconcile this Hadiza on the phone to the one in her head. This version almost sounded humane and gentle, as if she could not harm a soul.
“I will give you until the middle of January, so that you can enjoy your holiday and plan for what lies ahead. On the fifteenth, call me and let me know what country you’ve chosen.”
“Okay, ma,” Gold mumbled.
“I want to remind you that I’m still the one that made Oswald disappear,” Hadiza’s voice took on a new tone. It was quieter but darker. “If you try to be stubborn, you won’t like what would come to you.”
The line went dead and Gold stared at her phone as if she had just encountered the supernatural. Hours later, having recovered from the call, she pondered on Hadiza’s offer. It reminded her of the one with Laja’s mother that year; only that this weighed heavier. There was a threat on one end and a fresh start on the other, and she wondered if this was heaven’s way of answering her lazy prayers about relocation out of Nigeria. But what if Hadiza was merely getting her to consent so that she could execute some other sinister plan?
Gold was up for most of the night, restless. Hadiza’s proposal wasn’t something she planned to share with anyone, not even Cheta. Hadiza might not have told her to keep the phone call between them, but there were things one didn’t need to be told not to do.
Now, as she sat at the back of a cab, heading home from Nero’s, she wondered if it would be a great idea not to take a morning-after pill. The perverse idea of getting pregnant for Basim took up space in her thoughts. If she got pregnant and relocated to Europe, her baby would become a citizen of whatever country she ended up in, and this would give her grounds to remain there long after her visa expired. At the same time, the baby being a Husseini was a tool she could wield to return home and back into Basim’s life, should things go badly for her in Europe.
But what if Hadiza was not being honest? What if this was all a game to her?
Gold remembered Basim’s kisses, the way he told her that she alone could make him feel like his old self again.
“No one has been able to break through,” he had said while inside her. “I’ve been messed up for years, detached from everything and everyone… How did you do it?”
She could ask him the same question, but she was better at masking her feelings. Having struggled in the world on her own, and with a heart that easily fell in love, Gold had learned quite early that love was dangerous and expressing it was far worse. Her relationship with Ozzy was always a reminder of how not to be with a man in a relationship, and this had steered her through a world of men, several, for whom she had feelings. She feared that whatever she felt for Basim would soon fade, as it was always the case. This was why all her desires had to be met first.
Her cab stopped outside Ransome’s gate and she got off. Ransome was leaving the compound as she approached the gate. His SUV stopped and the back passenger window wound down.
“Get in, let’s go for a drink,” Ransome said.
“Can I change, at least?”
“I’ll wait out here.”
Gold hurried into the house and washed up, after peeing. She changed into an evening dress, texted Basim that she arrived home safely, as she had promised to do, and returned to Ransome.
“We’re going to have drinks with your boyfriend,” he informed her.
The vehicle began to move along a quiet lane.
“Ozzy? Since when did you two start talking?”
“When he wouldn’t stop calling my phone. Look, it’s not as if we don’t talk. It’s just that we never really had anything to bond over. Now, he wants to catch up on old times. I have a feeling he wants money. Once I give him, I’ll block him from ever having access to me.”
Gold detested how Ransome sometimes talked about his money. It irritated her how he always gabbed about people coming around him just to beg for change.
“What if he really just wants to catch up on old times?” she asked him.
“Old times?” Ransome laughed. “He has you for that. He and I never had any old times, abeg. Laja was the glue that held all of us together. But you sef, what were you doing with such a loser? Was it because of his mixed race thing?”
“The sex was great?”
“Yes, but that wasn’t the reason. I loved him.”
“Yeah, you were stupid for that. And let’s not forget how easily you catch feelings.”
“Let’s not talk about him abeg. He’s my past.”
“If you say so.”
“How’s wifey? I haven’t seen her in a while.”
“She’d good.” Ransome tapped on his phone screen and it lit up.
“You know what people are saying about you guys, right?”
Ransome frowned, looked at Gold. “What are they saying?”
“That she’s better off with her ex. She looked happier in pictures with him.”
“What does that mean?”
“That with you, she’s constantly frowning. That it all looks fake.”
“Who are the people saying these things?”
“It was a post on Instagram yesterday evening. They shared you people’s Christmas photo. The one I took of you guys that you put up on your Instagram.”
“The one we wore matching pajamas?”
“Did I take any other picture of you guys?”
“They feel our relationship is forced?”
“Who the hell cares?”
“You. Image has always been everything to you.”
“Whatever.” He went back to his phone and ignored her for some time. But he took a break and asked, “Do you think that if we get her pregnant, people’s minds would change?”
“We?” Gold laughed. “It’s just you and yourself getting someone pregnant, abeg.”
“I’m not joking here. I know that people love babies…”
“A baby won’t change how people see you guys, Rans. If I were you, I’d ignore them. They’ll fixate on something else soon.”
“Or we could announce that she miscarried. Sympathy always works.”
Gold laughed again. “Are you kidding me?”
“As you said, image is everything.”
“Do whatever you want jare. I couldn’t care less, abeg.”
Ransome tapped his fingers on his knee in restlessness. “Well, the woman we wanted never wanted us. She still doesn’t want us.”
“Moving on was the only way we had to let go.”
Gold went silent. Ransome returned to his phone. As they arrived at the lounge where they were to meet Ozzy, Gold had a sudden feeling like it was a bad idea being in the same space with him. So far, she had done a great job of staying away. She wasn’t ready for his madness.
They walked towards the building, escorted by Ransome’s bodyguard who had come along with them. But just as they were about to walk in, they noticed that most of the people in the lounge were gathered around a spot, staring down at the floor. The bodyguard became alert, putting out a hand to prevent Ransome from moving any further.
“Let me check it out.”
But Ransome pushed through and went in, followed by Gold. Jerking on the floor of the dimly lit lounge was Oswald. Gold recognized him by his hair and tattoos around his neck.
“Is there a doctor here?” somebody asked in a frantic voice.
“Ozzy?” Gold ran forward.
“Are you a doctor?”
“No. But this is my friend. Ozzy!” She tossed her handbag aside and fell on her knees before him. The violent spasms that shook his body seemed to affect her as well, as she began to tremble.
“Is he epileptic?” a man asked. Gold looked at him, confused. “No… Ransome, please help! Any doctor here?”
“I’m calling 112 and they’re not picking up,” a lady said.
“Don’t crowd him, please!” Ransome’s bodyguard appeared and went on his knees beside Ransome. “Move away!”
The small crowd cleared the area, but Gold remained.
“Get me a towel!”
Gold couldn’t believe that this was happening. She had never seen Ozzy have a seizure before now. In fact, he had hardly fallen ill while they were in school.
“…he was sitting there and just got up, maybe to go to the bathroom,” a woman recalled. “Next thing, he just fell on the floor and started shaking.”
A waiter ran forward with a small kitchen towel, which the bodyguard used to cushion Ozzy’s head. By now, the convulsions were less violent.
“Is he epileptic?” the bodyguard questioned Gold.
“No. I don’t know. What’s happening to him?” she asked, panicked.
“He’ll be fine.” He stared at his watch. “It’ll soon pass.”
But it seemed like forever before Ozzy stopped moving. His body then relaxed and his arms fell limply by his sides. Gold moved closer as soon as she realized that he was conscious.
“Ozzy?” she called. His eyes scanned their hovering faces before settling on her. “Are you okay?”
He didn’t respond.
He shut his eyes and opened them again. “Did I just…?” he muttered. “Fuck.”
“You’re good?” Ransome inquired.
“Yeah.” He made to sit up, but the bodyguard placed a hand on him.
“I’m good.” He pulled himself up to sit and stayed there for some seconds. “This is embarrassing.”
“You need anything?” Ransome asked as the observing crowd returned to their tables. “Water…”
“No, I’m fine.”
“Maybe you need to lie down?”
He stood, albeit slowly. He steadied himself before moving towards his table. The bodyguard walked to the bar and pulled a stool while Gold and Ransome sat with Ozzy. There was a half-consumed beer on the table. Gold snatched it and kept it on the next table.
“Don’t be ridiculous, goldfish,” Ozzy murmured, smiling. “I’m okay.”
“Since when did you start having seizures?” she asked. He ignored her and faced Ransome.
“Guy, how far na?”
They shook hands and Ozzy turned to Gold. “And you, madam, how are you?” He held her hand and kissed it. “I’ve missed you.”
As usual, Gold thought he looked handsome, even after having a fit. It was annoying that she was still attracted to him. His sex appeal was heavy.
“Please, order your drinks. It’s all on me.”
He signaled for a waiter who came over and took their orders.
“You didn’t answer my question, Ozzy,” Gold said.
“Forget the embarrassing thing you just saw and let’s talk. I’m very okay. For real.”
Gold forced herself to relax. The ambience was calm and soothing, made so by soft lighting and easygoing music. Their drinks arrived and the mood soon became chill, especially as they began to recall the best times they had as friends in the past. Even when they talked about Laja, it was with lightheartedness. But Gold sensed that Ozzy had something he planned to discuss with Ransome, so she asked to be excused to make a phone call. She took her phone from her handbag and stepped outside to return a call she had missed from a friend. The call lasted a bit. She went back in and found both men as she had left them.
“Did I miss anything?” she asked.
“No, we were just talking business,” Ransome answered. Gold took her seat.
“You want some more wine?” Ozzy asked her.
He motioned over to the waiter who came by a second time.
“Another bottle of this wine, please.”
When the waiter left, Gold asked, “So, you’re not going to talk to us about what we walked in and saw?”
Ozzy groaned. “You still don’t know how to just let things go, do you?”
She heard the annoyance in his voice and knew that his mood was about to change. Nobody switched moods like he did.
“Ozzy, you expect me, of all people, to ignore what I saw?”
“Fine. I’m epileptic, okay?”
“Since Kuje,” he said.
“Yeah. Got beat up badly by the guards one night over some ish with another inmate. When I say badly, I mean, I was left for dead. They dumped me in a hospital. This was 2011. My seventh year there. In fact, I feel like I’d still be there if I hadn’t ended up in a hospital. Anyways, I’ve been epileptic since then.”
“Oh God,” Gold muttered. “I’m so sorry, Oz.”
“Are you on any sort of treatment?” Ransome asked. “What can we do to stop it?”
“I take drugs. Expensive drugs. Had a surgery done when the brain trauma occurred. Some church folks that do charity work raised money for it. The fucking bitch never showed up.”
“Who else? She almost got me killed. The least she could do was to show up and pay for my treatment.”
“But how was that supposed to happen, Oz? She put you in prison because you stole her money,” Ransome reminded him.
“Money that her guys recovered from me? How much of that shit did I spend?”
Gold felt sorry for him. She still bore the burden of guilt over what had befallen him. If she had ignored the bag of dollars that night, they wouldn’t be here.
“I swear to God, Hadiza will pay for what she did to me.”
“Lower your voice,” Ransome warned, looking around.
Ozzy downed is beer, slammed the bottle on the table, and called the waiter for another. “You guys should go ahead and pity me,” he said. “I see the irritating sympathy in your eyes, the way you look at me as if I am now a charity case. Well, let it be known that I don’t need shit from anyone. Rans, I called you here for a business deal. If you want to invest, let me know. If you don’t want to, don’t waste my time. I’ve had my own share of asking for help from people and getting disappointed. I went all the way to Australia to find my dad…”
“Your dad?” Gold asked. “I thought you told me he was already dead.”
“That was what my mom told me, but my aunt said she had lied. So I hustled some cash, found my way to Melbourne, only to be told that the old man died a few days before I got there. Can you imagine?” Ozzy laughed bitterly. “This life ehn!” He shook his head and drank from his already empty beer bottle.
“Did you meet any of your relatives?” Gold inquired.
“Yeah. A cousin, two uncles and a grandaunt. The family is pretty fucked up.”
“I’m so sorry for what you went through, Ozzy,” she said.
“The pitiful face again.”
“No, it’s not pity. It’s me being genuinely concerned…”
“So concerned that you looked for me after I disappeared?”
“I did. At least, I tried.” She looked at Ransome. “We all tried.”
“Okay. And now? How much are you trying?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Aren’t you with Basim? Didn’t you block me from your life, so that you can be with him?”
Gold’s response was interrupted by the coming of the waiter who came with her wine and replaced Ozzy’s empty beer bottle with a full one. The man left and Ozzy chugged down some of the ice-cold beer.
“You were saying?” He looked at Gold.
“Nothing. I don’t have to explain myself.”
“We all thought you took the money and disappeared,” Ransome explained quietly. “Wasn’t that what happened at first, before Hadiza found you?”
Ozzy had some more beer.
“We looked for you and decided to move on. Goldie lost her dad during that time. Cheta lost her brother and got pregnant. We all had lives to live, Oz. You can’t try to make us feel bad for the choices you made.”
Ozzy eyed Gold.
“Gold went through hell.”
“Anyways, concerning your business proposal, I am not interested. I can only do what a friend would do, and that would be to hand you some cash to go ahead with your plans. The cash, however, can only be a quarter of what you’re asking for, because that’s some big ass money, my guy. Having said that,” Ransome stood, “I’ll have to call this a night. Send me your account details.”
Ozzy gave Ransome a hostile stare, which Ransome ignored as he took out money from his wallet and placed on the table.
“Later, man.” He stared at Gold. “Babe, I’m waiting in the car.”
The moment he left, Ozzy picked the money and tossed it at Gold.
“Are you mad?” she asked in annoyance. “Why did you just do that?”
“You need the money more than I do. I bet he doesn’t pay you enough for pussy services.”
Gold reached over and jabbed him backwards on his chest. “I’m not fucking him.”
Hissing, she got on her feet. “I almost forgot how annoying you could be. You deserve everything that has happened to you.”
“We had a deal,” he said.
“I told you I had plans for Basim, but you cut me off.”
“I cut him off too.”
“Do you want me to release your nudes online?”
“Do you want to go back to jail?”
Ozzy raised his brows. “Wow. You’re threatening me now, Gold.”
“See, let’s just stay away from each other because we’re both toxic together. Yes, I feel guilty for all you went through, and I am so sorry that you still have to deal with it, but we’re done, Oswald. Totally done. I’m too old to be doing shit with you…”
“You can never fit into their world!”
“Never! And that stupid bitch will never forgive you! You’re not Cheta who gets a pass because her parents are rich and she has a child that is their blood. You and I, the poor ones, we’ll take the fall for that night.”
“I already told you that I’m not with Basim.”
“Then why did you text him tonight, telling him that you got home safe?”
“What?” Gold pulled back.
“And he texted back, telling you that he can still smell you on his beard.”
Gold took her phone from her handbag and saw an unread text from Basim that matched the words Ozzy had just told her.
“You cloned my phone?”
“You’ve always been such an idiot.”
Gold was enraged. She had the mind to break his beer bottle over his head, but all she could do was clench her fists and try to steady her raging pulse.
“Fuck off, abeg,” he spat. “I don’t even know why Rans brought you along. Get the fuck out.”
Gold started towards the exit without saying anything further.
“Tell your boyfriend to watch his back!”
Gold burst out of the lounge and marched to Ransome’s car. She got in beside him, panting hard.
“Are you okay?”
“No!” she almost shouted. “No.” She tossed her phone at him. “Do you know how to remove a bug from a phone?”
“He cloned my phone.”
Ransome gave her a look that said he wasn’t going to stop asking. She stared at the bodyguard, seated behind the wheel.
“Hey,” Ransome called, “we need privacy.”
The man left the car.
“Oya, start talking.”
“I cheated on Basim with him. Basim found out and dumped me…”
“Come on, Goldie.”
“I know. Stupid thing I did.”
“Ozzy, of all people? Do you love pain or what? The guy literally abandoned you to go and spend money that you found.”
“I fucked up. Stop beating me for it. I regret it.”
“Do you still love him?”
“No. It’s just the attraction. Nothing more.”
“You have to stay away from him for your own good.”
Ransome extended a gracious hand to her, resting it on her knee. “So, the bastard cloned your phone.”
“Yeah, and he wants to hurt Basim.”
“He can’t. He’s all mouth.”
“I hope so. Can you help me get the bug out?”
Ransome observed the phone. “My boy can do something, I guess. Tell him to come in.”
Gold opened her door and asked the bodyguard in. He returned, taking his place in the driver’s seat. Ransome handed Gold’s phone to him. “It’s been cloned and we need to fix it. Do you have a solution?”
“I might. Let’s get home first.”
Ransome looked at Gold. He touched her cheek. “Hey.”
She stared back, struggling with tears. “I feel like my life has no purpose or direction.”
“I feel so too. But don’t worry, you’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure?”
He nodded. “Cry, if you want to. Which one is all this one that you’re swelling like a blowfish?”
She laughed a little but burst into tears. Ransome drew her closer and she rested on his lap.
“Sorry, darling.” He stroked her hair. “Should I sing one song my mom used to sing to me each time I cried?”
“Okay, dear. It’s going to be fine.”
When Cheta showed up at Nero’s front door, he was already there waiting for her. She didn’t ask for a soothing hug, but he gave her one. Then, he took her suitcase and dragged it to his bedroom, taking her along as well.
“I’m so exhausted.” She stretched out on his bed.
“I bought dinner.”
“I’m not hungry.”
Her mood was low, and he didn’t think it was right to try to lift her out of it. He sat on the bed beside her, rubbing her bum in circles.
“I’ll let you be for a bit and come back. Is that okay?”
He kissed her and switched off the lights. When he stepped out, he received a phone call from Obi. The boy wanted to know if he was home, because he didn’t have his key with him.
Nero told him that he could come home. He went into the kitchen for his meal and settled into a sofa for dinenr. The moment he sat, his phone rang. Joy was calling. He let his phone ring out. She sent him a text.
Nero, it’s serious
Annoyed, Nero blocked her number. He went back to his dinner and an old war classic on the history channel.
Obi came home shortly after.
“How did the wedding reception go?” Nero asked.
“Okay, I guess.”
“Yeah. Where’s Mom?”
“Do you have any reservations about your mom and I?”
“Concerning our relationship.”
“Oh. Um… It’s okay, I guess. None of my business, really.”
“Great. So… About Joy…”
“I don’t want to know.”
“We were a thing and we’re no longer together. That shit she did, coming here? She won’t repeat it. I promise you.”
“Okay. Can I go in now?”
Obi walked into his bedroom. Nero stretched out his legs on the table and visited Instagram to upload the photos Cheta had taken of him and Obi earlier. He asked his followers to guess who Obi was; a fifty thousand naira reward would be given to the first person that guessed right.
Nero spent quite a while online, responding to messages on his various social media accounts. Later, he received a call from a client. Putting him on speakerphone, he walked to his worktable in a corner of the room. They talked business as he became occupied with a structural design for an ongoing project. After the call, Nero put on some music and concentrated on his designs. He worked for three hours without interruption, stopped to take a glass of juice, and went back to work. He hadn’t done five minutes in when he felt a hand on his back.
“I didn’t know engineers designed blueprints as well.”
Nero lifted his hunched frame from his computer screen and stretched his hand to his side where Cheta stood, finding her bum underneath a nightshirt. He pushed his face into the soft fabric of the nightshirt and felt her tummy. She smelled like she had just stepped out of the shower.
“Why are you awake?” he asked. “It’s past three.”
“I’m usually up at this time.” She draped his neck with her arm and rested a knee on his chair. “You should be the one going to bed.”
His eyes ogled her breasts. “I have better things to do with my time.”
She placed her head on his, staring at the computer screen. “This looks so complicated.”
“Not really. It can be a lot of work though.”
Cheta dropped her leg to the floor. “Let me allow you concentrate then,” she said, turning away. But Nero snatched her hand and drew her back, rising to his feet at the same time.
“I was thinking that we should totally send Obi to your house for one week, so that I can do things to you in every single room in this house.”
Nero’s phone rang. He took a peep at it. “Oh. Um… very important international call. Give me a minute.”
He went into the kitchen to take the call. It was from a potential client, a Nigerian who wanted to build an estate in Lagos. Nero’s calendar was booked for the year. He intended to hand the contract to someone else. He explained this to the client.
“As long as you oversee it and the quality remains first-rate,” the man said.
They spoke for a bit and scheduled to discuss further on a later date. After the phone call, Nero went back to the living room. Cheta was stretched out on the sofa, watching a movie. He playfully tugged at her feet. She smiled at him. He parted her legs and lay between them.
“Are you hungry?” he asked.
“But you didn’t eat yesterday.”
Cheta stroked the side of his face. “I’m good.”
He touched her lips and kissed them. “Do you want to talk about what happened yesterday at your place?”
“Look, I know you’ve handled your shit by yourself for a long time, and you do it so well. I just want to let you know that you don’t have to carry that burden alone anymore. I’m here, if you ever need to…”
“I know, Nero.”
“Okay.” He kissed her, lingering. “You’re so beautiful.”
“And I want to eat you up right now.”
“Is that why you’re having a boner?”
“I always have a boner for you. I hide it so well.”
Cheta giggled, bringing up her legs. He kissed her again, going deeper this time. His hand slowly caressed her side, going all the way to her bum. He stopped suddenly at the sound of a door shutting. He turned, following Cheta’s stare. Obi was standing at the foot of the sofa.
“I have a live match to watch. Chicago Bulls…”
“It’s fine.” Nero lifted his body off Cheta’s and took her hand, pulling her up.
“So, it’s safe for me to ship you guys?” Obi asked.
“Ship us?” Cheta looked confused.
“As in, you guys are serious?”
“It’s not a fling…”
“No,” they answered together.
Obi gave Cheta a certain look. “Okay.” He picked a remote control and switched to one of the sports channel. Cheta went into Nero’s bedroom first; he followed her in, after turning off his computer. She was standing beside the bed when he walked in. She then took off her nightshirt.
Holding the door handle, Nero allowed his eyes wash over her.
“I’m thinking that maybe we could send Obi to yours to stay for a week.” He let go of the door and went to her. She sat on the bed, slowly moving in, spreading her legs apart. Again, Nero found space between her thighs. “I’ll have you on this bed and against every door…” He kissed her neck. “Against every wall…” His lips moved down to her chest. “And in every single space that my body can fit nicely into yours.” He went back up to her lips. “Come and stay with me,” he requested.
“I’m here already.”
“I mean, for a long time…”
“I should move in with you?”
“Cheta, that house doesn’t belong to you. I know your parents got it for you and all, but it’s not yours. It’s theirs, which gives them to right to come in at any time and tell you what to do and how to live your life… You don’t deserve that.”
“They’ll soon be gone.”
“Stay here, with me,” he said, lips almost touching hers. “Let’s practice living together and see how it goes.”
“Way too soon.”
“You’re right. Okay, how about you take one of the apartments at Laja Towers? Or I get you a place of your own? You can pay me back later.”
Cheta smiled again. “I’ll be fine, Nero.”
They made love without foreplay, as if they were an old couple who had known each other’s bodies for years and knew exactly what to do with each part. But it wasn’t mundane; every action from either of them was deliberate and was made to give the other concentrated pleasure. It was so intense that Nero was sure he saw Cheta’s eyes glisten at some point. The bedsheet was a soaking mess by the time they were done. Embarrassed, Cheta apologized for the mess.
“I’m usually not like this,” she said.
“I think you are.”
They lazily stripped the bed bare. “Let me get a bedsheet from the laundry room.”
“No.” Cheta stopped Nero as he tried to leave the bedroom. “I don’t want Obi thinking… stuff.”
“Obi is not a baby. He knows that we totally got into this room to have sex.”
“I know. It’s just that I hid my sex life from him well.”
“But you didn’t hide the men that came and went.”
Cheta’s face showed a frown.
“I didn’t mean it like that. I meant that… Okay, he told me that there were a good number of men in your past.”
“He judged me for that. I’m sure you saw the look he gave me when he was asking about us. He probably thinks I’ll dump you.”
“He’s just a kid, Cheta. When he grows, he’ll understand. Let me get that bedsheet.”
Nero left for the laundry room and returned. They made the bed together, lay on it, and cuddled underneath the blanket. He slept before Cheta and woke up at six. He found her working on her laptop.
“Go back to sleep. It’s just past six,” she whispered.
He shut his eyes again, opening them at a few minutes to eight. This time, she was sleeping beside him. He went for a pee and left the bedroom for the kitchen for a drink of water. Stepping out, he heard a knock on the front door. When he looked into the peephole and saw Joy standing outside, he cussed. Annoyed, he opened the door.
“What the fuck do you want?”
Her appearance unsettled him a little. She looked unkempt, as if she had been wearing the same dress for days. Her weave was tangled at the ends, and her faux lashes were almost falling off. The only thing that looked good on her was her pair of slippers, which had been a gift from him two years ago.
“Can we talk?” she asked.
“No, Joy, we can’t. You have to stop doing this. Stop showing up here. We’re through.”
“I know. I just want to talk. I have something I have to tell you.”
She looked desperate, and he hated that. He also hated the tears he saw in her eyes.
“What’s going on?” he asked with concern. “Why are you looking like this, Joy?”
She seemed like she was going to give him an answer, but she covered her face and broke into a cry. Nero sighed. This wasn’t Joy. She was usually put-together. Always composed, always stylish and beautiful. She was never caught imperfect, which was why Nero didn’t recognize this part of her. Unfortunately, he was done with her. He had a theory for why she looked this way, and that in itself, annoyed him a great deal.
“Look, you have family and friends. Surely, they can help you, Joy. Not me. I’m no longer your man.”
“I know. I just need a friend, someone who understands me more than anyone.”
“I was that friend, but not anymore. You took me for granted and I’m done. You need to accept that, find closure, and move on. I have.”
“Nero?” Cheta called. He looked over his shoulder and saw her standing in the living room staring curiously at them.
“Give me a minute, sweetie.” He waited for her to leave before he continued with Joy. “I told you about Obi? That’s his mom. We’re together now. I need you to back off.”
“I just want to talk…”
“No, Joy. It is over. Don’t ever come here again.”
He went back into the living room and shut the door.
“Is everything okay?” Cheta asked, coming out from the kitchen.
“It’s my ex. She’ll be fine.” He stretched out his hand to her. “What do you say about me spoiling you silly today?”
“What do you have in mind?”
He was interrupted by a loud banging on the front door.
“NERO!” Joy called.
Embarrassed, he shut his eyes.
“It sounds serious,” Cheta said. “I think you should answer her. I’ll be in the room.”
“I am so sorry, hon.”
Nero marched to the living room in anger and threw open the door.
“Are you out of your fucking mind?” he shouted.
“I’m using again,” Joy wept. “I need help or I’m going to die.”
Nero’s heart sank as he gave her a full body scan. He was disappointed in himself that he hadn’t suspected that she was back on the addiction she was cured of seven years ago.
“I don’t want to die, Nero. Please, help me…”
He was mad at her. “I should help you?”
“Your addiction almost cost me my relationship with my mom! It almost ruined me, Joy! I gave up everything for you! Including my marriage! Now, you’re back again?”
“Nero…” She tried to touch him, but he backed away. “Don’t do this.”
“The only help you’ll get from me is me taking you to your sister and her husband, let them handle you. You’re not my problem any longer!”
“Go and wait by my car!”
He walked in and slammed the door. Obi was in the living room, staring at him.
“You said she wasn’t coming back,” the boy mentioned.
“Not now, Son!”
Nero marched into his bedroom in search of the key to his Honda. He searched around for a while until he found it in one of his pockets.
“Is she going to be a problem?” Cheta, seated on the bed, asked.
“No,” he answered gruffly. “I’m done with her. She’s just a stupid ass junkie.”
He left the bedroom and out the front door. When he got to the car park, he didn’t find Joy. He looked around, but she wasn’t in sight.
“Emmanuel!” he called his gateman. “Where Joy enter?”
“She don go. She jus waka comot, she no tell me anything.”
“That’s good! See, let this be the last day you let her into this compound. You dey hear me so?”
“If I see her at my door again, na your job don go be dat!”
Nero pulled his ear. “I don warn you!”
As he walked back to the house, he prayed it would be the last he would hear from Joy.
®Sally Kenneth Dadzie @moskedapages