It felt like he was going on a date with her for the first time. He was nervous, and he must have taken more than a thousand steps in his living room as he walked in circles, rehearsing the words he would say to her.
“Why are you talking to yourself?”
He stopped moving, just realizing that his six-year-old granddaughter was in the room with him. She was seated on the floor, legs crossed, elbows resting on her knees as round eyes stared up at him in curiosity.
She was Fajr’s daughter. Fajr had become his favorite child after his marriage to Hadiza crashed, for the reason that she had been the most hit by the divorce and had chosen to stay with and comfort him. Basim, and the lastborn, Hajara, had not cared as much as Fajr did. Fajr had been mad at them over this. Her anger was like Hadiza’s, passionate and righteous. Having her on his side, was to Mazino, like keeping a special piece of Hadiza with him.
“I’m talking to myself because I can,” Mazino responded to his granddaughter’s question with a smile.
“Are you going to Grandma’s house?”
Mazino smiled, lowering into a squat. She probably heard about the visit from her mother who had been going on about it all day. Her years of relentless pleading on Mazino’s behalf had finally paid off. It was worth talking about. Mazino wished that he could get a thousand more tongues to shout it to the skies that Hadiza had finally agreed to give him an ear after fifteen years.
“Yes, I’m going to see your grandma.”
“I want to go with you.”
“Not tonight, sweetie. Some other time.”
The little girl went into thought. “Will Grandma come and stay here?” she asked.
Mazino laughed. “No, sweetie.”
“Well…” He arranged a stray braid from her head that had fallen between her eyes. “Grandmas and Grandpas don’t always have to stay in the same house.”
“But my mommy and my daddy stay in the same house.”
“And that’s why we love them.”
He slowly got up, feeling the effect of ageing in his bones.
“Daddy, the car is ready.” Fajr walked in, hand on her baby bump as the other held a sausage roll. She was pregnant with her third child and Mazino had enjoyed putting up with her pregnancy challenges for a month. Her husband was presently out of the country.
“I want to follow you,” she said.
“You sound like your daughter.”
“Let me follow you nau.”
Mazino straightened his kaftan and walked to the door.
He stopped. Fajr disappeared into the kitchen and came out with a bouquet of flowers.
“Apology flowers. We have blue hyacinths, pink roses, pink carnations and white tulips.”
“When did your mom start liking flowers?”
It was a silly question to ask. He had seen the photos of Hadiza’s beautiful home, courtesy of Fajr. It was surrounded by flowers. Hadiza, like him, had changed over the years. However, he was sad that she had given up her ambition to stop and smell the roses.
“Have fun, Daddy.” Fajr handed the bouquet to him. He left the house and got into his car. He didn’t need any chauffeur tonight. He wanted to be reminded of his first date with Hadiza thirty-seven years ago, when he sped down a lonely street in Lokoja with his brand new Mercedes 190, his perfume choking the air in the car. Hadiza had been waiting outside her parents’ home, dressed in an off-shoulder top that was tucked into a long, buttoned-down skirt. Holding a clutch purse that matched her heels, she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. It had to do with her fierce eyes and defiant stare. He was hooked on her from that night.
He still was, after all these years. No woman had been able to keep him captivated as she did. The thing he had with Ireyi, his childhood sweetheart, after his separation from Hadiza was over, had not worked. He had filed for a divorce in his fourth year with Ireyi without provocation on her part. He was tired of her lack of ambition, tired of waiting for himself to fall hard for her, as he had done with Hadiza. Ireyi almost went mad when his lawyer served her divorce papers. Ireyi dragged the divorce proceedings and got both families to intervene on her behalf, but Mazino was done with her. He moved to Lagos and supported Basim with the family business. Ireyi eventually let go, and three years later, Mazino returned to Lokoja. He decided from then on that it could be no other woman but Hadiza, and he made good his word by pursuing hard after her when he relocated to Abuja.
His efforts along the years were finally paying off tonight. As he raced towards Hadiza’s side of town, he hoped that things would end well.
It had begun to drizzle when his car slowed outside her house. He honked as he approached the gate and waited. A security guard stepped outside, asking him to identify himself and state his purpose of visit. Mazino answered his questions and waited for him to confirm with Hadiza. The guard soon returned and let him through.
Mazino drove into the compound for the first time. What Fajr had described was not close to the beauty surrounding him. It was nature at its finest. At least, the finest he had seen in any home in Abuja. The place looked like it was cut out of a page of Homes and Gardens.
He parked his car in a spot shown to him by the guard, picked the flowers and gift bag he had come with, and came down from the car. He walked up to the door, and just as he was about to knock, it opened.
Hadiza was standing before him, holding on to a pair of crutches. His heart stopped for a bit. He could not recall a moment that he saw this woman and she wasn’t absolutely gorgeous. She had on a white abaya with silver studs that matched her jewelry.
“Good evening,” he greeted.
“I really don’t want to do this, Mazino,” Hadiza replied. “I’d rather boil in a vat of oil than have this dinner. But this is for Fajr’s sake and your mom’s, so that I can get them off my back.”
Mazino smiled when she turned around. This was a good start. He didn’t care about her demeanor and the words she had just told him. This was the first time in fifteen years that he was alone with her in the same space. Other times, they had been in the company of people—their daughters’ weddings, the births and birthdays of their grandchildren, school graduations and random events organized by mutual friends. Hadiza had maintained her coldness and distance, so much so that a particular gossip publication made it their pastime to document her attitude towards Mazino whenever they were at an event together.
“Let me have those,” Hadiza said, stretching out her hand to take the flowers.
“I could help you put them…”
“I’m not an invalid.”
He handed her the flowers and the gift bag. She disappeared into what he guessed was the kitchen and returned to the living room. Mazino was glad to see that she was finally on her feet; she had spent more than a decade in a wheelchair. He was forever going to blame himself for what he had done to her.
He chose one of the couches in the living room and sat. Hadiza lowered herself onto another couch. She picked up her phone on a stool beside her and went busy with it, giving Mazino the opportunity to admire the elegance of the room. Hadiza had always been big on family photos, and it showed here—in a tasteful manner.
“So, Mazino, how many lies have you prepared to tell me this evening?”
“Before you start speaking, I just want to let you know that whatever you say won’t change the way I feel about you.”
“And what do you feel?”
“I hate you.” The words had come out without any show of emotion. “Now, to the groveling part…”
“Mazino, get on your knees.”
He bent his head and laughed. “On my knees?”
“Should I dobale while I’m at it?”
“I want you on your knees, Mazino, or leave my house.”
He was expecting humiliation, but not this. Hadiza knew he was a proud man, and she was going to milk the situation until she emasculated him.
“I just want to explain—”
“On your knees, Mazino Husseini.”
He wasn’t going to argue, but he wasn’t going on his knees either. He slowly stood and gave her a hard stare.
“Have a good evening, Hadiza.”
For someone who claimed that life had dealt her many heavy blows, Gold was looking like a million dollars tonight. Firstly, her appearance belied her age. She could pass for someone in her mid-twenties. Her skincare routine and wardrobe were not aspects of her life that could be switched for anything else. Gold would starve to death just to look good. Every other thing had to take second place, especially her relationships. She was that one friend that Cheta had been sure would have been married to some patently rich man by now, but her love life had been a series of unfortunate affairs. It was mostly her fault, though. Cheta was just finding out today that Gold had never been that eager to be married or stay committed to any man. Ozzy’s betrayal had left a scar in her so deep from which she was yet to heal. Her goal was to live as freely as she desired, with no obligations to anyone. To accomplish that, she would have to make a ton of money to bankroll her lifestyle. And that was where the problem lay.
Gold couldn’t work for anyone. Secondly, she was a terrible businesswoman. Everything she touched fell apart, due to poor business decisions. She would always venture into something new, which she would ruin again by making the same mistakes she did in the past. She was never the type to learn from her experience. Cheta had long come to accept that it was a character flaw that everyone around her had to ignore. Tonight, Cheta also accepted that she had a long journey ahead with Gold. Typically, she wasn’t the type to attempt changing a person, but for Gold, she would dare. She wanted her friend to have a purposeful life. Beginning from tonight, she needed to start making the right decisions.
“What did you just put in my purse?” Gold asked as Cheta’s chauffeur drove through the gates of Laja’s home.
“Two condoms,” Cheta responded.
Gold laughed a little. “You think I’m going to fuck some totally random stranger at a funeral party?”
Gold laughed a second time. “You’re slut-shaming me.”
Cheta wasn’t. She didn’t see her friend as a slut. She was only looking out for her.
“I also have two condoms in my purse. Chill.”
“Okay o.” She stared out. “Wow! This place is packed!”
Cheta took in the scene as the car came to a halt. They had been lucky to get the last parking spot in the compound. Party guests were scattered around in groups of twos and threes. Cheta could already see familiar faces from their university days. She hoped this didn’t end up being a reunion party.
Both ladies came down from the car.
“This is already looking like a Gwags reunion. That’s true sef. How come you never showed up for any of those?”
“I went for one nau,” Cheta answered, “and it was all about showing off who was more successful.”
“They are actually fun. You should come for this year’s own in Abuja.”
“Let’s go in, abeg.”
Cheta walked behind Gold, clutching her purse in nervousness. She hated parties these days, and the idea of keeping up with acquaintances and old friends for social reasons made her uncomfortable. She couldn’t believe that she had been a party animal once. It had been so bad that her name was mentioned in City People Magazine as one of the nightlife queens of University of Abuja. Her father had seen it and handed her over to one of his bishop friends for her a deliverance. A few days later, she returned to school and threw a ‘deliverance’ party. Whenever she recalled those times, it was often with a mix of wonder and nostalgia. She missed the girl she was as much she was glad for the transformation.
“Cheta!” An old friend hurried towards them. Cheta’s face lit up in a smile.
The lady spread her arms around Cheta in a hug. Rereloluwa, or just, Rere, used to be part of Cheta’s life until she got married and moved to Europe with her husband. Now, she was back with her family, according to the messages she left with Cheta earlier. She wanted them to catch up on the times missed. Like Cheta, she was also a pastor’s kid. But she had been a good girl, the type that every parent would be proud of. She had even gotten married to a pastor.
“Hi Gold.” Rere hugged Gold, but it wasn’t with the same warmth she used for Cheta. They had always tolerated each other. Rere saw Gold as a gold-digger and lacking of ambition; Gold saw her as classist and pretentious. Cheta agreed with the classist part. Rere was always condescending towards people of a lower class than hers.
“How is Pastor Muyi?”
“And the kids?”
“They’re good as well. I’m so happy to see you, Cheta. God! I missed you. I so love your hair! And your earrings… Those are diamonds, right? They have to be diamonds.”
Cheta nodded. Rere linked her arm in Cheta’s and they both walked towards the entrance of the house, stopping to exchange pleasantries with old friends. When they got in, someone dragged Rere away, leaving Cheta alone with memories of Laja that filled her without notice. She stopped as his voice came to her.
“You like my house?”
She remembered the day. They had just returned from church; a friend had invited them for her baby’s dedication. She was looking at him with a smile of approval. The house was beautiful. He spread his arms wide, making his sparkling white agbada look like a parachute in the air.
“I’m still decorating, but I love it already. It’s my divorce gift to myself. Do you want to come upstairs and check out my bed? We can try it.”
Cheta rolled her eyes. He dashed towards her and lifted her off the floor, putting her above his shoulder. For someone so obese, he was energetic.
“Laja, you’re mad o! Put me down joor!”
He carried her up the stairs and the memory faded into dark. Cheta heard the sound of snapping fingers. She blinked, and standing in front of her was Ransome. She put her arms around him in a hug, clinging tightly.
“Hey…” He rubbed her back. “Are you okay?”
“No.” She had no idea that coming here would affect her this much. The house smelled of Laja, and everything else in it reminded her that he was never coming back. It was hard to accept.
“I know, I know.” Ransome rocked her for a bit before letting go. He caught a tear at the corner of her eye. “He didn’t want you to do this.”
“He’s really gone…” Cheta’s words disappeared in a whisper. Ransome held her by the hand and led her to a sofa that was already occupied by a man typing furiously on his phone. They both sat and Ransome administered a steady caress on her knee as she sobbed. “Will I ever get through this?”
“You will. We all will.”
Cheta took out a hanky from her purse and wiped her tears. She smiled at Ransome. “Welcome home.”
“Yeah… My flight was delayed. I badly wanted to be at the funeral.”
“This is better, I guess. The funeral was very depressing.”
“I can imagine.”
Cheta sighed away the sad feeling. “How are you, Commissioner?”
Ransome laughed. “You always make me feel like I’m on some god level whenever you call me that.”
“Ransome Fakorede, you are the Commissioner for Youth and Sports Development in Lagos State. That’s some god level shit, and I am so proud of you, boy.”
“Then, come and be our wife nau. You know we’ll treat you so good. We’ll even give you fine babies.”
Cheta laughed, sniffling. “Sometimes, you sound possessed with this your third person talk. Have you ever gone for deliverance? Just to clear out the regular demon? Or a legion of them?”
“You always joke whenever I bring up this marriage talk, Cheta. I’m dead serious. What would it take to make you my wife?”
“Rans, you don’t love me. At least, not in the way that you could die for me. Look, I want my man constantly feeling like he had won a lottery because he has me. I want him lost in me. Can you do that?”
Ransome smirked. “No self-appreciating man loves a woman to death. We can’t be a simp over vagina nau. But for you, we might consider being the occasional fool.”
“You want a trophy wife, Rans. And that can never be me.”
Although the discussion was lighthearted, it was reality. Ransome was constantly infatuated over the idea of being with her, but he could never love her the way she wanted her men to love her. He was old-fashioned in his ways, holding on to traditional views about marriage. He was also not romantic.
“But you know that we’re good together.” His eyes dropped to her lips and she caught herself before she blushed. Ransome was that one regrettable lay that she wanted more of. It had happened in her small apartment in London. An entire weekend of earth-shattering sex. But she was quick to send him off on his way before he became a habit. She understood how much of a bad combo loneliness and winter could be with the wrong company, even though it didn’t stop her from randomly longing to have another encounter with him.
“Don’t remind me, please,” she said, looking around. “Let’s talk about something else.”
Gold came walking towards them with a tray of small chops.
“Trust your friend to always find where there’s food at a party,” Ransome muttered.
“Ranzy, stop talking about me,” she said.
“I was only commenting on your dress. It’s em…very short. And very revealing.”
“That’s the idea.” Gold handed them the tray. “I’ll come back with drinks.”
“How is Obi?” Ransome asked Cheta as he picked a samosa from the tray and crossed a leg over the other. Cheta admired his shoes. He had a refined fashion sense.
“He’s good. He’s waiting for an admission letter from UNILAG any day now.”
“How do you feel about that?”
Cheta shook her head. “He’s too young, Rans. He just turned sixteen. I want him to be home, at least, a year. And I definitely don’t want him schooling in Nigeria. But all his friends are planning to get into UNILAG and he wants to be with them.”
“What about his dad? What’s his take on this?”
“He still doesn’t know who his dad is.”
Ransome gave her a disapproving stare. “Cheta, how long are you going to keep this secret from him? I mean, I understand why you won’t tell the rest of us, but haba! Does his dad even know that he has a son?”
“You’re stressing me with these questions.” Cheta picked a piece of chicken. “Stop.”
“You have to introduce them to each other soon. Don’t let that boy resent you.”
“I need to ask, though, and it’s been burning in my mind for years, but I didn’t know how to put it to you.”
“What is it?”
“Were you raped?”
“Raped?” Cheta frowned. “I don’t understand.”
“To me, that’s the only reason you’ll hide Obi’s paternity.”
“I wasn’t raped. I just didn’t make the right decisions in my life at that moment and it still haunts me.”
“You mind telling me who this guy is?”
Nero walked in just then, in the company of his brother. His eyes scanned the room and stopped at her. They locked stares for a second and she looked away.
“You were about to tell me something?” Ransome said.
“Me? Oh, I was just going to tell you to give up. When I’m ready, I’ll reveal his identity.”
“Let’s talk work.” Cheta angled her body to face Ransome. “I’d like your office to sponsor a documentary I want to do about young footballers in Lagos. Something about untapped talent. I’ve not worked out the details yet, but do you think it would be something you’d be interested in sponsoring?”
Ransome took her hand and kissed it. “You see why you should be my wife? You’re always thinking about the next amazing thing to do.”
“Not like you’ll allow me work for long after we get married.”
“You’ll work. But not after the babies start coming.”
“I’m serious about the documentary.”
“Me too. Get me a proposal when you’re ready and we’ll look into it.”
“Thank you, Commissioner.”
Gold returned with drinks, giving Cheta the opportunity to ogle Nero who was talking to a group of men with Basim. Both brothers had dissimilar features, although they were mutually tall, with Basim being a little taller than Nero was. The former was also darker and looked like his father. Nero took after Hadiza’s light complexion and facial features. He was just pleasant to gaze at.
“Cheta, Aunty Gbemi was asking after you o,” Gold informed her.
“I think she’s upstairs or something. She was on a call and she went up to talk.”
Gbemi was Laja’s elder sister who loved Cheta as much as their mother did. The family, at some point, had wanted Cheta and Laja together.
“She said you shouldn’t leave without seeing her.”
“Thanks for the champagne,” Ransome said to Gold. She eyed him, walking away. They had never gotten along.
Cheta and Ransome made small talk for a while, and throughout, Cheta kept looking Nero’s way. Rere came along and announced that she was leaving.
“So early?” Cheta asked.
“You know I can’t stay here for long.”
“We should hang out soon. What do you think? Do you want to come and know where I live?”
“Sure. No problem.”
“Good evening, Commissioner Fakorede,” Rere greeted, flashing a bright smile at Ransome. It was interesting for Cheta to witness, because back in school, Rere had been patronizing towards Ransome.
“Hello madam,” he responded coldly. He could have as well called her a bitch.
“I have to run.”
Cheta stood to hug her. “Take care”
She hurried off and Cheta stared down at Ransome. “You’re such an ass.”
“Abeg, she should fuck off.”
“Oh, there’s Aunty Gbemi!” Cheta announced. “You should come and offer your condolences.”
“Of course.” Ransome got up. Both of them walked to Gbemi who was standing by the kitchen entrance, speaking to one of the guests. They waited until she was done before announcing their presence.
“I didn’t see you two! Hi, Chichetaram. Hello Ransome.”
The woman hugged them both. “Cheta, thank you for that heartfelt tribute to Laja. You’re such a sweet friend.”
“I know.” Cheta grinned.
“And you, Honorable, where were you today?”
“Work, ma. I just got in this evening. I feel so bad for missing the funeral.”
“Adelaja would forgive you for missing that one, but certainly not this one.”
“True,” Ransome laughed.
“Cheta, let me speak with you for a minute.”
Both ladies moved to a corner. “Our family will be meeting with Laja’s lawyer the day after tomorrow to read his will. You’re invited.”
“Me?” Cheta touched her chest.
“Yes. I’m sorry that the notice is coming late. It was supposed to be for next week, but Mommy’s treatment was shifted to Monday, so she and I would be out of the country latest, Sunday.”
“Okay. But Aunty Gbemi, why do you want me to attend the reading of his will? I feel flattered, but it’s a family meeting.”
“Well, you are family, and Laja added you to his will.”
“Me?” She touched her chest again. “Why?”
“Didn’t I just say you’re family? The time is eleven in the morning, the day after tomorrow, at the family house. You must be there.”
“Okay.” Cheta was perplexed. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, dear. Please, excuse me. I have to attend to guests.”
Gbemi walked away and someone pulled up behind Cheta. She knew it was Nero even before she turned. The fragrance of his perfume had left a mark on her since afternoon.
“Why do you have a habit of sneaking behind me?”
He came around to stand in front of her. “Because behind or in front, the view is always breathtaking.”
“That’s the lamest line I’ve ever heard you say.”
“How about you look stunning this evening?”
“How about let’s not do this thing you want us to do?”
“Catch up on old times. Nero, we’re two different people now.”
“I still eat hash brownies and listen to Alanis Morisette. I like Naija music a lot these days, though.”
She smiled. He wasn’t looking bad himself. His casual black on black with white sneakers was a good look on him.
“How is Joy?”
Nero lifted his brows.
“You’re not the only one who can snoop around.”
He laughed. “She’s good.”
“You didn’t come with her?”
“She’s not into these things.”
“This is hardly a party, though, and I feel like Laja would be disappointed. He really wanted people to get wasted and dance and hook up.”
“Well, about the last one…” Nero’s eyes shifted to a corner of the room where Gold and Basim were having a good laugh.
“My friend and your brother…” Cheta said.
“That’s your friend?”
“She’s my brother’s spec. He’s not going to let her go.” Nero focused on Cheta and she seemed to read that he was saying, ‘I won’t let you go too.’
“So, when do we expect the wedding bells?”
“You are. You and I know that there aren’t going to be any wedding bells anymore.”
The sound of loud music interrupted him.
“Now, that’s more like it,” Cheta stated, happy to stop him from saying whatever foolish thing he was planning to.
Gbemi was addressing the crowd that had now gathered in the living room, saying something about Laja wanting them to have fun and not stare around morosely. They responded in cheers. She raised her champagne flute into the air.
“To Laja! Larger than life!”
“Larger than life!” the entire room echoed.
“Larger than life,” Cheta muttered.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Nero said. “Your tribute revealed how close you both were.”
“Did you guys ever…?”
“No. Laja was like my brother.”
Basim came hurrying towards them, bearing a characteristic spring in his step. “Cheta!” He smiled and opened his arms for a hug. “How are you, gorgeous?”
“You two know each other?” Nero asked, surprised.
“We were in Gwags together na,” Basim answered. “This babe was one of the hottest babes in school then. Gaddem! Didn’t you win an award for most popular Jambite in 100 Level?”
“And then you disappeared into thin air in 300 Level, right?”
Basim’s phone rang. “One minute, please.” He handed the phone to Nero. “It’s Joy. She said she’s been trying to reach you. She doesn’t sound good, and she won’t tell me what’s wrong.”
Nero frowned as he took the call. “What’s up?” He moved away from them and disappeared into the crowd.
“Can you give me another minute?” Basim dashed off. Cheta searched for Nero in the crowd, but couldn’t find him. She also looked for Ransome and saw him with some lady, his hand around her waist as he spoke into her ear. Cheta picked her phone to give off the impression that she was busy. She could see a couple of men that wanted her attention.
“Cheta?” Nero returned.
“Hi. Is everything okay?”
“Um… Yeah, but I have to run.”
“Let’s talk tomorrow? I’ll call you.” He hugged her and left a peck on her cheek. “I really missed you.”
She didn’t respond.
“Please, hand Bas his phone when he comes. Tell him I’m gone.”
He dashed off. Cheta was a little worried about him, but she soon brushed it off when some old friends came by and took her mind off him. She enjoyed the rest of the party, despite her desire to go home. A short while before she left, Ransome asked her for a dance, and while they held each other, he asked, “Do you and Oghenero Okiemute have something going on?”
“Me and Nero? No.”
“Okay, good. It would just be somehow, don’t you think? I mean, after what happened on that Giri road.”
Cheta was silent.
“But Gold definitely has a thing for Basim, and I think she’s being unwise. She should stay away from him.”
Cheta looked at Ransome and smiled. “She wasn’t the one driving that night.”
“Still… I mean, imagine that they really hit it off and it becomes serious and they get married. Is she going to keep quiet about what happened?”
“Nobody knows how to keep a secret like Gold.”
“Cheta, women have been known to betray friends because of penises. You should talk to her.”
“Let’s just forget this talk.” Cheta stopped moving to the beat of the song playing. “You know what? I think I need to go home. I have a headache.”
“I’m sorry if the things I said…”
“It’s fine. It’s not you. My head is really hurting.”
“Okay. Let me take you home, then?”
Cheta didn’t think it was a good idea, but Gold didn’t look like she was ready to leave yet, and it would be unkind to leave her stranded here. So, she informed her that she was going home. Then, she followed Ransome to his car. It was an official vehicle, with a chauffeur and an aide seated in front.
“You know I’m going to become president someday, right?” Ransome said when they sat in the backseat.
He talked about how politics had changed him. From being the president of the Student Union Government in University of Abuja, to working for government officials, to becoming one himself, Ransome had done well for someone who came from a simple background. Cheta was proud of him.
“Aren’t you going to ask me in?” he inquired when his car stopped outside her gate.
He kissed her hand and she alighted from the car. She went in as he drove away. Inside the house, she made herself a glass of dirty martini, perused a movie script that was sent to her by email earlier, and lay in bed. Nero came to mind, naturally, and she began to ponder on how to tell him about Obi. She couldn’t hide the truth from either of them any longer. But the problem was with Nero. If he was already thinking of cancelling his wedding to Joy just after seeing her again, what would be his move if he found out that he had a son by her?
Cheta said a prayer and shut her eyes in sleep. Sometime in the middle of the night, she was awoken by the sounds of laughter in the hallway. She walked to the door and peeped out. Gold and Basim were making out just outside her door. They didn’t notice her. She quietly withdrew and went back to sleep.
Cheta looked up from her phone and paused on her breakfast as her eyes took in Basim’s form, entering her kitchen in his boxers alone. She admired his features for a second or two and certified him sexy enough to grace her presence.
“Good morning,” she responded, resting a foot on an extra chair.
“Do you guys drink coffee in this house?” He opened cabinets and shut them loudly. “I could hardly sleep a wink last night and I have back-to-back meetings today. I need to be awake for all of them.”
“Coffee is on the counter.”
“Oh, my bad. I may have to start wearing glasses like Okiemute soon.”
“That’s the hot water kettle there. Mugs are in that drawer. Spoons are there. Milk and sugar, if you want, are also on the counter.”
He smiled. “Thank you.”
Cheta continued with her cereal.
“Does Gold have a boyfriend I should know about?”
“Good. Because I’m going all in.” He sidled towards her. “I am crazy about your friend. I need your blessing.”
“After one night?”
“Trust me, she’s the one.”
Cheta had heard about Basim’s impulsive nature with money and women. This was the first time she was experiencing it.
“But before I leap, I just need some background information. Anything in her past I’m supposed to know about?”
“No. I think you should ask her.”
“I will, eventually. Thanks anyways.”
He made himself a cup of coffee and disappeared upstairs. When he returned, he was dressed. He came with Gold too. They left the house together and Gold returned.
“Your thoughts?” Gold inquired.
“My thoughts? On a one-night-stand?”
“You want to start judging me now.” Gold picked a bottle of water from a pack, resting on a rack by the backdoor.
“Come on, Goldie. You don’t know me again? How can I judge you over a one-night-stand?”
“Well, he’s Basim, Hadiza’s son. Have you forgotten what we did to his mother?”
“What I did. It was my mistake. Besides, I slept with his brother and had a child for him. I should be getting all the heat.”
“I thought you’d be mad at me.”
“Wetin concern me?”
“I sha used the two condoms you gave me, plus the one he came with.”
“No wonder you guys were so loud last night.”
Goldie blushed. “God! He’s wild.”
“So, you think he’s the one?” Cheta asked.
“The one what?”
Cheta gave her a non-verbal response that said, “Well…?”
“Chill abeg, I’ve had better.” Gold laughed.
Cheta stood. “I have to go and pick Obi from the airport.”
“My Obi! I’ve missed that boy. I would have followed you, but I have an appointment in Illupeju.” She yawned. “I’m still so sleepy.”
Cheta washed her cereal dish and went upstairs. Within the hour, she was ready to leave for the airport.
Her chauffeur was waiting outside. He was a young man in his thirties. He was eager to please and apologized for the littlest things, even when he got into potholes.
Cheta kept her mind occupied with a hard copy of the script she was reading the night before until they arrived at the airport. Due to a traffic delay, Obi had been waiting for half an hour. He was frowning when the car pulled up beside him.
“You owe me shawarma and Coldstone,” he told her.
“Aren’t you too old for ice-cream?”
He made a face and she pulled his ear. “Mom, stop.”
Cheta stopped, and it wasn’t because he told her to. It was because of what he had called her.
“Did you just call me…?”
“Mom? Yes,” he answered, handing the chauffeur the last of his luggage. “Or do you want me to say ‘Mommy’?”
“No.” Cheta shook her head. “It’s just weird, hearing you not say ‘Aunty Cheta’. Can we go back to that?”
“No. You’re my mom, and it stays that way. I want to meet my dad too.”
He left Cheta speechless as he got into the front seat of the car. She got in behind and picked the movie script. She rested her hands on it with fingers crossed. She wasn’t ready for this.
Nero listened to Hadiza in distraction, his eyes on Joy. Last night had been grueling for him, having to watch Joy go through the agony of being told that they had lost their baby. Today wasn’t any better. They had just returned from the hospital after a D&C to ensure that the fetus was completely removed. She was inconsolable. He wondered what would be of their relationship from now on. Of course, he already mapped out plans to end what they had. First, he had wanted to tell her to postpone the wedding until after they had the baby. Then, he would end the relationship. This was how much he wanted Cheta back in his life. He acknowledged to himself that he was crazy, but he needed to speak to someone about it. There was no one that could understand him better than his mom could.
“Do you think I’ve chased him away entirely?” Hadiza asked him as he left his bedroom to the living room. “I mean, he spent fifteen years begging me. Maybe he’s tired. Maybe I pushed too much last night.”
“Mom, Dad loves you, and I know you can never love anyone else. Can you just forgive him so that all of us can rest?”
“It’s not that easy.”
“Mom, you have to let go of the past. Please.”
“I can’t. If I forgive him, it would be me saying that everything he did to ruin me was okay. We can just brush past it and start all over again.”
Nero was tired of having this repeated conversation with her. He had never seen a woman more stubborn.
“Okay o. Me, I won’t talk about it with you again. In short, I have my own love problems to deal with.”
“What’s wrong? Is Joy cheating on you?”
Hadiza had never liked Joy, due to the reason that she and Nero had been off and on for almost ten years. Even when he was married to someone else, she was a feature in his life. Hadiza had never believed that it was Nero’s fault that they couldn’t stick together. She had been unhappy with him when he announced that they were getting married and expecting a baby. Hadiza was certain that she wasn’t the one for Nero.
“No, she’s not cheating on me.”
“So, what’s wrong?”
Nero stepped out of the house to ensure that he was out of earshot. He then told his mother about Cheta and her reappearance in his life. Hadiza advised him against making irrational decisions solely on emotions. She also asked him to end things with Joy before moving on to Cheta, if he was certain that she was what he wanted.
“Don’t be like Mazino.”
Nero smiled. “Yes, ma.”
“Take care of yourself, Son.”
Hadiza rang off and Nero returned to the house. Joy was seated in the living room, staring into thin air.
“I want us to take a break, Nero.”
He stopped in his tracks. “What did you just say?”
“We need a break from us.”
Her timing couldn’t have been more perfect, but it hurt to hear her say this for the fifth time. It was always her manner to bail on them whenever she got into a tight situation. Nero suspected that she was managing a form of depression that she always hid from him. She was never the type to be vulnerable around anyone, and he always suffered for it. She never considered his feelings whenever she disappeared. Maybe because he always took her back. She had a way of convincing him that he couldn’t do without her.
“This would be the fifth time, Joy.”
“You can’t stay and let us go through this pain together?”
“Us? I don’t recall you carrying a baby?”
“So, it’s not my loss too, just because you are the mother?”
“Nero, it’s not a competition. You have no idea how I’m feeling right now. I need to be alone to go through this.”
“Do whatever you want.” He walked away from her, angry and relieved at the same time. As usual, his feelings didn’t matter, and for the first time, he was fine with it. His hopeless romantic nature had been abused by Joy long enough. Cheta was no guarantee that he’d be happy, but he was going fully into her. He would not give Joy the pleasure of a proper goodbye, though. It would be good for her to return and realize that she couldn’t have him anyway. That would be perfect revenge for all the years of torture.
He watched her pack her clothes in two small boxes, leaving a third of them behind. The more he watched her, the angrier he got. Her audacity was irritating.
“So, Joy, because I always welcome you with open arms, you keep doing this shit to me as if I’m a fool, abi?” he blurted when he couldn’t hold it in anymore.
“Nero, what is it nau? This isn’t about you, for heaven’s sake!”
“You’re just angry. You’ll understand in a while. Just bear with me. Please, Nero. I’m begging you.”
He left the room and sat in the living room. Soon, she stepped out with her boxes, dragging them along. She stopped and sat on the center table to talk to him.
“There are things that I can’t tell you…”
“Joy, I lost my marriage because of you!”
“I saved you from a bad wife.”
“You know what? Let’s not do this. Just go.”
“Joy, go nau.”
She stood. “Please, come and help me with my boxes.”
“I think you can carry them all by yourself. I need to take a shower.”
He marched into his bedroom, slamming the door. When he got under the shower, he let the coldness run over his body for a while, calming him. He forced in thoughts of Cheta into his head, but he didn’t find respite. He was heartbroken again. Joy was a bad habit. In fact, Basim had named her Bad Habit. There was just something about her that Nero couldn’t do without, and he had no idea what it was. He would not admit, however, that it was love. Admitting it would be accepting that it was unrequited. But the good thing was that Cheta’s return had finally opened his eyes to what everyone had been telling him. Joy was bad for him.
He left the house and spent all day at the office. Some part of him kept prompting him to call Cheta and check up on her, but he was not in the mood to speak to anyone. He came home and spent three hours expunging every bit of Joy from his life. He dumped her belongings in the garage before he felt some sort of relief. He went to bed, feeling a little lighthearted.
By morning, he was up and early, ready for work. He got a series of messages from Joy, in which she tried to explain her actions. He read them all and replied, Stop the shalaye. Enjoy your break.
He took an Uber to the office because he was still in a bad mood and being on any street in Lagos this morning meant that he would beat somebody’s son for terrible driving. He arrived at the office a few minutes after ten, just in time to answer Gbemi’s call.
“Nero, I’m calling to remind you about the meeting o.”
“That’s true. Thank you, ma. I totally forgot.”
“Oya, start coming here, quickly.”
When she hung up, he cussed. Now, he wished he had come with his car. He called one of the company drivers to take him to the Adeyanju residence. They were lucky to get there in time. Nero was led to a guest parlor and asked to wait while the family met behind closed doors. Just as he sat on the sofa offered to him, Cheta walked in. Her footsteps slowed when she saw him.
She took the sofa facing his. For a second or two, they didn’t have anything to say to each other.
“Why are you here?” Cheta asked.
“Same reason you’re here, I guess. Laja wrote you into his will.”
“Wow. You guys were that close?”
“Well, I could say so.”
They went silent for a while again.
“I’m sorry for the way I rushed off the other night.”
“I think that maybe we should fix a date to continue our discussion.”
“Maybe we should not. Nero…” Cheta shifted forward on her seat. “Look, I want us to forget the past. It’s over.”
“I know, but you still need to explain to me why you walked away. Because of you, I developed a taste for women that enjoyed ghosting me.”
“Maybe that’s all on you, Nero. You can’t blame me for your taste in women.”
He was annoyed, but he wasn’t going to give her the pleasure of knowing that.
“Can we just be friends?” she suggested. “We can be in each other’s lives without necessarily adding anything else to it. Can you do that?”
He shrugged. “Your choice.”
She took out a document from her handbag while he went on social media. He had a lot to say to her, but his emotions were going to get the best of him. It was wise to speak at a better time.
An hour went by before Gbemi showed up, apologizing for the delay. “You guys can come in now.”
She guided them to the family living room and they were offered the same sofa to sit on. The lawyer was an elderly woman. She smiled at both of them, hands on the file in front of her.
“Mr. Okiemute and Ms. Azubuike, it’s good to have you both here. Adelaja wrote a letter addressed to you…”
“To me?” Cheta asked.
“Both of you. But first, let us read the portion that concerns you two in his will.” She cleared her throat. “To my dearest friends, Chichetaram Azubuike and Oghenero Okiemute, I give and bequeath, or to the survivor of them, the Laja Luxury Apartments on Bourdillon Road, Ikoyi, Lagos. It being my wish, that if they do not intend to co-own them, the apartments should be managed by my elder sister, Gbemisola Adeyanju-Hassan, until their heir comes of age to take ownership of aforementioned properties. It is also my wish that they work together to ensure that the standards I upheld in the management of the Laja Luxury Apartments be retained.”
The lawyer looked at Nero and Cheta with a smile.
“Is that all?” Nero asked.
“What did he mean by heir? I mean, we’re not married, so…”
“The letter I’m about to read will explain it all.”
“What did he say in the letter?” Cheta inquired. Nero saw that she looked as confused as he did.
“Please, be patient as I read it.”
“You’ll read it? As in, in front of everyone here?”
“That was Adelaja’s wish.”
Cheta breathed out.
“This will be quick, as he didn’t have much to say about what he left for you—both.” The lawyer stared down at her file. “So, here it goes… This letter expresses my feelings and reasons for the decision I made concerning you both in my will. Cheta, I so do not wish to air you out like this, but I think it’s the best thing to do, considering the fact that you’re stubborn and have refused to do the right thing.”
“Laja, no,” Cheta murmured.
“Oghenero, whatever you hear today is no reason for you to act like an asshole towards Cheta.”
“Can you please, stop?” Cheta pleaded. “Please, ma.”
Nero stared at her.
“I’m sorry, I can’t,” the lawyer said. “This was what he wanted.”
“Then, I’m sorry. I can’t do this.” Cheta got on her feet. “I’m sorry everyone.” She turned on her heels and started towards the door.
“Cheta!” Gbemi called.
“Give me one second,” Nero said, jumping to his feet. “I think she’s still grieving. Let me talk to her.”
He went after Cheta, catching up with her at the front door. “What’s going on? That was rude.”
She opened her mouth to speak but no words came out.
“I know you miss him, but…”
“It’s not that, Nero. That letter was Laja being a dick…”
She stared down, breathing heavily. “Nero, I’m so sorry.”
“Sorry about what?”
“I should have told you this years ago or even yesterday…”
“Told me what?”
“Nero, we have a son. I was pregnant after our…” She stopped, biting her lips to stay in control. “I was pregnant and I had a boy. He’s sixteen.”
Nero pulled back, staring at her as if she had just told him that she murdered someone. “What are you talking about?”
“That is what Laja wrote in that letter. Like, I’m so mad at him right now. It is not in his place to do that…”
Nero was in shock.
“What type of friend is he?” Tears spilled from her eyes. “How do you go and reveal a secret like that to everyone in that manner?”
“Oh my God, Cheta. Wow.”
“You know what? You’re right. You shouldn’t be here. Go home, and I’ll go back in there and listen to Laja tell me what I should have known years ago. In short, you didn’t tell me shit.”
“It’s not like that.”
“Shut the fuck up and get out of my sight!”
“Calm down and listen to me…”
“It’s too late for any lie, Chichetaram. Just go away. You’re not worth it.” He stormed back into the house and took his seat. “I’m sorry for the interruption, everyone.”
“What is going on with you and Cheta?” Laja’s mom inquired.
“Nothing. It’s just that she forgot to tell me that we have a son.”
The old woman gasped. “A son?”
“You’re joking,” Gbemi said.
“A whole teenage boy. God bless Laja for exposing her in that letter. I would have never found out.”
“Adelaja sha!” Laja’s younger sister exclaimed.
“It’s okay. I’m fine.” Nero looked at the lawyer. “Please, ma, continue.”
®Sally Kenneth Dadzie @moskedapages