Her thoughts were not fully with him this evening. They were somewhere in Abuja, with Cheta. They had been there all day, as were her emotions. Her friend was mad at her, and understandably so. She had been incalculably stupid today.
“What’s wrong?” Basim was looking at her through the etched mirror that was above his dressing table where she was seated. He moved closer and rested his chin on her shoulder. She loved his scent this evening. It was masculine and had that superior musk oil he sometimes used, with its unusual sexual magnetism that drove her wild. But she didn’t want him tonight. She thought it would be better if she went home.
“I’m good,” Gold responded to his question. She picked her phone from the table and moved her body, making him lift his frame off her shoulder. “I have to go home.”
“Any reason you’re moody?”
“No.” She stood, picking her handbag.
“Is it because of the talk we had in the morning and how I responded to it?”
“No.” She kissed him.
He took her hand, and then, her waist. “I don’t want you to be my mistress… I actually want something more serious.”
Gold squinted, looking into his eyes. She wasn’t sure if he was joking.
“So, there’s some girl waiting to marry me, but I don’t want to be that person who does those sort of things. It’s not like I’m under any pressure by my parents, but it’s expected that as the first son, I marry from a certain type of family. The thing is that I’m not ready to get married. Not now, not in the next five years. Right now, I want to be with someone I feel something for.”
Gold moved a step backwards. This was the first time feelings were being mentioned between them.
“But we’re having only sex, Basim.”
“Um…” He scratched his head and wrenched the waistband of his jeans to keep it from sagging. “It kind of became more than that to me.”
Gold hadn’t anticipated this twist from him. She thought she had figured him out already. Men like him did not have feelings.
“Can we talk about this tomorrow? I really have to go home.”
He didn’t show any form of disappointment. “Let me drop you.”
“No, I’ll be fine. I just need to call an Uber.” She forced on a smile. Basim observed her as she requested a ride. “The car is two minutes away.”
She then sat on the bed and tried not to look at him as he continued to observe her. When her phone rang, she jumped up.
“My ride is here!”
She made it seem like she was happy to leave, but she was miserable. Cheta hadn’t been the only thing on her mind. Her relationship with Basim was. Having received all that information from Ozzy today, Gold felt it was best that she detached herself from Basim. Being with him had been on the premise that she was certain Hadiza would never find out what she and her friends had hidden all these years. But now that she was aware that Hadiza knew, Gold couldn’t see herself spending one more night with Basim. She was scared of the woman. She wasn’t Cheta who could use Obi as leverage; neither was she privileged enough to stand up to Hadiza. She was just a broke girl from a poor background with nothing to call hers. If Hadiza could do to Ozzy what she did, then there was a high possibility that she’d come for her as well. It was time to let Basim go.
And no, his newfound feelings were not enough to keep her.
“Am I missing something, Gold?” Basim took her hand on her way out. “Look at me.”
She shifted her eyes to his, but only for a second. She was going to ghost him, and it would hurt her.
“Basim, just let me go.”
He held her hand a little longer before dropping it.
“We’ll talk about this.” He hugged her and walked her to the front door. When she got into the car and it drove away from the house, Gold fell back into thoughts of Cheta. She dialed her number, but she didn’t get through. She dumped her phone in her handbag in frustration. Her messages and calls to Cheta over the past seven hours had gone unanswered. She had also called Obi a couple of hours ago, and his response to her was that Cheta didn’t want to speak with her.
Gold was desperate to explain that her intentions hadn’t been to cause any trouble. Of course, she had clarified this when they spoke earlier in the afternoon, but Cheta had been too infuriated to listen.
“Ozzy of all people!” she had screamed. “What part of ‘keep this to yourself’ don’t you understand? When I got pregnant, only you knew who the father of my son was, Gold! Because I trusted you! Even above Laja who took the fall for that accident! I was loyal to our friendship, Goldie! But you reward me this way?”
“Let me explain na.”
“Ozzy has not even started re-fucking you and you’re already spilling secrets?”
“It’s not like that…”
“Listen… Gold, listen. I won’t put up with Ozzy in my life! I’m telling you this because I know that bastard has your voodoo doll and he’s going to turn you into his puppet!”
“He won’t… He can’t.”
“I will make this clear to you. If you want to remain in my life, erase Oswald completely. I don’t want to have to deal with that piece of shit anymore!”
“I wasn’t thinking, Cheta. I swear. I panicked when he told me that Basim’s mom already knew about what we did. My head wasn’t in the right place, boo. I’m so sorry—”
Cheta had ended the call at that point. Gold hadn’t heard from her since then. Earlier she typed a long apology message and sent it to her in an email. When she didn’t get a response, she sent a voice note on WhatsApp. When that didn’t work either, she spammed her with ‘I’m sorry’ texts.
“You’re such an idiot,” she muttered to herself. The Uber driver stared at her through the rearview mirror. Her phone began to ring. She dove for it, assuming it was Cheta. She was disappointed to see a strange number.
“Hello?” she answered.
Gold cussed herself. “What do you want?”
“Already regretting giving me your number?”
“You literally got it without my consent, Ozzy.”
“You gave it to me.”
“If someone disturbs you until you give them something, is that consensual?”
“It’s just a phone number.”
“Ozzy, you were making a scene at the parking lot of the mall because I wouldn’t let you have it…”
“I was only dancing in front of you. A dance, which, if I recall, you used to like a lot—”
“You were blocking my path and making people watch us. It was embarrassing.”
“But you were smiling… reminds me of how you’ll say no whenever I touched you back then but you’d end up screaming the house down.”
“What do you want?”
“Nothing. Just checking in on you.”
“Good. Check out.”
“Bye, Ozzy. And look, if you’re trying to get back into my life, it won’t work. I already have a man.”
Gold shut her eyes in regret.
Her eyes remained shut until she got home. In the kitchen, she put some water on the cooker for eba and tossed in a bowl of soup in the microwave oven. While she waited, she watched her phone ring out twice from Basim calls. She sent him a text, saying that she got home safely. He didn’t reply the text, which was fine with her.
The kettle began to whistle as her water came to a boil. She turned off the cooker, just as her phone rang again. She reached for it, noting that it was Ozzy. She hadn’t stored his number, but her head had easily committed the digits to memory.
“What do you want?” she asked.
“We need to talk.”
“Give me a venue, date and time, and I’ll be there.”
He hung up and she glared at the phone in annoyance, as if she could slap him through it. Nothing much had changed about Ozzy, it seemed. He was still the same controlling piece of shit. She advised herself to avoid him.
“Are you nervous about meeting your dad?” Cheta was standing in front of Obi who was resting on the edge of a reading table. His long legs stood on either side of her. She was rubbing off a smudge from his t-shirt.
“No, I’m not.” He pinched a pimple on his face. She dropped his hand. “But you are.”
“I am what?” she asked.
“I’m not.” Cheta moved away from him. Obi picked his phone from the table and she guessed that he was back on Google, seeking more information on Nero.
“He owns a construction company,” he said.
Cheta stared at herself in the mirror and realized that she must have done that too many times already. She was sure she looked decent enough to grace Hadiza’s presence. But it wasn’t her outfit that was the problem, it was how she was going to face Hadiza. She wasn’t ready for the woman.
“He loves cars,” Obi mentioned. “He’s got like six of them… No, seven.”
Cheta patted her hair in place, even though it didn’t need patting. She peered harder into the mirror to be sure that her lipstick wasn’t too distracting.
“He was married to that Duchess of Fire actress? She’s so Gucci.”
“Did you watch the movie?”
“It was rated 18, Obi…”
“Mm-hm, and it was totally cool.”
Nero’s ex had starred in an American movie recently. It hadn’t been produced by one of the big studios in Hollywood, but it sold big in Africa. Nigeria, especially. This was largely due to the explicit sex scenes and nudity. Cheta wondered if Nero had had any thoughts about seeing his ex-wife go nude on screen.
Her phone buzzed, she picked it and saw the notification tray displaying a text from him. He was downstairs, asking if he could come up.
Cheta wasn’t ready for tonight. Not for Obi meeting Nero for the first time, and definitely not for her and Hadiza being in the same room.
She replied Nero’s text, inviting him up. Then she turned to Obi, placing her hands on his shoulders. “I know you don’t know him, and this may be too much for you to bear, but he’s a really nice guy.”
“Mom,” he got off the table, “chill already. It can’t be that deep.”
Cheta held her breath in anticipation for the knock on the door. When it came, Obi looked at her and asked, “Shouldn’t you do a video of this moment?”
She opened the door. Nero was leaning on the opposite wall, speaking to someone on the phone. He smiled at her, gesturing that he needed a minute. Staring at him, it just occurred to her that he had gotten better-looking over the years. She hadn’t had the pleasure of making an allowance for his looks lately. Now that she really stared at him, it was as if for the first time. He was not as skinny as he had been back then. He was buffer as well. His hair was less full but not his beard. Cheta could see the strong resemblance to Hadiza, and of course, his handsomeness that mirrored her beauty.
“Hi.” He put his phone in his pocket as he approached her.
He peeped into the hotel suite and whispered, “I’m a little tense. What am I supposed to say?”
“Just introduce yourself.”
“Do you think he’ll like me?”
“Isn’t it too late to ask that?”
Nero nodded. “You’re right.”
Cheta moved away from the door and he followed her. Obi, who was seated on the bed, looked up from his phone when Nero walked in. Cheta remained by the door and gestured to Obi to get on his feet.
“Obiedika…” Nero called. “I hope I got the pronunciation right?”
“Nope,” Obi answered, rising up. “But it’s cool.”
“I’m Oghenero Okiemute.” He stretched out his hand. “Your father.”
“I know.” Obi shook hands with him and silence followed. Father and son stood in awkwardness, staring at each other. Cheta jumped in to save them from the uncomfortable moment.
“Obi turned sixteen in October. He’s done with secondary school. He’s into tech and basketball, and he hopes to get into UNILAG—something I’m not in support of.”
Obi gave Cheta a side-glance.
“We’re still talking about it.”
“All right,” Nero said.
“Obi, your dad owns a construction company. He’s an engineer. He loves cars, as you already know. He’s from Delta and Kogi. He loves music and… he loves fast cars…”
Nero looked at Cheta. She stared away in embarrassment. She knew nothing about him.
“Let me give you two a few minutes to get to know each other better…”
Obi cut in, “I thought you said you guys were going somewhere.”
“Yeah, we’re going to my mom’s,” Nero answered. “Your grandma. You’re coming along, right?”
“He’s not coming?” Nero asked Cheta.
“He needs to meet up with friends.”
“They’re waiting for me.” Obi picked his headphones from the bed and hung them around his neck. “Great meeting you… Dad. We’ll see in Lagos.”
He hurried to the door.
“Drive carefully!” Cheta pleaded. He shut the door and she told Nero that Obi drove like a maniac.
“I guess he got it from me.”
Cheta smiled. Nero didn’t know about her former love for cars and speed. The night on Giri Road had only slowed her for a bit. She still enjoyed the orgasmic feeling of racing on lonely roads, but she hadn’t had the time to do so or even go shopping for the kind of car she desired. Life and adulthood had come at her fast. “But did I do well?” Nero asked.
He perched on the reading table. “Obi and I. How was it?”
“Okay, for a first meeting. I told you he’s a great kid. He gives me no stress at all.”
“My mom used to say that about me. I was the easiest child to raise. I breezed through my teenage years without giving her headache. But Basim…” Nero chuckled, shaking his head. “He was a nightmare. He and Momsi still have their squabbles, and they can get nasty.”
“But you were wild when we met,” Cheta reminded him.
“Your wild brought out my wild,” he responded with a suggestive gaze. “We were both unhinged. How are you, though? This morning you seemed out of sorts.”
“I was just tired.”
“Quick question. Why are you staying here and not in your family home?”
“It’s not something I want to talk about.”
“I understand. So, are you ready to meet Hadiza?”
Cheta’s tummy churned. “Yes.”
“You look beautiful, by the way. A little too decent, but that works.”
Cheta smiled. Her dress was a mix of fitted and long, and it gave her the appearance of a modest woman. Cheta could never describe herself as such.
“I’m ready to leave, if you are,” she said. As she picked her purse, he waited by the door. When she walked up to him, he looked into her eyes. “What?” she asked.
“You know I want you, right?”
The statement was unexpected. She dropped her head and smiled to herself, then lifted her eyes up at him with a blank stare. “Want me? How?”
“I’m not just back in your life because of Obi. I want you, and I don’t care how it starts, whether you end up in my bed or I in yours or we have breakfast dates or start off with chats or use Obi as an opportunity to see each other. Just know that it’s going to happen.”
“Nero, I have a man.”
He gave her a dismissive look. “That’s his problem, not mine.”
On their way to Hadiza’s house, Nero asked Cheta if she wanted to listen to music.
“No, thank you.”
“What type of songs do you listen to these days?”
“Anything and everything.” She was beginning to feel nervous again. How on earth was she to face Hadiza, knowing that she knew what she did to her?
“Do you still play loud music and sing along at the top of your voice?”
“You told me you used to do that.”
“Oh, yeah. I still do.”
Cheta hadn’t done that in a while. This whole unearthing of the past had stressed her a bit. She hadn’t even had time to play around with her guitar, which was something she had been longing to do.
She looked at Nero. He had gone silent. She stared at his hand on the wheel; the other hand had its elbow resting on the door, with fingers lightly touching his lips. He was in thought, and so was she. She was thinking about his hands and the things they had done to her body back then. Nero had been different from the guys she had been with before their encounter. The others had all been inexperienced, with some of them offering acceptable sex. Nero, on the other hand, had touched her as if he had taken a course in understanding her body. Their sex had been magic. She didn’t even know that there were such levels to unlock until he touched her. It was those hands…
“What do you want to know about me?” he asked, taking his elbow off the door to steer the car in a different direction. “You seemed lost back there when you were telling Obi about me. Ask me any question and I’ll answer.”
“I don’t have anything to ask.”
“Are you sure? You don’t want to know what I’ve been up to all these years?”
“Not really. Oh, except for how you felt about seeing your ex go nude in a movie.”
Nero laughed lightly. “It was nothing, really. She’d always been a wild one.”
“You love them wild?”
“Actually, yes. Only this time, wild for me alone.”
“And she wasn’t?”
“Mnh-mnh. Imagine walking in on your wife doing stuff to another man, and she blames you for it because…” He sucked in his breath. “Don’t even remind me.”
He didn’t speak after that, which was fine with Cheta.
They got to the house at exactly 7:15 p.m. Nero reached for a gift bag from the backseat and handed it to Cheta.
“This is her favorite bottle of wine.”
“Of course, I forgot to get her something.”
“It’s fine. Let me help you do the ass-kissing.” He smiled, showing his diastema. “Let’s go in.”
Cheta was taken by the exterior of Hadiza’s home. The flowers and the way they were groomed were a stunning sight. She wondered how beautiful they would look during the day. She stared for a bit, allowing the sight ease her nerves.
“This way.” Nero led her to the front door. Each step came with a racing heartbeat.
Nero knocked on the door, and soon after, a woman opened it. For a second, Cheta froze, but she relaxed when she saw that it was the housekeeper.
Nero took her hand and led her to the living room, which was another spectacular sight. She sat on the edge of her seat, clutching the gift bag.
“Let me tell her you’re here.”
As he walked away, Cheta shut her eyes and whispered a prayer. She then exhaled and waited. Soon, she heard voices in laughter. Nero’s voice comforted her in some way. The familiar feeling of hearing a man’s voice and being warm about it was a sign to Cheta that Nero was going to be a distraction to her if she didn’t stay away from him.
He walked into the living room and her tummy whipped. Holding her breath, she kept her eyes on the door until Hadiza appeared. Cheta immediately shot to her feet. The woman paused at the entrance, hands grasping her crutches as her eyes burned into Cheta’s.
Cheta swallowed hard, trying to keep her pulse steady. In person, Hadiza was a strikingly gorgeous woman. Her beauty was regal, like the sort of thing you only saw from afar but couldn’t touch. Her skin, young and taut, made Cheta think about someone who enjoyed bathing in milk and honey all day, being attended to by maids. Her neck was long, ridged and elegant. Underneath the simple abaya she wore was a body, beautifully curved.
Her eyes, however, were anything but appealing. They were brewing storms, fiery and penetrating. They would not leave Cheta’s. Generally, Hadiza looked younger than she ought to. Cheta concluded that it had to do with the fact that she had stayed indoors all these years.
“Good evening, ma.” Cheta curtsied.
“Hello, Chichetaram. Nice to finally meet you. Please, sit.”
Cheta thrust out her peace offering. “I brought you something.” She walked to Hadiza, who still would not take her eyes off her.
“What’s in there?”
“Aww, that’s sweet, dear. Thank you.”
“Oghenero, take this to the kitchen for me.”
Nero took the gift bag off Cheta’s hands.
“Sit down, dear.”
Cheta turned around and walked back to her seat. She waited for Hadiza to sit before she did. Nero returned to the living and sat on Hadiza’s armrest.
“Mom, I’ve told you so much about Cheta already. Well, she’s here on your invitation…”
Hadiza interrupted him. “I’d like to speak to her alone before dinner.”
Cheta looked at Nero for help, but he didn’t catch on.
“No wahala. I’ll be in my room if you need me. Cheta, would you like something to drink?”
“No, thank you.”
“All right. Have fun.”
Nero left the room and Hadiza smiled at Cheta. The smile gave her goosebumps. “Do you believe in fate?”
“Destiny. That thing that people describe as being responsible for where we end up and whom we end up with. Do you believe it exists or that we create our own fate?”
“I believe that it’s a mix of both.”
“Hmm…” Hadiza played with one of the rings on her finger. “The world is a crazy place, you know?”
Cheta was silent.
“God sure has a sense of humor.” Hadiza chuckled. “Tell me, Chichetaram, how did you go from trying to kill me to sleeping with my son and getting pregnant for him?”
The question sapped the air out of Cheta. She felt a lump in her throat.
“Was it deliberate?”
“A way to get my forgiveness?”
“No, ma. I…”
Hadiza raised her hand, stopping her. “I don’t want lies. Only the truth.”
Cheta nodded bravely.
“Now, go ahead.”
Cheta breathed in and told her story, stammering through it, apologizing in every line. At the end of her tale, she dropped to her knees, hands pressed together.
“For God’s sake, sit down, young woman. That’s so below someone of your status. I’m not given to theatrics.”
Cheta pulled herself back to a sitting position.
“Your friend, Oswald… I made him pay for your sins, though.” Hadiza was leaning forward, elbows on her knees. “Did Adelaja tell you that his father visited me and apologized for what his son did?”
Cheta swung her head from left to right.
“Did the man know it was you and not his son that ran into me that night?”
Cheta shook her head again. That had been their cover story to Adelaja’s dad that morning. They had visited the Adyanju home and told a version of the story that made Laja take the blame for what Cheta did. It had been Laja’s idea, and nothing Cheta said to stop him had made him change his mind.
“A short while after that,” Hadiza went on, “I had Oswald in my custody and he easily gave me a more detailed and accurate version of what really happened that night. I’m sure that by that time, you were already pregnant for Nero. Why didn’t you let him know that you were carrying his baby?”
“I was scared, ma.”
“He loved you. Did you feel anything for him at all?”
Cheta couldn’t lie. “I did, but… It felt wrong to be in his life then. I just wanted to forget everything that happened.”
“And so, you hid an entire child from him for sixteen years.” Hadiza looked intrigued. “Even I am not that heartless.”
“No, ma. It was…”
“There are no excuses for what you did, Chichetaram. You broke his heart, and it’s amazing that he still feels something for you. I just don’t understand it, although I doubt that he’d feel the same way if he found out what you had done.”
Cheta looked at her in apprehension.
“I’m not going to tell him. That’s your story to tell. I’m more interested in where this all leads right now. I already forgave you and your friends because of Professor Adeyanju, may he rest in peace. Another reason I let you all go was because you were kids and didn’t know better. But the most important reason I forgave you was very personal to me.”
“Thank you, ma. I’m very grateful.”
“As for Oswald, I called in a favor and had him thrown in prison because he stole my money. Out of two-hundred-and-twenty-five thousand dollars, he returned only a hundred thousand. He had to be punished for that. Seven years in Kuje prison was me being merciful. I would have had him there until he paid every last dollar he stole from me.”
“I will refund the money, ma. Just give me a few months and—”
“I don’t need your money,” Hadiza said indifferently.
“I’m so sorry.”
“Enough with the apologies. What is done has been done and everyone has paid for their actions. All except for one person who was actively involved in this.”
“Gold. Your friend. According to Oswald, she was the one that discovered the cash. Is that true?”
Cheta was not a snitch, but this was not the time to cover up for her friend. “Yes, she was.”
“And she had her own share of it?”
Again, Cheta could not hide the truth. “Yes, but she was influenced by Ozzy.”
“Not quite what Oswald told me. He said that he gave her thirty thousand dollars. Is that true?”
“I guess. I didn’t know how much she spent out of the money.”
“Like I said, I forgave all of you. I’m not going into details about what that night took from me. You already know some of the story. It’s all in the past… But you see that Gold character?” Hadiza frowned. “I want her out of my son’s life.”
Cheta showed surprise.
“Yes, I keep tabs on all my children, especially Basim. He might be a great businessman and seem like an adult with all that beard and height, but when it comes to women, he picks the worst out of the lot. And your friend is one of them. I need her gone from Basim’s life. She’s a poor, wretched, gold-digging bitch, and she’ll ruin him. So, you have to ask her to leave.”
Cheta had nothing to say.
“As for you, I have a proposal that might interest you. I’d have loved to see you a million miles away from Nero, but I’ve never seen him talk about any woman the way he talks about you. Secondly, you’re the mother of his son, my grandson, so you’re practically family without my helping it. Whether you like it or not, you’re stuck with the Abdullahis, Okiemutes and by extension, the Husseinis. Do you understand me?”
“Good.” Hadiza pulled back, smiling. “Now, let me properly welcome you to the family, Chichetaram. Dinner is ready, and after that, you and I will conclude on this conversation.”
“‘Mommy’ is a better way to address me, don’t you think?”
“Relax, my dear. You’re home. Go and call Nero for me. Second door on your left when you go down the corridor.”
Cheta couldn’t be up on her feet fast enough. This wasn’t what she had expected. It had turned out with a relieving twist, but her guard was still up. Hadiza was a scary woman, and Cheta didn’t think she could ever be comfortable around her.
She found Nero in his bedroom, busy on his phone. He sat up when she walked in.
“How did it go?”
“I have to pee,” Cheta said, exhaling. She hurried into the bathroom before Nero could show her the way. She relieved her bladder and returned to him. He was waiting outside the bathroom door, arms crossed, brows creased.
“Are you okay?” He looked concern. “Hope she wasn’t bitchy towards you?”
“No, no. It was fine.”
“But you’re perspiring.”
Cheta patted her face with her fingers. “I’m good, seriously. She says you should come out for dinner.”
Cheta followed Nero to the dining room. Hadiza was already seated, holding a full glass of the wine Nero had bought.
“You two look like a couple already,” she commented.
“Unfortunately, Cheta has a boyfriend,” Nero responded, pulling out a chair for Cheta. She didn’t appreciate him mentioning what she had told him. Of course, she didn’t have a boyfriend, but this was a good time to accept Ransome’s proposal. She was going to run far from Hadiza as much as she could. She didn’t trust the woman.
“Come and sit next to me, instead,” Hadiza said. “Tell me all about my grandson.”
Cheta grinned, but it was not from her heart. When was this dinner going to end?
“Mr. Husseini, your sister is here to see you.”
Basim took his concentration off his laptop. The only sister who would stop by to see him unannounced was Fajr. Hajara was presently out of the country, scheduled to return in a few days.
Still, Basim asked, “Which sister?”
“Hajiya Fajr, sir.”
Basim muted the intercom and swore. He put it back on. “Tell her to wait five minutes. I’m on a call.”
Basim was not in the mood for Fajr this afternoon. She always came with trouble. She was as meddlesome as their mother was and had recently taken an interest in his affairs. He simply could not stand her, and this wasn’t new. They had been like cat and mouse to each other during their childhood. Fajr was that child that always refused to participate in any activity that did not involve their parents’ approval, and she would be the first to tell on her siblings for breaking the rules. She was the holy one who didn’t mess around with religion, the little Miss Perfect. She had kept the right type of friends and had married what she described as the perfect man. After her wedding night, she had retained the proof of her broken hymen and shown it to Hajara, who in turn, told the entire family. The evidence was a stained white bedsheet, folded neatly and stored in a Versace suitcase. Fajr planned to show her daughters when they came of age.
Hadiza had been appalled at this, naturally. In one of those rare precious moments when mother and son bonded, she shared her displeasure with Basim over the matter.
“Is it that this girl is dumb or what? I can’t believe I raised a spoilt, entitled child who believes her life begins and ends in sitting on her ass all day, worshipping her man, reading books with basic women, cramming the entire Quran and judging everybody else.”
“Haba, Mom. It’s not that bad.”
“It’s not? So, what’s this stained bedsheet business? Who taught her to do such a backward thing? This wasn’t the path I wanted for my daughters, Bas. I’ve failed as a mother.”
But it wasn’t Hadiza’s fault. Fajr was what she was, all on her own, and they loved her that way.
Basim opened his office door and peeped out. Fajr was seated in the visitor’s couch, reading a book titled, From Monogamy to Polygamy: A Way Through. Basim paused as his mind came to the hasty conclusion that Fajr’s husband was planning to marry a second wife. He recalled the discussion he and Nero had had with the man on the eve of their wedding. They had made it clear that their sister didn’t come from a family that condoned polygamy.
“Keep a mistress if you must, but no second wife,” Basim had stated, but Nero had not approved of the mistress part.
“Don’t even think of cheating on her. If she comes to us and reports that you’ve been unfaithful…”
The threat had been left hanging.
“Faj?” Basim called.
She looked at him with a sunny smile that drew out a grin from him. She had the most beautiful smile in the family. “Basim, I’m hungry,” she said, pulling her pregnant body off the couch. He helped her with her handbag and the book.
“How are you?” he inquired, hugging her.
“Alhamdulillah. But I’m tired of this baby already.”
“Maybe you should tie them tubes after this? Or ask Alhaji to do a vasectomy.”
“You and your mouth.”
Basim opened his office door and ushered her in, but lingered to give his personal assistant instructions about getting them lunch. When he entered the office, he found Fajr lying on his nap couch, massaging her tummy.
“I hope you’re not planning to have that baby here.”
“No, I still have two months, but I’m soooo tired already.”
“What are you doing in Lagos, though?”
“I came for Rashidat’s wedding.”
“Oh.” Basim gave a discrete smile. Rashidat used to be his ex.
“She was asking after you o. I told her to face her marriage.”
“I’m going back home tomorrow sha. I just said let me come and check on you since you don’t know how to answer people’s messages on WhatsApp again.”
“I’ve been busy…”
“But not too busy for your new girlfriend.”
“Speaking of which, I didn’t ask you to go and tell your mother that I had a new girlfriend.”
Fajr pulled herself up. “It’s not like that. We were just talking and it slipped out of my mouth.”
“Seriously. I didn’t go and report you.”
“Faj, for once in your life, own up to your fuckups. And this was a big one. It’s just that I didn’t want to fight you over it. Momsi and I are not talking, as we speak.”
“You guys are always not talking, and it’s not my fault that you fell into default mode.”
“In this case, you’re to blame.”
“Well, I didn’t know it’ll lead to a fight.”
“Of course, it led to a fight. It was her, all over again, telling me whom I shouldn’t date.”
“But would you blame her? You have a wife—”
“For the millionth time, Radwah is not my wife!”
“Stop shouting, please. My baby doesn’t like it. See how he’s kicking me.”
Basim sighed and went for his seat.
“Big bro, look… It’s not like Daddy and Mommy are putting pressure on you to marry. They don’t just want you picking the wrong woman.”
“Well, they’re one to talk.”
“That is why they don’t want you to make the same mistakes they did. Radwah is a good girl from a good home. She’s pious, modest, soft-spoken and a virgin.”
Basim burst into loud laughter. Radwah was no virgin. He had had carnal knowledge of her a couple of years back, and it was enough to say that he wasn’t her first. The sex had ended terribly, though. They tried again a second time and it didn’t go well either. It hurt his pride a little, but he understood when Radwah told him that they were incompatible. Sexually, intellectually and otherwise. Everyone, including Nero, thought she was great for him. Nero was not aware that they had tried hooking up. Basim had not told him about Radwah, as per her wish. It was important to her that her religious façade was maintained.
“You’re laughing.” Fajr broke off from her speech. “Is she not a virgin?”
“Not today, devil.” Basim waved a finger at his sister. “Uhn-uhn. Let’s end this talk, please.”
“How about Gold? We can’t talk about her too?”
Basim wished he could take back that weekend, three weeks ago, when Fajr dropped in on him and Gold in his house. She had caught Gold wearing nothing but his boxers and a bra. The scandalous look on her face was something that put him in laughter each time he recalled it, despite the fact that it annoyed him as much.
“No, we cannot talk about Gold. Let’s talk about your marriage, instead.” Basim picked the book she was reading earlier. “What’s this about?”
“Oh, it’s what we’re reading in our book club. It’s a really nice book. You should read it.”
“Because it gives practical advice about polygamy.”
“The way I’m seeing you, you’ll be a polygamist.”
“Which is why you should marry Radwah, then Gold can be your second wife, since she’s the one you love most.”
Basim tapped his finger on the table. “Fajr, come and be going abeg. I have work to do.”
“How about my food that you ordered?”
“Ugh!” Basim threw his weight back on his chair and groaned.
Cheta’s eyes were on her period diary. It informed her that she was ovulating.
“That figures,” she muttered. It explained why she had felt weird this morning around Nero when he came to take her and Obi to the airport. Despite how badly her night had gone at Hadiza’s and the implications it held for her, she had been thinking about how sexy Nero smelled. In fact, everything about him had screamed sexy. She had even been silly enough to mention it to him that he looked good. He had laughed and said, “I’m wearing sweatpants, Cheta. My hair is not brushed and I slept in this t-shirt.”
“You should learn to take a compliment,” she retorted.
“Okay, I’m sorry. I meant, thank you.”
Once again, his hands were a distraction as he drove, so was the dick print on his sweatpants. She had never been so happy to alight from a car.
In the plane, Obi teased her about Nero.
“You like him.”
“Who?” she asked in pretense, looking out the window.
“I don’t hate him.”
“You’re crushing on him. He’s hung over you too, but you’re trying to hide yours.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You’re not going to get married and start having more kids or anything like that, are you?”
Cheta stared at Obi with a frown. “Ehn?”
“It would be weird. I think you’re too old to have a baby.”
“Shut your mouth.”
Yet all she thought about all day were the different baby-making positions she could try with Nero when she ought to have been worrying about what Hadiza had told her after dinner. This was because along the years, Cheta had learned to self-soothe by compartmentalizing her thoughts and pushing the most worrisome ones to a place where they couldn’t control her mood until she allowed them to. She had taken last night and blanked it out, to be revisited at the appropriate time.
Cheta turned away from her bathroom mirror and stared at Obi who was standing by the door.
“I wanted to ask if you wanted dinner.” He was glowering at her outfit. He would soon have something to say about it.
“Are you going clubbing?”
“Nope.” She turned back to the mirror to put on her earrings. “I’m going on a date.”
“Oh, I thought you were going to a club… Because of the dress…”
He had never appreciated her wearing short or revealing clothes. It had to do with the fact that her parents had raised him. And maybe because he was protective over her and had never approved of any man she had dated.
“It’s just a dress, Obi.”
“The date, is it with Dad? Is he back from Abuja?”
Cheta walked away from the mirror and hurried past him. “No, it’s not with your dad. You do know I have a man, right? But we won’t talk about him tonight. Go and make dinner and go to bed.”
“Do you want me to drop you off and come back and pick you…?”
She spun around, giving him a reprimanding glare.
“I’ll go and eat,” he said. “Good night.”
Cheta went into her closet and picked an overnight bag, into which she tossed in a change of clothes and comfortable slides. She then slipped into a pair of heels. The man she was going to see appreciated her whenever she was dressed in this manner. She took one look into the mirror to admire her petite dress with it’s plunging backline. She lingered, thanking God for the gifts of an abundant backside and thick thighs, which more than made up for her small breasts.
She picked her overnight bag and phone and went downstairs. Gold was seated at the foot of the stairs, chatting with someone on her phone. She looked up as Cheta approached her.
“None of your business.”
Gold didn’t repeat her question. Cheta was still mad at her and they were yet to speak about Ozzy.
“See you in the morning,” she waved and went out the door. Her chauffeur was waiting in the car. “I’ll drive,” she informed him. “You can go to bed.”
He looked relieved as he stepped down from the car. Cheta got in, sent a message to her date and fired up the engine. She maintained an evenhanded speed on the streets, although there was hardly any traffic in her direction. In a short while, she was parked in front of a huge, black gate. A quick phone call to the owner of the house and the gate was sliding to the side to let her through. She drove in and parked in a spot shown to her by the guard at the gate who was holding a rifle.
She stepped down, staring at the strange cars she saw parked in the car park. This was supposed to be a private rendezvous; why was her date in the company of others?
“Let me help you with that, ma.”
It was the guard with the rifle.
“No, it’s fine. Thank you.” Cheta walked up to the front door, and just as she was about to press the doorbell, the door opened from within.
Her date, holding a glass of wine, gazed at her with a warm smile.
“You’re going to kill me one day with all this beauty.”
“How fast can you have a hard-on?”
“How fast can you spread those legs?”
“Come in jare.”
She entered the house and he hugged her, kissing her neck.
“So, the thing is that I have guests,” he said. “I totally forgot that I planned this meeting with them today. I’m so sorry, but we’ll be done in an hour tops.”
“Ransome, didn’t you get my text? I came here to fuck.”
“I know. And that’s going to happen. Just give me an hour,” he said, looking in the direction of his living room from where loud laughter sprung. “My room is to your right when you get upstairs. Make yourself comfortable.”
“But we’ll talk about what is going on here because something is definitely going on and I don’t want to be used as a tool. If we’re shagging, we have to be exclusive. I don’t share.”
“I know, Ransome,” Cheta said, walking towards the stairs.
“Don’t take off that dress!”
She went upstairs, to his tastefully furnished bedroom, and saw that a table had already been set for them. One of the dishes contained peppered gizzard, which was her favorite. On a silver saucer were rolled wraps of weed. She picked one and lit it, kicked out of her shoes and lay on the king-sized bed that was covered in bamboo sheets.
She soon felt her nerves relax as the herb kicked in. She stubbed it halfway in an ashtray and kept her eyes up at the ceiling. Hadiza’s words returned to her, replaying slowly.
“I want you to get married to my son Chichetaram. You’re the only woman I approve of in his life. You belong together…”
“Second thing you’ll do for me is to get that Gold of a human being out of your life as well. You can’t be my daughter-in-law and have such a person as your friend. She’s bad news. Trust me, I know what I’m saying.”
“And if I don’t do any of these things?”
“Then I go for Gold, as I went for Ozzy. She’ll pay for what you did to me. Also, I’ll let Nero know that you were responsible for ruining my life. You almost had me killed, only to go after him and seduce him. I don’t want to imagine how he’ll take that information.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Because I like you.”
“You like me?”
“My dear, trust me, I do. You don’t want to be on my bad side.”
“And what’s the third thing? You said that there were three things you wanted from me.”
“The third would be to bring your father down.”
“My father? I don’t get… Why?”
“He stole something very precious to me a long time ago.”
“And what was that?”
“My mother? I don’t… understand.”
“What school did she attend?”
“University of Jos.”
“Same school I attended. We were one of the inaugural students there and we were both studying political science.”
“No, she studied nursing.”
“That was after we got separated. Chichetaram, your mother was a lesbian. I was bisexual, but she was all into women and we were so in love…”
Hadiza’s voice faded off in Cheta’s memory as she began to laugh. She picked the half-smoked blunt and lit it again. She took a long drag, bringing Hadiza’s words back.
“She was married to your dad then, but I was not yet married. We were fine with hiding our relationship under the guise of marriage. The plan was to have kids and when they were all grown, we’d elope to a country that respected what we shared. But your father came across a love note I wrote to her and he reported me to the Dean of Student Affairs, his uncle. Julius was not even a student for heaven’s sake, but he wielded his power and had me removed from school. Nnedinma as well. He made her stay at home for five years before forcing her to do nursing. By then, I was married and we drifted.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“This was the real reason I did nothing to you when Oswald told me that you had been the one driving Adelaja’s car that night. Look, I’m no longer in love with your mother, but I couldn’t hurt you. You’re Dinma’s little girl. I know that she would have extended the same courtesy towards me.”
“I am? Ask her why she suddenly started doing shifts at the ICU while I was there, even though she belonged at the OBGYN. Ask her about the necklace I gave her that has one-half of the yin-yang symbol. I still have the other half… Look, I know this must be too much on you, but I know that fate is at play here. If Dinma and I were not meant to be, then you and Nero were destined to be together. But you, my dear, have a bigger role to play here. And that is the one of destroying your father. I hear that he’s a rapist these days, but all his victims are afraid of exposing him. That’s because it is something you must do. You have to bring down that fortress, that throne he sits righteously on. You alone can do it, Chichetaram…”
Cheta forced Hadiza’s words out of her mind again as she sat up from the bed. She walked to the table where the food was laid and served herself some of the peppered gizzard. She ate as much as she could and had a glass of water. She lay on the bed again, but hugging a pillow this time. In a short while, she began to drift off.
She heard Ransome when he came in more than an hour later. He lay beside her and she opened her eyes.
“Are you okay?” he asked, caressing her arm.
“No, but I’m horny.”
“Talk to me, first.”
“No. Kiss me, first.”
Ransome reached for her waist and drew her closer. He kissed her lightly.
“I’ll say yes if you ask me to marry you.”
Ransome frowned, perplexed. “Cheta, what is going on, babe?”
Cheta tried to respond, but the words were stuck. She covered her face with her hands as the tears came.
“Hey…” Ransome pulled her in. She buried herself in his arms.
“I hate my life. I so hate my life.”
®Sally Kenneth Dadzie @moskedapages