Laja was in bed with her this morning. She was dreaming about him, about the time she came back to Nigeria after being away for six years. He was waiting at the airport, holding a placard that had her name on it. She laughed when she saw him and asked if he was crazy.
“Just in case you’ve forgotten me and I don’t recognize you.”
“I can never forget you, Large.”
Lying in her bed this morning, she felt guilty for not keeping him to memory, as she ought to have done. She had had a chaotic workweek and a weekend that wasn’t any better. It was now Thursday, and she was finally getting the chance to take an entire day off. Yet, she had gotten up early, as it was her habit. She felt it was best to stay in bed and speak to Laja.
“You can never forget me,” he told her. “I mean, you think of me when you touch yourself, right? You did that shit last night.”
Cheta laughed. “You’re so disgusting!”
“Did you or did you not touch yourself, Eden?”
“I did, but I didn’t think about you. Nero was all up in my head, and it was so intense.”
“I really needed to sleep. The orgasm helped.”
“So, when are you going to let the real thing happen?”
“See… I really like him, but… I don’t know. There’s so much pressure from his mom. She called last night, you know? Talking about wanting to meet Obi and having lunch with my family… I don’t know what she wants.”
“Revenge, control… Who knows and who cares? I’m more particular about you and Nero. I’m asking again when it’s going to happen. And I mean a whole ass relationship.”
“I’m crazy about him, but let me not lie, it’s all lust for now. Getting into a relationship while we have a lot hanging over our heads is going to hurt us both.”
“And that’s why you’ve been staying away from him?”
“He doesn’t mind. He told me to either get in deep or leave him alone. I’m doing the latter. It’s just that Hadiza won’t let me do it in peace.”
“Then go in deep.”
“Oga, don’t pressure me, abeg. Just lie peacefully in your grave and leave me alone.”
“So, I wasted Laja Towers by giving it to two of you? The devil is a liar. You guys must pair up, even if I have to start haunting you.”
Cheta covered his face with a pillow, laughing. “Go away.”
He snatched the pillow. “I miss you though. It’s quiet here. Blissful but quiet.”
She dimmed her smile. “I miss you too. You know you didn’t have to go, right? You could have stayed. You could have fought…” Grief cracked her voice. “We had dreams, Large. What happened to traveling the world and getting unbelievably rich and taking care of orphans?”
“You can still do it.” His words came from somewhere distant, as she watched him fade away. Her room went silent and she lay on her back, hugging the pillow.
A couple of hours later, following a shower, she went downstairs.
Kamharida was already having breakfast when she entered the kitchen. Cheta dropped a compliment about how lovely her outfit was. The woman looked stylish as usual, dressed in a Coco Chanel for breakfast.
Cheta sat at the small table for four in a corner of the kitchen and responded to work emails before deciding to settle for cereal. While searching for her favorite cereal dish, she casually raised the topic of her mother’s sexuality. She had not planned to start Kamharida’s day this way, but the phone call from Hadiza last night pushed her to seek more information about her mother from the one person she was sure would tell the truth.
Kamharida, stirring her cup of ginger tea, looked at Cheta with a slight frown when she asked, “Is my mom a lesbian?”
Her question had come at a bad time, just at the moment Naza entered the kitchen.
Cheta poured herself some cereal. “Kindly go back upstairs, Naza.”
“And miss this hot gist about Aunty Nnedinma? Hell no!” She pulled a chair and sat before the table to face Kamharida. “So, is it true? Is she into chick, because that would just fuck me sideways!”
Kamharida remained quiet, eyes on her cup of tea. Cheta poured some milk into her cereal dish. She looked at Kamharida with pleading eyes.
“I really need to know.”
“Who told you?” Kamharida asked.
“It doesn’t matter.”
Naza’s phone rang loudly. Cheta frowned at her.
“This is not a good time, oga,” Naza grunted, staring at the phone. “It’s my business partner.”
“Just go away.”
Naza rose from her seat. “You guys should wait for me o.”
She left the kitchen and Cheta focused on Kamharida.
“Why do I have a feeling that it was Hadiza who told you about Dinma?”
“It was Hadiza.”
“She had no right to do so. What happened between them is long forgotten, Cheta. She should move on.”
“So, it’s true. She was a lesbian.”
“According to what Julius told me. He found a letter from Hadiza to Dinma and showed it to me. It was very damning. At that time in my life, I was a Bible-thumping Christian, so I judged your mother. Julius and I spent an entire night, trying to do some conversion vigil on her. She cried all through.” Kamharida sipped her tea. “I haven’t been able to ask her forgiveness over that incident. The weeks after that were so hard on her. She was depressed, made worse by the compulsory prayers and fasting Julius made her go through. She really loved Hadiza.”
“After a few months, though, she returned to the person Julius wanted her to be, even though it was hard for her to cope with her new reality of staying at home and doing nothing. That devil of your father wouldn’t let her go back to school. He wanted to get her pregnant. They had already been trying for three years and he believed that God was punishing her with barrenness because she was a lesbian. What he didn’t know was that nothing was wrong with Nnedinma. She was deliberately refusing to get pregnant for your dad.”
Cheta slowly lowered her spoon. “Are you for real?”
“She was on contraceptive the whole time. The doctors said there was nothing wrong with her, and if Julius had cared a little more for her than he did, he would have discovered what she was up to. But his church was more important. He was always on the road. Five years later, I think after she had enough, she secretly started trying to get herself back into school. Julius found out and tried to stop her, but she threatened to come out to the church as a lesbian. By then, I was beginning to shed off my religiosity, so, I stood by her and pleaded with Julius on her behalf. He finally agreed to let her get back to school but only if she studied nursing. She was fine with the terms. He helped her secure a second admission through his connection in UNIJOS then. She and I stayed in Jos while Julius remained in Abuja.”
“When does Dera come into this story?”
“After Dinma’s first semester. She returned home for the holidays and Julius maliciously went and adopted Chidera without her knowledge. Anything to keep her caged at home.”
“But it didn’t work.”
Kamharida smiled. “No. Dinma stood her ground. She took Chidera back to Jos with her, hired a nanny and continued schooling. Trust me, Cheta, your mom was a brave woman for that singular act, because people talked. Oh, they talked! Family, church members, they all wanted her to quit school and be a full-time mother. It was 1979, luv.”
Cheta didn’t know this side of her mother Kamharida talked about, but she wasn’t impressed.
“Why did she decide to have me?”
“I don’t know. I think…” Kamharida stared at her mug. “I don’t think you were planned.”
“I’m sorry, luv.”
“That makes a lot of sense.”
“She actually tried to have an abortion, but some prophetess woman warned her that if she tried, she’d die.”
Cheta placed her spoon on the table, picked the bowl and drank the milk directly from it, leaving the cereal.
“That pregnancy was hard on her. She was sick all through, missing lectures a lot. She almost dropped out. Then, came the birth. It was hell too. We nearly lost you both, but God saved the day.”
“Did she love me when she first saw me? You know the way mothers love that one child that put them through hell when they were pregnant with them?”
Kamharida didn’t give an answer. Cheta got off her chair and picked her dish. On her way to the sink, she let it drop from her hands. Kamharida gave a sharp turn.
“Are you okay?”
“No, you’re not.”
Cheta stared at the shattered parts of the cereal dish that looked something like her broken heart. Kamharida had ripped off stitches from old wounds that had taken years to close up.
“I held Obi for hours when he came,” Cheta said. “Even when I didn’t want anything to do with him, I held him. You were there, Aunty Kam. You saw how hard it was for me to let go. You saw the pit I sank into when they came to take him from me. How could a mother not love her child? What did I ever do to her?” Cheta’s voice trembled as she spoke. Kamharida went to her and put an arm around her. She kissed her neatly made hair of cornrows.
“You always had me, luv. I was there for you from the first day your tiny legs kicked into the air as you cried angrily. I fell in love with you my darling. You were mine and you still are. As for your mom, forgive her, please. She was a broken woman, and there was nothing anybody could do.”
“You’re making excuses for her. She never loved me.”
“Well, she never cared much for Dera either. She would lock herself in her room, reading books while I looked after two of you. The affection she projected outside for Dera was all for show.”
“She couldn’t even pretend to love me too? Wow.”
“Darling, your mom was never happy…”
“Bullshit! She loved Onyedika from the moment he was born! He was her perfect, little boy.”
“He was her pain medicine.”
“Why couldn’t I be her pain medicine?” Tears fogged Cheta’s eyes. “Why did she hate me so much?”
“Oh dear.” Kamharida drew her into a full embrace. “Please, don’t cry. Nobody’s worth your tears, luv. If you cry, I’ll cry. Forgive her, darling. Biko gbahara.”
“I’m not crying.” Cheta moved away from Kamharida in annoyance. “I’m fine.”
“But you have tears…”
She dodged the comforting hand coming towards her. “I said I’m fine.”
“I know you are, but will you talk to God about it, maybe?”
Cheta walked away to get a broom and dustpan.
“Running from God won’t help you.”
“I know. But it feels better to run from, than go to him over and over again, and he just won’t…care.” She returned to Kamharida. “Have you ever thought that maybe I’m one of those people he has chosen not to have compassion on?”
“Stop this type of talk, Chichetaram. Aren’t you tired of it? If God didn’t care for you, how come he brought Hadiza’s son into your life?”
“He had nothing to do with it! We met each other and fucked without protection! Nothing holy or divine about that! And even if there were some grand plan, why am I not seeing it? How does Nero being the father of my son change things up for me?”
“I don’t know. Okay, let’s leave God out of it. You know I’m the last person to know his ways. But darling…” She placed a hand on her shoulder. “You need healing. Try and see a therapist, at least.”
Cheta laughed, wiping her eyes. “And what does that do? Does it make my past and all my pain magically disappear?”
Kamharida shook her head in compassion. “You deserve to be happy. Unapologetically happy. Maybe it’s time you talked to your parents? Tell them what they did to you and how it made you feel.”
“Haven’t I tried to do that all these years? Nobody’s listening to me! I have tried but they twist my words and make it about them!”
“They will listen to you this time. I’ll make sure they do.”
Cheta had no plans to have any form of discourse with her parents. Asides the depths of anguish the interface would drag her through, she felt that her motives would be misconstrued to mean weakness. That was the last thing she wanted her parents to think of her.
Gripping the broom, she began to sweep the broken pieces of the dish; and in that manner, pushed her pain back to the place she had hidden it.
Naza burst into the kitchen. “What did I miss?”
“Nothing,” Cheta answered.
“Chinaza, sit and have your breakfast, please,” Kamharida said sternly and Naza caught that it wasn’t a good time. She pulled a chair and sat while Cheta finished with cleaning the floor. When she was done, she returned to her bedroom upstairs. Today, she planned to spend quality time at the spa; afterwards, she would treat herself to a nice Italian meal at a recommended restaurant. First, her fingers longed for the strings of her guitar. As she headed towards her closet to pick it, her phone rang. She turned back and peeped at the screen.
“Mommy not now,” she grumbled, but answered the call. “Good morning, Mom.”
“Chichetaram, how are you?”
“How is Obi?”
“He’s fine, Mom.”
“That’s good to know. We’re fine here as well. Your father is already up and doing. You know how he is.”
Cheta said nothing.
“We thank God for total healing.”
“Em… I called you because I’m sure that you haven’t read the message in the family WhatsApp group. Not our own, the extended family.”
Cheta couldn’t remember the last time she looked at any message from that group. For three years, she kept them muted.
“What happened in the group?”
“Well, you remember Jacinta’s wedding drama and how your uncle said he wasn’t going to allow her marry that boy?”
“Well, there’s going to be a wedding after all. There was no type of begging we didn’t beg Fabian before he agreed.”
Cheta didn’t see how the gist was her business.
“Anyway, Jaci has finally been wedded traditionally. That was about three weeks ago.”
“Congratulations to her. What changed Uncle Fabian’s mind?”
“Your cousin got pregnant o. He was left with no choice but to give his blessing.”
“I’m happy for them.”
“Well, the church wedding is taking place in Lagos, since both Jacinta and the boy live there.”
“But Uncle Fabian lives in Onitsha nau.”
“He refuses to let her wed there because, according to him, the pregnancy is a disgrace to his family.”
“Even the traditional one happened in the village because we insisted.”
“Mommy, if all this talk you’re doing is to tell me to attend Jaci’s wedding on your behalf, I’m not going to do it.”
“No, dear. That’s not why I called.”
“I’m asking for more, actually.”
“Family members will be coming into Lagos for this wedding and they would need somewhere to stay…”
“Are you kidding me?”
“We would need you to put up as many of them as you can.”
“Please, Cheta. We’re the ones sponsoring the wedding. Fabian has washed his hands off of them… Not like he even has the money. It’s all on us.”
“I’m not the only family member who lives in Lagos. Why me?”
“Everyone is accommodating people. I’d like you to host Jacinta herself, being that you two used to be quite close…”
Cheta ground her teeth in annoyance. She had never liked Jacinta the way everyone thought she had. As a teenager, the girl had sticky fingers and mood swings that made it hard for Cheta to communicate easily with her. But Cheta had been forced to be kind to her, as per Nnedinma’s wish. Her reason then was that Jacinta’s family was not as privileged as theirs.
“Why would I want to accommodate somebody that lives here in Lagos with me?”
“Did I say she lives in Lagos? Sorry, I meant, Ibadan. She teaches in a school there. Her husband is the one that lives in Lagos. So, she’ll be in your house on the 19th. As for the other people who would come around, they’ll be there a day or two before the wedding.”
“And when is this wedding?”
“On the 26th, Boxing Day.”
Cheta sighed. There went her plans to have a quiet Christmas.
“I’ll send your dress for the wedding ahead of time, in case you need to adjust it. The tailor is almost done. Yours and Obi’s. We’ll be arriving Lagos on the 23rd.”
“And you’ll be staying in a hotel abi? This one that you’ve all decided to conveniently forget that we have a big family house in Banana Island.”
“Darling, your daddy doesn’t want anyone to know about the existence of that house. Not with the way people are being kidnapped anyhow in this country. And you know how this our family is… They see that house and their everlasting begging resumes. As if we’re not already carrying their burdens on our shoulders.”
Cheta was tempted to ask why they didn’t carry her own burdens on their shoulders.
“Anyway, I will send you some money so that you can buy foodstuff and anything else you feel is important. Just keep the guesthouse empty for us. Dera and Louise are coming too.”
“Good. The whole gang.”
“Cheta, I know this inconveniences you, but please, just try.”
“Have you heard from Chibunna?”
“Who is Chibunna?”
Cheta rolled her eyes. “Mommy, all of you should give up on this marriage thing. Yes, I’ve heard from Chibu. He had the guts to call me. And yes, I told him to go and—”
“Please, don’t say that word.”
“Cheta,” Nnnedinma groaned.
“Stop sending these men my way.”
“Mommy, I have to go now. Important call coming in. Love you!” She dropped the call and grunted in annoyance. Her entire family was mad.
“Did it hurt?”
Gold winced when his hand rested on her back. He mistook her response to mean that her answer to him was no.
“Then why are you crying?”
Ironically, her answer would have been no if she wanted to be honest. In fact, she would have told him that she had enjoyed it. He did not need to know this. Anyway, he had felt her orgasm too; he was responsible for it, after all. He also knew why she was in tears, but if he wasn’t the constant asshole that he was, his name would not be Ozzy.
“Na wa for you o, Goldie. You were just shaking now-now.”
And she hadn’t stopped shaking. Thanks to her body that somehow believed that it still belonged to him.
“Are you happy now?” she asked him. “You got what you wanted shebi?”
“As if you didn’t like it.” He smacked her bum and left the bed to the bathroom. Gold reached for her dress on the floor and pulled herself up. Her phone was ringing. She knew it was Basim.
How did she get here?
This morning, she had opened her eyes to one of her fantasies. Beautiful red roses and an expensive gift were lying on the bed with her. Basim was ticking off items on a list of her favorite things. Being with him was becoming unreal, and she didn’t it want to end.
“Flowers and a Cartier,” she murmured, yawning. “You’re so sweet, Bas. What would I do without you?”
She pulled the Cartier gift bag towards her, and from it, she took out a bottle of perfume. “For real?” She sat up. “I always wanted a Pasha. Aww… Thank you, baby.”
Sitting on the edge of the bed, wearing his socks, Basim smiled. Gold crawled up to him and hugged him. She planted kisses on his neck and head.
“You’re squeezing my shirt.”
“I’m so sorry about our fight yesterday,” she said, freeing him. “I should be the one apologizing with gifts.”
“This was not me apologizing, though.”
“Aww.” She rested on her knees. “I’m really, really sorry.”
He faced her. “Are you? Because it seems like every two or three days, you remember that we’re from two different worlds and can’t be together…”
“But it is what it is, Bas. Your family, especially your mom, will never accept me.”
“How many times do I have to tell you that her opinion over whom I choose to marry doesn’t matter?”
“Basim, don’t talk like that. She’s your mother. Her opinion matters.”
“Okay, it does, but so what? And why are you so particular about my mom, someone you haven’t even met?”
“I…” Gold shrugged. “Well, I know how mothers can be with their sons. You’re the first…”
“No, Nero is her first, but that’s not the point here. You’re judging my mom for no reason. And I blame myself. It’s because of all those stories I told you about how tough she can be. Trust me, my dad is worse. She was indulgent with us.”
“I still feel out of place, Bas. Look at your sister, she’s married to the former vice president’s son. Nero’s ex-wife is the daughter of an oil tycoon, and if he decides to marry Cheta tomorrow, she’ll fit right in because her family is rich. Me, where do I fall in? I’m a poor orphan with no name, Basim. I know how these things work, and I’m scared. Secondly, we’re going too fast. Our relationship is barely three months and you’re already talking about me meeting your family.”
Basim stood. He was annoyed. “You have to stop this. It’s tiring. We have a good thing going here and I’m totally into you already. It’s either you’re in with me or you tell me why you keep giving me excuses and walk away.”
Gold stood as well. She looked up at him. “All I’m saying is that we should take our time. No need to rush. Let’s get to know each other better.”
Basim turned away, walking to his closet. “That never worked for me, Gold. Something always happens and I lose a good woman.” He stopped, looked at her. “I don’t want to lose you.”
“Why drag things when what we have is good? Or do you have another man out there?”
Gold thought about Ozzy’s phone call the night before while Basim slept; there were also chats in her phone she kept deleting. “No.”
She walked to Basim and held his waist, resting her head on his chest. “Let’s just enjoy the honeymoon phase of what we have, okay?”
She did not believe her own words. She knew she was going to disappear at the first sight of Hadiza. The thing with Basim was temporary, even though she was sure that she was beginning to fall for him.
He kissed her head. “I have to go to the office.”
“Don’t go. Stay with me.”
“I have a management meeting.”
“You’re the boss. You can skip it.”
“You know I can’t.”
Gold wanted a reason not to be alone. In a couple of hours, Ozzy would be waiting for her in an apartment. She didn’t have the power to say no to his invitation for her to come over.
“I’ll come back early. How about that?” Basim lifted her chin up to bring his lips to hers.
“I haven’t brushed.”
“Like I ever cared.”
They kissed slowly. Basim caressed her neck, looking into her eyes. “I can’t let you go, Goldie. Stop running from me.” He kissed her again, more intensely.
“If you don’t stop kissing me now, things will happen o.”
He chuckled. “Let them happen nau.” He fiercely went for her lips once more, tugging her body to his. Soon, they were back on the bed, his ironed clothes strewn on the floor. It was quick and intense. It was also the first time they had gone without protection.
Kneeling between her legs and panting hard, Basim asked, “I hate to ask questions like this, but you’ll take a pill, right?”
He got off the bed. “Good, cos I’m not ready to be a dad.”
“But you want to be a husband.”
“They’re two different things, Goldie,” he answered, walking away. He went into the bathroom and returned all cleaned up. She watched him wear his clothes. “The money you’ll need for your baking stuff, I’m sending it to you today. It’s not much, just as you wanted. But if you change your mind and decide you want to open a whole bakery and…”
“I’m sticking with small, Basim. Thank you.”
He lowered and kissed her. “Dinner’s on you tonight. Wow me.”
He left the house.
Feeling relaxed from the quickie she just had, Gold turned down the temperature of the room and went under the covers. She tried not to think of Ozzy and their scheduled meeting. It would be smart to switch off her phone, but that would not get rid of him. He would continue to be on her case until he got what he wanted from her.
She shut her eyes and slept for a bit, waking up to the sound of her ringing phone. She reached for it from underneath the blanket, certain that it was Ozzy calling. When she confirmed that it was, she ignored the call and shut her eyes again. The phone rang out and began to ring a second time.
“Fuck you, Oz.”
She silenced the ringer. Seconds later, it buzzed again. Gold threw off the blanket, cussing. She entered the bathroom, showered, brushed, and came out. Only then did she decide to speak to him.
“Chill. I’m on my way abeg.”
She slipped into a long, easy dress and packed her braids in an up-do. Then she used Basim’s spare car towards her destination.
“Seriously, what do you want?” she asked Ozzy over the phone while driving to his place.
“For starters, I just want to see you. Secondly, we really, really, really need to talk.”
She hung up on him and a short while later, she was standing in front of his door.
He opened from within, welcoming her with a smile. He then locked the door and lifted her off the floor without permission.
“Put me down, Ozzy. Now!”
He held her for a bit before letting her down on a sofa.
“Are you crazy?” she asked, jabbing him away. She looked around the living room, as if expecting to find someone watching them. There was no one else there. It was a brown, lackluster space that looked like someone had lived in it for a while.
“I’m glad you came. What do you want to eat? I can order…”
“Why am I really here, Ozzy?”
“Just chill first. By the way, you’re looking delicious. I could eat you up.”
Gold expressed impatience.
“Let me get you water, at least.”
She watched him walk into the kitchen, noting scars on his back that weren’t covered with tattoos. He came back with a bottle of water, which she refused to touch.
“Why am I here?”
He sat beside her and worshipped her with his eyes. “I want you, goldfish.”
“What sort of figure of speech is this one now, Ozzy? Are you all right at all?”
“Gold, you were the only thing keeping me alive in prison. I thought about you every fucking day.”
“No, you did not.”
“Okay, at least, once in two days. It was that bad. I even tattooed your name on my dick.” He touched his crotch. “I could show you.”
“I can’t stop thinking about you. That day at the mall… I knew I had to have you again somehow.”
“You realize that you’re clinically insane, right?”
“Yeah. I’m currently seeing a pastor, but that’s a good thing, because he says that I need you for closure.”
“Seriously. I need you, Goldie. I want you.” He moved closer, she shifted away. “I would ask you to dump that Husseini brat, but I think we might need him in the future.”
“Need him?” Gold searched Ozzy’s face. What she saw scared her. She got off the sofa and continued to stare daggers at him. “Ozzy, what is this all about?”
His eyes took on a menacing look. “Revenge.”
“Revenge,” she repeated.
“Hadiza is going to pay for all she did to me.”
Gold went weak. “Ozzy…”
“Don’t even try to have a contrary opinion about this, Gold. That woman is the devil and I’ll send her back to hell. But first…” He put on a smile. “Come back here, baby.”
Gold stood frozen. He left the couch and in front of her, giving her a tender stare. “I’m so sorry that I abandoned you. I was young and foolish, blinded by the money…” He looked at her hair, and with one tug, loosened her up-do. “But I loved you. I really did.”
He gently pushed back the braids that covered her fade. She lifted her eyes to look into his. She saw something earnest and familiar.
“Ozzy, no. I can’t be what you want me to be. You can’t just disappear and come back and think that we can pick up where you left off.”
“I planned to come back to you, but that bitch found me and ruined my life!”
“You abandoned me!”
“I know, I know…” He held her face, closing the gap between them. “I’m sorry baby. Now, I know better. I’m never walking away from you.”
The nights she spent at Sheraton with him came back to her. Dollars scattered all over the floor, endless supply of wine and chocolate, shopping bags of designer wears, sex on fluffy beddings, partying all night in clubs around town…
Then one morning, it was all gone. She woke up alone with a hangover and her head resting on a teddy. Ozzy had vanished, and with him, a hundred-and-seventy-five-thousand dollars. Gold felt like her world had been ripped off from its roots and tossed into the abyss. The pain had been endless; she got lost in misery so deep that Laja had to step in. He found her in her family home in Lugbe. By then, her old man had passed away, despite her efforts to save him. The evening Laja visited her, she was seated outside their unpainted house staring into nothingness. His unexpected appearance did nothing to uplift her spirit. He stooped before her, searching her face. He had been there for the old man’s funeral, he and Ransome. Cheta was now out of the country, adding to her depression.
“We should get you out of here,” Laja said.
“Leave me alone.”
He drew her up, she resisted him.
“You can’t live like this.”
“There’s nothing to live for, Laja.”
“You’re going to throw away your education because of one stupid, unfortunate white boy who chose money over you?”
Gold let out tears she thought she was done with.
“Go inside, pack a bag and come, let me take you home. You’re my responsibility now.”
Laja hadn’t been joking. For the rest of their stay in school, he took care of her. Her fees, feeding, accommodation, and lifestyle were all on his tab. She replaced Cheta in his life so much that his mother became uncomfortable with their relationship. One morning, a day after Gold got her NYSC posting to Lagos, she received a call from Mrs. Adeyanju.
“My dear, I heard that you were posted to Lagos, just as Adelaja was?”
“I also heard he helped you work it out?”
“He did, ma,” Gold replied, smiling.
“Thank you, Mommy.”
“But I want to ask you a favor.”
“In fact, I will pay for that favor.”
“I’m listening, ma.”
“Pick anywhere else for your NYSC and I will pay you a million naira.”
“Gold, listen to me. I am not comfortable with the thing you have with Adelaja. He is my only son and we have plans for him, which do not include you. I will give you a million naira to serve anywhere else. Just name the place. We will work it out.”
Gold was nodding, as though the woman could see her. She understood where she was coming from. She had always understood how these things worked. The worlds of the haves and have-nots could never merge into one. As far as the Adeyanjus were concerned, she was not good enough for their son, even though neither she nor Laja had plans to get into something romantic.
“Are you there?”
“Yes, ma. But ma… We’re just friends.”
“I know, but you’re a beautiful girl and my son is attracted to girls like you, girls who need his money.”
“I understand, ma.”
“Come and see me first thing tomorrow morning.”
“And please, do not tell Laja about this.”
Months later, Gold would regret that she didn’t ask for more money. Serving in Abuja, however, afforded her many benefits, including an uninterrupted list of sugar daddies. During this time, she came to accept that life had cast her the role of being the woman who would always be into transactional relationships. Because of this, she walked away from men who came with genuine intentions of love. Another reason she never fell in love with anyone else was Ozzy. She couldn’t be with another man the way she had been with him. Their love had been young and wild, but no less real. She wanted to feel it again, and Basim had shown her that he could fill that hole. But it was all becoming complicated with Ozzy back in her life.
Therefore, when she walked into his apartment earlier, she had every intention to let him know that he was a huge problem to her.
“Oz, time has passed and we’ve both grown. You should forget about me. I’m with a man who loves me and treats me better than you ever will.”
“I’m not asking you to leave him. I’m just reminding you that you and I can never be separated. We need each other.”
“Oswald, I can’t.” She stepped away from his distracting body and picked her handbag. “I have to go.”
“Fine.” He pushed his hands into his front pockets, maintaining his sincere expression. Gold wasn’t going to fall for it. She hurried towards the door.
“Guess who I ran into the other day,” Ozzy said. She opened the door. “Guess.”
She turned a little. He thrust his phone at her, showing her a selfie he took with an old acquaintance.
“He says to say hi. He was asking after Cheta too.”
Gold closed the door quietly, feeling her tummy toss. “Why are you doing this?”
“Blackmail is my thing.” His smile was sinister. “How else would I have you back? I know you’ve moved on, but I won’t accept that.”
If Gold didn’t know him better, she would have called his bluff. But Oswald had always been a dangerous man. She hated that he shared secrets with her.
“I’m not ready for your games, Oswald!”
“Madam, it’s not by shouting.”
She reached up and slapped him. She felt an instant sting in her palm. Painful tears of frustration gathered in her eyes.
“Aww.” Ozzy ran a finger on her upper arm, stopping at her shoulder. She felt the rise of goosebumps on her skin.
“Do you want money?” she asked, tears glistening on her cheeks. “I can get you money.”
“No. I want this.” He lowered and kissed her. She didn’t respond. He rubbed her cheek with his thumb. “Please, kiss me back. I so want you right now.”
“When you say you want me…” Her voice was a whisper.
“I want everything, not just your lips.”
“Ozzy, don’t ask me to do this, please.”
“Why? Because you know you’ll enjoy it and it’d stir memories and feelings long forgotten?”
“No, it would be non-consensual.”
“And that’s why I’m asking. I’m not forcing you.”
“You’re coercing me, using blackmail! It’s not fair!”
“Shh…” He brought her face closer, touching her lips again with his. “I just want to have a taste of you again. You’re that addictive. I would do anything…”
“And if I say yes, would it buy your silence?”
“You have to specify.”
“Ah. You value your friendship with Cheta.”
“She can never find out what happened.”
“Yes…” He sniffed her face noisily and exhaled. “It would buy my silence.”
Gold dropped her handbag to the floor. “I’m ready when you are.”
“Don’t rush. I want you to enjoy it.”
Unlike the session with Basim earlier, Ozzy took his time. He was not forceful either. Gold could stop him, but she didn’t. It was hard to think of anything other than the pleasure he gave her.
Driving back to Basim’s home now, she asked herself why she had lain there and done nothing. She sniffled and wiped off tears. Her phone rang again. This time, she reached for it and answered the call.
“Thought I’d find you at home,” Basim said. “I had this nonsense headache and decided to take the rest of the day off.”
“Aww, sorry. Have you taken any pills?”
“Yeah. Where are you though?”
“Went home. I’ll be with you in a bit.”
“Okay. Buy fruits for me.”
“Sure. See ya.”
A message dropped in from Ozzy on WhatsApp. Gold saw it and stepped on the brakes, almost running into the car in front of her.
“Ozzy no nau.”
The message was a selfie he had taken of both of them, right after they had sex and she covered her face with a pillow in tears. He captioned it, ‘Just like old times’.
“Ozzy, please.” She pressed her fingers over her eyes. Cars behind her began to honk their horns. “Please, don’t do this.”
She froze, glaring at the phone. Basim hadn’t hung up.
“Bas? Boo, I’m driving. Cars are behind me. I’ll call you back.”
She ended the call and covered her mouth to control her nerves. The honks behind her got louder, adding to her edginess.
“Let me hear word abeg!”
Exhaling, she let her foot off the brake pedal and moved forward.
What lie was she going to tell Basim now?
®Sally Kenneth Dadzie @moskedapages