Cheta entered her house, after saying goodbye to Nero, and stretched out on her bed. She was waiting for someone’s wrath to fall on her. It was either going to be Hadiza’s or Nero’s. In fact, she was expecting anger from both of them. She didn’t care, though. She was still lost in the euphoria of kisses she shared with Nero. This stretched on for some time until her phone buzzed beside her. She stared at it and saw Hadiza’s face on the screen. It was a video call.
“Good evening, ma,” Cheta greeted.
“What did you tell my son?”
“You think I’m playing games with you, Chichetaram? Are you out of your mind?”
“I am not. I just feel like you didn’t understand the severity of what you asked me to do.”
“I wanted you to tell the truth! Clearly, you’re not the woman I thought you were!”
“You weren’t asking me to tell the truth, ma. No, you didn’t care about the truth in the least. It was all about revenge to you, and I was a pawn in your grand plan to destroy my parents. And maybe it would have worked if you had not tried blackmail. I am the last person to allow myself be controlled and threatened by anyone.”
Hadiza paused for a second. Cheta allowed her some time to handle her shock at the manner in which she had just addressed her. Hadiza would have to accept that she was not the same apologetic person she had met in Abuja. This version of her had a PhD in putting elders in their place.
“So, you decided to call my bluff?” Hadiza asked slowly. “Do you realize how incredibly stupid that is? Oghenero is my son. We share a bond that I expect you to understand, being that you’re a mother yourself. Anything I tell him, he’ll believe.”
“I know that. And that’s why I’m very sure that you would have glowing accolades to give on my behalf.”
“Why on earth would I do that?”
“You want us together, don’t you? You want to see how my mom falls to pieces when I tell her the person I want to spend the rest of my life with is the son of the woman she walked away from. You also want to watch my dad lose his mind over the fact that I chose Oghenero. I want that too. Asides that, every smart woman knows that to win a man’s heart over, you start by charming his mother. So, I’m simply speeding up the process by kindly asking you to cut right to the heart of our little dilemma and cushion the blow for me. Nero would forgive me for what I did to you, if you ask him to. That way, I become indebted to you and we can strike a deal to bring my dad down.”
Hadiza seemed dazed a second time. She went quiet for so long that Cheta almost thought that she was experiencing network problems.
“Are you there?” she asked.
“Don’t talk. I’m trying to think.”
Cheta almost laughed. She was enjoying this more than she thought she would. This had always been her manner in dealing with situations like this. Whenever she didn’t have a quick reaction to being treated unkindly and she paced herself, her latter response was usually more calculated and venomous. In dealing with people like Hadiza, one had to realize that the woman didn’t respect people she could easily control.
“You’re more dangerous than I thought you were, young woman,” Hadiza finally said. “But there’s a wild card, here.”
“Yes. That boy has a mind of his own. If I tell him and he decides to hold it against you, nothing either of us does would change his mind.”
“Leave him to me. I’m the backup plan.”
“Don’t be too smug, Chichetaram. He has an ex always hanging around the corner.”
“No, the other one. Joy. He has a weak spot for her. I almost believe that it’s spiritual.”
“Well, I think you should give your son a little more credit than you do. He’s grown since Obi came into his life. I’m not worried about him…”
“Do you love him?”
“I…” Cheta didn’t want to answer the question. That would be too much of herself being exposed to Hadiza. “I feel something for him.”
“Look, Chichetaram, underneath all we just talked about, I’m particular about my son’s happiness. He’s been hurt too much, and I don’t want someone who would add to his pain. Love him back the way he loves you.”
Cheta gave a half nod without words.
“Then, there’s still the matter of your annoying friend hanging around my Basim. You didn’t do what I asked.”
“I’m sure you know by now that I don’t do things like that. Basim and Gold are adults and they—”
“Don’t give me that bullshit, Chichetaram. Your friend only wants my son for his money.”
“She has feelings for him.”
“And yet she was at her ex’s the day before.”
Cheta tried not to reveal her disappointment, but it showed.
“You know that’s not going to go well with me, my dear. I’ll do anything to keep my children safe, and this includes taking out anyone who gets in the way of their happiness.”
“Okay. I’ll talk to her.”
“I’m not going to wait for you…”
“Please. She’s just…misguided. Trust me, she’s a wonderful person.”
“I don’t care. Get her out of my way or I will.”
Cheta hated what Hadiza was doing, but she couldn’t blame her. Gold was making a mess of things, and it was hard to speak up for her.
“Just give me a day.”
“Fine. Now, let’s talk about your father and how we have to stop him from destroying more lives.”
“I really wish you’d choose someone else to do this.”
Hadiza smiled. She picked a glass of wine and sipped from it, maintaining the smile in her eyes. “You have no idea how many girls your old man has raped and how much his coworkers in God’s vineyard are covering up for him.”
“They never turn on each other.”
“I know, and that’s why you’re the best person to expose him.”
“Do you know what this would do to me? To my career? How the church and my family would treat me?”
“You’ve always been the outcast, Cheta. What’s going to change?”
“My dad is a very powerful man. If he had the power to separate you and my mom more than forty years ago, imagine what he’d do to me now. Please, choose someone else.”
“Let’s talk about his victims. We’ll start with Rereloluwa.”
Cheta’s eyes slowly widened.
“Your friend was raped by your father when she came to stay with your family for the long holiday so many years ago. Do you remember the time?”
Goosebumps spread over Cheta’s body. Rere had spent quite a few long holidays with her since their primary school days, but she stopped coming when they both turned fifteen. Cheta recalled that Rere’s parents had come to pick her up on a certain night without any explanations. Cheta’s mother later explained that they had taken her to spend the rest of the break with her grandmother in the village. Two days before, Rere had become quiet and withdrawn. She had blamed it on period cramps.
“I’m sure the memory is not erased from your mind. Your father raped her while you slept. According to her, she had left you sleeping in the room and had snuck out to watch an adult movie you girls had borrowed from a neighbor friend earlier that day.”
Cheta had a second spread of goosebumps over her skin. The movie in question had been Rere’s idea. The kids at their holiday school were all talking about it and she was desperate to see what it was about. Being that Cheta’s parents monitored all they saw on television, they had not been able to watch it during the day. They planned to do so that night, but Cheta had fallen asleep early. She had no idea that Rere had snuck out while she slept.
“Your father caught her watching it and threatened to tell on her to her parents. She begged and cried, and he eventually decided to be merciful to her. He did it in a way that made her feel like she gave herself willingly to him. After he raped her, he threatened her, of course. But she was too much of a mommy’s girl to stay quiet. Rereloluwa went to your neighbor’s house the next day, called her mother, and told her what happened. Her mother, who had never liked Julius, saw this as an opportunity to deal with him. So, she called Bishop Samson, who is something like a mentor to Julius, and told him what Rereloluwa told her. His response to the allegations was supposed to ruin Julius, but being that Julius basically bankrolled him and his church, he spoke in his favor. In the end, they promoted Rereloluwa’s father, gave him the church in Lagos to head and buried the whole thing. That could have been the scandal that brought Julius Azubuike down.”
“Give me a moment.”
Cheta walked away from her phone, taking the life-size teddy on her bed with her. She fell to her knees, and in anger, punched the teddy so many times and so hard that her knuckles eventually began to hurt.
“Cheta?” Hadiza called. Cheta stood and straightened her top, exhaling to steady her breath. She returned to Hadiza. “I know this is heavy…”
“How did you hear about this?”
“I have informants in your father’s church, Cheta. People who know things about him but are too afraid to touch God’s anointed. Your father has always been a powerful man, made so by his money. He wasn’t one of those preachers with a grass to grace story. He started out rich and bought favor and fame from those that mattered, and that is why he feels that nobody can touch him. Look, there are more stories. Your cousin, Jacinta, is another victim. In fact, she’s still a victim. I have hotel bookings, damning photos… That entire wedding on the 26th is a sham…”
“Please, it’s enough.”
“You see why we need to bring him down?”
Cheta gave a weak nod.
“Don’t worry about the details and how it’s going to happen. I have you covered. Just get on it with me.”
“I will,” Cheta answered in a small voice.
“Consider it your calling. Those girls need someone, they need you.”
“And seriously, start calling me ‘Mommy’.”
The video paused on Hadiza’s end, making her image on the screen blurry. But she returned in a bit.
“That was Nero calling. I haven’t told him anything yet. He and I will have that talk now. Are you sure you want me to do this?”
“Please, go ahead. Good night, ma.”
“Good night, my dear.”
Cheta hung up. She got off her bed, undressed, switched off the lights, and went to bed. Hadiza had managed to mess her mood up—again.
He was restless at work this morning. His fuse was short too. Every little thing his staff did annoyed him, so he withdrew to his office to attend to pressing issues. But this didn’t help his mood, as he found himself thinking solely about Gold and all the implicating messages from Ozzy he found on her phone. He had no regrets spying on her; the alternative would have been to ignore his gut feeling, which would have been utter foolishness. He couldn’t believe that she had slept with Ozzy and come home to him with a straight face, revealing nothing of what she had done. Every time he thought about it, he shivered. What type of woman had he gone and fallen in love with?
Unable to concentrate at work any longer, Basim called in his personal assistant and asked her to reschedule important appointments for the day. Afterwards, he left the office. When he got home, he found Gold in the kitchen, baking a cake for her first client. He slammed his suit and car key on the table and it startled her. She turned around, frightened. Seeing him, she exhaled in relief, smiling.
“Did you fuck him?”
Gold’s smile slowly vanished, replaced by a puzzled face.
“Did you fuck your ex?”
“My ex?” She still maintained her puzzlement. “Ha-ahn. What are you talking about?”
“Ozzy. You were at his place on Thursday, right?”
The guilt crept into her eyes. “I em… I…”
“Don’t lie to me, Gold! DID YOU FUCK YOUR EX?”
“Ha-ahn. Why are you asking me this?”
Basim unlocked his phone and showed her the after-sex selfie Ozzy had taken of them both. Gold’s lips trembled, right before she dropped her head and covered her face with her hands.
“For the last time, did you fuck him?”
“Yes, yes I did.” She burst into full tears. Basim hadn’t thought that he could handle this moment, but here he was, doing the impossible, knowing that his heart was about to burn to cinders.
“But it’s not what you think. He-he-he coerced me… He’s trying to blackmail me—”
“Fuck you and your lies! Pack your things and get the fuck out of my house!”
He picked his suit and marched to his bedroom. As a rule, he didn’t keep alcohol in his house, but he was badly in need of a bottle right now. Restless, he walked in circles, mostly to kill the urge of wanting desperately to punch something so hard. When Gold walked into the bedroom, he didn’t see her until she stood in his way. She tried to touch him, but he moved away from her. She fell to her knees, weeping.
“Please, allow me explain myself. I’ll leave, as you wish, but let me tell you what really happened.”
He didn’t say anything; he didn’t stop her either. He kept his ambling pace when she began to speak, but when her story got intense, he slowed and stopped moving altogether.
“Wait…stop! What are you talking about, Gold? What nonsense story is this you’re telling me? Cheta was responsible for what happened to my mom?”
“Basim, this story is not mine to tell, but I don’t want us to have any secrets between us, that’s why I’m telling you all of it. What Cheta did was a mistake.”
Basim laughed in disbelief. “This has to be a joke, right? You’re fucking joking with me right now, Gold!”
“No. I’m not.”
“And you two had the guts to reappear in our lives after what happened? Wait, wait, wait… Cheta even had a son for Nero? How? When? I’m confused!”
“This is why I said that this wasn’t my story to tell—”
“HOW DID IT HAPPEN?”
“They hooked up while your mom was in the hospital.”
“Wait, what? How?”
“I don’t know, Basim. Can you just let me finish telling you everything?”
Gold continued her story, and with each word she spoke, Basim felt his strength leave him. She eventually ended it, as tormenting as it was. When she was done, Basim took some time to let it all go under. He eventually found words to say, and they were, “Where does the part where you fucked Ozzy on Thursday come into this story now?”
Gold heaved a sigh.
“Stop breathing like an ox and tell me why you cheated on me! Why did you do it?”
“Ozzy and I broke up one time like that in Gwags because he was cheating on me with some chick. So, I was heartbroken and vulnerable and…” She heaved a sigh. “Cheta’s ex then, he and I were pretty close. He lived in Gwags… School was not in session, but he and I used to hang out, so… We sort of hooked up during the break. It was supposed to be meaningless, but he caught feelings and dumped Cheta when school resumed… Ozzy found out and beat the hell out of him…”
“She never found out. She was so heartbroken that she spent a week in the hospital because she fell really ill. Well, Ozzy and I recently bumped into each other and started chatting as friends… Nothing serious at all. On Thursday, he said he wanted to see me, so I went to his house and…”
“And what, Gold?”
“He threatened to tell Cheta about what I did to her in Gwags if I didn’t have sex with him.”
“And so, you decide that I’d be the one you’d hurt.”
“No, Basim. It’s not like that.”
Basim couldn’t trust his legs anymore; he sat on his bed and stared at Gold as if he were looking at an alien. “What sort of human being are you, Goldie? How are you still the same person you were in Gwags? We all grew up and became responsible adults. How are you still this dense and idiotic?”
“I didn’t know what to do! I was scared! I don’t want to lose what I have with Cheta! She’s been so good to me!”
“And yet you slept with her man and caused her pain!”
“That was a long time ago and I didn’t mean to!”
“Yeah, the same way you didn’t mean to take my mom’s money while she was fighting for her life in the hospital! Same way you left this house without telling me, to go to that bastard’s place and open your fucking legs for him! Who do you think you’re fooling?”
“I’m so sorry.”
Basim stood. “Sha pack your things and leave!”
She followed him on her knees, and jumped to her feet when he got to the door.
“Basim, please… I’m so sorry, baby. I didn’t want to do it!”
“Yet somehow, you did. Did you even use protection?”
“Yes, yes I did…”
“Good for you. Now, leave my house.”
He tried to move, but she caught his pants, pulling herself up.
“Gold, let me go.”
She clasped her arms around his waist. “I can’t… You mean everything to me.”
“My money, abi?”
“It’s not about the money, baby. I love you. I love you so much.”
He forced her arms off his body and continued to the living room. “I want you out of here before I get back.”
“Basim!” She ran after him, but he stepped out and slammed the door in her face. She followed him, all the way to his car. He was too angry to spare her a glance as he fired up the engine and drove out of the compound. His destination was Nero’s office. His elder brother always had the right words to say to an aching heart. But more importantly, he needed to hear all that Gold had just told him about Cheta.
Nero had been in a suspended state of mind since his phone call with his mother. It was hard for him to process all she had told him concerning Cheta. He didn’t know if he was to be mad, shocked or impressed that she had actively pursued a sexual relationship with him while his mother lay in a coma, due to an accident for which she was responsible. He was yet to speak to her to hear her own side of the story, but his mother had made it clear that she had forgiven her. She had also reiterated her stance on his relationship with Cheta.
“She’s the only woman I endorse for you, and this is not because she’s the mother of your child. Cheta is who I want you to be with.”
“Why?” he had asked her. “I don’t understand how you could still pick her after what she did to you, to me.”
“I spent years following her and her friends, and I can assure you that that young lady doesn’t have a bad bone in her. All she has done along the years is build a career and take care of her son, your son. Besides, wouldn’t it be better if you married the mother of your child?”
“Nobody is talking about marriage here, Mom.”
“Well, I am. When you guys are ready, meet me in the future. I’m already there waiting for you.”
Nero wouldn’t lie to himself about the fact that Hadiza’s kindness to Cheta, despite what she did to her, was largely responsible for him not hating Cheta right now. His mother’s opinion mattered a lot to him, and this act of compassion she had shown was a reminder of how benevolent she was. Mazino was an asshole for trying to destroy a good woman.
Nero picked up his phone to call Cheta for the fifth time this morning, but he chickened out. What was he going to say to her when he was yet to process what he had been told about her? But he had to express himself, show some reaction, be pissed or something.
Instead, he grabbed his car key and headed to the door. Basim called as he was making his way out of the office.
“Where you dey?”
“On my way to the site.”
“See you in a bit.”
“No, I just need to talk.”
Basim rang off. Nero got on the road and made his way to a construction site at the Chevron area of the island. He was hardly five minutes in when he discovered many things going wrong. His instant anger as a reaction to the mess shocked him as it did the construction workers. He was largely known to be a calm boss who hardly lost his cool. One of the supervisors pleaded with him to be calm and assured him that the mistakes would be corrected. Hence, Nero sat in his truck and watched the ongoing work with much disinterest. Basim soon came driving into the premises. He parked his vehicle and joined Nero in his.
“Bad day?” Nero asked.
“She confessed, said Ozzy was blackmailing her.”
“And you told her to leave, but you really don’t want her to because you’re in too deep.”
Basim was silent. Nero smiled. When it came to women, his baby brother had not changed much since their early twenties. He was a sucker for torture, and he would take maximum shit for such a ridiculous length of time because on his own end, he always loved possessively and obsessively.
“You didn’t have to drive all the way, you know? Or abandon work today because of a woman who cheated on you.”
“But I did…”
“But you did, and you want me to tell you to dump her.”
“I can’t let her go.”
“I’m not going to tell you shit, bro. You’re not going to listen anyways. You’re not ready. And I don’t mean this in the case of Gold. You, as a grown ass man, are not ready to have a mature, meaningful relationship. This is why you’d rather sleep around…”
“I didn’t come here for all this analysis.”
“Yes, you did. And maybe to hear me tell you that everything’s going to be okay, that you’ll heal from your broken heart. Right?”
“Well, whatever it is, we’re not having beers over it this hot morning. I’m having such a shitty day as well.”
“What’s going on?”
“Work-related, but it’s fine.”
No, it was not. Nero was just beginning to realize this. He longed to talk to someone about it, but Basim was the wrong person to bring up the conversation with, being that Gold was involved in the whole drama from the past. Nero had told Hadiza to spill the truth to Basim as well, but she had assured him that she had a better plan for Gold.
“Why are you not as forgiving of her as you are of Cheta?”
“She’s just a slut. Cheta is family. Sluts are to be treated the way they deserved.”
Nero couldn’t judge his mother, because he had developed an instant dislike for Gold the moment he heard about the role she played in that saga. Somewhere in his mind, however, there was a niggling feeling of fear for Basim, as regards Ozzy. He was scared that the latter would seek revenge on Basim for what Hadiza did to him.
“I didn’t come here to talk about Gold alone, sha.”
“Hmmm… This matter heavy for my mouth o. I don’t know how you’ll take it.”
“Momsi’s accident on Giri Road. You know who was responsible?”
And just like that, flashes of that horrible night came to Nero. He was there with his kidnappers, tied, gagged and blindfolded. The drop-off and exchange between them and Hadiza was to happen on that road. He had heard one of them announce with much excitement that Hadiza had shown up with the money and she was about to cross the highway to where they were hidden, as they had planned. Seconds later, however, something happened, following the sharp screeching sound of tires burning the tarmac. The kidnappers then became hysterical, saying something about a car knocking his mother off the road. This made him fly into a rage. He tried to get up, but unable to, he wiggled his body and fell to his side. He heard them call their boss in panic. He didn’t know what the man told them, but they dragged him away from to the place they parked their car farther in the bush. They tossed him into the trunk of the car and drove for a long time before dropping him off outside the gate of the Husseini residence.
Cheta had been responsible for what happened that night.
“Cheta,” he said, in reply to Basim’s question. His brother looked at him, stunned.
“I just found out last night. Momsi told me. Cheta would have told me, but… Just take it that Momsi told me.”
“And how do you feel about it?”
“I don’t know, man.”
“I mean, she got you into something with her after what she did, and got pregnant…”
“I don’t want to talk about it, Bas.”
“That’s not going to fly, Okiemute. We’re all in this shit together. Gold stole that ransom money and was spending it while Cheta…”
“I said, I don’t want to talk about it, bro. My head can’t process it yet. Let’s just…” He rubbed his chin, staring out. “I wish I didn’t have a son come out of this whole mess. I just wish…” He shook his head. “So many things going on in my head right now.”
“Wait… How did mom even know?”
Nero gave him a look that made him sigh.
“If she’d always known, why didn’t she tell you or us?”
“It’s your mother, Basim. She does what she feels like doing. I don’t think she knew about Obi, though. I was the one who told her about him and about Cheta and me hooking up. All I’m certain of is that she tailed every one of them. Laja got a pass because his father came to apologize on their behalf and paid her hospital bills. Ransome also got away with it because she considered him too poor to hound. Now, Gold and Ozzy would have escaped her wrath if they hadn’t taken that money.”
“Did she do anything to Gold?”
“No. She said she was too poor too. This was after she found out that the real person who squandered those millions was Ozzy. She had him locked up for seven years. He’s out now, and I’m scared that he’s going to do something to get his pound of flesh back.”
“Well, he has.”
“I don’t think sleeping with Gold would be enough for him. Look, I don’t know this guy, but someone who spends seven years in Kuje prison should not be toyed with.”
“So, what are you saying I should do?”
“I don’t know, Basim. I’d dump her if I were you.”
“Would you dump Cheta?”
“Cheta and I are not an item…”
“Yet. But what are your plans for her?”
“I seriously don’t know. Anything I do in response to this whole thing is going to affect Obi, and I don’t want that.”
“This is beyond Obi, right now. You love that chick.”
“I know. And that’s what makes it so hard.”
“Same with Gold. I so do not want to let her go.”
Nero was done with the conversation. He suddenly realized that he hadn’t had breakfast and noon was just a few minutes away. “I’m hungry abeg. Let’s find somewhere to eat.”
Basim got down and entered his car. They drove to a shawarma joint nearby.
A week had gone by since Cheta last spoke to Nero. He had acknowledged that Hadiza told him what had happened seventeen years ago, but he also said that he wasn’t ready to talk about it. He asked for time, adding that he wasn’t sure if his invitation to her to spend Christmas with him would still be open afterwards. She told him that she understood his reasons and apologized for what she did.
“Isn’t that coming too late, Chichetaram?”
The calm in his voice chilled her as much as it made her fall for him the more.
“I’m really sorry.”
He ended the call without saying goodbye, and that was the last she heard from him. Not to stay distracted from work, she blocked him out of her mind and worked hard on setting up her studio. She was finally done on Friday. To celebrate it, she took Naza out clubbing. Gold was presently not in her life. She had dumped her after Gold herself confessed that she opened up to Basim about the accident. Cheta had almost wept.
“Why didn’t you ask me first? How do you just open your mouth and reveal secrets like that, Goldie?”
Gold hadn’t said anything in her defense. On her own, she packed her things out of Cheta’s house and said goodbye to her.
“Where are you going?” Cheta asked, concerned.
“I don’t know. But I have some money from what Basim gave me to start my cake business. I’ll use it to rent a place. Don’t worry about me. I want to go and fix my life, Cheta. I need to.”
In the face of her pain, Cheta hugged her and invited her for Jacinta’s wedding.
“I don’t think I’ll come.”
“It’s fine, if you don’t. But it would be nice to see you, even if we’re not going to be as close as before.”
Gold broke down at her words. “I’m so sorry.”
Cheta held her emotions back as she said goodbye to her a second time.
“Good riddance!” Naza exclaimed after she was gone. “Now, I can take her room and her place in your heart.”
“Don’t you have to go back to London or something?”
“I don’t even want to know,” Cheta said.
But earlier this morning, as they drove home after clubbing, Naza told her about her plans to shuttle between Nigeria and the UK in the coming year. “I just want to know that your door is always open for me.”
“Anytime, Naza. As long as you pull your weight around here as regards food, cooking and cleaning.”
“Can’t we just hire a maid?”
“If you’ll pay your own half of her salary.”
Cheta slept for a few hours, and when she opened her eyes, Obi was staring at her face.
“You left your door open,” he said.
“I did? When did you get in?”
“Some minutes ago.”
Cheta covered her mouth in a yawn. “You came with your dad?”
“No. He’s at home.”
“I’m coming to stay here, though.”
“Why? I told you we’re having family members over for Jacinta’s wedding. You remember her nau.”
“I don’t want to stay at Dad’s.”
Cheta sat up. “Did you guys fight?”
“So, what happened?”
“Nothing, Mom. I just got tired of the place, is all.”
“That’s not true.”
“We’re continuing this talk. Let me go and pee.”
Cheta hurried to the bathroom, relieved her bladder, brushed her teeth, and returned to find that Obi was gone. She checked his bedroom, then went downstairs. Kamharida was making breakfast when she walked into the kitchen.
“Good morning, Aunty Kam-Kam.” She hugged her from behind, resting her head on her back. The woman was taller than she was.
“How are you, darling?”
“When is Jacinta coming again?”
“Tomorrow. It was supposed to be today, but she said that she had a few things to tidy up.”
“Okay. But are you ready for the intrusion?”
“Not like I have a choice. Have you seen Obi this morning?”
“Yeah, he was here a few minutes ago. Check outside.”
Cheta went out through the backdoor and found Obi watering the flowers that were planted along the fence.
“Obi!” She shielded her face from the sun as she called him. He didn’t hear her. He had his headphones on. She walked to him and pulled them off. He turned. “Why are you back home?”
“Maybe you should call Dad and ask.”
“Did he send you back?”
“Then tell me…”
“I don’t want to. How is that so hard to understand?”
“Okay, he has a girlfriend! Some Joy chick that came on Wednesday and she wouldn’t leave. She’s been sleeping in his room.”
Cheta showed no reaction to what she had just heard. “Obi, your dad is allowed to date whomever he wants to date.”
“Because you keep curving him.”
“We don’t have to be together just because we have you.”
“I’m not a kid. I know that, but I…” He stopped. “Just forget it.”
“You’re blaming me, Obiedika.”
“I didn’t say anything.”
“No, you’re blaming me for your dad having a girlfriend.”
“He’s so into you, Mom. But as usual, you’re staying away from him.”
Obi’s words were supposed to hurt, but Cheta let them fall on her like feathers. She was ready to accept the fact that he was a typical teen and they were going to have many of these types of conversations. He had a lot of growing up to do.
“Not everything is as it seems, Obi. I know you want us together, but these things are complicated.”
“Y’all say that.”
“He talked to you about it?”
“No, but it’s something adults say all the time. I’m tired of that bull—”
She smacked the back of his head. “Enough of the swearing. And seriously, this is not a good time to water the plants. You should have done it before the sun came up. Turn off that tap and go and have breakfast, my friend.”
She walked back to the house, fighting the thoughts of Nero that tried to force their way into her headspace. Maybe she should listen to Hadiza more. The woman had predicted that Joy would return to his life.
“Cheta!” Naza was standing by the kitchen door. “What’s your Wi-Fi password again?”
“It’s 20k!” Cheta replied. “Send it to my First Bank!”
Naza gave her the middle finger.
“I just transferred 2M to your account. I’ll also send someone to bring you the Highlander from Abuja. I hope that helps.”
Joy had just come out of Nero’s bathroom, his towel wrapped around her body.
“Two million and a car?” She was shocked. “That’s more than enough, Nero. Thank you so much.”
She walked to where he stood and made to hug him, but he stepped back. “I can’t.”
“I only want to show my gratitude.”
“I know you’re grateful, but like I told you last night, we can’t just jump right back into us. I can’t do it.”
“How about what happened the other night?”
Nero hid his embarrassment. The night in question was Thursday night. She had snuck into the guestroom where he was sleeping and slid under the covers with him. It took just the feel of her nude body against his for things to heat up between them. He hated that he had been so emotionally disturbed that he gave into her. He regretted what had happened between them afterwards.
“I won’t say it was a mistake because I enjoyed it, but I sure regret it, Joy.”
“But I told you that I’m here to stay this time.”
“You say that every time. Every freaking time. And like a fool, I take you back. I don’t want my life to be a series of trials and errors with you.”
“It won’t be…”
“I’m sorry. We’re done.”
She stared at her suitcase, which he had already packed while she was in the shower. “Wow. You’re serious.”
And he hoped that he meant it, this time. She had dropped in on Wednesday evening, after he invited her over to talk. He hadn’t expected her to come with a suitcase and a tragic story about how her house got burnt after a her maid carelessly left a candle on and went to bed. Before then, she explained that she had quit her job, because she was emotionally distressed and couldn’t concentrate at work. All she had, she lost in the fire. She had to hand her car to her landlord as a form of compensation for destroying his house.
“I’m really sorry for how I’ve been with you through the years. These past few months have shown me what really matters.”
“Well, I’ve moved on.”
“Clearly.” She looked around as if seeing his room for the first time. “You’ve changed. You decorated and now, you have a son…”
She sat on the edge of the bed. “Nero, I won’t lie to you that knowing you have a son hurts me like hell. I should be pregnant by now… We should have…” She paused, sighing heavily. “You love her, don’t you?”
“Your son’s mother.”
Nero noticed that she hadn’t been able to say Obi’s name.
“That shouldn’t concern you.”
“I know. I just want to be sure that you’re giving up on us because of another woman.”
“No. I’m doing this for me. For my own sanity and emotional healing.”
“But I told you that I’ve changed, just like you have.”
“Well, you changed too late, Joy.”
“Didn’t Thursday night mean anything to you?”
“Yeah, it did, actually. It showed me that there was nothing there for us anymore. If anything, all we shared that night was physical. Nothing more.”
This was a difficult conversation for him to have. Somewhere in him, a voice told him that leaving Joy was a mistake. Something about the devil he knew being a better choice than the angel he so badly wanted to be with.
“Nero, let me prove to you that I’m not the person you used to know. Even if it’s just a month or three weeks. Date two of us at the same time, so that you can choose at the end of the day. Please.”
Coming from Joy, this was new. She was as proud and entitled as they came. Maybe life had really humbled her. Maybe she was different now.
Maybe he didn’t care anymore.
“It’s no use, Joy. We’re done.” He faced the door when he saw the towel falling off her body. She was a huge distraction to him. She had the sexiest body he had ever seen in a woman he’d been intimate with.
“I want to run some errands in town. I hope you’ll be mature and understanding enough to be gone by the time I get back.”
Inside his car, he asked himself if he wasn’t making a mistake. Joy had always been his failsafe, the constant that was always there for him whenever he fell out with his women. She had a knack for showing up each time he was going through a heartbreak, and he would let her back in without reservation, even though she was the one that walked away in the first place. He knew her, he was familiar with her weaknesses, he could take her shit… Yet, all he wanted was Cheta—despite what she had done in the past.
He started his car and drove off. He needed to be as far away from Joy as possible before she worked her voodoo into him again.
Cheta was tired. It was late afternoon and she had spent most of the day shopping at different supermarkets in preparation for the guests that would show up in her house soon. Her SUV was filled with items she had bought, which had cost her more than she bargained for. She was tired of Nigeria and asking herself if moving back home had been worth it. Maybe she should have remained in the UK.
She parked her car and called her driver who had now turned into something of a domestic help around the house. She asked him to take the items she had bought to the guesthouse. “Ask Obi to help you.”
She shut the door and went in. Music was playing in the kitchen, but she didn’t bother to stop. She dragged her tired self upstairs and opened her bedroom. Her feet stopped moving at the sight of a man lying on her bed. She pulled off her sunshades and did a double take.
The figure on the bed, who looked to be in his sixties, jumped to a start at the mention of his name. “Who dat?” His eyes lit up after he adjusted his glasses and focused on Cheta.
“Uncle Before-Before!” Cheta dumped her handbag and hugged him, almost falling on the bed with him.
“Ha-ahn! Look at this girl of yesteryears! See how you’ve grown into a fine ass woman!”
Cheta laughed quite hard. Uncle Before-Before had a mixture of Igbo and American accent. Whenever she saw Speed Darlington’s videos, she was reminded of him.
“What are you doing in Naija?” Cheta asked.
“Hmmm… My dear, don’t ask. Those ICE niggaz wanna shit on my parade, so I just…” He made a whistling sound, snapping his finger to describe that he had escaped the American immigration. Cheta had heard the real version of the story. A little under a year ago, Uncle Before-Before was deported from the United States. Now, the story that led up to that was that he was living illegally in the US for more than ten years. He then got married to a Liberian woman after paying her over fifteen thousand dollars for a green card marriage. Unknown to him, she was still legally married to someone else. When the immigrations officers looking into their case discovered this, they went after him.
But that wasn’t even the sweetest part of the story. Uncle Before-Before had a great job, working for Amazon as one of their delivery truck drivers. One day, while delivering an item, he got bit by a dog. Amazon handled his hospital bills and promised to compensate him financially, but the man had clever ideas on his own. He got a lawyer and decided to sue the company. At that time, they had no idea that he was illegal in the country. However, their lawyers found out about it soon enough and reported him to ICE, expediting his deportation process. That was how he returned to Nigeria. Cheta wasn’t sure if he returned to his family, though. He had up and left his two wives and children without notice years ago.
“So, bebe, what has your fine ass been up to?” he asked Cheta. To her, that was a rhetorical question. If he was still the man she knew, he was already aware of the details of her life. That was his way. He knew everything about everyone, down to the latest baby born to the Azubuike family. Funny thing was that, he wasn’t an Azuibuike. He wasn’t even in any way remotely related to them. He was just Uncle Before-Before without origins or history. Cheta’s father, aunts, and uncles had tried unsuccessfully to put him in memories from their past, but nothing came up. They recalled, though, that a certain cousin had a certain shy friend that they loved to bully who showed up to play with them occasionally. But that cousin was dead, and they had believed that his friend had died too, after attending a vague burial some thirty years ago. Other than those details, no one knew where Before-Before came from. No one had seen his family, which he hardly spoke about. They didn’t even know his real name! Naza had a recurring joke about him being the family’s guardian angel who lost his wings after a night of booze and sex, and was now damned to go about, getting details of their lives.
“I heard you are now very rich, that you are the owner of Laja Towers. Is that true?”
“No. Just rumors.”
“Eh-ehn? Are you sure?”
“How about this house? Your deddy gave it to you, abi?”
“Julius is a motherfucker. I ask him for cash and hin com dey tell me say hin no get. But look at what he’s giving a small girl. You have a Benz jeep too?”
“Na wa o. All of this and no husben. Baby gurl, you have to get yourself a fine ass man. Obi needs a father or he’ll turn into an omo ale. Abi how dem dey call am for Lagos?”
Cheta shook her head, laughing.
“Me sha, I don take dis your master bedroom. I’m the only man in this house rai now and I must stay here. You gotta find somewhere else to sleep.”
“I gotta throw your ass outside,” Cheta said almost inaudibly with a side smile.
“But when will we meet ya baby deddy?”
“Awww,” he smiled at her proudly. “Come here, cutie pie. You’re so adorable.”
He hugged her a second time.
“Now, I gotta go downstairs and see what that ya aunty is cooking. She told me she’d kill me any chance she’s got. But I think she just loves me. Do you think we have a future together?”
“I think you really need to take your health seriously, Uncle Before-Before. You’ve gained so much weight.”
“It’s the good life na.” He turned around, showing off his baggy ensemble of an oversized t-shirt and loose fitting jeans. On his head was a Kangol cap. The man was stuck somewhere in the nineties.
“Uncle Before-Before!” Cheta hailed him.
They did a high five.
“I’ll be beck in a bit, hon.”
He hurried out. Cheta looked at the mess he had made on her bed from eating up her bedtime snacks. She locked the door, changed the bedsheets and went in for a shower. Choosing jean shorts and a white t-shirt, she changed her clothes. In a bit, she was taking Obi to see a movie. Maybe it would be a better idea to take everyone out.
She went downstairs. Sounds of laughter above loud music emerged from the kitchen. Abule by Patoranking was playing and Uncle Before-Before and Naza were dancing in step. Obi was seated on the counter, making a video of them while Kamharida cheered them on. The song ended with loud applause from Kamharida.
“It’s not over o!” Naza declared. “We just got started baby!”
“Yeah! We’re getting frisky tonight! Yo!” Uncle Before-Before bellowed. “What’s that song again by that guy that has a phone name?”
“Tekno?” Obi suggested.
“Na him! Allow me to enjoy myself!’ he threw his weight backwards and did a classic old man’s dance of shaking his pot belly. They all fell apart in laughter.
“Uncle Before-Before!” Naza hooted. Offering the back of her hand to him, they saluted each other, Igbo style.
“Play that song, nna!”
Obi thumbed over his phone screen, and shortly, the Bluetooth speaker in the kitchen was blessed with high life notes from an electric guitar as Tekno’s Allow came on. Uncle Before-Before chanted something in Igbo that Cheta couldn’t make out as he danced towards her.
“Mba, mba,” she waved him away, “I don’t want to dance, biko. I’m tired.”
He grabbed her hands and drew her to dance with him. He had hardly begun moving when Naza fell into the beat. Left with no option, Cheta joined them. Uncle Before-Before led their merry little troupe. Every step he took, they followed. When he dabbed from nowhere, they dabbed as well, laughing so hard, yet keeping up with him. Towards the end of the song, he gave both ladies the room to shake their bums. Naza, knowing she couldn’t win against her endowed cousin, moved away and fanned the air around Cheta’s bum with a kitchen napkin, hailing her. When the guitar strings at the end of the song sounded, Cheta spun her waist to each note until it was over.
“Ukwu!” Uncle Before-Before shouted.
Cheta, laughing, turned around to give him a high five and saw Nero standing at the kitchen entrance, watching them in amusement. Her hand hung in the air.
“Don’t stop,” he said.
They all looked in his direction.
“Oh, hi Nero,” Naza greeted, giving a full smile.
“Hey, Naza.” He bowed at Kamharida. “Good evening, ma’am.”
“Hello Nero. You met us at a good time.”
“Who’s this?” Uncle Before-Before asked in Igbo.
Kamharida looked at Obi and back at Nero.
“Oh! Oh! Oh! Is this our in-law?”
Cheta covered her eyes in anticipated embarrassment.
“Young man, come and greet ya uncle properly.”
“Em, Uncle Before-Before, let that wait,” Naza cut in. She frowned at Cheta. “Go and answer him.”
Cheta dashed towards Nero before the old man grabbed his attention. She snatched Nero’s hand and led him to the living room.
“Who is that?” Nero was still amused.
“Did Naza just call him Before-Before?”
“Long story.” Cheta wiped sweat off her face. “So, you came. Of course, you came. You’re here.” Then she remembered Joy and a scowl filled her face.
He handed her a single rose flower.
“Something I saw along the way.”
“Why aren’t you home with your girlfriend?”
“My what?” He laughed. “Obi told you I have a girlfriend?”
“Who has been sleeping on your bed since Wednesday.”
“Yeah, that’s true.”
“So, why are you here?”
“To talk about us, about Giri Road and seventeen years ago and girlfriends sleeping on my bed… But I saw you wind your ass…”
“My waist. It’s a waist thing. You wind it, your ass shakes. That’s the secret. It’s not the ass.”
“Wow. You sound pissed or something.”
“I’m not, and seriously, we have nothing to discuss. Your mom told you what I did and you got angry and went back to your ex. So, yeah, we have nothing to discuss.”
“Oghenero, I’ve heard about you and Joy and how no one can break you apart. I mean, you were even fucking her while your son was there, so…”
“Can you just listen to me?”
“No. Go home and be with her,” she said, walking away.
Nero caught her hand. “There is no her. She and I are done, and I’m here to ask you if you still want to spend Christmas with me.”
Cheta relaxed a little. “You’re not mad at me for what I did to your mom?”
“I didn’t say I’m not. I’m just asking if you would want to spend Christmas with me.”
Cheta folded her arms on her chest. “As what?”
“As whatever you want us to be.”
“What do you want us to be, Nero?”
He looked past her, towards the door, and came back to her eyes. “I want us to make this work. I also want to be the one you sit on when you wind your waist the way you just did.”
“Stop.” She blushed.
Cheta nodded, still blushing.
“Do I get a kiss to seal it?”
She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him for a long time.
“Gosh. You taste so good,” he murmured. Someone cleared their throat and they separated.
“You’re still not gonna introduce me?” Uncle Before-Before, standing by the door, asked.
“Uncle, jikwa nwayo nau,” Cheta pleaded in laughter. “Nero, this is Uncle Before-Before. Uncle, this is Oghenero Okiemute. He’s my…” She looked at Nero, unsure of what to call him.
“Her partner,” Nero answered, walking towards Uncle Before-Before. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.”
“Same here. Okiemute…” he mentioned in thought. “Okiemute… Don’t I know that name?” he asked, walking away from the living room. “Was your grandfather once the governor of Delta State?”
“No.” Nero followed him.
Cheta walked past them to the kitchen.
®Sally Kenneth Dadzie @moskedapages
Omo ale – bastard (Yoruba)
Mba, mba – No, no (Igbo)
Ukwu – Waist (Igbo)
Jikwa nwayo – Take it easy (Igbo)