Thank you fam for the massive support on this series. I never esperrerit :D. From Facebook, to Intsagram and Twitter and the comment section here. Whew!
And yes, I know y’all are mad at me for Leonel’s death. I’m really sorry. I know you don’t believe me, but I cried too. Who doesn’t love Butter Babe?
Anyways, if you’re new here, and wondering why there’s so much love for a character that featured just once, I’d implore you to click >>>HERE and get your copies of the Fish Brain series, starting with Fish Brain Clan, and also get His Little Black book to follow the story between Leonel and his sidechick, Anna. You can read them alongside this one, and you won’t miss a thing.
Or you could fast-forward into the future with Biyankavitch
So, enjoy today’s looong episode.
Saturday breakfast was with the girls at Amaka’s. It was classic pap and akara, prepared by Kyenpia. She hadn’t cooked in a while. Nelly made all her meals, and they were delicious, but she was tired of being waited upon like royalty. Today, she wanted to reach into her former life as much as she could. After her time with the girls, she had a movie to see with a friend she hadn’t spent time with in a while. Then, there was dinner with Ishi and Eliana. Even though Leonel’s passing was still fresh, she had accepted that she had to move on without him.
Amaka’s home was warm and welcoming. The first thing Kyenpia did upon arrival, was to take a dip in the swimming pool. She went under for a few seconds to enjoy the chilling effect of the water, but Amaka panicked and called out her name.
Kyenpia slowly came up for air, bearing a frown. “What?”
“Don’t do that again.”
Kyenpia hissed and went down a second time. Once more, Amaka yelled out her name. Kyenpia stayed under for longer. When she popped her head out, she saw Fiyin approaching them.
“Nobody said anything about swimming.” Fiyin took off a pair of dark shades. She had a sundress on, and was holding a glass of lemonade Amaka had prepared the night before. “I’m here for the akara.”
She sat on Amaka’s lounger. Kyenpia swam away from them. She hadn’t gone far when Amaka screamed out her name.
Kyenpia stopped. “What?”
She turned. Amaka was on her feet, hands on her waist, and head bent over Fiyin who had taken the entire lounger. Kyenpia slowly swam back.
“Kay, look at Fi well. Do you notice something odd about her?”
“Look very, very well. What’s missing?”
“Um… She didn’t wear a bra, but that’s cool because of the cut of the…”
“Maxy, I’m looking. What is it?”
“You friend is missing a baby.”
“The last time we checked, Fi was pregnant. Where is the baby bump? You and I are already showing, but she’s not. Where is the baby?”
“That’s true o. Fi?”
“Where is your pregnancy?”
“I had an abortion,” Fiyin answered casually.
“What!” Amaka yelled.
“Okay,” Kyenpia responded.
“Okay? That’s all you’re going to say? Just okay? Kay, she killed a baby. An entire human being.”
Kyenpia bent her head on her arms resting at edge of the pool. “Maxy, not now. Please, not this morning.”
“Technically, I didn’t kill an entire human being,” Fiyin responded in defense. “I was just six weeks gone. Hence, what came out was blood. No hands or limbs.”
“You committed murder. That baby didn’t ask to be conceived. You had unprotected sex, all on your own, and then, decided to commit murder, because your baby daddy lied to you.”
“It wasn’t about him. I just wasn’t ready.”
“Okay. Why are you not with him now?”
“We ended things nau. You know that.”
“We were not technically dating.”
“Oh, I forgot. You were cheating on your real boyfriend with him. Cheating without protection, getting pregnant, and then aborting it.”
“My body, my choice.”
“Don’t give me that prochoice bullshit. Imagine if your mom had aborted you. You won’t be the privileged child of two oil tycoons.”
“You’re not making any point.”
“You’re so judgmental and quite myopic, Maxy. I don’t know how I’ve coped with you all these years. Grow up.” Fiyin got off the lounger. “I’m going in. It’s about to rain.”
“Fi, you called me myopic?”
“Yes. And mean too. Always mean to me for no reason. Nothing I do is ever good enough for you. You think it was easy to do an abortion? Doyin dumped me, and Bosco, sperm donor oshi, disappeared from my life. I was going through a major heartbreak, but you didn’t notice. And it’s not your fault or anyone’s. We were all mourning. But I couldn’t eat or sleep, Maxy. I was angry with myself over my choices, so, I had to do the right thing. I wasn’t ready emotionally or psychologically. But I don’t expect you to understand. Your life is perfect. You have a great husband and two wonderful sons and a support system. How can you understand?”
Fiyin walked off. Kyenpia gave Amaka a reproving stare.
“Kay, I’m mean?”
“You are. We both have been mean to her all these years. And I think we should stop.”
Amaka sat down numbly. There was a tear on her cheek. “I love Fi. I’ve only wanted the best for her, but she likes acting…”
“Stupid. Yes. But she’s right. She doesn’t have the support system you have. She grew up with everything, but without love and her parents. They were always too busy for her. She didn’t want that repeating itself. You have to accept her decisions, even if you don’t understand them. And FYI, an abortion is never easy. There’s guilt and grief and all sorts of emotions. The least you can do is ask her how she feels, not judge her.”
Amaka went quiet. Kyenpia let her be. She dove under again and came up when she had swum a short distance. Thoughts of Leonel filled her head. He used to love to swim. He had taught her how to. There was a time in their relationship that they spent every Saturday morning at the rooftop pool of the hotel. It had been part of their lives. The swimming, the breakfast afterwards, the lazy stretch on the couch, watching television.
Kyenpia let out long breaths when she got to the other end of the pool. She was slowly returning to her original weight, and it was pertinent to ensure that she kept things healthy. Bem had given her permission to engage in light forms of exercise, but she wanted to do more. She had discovered that working out made her forget, it made her cope with her grief. And there was the other troubling situation that she struggled with. She dreamt of Leonel frequently. She knew it was normal to have constant dreams during pregnancy, but having to always see Leonel alive whenever she closed her eyes was torture. It made her feel like she was living two separate realities. It left her frustrated and scared to go to sleep. Yenkat had been spending the nights with her, but Kyenpia couldn’t depend on her for long. There had to be a solution to the niggling issue. Last night, they had had a long conversation about it when Yenkat visited.
“Maybe it’s time to talk to that grief therapist?” Yenkat suggested.
“Seeing a grief therapist bothers me. Why do I need one? I want to mourn Leonel. I don’t want the pain to disappear. Let me feel everything.”
“I don’t think the therapist wants to take that pain away. He’ll help you with the dreams and a whole lot of other stuff too, like this guilt you’re feeling because you don’t want to keep seeing Leo when you close your eyes. I’m sure the man has heard all sorts. Your case won’t be peculiar. You’re simply going through a normal pregnancy phase. You shouldn’t judge yourself for it.”
“I think it’s beyond just dreaming. I want to be held and cuddled again. And I know Leonel can’t come from the dead and do all those for me. So I think that’s why I dream of him. My subconscious is comforting me.”
“You miss him so much, I guess.”
Yenkat held her while she slept, as she had been doing for an entire week. It was comforting. Kyenpia wished she could order the services of a professional hugger, those ones that spooned you while you slept, but she doubted that they existed in Nigeria.
“Maybe a female escort then?” Yenkat recommended the next morning. “I can’t be doing this for you every night.”
“I know, Yen. Thank you, babe. But I don’t need anyone.”
“You slept well again, Kay. When last did you have a full night’s rest without me?”
“I can’t remember, but I shouldn’t be focusing on these things. I have a business empire to manage. Hugs and cuddles shouldn’t be on my mind.”
“Yeah, work will keep you occupied all day, but at night, when you’re alone…”
She wasn’t so sure about that now. Kyenpia was learning that grief came in stages. She had thought that the worst was over, but there was always another hurdle to overcome.
She swam back towards Amaka and climbed out of the pool. Amaka threw her a towel.
“I’m good. Thinking of how to tell Fi I’m sorry. She won’t take me serious.”
“She will.” Kyenpia draped the towel around her shoulders and extended a hand to Amaka.
“Do you still have strength for that akara?” Amaka asked.
In the kitchen, Amaka assisted Kyenpia while Fiyin chatted with James in the living room. In one of the rare moments in their relationship, Kyenpia and Amaka were silent in the presence of each other. Kyenpia poured thoughts of Leonel into her meal. She didn’t catch a break until the table was set for five.
“Who’s the fifth person?” Amaka asked.
“Yenkat. She just texted me that she’s almost at the gate.”
“Yay! I like her.”
“You’ve told me that a million times, Maxy.” Kyenpia adjusted the fresh flowers in a vase that rested on the center of the table. She was in the mood to be extra this morning.
“She’s so beautiful,” Amaka went on about Yenkat. “I like that stud she likes to put on her nose. And her eyebrows, they’re natural right?”
Kyenpia raised a brow at Amaka.
“They’re like yours. I thought you were the only one with full, natural eyebrows.”
“She’s my cousin.”
“Yes, you guys somehow look alike. Only that she’s darker and her nose is straighter like Hausa people’s noses.”
“Her dad was Hausa.”
“I love her complexion sha. Very chocolaty-brown. And it’s so flawless. Did she play at all as a child?”
Kyenpia laughed. “Abeg, go and call your husband and Fiyin. Breakfast is served. It’s late, but better than never.”
Just as Amaka left the dining area, Yenkat arrived. She was welcomed in by James, who accepted the basket of provisions she came with. Kyenpia envied her non-pregnant body. Her fitness journey was doing great things to her form and skin. She was glowing.
James walked past with the basket and Kyenpia took out a chocolate from it. She hugged Yenkat.
“Sorry, I’m late. Polaris was on my case this morning. She didn’t want to go anywhere with Aanu. How body?”
“Like you didn’t hold it all night. Thanks.”
“Kai, don’t mention.”
Kyenpia offered her a seat, keeping her eyes on Amaka who had dragged Fiyin to a corner to render her apology. James returned. He pulled out the chair at the head of the table and asked Kyenpia to sit.
Amaka and Fiyin joined them. All seemed well between both ladies.
“I hope nobody has a pre-breakfast speech to make because I am starving,” James stated, sitting at the other end of the table.
“No.” Kyenpia grinned.
“Oga Haliru, pray,” Amaka requested.
James bowed his head. “Bless us oh Lord, and this food we’re about to receive, that I haven’t had in a long while because my wife hates cooking these days…”
“Through Christ, our Lord. Amen,” Amaka added hastily.
The chorus of amen from the others came with laughter. There was some quiet afterwards as the meal began, save for the general acknowledgement of how delicious the akara was. Kyenpia soon became tired of eating and began to crave for the chocolate lying on the table before her. She had a drink of water, took her vitamins and cleared her throat.
“So, I want to talk about something.”
They looked her way.
“Last week, I was with Anna, Leonel’s assistant.”
She didn’t expect any reaction from them. Yenkat alone knew that Leonel had had something with Anna. The rest were oblivious. Kyenpia wanted to keep it that way.
“I spent most of the day with her, and this was because she exposed me to something that shocked my bones.”
Amaka dropped her spoon, looking worried. “She exposed you to something? Please, don’t tell me she has ebola or tuberculosis. I never liked that chick for once. She used to behave weird, and she acted like she was Butter Babe’s bodyguard. Any small thing ‘he’s not on seat’. Did I tell you that I want to see him on the seat? I just want to see him.”
“Boobsy?” James chided mildly. Yenkat held back laughter. Kyenpia went on.
“You all know that Jaiyesimi is Leonel’s cousin, right?”
“Okay, so, Jaiye has basically run Léon Hotels from the scratch. He used to be Leonel’s most trusted employee. He was, and is still one of the best hotel managers in this country. His work speaks volumes. However, he’s a fraud. A big one. He has stolen millions from the hotel and the nightclubs.”
“Who here knew that Leonel owned Groove Inches and The Revision?”
Amaka and Fiyin were clueless. James hid his face behind a glass of water.
“You knew and you didn’t tell me?” Amaka confronted him.
“Maxy, I didn’t know either,” Kyenpia stated.
“Leo was modest about his accomplishments,” James said.
“Modest?” Kyenpia retorted. “I was his wife. He had other businesses and didn’t think to tell me? His fucking PA knew.”
“Calm down, Kay. I’m sure he was going to tell you eventually. If he left behind a will…”
“He did. His lawyer keeps calling. Gist is that he left everything to me, and it’s really overwhelming.”
“Just take things slowly. No rush. We’re here for you,” James assured her as she peeled the wrapping off the chocolate bar.
“Back to Jaiye,” she muttered. “So, Leonel investigated him, after much cajoling from Anna, and discovered numerous discrepancies in the hotel’s records, which included cashier’s checks used to withdraw funds from the accounts for his personal use. He wasn’t alone in this. The manager of Groove Inches was involved, along with some management staff at Léon Hotels.”
“That’s messed up.”
“Jaiye is in charge of all the hotels and has the other managers under him, so whenever there was an audit, he circulated the stolen funds from one hotel to another.”
“Wow,” Amaka, the financial expert, muttered. “Nobody noticed this? What did the controllers at the other hotels ask when these transfers were made? I’m guessing they happened towards the end of the year?”
“They didn’t ask questions. Jaiye had that much power. He hired most of them. He gave them those jobs. Leonel had become a figurehead. He trusted Jaiye that deeply.”
“Kyenpia, how much are we talking about exactly?” James inquired.
“So far, over a hundred million. Anna believes it’s more than that.”
Fiyin showed surprise. “Léon Hotels makes that much?”
“Yeah. Not at a go, but they make a lot of money or else Leonel would have shut the franchise down.”
Amaka pushed away her empty pap bowl. “Were the audits external?”
“They were, and from the same firm. But we’re suspecting that Jaiye always paid them off. He had everyone under his control. Anna took time to go through the history of every employee in each hotel that had access to funds, and guess what.”
“At least, 17% of them had criminal records.”
“He was actively involved in the recruitment processes, sometimes, traveling to other branches to conduct interviews himself. Leonel saw this as dedication. He had no idea what was happening. Jaiye was into mail fraud, wire fraud, all of it. He had dead and fired employees from all the branches and the clubs, still on the payroll. At the end of the month, they got paid, but…”
“The cash ended in his account,” James concluded.
“Exactly. It was so well done that the financial drain wasn’t coming from just particular departments, it was from everywhere, and over an extended period of time. Questions bugging my mind and Anna’s were whether the department heads were involved or were simply too scared to report anything for fear of losing their jobs.”
“Could be both,” Fiyin held.
“I want to ask,” Amaka spoke, “do the staff have a practice for reporting unusual occurrences?”
“They do, and guess who always gets the reports.”
Amaka heaved a sigh. “How did this happen under Butter Babe and he didn’t know?”
“I think he did,” Kyenpia answered. “But he figured that since the money was disappearing in little bits and they were still profiting, it wasn’t worth making enemies with his cousin over. Did you know that Jaiye came from the side of the family that had issues with the other Igwes?”
“I didn’t know.”
“Jaiye’s grandmother had been their grandfather’s scorned mistress, who had taken her son out of the country. The son didn’t bear the family name and he actually disowned all of them publicly. In short, he hates Captain in particular. They are sworn enemies. He sha got married and had kids of his own. One of them is Jaiye. When Leonel bought Léon Hotels from Captain and picked Jaiye to work for him, Captain was mad, but Leonel stuck with Jaiye. It paid off…”
“But into Jaiye’s pocket,” Yenkat commented. “I remember I spoke to Leo about letting my firm manage his facilities, so that all they concentrate on are the services they offer their clients. If he had let us, none of this would have happened.”
Kyenpia was tired, but she had more to say. She took a bite from her chocolate bar.
“So, what’s the plan?” James asked. “How do we deal with this guy and his goons? We’re talking about an entire overhaul of Léon Hotels, Groove Inches and The Revision. I hope this madness has not gotten into Liana Resort.”
“Not yet. But if you give him time, he’ll get in there too. He’s presently the COO of Charybdis Hospitality that runs all the establishments. He took over from Leonel.”
“Naa! We have to get him out of there. He can’t ruin what Leo worked hard for.”
“That’s the main reason I brought this issue here. Leonel left everything to me, including that seat that Jaiye is claiming right now. Like I said, it’s overwhelming, but I just have to step up. And I don’t want to get the Igwes involved. I want to do what Leonel did. All on my own. But not alone. I need you guys. Girls, specifically. Yenkat and I had a long talk this past week and we’ve come up with a plan.”
Amaka turned her seat in Kyenpia’s direction. “We’re listening.”
“Yenkat’s facilities management company, BFAM, is into handling hotels like Léon, but at the moment, she’s in need of a new administrative team that would comprise of a chief financial officer, a corporate lawyer and others. Now, I can’t just get into Leon Hotels and kick out these people that Jaiye worked with. Charybdis Hospitality, which is basically made up of the board of directors, would kick against it. So, the plan is to use my veto power immediately I take the seat of COO, and contract BFAM to take over the hard and soft facilities of the hotel. This means that we’ll be using external management to work with the admin of the hotel. We’re concentrating on Lagos first. With time, we’ll move to other branches.”
“Hmmm…” James was in thought. “It’s actually a brilliant idea, but I’m worried, Kay. Are you ready for the fire Jaiye would bring once you kick him out of that seat? He has the ruthlessness Igwe men are known for. Can you do it?”
“I can,” Kyenpia replied with all confidence. “But I need the help of Amaka and Fiyin.”
Fiyin raised her hand. “Corporate lawyer at your service, ma’am.”
Amaka looked James’ way. “Am I allowed to be the CFO?”
“You’re pregnant, Boobsy.”
“But you’re the one who goes on and on about not wanting me to be a housewife.”
“You already have a job…”
“That I’m very good at. It proves I can do this.”
“But you’re pregnant,” he repeated tenderly.
“So is Kyenpia. She needs me. Please, Jamie.”
James pulled forward and rested his elbows on the table. He turned his eyes on Yenkat. “I’ll say yes if Yenkat makes you a partner at BFAM.”
“A partner?” Yenkat smiled.
“BFAM was in the market not long ago, wasn’t it?” He looked at Kyenpia next. “Aren’t you buying into it?”
Kyenpia masked a smile.
“Good. So, let my wife have a piece of that cake too.”
Fiyin raised her hand a second time. “Me too.”
“Come on, guys,” Yenkat murmured.
“That or nothing.”
“I already told you that he’s difficult,” Kyenpia whispered to Yenkat, blocking her lips from James’ view. “He won’t budge. She won’t disobey him. And Fiyin won’t dip her leg if Amaka doesn’t.”
Yenkat swiveled away from the table entirely. “I can’t sell the entire company to them.”
“Keep the largest shares. We’ll split the other part.”
“Good.” Kyenpia lifted her head and smiled at James. “Yen takes forty and the three of us share the remaining sixty.”
Yenkat jerked into a straight posture. “No, I meant…”
“Deal,” James concluded.
“Okay by me,” Fiyin said.
“Great.” Kyenpia took a second chunk out of the chocolate bar, smiling at a frowning Yenkat. She hadn’t smiled this genuinely in a while. Talking about money and business did have a positive effect on her. She had not agreed with Leonel when he had said this to her years ago. It was on the occasion of her quiet graduation from business school. She had just acquired her masters in business administration and was wondering why she had done it in the first place. Leonel, impressed, took her out on a boat ride on Captain’s yacht. They had just begun dating then, and until that moment, she had been tightlipped about her accomplishments. Being friends with Ishi meant one had to push themselves to climb the educational ladder. He had influenced her decision to go for her MBA, buying the registration forms, facilitating her application and paying her school fees. She had merely done it to improve her résumé, and didn’t think it important until Leonel, during the boat ride, pointed out how much she could accomplish with it.
“I’m not even business savvy,” she argued. “I just wanted to add it to my list of accomplishments.”
“You’re not business savvy? You can’t make money?”
“Or run a company?” He took her by the hand and had her sit on him. “If I left my hotel in your hands now, are you saying you’d run it down?”
“I don’t think so. I think you’d do great, because underneath this your humanitarian, charitable surface is a badass businesswoman who loves money as much as I do.”
Of course, she hadn’t been listening to him that evening. She had been engrossed in his eyes and carried away by his charm.
“So, how quickly do we get into this?” James was asking.
“I’ll be sitting in at the board meeting on Monday, after meeting with Leonel’s lawyer tomorrow to know the details of his will. This would give me the backing I need to claim that COO seat.”
“So, Butter Babe left everything to you?”
“Wow. You’re rich o. Do you know? I mean, really, really rich.”
“You have no idea,” James added.
“Yeah,” Kyenpia said. She felt a moment of sadness approaching fast, having now emptied her mind of every piece of information she wanted to give. Normally, she would find some place to hide and expel her emotions, either through a brief moment of tears or by allowing long recollections of Leonel. Sometimes, she watched videos of him until her sadness turned to smiles. But today, she was determined not to give in to the routine. She wanted to do things differently. Breathe a little, live a little, and run against the wheel of grief.
Kyenpia played with the salad she ordered while gazing out the wide glass doors of the restaurant she sat in. Outside, a group of four girls was taking a selfie. She was carried away by the mix of colors in their outfits. She wondered if the recurrence of pink and yellow was deliberate or coincidental. Each girl had her own fashion sense, ranging from classy to tacky.
Kyenpia recalled her younger years with Amaka and Fiyin. The first flush of youth and carefree reality. The nightlife and the men that stumbled over themselves trying to snatch their futures. The tall dreams and silly heartbreaks they thought they would die of. They were all gone now, and even though there was still a great deal of years left in their youth, they were laden with responsibilities and the endless toil of ensuring that they left a legacy. For Kyenpia, being a widow at thirty-one made her feel like she was reaching the end of her life, which was why it was important to her to fit into the shoes Leonel left behind. It was the only way she could bring meaning to her life and give an outlet to the anger she felt over life, death and Leonel.
How did he have this entire extra existence where he owned other businesses and did other stuff and she knew nothing about it? Was she just some trophy wife to him? Did she even know the man?
“There you go.”
She was drawn away from the girls and looked up at her friend, Lanre. He had just returned from scouring the mall, looking for something tangy for her. Her taste buds were on a steady hanker for sour stuff.
“Sour pineapple and ginger juice,” he said, sitting down. “Taste it and thank me later.”
Kyenpia took a sip from the straw sticking out of the cup and shut her eyes in pleasure. The freezing sour and peppery drink calmed her nerves a little.
She lowered her cup and resurrected a discussion they were having earlier. “I don’t even know what to feel, Lanre. I don’t think I knew Leonel.”
“Didn’t he explain his…issues to you?”
“His mental illness? Yes, he did. But I… I didn’t take him seriously because… Well, he seemed okay. He managed it well. He actually told me that he was in control of both personalities.”
“He was, in some sense, I think… But he still suffered from the disorder.”
“Are you justifying his behavior? Lanre, he cheated on me.”
“And you cheated on him too, emotionally. With Ishi.”
“It is not the same thing,” Kyenpia’s voice was quiet. She wasn’t convinced by her own words.
“Everyone knew how much you loved Ishi. It was obvious and embarrassing.”
Kyenpia avoided Lanre’s direct stare. This was why she loved him, why she wanted to see him and talk to him about Leonel. He alone could tell it to her like it was. Lanre was the big brother she never had. Once upon a time, she was in a friendship triangle with him and Ishi. Formerly, they worked together at The Refuge, offering philanthropic services to the needy and destitute. It was during those years that Ishi loved her, but she kept him perpetually in the friend zone. Now, things had changed. Ishi no longer headed The Refuge. He had quit, and Lanre was scarcely around these days. Kyenpia longed for her former life.
“If you check the timeline of Leo’s thing with Anna, you’d see that he didn’t technically cheat on you.”
“He had her as a sidechick the whole time we were dating.”
“Dating? Kyen, you put him on friends-with-benefits. Remember?”
“But I didn’t have anyone on the side.”
“Ishi was your platonic side piece. Jeez, Kay! When will you stop being in denial and accept that you played two grown ass men. You didn’t send Ishi’s feelings until Leo came into the picture. And then, when Leo became an option, you refused to have a serious relationship with him. All you did was use him as a sex toy. Thus, he went after Anna. When he proposed to you and you accepted, he dumped her. He was faithful to you until you traveled with Ishi. Then, he went back to Anna again. He fucked up then. I told him, Dave told him. He knew. But you didn’t help matters either. You were so into Ishi that you didn’t see how much you were hurting him.”
Kyenpia was quiet, but the straw in her cup wasn’t. She noisily sipped her juice.
“I’m sorry for my tone,” Lanre said quietly.
“It’s fine. I’m just upset that I didn’t know him as much as I thought I did. But Anna knew that side of him he hid from me. I wanted to know that other Leo too.”
“Trust me, it was best that you didn’t. That person was not the Leo you knew. His name is not even Leo.”
“No. Daniel is Leonel, the man you knew and loved. The other person was Captain’s creation …” Lanre shook his head. “Leo had good reason to keep him away from you. He loved you too much to let you see that side of him.”
“Did he think I wasn’t strong enough? I wanted his ugliness too.”
“The same ugly side you had a glimpse of and decided not to have his child, and you chose Ishi, instead?”
“I’m carrying his children now, aren’t I? Lanre, stop making me look like the bad person here.”
Lanre reached out and tugged her hands away from her cheeks. “You’re not the bad person, Kay. You never were. Neither was Leonel. He was a product of unfortunate circumstances and a monstrous father. He didn’t deserve to die. But he’s gone now, and you have to live, and live happily, Kay. I don’t want you leafing through the past, looking for what he did wrong. Forgive him and enjoy the person you’ll become after this difficult phase is over.”
“You think it will end?”
“I know it will, and I want to commend you for putting aside your differences with Anna and deciding to work with her.”
“Okay, let me be honest. I’m not doing it entirely for business reasons. I… I want to know that part of Leonel through her…”
“Kyenpia…” Lanre expressed disapproval.
“I’m angry at him, and I won’t stop until I know his reasons.”
“I know, but… You won’t understand. Running his empire is basically still him being part of my life. Even if I fall in love with someone else, I’m still an extension of him. These babies kicking me right now are forever mine and his. I’m doing this for them, so I need to know their father well. Can you understand that?”
Lanre bopped his head. “Just don’t get lost in there or in the Igwe life. You’re so much more than that boo.”
Lanre kissed her hands, one after the other.
“I will come running in to rescue you if I see you losing yourself. Agreed?”
“Smile for me.”
Kyenpia gave a fake frown.
“Time for our movie.”
Lanre paid for Kyenpia’s salad. They left the restaurant and joined a short queue waiting to see Furious 7.
Ishi must have called a thousand times. Her phone had been put into silent mode before she entered the cinema, and she didn’t bother with it until she got into the backseat of her car. Furious 7 had been worth her time. Astonishingly, she didn’t burst a single tear. Her deepest pain was Leonel not being able to see the movie. He had looked forward to it.
“Maybe they watch movies in heaven,” she told Lanre as they left the cinema.
“Maybe there’s no heaven. Maybe we just sleep off when we die.”
“That’s not comforting.”
“That reminds me. Try to get Ishi to talk about his faith.”
“Just talk to him.”
They walked in silence until she got to her car. After Lanre was gone and she started for Lanre’s house, she checked her phone. Ishi had called fourteen times and sent two texts. It was unusual for him to bug her phone like this. He was the type to call once, or twice, at the most, before sending a text to state his reason for calling. But these days, he was constantly worried about her.
She returned his calls and assured him that she was fine, apologizing for missing dinner by two hours. It was already past ten. Eliana had long gone to bed.
She arrived at Ishi’s place a few minutes to eleven. He hugged her and let her in. She loved his new house, mostly for the appeal of nature around it. The one he had shared with Lanre and his late sister, Leah, had been put up for rent. Lanre stayed in his family house now while Ishi lived here, in an isolated neighborhood, mostly occupied by locals. The main apartment had only three bedrooms. There was a boys’ quarters where his security detail resided.
Ishi’s living room was self-serving and bourgeois, holding expensive art pieces, which included paintings and other forms of collector’s items that were both weird and abstract. The place held a rustic air, with shades of coffee brown, artichoke and moss. It depicted Ishi’s present state of mind. He wanted to be alone. It was strange that Kyenpia felt at home in the settings. She also loved his collection of music. The last time she was here, he was listening to D’Angelo. Tonight, it was the oldies, Michael Bolton specifically.
“The food I made has gone cold,” he informed her, helping her out of her sneakers.
“Maybe that’s a good thing, because you can’t cook.”
“Don’t try me now o.”
“If I hear.”
He smiled. “You should stop wearing cover shoes. Your feet are stressed.”
Kyenpia withdrew her feet from his hands, knowing he would try to give her a massage.
“I’m not hungry,” she told him.
“You’ll still crave for something later. I know you.”
“I’d rather have a cold shower.”
“Kay, the weather is cold.”
“I want to shower.”
He showed her to his bedroom. It bothered her that it was dark, far from what his bedroom in the former house looked like. Even the lighting was dim.
Kyenpia got into the bathroom, shed off her clothes and stood under the shower. The water was refreshing as was the mild mandarin-scented body wash. When she stepped out, she discovered it was raining. She also noticed the fresh pair of pajamas waiting for her on the bed. She toweled herself and wore them. Returning to the living room, she decided she was hungry.
“Let me warm up the food,” Ishi offered, already on his way to the kitchen. “It’s spaghetti o!”
Kyenpia grumbled as she followed him, “I’m not doing spaghetti in this pregnancy. It tastes like wet bread.”
“You don start, madam. Okay, what do you want?”
“Do you have mango?”
“Mango? This night, Kyen?”
“Or plums. Or strawberries.”
Ishi laughed. “I have none of those. But I can send someone to get them for you.”
“No, it’s fine. It’s too late.”
He opened one of the top kitchen cabinets. “I have cookies I bought for Ellie. Some biscuits too. And cereal.”
Kyenpia pouted. “I don’t want.”
“Okay, tell me what you want and I’ll send for it. Mango, abi? Thank God it’s mango season. Just give me a minute.”
She smiled after him as he left the kitchen through the backdoor. One thing about him remained the same. The way the adored her and did everything to make her comfortable.
Kyenpia opened the fridge and took out a bottle of water. Ishi returned shortly.
“Your mango and plum are on their way. There’s a local night market nearby.”
“But Ishi, why did you come and live in this place? What do they even call here?”
“Never heard of it until I came here the other day. The house is cool sha. I love the décor.”
‘Thanks.” He put his hands into his pockets. “How are you?”
He had a short moment of staring at her before taking her hand and leading her to the living room. When they sat together on a long, snug couch, he took her feet and began to massage them.
“Did you also quit your job at the church?” Kyenpia asked out of the blue.
“I don’t feel like I fit there anymore.”
“Is it something you talked to God about?”
“Why these questions?”
“Because things have changed in your life and I don’t want to sound insensitive, but I think you owe me an explanation.”
“I just don’t have the energy for the things I had energy for.”
“Not even church?”
He shook his head.
“I’m sorry, Ishi.”
“I’m not. It’s not like I’m sad or I’m angry at God or anything. I just feel like that phase of my life is over.”
“Is this beyond church? How’s your faith like these days?”
“Ish, talk to me nau.”
“I don’t know. I can’t remember when last I prayed or read my bible. I haven’t even tried to, and honestly, I don’t care.”
“Do you care about anything else?”
“No. I’m back to designing homes, though. That’s all I want to do.”
“Yeah. I sold one of my designs to a friend in Boston. He’s an architect too. I don’t care that he’ll pass it off as his.”
Kyenpia was seeing a pattern, but she didn’t think she had the range to make any conclusion about his state of mind. She was as damaged as he was, and she felt more at home with him than with anyone else. The other night, it had been easier for him to understand her unspoken words and give meaning to them.
“Don’t worry about me. I’m fine,” he assured her. She spoke no more of the topic. He went silent as well. Michael Bolton sang on, and next came Usher. With the combo of calming music, a cozy atmosphere and Ishi’s foot rub, Kyenpia soon fell asleep. Her fruits arrived an hour later. She didn’t notice when Ishi covered her with a blanket, but she stirred sometime in the night, waking up from a vivid dream. She realized that the electricity had gone out.
“I’m here,” he replied in the dark, and then, his phone lit up his face.
“I was hoping you’d sleep through the rain.”
“Yup. Let me tell them to turn on the gen.”
He dialed a number on his phone and gave instructions for the generator to be put on.
“Your fruits are on the stool beside you.”
Kyenpia sat up. Ishi had switched on his flashlight, illuminating her way to the bowl of sliced mangoes and plums, served with whipped cream on the side. She tried to reach for it, but tipped the tray, sending the bowl to the floor.
Ishi came for the tray, rescuing the fruit slices that didn’t leave the bowl.
Kyenpia’s emotions were taking a plunge. She had dreamt of Leonel. He had been with her in Ishi’s living room instead of Ishi. The dream had been too vivid.
“I dreamt about him.”
Ishi picked the fallen fruits and tossed them on the tray. The power came back on. He sat on the couch with her. Kyenpia rested her back on a throw pillow, drawing her knees up.
“Will the pain ever go away?” she asked.
“I don’t think so.”
Tears glazed in her eyes. “I don’t want to forget him, but I’m tired of hurting so bad. I want to remember him and smile.”
Ishi rested his chin on her drawn knees. “Be patient. Go through the process.”
The tears dropped. Ishi rubbed her thighs to console her, but the sobs came. He pulled closer.
“Can you just pray for me or something so that I’ll stop being a mess?”
He drew her into a hug. The familiar scent of his perfume brought nostalgia and comfort. She clung to him long enough to find respite.
“Do you want to be coming with me for my antenatal appointments?” she requested.
“I’d be honored to.”
“Will you be there when I have the twins?”
“Would you consider adopting them as yours?”
Ishi disengaged from her. “Are you serious or this is the tears talking?”
“I’m serious. I don’t want them to grow up without a father like I did. And you’re a wonderful father, Ishi. Please, say yes.”
“Let’s cross that bridge when the time comes, okay?”
His thumbs wiped away the tears on her cheeks, but his hands remained on her face, moving only slightly to her neck. They stayed that way for long. She didn’t want to break away. He had healing in his hands, and she wished she could take them home with her. They would serve her well on long nights when the dreams of Leonel haunted her.
She looked up and saw a glint in Ishi’s eyes. It was familiar. They had been here before, in this place where their intimacy distorted the lines between friendship and the forbidden.
“Don’t do what?”
But he did. He touched her lips with his. The brush of his beard on her chin caused a shiver through her. She didn’t know how badly she’d missed the touch of a man until now.
He parted her lips with a kiss so soothing she couldn’t resist. When he stopped, she rested her forehead on his. A straggling tear dropped in the space between them. God knew she wanted more, and if she waited a little longer to get it, she would find a hundred-and-one reasons why she shouldn’t be kissing her late husband’s cousin only four months after her husband’s death.
“Kiss me again, Ishi.”
Ishi didn’t wait another second. He went for it, granting her wish in a tender, more intentional kiss. And each movement of his lips took them deeper. Kyenpia didn’t know what to do with her hands. They struggled to stay with her, but they eventually found rest on his chest. When she began to feel the first stirrings of fire within her, articulated through the goosebumps on her skin and the sensations in places that had not been touched in months, she broke away from him.
“Do you feel better?” he asked.
Unable to look at him, she rested her head on his chest. “Can we not say any of the cliché things that follow moments like this?”
“How about I tell you to go and sleep inside?”
He helped her up and guided her to his bedroom. She took one look at the bed and sighed in apprehension.
“What is it?”
“I can’t. I’ll dream about him again.”
“How long have you been having these dreams?”
“For about a week. But they’d been there before. Initially, I was happy that I was seeing him. But now, it’s scaring me. Can I just sleep in the parlor? Please?”
“You’re pregnant, Kay. I can’t let you lie on that couch.”
“Okay. Can you lie down with me?”
“Kay, we shouldn’t.”
“Don’t hold me or anything. Just lie down until I sleep.”
They lay down together, facing each other, and soon, Kyenpia’s eyelids began to flutter down. Her hand bridged the space between them, and Ishi took it, resting it on his chest.
She didn’t know how long she was out for when she heard his voice.
She opened her eyes. Leonel was lying beside her, in Ishi’s space, smiling at her.
“You’re so beautiful.”
She smiled back. She could see the sunset in his eyes. A pale tint of orange, illuminating a quivering path across an ocean. It was eternal. She could hear the ocean’s waves as he came closer and kissed her.
It was 3 a.m. in Ramat Gan, Tel Aviv. Captain had just drunk a little too wastefully from his Carmel 100 brandy. He wasn’t much of a drinker; he usually took his alcohol in small measures at certain times of the day. But since his arrival at Israel, he had been looking to the bottle for succor. No one told him it would take this much from him to mourn loved ones. He was losing his edge and his mind. The latter could be disputed, though, being that he lost it a long time ago. Clearly, it wasn’t normal for one to live with the ghost of their dead wife. But he did. She followed him everywhere.
Luckily, she wasn’t with him this morning. He was alone, seated at the backseat of the car that conveyed him everywhere he wanted to in Tel Aviv. It was parked under an airy tree. The driver, a special agent, was asleep. But he jerked when Captain opened the door.
“Going in?” he asked as though he had not just woken up.
Captain wanted to knock his teeth out because he was incompetent.
It had been pertinent for Captain to do his business in Tel Aviv without being detected. This made him opt for the protective services of local security agents. But it seemed he had made a mistake trying out new hands. It would have been best to connect with his trusted friend in the army who always offered protection whenever he visited, but the current circumstances didn’t allow for it.
Leaving the parking lot where the car was located, Captain followed a path that led him into a building with white walls and a reception area. A lady behind the desk, wearing colorful scrubs smiled at him. He returned the smile as he headed into an elevator. It took him up to the next floor. Captain branched to his left and came to a door that had a tag with no name on it. There was a man standing guard outside. He nodded a greeting as Captain opened the door and walked in. Sitting on a one-seater sofa was his twin sister, Jamila.
“Any change?” he asked.
She sighed and gave a swing of her head from left to right.
“You should catch some sleep. I’ll be here until the sun comes up.”
“I’m fine, Luke.”
“Go and sleep, Jamila.”
Jamila tiredly picked up her cumbersome form from the chair. “If anything changes, call me immediately.”
She moved away from Captain and went towards the bed on which her nephew lay. His eyes were opened, but he looked ahead of him like one who was lost in a trance.
“Luke, I’m scared,” Jamila whispered.
“The doctors said he has just four days before he moves from this to persistent vegetative state. And you know what that means.”
Captain refused to know what that meant. He refused the doctor’s reports. His son would not die. He would survive this. It wasn’t a matter of faith. It was more of who his son was. He had been through worse, and he would come out of this.
“Go and rest, Jam,” Captain instructed his sister. “He doesn’t need your negativity right now.”
“Negativity? But what did I…?”
“Jam, leave nau.”
Jamila whispered a prayer and left the hospital room. Captain fixed his eyes on his son as he went towards him.
“Okay, boy, this has to stop. I’ve had enough. You have to wake up before these bastards start throwing suggestions about making you an organ donor. That shit is not going to happen.” He tried to keep his voice low. “I’m prepared to have you on life support for as long as you live, but I know you wouldn’t want that, so you’d better wake up and get your ass…”
He stopped. The silence he received in response was killing him.
“Come on, Leonel.”
The man on the bed continued to stare ahead. He blinked when Captain waved a hand in his face, but that was all.
“You heard your aunt. Four days, and you’re declared toast.”
The frustration in Captain’s voice was palpable. He hovered around the bed for a long time. He then went back and took the seat Jamila previously sat on. He craved for more brandy. His nerves were getting the better of him. He felt like slamming his fists into a wall or causing some other form of bodily harm to himself. He wanted to feel physical pain as an outlet for the pain inside that he couldn’t express. Additionally, he wanted to kill a whole lot of people. He knew those who had ordered the attack on his family, but he couldn’t touch them yet, and this made him mad.
Shaking his legs in restlessness, he kept his eyes on Leonel. Leonel stared back, but vacantly.
“Wake up, Son. Fucking wake up.”
Captain allowed his weight deeper into the chair. He yawned. He hadn’t slept since his arrival, two days ago. He was tired of the numerous visits to this place. It had been four months of having his heart on edge. From high-risk surgeries to a coma, and now a vegetative state, Leonel tottered on the brink of death, and Captain was dancing the wire with him. It was too much to bear. He could lose everyone else, his wealth and name, but not Leonel. He was the son of his loins, his only weakness. He hadn’t chosen to feel this way about him. He couldn’t even understand it himself, but it was what it was. Leonel alone held the essence of Captain’s late wife, Emem. His first ever weakness. His strength, in life and in death.
He needed her now, but she was a pigheaded ghost, as she had been a wife. She was presently angry with him, blaming him for Leonel’s current condition.
“I’m sorry, Em,” he muttered, looking around him. “Just come. I need you.”
He dropped his head. He heard an unusual sound, and lifted it again. It was a groan. It came from Leonel. Captain jumped to his feet and dashed towards the bed.
“It’s normal for him to make a sound, cry or even laugh in this state,” one of the neurosurgeons had explained a while ago. “But it doesn’t mean he’s getting better.”
“Leo?” Captain called.
Leonel’s eyes remained the same. It didn’t seem like anything had changed.
“Talk to me, Son. You just said something.”
More silence. Captain grit his teeth.
“Come on, don’t do this. Wake up, Spirit.”
Leonel grunted. Captain held his breath and lowered himself.
Leonel blinked and slowly lifted his eyes at his father. Captain almost broke into tears. Leonel raised his hand. It wobbled as he tried to take it higher. Captain grasped it, smiling.
“Welcome back, Spirit.”
®Sally Kenneth Dadzie @moskedapages