Read Episode 1 HERE
Guru waited as the wrought iron gates with the baroque leaf design opened on their own accord, as if unseen hands pushed them along. He stepped into the three-acre mansion and inhaled. The lawn beneath him smelled freshly-trimmed and looked like it had just been sprinkled; drops of water clinging to blades of grass like tiny jewels. A huge fountain burbled a few feet ahead of him, water squirting from pots and jars held by two mermaids backing each other. Having an eye for design, Guru stopped for a moment and took in the scene. He loved it but thought the pots resting on the mermaid’s tails could have been wider. Nonetheless, he felt it was splendid.
He continued his journey onwards, absorbing the beauty of the exterior of the G&M mansion that looked like it belonged in a travel brochure. He made quick plans to check the rest of the house later. The place oozed of inspiration, not the type of thing one found in Lagos, and he was going to use it to stimulate his creative monsters. One had to brush off those six hours from Cape Town to Lagos and his mother’s and sisters’ annoying excitement over his return that kept him up all night.
Just like the front gates opened on their own accord, the entrance door spread wide open and invited him in. The first thought that hit his mind was Monet, the fashion mogul that owned the house. He had not seen her in seven years, although through those years, he had sent designs to her and gotten compensated for his work. It was a tragedy that she was dead; the woman was truly one of the greats of the African fashion industry. He was going to miss her and her eccentricities, and what people called her bitchy nature, which to him was what one got from being so damn genius.
“You’re welcome, sir,” a voice piped from behind the front door as Guru stepped into the house. Taking a peep to find out who had spoken, he was greeted by a man in his advanced years that wielded lazy eyes and an immaculately ironed uniform that told he was a butler.
“Hello,” Guru mumbled and let go of the door. The man shut it gently.
“This way, sir.” He pointed in the direction of his left and Guru followed, impressed by the grandness around him with each step he took.
The house smelled of everything Monet. The woman had possessed class and taste like no other, coupled with her vast knowledge of the world which was clearly reflected in the decor. Guru felt like he was in one of in those houses where one expected to see servants and maids in uniforms lining a curved stairway, ready to do his every bid. There was so much to take in that again, he made mental notes to have a personal tour at a later time.
“This way in, sir.” The Butler pointed to a large sitting room set in butter shades and brown furniture. There was a mantelpiece made of stones, which served as a minibar that demarcated the sitting area from a small dining area. Beside the mantelpiece rested a small bookshelf and a door left open that Guru discovered led to a staircase that wound up.
“Please, sit,” the butler offered a lone couch but Guru was content to continue his observation of the surroundings. A huge photo of Monet in the dining area caught his eye and he walked towards it.
He smiled at the photo and touched it and memories came rushing to him.
“It’s the good ones that go,” he said to himself. Beautiful Monet. Intelligent Monet. Crazy Monet. She had been like an elder sister to him and had loved his mind with an obsession. Why did she have to go?
“Is there something you would like, sir?” the butler asked.
“Okay, sir. Please be comfortable. Mrs. Tunji will be downstairs shortly.”
Guru nodded absent-mindedly. He didn’t know who this Mrs. Tunji was, although he had heard Monet mention her a few times in the past.
He walked back to the sitting area and took a peep at the quiet stairway, wondering if this part of the house used to be Monet’s private space. It certainly looked like something she would have designed herself.
“Hey.” A male voice, different from the butler’s got his attention and he turned to a short man in his mid-thirties whom he faintly recognized. They stared at each other for a while and he could easily pick the arrogance from the stranger’s glare before his memory put a name to the face. Madu Ibekwe—an annoying, noise-making socialite on social media from a wealthy family; he always aired his opinions on everything and never hid his primitive views about women. He ran a successful fashion blog and knew the big names in the industry, even though Guru always thought he was a terrible dresser. For instance, he was presently dressed all wrong, donning an undersized t-shirt which was over-branded. He was carrying a beard that didn’t fit his minute size and was wearing frayed jeans that threatened to cover the laces of his running shoes. Who on earth wore running shoes out of the gym?
“Hey,” Guru replied his greeting distractedly. Madu said no more and walked past him to a couch where he made himself at home, stretching out short legs. Guru ignored him, switching his mind quickly to a dress designed that forced its way into his head.
“So, they invited you here, too?” Madu said after one long minute.
“Yeah,” Guru replied.
“What’s your name?” Madu asked in that tone that grownups used on younger ones.
“Roy. But they call me Guru.”
Madu narrowed his eyes. “Guru? Wait… you’re Guru? The Guru in Guru and Monet or it’s just a coincidence?”
Guru smiled inwardly. Not that it really mattered but it felt good to know that he was that Guru in Guru and Monet, the fashion line that was worth hundreds of millions and rated the most enterprising in Africa. Seven years ago, Monet had lost her mind and used his nickname and sketchy designs to begin her company. It was all a joke at first but someone in the British fashion world saw the potential and invested in the idea. Now, almost every young Nigerian possessed a G&M clothing or accessory.
“I don’t think I’m that Guru,” Guru replied Madu. “But Monet and I were friends.”
“Friends?” Madu asked. “Of what nature? With Benefits?”
“Benefits?” Guru almost laughed. “No. She was like a sister to me. By the way, you should change your stylist.”
“What?” Madu appeared slapped over by the change of topic. A frown creased the part of his face that wasn’t covered with his beard.
“I’ve seen pictures of you online and dude, wearing the same design of kaftan to events but in different colors, even if it’s made by a notable designer, is killing your brand. If you wouldn’t mind, I could be your stylist.”
“Stylist.” Madu repeated with distaste. “Come, who’s your father, young man?” He was miffed. Guru was unperturbed. It was in his nature to say things as they were. Someone always needed to tell the world to dress right; there were so many people walking around with the wrong clothes and it was totally unacceptable.
Madu looked like he had more to spew out but the entrance of the butler with two men in his tail stopped him.
Guru stared at the taller of the strangers. He was dark, had rough skin on an ugly face and mysterious eyes over a pointed nose. His style was impeccable though, as simple as it was. The younger guy, not so much; he was dressed in a striped t-shirt and pair of worn denim, both of which Guru suspected were either handed down to him or bought from a secondhand market. But he was what one could call, dashingly-handsome.
“Please, sit, gentlemen.” The butler said and added that Mrs. Tunji would join them soon. Afterwards, he offered the newbies drinks but they both declined. He made his exit and left all four men alone.
Madu broke the awkwardness by introducing himself.
“Madu Ibekwe.” He shook the older guy first.
“Khalid,” the man offered simply.
“I’m a publicist and I run a fash…”
“I know who you are,” Khalid replied and to Guru he could have easily just added, “and I don’t give a damn.”
“Oh.” Madu smiled. Somehow the fact that another person in the room knew him gave him pleasure. He turned to the other guy.
“Madu Ibekwe.” He shook hands with him.
“Unfortunately, I don’t know you. I’m Bankole Gomez.”
“Hmmm… a Gomez…”
Bankole smiled. “Not one of the Gomez’s you know.”
“Oh? What do you do?”
“I’m a photographer.”
“Nice. Celebrity photographer or…?”
“Just a photographer.”
“Where do your works feature?”
“Oh, no, no. Just doing my thing, trying to make a living,” Bankole said, sounding apologetic. Madu lost interest. He turned to Khalid. Bankole took a seat on a three-sitter and Guru sat beside him. While Madu tried to engage Khalid in some strained conversation, the younger guys sat together in silence.
Five or so minutes went by.
“I wonder what this Mrs. Tunji wants from all of us,” Madu said out loud. “Any of you know her?”
Bankole shook his head. From Khalid and Guru, Madu got no response. Both were absorbed in their phones.
“I know her, though. Silly old bitch,” Madu said and Khalid gave him a raised eye. No one else spoke. He continued. “But you guys all knew Monet? That is, apart from TV and magazines?”
“Yeah. And it’s Khalid.”
“Yeah, like DJ Khaled.”
Khalid went back to his phone.
“I knew Monet,” Madu announced. “We were very close. Very, very close, like best friends and shit. I always stayed at hers in London. Sweet babe. Real genius, mehn. Her mind…Damn! And she was crazy!”
Bankole nodded in interest, although he wasn’t fascinated about hearing about Monet. The last time he was with the woman was one of the most regretful moments of his life and probably one of the most pleasurable.
“But naturally, half-castes are insane. They are either nice or totally the opposite and Monet was opposite of the opposites. Always blew my mind! Sheeet!”
Not listening to Madu, Guru was the first to notice some movement from the corner of his eyes. He looked up and saw an elderly woman emerging from the entrance that led to the private stairway. She looked to be in her sixties, with white-silver hair that was thinned at the temples. She wore a simple attire of Buba and Iro and had a shawl resting casually over her shoulders. In her hands were a black, customized G&M folder and her cell phone. Her cologne permeated the air with the smell of fresh roses.
“Morning boys,” she greeted from beneath thick frames and a dark face aged by a few wrinkles. The guys greeted back; Bankole bowed his head respectfully. The air took on a curious hush as she sat, facing them. She placed the folder and phone on her laps and gave each of them a scrutinizing eye. Madu, in particular, stared away from her. To Khalid, she looked like his mother. Both shared a lot in common, like immaculately trimmed nails, thin lips and a heavy-set jawline.
“Straight to business,” she said with a deep tone, laced with some croak brought on by age. “I am Mrs. Tunji, Monet’s lawyer and guardian while she was alive, and now, manager of her estate here in Nigeria.”
Bankole tried to read the woman but couldn’t. However, he could sense some hostility from her.
“This is not a good way to start the new year,” she continued, “and left to me I would rather be doing important things with my time and not see your ugly faces, especially yours, Ibekwe.”
“But this was Monet’s wish and I have to fulfill it.” She opened the folder and revealed a stack of files. She turned to Bankole. “Young man… here.”
Bankole stood and was handed four lightweight files that were identical. Without being told, he passed each guy a copy and kept one for himself.
“Each of you is holding a copy of a part of Monet’s will. I can see you’re all curious. Well, you won’t be, soon. It’s a long read, as you’ll notice, and filled with a lot of legal jargon. I’m guessing none of you are lawyers?”
“No,” Bankole replied for everyone else.
“So, I’ll just break it down.” Mrs. Tunji adjusted her sitting. “In December 2008, Monet did something very stupid and got romantically involved with every one of you here.”
Mrs. Tunji gave them cold eyes. Guru looked like he had something to say but held his tongue at her stare.
“It was a difficult time in her life and I’ve forgiven her since then but what I can’t forgive is what she did with this will. None of you here were there when she built Guru and Monet from the scratch. None of you. And you don’t deserve what she has given you. If I could dig her from the grave now, I’ll give her a good beating for this mistake she’s about to make.”
No one responded. The venom from the old woman was toxic. The guys did not even dare stare at their files. Mrs. Tunji held their eyes for a long time until her fiery edge toned down.
“Guru and Monet is shifting base to Nigeria as Monet had planned before she fell ill. All is set and seriously, I don’t see why we need you four opportunists; but somehow she felt that you boys would be best to run the line here.”
Looks passed around the guys.
“Monet has offered you CEO positions in Guru and Monet. It comes with financial benefits, personal homes and cars.”
“For real?” Madu muttered.
“Shut up, Ibekwe! I’m still speaking.”
“You are to resume work immediately. Anyone who wants out, should do so before they leave this house. Or else, you’ll all sign a document that will bind you to Guru and Monet for the period of five years.”
More puzzled looks passed between them.
“Dare I say it’s an opportunity of a lifetime given to nobodies. You should be hopping on your feet…”
“Wait…” Khalid shifted to the edge of his seat. “You mean, we are… the four of us… are to run Guru and Monet?”
“There’s already a managing and design team but yes, nothing can kick off without you boys. But please, make my year and walk away so I can hand over the company to competent hands.”
Silence pervaded as Mrs. Tunji allowed the enormity of the breaking news sink in.
“But of course, there’s a clause,” she added with a wicked smile. “If you agree to the offer, a huge responsibility apart from your job is slapped on your laps.”
“And that is?” Khalid asked.
Mrs. Tunji narrowed her eyes on him. “You all get to be fathers.”
Tunji lifted his brows.
“Fathers?” Madu and Bankole asked simultaneously.
“Yeah. Apparently, Monet senselessly casted her pearl to pigs that December and got pregnant at the turn of 2009.”
“What!” Madu exclaimed.
“And it seems one of you is the father.”
“Wait, hold up.” Guru raised his hands. “I didn’t sleep with Monet.”
“Shh!” Mrs. Tunji hushed him. “She slept with all of you. Without protection. And one of you fathered her six year old daughter.”
“Monet had a kid?” Khalid whispered.
Madu leaned back and covered his mouth, cackling in laughter.
“Is something funny here, Ibekwe?”
Madu made no reply. He laughed harder. Bankole’s head was bowed. Khalid sat expressionless.
“According to the will, you will all take turns caring for the little girl. She’s never had a father in her life and you will all make sure that you make up for time lost.”
“Ma’am, with all due respect,” Khalid spoke, “we can’t all play father roles.”
“You do not play a father’s role! You become a father!”
“But certainly the child already has a father. Who is he? Where is he?”
The woman spread open her hands. “I don’t know! Monet did not know!”
“Oh boy!” Madu stood, pushing hands into his pockets, as he walked away to the dining area.
“How is that possible, ma?” Bankole asked. “Women always know these things.”
“Dig up Monet’s grave now and ask her and she’ll tell you she doesn’t know.”
“Well, it’s simple,” Khalid injected. “We’ll all do DNA tests to know who the little girl belongs to.”
“No DNA tests. It’s there in the will.”
Madu ripped the air with more laughter. “See gobe!”
“This is ridiculous,” Khalid spat.
“But you didn’t seem to think that when you were sleeping with her without protection.”
“But…” Bankole raised an objection; he got shut down by the irate woman.
“No buts! The will is with you boys! I’ll give you two hours! Two! You want Guru and Monet, you have to take the child. You don’t want Guru and Monet, there’s the door!”
She stood up and walked out before they could stop her.
Silence again pervaded until Madu spoke up. “Wetin just happen now?”
Khalid gave a sardonic smile. “You said it yourself. Crazy Monet. Even from the grave she’s still humping our balls. Typical.”
Bankole’s head was still bowed. “But it was just one night,” he said to himself.
“At least you did something with,” Guru replied. “I did nothing but give her my designs.” He smiled in sarcasm, stood up and put his file aside. “Anyone care for a drink?”
The response was unanimous. They all needed to wash down what they had just heard with something strong.
“Chai. But Monet you be ashawo o,” Madu said to the framed photo of Monet giving him back a sassy smile.