Without much ado, I present to you delicious excerpts from two new series that would be featured here, written by yours truly.
The first is Stranger in Lagos. It chronicles the life of Halim, a young lady that has her life spinning out of her control after an encounter with some guy in a hotel in Lagos.
The second, titled: Love, Your Enemy is about Pastor Love, a widow to a popular pastor in Abeokuta who gets married to another Pastor in Lagos and has to face church drama she has never experienced in her life. Love, Your Enemy aims to reveal what happens behind the pulpit and also exposes the secrets that many pastors hide from their members. It’s also a story of love, forgiveness and redemption, showing you that although man makes his plans, God always executes his purposes. This is a story I have always wanted to write because I am a pastor’s kid and I have had a first hand experience of life behind the pulpit. All characters are fictitious but are inspired by real people and real happenings.
Now, here’s what’s interesting about both series. They are connected. They were both supposed to be in Stranger in Lagos but for certain reasons, I split them in two. Love, Your Enemy premieres on the 4th of March here. Stay tuned! Spread the word!
Enjoy the excerpts.
Stranger in Lagos
The year is 2010. A good year for me, but made crappy by my parents. I have just returned to Nigeria after acquiring an MBA in the prestigious Dartmouth College in Connecticut, USA. My dad and I sit with the managers and lawyers of the family company and iron out modalities on me taking over from him. He is retiring at a good age of fifty-six. And I, having expertly executed his duties every holiday I was home over the past couple of years, am now ready to be in charge. I have convinced him that the company needs change; it needs the digital age.
The handover goes without hitches. A big celebration is thrown by my mom, and as these things go, the cream of the crop is invited. Mothers come along with their daughters who are of marriageable age, thrusting them at me at every chance. There are enough cleavages, willing smiles and pouty red lips to go around for my friends and I. When the adults retire and the party goes into full blast, the girls abandon their fine airs and go wild. All except for one.
Halim is seated by a window, looking out, a glass of wine in her hand. Extracting myself from some girl who smells of coconuts and has too much glitter on her eyelids, I walk to my childhood friend and whisper in her ear that I think she looks lost.
“Eben.” She turns, smiling. Her brazen eyes hold me like they have done over the years. They are daring and passionate at the same time.
“Congratulations,” she says.
“The party is dope.”
“But you aren’t dancing.”
She smiles again.
“I don’t know you not to dance at parties, or just sit quietly, staring. You are always so pumped up.”
“I love your accent, Eben.”
I know she is being evasive.
“Is it true that you no longer attend parties?” I ask.
She laughs, throwing her head back.
“Aunty Ada told me,” I reveal. “She’s frustrated over it.”
Halim lowers her head, dabbing at eyes which have now gone wet. She always gets tears in her eyes each time she laughs.
“Aunty Ada is a case.”
I nod. We all know that. I have never met a mother who so badly wants her daughter to be wild. Halim has always been a good girl. A standard case of the apple falling a million miles away from the tree. Once in a while, due to her lively nature, she compromises her principles to fit in and to please her mother, but she always finds her way back to the cross on which she clings. Aunty Ada’s present frustration is that she is clinging too tightly and may never enjoy her youth.
“Can you spoil her for me?” she had begged. “I don’t care what you do. Marry her, even! As long as she stops being that perfect, little church girl.”
I had laughed and replied, “I’m a good boy o, Aunty Ada.”
And she gave me a look that cut through my exterior, right into the place where I hid my inner wildling. That look still gives me the creeps.
“I’m happy for you,” Halim says loudly, as if noticing that I have gone off in my head. “You now have an Ivy League education and you’ve taken over your dad’s company… I’m impressed.”
“All you need now is a wife.”
“Seriously? I’m just twenty-five.”
“And you can run your father’s company.”
“That’s different. My intellectual maturity exceeds my emotional capacity.”
She sniggers. “Why do you like to use big words? You could have simply said ‘I’m not mature enough to handle a woman.’”
“Do you have a girlfriend?” She gives me an up and down stare.
“Business first, pleasure later.”
“I’m not surprised. You’re the most serious guy I ever came across. I’m even surprised that you can dance sef.”
I chuckle. Her words are simply an echo of what everyone else thinks of me. No one knows me except those whom I choose to reveal myself to. And of course, Aunty Ada. Creepy woman.
“Well, I guess my Yoruba side came out today,” I tell Halim.
I follow her eyes and catch them staring at a couple that is giving a dirty dance in the middle of the hall. I sense that she wants this life. She wants to break through and do all the things her mates do but because of fear of being seen the way her mom is seen, she holds back a lot. I recall the drunken Halim that had no inhibitions when she let loose in the back of my car. I had known that side of her for only a few minutes, yet I miss her. As Leke would say, Jesus always takes the best ones.
“You want to dance?” I ask.
She shakes her head and rises. “Actually, I’m on my way.”
I stare at my watch. “It’s only eleven. Aunty Ada will send you back here if you go home now.”
She laughs. “Goodnight Eben.”
“Let me take you home then.”
“Don’t worry. I already called my cab guy.”
“I’ll walk you out?”
“Your girlfriend is looking for you.” Halim directs her gaze over my shoulder. I turn. The girl with the coconut smell and glittery eyelids is calling me over.
Halim hugs me, hands me her glass of wine and leaves. After she is gone, I return to the girl but noticing she is drunk, I switch to someone else who ends up in my bed three hours after.
Love, Your Enemy
Najib was solid as a rock. Dependable, calm, collected and trusted by his boss to keep things together when all else was falling apart. He could be snatched out of bed in the middle of the night and thrown into the midst of a world war, and yet would somehow come out unscathed; not having even a whiff of gunpowder on. Such was Najib’s fortitude and dependability that his boss and the ‘boss Mrs.’ entrusted their troubles and cares into his hands. And it didn’t even matter that he was short, dumpy, carried about a face that belied his age, and walked around with the aid of a crutch in one arm.
Najib, fondly called NJ by his boss, Pastor Akonte Ibiye, had been under the employ of the man for sixteen years. Although a Muslim, he handled Pastor Akonte’s affairs with efficiency and diligence. He also kept the man’s secrets, including the ones his wife had no knowledge of. Many times she had tried to bribe Najib into divulging them but he would simply smile and shake his head at her before walking away.
Nonetheless, like her husband, Pastor Love trusted Najib and always had a place for him at her dinner table and her heart. In the early days of her marriage to Akonte, whenever she felt frustrated over her husband’s little transgressions, she would complain to Najib who would lend an ear but give no response. She would then look at him in spent frustration and say, “one day, you’ll be loyal to me and not him. One day, you will tell me all he’s been hiding from me.”
“Yes, ma,” Najib would reply with a quiet smile.
But years would pass and that day would never come. Pastor Love would keep on being the tough, no-nonsense woman that ran the affairs of the church like one would a worldly business and Najib would remain devoted to her and Pastor Akonte. Dependable, calm and collected, never perturbed by any circumstance…
Until that cursed evening when everything fell apart and he lost his forte.
Pastor Love, after a long day in her office, had just returned home and slipped into her bathtub for a much needed soak. But her ringing phone would give her no rest. After ignoring it the first two times, she grumbled her way out to her bedroom to find that it was Najib calling. When she answered, she was met with a whimpering voice that was alien to her.
“NJ?” she called. Najib’s familiar voice came on but in broken sounds that revealed he was responsible for the whimpering.
“What is going on?”
He gave no answer but continued with the strange sounds.
“NJ, I can’t hear a word you’re saying,” Pastor spoke with much calmness. A whimpering Najib meant something was wrong with her husband. But just like Najib, Pastor Love was known for her calm in the face of chaos. If Najib was a solid rock, she was the ageless earth on which rocks like him stood. Her composure was part of her, a second nature that came with her birth and upbringing. She was born to a father who was a cold-hearted occultist that unapologetically passed down his beliefs to his children. At a young age, she had married a man who lived no differently from the life she was accustomed to, and ended up in a violent arrangement. Akonte came to her as an escape from hell. He brought with him compassion and redemption; but the members of his church were not so graceful. When they were not reminding Pastor Love of her past, they were letting her know that a woman’s place was behind her man and not beside him.
Love had also learned to steel her heart after she discovered Akonte was no saint either, and had involved himself in an extramarital relationship he was unremorseful about. Love had been wise enough not to go after her rival; and even when she fought Akonte over his adultery and lost, she had had the commonsense to build a fortress around her emotions so as never to get hurt again.
Thus Pastor Love’s personality, after a lifetime of facing the hard-heartedness of life, left in her a nature that many people termed cold and unfeeling. On one occasion, she overheard the church treasurer calling her a bitch. Pastor Love had smiled, telling herself it was a title well-earned.
“I will end this call, Najib, if you don’t pull yourself together and tell me what is wrong with Ako.”
“Please, just come,” Najib blubbered. “I’ll text you an address. Please, come.”
His text came in immediately after the phone call. Pastor Love soon found herself driving to a destination close to Sam Ewang Estate. Abeokuta had always been home for her but she had continually believed that she belonged somewhere else that was more ostentatious and flashier. Somewhere out of Nigeria, specifically. But Akonte would never give her dreams thought. The most he offered to her were trips out of the country and the two-year stretch in which she went to study business management in a renowned university in the Middle East. He would often tell her they had all they needed in Abeokuta. Why go elsewhere?
Pastor Love found the house she was looking for at a cul-de-sac. Nothing seemed special in its appearance; it was just one out of many modern houses in the neighborhood. However, she immediately sensed that it was Akonte’s haven of sin.
When she stepped out of her car, she walked towards the house expecting the worst. She had worn a pair of Gap jeans, a Saint Laurent peplum top and Miu Miu heels to confront whatever was waiting for her in the house. If this was the day she was going to come face to face with the woman with whom she shared her husband, she wasn’t going to make an appearance as an afterthought. One was never to be caught disheveled no matter the situation one found oneself in.
Najib was waiting at the entrance of the house, sitting on the steps, head bent. Love’s doe eyes rested on him and then shifted to the two cars she found parked in the compound; one belonged to Akonte and the other was an SUV she didn’t recognize.
“Najib,” she called.
Najib sat straight and shot to his feet all at once. His walking stick which rested on the wall behind him was snatched and put in place to support his posture.
“Where is my husband?”
Najib hurried towards her and when he stood before her, silent words escaped his lips. She asked no more questions and burst into the house. A well-furnished living room met her, beautified in Akonte’s favorite shade of green. Apart from the furniture and electronics and intricate ceiling arrangement that was similar to the one in their home, there was nothing else to look at.
“Akonte!” she called out, head turning left and right.
“Mama…” Najib came after her. “Please, wait…”
“Ako!” She turned in the direction of a corridor to her left. Najib somehow hurried to her and stopped her before she ventured further.
“I’m losing my mind here, NJ,” she said to him in a steady voice.
“Please, listen to me, mama…” Tears pooled in Najib’s eyes. “Please…”
He put his hands together as if in prayer.
“Daddy is… gone,” he revealed. “He’s no more.”
Najib might have been speaking to air or he simply was in a different plain when he broke the tragic news to Pastor Love. She sidestepped from him and continued into the corridor which led her to a door on her right that was thrown open, exposing a large bedroom.
Only then did some form of reaction show on her form. She froze by the door and took in a ghastly scene in the room that almost threw her into nausea.
She gagged and clutched her tummy, holding on to the doorpost with all the strength she could muster. A shiver sent strong waves through her body but she held strong, eyes focused on what she beheld.
Akonte, as Najib had told, was indeed dead. Murdered in the nude. Shot, it seemed. Blood all over the sheets he was lying on. Blood on the wall behind him. Blood on the floor from his hand that was slung off the bed.
But he wasn’t alone. There was someone else. A familiar face, a family friend, a devoted Christian and zealous member of the church. Father of three, husband to one.
He was also lying dead on the bed. Shot in the back of his head which were between Akonte’s thighs.
Like Akonte, he was nude.
“Ako…” Pastor Love managed a whisper. It was all she could do. The other option was to succumb to the need to pass out or scream until she lost her mind.
The room smelled of blood and a feeble trace of Akonte’s oriental cologne. Men’s clothing littered the floor. A consumed bottle of wine peeked out from beneath the bed. Akonte’s phone was ringing.
Love remained on her feet for as long as her sanity could hold her. A mind quick to calculate and fix things was already at work.
Najib walked in, face to the floor.
“I am going to ask you some questions and I need answers.”
“How long has this been going on?”
“This. My husband and Mr. Jenewari?”
“How long exactly?”
“Five months, two weeks and a day.”
“Was Mr. Jenewari the only one?”
“No. There were others…”
“No. All men.”
“From when you got married to him, just two others.”
Love shut her eyes. When she opened them, she spun and faced Najib.
“You know him more than anyone else. Has he always been like this?”
Najib shook his head. “It started seven years ago…”
“Just a year after we married.”
“There was another house. A smaller one. I was the one who got it and paid for it. I thought it was for his usual retreats… One day I walked in on him and…”
Najib shook his head with a heavy sigh. “You won’t know the man. I think he was an old classmate.”
Love faced the bed again. “Who did this?”
“I don’t know, mama. I dropped him here and left. Next thing, the gateman calls me and he’s shouting and telling me two men walked into the house, one of them pointing a gun at him. They told him to run or they would kill him. I…I left where I was and came straight down here but I was too late. They had shot them already.”
“You didn’t see anyone?”
“Does anyone else know what happened here?”
“No, mama. I called only you because I was confused and didn’t know what to do.”
She looked at him again. He was in tears once more. Akonte was probably the only friend he ever had. His family had been murdered in a religious riot in the north and he had escaped, barely missing a machete to his neck. A night lorry had seen him in Abeokuta more than twenty-four hours later. Akonte’s family took him in after their gateman found him sleeping outside their home on a wet morning.
“Pull yourself together, NJ.” Love rested her hands on his shoulders.
“He’s really gone.”
Love tried not to think about her tragedy or the betrayal that came with it or even the ocean of tears she would cry later. Her husband’s death was a mess. And no one knew how to clean up messes like she did.