“Is it just me or that was pretty intense?”
Salma, face buried in a pillow, laughed.
She lifted her head and angled it in Raji’s direction. “You were trying hard not to cum.”
“Considering the first session in the parlor didn’t last two minutes, I’d say I tried in this one nau.”
“Give or take, five minutes. I’ll give you a poor three over ten.”
“Three? All that banging and pounding for a measly three?”
“Well, I didn’t cum.”
Raji stared down at his penis. “You betrayed me, boy.”
“I and the little betrayer here need a short break and we’ll be back to the Raji you used to know.”
“Don’t sweat it, player.” Salma lifted her body to a sitting position. “Shit happens.”
“Shit doesn’t happen to me. You know that. I’ve just been off duty for a very long time.”
“I’m serious. There’s been nobody since we last hooked up.”
Salma placed her legs on the floor. The coldness of the tiles made her shiver.
“You don’t have to lie, Raj. I don’t care anymore.”
“I’m not lying. I’ve been tempted a lot, even earlier today.”
“But remember I promised I’d do everything to have you back?”
“Same way you promised all sorts on our wedding night.” Salma stood.
“I meant everything I said on our wedding night.”
“And then what happened?”
“I sort of met Comfort and developed feelings.”
“Same with Christie?”
“I never hoed around. Not like Izu.”
“And that’s supposed to make me feel better?”
“I don’t feel anything again, Raji. You want to go and fall in love with someone else? Go right ahead. You’re never going to change. And don’t mistake what we have here as a sign that we’ll get back together. It’s just sex.”
Salma strolled off to the bathroom and came back a few minutes later. Raji was seated on the edge of the bed.
“I’m not going to lie to you that what you just said to me right now didn’t hurt. I love you, Salma, more than I did before. The intensity of it confuses me sometimes, because when I’m faced with the opportunity to have something either meaningful or flimsy with someone else, I just can’t do anything. I’ve literally lost taste for other women. I miss you. I miss us. I miss the kids.”
“You see them every day or every other day.”
“It’s not the same, Salma. Not even close. The emptiness of this house is a reflection of what’s inside me. It’s killing me.” He held her eyes desperately. “I want us back. Maybe not fully and not necessarily immediately, unless you want it so. Just give me one more chance, Sal. Let me be your boyfriend.”
“Aren’t you too old for that?”
“Let me court you and do things differently.”
Salma observed him with tender eyes. “I really want to believe you, but I can’t.”
“You don’t have to. Just let me convince you this time around.”
She shook her head apologetically.
“What’s it going to take?”
“Nothing. Look, I’m still horny. Don’t spoil a beautiful night with all this talk about love.”
Raji’s shoulders dropped into a slouch.
“Aww…” Salma went to him and lowered herself to straddle him. “Can I make you feel better?”
“I’m never going to say no.”
She twisted her waist slowly, following the rhythm of a song on the radio, coming from the living room. She worked him into a straining erection.
“You’ve changed a lot, Salma. Is it Maliq?”
She smiled naughtily as his hand reached beneath her. She shut her eyes in pleasure and moaned.
“You guys are…?”
“No,” she replied breathlessly.
“You like him?”
“Yes,” she moaned.
“You want to be with him?” Raji sought her eyes.
“No, but I want to go on dates with him.”
“Because I can, Raji. Now, stop talking about another man when you’re right at the door of my…”
She gasped, widened her eyes and moaned all at once as Raji pressed her weight down on him. But just as she resumed her grinding motion, Raji’s doorbell buzzed. A series of angry thumps on the door followed.
“Argh!” Salma groaned. She lifted herself off Raji. He rose up and slipped into a pair of grey slacks while she went into the bathroom to pick a robe.
“Raji Asepita!” Comfort’s voice broke into the bedroom as he opened the door connecting to the living room. He lowered the volume of the radio before going for the door. He unlocked it and Comfort stormed in.
“You must be mad!” She shoved him out of the way. He could make out the stench of alcohol on her.
“Did you drink-drive your way here?”
“Where’s Raheem?” She started in. He went after her.
“Lower your voice. He’s sleeping.”
“Well, he has to wake up! We’re going home! Raheem? Raheem!”
In her drunken haze she wandered towards Raji’s bedroom erroneously, but was stopped by Salma who was just emerging from it. Comfort forced herself into a steady pose and looked from Salma to Raji.
“Oh, I see what’s going on here. Two of you are…” She sniggered, snorting as she did; clapping too. “Well-played, Salma. Well-played. You came to me and gave me this speech about empowering myself and finding my footing in life without a man. You told me I don’t need a dick to be happy. In your words, ‘to hell with men like Raji who use us and screw us over! We can do well without them!’ What did you tell me again? Wait, let me remember…”
“You’re drunk, Commie.”
“I know that. I know I’m drunk. Shut up, let me remember. Oh yes! You said, ‘I’d rather stand on Allen Avenue and whore my life away than get back with Raji.’ Those were your words.”
Salma felt Raji’s stare on her.
“And yet, here you are, fucking him like a bad habit. What I don’t know is if you’re dick-whipped or you told me those things to make sure you had him all to yourself. All I know is that we women are our own worst enemies.”
“I didn’t say those things to you, Comfort. Not in those words.”
“You did, Salma! Don’t lie! You did! And earlier, after Raji left us, you told me you were going to talk to him about Raheem and convince him to let me take him. Well, I guess this is how you convince him. Shame on you, Salma! I thought you were more than this! You’re just so dumb. This same Raji will still come to me for pussy and you’ll be back to square one! Don’t you ever learn?”
“I’m not doing this with you,” Salma stated.
“Me too. I came for my son. Me, fight for man? God forbid!” She spun around. “Raheem!”
“Stop shouting,” Raji almost yelled. “Behave–”
“I’m not going to behave! You came to my house in my absence and stole my son! I will not behave!”
Raji had had enough. He picked her off the floor and started towards the guest room as Salma watched aghast. After a while, there was silence. He returned to Salma, panting.
“What did you do?”
“I stripped her and forced her under the shower where she threw up. When she landed on the bed she passed out.”
“She’ll be out until morning.”
“Okay. Um… I think I should be going.”
“Well the mood is…”
“You’re running away?”
“The things Comfort said, were they true?”
“I didn’t say them that way.”
Raji folded his arms across his chest. “How did you say them then?”
“I said it would be better to whore on Allen Avenue than get married to you because being married to you was the same thing.”
“Raj, I’m not going to feel bad over words I said which I meant.”
“I’m not angry at you. I’m hurt, but not angry. And I definitely don’t hold it against you. But like I said earlier, I didn’t sleep around when we were married. But that doesn’t matter. You think I’m garbage anyway.”
“You’re right. The mood is ruined. Dress up, let me walk you to your car.”
Salma went into the room and came out dressed. Raji was waiting, wearing the shirt he had on earlier. They headed downstairs to the parking garage. She got into her car.
“What happened today doesn’t change anything,” Raji rested his arms on her window. “I’m still going hard after you. I’ll show you that being with me is heaven and Allen Avenue is not an option.”
A smile filled Salma’s face. He put his head in and kissed her.
“And Maliq too, he’s also not an option. Goodnight, Sal.”
Folarin was in no mood for the dogs when he arrived home. He stayed in his car awhile, watching them jump excitedly at his window until they tired themselves out. Luckily, something else got their attention and they ran toward the distraction while he hurried out and made it to the front door. Unluckily for him, they returned, catching him off guard and almost knocking him to the floor when they jumped at him.
Christie opened the door and they went to her, but they were gentler. In her hand was a bowl of dog biscuits. They sat obediently at her command and she fed them. Subsequently, she was slobbered with dog saliva on her face as a show of gratitude before she sent them away.
“Let me wash my face,” she told Folarin, heading to their bedroom. He sat in the living room, picked the remote control and switched the TV channel from a documentary to a news channel.
Christie came back with a towel pressed to her face.
“Nope,” he answered. “I’m good.”
She sat beside him, propping herself up to kiss him. He responded in distraction, but when he noticed she wasn’t wearing a bra, he allowed a full kiss.
“How was work?” he inquired.
“Good. We’ve been trying to get the rights for a Bruno Mars’ song.”
“That’s What I Like. It’s for a Visacard ad.”
“Yeah, we’re waiting to hear from them. Toni hates the ad. She thinks it’s sexist. Says we should stop propagating the idea that women can’t take care of themselves, that they need men to handle their needs.”
“Does Toni know she’s in Africa and that African men love taking care of their women? She and her feminism sef.”
“Well, she lost that argument. The client loves the ad, we get a lot of money for it and I get to fall in love with Bruno Mars. I’ve been listening to him all day.”
“If he doesn’t bag at least three Grammys for that album, it’d be ojoro. You’re Lastma sha. I’ve overheard the album and I’m tired of it.”
“Actually, he’s inspired me into what I’m about to do.”
“And what’s that?”
Christie turned off the TV and turned on the sound system. Bruno Mars came on with Straight Up And Down, one of Folarin’s favorite songs on the album, which was reminiscent of something New Edition would sing, a playful, cheesy tribute to the 90s.
Working her waist to the rhythm of the song, Christie gave her husband a slow, sensual lap dance that made him go wild. She had instructed him not to touch her but it was hard not to, not with the way she worked her bum into him.
Folarin didn’t wait for the song to run its course before he grabbed and laid her on the couch. But his actions weren’t rushed. He undressed her, taking his time, not necessarily in a slow manner. He was intentional, rather; his hands arousing her with each touch, so that by the time she was nude, she was also sopping wet for him.
They shagged like old lovers and also like strangers. With familiarity and the excitement that came with a first time lay. Folarin had always been secretly grateful for what the affair had done to their sex life. Not that it wasn’t great before Raji. It was now turned notches higher, with Christie constantly throwing all of herself in and Folarin making the best of her passion. Plus there was that unbroken stream of emotion they shared each time they hit the sheets. They were now closer than they were before.
“You’re a bad girl, Christina.”
Christie was seated on his lap after being handled in different positions by him. She had just brought him to heel in a final rodeo performance he surrendered to.
“Not half as bad as you.”
He lifted her off the couch and took her to the bedroom, kissing her along the way. They showered together. Back in their bedroom, Folarin combed Christie’s hair and braided it.
“So, I saw something in your lappy today,” she said, massaging her hands with a lotion as he went for a pair of boxers.
“You opened my laptop? How did you get the password?”
“You’re seriously asking me that?”
“Yeah. What were you looking for?”
“Nessa said you had a couple of books you were supposed to give her. She kept bugging and so I opened the laptop and gave her. After I did, I came across your manuscript.”
“You went looking for it, rather.”
“No, it was there, opened on Microsoft Word. I just clicked…”
Folarin’s eyes pierced Christie’s. “And?”
“I told you I didn’t want you to see it yet. What part of ‘do not touch’ do you not understand, Christie?”
“I was curious.”
Showing annoyance, Folarin marched into the bathroom.
“I can’t believe you’re writing about my affair with Raji.”
“I am not. What you read is a work of fiction.”
“A man’s best friend gets sexually involved with the man’s wife? Sounds familiar?”
Folarin unscrewed the cap of a mouthwash. “Christina, it’s not about you and Raji.”
“At least, admit that we inspired it.”
“You guys did not.” He poured a capful of mouthwash into his mouth and whooshed it around.
“Fine. What’s with the erotic theme, the whole graphic depiction of the sex scenes? What’s that?”
Folarin spat out. “You’ve forgotten that I write erotica?”
“Why this particular story, Richard?”
“Why does it bother you?”
“Because you are writing about me.”
“Okay, yes! It’s about you and Raji! Satisfied?”
“Because I want to. I’m inspired to. You inspired me. Now, I’m going to pretend that you didn’t snoop into my privacy. I’m also going to trash my anger so we can sleep peacefully, okay?”
They crossed each other as Christie made for the bathroom to toss a tissue in the bin. She came into the room again and began to tug the blanket off the bed.
“How does the book end?”
Folarin, taking out a couple of pillows from his side of the bed, stopped at her question. “Didn’t we agree to bury the topic?”
“I just want to know how it ends.”
She had her sweet voice on. It softened him.
“I don’t know.”
“Does the husband forgive the wife? Does he leave her? How does it go?”
“I don’t know.”
“You’re being really annoying this night, Iya Cyrus.”
“I just want to know how it ends, if it ever ends.”
Folarin caught the insecurity in her eyes and lost his edginess. “Sweetheart…”
“This book… It feels like you’re writing to remember. Or not to forget. The erotica is not like our sex life. It’s a borrowed story from what I told you about the thing Raji and I shared, the slave-master theme. It’s predominant on the pages, so forgive me if I ask all these questions. I need to be sure what this book is about.”
“I don’t know,” he answered honestly. “The story writes itself. It’s still writing itself. There’s something missing, though. It’s got me stuck.”
“The best friend. I don’t know his story. I don’t know why he did what he did.”
Christie sat on the bed. “Maybe you should leave that as a mystery. Some things are better left unknown.”
“I’m the writer, the all-seeing eye. I’m supposed to know everything.”
Christie ended the conversation by staying mute. Later on, after they had both lain beneath the sheets, staring up in silence, she pulled up beside him and rested her head on his chest.
“The best friend – as hard as it is to believe – he loved his friend. He needs to be forgiven too. It would be a twist no one would see coming.”
“And maybe I should also write that the husband lies in bed beside his wife and mulls over the fact that the hardest part of forgiveness is actually living it, knowing he will wake up every day to his reality remaining the same. But also knowing that it’s the most freeing thing when you eventually let go.”
“Then why don’t you just let go? Why write the book?”
Folarin pulled her closer. “Because somebody needs to tell our story, baby.”
Lade had forgotten she was supposed to be on a date with Cruz until she took out her phone from her handbag and saw a couple of missed calls and a text from him.
She groaned, upset with herself that she had forgotten to call him to cancel. A shoot that had been scheduled for the following day was brought forward, falling on the day of her date with him. The urgency to be on set had disorganized her day and left her canceling the date without informing him.
Lade lingered on the decision to call him, wondering what excuse she would give that would make her believable. From the couple of late night conversations she had had with him, she picked out that he already had the notion that ladies like her wanted little to do with guys like him. His reasons – he was broke, the car he was using belonged to his uncle, he wasn’t good-looking enough, she had a long list of men wanting her.
He was right about the last one. She did have a list of men wanting to date or bed her, many of whom were celebrities. But Lade was not interested in any of them. She was aware of how fleeting celebrity relationships could be. How much everyone enjoyed a good love story in the same measure they thirsted for the breakup part. Lade wanted something off the judgmental eyes of the public. No lights and camera on her love action.
“Is that your fine brother-in-law coming to pick us today?” A friend walked past, taking off her t-shirt while trying to kick out of a pair of heels.
The friend and another who had been furiously typing on her phone, dressed in just a panty and bra, showed disappointment on their faces. They both crushed on Dapo. They were impressionable girls in their early twenties who had been lucky to get casted in a MNET-produced series. The excitement of becoming stars and getting into Nollywood was fresh on them. They crushed on everything and everyone. Dapo, who sometimes came to take Lade home after each shoot, was not an exception.
“So, how will we go home nau?”
Lade ignored them, clinging to her phone and handbag as she left the dressing room. She had plans to call an Uber. She hadn’t seen the mother of her baby all day. She was obsessed with touching her tummy constantly, an act Tayo considered weird.
As she left the dressing room and stepped out to a set, furnished as a living room, her stylist from Guru & Monet ran up to her.
“Hi, Ruky,” Lade greeted.
They hugged and Ruky stepped back a little. “Is it me or you have added weight, Isabella?”
“Maybe you’re looking at me through the lens of a camera. You know what they say it does to someone.”
“No, you’ve added weight.” Ruky showed worry on her face. “What will happen to your photo shoot tomorrow?”
“Photo shoot?” Lade looked confused for a second. “Shit. I totally forgot.”
“That’s why you ate yourself to fatness?”
Both ladies gave way for a man carrying tripods.
“It’s just a KG or two. Nothing that serious.”
“Your clothes are tailored to fit, Isabella. If you as much as breathe in them, they’ll rip. Now, what do we do?”
“Move the shoot to next week so I can lose the extra weight.”
“Move it to next week? Bankole would kill me! He has another shoot outside the country. What do you want me to tell him?”
Lade felt helpless. Bankole was Guru & Monet’s celebrity photographer. He didn’t work with just anybody. He had a tight schedule and followed it strictly. On the other hand, he was a cool guy. In another world, he and Lade would have hit it off. She had nursed a secret crush on him at some point.
“I’ll call him and talk to him,” Lade told Ruky.
“You do that.”
It was clear Ruky and Bankole never got on well, even though they had a great working relationship. Lade had always wondered why.
“Goodnight.” Despite her agitation, Ruky spared another warm hug. Again they parted to make way for a couple of guys carrying lights. Lade walked into another set furnished for a popular daytime show. She then entered a winding, dark corridor and out to a bright room where colleagues were engaged in hearty banter over late night snacks. She was tempted to have a donut but remembered her promise to Ruky. She picked a bottle of water instead and stayed back a little to converse while she waited for the Uber she called for. Soon the girls she had left in the dressing room caught up with her, asking if they could share the bill for an Uber ride.
“No wahala,” Lade responded, leaving the building. It was a tad cold outside. She threw a scarf over her shoulder and walked briskly to the gate. After signing out, she stepped out to a quiet street that had just a few cars parked on it. Her ride was a red Camry as described by the driver, but a black one parked just outside the gate flashed it headlights, catching her attention. The driver’s window wound down and Cruz’s face came into view.
Something in her tummy flapped, forcing her into a shy smile. And then she recalled that she had stood him up.
“I’m so sorry. I was called for a shoot last minute. I had to rush here and I totally forgot to call you… How did you find me though?”
“I have my ways.”
She was still smiling when the girls came out.
“Oh, the ride is here,” one of them said. And before Lade could stop them, they got into the backseat of Cruz’s car. She looked on, helpless.
“It’s fine,” he whispered.
“Give me a minute.”
Lade made a call to the Uber ride she had requested for and canceled the trip. Upon returning to Cruz’s car, she found the girls gushing at a bouquet of flowers they had found in the backseat.
“Ha-ahn. Oga Uber is romantic o. You bought this for your girlfriend?”
Cruz was silent.
“And you didn’t give her?”
“Abi she stood you up? Or are you going to her place after you drop us off?”
“I think so. Tonight is going to be hot!”
“You girls, stop it.” Lade poked her head in. She looked at the flowers. She wasn’t a flower person. She found them rather cliché and outlandish, but at the sight of these ones, just twelve of them, she smiled. “Let me have them.”
Lade snatched the bunch from them.
“I’ll sit in front.”
She opened the front door and sat. The ride was silent between her and Cruz. The girls behind yapped through the entire journey. At their stop, they conveniently forgot to drop their contribution for the ride. Not that Lade was going to take it if they offered. They got down, calling Cruz ‘Mr. Uber Love’. He and Lade had a good laugh over it after he drove away.
“I’m sorry I stood you up.”
“It’s okay. I figured you were busy. That was why I came here.”
“How did you find me?”
“I’m good with putting two and two together. When you do, you always get…”
Omolade laughed. She inhaled the scent of the flowers. “So, this…”
“I take it you don’t do flowers. It’s not my thing too. I didn’t know what to buy for you. I just knew I had to get something sweet that is not overly personal or romantic.”
“This is okay. I mean, perfect.”
“I know it’s not. Stop lying jare.”
“So how was your day?”
“Work and more work. My back is paining me ehn.”
“You? How was yours?”
“So, are you hungry?”
“Yes, but I’m supposed to lose weight for a photo shoot. Oh crap! Thanks for reminding me. Give me a second.”
Lade got out her phone and dialed Bankole. She wasn’t surprised that he sounded energetic at that time of night. He was insomniac, just as she was.
She explained her situation to him in a few words and he told her he understood. He rescheduled the photo shoot for the following week upon his return from his trip. While they spoke, she felt Cruz’s eyes on her at intervals. It didn’t feel creepy. It felt natural, weirdly. If she wasn’t constantly aware of her comportment, she would have reached out and touched his hand. He gave her that type of feeling, like she could totally be herself around him.
After her phone call, he asked again if she would like to grab a bite. “With a drink, of course.”
He took her to a local spot in her neighborhood. She wasn’t aware that such places existed outside her estate, which was entirely middleclass. Asun and palmwine were brought to their table which was one of five in a wooden shack stationed beneath a large tree. Outside, men taking strong drinks, unfiltered tobacco and marijuana, sat and argued about everything men typically argued about.
“So is this your type of place?” Lade asked Cruz.
“No. Just wanted to see your reaction to it.”
She smiled. “Can you stop concentrating on our different statuses and just have fun?”
“Girls these days are all about the money. But you, you’re different. I just wanted to be sure if you were real.”
“I was born poor. I grew up worse than this. I’d be a hypocrite to come here and act all bougie. That’s not me, so stop testing me. I’ll always be real.”
He was smiling at her, eyes sparkling. She found him handsome under the dim lighting of the shack. And boyish too. A little chubby on the cheeks. But she didn’t mind. She was curious to know if his lips tasted as sweet as they looked or if the smooth line of hairs on his arms extended to places the sun hardly saw. She wanted to touch him. She wanted to be touched by him. She blushed silently at these thoughts and scolded herself for them. The other day it was pure attraction, with nothing underneath it. Today, she was building scenes with two of them in it.
It’s been long, Lade. You need him, her mind argued. She shut it down again.
For the rest of their date, Cruz made her laugh. He fancied himself a clown. She fancied herself his audience. She was a little lightheaded from the palmwine when they made it back to the car. But she remained in control until they pulled up outside her gate.
“Don’t forget your flowers,” he said when she opened the door.
“So should I kiss you?”
His question was unexpected. She giggled.
“What’s funny? Isn’t that how it goes? Flowers, a date and then a kiss?”
“Yes. Beautifully scripted.”
“So…?” he asked, his brows going up slowly.
He moved towards her, and when he tried to kiss her, she burst into laughter.
“What did I do that’s funny now?”
“Nothing. I’m sorry. Just ignore that. Try again.”
Cruz repeated his action. There was some laughter left on her lips but he banished it when he kissed her. She had expected something magical, but what she got was a soft sweep of her mouth from warm lips and a tongue that knew more skills than talking. The moment left Lade quiet and yearning.
“I’ll call you tomorrow?”
She hadn’t heard him. A dreamy gaze took over her eyes.
“Lade? He gave her a feathery touch on her cheek.
“I’ll see you tomorrow?”
She straightened up. “Sure.”
With the way she was feeling, if he had asked for more beyond the kiss, she would have given him what he wanted right there and then. But she knew he had more than his body to offer. Underneath his fun-loving nature was someone who calculated each step. Lade found herself falling for the man in him she was yet to meet.
She went into the house. Her baby mama was still up, lying on a couch, watching TV. Lade sat on the floor, smiling to herself.
“What’s tickling you?” Vera asked.
“Nothing.” Lade placed her hand on Vera’s tummy. “Why is she not kicking yet?”
“Go to bed, Lade. You sound tipsy.” She spied the bouquet in Lade’s hands. “Your date went well?”
“There’s going to be more dates with him?”
Vera gave an approving nod. Lade rubbed her belly and gave it her first kiss for the day as she rose up.
“This relationship is becoming disturbing,” she heard Vera say. Giggling to herself, Lade called it a night.