Christmas in Berlin.
Heartbroken and missing Luper, Dugo spent the most part of her holiday indoors. She had never been a fan of winter, anyways. It was better to let the days pass, watching German movies and babysitting Mila’s children. It distracted her from her pain, although it couldn’t erase the regret she felt over asking for a break from Luper. On the other hand, she felt justified for going away. He had behaved foolishly. The love she bore for him had not been enough to save him from being axed. She missed him, nevertheless, and wished that things hadn’t gone the way they did.
“You know you can just call him and end this nonsense, right?” Ace told her the night before. His words were a reiteration of what he had told her repeatedly over the course of three months. Her answer to him was silence. In the early days of her breakup, she had had a lot to say. Now, she didn’t have any defense. She had been gone three months too long. Long enough for Luper to stop calling her entirely. She feared that he had moved on.
“Good morning!” a peppy Mila greeted as she entered the house from the backdoor. Dugo was just about to serve herself a dish of lamb peppersoup she made the day before. She hadn’t been able to get the right spices, but she was content with what she made. She missed Nigerian food.
“Where are you coming from?” she questioned Mila, remembering that she hadn’t seen her since the evening before.
“I was on the set of the nastiest orgy I ever saw,” she responded, taking off her gloves. “Looking for a new Deedee Holiday.”
Dugo shook her head at her with a smile. “And did you find?”
“No. No one with Deedee talent,” she answered in English, making Dugo laugh. She took off her hat as her face became serious at Dugo.
“Stay,” she pleaded. “I’ll give you my percentage from Paradise Films for a whole year if you just stay.”
Dugo smiled again. Mila had offered her everything, short of her soul, just to see her back in Berlin, acting porn again. The offers were tempting, as were the ones she got from the top porn production companies in Europe. She would have been justified if she accepted them and gone back to her former life. After all, it was because of them she lost Luper. These days when she reminisced on the events that led up to their breakup, she felt no sting. Back then, her emotions threatened her sanity.
The madness had begun with Udazi showing up at Dugo’s house two days before her wedding and accusing her of breaking her relationship with Pastor Keziah. Dugo had come to the door that morning, wearing nothing but Luper’s t-shirt, confused and sleepy. Luper, who had spent the night with her, also entered the living room to see what the disturbance was about. Udazi had raged like a mad woman. She claimed that Dugo exposed her past to Pastor Keziah. Dugo maintained that she did no such thing, but Udazi did not believe her.
“You even gave him details of the agreement we signed at New Beginnings just the other day!”
“I did not.” Dugo upheld her innocence. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I wasn’t the only one in that room.”
“You did it! And God help you, Charity, I will ruin you! When I am done with you, you will pack your things and go back to Italy! Dirty harlot!”
Udazi turned her angber on her son. “And you, you’re a disgrace and disappointment as a son! I regret ever giving birth to you!”
She barged out of the house, leaving both of them stunned. They stood in silence in the living room until Laika began barking at them.
“What just happened?” Ace asked, coming out of his bedroom.
“I don’t know,” Dugo responded.
“But did you do it?”
“No.” Dugo looked at Luper. “Did you?”
“No. And don’t let it bother you. Come back to bed.”
It was still dark. It took a few more seconds for Dugo to shake off the effect of Udazi’s visit. She turned off the lights, locked the door and returned to her bedroom. At sunup, Luper received calls from family members who had gotten wind of the gist via Udazi. He defended Dugo’s innocence. His uncle told him plans were underway to beg Pastor Keziah. He advised Luper to join him in a visit to the man’s house. Luper declined. Udazi was to bear her cross alone.
Pastor Keziah did not take her back. The wedding, engagement and entire relationship was canceled.
A week went by and it seemed like the drama had died down. Luper’s siblings and their families had returned home and Udazi went back to Benue State. Dugo, Luper and other staff of Acadia International were getting themselves ready for the new school term, after the long holidays. There was to be a PTA meeting on a certain Saturday, a week preceding the resumption date. Dugo and Luper had left the house, unaware that Dugo’s porn history had been released online an hour before then. Her social media and personal work details had been made public as well. It was smack in the middle of the PTA meeting that she was made aware of the gist. Unfortunately, the parents and teachers that were present also got to know about it when one of the parents who had been on her phone all through saw images of Dugo from an Instagram handle. She showed the images to the parents seated with her.
Eyes were directed at Dugo and words were whispered into ears, causing more eyes to turn her way. Luper noticed this from the presiding table on which he was seated, and asked what the disturbance was about. An outspoken mother of two shot up to her feet, pointed at Dugo and declared, “She is a porn actress!”
Luper drew forward in his chair. “Mrs. Obaje, what are you talking about? That is Ms. Ganiru, our guidance counselor.”
“She is not a counselor! She acts porn films! The news is all over the internet, and they have associated Acadia with her!”
While the woman spoke, the phone that broke the news was being passed from one hand to another. Reactions ranged from silent to loud gasps. Dugo lowered her head.
“Her porn name is Deedee Holiday and even before she started acting, she was a prostitute in Italy! I am so disappointed in Acadia for this! It is a shame and disgrace to have our children under the care of this type of woman!”
“Calm down, Mrs. Obaje. These are serious allegations…”
Mrs. Obaje snatched the phone from a parent beside her, marched up to the table and handed it to Luper.
“Look at it, Mr. T! Tell me that that prostitute is not the one you see on that phone!”
“Take it easy, madam,” a teacher spoke up. “Be careful of your words.”
The man was shut down by other parents and immediately voices broke out in murmur. Luper took his eyes off the phone and looked at Dugo. She picked up her handbag and got on her feet.
“Where are you going?” A parent queried. “Won’t you respond to the allegations?”
“Yes! Say something!”
“Is it you or is it not you?”
“You people should calm down!”
“No, let her tell us!”
“Yes! We want to hear from her mouth!”
“Young lady, talk!”
Dugo sought Luper’s eyes again. She knew he was telling her not to speak if she didn’t want to, but she felt she owed them an explanation. She lifted a hand and all went hush.
“I am the one. I was Deedee Holiday.”
A few gasps.
“Yes, I was a porn actor. Yes, I was a prostitute in Italy.”
More gasps. Some snapping of fingers.
“I have nothing more to say except that I am sorry and I take all the blame. Acadia International has nothing to do with it. They know nothing of my past. I’m truly sorry.”
She started towards the door as the room broke out in righteous anger. She hurried out of the administrative area of the school, towards the gates.
Dugo walked faster.
“Go back, Shipinen. I have nothing to tell you.”
Shipinen caught up with her and snatched her hand, forcing her to stop.
“Please, tell me it’s not true.”
“It is. I hope you’re happy that you were right about me.”
“Happy?” Shipinen breathed hard, catching her breath. “I’m not. I’m not, Adaugo. I’m so sorry for the embarrassment you just faced in there.” Dugo didn’t believe her. “I don’t judge you. I don’t know the full story.”
“Shipi, it’s fine. I appreciate your concern, but I have to go.”
She extracted her hand from Shipinen’s and walked off. In the cab, on her way home, she received a text from Luper:
I’m so sorry, Chums. I’ll get to the bottom of this.
Dugo had always imagined how things would go on the day her past would be exposed to the public. She had known it would happen someday, but not in this manner. She had prepared for the eventuality, steeling her heart for whatever storm was coming her way. Reality, however, was different. She felt shame and condemnation, and not even Ace’s hugs and reassuring words could soothe her. When Luper came to see her, she tried not to crumble.
“Udazi did this,” he said. “I thought she was bluffing. No, I believed she wouldn’t be so stupid, but she is. Ada, I am so sorry.”
“It’s not your fault.” Dugo sat, legs crossed, Laika on her laps. She stroked its ears as she spoke. “You are not your mother.”
“But I am her son, and I take responsibility for her actions. I deeply apologize, Ada. I am utterly sorry for this.”
“It’s fine. The whole world knows now. I just pray that they don’t connect me to you. It’s okay that I’m the only one taking the blame for this. It would be bad if the parents in Acadia find out we’re dating.”
It didn’t take twenty-four hours for Dugo’s fear to become real. The following day, Luper and Shipinen began to get angry phone calls from parents threatening to withdraw their wards from the school. The internet was abuzz with the scandal. Nasty videos and images of Dugo surfaced. An emergency meeting by the school board was called, and Luper was asked to step down from his position as the principal, and allow Shipinen take his place. He argued that it wasn’t necessary; a press release would suffice. The unanimous voice of the board members prevailed. He gave in to their demands and handed over to Shipinen. The following day, he addressed members of the press that had gathered outside the school building. He tried as much as he could to evade questions pertaining his relationship with Dugo and the fact that he knew her past before he offered her the guidance counselor position in Acadia.
It was painful for Dugo to watch him being put under the spotlight in that manner. She sat with Ace in his bedroom, viewing a live video on Facebook, shared by a popular gossip site.
“He’s said all there is to say. He should just walk away.” She bit her nails in agitation.
“I think he’s handling it greatly,” Ace responded. “So far he hasn’t denied dating you.”
“I wish he does. He shouldn’t suffer because of me.”
“Deedee, he’s not complaining.”
“Walk away, Luper,” Dugo whispered, eyes on Ace’s laptop. “Just get into your car and go.”
Ace reached over and shut the laptop.
“What are you doing?”
“That’s enough. You’re stressed already. You don’t need that.”
Dugo let out a sigh and released her weight on the bedhead. Laika hopped on the bed to take the space between her and Ace.
“I should go online and tell them that Luper didn’t know anything about me.”
“You should stay silent. This would blow over soon and people will forget it ever happened.”
“The parents of Acadia will never forget, Ace. They see me as this devil. I don’t want them to take their children to another school because of this. I have to fix it.”
She got off the bed.
“Where are you going?”
“To my room, to make a post on Instagram.”
“Can you, at least, wait for Luper to come back before you do that? Run it by him.”
“Ada, please. You’re in it together. Just wait for him.”
She rested her hands on her waist and bent her head. “I’ll wait.” She cleared her throat. “Do you have beer?”
Ace jumped off the bed and dashed into the kitchen. On his way back, he stopped to respond to a knock on the front door. Idenyi was waiting outside.
Dugo peeped out from Ace’s bedroom.
“Hey.” Idenyi waved. Ace let her in. She had on a sympathetic expression as she approached Dugo. “Are you okay?”
“I mean, how are you coping with the cyber bullying and all?”
“She’s not allowed to go online,” Ace answered.
“Wise decision. Everything will soon blow over and people will forget.”
“Same thing I told her.”
Idenyi pulled Dugo in for a hug.
“Please, be strong.”
Ace handed Dugo a can of beer. Idenyi gave him a certain look, and then he tendered the second can in his hand to her.
Dugo noticed their eyes dancing in each other’s before Ace looked away. Dugo distracted her mind for a moment, imagining what a wonderful couple they would make. Ace still played hard to get. Dugo thought it was as cute as it was annoying.
They sat in silence, all three of them. Idenyi tried to direct their minds to another topic of discussion, but her efforts failed.
“I was at the board meeting yesterday,” she mentioned eventually. “I was his only support.”
“Shipinen, did she vote to kick him out?”
“No. She refused to vote. She was neither here nor there.”
“She wanted his job. Now, she has it.”
“I don’t think she’s that much of a bad person, Dugo. Luper said he felt comfortable handing over to her.”
The silence returned. Ace turned on some music to drown it. Dugo had lazy sips of her beer. She was barely halfway into it when Idenyi went for another. The music and the silence underneath it continued until Luper returned. He looked tired. He asked to be excused as he entered Dugo’s bedroom. Dugo went after him. He was taking his shirt off when she walked in.
“I messed up. I’m sorry,” he apologized. He dumped his shirt on the bed and slumped down. He lay slantways on his back. Dugo towed up the long nightie she hand on and sat on him. His hand naturally found her waist.
“Those press bastards kept stressing to know about our relationship and I said nothing. The school board told me not to talk about you and I obeyed them. I am sorry. I denied you out there.”
“You did not. You did the right thing. I was planning to do an Instagram post to deny our relationship.”
“Yes, Luper. We’re not important now. The school is. Besides, I will not lie. You gave me the job without knowing my past. That is truth.”
His hand found its way to her bum. He stroked it as he spoke. “I don’t want to be ashamed of you. I want to let the whole world know what I feel for you.”
“Another time, handsome. Now, we save Acadia.”
“Kiss me,” he demanded. Dugo lowered herself and gave him her lips. He groaned slowly when he tasted her. His arms hemmed her into his body. He told her she drove him crazy.
“Not the time for this.”
Dugo pulled away and went for her phone, which had been switched off. As she typed out her post on Instagram, Luper busied himself with her bum, leaving kisses and nibbles on it. She made the post short, delving straight into the basics of what she had to say. She admitted to being a porn star in the recent past, confessed that she had lied about being a guidance counselor, claimed that Luper and the school authorities had not known anything about her past before she was offered the job, and lastly stated that she wasn’t in a relationship with Luper. They were just friends, she stressed. In conclusion, she promised to find the strength someday to tell her story. Accompanying the post was a photo of her and Laika.
She put her phone away and turned around to receive Luper’s lips on her inner thighs. She let him do as he pleased. He was lazy with his actions. Tender, soothing. When he pulled up to kiss her, she noticed the lines of exhaustion around his eyes. She told him he needed to rest, but he was too far gone in need to stop. His manner when he was in her was a continuation of the way he had begun. Lazy and tender, but Dugo found it pleasurable. She found herself yawning more than a few times after they were done. He slept before her, ignoring his ringing phone. She shut down the device entirely, spooned him and went to sleep herself.
She was stirred up much later by Laika’s constant yapping outside her door. He was scratching the door as well. It was dark already. Luper was still asleep. She got off the bed and entered the bathroom. After a shower, she returned and let Laika in. She picked her phone from beside the bed and saw that she had missed a call from Mila. She called back. The woman sounded excited on the phone.
“Deedee, you’re in the top three on Paradise Films and the most viewed video on Rocco Siffredi! You’re back in demand. What happened?”
Dugo itched to tell her what she was going through, but she held back.
“I don’t know.”
“Well, it’s good for business. More money for you and for me. Let’s pray this good luck continues.” She gave Dugo a noisy kiss and hung up.
Dugo held her phone in both hands. She knew she wasn’t supposed to go online, but she couldn’t help herself. She had ignored the internet for so long. She was desperate to know what people were saying about her.
Instagram was her first destination. There were almost a thousand comments waiting for her. She picked the first three random ones and her heart sank. The next five were the same. Comment after comment, she was insulted and slut-shamed. For a moment, she stopped and took it all in. It was an attempt to be strong before she continued. She told herself she could do it. Nodding in affirmation, she went on Twitter. She sighed in relief when she saw that she wasn’t trending, but a quick search of her name brought out tweets, images, memes, GIFs and videos that were aimed at slut-shaming her. In a GIF that was widely circulated, someone had captured a moment from one of her flicks where a co-actor came on her face.
Dugo felt sick to her guts. She was grateful to the few feminists that spoke up for her, but their voices were not enough to rub out the cyber-bullying. Her DM was filled with messages from sick perverts, some of them sending her photos of their penises. She even got a couple of lesbian perverts. Other messages were hate messages. One of them was from an Acadia parent. She downright threatened to beat Dugo up if she came across her on the street.
Dirty, useless slut! You will rot in the darkest part of hell! May no child ever come out from that diseased vagina of yours!!!
The hate gave Dugo goosebumps. She got threatened by a rapist as well, who promised to rape her and enjoy it when he caught her.
Dugo felt the first rush of tears come to her eyes since this incident began. She tried to hold it in, but it came with a force that broke her. Laika hiked up his ears at her in concern and then rested his head on his forearms. He whimpered and Luper stirred. He opened his eyes. Dugo tried to hide behind a pillow.
“Ada,” he called. “Chums?”
He pulled the pillow down.
“What is it?”
He drew her to him and held her.
“Did you go online?”
“You shouldn’t have, baby.”
It took no small effort from him to make her stop crying. He suggested dinner in a nearby restaurant, but she declined.
“I want to get you out of here, Ada. Come out and breathe the outside air a little.”
Nothing he said or tried could bring her to cheer. They stayed in and managed through a meal Ace prepared earlier. Dugo told Luper that she wanted to be alone for the night. He respected her wish, leaving her with a lingering kiss. She sat on her bed after he was gone and went back online, taking in every tweet, comment, image and private message. She did this without tears, finding strength in herself with all that her eyes absorbed.
In the morning, Mila was on her phone again.
“The offers are dropping in,” she said. “I don’t know what magic you’re doing down there, but they said the demand is high from your end. I’ll send you the stats.”
Dugo shook her head at the sheer hypocrisy of Nigerians when she went through the stats sent in by Mila. If what she did was so despicable, who then were the people subscribing to the websites were her videos were published just to view her? The sickening part was that the most viewed videos were the ones in which she acted as a teenager or those that had themes of lesbianism in them.
By noon, Mila called again. She said she had good news for Dugo. Harmony Vision, the biggest porn production company in the UK that owned a high street sex shop wanted Dugo on the set of their next production. The cash was mouthwatering. Dugo told her she wasn’t interested.
“You should leave your options open. I’ll still tell them to reach you.”
“Mila, don’t waste your time.”
“You have talent, Deedee. Don’t throw it away.”
Dugo almost laughed. Talent in giving men pleasure? If she ever considered going back to her former life, being with Luper had erased it all. For the first time in fifteen years, she had not felt used or abused by a man. Luper was a gift so precious to her she couldn’t trade him off for any kind of cash, no matter how tempting.
She left the house to his place and met his absence. Tabitha was home. The girl seemed embarrassed when she opened the door and let her in.
“He said he was going to New Beginnings,” she told Dugo.
“Okay.” Dugo began up the stairs.
“Aunty Dugo?” Tabitha ran after her.
“Did you do all those things they said? The porn thing?”
Dugo was careful with her words. “I…didn’t have much of a choice. I was introduced to the life when I was about your age. But after a while I became an adult and could choose to get out, but I stayed.”
“It was a foolish decision, but I didn’t know any better then.”
“Did you like what you were doing?”
“No. Sometimes I felt like I did, because it was all I knew. But no, I didn’t always like it.”
It was now Dugo’s turn to ask questions.
“Did you watch any of the videos?”
Tabitha shifted her eyes to the left.
“I’m sorry. It was Stella’s brother that showed us. He was laughing and saying ‘see your daddy’s girlfriend’s…” She stopped, face in embarrassment.
“It is just a word, Tabi. Don’t give it so much power.”
“It’s not that. He was making fun of you. I hate him.”
“And you liked him before?”
The girl was silent.
“People will judge what they don’t understand. Don’t hate them. Feel sorry for them.”
Dugo touched her cheek and gave her a smile.
“Stella said you’re very brave to do what you did on camera. She said she wants to be like you.”
Dugo lifted her brows in alarm. “Oh God, no.”
“No, not the porn part. The brave part. She said even after all people are saying about you, you still went on Instagram and posted something.”
“Oh. Tell her I said thanks.”
“Me too, I think you are very strong.”
Dugo was touched. She smiled at her. “Danke.”
The girl lingered.
“Anything more?” Dugo asked.
“Alright. Please, stop watching those videos. Wait until you are eighteen, okay?”
As Dugo continued up the stairs, she worried over Tabitha. She knew the girl was exposed to pornography, just like other teenagers out there. Dugo felt guilty for contributing to the statistics. She felt shame. She began to entertain thoughts of taking a break from Nigeria. She needed a vacation. The country was breaking her; and it wasn’t just the recent occurrence. It was everything else. She had managed to survive the culture shock she experienced that first month upon her return, but bit by bit, the way of life, which was most parts dehumanizing, left her exhausted. She needed a time out.
“We should do it together,” Luper said to her when he returned and she mentioned something about the vacation.
“I want to go alone,” she replied apologetically.
He didn’t ask her why. His mood didn’t change as well. They played a game of pool together, and snuggled into a couch to watch a movie on Netflix. The next morning, Tabitha joined them in the kitchen as Luper made breakfast. She helped with the dishes. Luper’s phone was yet to find rest. Earlier, he had told Dugo that four families had made it known that their kids were not returning to the school. Others were threatening to pull out. Dugo had asked him how he felt about it. He shrugged and said he was fine. She tried to delve deeper, but he maintained that things were okay.
While they were still making breakfast, Dugo’s phone rang. Luper passed it to her. She received Mila’s video call, walking out of the kitchen to the backyard. Mila was not alone. There was a man with her who communicated in English with a British accent. Dugo didn’t appreciate the fact that Mila didn’t pre-inform her that someone from Harmony Vision would be on the call with her. She made this clear to Mila in German. Mila apologized, stating that the man was leaving Berlin in a couple of hours. She had thought it best to let them communicate directly.
He threw in his proposal without wasting time, letting Dugo and Mila know that the pay was still negotiable. He also stated that his bosses were considering making her a long-term, exclusive contract. The last offer on the table was to grant her a modeling contract for their sex store.
Dugo listened to all he said. He had been too polite for her to blow off at that first meeting. She considered it rude to do so. Hence, she told him to send an official email, detailing all he had told her. She loved to have records of everything. The man promised her he would have his assistant send her the email. Dugo thanked him and Mila and hung up.
Tabitha stepped out to inform her that breakfast was ready. Tabitha had her breakfast upstairs in her bedroom. Dugo sat with Luper and his bulldog in the living room. She had found that she didn’t have an appetite these days. She fed most of her meal to the dog, earning an eye from Luper each time she did that.
“Can you stop it?” he said eventually.
“I’m not hungry.”
“You’re wasting the food. Santos has his own meal.”
“Chill. I’m sorry. I’m just not hungry.”
“Do whatever you want.”
He got on his feet and went to the kitchen. She heard him slamming his plate in the sink. Later on, after she forced herself to eat and cleared the kitchen, she found him outside fixing something in his car engine. The sun was harsh. His sweatshirt was soaked.
“Are you okay?” Dugo inquired.
“Then why did you snap at me like that?”
“You were wasting the food. You should have told me you weren’t hungry before I started cooking.”
He slammed the engine shut. “Is there a reason why you don’t want to go on a vacation with me?”
Dugo was surprised by his question. Where she came from, wanting to be by oneself was a thing. People didn’t demand explanations for that, even in relationships. She was just realizing it wasn’t the same here.
“I just want to be alone.”
“Because I want to.”
“Look, I understand the need to be alone. I’ve been there before, but this… I don’t get it. Are you staying away from me because you’re blaming me for what happened?”
“My mom did it to you, so you’re blaming me.”
“Then why do you want to go away when we need each other now?”
Dugo had no answer. She was uneasy. The person before her didn’t sound like the Luper she knew.
“Lu, are you alright?”
“No, I am not alright, and I need you. But you don’t need me, apparently. You need yourself and your aloneness.”
“Wow. Calm down.”
“I’m calm. Ignore all I just said. I’m fine.”
He started towards the house. She stayed outside a little longer, wondering how best she could handle him. When she went in, however, and saw him cleaned up and refreshed, she met a different person who apologized for his outburst and urged her to enjoy her vacation. She didn’t believe him, so he held her in a hug and apologized with kisses.
They took a walk with the dog when the sun went down. Dugo was tired upon their return. She sought rest in his bed while he attended to a friend downstairs. She woke up a couple of hours later and borrowed his laptop to respond to emails from her lecturer. She also booked a flight to Mauritius.
Dugo went back to bed, feeling unexplainably exhausted. Luper joined her hours later. The feel of his hard body against hers brought relief. She drifted deeper into sleep.
Dugo was alone in Luper’s bedroom when she woke up. A black wall on which were framed posters of black and white art faced her. She could hear Luper in the shower. Moments later, he came out from the bathroom. She informed him that she was going home to prepare for her trip.
“To Berlin?” he asked.
“Are you sure?”
“You’re not going to Berlin to work out plans to star in a production by Harmony Vision?”
Dugo lifted her head from the pillow on which it was rested. “What are you talking about?”
“I was using my laptop last night when an email dropped in. I didn’t know you had signed in, so I clicked on the notification and I saw this email from this guy you apparently had already discussed a new production deal with. Ada, if you want to go back to being a porn star, why don’t you just tell me? Why lie about going on a vacation?”
Dugo sat up. “You’re getting it all wrong, Luper.”
“Am I? The email was pretty straight. I understand English clearly.”
“I am not going back to porn–”
“Don’t lie to me, Adaugo! It’s unnecessary. If you want to get back there and spread your legs for the camera, fucking do it! You don’t have to be two-faced! It’s your life and your body! Just count me out! I’m not going to share you with another man, and I sure as hell can’t stand to see you in one more video of you debasing yourself! I don’t care whether it’s cloaked under wokeness or feminism, I won’t support it!”
Dugo didn’t have any strength in her for an argument. She left the bed and went about the room, picking her belongings.
“You think it was easy for me to watch any of your movies? I cringed every time I saw another man touch you or force you to your knees to suck his dick! It killed me inside Dugo. But that was your past and I couldn’t judge you for it! I said, ‘she has changed. She’s no longer that girl who has no regard for her body.’ But it takes you a juicy offer for you to go back to that life! You think I don’t know that the scandal that blew up a few days ago made you more popular on porn sites? Even on Google trends! People are searching for Deedee Holiday like mad! I can only imagine how many porn production companies have contacted you since shit hit the fan!
“Look, I’m not holding you back here! I’m not that type of man! Go and do your shit and leave my life alone! It’s bad clearing up the mess from my name already! I don’t need you to worsen things! Just go and keep sleeping with strangers! I don’t fucking care!”
The last item Dugo picked was her phone. She was still too drained to speak. She looked at him as the first tear broke and stringed together a few words in whisper. “You didn’t even let me explain.”
“There’s nothing to explain. I saw the email. Just go.”
“Luper, if you let me leave this house without hearing me talk, I am not coming back to you. It is the end of us.”
She couldn’t believe him. “Luper?”
“Ada, go.” His eyes were stuck on his black wall as he uttered those words.
She walked out of the room, went downstairs and left the house. Ace wasn’t home when she got in. He had traveled to Lokoja for a friend’s wedding. Dugo packed for her trip, her eyes constantly on her phone, expecting Luper’s call, but it didn’t come through. She took a sleeping pill to combat her weakened wakefulness.
At first light, she called Idenyi over and handed Laika into her care. She didn’t tell her what had transpired between her and Luper. Idenyi drove her to the airport. The moment she was alone, Dugo began to feel the onset of a fever. By the time her plane touched down in Mauritius, she was so ill that an ambulance rushed her to the hospital. When asked if she had any relative to contact, she gave Ace’s name and number. He was phoned and informed of her present troubles. Several hours after tests were run on her, nothing troubling was found. The doctor put her symptoms down to fatigue. He placed her on bed rest and IV fluids.
She related details of her fight with Luper to Ace. Ace didn’t pick a side, although he understood her reasons. He also told her that he was sure Luper was facing his personal demons.
“Then why won’t he talk to me about it?”
“Because you’re going through hell yourself. Look, this is one big misunderstanding. I’ll talk to him when I get back to town.”
“Please, don’t tell him I’m sick. The last thing I want is for him to pity me.”
Ace stayed on the phone with her until she was forced by a nurse to drop his call and get some rest.
She was discharged on the evening of the second day. She got on a flight to Trou Aux, which boasted of having some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. She settled in and looked forward to her vacation. At night, Luper called her. She ignored all three of his calls. The texts began to pour in. Each apology he sent in revoked memories of the words he told her. Words she couldn’t erase from her head. She was mad at him, angry that he was trying to erase the things he had said over flimsy texts and Whatsapp messages. She didn’t respond to any of them, except the one in which he told her he was coming over to Mauritius.
I said I want to be alone, she texted back. Can’t you understand and respect that? Allow me enjoy my vacation.
He backed off, and began again when she returned home. He had not known that she was back. Ace as well. He had been out of the house all day for a photo shoot. By the time he returned, Dugo was packed and ready to leave for Berlin.
“What is wrong with you na? Why are you doing like this.”
“I just have to go away.”
“But you did already.”
“It wasn’t enough. Nigeria is toxic for me right now. I want to rewind and refresh.”
“Are you going to let Luper know?”
“No. Take care of Laika for me.” She kissed the dog, held in her arm. “I’ll miss you baby.”
“For how long?”
“I don’t know.”
Dugo placed Laika on the floor, put her arms around Ace and nuzzled her face in his neck. “I’ll miss you too.”
“You know I love you, right?”
“Take care of yourself for me.”
He took her to the airport. She slept all through her journey to Berlin. It was 3 a.m. when she arrived. Mila was waiting with her eldest son and a dozen kisses. When Dugo breathed in the crisp air, she felt at home. She slept in Mila’s bed like a baby, curled up in a ball and wishing the pillow she held was Luper.
He called the next day, and the day after, and the one following that. He sent texts and voice notes. She read and listened to them all, but had nothing to tell him. He had hurt her once, and she had let him hurt her a second time. It was hard to accept his apologies and just move on.
With time, the texts became less, the calls infrequent. The voice notes seized entirely. When December came, he stopped reaching out to her altogether. She gathered from Ace that he had started a study abroad company that also helped people get jobs and internships out of Nigeria. Dugo was proud of him, proud that he could quickly dust himself up and move on. She wish she could be like him.
Mila did everything in her power to plug her back into her former life, but Dugo was done with porn. Back in Nigeria, the online world had forgotten about her. The messages from haters and perverts stopped coming in, although the name Deedee was now a moniker for prostitution. Her memes and GIFs were still out there, but the dust had settled. She began to yearn for Nigeria again.
“Stay,” Mila begged a second time as Dugo had a first taste of her lamb peppersoup.
“My bags are already packed. I miss my man.”
“Are you sure he hasn’t moved on?”
“I know he hasn’t.”
Mila stood beside her and placed her head on her shoulder. “Just stay.”
Her ten-hour flight back home took off at 6 p.m. Upon her arrival, she took a cab home, surprising Ace who was still awake. They stayed up until daylight showed.
“I think I’m going to finally take your advice and end the fight with Luper,” Dugo told Ace, standing at the entrance to her bedroom. “I will just go in, shower and go and see him. We need to talk about what happened.”
“Anything that makes you happy.” Ace yawned.
Dugo went in and took a bath instead. It had been too cold in Berlin to attempt a full bath. Seeing her bathtub all clean and inviting made her change her mind about a shower. She came out feeling refreshed and hopeful. Her choice of outfit was deliberate. She picked a particular blue jumpsuit Luper liked because of the plunging backline. Her hair had been plaited into cornrows by Mila who was surprisingly good at it. She put on minimal makeup, picked her purse and phone and left the house to Luper’s.
The cab that drove her there stopped outside the house. She was let in by the gateman. There was some nervousness in her as she approached the entrance of the house. Luper had gone AWOL for a whole month. She wasn’t sure of the reception she’d get.
She knocked on the door. Tabitha let her in, screeching in excitement.
“I thought I’d not see you again,” the girl said after her excitement plummeted.
“Well, I’m here and I brought a lot of things for you.”
“But they’re at home.”
“I’ll follow you and get them. Let’s go now.”
“Not yet. I’m here to see your daddy.”
Tabitha put on a frown.
“Is he at home?”
“But his car is outside.”
“He went out,” Tabitha saikd hurriedly. “Let’s just go. You can call him and tell him that you’re back.”
A door squeaked upstairs. Dugo looked up.
“Let’s go,” Tabitha repeated.
Dugo heard the sound of a lady’s voice. There was laughter in it. And then Luper spoke as well. His voice made Dugo’s tummy churn. Soon, she saw him coming down the stairs, holding the hand of an unidentified female. When his eyes met with Dugo’s, his hand withdrew from his female companion’s hold. He also stopped moving.
“Ada,” he muttered. The lady stopped.
“Happy new year, Luper.”
“Ya. I just came by to say hi. I’m going back home. Tabi, you can come over later and get the stuff. See ya.”
Dugo started out in quick steps. She didn’t hear Luper coming after her. Instead, it was Tabitha who tailed her.
“Aunty Dugo, I am angry at him too.”
“You shouldn’t be. I am not.” Dugo kept a flat smile on her face.
“He was cheating on you.”
Dugo kept walking, requesting for an Uber on her phone. “He wasn’t. We broke up.”
“No wonder he was drinking every night. After that, he started bringing girls in. I told him I hate him.”
Dugo stopped outside the gate. “Tabi, you have to stop hating people or telling them you hate them. You can be angry with them. That’s fine. But hate is a bad word.”
“I’m very angry at him. He has not changed. After what he did to Mommy…”
Dugo sighed. She took the girl’s hand.
“Why do you even like him?” Tabitha’s hand.
Dugo looked up. “I don’t know, Tabi. I don’t know.”