It rained all night. They were awake right through it. The first half was spent exploring each other’s bodies as if for the first time. Luper had come with dinner and apologies for his behavior earlier. He was simply worried about her, he explained, emphasizing why he still felt that she needed therapy to heal from all the abuse she had faced in the past. Dugo didn’t care for his speech. She cut through his words with a silencing kiss that led to another, and another, and ultimately to clothes being tossed on the floor of her bedroom.
A cold meal of macaroni was waiting afterwards. Dugo hated macaroni. She opted for some of Luper’s birthday cake which was being stored in the freezer. In the kitchen, while Luper warmed his meal, she fixed herself a cup of tea.
“Will this rain stop at all?” she asked, looking out the window. “I’m tired of it already.”
“Forecasts tell that it’ll be a rainy year. Brace up.”
He had come to stand behind her, chin on her shoulder. They watched the rain together until the microwave chimed and Luper pulled away to get his food.
“I’m thinking of doing something really harsh to my mom,” he said.
Dugo poured in some milk into her tea mug. “Cruel?”
“Okay, so…I’ve given the thing some thought and I’m finding it difficult to expose her like I planned to.”
Dugo wasn’t surprised at his confession. They had not planned to bare out Udazi’s sins together. She wasn’t expecting him to. It was her mission alone to carry out. Dugo understood that despite all that Madam America had done, Luper was still her son and he loved her.
“So what do you want to do?”
“Stop Pastor Keziah from making the biggest mistake of his life. Let him know who she really is.”
Dugo was curious. “Why?”
“Because he deserves better. She almost destroyed my dad. She’s a black widow. It’s not as if I care for Pastor Keziah. I just feel he doesn’t need Udazi in his life. I’m saving him from destroying himself.”
“And you’re getting back at your mom.”
“I wish I could do more.” Luper looked at Dugo remorsefully. “I’m sorry.”
“I understand. Don’t let it bother you.”
“I’m in support of whatever you do. Total support. Even if she ends up in jail. I’ve protected her far too long. Thank God she’s not the only family I have.”
As they returned to Dugo’s bedroom, she caught a faint whiff of beer vomit in the living room. Earlier, Idenyi had puked on Ace while he was trying to help her into the house. Dugo smiled to herself when she recalled the incident and how Ace went bonkers, scolding Idenyi in Yoruba as she stared at him in stupor, and then called him cute at the end of his scolding. She also told him he had sexy lips. At that point, Ace passed her over to Dugo who undressed and cleaned her up and gave her a cotton nightie to sleep in. Minutes later, Idenyi emerged from the guestroom asking for a drink of water. Dugo responded to her request, and the moment she had a gulp, she barfed it all up on Ace who was just stepping out of his bedroom, fresh from cleaning up her previous vomit.
“Again?!” he yelled, jumping backwards. “What is wrong with you?!”
The mess wasn’t so much this time. It had missed his upper body and caught his unclad legs. It got him angry, still. Cussing, he went back to his bedroom while Dugo cleaned the mess and helped Idenyi into bed. Dugo found it bothersome that she didn’t despise her. If anything, she had empathized with her after she heard her story. Ace, on the other hand, didn’t think she deserved a peaceful night in a warm bed.
“Toss her lying ass outside so that when the rain starts, thunder can fire her there.”
“Isn’t it lightning that fires? I don’t understand this thunder and fire something.”
“In Nigeria, thunder does all the firing. Have you heard of Sango?”
“He’s Amadioha’s brother. That’s their work. They send thunder to people like her. You don’t accuse a man of rape, Deedee. That’s like the worst thing ever. It’s as bad as rape itself.”
“I know, but…”
“No ‘buts’ abeg. She’s a witch. Suffer not a witch to sleep under your roof.”
“She’s drunk. Let her stay. Besides, Luper is coming. I want him to meet her.”
Ace crossed his arm, temper switching, eyes twinkling. “You’re always up to something.”
“Just trying to give everyone the justice they deserve.”
“More like you’re so in love, you’d do anything for this man. Why can’t somebody love me like this?”
“You have Titi.”
“Titi has tits. And then that waist. That’s all I’m getting from her. It’s even boring now sef.”
“It was exciting only because of Joana.”
The guestroom door opened again. Idenyi’s head was thrust out. All her makeup was gone now. Her hair gave her the appearance of a mad woman. But Dugo thought she looked beautiful. She could see Tabitha in her. She must have been as striking as a teenager.
“Please, can I have some water to drink?”
Stepping away in reverse as if she was going to bite, Ace retreated to his bedroom.
Dugo gave her another glass of water which was fully consumed without any incident.
“Why are you still with your boyfriend if he rapes you?” Idenyi asked, taking off the nightie Dugo gave her the moment she climbed onto the bed in the guestroom. Dugo had almost forgotten her cover story about Ace being her abusive boyfriend.
“Please, dump him,” Idenyi muttered, her head falling on a pillow. “Don’t be like me. Stop letting the abuser keep hurting you.”
And then she slept off. Dugo shut the door. A short while after, Luper arrived, just as the rain started.
And it raged on, even now. Luper had just abandoned his Macaroni halfway, complaining that he wasn’t crazy about eating around 4 a.m. He was starting to find his way up Dugo’s legs with his lips.
“You no dey tire?” she asked.
“No.” His face was serious when he responded, making her laugh.
“I already came three times.”
“And me, how many?”
“Ehen. So allow me complete my quota.”
Dugo was done for the night, unfortunately. As a normal woman and not a porn star, she was just discovering that she was fine with average sex. Luper, on the contrary, had the drive of a stallion. To him, sex was a three-course meal. She could match him, energy for energy, and still have a good time. But she wanted them to meet in the middle, where intimacy was most important. She was patient, though. She believed they would find their rhythm soon.
“I have something to tell you,” she said when his mouth came to the juncture of her thighs.
“Can it wait? I’m yet to taste you.”
He was gripped by the way her vagina looked. She had told him the original had been altered to erase years of abuse. But he didn’t care. He had waited for this moment from the minute their test results came out and they were both cleared to go. She had blushed when his message came in that morning, asking her how she loved being ate.
But this wasn’t the time for eating anything. She was about to tell him about Idenyi.
“It can’t wait.”
Luper grumbled and stubbornly kissed her moistened lips before pulling himself up to lie beside her.
“I want you to listen to something.”
She picked her phone from the nightstand and played the voice recording she had of Idenyi. The instant he heard her voice, Luper sat up.
“That’s Idenyi… And you…? How did…?”
“I followed her to a bar. She goes there every evening to avoid traffic after work. Just listen.”
Luper went silent after that. He listened to every word, partly seated, partly walking around in circles. When the recording ended, he asked Dugo to play it again. She did. He sat on her dressing stool, looking downwards.
“This is not real.” He pointed at the phone. “It’s not real, Ada. I did not just listen to that.”
Dugo didn’t have words for him.
“Idenyi told you all of those things?”
“Yes. I got her drunk and she just talked and talked.”
He lapsed into quietness again.
“I’m sorry you had to go through all that, Luper. Nobody deserves what she did to you.”
Low laughter erupted from him, but his eyes held different emotions. Dugo wasn’t sure what exactly was going on in his head.
“I can’t believe this, Ada. I was convinced that I did it. I believed I raped her.”
“Well, you didn’t. You heard the true story. All of it.”
“I need to process this.”
He tuned off. It wasn’t something new to her. He had times when he naturally zoned everything out. So she let him be. Unable to sleep, she chose to do some studying until daylight began to peek in.
“I have to go,” he said eventually. He flexed his shoulders as he stood up. “I’m sorry I was out for a bit. I’m trying to process the whole thing.”
“I understand. It’s okay. You’re going home?”
“Yes, Chums. Thank you. I don’t know how to repay you. You keep proving to be more than a man deserves.”
“Don’t thank me yet. I have one more thing to show you.”
“I don’t think I can take anymore…”
“Idenyi is here. She was super drunk yesterday. I brought her home.”
“She’s been here the whole night?”
“Yes. In the extra room. I’m sure she’s still sleeping.”
Luper started towards the door but was slowed down by a knock. He opened the door. Standing before him was Idenyi. At first it didn’t seem like she recognized Luper. She looked at him blankly and then seconds later, her eyes widened.
“Luper,” she gasped. She stared at Dugo. “I…” She looked as confused as she appeared remorseful. She kept her eyes on Dugo for an explanation.
“Everything I told you about me yesterday was a lie.” Dugo stepped forward. “Luper is my real boyfriend. I followed you so that I can get the truth out of you. I think you have a lot to tell him and plenty apologies to give.”
“I don’t think I want to hear a word of what she wants to say,” Luper stated, walking out of the bedroom. “I’ve heard enough already.”
“Luper…” Dugo went after him. “Please, sit and hear her. Do it for me. I don’t think she said everything yesterday. Please.”
Luper hesitantly agreed. They sat in the living room. Luper and Dugo on one couch, Idenyi on another facing them. Dugo gave her a box of tissue paper, in the event that tears were on the way. But Idenyi pushed the box away. Her expression was deadpan now. The pathetic woman who had drunk herself to limpness last night was gone. Dugo saw an entirely different person.
“We’re listening,” Dugo urged. Luper drew the center table towards him and rested a leg on it, crossing his arms.
“First of all, Luper, I’m so sorry.”
There was no emotion on her features. The apology could have as well been from the lips of another person.
“You’re not sorry,” Luper replied. “Just say whatever it is you want to.”
Idenyi exhaled. “Terwe had been hitting on me before the whole thing happened. Every time you traveled to Benin, Terwe would come to my house with Yange and keep telling me how I was dating the wrong brother and how he was better than you. He also used to buy me stuff that I’d reject. When I got tired of him hassling me and I told him that I was going to tell you all he’d been doing, he told me he’d lie to you and say that I was the one going after him. And then he always reminded me that he was in a cult and that if I tried to say no to him, he and Yange and all their friends would rape me. To be honest, I was scared of them. That was why that night, I was sort of upset with you for allowing them into your room. I felt it was between two of us, why allow them in?”
“So, it was my fault, abi?” Luper asked.
“No. That’s not what I’m saying. I just felt really uncomfortable with them around. It was why I didn’t drink much. But you did, and I’m sure they drugged your drink. When they left and I went to the bathroom to clean up, you passed out. By the time I came back to the room, Terwe was there. He asked if you were sleeping, I said yes. He called you, tapped you, shook you, but you didn’t wake up. All that time, I didn’t know what he was planning. I thought he wanted to get something from you and then leave. But he didn’t. He then looked at me and said, ‘now that your hero is sleeping, what will happen to you if I fuck you right on this bed?’ That was when I knew that I was in deep shit. I told him to get out. He just laughed. And as he was laughing, he was coming towards me. I was backing away, calling your name, crying. I backed away until I got to the door. When I opened it, Yange who was outside, dragged me out and took me to Luper’s room. Luper followed us there. He then turned on the CD player. I remember the song playing. It was Beyoncé’s Naughty Girl. Remember we bought that CD together? It was my CD he was playing…”
Idenyi pulled in a heavy breath, and for a moment, she looked like she was going to fall into a sob. But she exhaled and continued.
“Terwe…raped me. Yange filmed everything with his camcorder. I was screaming but Beyoncé was louder. And then he finished. I thought it was over. I tried to get up but he slapped me and said he didn’t tell me he was done. They smoked weed, he forced me to smoke it. After that, he switched to a 50 Cents CD, and came back a second time. Yange kept recording…”
Idenyi broke off, puffing out breaths.
“Jesus, Idenyi,” Luper muttered.
“He was a beast. I screamed until I lost my voice. I just kept telling him to kill me, that it was better for me to die. He dragged me back to your room and locked the door. You were still sleeping. That was when Patience came looking for me and started knocking. I couldn’t answer her. I was weak and scared. There was blood. A lot of it. Terwe injured me. I thought I’d bleed to death.”
Luper moved to the edge of his seat. He rapped his knuckles on the table, eyes staring directly into Idenyi’s. “My own brother did this to you, Idenyi?”
“How am I supposed to believe you?”
Idenyi shrugged. “I’m not lying.”
“You lied to me for fifteen years, Idenyi! You framed me and called me a rapist! How am I supposed to believe you now?!”
“This is the true story, Luper. I swear. I was scared for my life. I tried to wake you, but you didn’t budge. I crawled to the bathroom and that was where I stayed until Patience came back with Mallam Dauda.”
Mallam Dauda was the gateman who worked for the Torkumas at the time of the incident. He was more than just a gateman. Having been in their employ for years, he had somehow become a part of the family. His own family lived in the boys’ quarters at the Torkuma residence.
“According to Patience, she was outside the gate after returning from her walk with your other cousin. She said she heard me screaming. She told him, but he brushed it off and said I was with you and I was fine. But she was restless. A friend of his came by with his car and he left her there. She now ran in and came knocking at the door. When she didn’t get any answer, she went back outside and told Mallam Dauda that she feared that something was wrong with me. He came back with her and broke the door. By then Terwe and Yange were gone. When Mallam Dauda saw the blood and met me on the bathroom floor, he got angry and jerked you up and… You know the rest.”
The rest had to do with her friend, Patience, hitting and kicking Luper and accusing him of rape. Terwe returned to Luper’s bedroom, audacious enough to ask what was going on. A dazed Luper, still trying to piece together what was going on, was dragged outside by Mallam Dauda who rebuked him for his alleged actions, threatening to report to their parents. It was Terwe again, who came out to defend him. The same Terwe who took him to the kitchen and gave him a freezing glass of water and told him that he had screwed up, but he was going to stand by him no matter the outcome.
“Mallam Dauda took me to his wife who forced me to sit in hot water and Dettol and gave me one concussion like that. They were all begging me to forgive and not tell anyone or it would destroy your family’s reputation. The wife stayed with me and Patience in Nenge’s room until Nenge came back from church. That was what happened that night.”
Luper ran his palm over his face, still trying hard to accept that his own brother had raped his girlfriend, pinned it on him, and then turned around to offer a shoulder he could cry on.
But he had questions for Idenyi.
“Did Nenge know? Did you tell her?”
“I told her it was you. Luper, I’m so…”
He cut her off. “Shove up your apologies, abeg. You had fifteen years to come clean, but you didn’t. Don’t try to act remorseful now.”
“Did his mother know?” Dugo asked.
“No. I told her and Daddy the same story.”
“And then you got pregnant and pinned it on me.”
Idenyi bent her head.
“You called me a rapist and pinned my brother’s child on me. All these years, Idenyi. You had more than a million chances to tell the truth, but you didn’t because money was involved.”
“It’s not because of the money.”
“Don’t fucking tell me that! My family took care of your family! It was all about the money! That was why when my dad was on his deathbed, you showed up to tell him what Terwe did. That was why you were there, wasn’t it?!”
“Yes, I told him, but I didn’t do it because I wanted anything from him. I didn’t want him dying and thinking that you were a rapist.”
“That could have been a perfect time to tell me the truth too. Why didn’t you?”
“Because, in front of Daddy, Terwe begged me not to. He said he had changed. He promised that he’d tell you by himself, that it was a family matter and it was best if you heard the truth from his mouth. But that night, he traced me to my house and threatened me again. He said he was still dangerous and could do anything, that I should go around and ask about how Yange died.”
“Robbers shot him. Are you insinuating that Terwe killed him?”
“I’m not insinuating anything. Just telling you what your brother told me. He said he was rich and influential and I shouldn’t try to ruin him.”
“Why am I finding it hard to believe this?”
“Because you only want to see the good in people, even though you know that Terwe is capable of all I told you. I’m sure you heard about his cult activities. Wasn’t he flown abroad because there were talks of rusticating him from school? Your brother is the devil.”
“And so are you. You lied. You were fine with everyone calling me a rapist. You also didn’t have issues hating your own daughter and abandoning her in the care of your senile grandmother…”
“It’s not my fault that each time I look at her and see Terwe and everything he did to me.”
“Tabitha is innocent! She didn’t ask to be born to two deadbeat parents! It is not her fault!”
“Luper, I’m not a deadbeat mother. I provided everything for her. I made sure she got the best. Terwe couldn’t care any less. I’d call him sometimes and ask him to contribute and he’d say that my parents were already doing that. He even told me to ask you. I got tired.”
“No, you were greedy.”
Idenyi sighed in exhaustion.
“This same Terwe offered you his own share of the school in Makurdi and you took it–”
“For Tabi! I did it for Tabi! She should have something, at least. Her future should be insured.”
“You’re just full of shit.”
Idenyi turned her face away, the first sign of tears swamping her eyes.
“Idenyi,” Dugo called, “I know he…Terwe still repeated the rape after that night. You said so in your recording.”
“Yes.” She sniffled. “He came to my house twice and still forced me.”
“Last night you also said something about allowing the abuser keep taking from you,” Dugo reminded her. “Is he still abusing you?”
“No. I didn’t mean it in that way. I meant… He still has the power. If it wasn’t for what you did, making me open up, I’d have still been silent. Thank you, Charity.”
“Call me Adaugo. And I didn’t do it for you,” Dugo told her. “I did it for Luper and Tabi.”
“This is bullshit.” Luper got off the couch and walked right through the front door. Dugo didn’t go after him. His anger was still raw. He needed time to mellow down.
“Can I tell you something I can’t tell him?” Idenyi entreated. Dugo took her eyes away from Luper’s disappearing form.
“I went to his mother to tell her the truth after I found out I was pregnant and he was being blamed for it. I told her that I wanted to come clean about what really happened that night, and she asked, ‘you were raped, weren’t you?’ I said yes. ‘It happened under my roof, didn’t it?’ I said yes. ‘It wasn’t done by any of my nephews, was it?’ I told her no. She now said, ‘then I don’t want to hear what you have to say. Luper raped you and got you pregnant, and we will do everything to ensure that you and the baby are taken care of. Keep your mouth shut.’”
“Wow. You didn’t tell her?”
“No. She walked me out of the house.”
Idenyi pulled out a tissue from the box which she blew her nose into. “Adaugo, I have to go. I can’t make it to the office today. I need to go and deal with this hangover.”
“Your clothes are still wet.”
“You have a dress I can wear? I’ll return it tomorrow.”
Dugo rummaged through her closet for something Idenyi could fit in. She found a maxi dress and handed it to her. Idenyi withdrew to the guestroom just as Ace was coming out of his.
“That was intense,” he remarked.
“You heard everything?” Dugo ask, making for the kitchen.
“Yes. I also heard the other thing that was happening last night.”
“What thing?” Dugo threw a glance at him over her shoulder and caught him smiling naughtily. “It was raining a lot, Ace. How did you hear us? Did you stand outside the door?”
“I was in the parlor throughout, playing a game. You were loud and I was proud. I said, ‘that’s my Deedee Holiday in action.’”
“You’re a sick pervert.”
Ace looked out through the kitchen window. Luper’s car was outside. He was seated in it.
“I don’t want to be Luper right now, finding out shit like that about my own brother. It’s the worst thing.”
“Not as bad as being called a rapist.”
“There should be a law that jails people who do stuff like that.”
“Terwe threatened her. She feared for her life.”
“You have to be kidding me, Dugo.”
“No matter what, she was raped.”
“And she sided with her rapist to smear the name of an innocent person. Can we not have this conversation again? And can you not try to show sympathy to her in front of Luper?”
“I didn’t do that.”
“Good. Keep it that way. She doesn’t deserve anybody’s sympathy. She’s a heartless bitch. That type of woman that can cause your death by just existing in your life. I don’t feel sorry for her.”
There was a noise behind them. They both turned. Idenyi was standing at the entrance.
“I’m leaving, Adaugo. I’ll come tomorrow to get my clothes.”
“Maybe the day after tomorrow,” Dugo suggested. “The rain doesn’t let clothes dry like that.”
“Alright. Thank you.”
“You should apologize to Luper,” Dugo advised.
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“And Tabitha… It’s not her fault. You have to try to be her mother.”
“I don’t think I can.”
Ace showed disapproval with a creasing of his brows. “I know this is none of my business, but you’re not a good person, ma. Instead of trying to do everything to erase your wickedness, you’re still looking for ways to keep living in that wickedness. If you don’t start correcting your wrong, you will regret it.”
There was no response from Idenyi. Just a direct stare at Ace, one that gave no clue as to what she was thinking at the moment.
She shifted her attention to Dugo. “Adaugo, thank you again. Can I have your number?”
“I already have yours. I’ll send you a text.”
Idenyi looked at Ace. “Sorry about the whole vomit thing yesterday, Ace.”
“I don’t recall telling you my name.”
“I heard Adaugo call you that. I didn’t mean to vomit on you.”
Dugo didn’t walk her to the front door. She stayed in the kitchen to prepare breakfast, but by the time she was done, she discovered Luper was gone.
“You should give him time,” Ace said, taking the meal from Dugo.
The knock on the door sounded like it was coming from another place and time. Luper lifted his head off the pillow. Brightness attacked his eyes and he shut them. He was stunned that it was daylight already. The last time he checked, it was only a minute past midnight. How smashed had he been?
Two days he had been drinking nonstop. Alone in a hotel room. Away from Terwe to tackle his overwhelming urge to kill him. He told no one in his family about Idenyi’s confessions or where he was headed. Dugo alone knew, and he had pleaded with her to give him some time to burn his rage out. The only other person who knew was Shipinen. He had driven to the school from Dugo’s two days ago, called Shipinen into his office and narrated everything to her. After the shock passed, she asked what his ensuing line of action would be.
“Other than running him over, I’m still trying to figure out what best punishment he deserves,” he answered.
“I trust you to do the right thing, Lu.”
She also asked if he would tell Tabitha the truth.
“I’ll leave that to Idenyi. But Tabi has to know who her real father is. I’m not noble enough to keep bearing the label of rapist just to ensure that the child is protected from the truth. I’m done being the nice guy. I’m tired of it.”
Shipinen reached over his desk and held his hand.
“You’re an angel, Luper.”
“I’m not. Adaugo is. Without her I’d have been in the dark, thinking my brother means well for me. She never believed that I was a rapist for a second. And she went out of her way to prove that I wasn’t.”
“Something I didn’t do.” Shipinen straightened out the creases on her skirt.
“Don’t beat yourself over that, Shipi. I also believed I was a rapist.”
“Adaugo really loves you.”
“And I’m thinking I don’t deserve her, that my feelings can never match up. It scares me.”
“Maybe you should think of a way to repay her kindness. Do something big for her.”
The thought had crossed Luper’s mind several times. He didn’t know how to show his gratitude to Dugo. She was more than he had dreamt of having in a woman. She was now topping the list of the people that mattered in his life.
But it wasn’t her number he dialed later that night when he drank until his head could take no more. It was Shipinen’s. There were certain parts of him that he hid from Dugo, like how much he struggled with alcoholism on the occasion, or how feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness drowned him from time to time. Dugo was struggling with her past. She didn’t need to carry another person’s burden. She needed a rock. An image of strength and masculinity she could rely on.
Shipinen, however, was acquainted with his weaknesses, which was why she gave an ear to his drunken outburst over the phone and advised him appropriately. She asked what hotel he was lodged in. He told her and then fell asleep. He wasn’t surprise that she was the one standing before him now, telling him he looked like trash and ordering him to take a shower.
“I didn’t tell you I was here so that you can show up unannounced and start commanding me around,” he said, walking to the bathroom.
“I came with Tabi. She’s in the reception. She wants to see you. Said it’s urgent.”
Luper shut the bathroom door, brushed his teeth and had in a cold shower. When he came out, he found Shipinen eliminating signs of his drunkenness.
“She shouldn’t come and see these.”
“And if she does, so what? She’ll grow up soon and learn that the world isn’t made of roses and rainbows.”
“Luper, snap out of this. I know your bubble has burst, but please stop sounding like the world is coming to an end.”
He put on his clothes. “Call her in.”
Shipinen pushed the trashcan into the bathroom and dialed the hotel’s reception to send Tabitha upstairs.
“Be nice to her. She’s only asking a simple request.”
“Let her come first.”
Soon, Tabitha was at the door. Shipinen let her in. Luper gazed at her and saw Terwe in her eyes, in the way she stared back at him.
“Good morning,” she greeted, clutching a handbag that was slung across her shoulder, resting on her hip. It matched the pink of her denim which was paired with a black crop top with an impression of glittery pink lips on the chest area. Luper disapproved of the crop top instantly.
“Hi Tabi. How are you?” he asked, pointing her into a wing chair.
“Fine.” She sat. She didn’t have a smile on, as usual; but her defiant air was absent.
“You want to talk?”
“Yes. No. Not talk. I just want to ask your permission for something.”
“Stella’s family is traveling to Barbados for like a week. Her mom says I can go with them. They’ll pay for everything. Can I go? Please?”
“The entire family is traveling?”
“The parents are traveling too?”
“Yes. Stella’s brothers will be joining us from the States.”
“How old are they again?”
“Seventeen and nineteen and twenty-two.”
“Can I go? I don’t have a passport. I have to get one and I’ll need your help with that and with a consent letter too…”
“You’re not going,” he said flatly.
“You are not traveling anywhere, Tabi.”
“Because I don’t want you in the company of boys you don’t know.”
“I know them. I just told you they’re Stella’s brothers.”
“No, you don’t know them. They could be rapists or cultists…”
“No. They’re cool guys. The firstborn is a pastor in his school.”
“Still doesn’t stop him from being an ass.”
Shipinen rolled her eyes.
“They’re really cool guys. They don’t look at me or anything like that.”
“Why do you even want to go on this trip? So that you can upload pictures on your Instagram and Snapchat every move you make?”
“You want to be part of the clique of cool kids in school that travel out every holiday and come back with weird accents?”
“No.” Tabitha’s eyes watered.
“Do you know what it means to be a popular girl at your age? You should ask your mom. Ask her what it did to her. The type of attention it gave her.”
“Luper…” Shipinen murmured. He stopped her with a wave of his hand.
“You don’t need the popularity, Tabi. It never ends well. You’re attending summer school. It is more important than any vacation with boys you can’t trust.”
“Stella trusts them! They’re her brothers!”
“And that doesn’t mean shit. Brothers can do the worst things…”
Her words stopped Luper. It was the first time she was calling him ‘Daddy’. And it hadn’t been said deceitfully. Her eyes begged him to be understanding, to be kind enough to see that the trip meant something to her.
“I’m sorry, I can’t let you travel with them.”
“It’s not fair!” Tabitha jumped to her feet. Her lips quivered as tears bathed her cheeks. He waited for her usual ‘I hate you!’ but nothing came. She turned on the heels and slowly left the hotel room, shoulders slouched. He felt a tinge of remorse for his performance.
“Well done, Daddy.” Shipinen clapped. “You did really good.”
“I can take her anywhere she desires in this world.”
“But she wants to go to Barbados with her friend. And what do you do? You pass on the beef you have for her father onto her.”
“Wait, what? You think that was what it was all about?”
“What was it about then?”
“And how much of this protection will you do before you realize that you’re actually pushing her into danger? Come on, Luper. Her mother doesn’t want her. You’re all she has. Stop pushing her to choose her friend’s family over you. You’re hurting that girl more than she’s already hurting.”
“I just want her to be careful, and grounded too. I watch her closely and see how she tries to be someone she’s not. I have the money to spoil her as much as she wants, but she needs to understand the importance of not putting herself out there just for likes and validation. I want her to know that she’s good enough as she is, and she doesn’t need to travel to any Barbados or some exotic place to prove it.”
“If she has the support and assurance of family, you won’t need to worry about those things. And seriously, Luper, calm down. It’s just a trip. Just one week.”
“I hear you. But right now, it’s not what she needs.”
“No, Shipi. Let’s not talk about it again.”
“So, coming here was a waste of time, then?”
“I hope you get better, Lu. I really do. I hate when you’re like this.”
“Thank you for coming, Shipi. Your efforts are appreciated.”
Shipinen took her leave. Luper took out a bottle of Hennessey from the fridge. There was no coke to go with it. He didn’t have plans to finish it. Just a few gulps to start his day. He had things he needed to do.
He rinsed his mouth with the drink, tossed it into the paper bag it had come with, picked his stuff from the room and left.
He had an appointment with Idenyi. She had been calling him. She wanted to talk. He knew it was all about her apologizing. He gave her the audience she requested for. It was over breakfast in a serene restaurant. She talked, he listened. She apologized, he forgave. They talked about their daughter and the future that lay ahead for her.
“I don’t want her with Terwe,” Idenyi made clear.
“I’ll make sure he never goes near her,” Luper guaranteed, “if you promise me that you’ll start being the mother she never had. You have to get into her life, Denyi.”
Idenyi nodded. “I will.”
“I owe you more than I can ever repay you, Luper. Thank you.”
He stared at her, at every inch of her face. She used to be as beautiful as the first rush of dawn, easy on the eyes, but enthralling when you kept gazing. That was why every boy that year wanted her. And he had her for a while and took her for granted. Now the purity and innocence of her beauty was hiding behind defeated eyes and years of buried secrets. He felt sorry for her. He told her so.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t there that night, that it happened right under my nose and I didn’t do anything.”
“It’s not your fault, although I was angry at you for a while. I told myself that if I hadn’t been dating you, none of that would have happened.”
“I heard the whole thing messed you up. You struggled with alcohol?”
“I still do on the occasion, but I’m beating it.”
“For me, I haven’t really been with any man since then. They come and go because I chase them away before anything serious happens. I don’t plan to ever get involved…”
“Don’t shut the door, Denyi”
“Luper, the thing you have with Adaugo is not for everyone. Novels and movies lie to us. I think I’m part of that group that may never find love. Thank God I found money somehow.”
Luper smiled. Shortly after, they were leaving the restaurant together. When he hugged her, she didn’t feel like the person he used to know. And it wasn’t just the weight gain. It was everything. Idenyi from his past was gone. He closed the chapter with her when their bodies separated.
He went home. Udazi and Nenge were making plans for Udazi’s wedding reception which had been moved up a week past the original date because Udazi intended to make it a little louder than it was supposed to be.
“It’s a good thing because you can now bring two extra people along,” she explained when he stopped for a drink of water in the kitchen. He hadn’t asked about the details. He hadn’t spoken to her since her theatrical performance the other day.
He was quiet while she did everything to get on his good side.
“You’ll come along with Charity, I hope?” she asked.
Luper ignored her and went up to his bedroom where he fell into a deep sleep. He was awoken by his alarm. He packed a bag, after a warm shower, and went downstairs.
“You’re going on a trip?” Catalina, Terwe’s wife asked. She was trying to get her daughter to stay still to have her fingernails clipped.
Luper didn’t wait for further dialogue. He hurried out of the house and into his car. His journey led him to a grill and beer spot that belonged to a friend. The sun was beginning to set when he arrived there. He entered the joint, went past the main watering hole and into the VIP area which was available only to people whom the owner of the place made it available to.
The man was hogging a beer mug when Luper walked in. He arose and extended a hand to Luper, pulling him close for a man hug.
“Teryila!” Luper hailed.
“Chairman, I dey loyal!”
Teryila, fondly known as Terry, was a giant of a man. Luper always felt small in his presence, but they were close friends. Close enough for Luper to have accommodated him and taken care of his needs for an entire year of being down on his luck. Terry considered Luper a brother. He could go out of his way any day to help him.
They sat for a round of beers, conversed for a while, and then Terry disappeared. Shortly after he left, Terwe walked in. He took Terry’s seat and called for a beer.
There was nothing on Luper’s face that gave away his loathing for his brother. They enjoyed beers and grilled fish. It was a thing they did each time Terwe visited to the country. This was the second time they were hanging out in this manner since Terwe’s arrival three weeks ago. It was Terwe’s first time at Terry’s joint.
“This place is not bad,” he noted, looking around. “Terry outdid himself. I thought he’d keep wallowing in the military. Is he still a soldier?”
“Yeah. Mostly office and diplomatic work that takes him out of the country now and then.”
“He tried with this joint. He really did.”
“Want more fish and chips?” Luper inquired. Terwe was good for it. He loved to it. He was chubbier than Luper, and not so tall. He was growing a pot belly which his wife disapproved of and blamed on his late night snacks and constant need to eat something.
Luper ordered for the fish and chips, making clear that he wanted two servings of it.
“Guess who I saw today,” he said. Terwe chugged down a mouthful of beer.
Luper called a familiar name from their childhood that put Terwe into laughter. The gist shifted to their past. How they grew up. The friends they had. Their late father. Their time in Makurdi.
“Good old days, I tell you,” Terwe commented.
“Yup. Until the Idenyi business ruined everything.”
Terwe’s eyes shifted. He had a long gulp of beer.
“Lowest point of my life,” Luper continued. “I still regret it.”
“Don’t kill yourself over something that’s passed abeg. E don happen, e don happen. Idenyi has moved on. We all have.”
Luper looked at him. “You supported me. You stood up for me. You and Yange. May he keep resting in peace. Was so happy when he called me and told me he was a pastor.”
Terwe responded with another gulp of beer.
“I still can’t believe he’s gone. That same day he called me, he said he had something to tell me. I was traveling to Makurdi the next day, so we planned to meet. Only for me to get there and hear that robbers shot him. You were in Naija at that time abi. You came for the Christmas holiday.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Terwe said dismissively.
“God knows what he wanted to tell me.”
“Well, whatever it is, he took it to the grave. I don’t think it was important.”
Terry returned to the VIP room. Terwe looked relieved to be rescued from the ongoing conversation. He shot up to greet Terry. After a cordial exchange, Terry informed him that he had been wanting to see him to discuss a business opportunity they would benefit from. He drew him out through the exit.
Minutes flipped past. The fish and chips arrived on double trays. Luper asked that they be packaged in foil paper. His request was granted. He made his payment for all that was consumed, picked Terwe’s phone off the table, and left the establishment.
In his car, he sat and waited for a phone call. It came in. Terry was on the other end. They conversed in Tiv.
“Put me on speakerphone so that he can hear my voice,” Luper said.
“Terwe, can you hear me?”
“Terwe, you’re soon going to be a missing person. Your wife will lose her mind. Your mother and sister will have sleepless nights. The police will look everywhere for you. But none of that would bring you back home. You’ll return only when I say so, when I feel you have suffered enough for what you did to Idenyi and to me.”
Luper could hear muffled sounds as though someone was trying to speak.
“It’s going to be a long, painful journey, my brother. I hope you’re ready?”
More muffled sounds.
“Good. Enjoy hell.”
Luper hung up. There was no sigh of relief. No change in his demeanor. No uncertainty for what he was doing. He felt nothing.
He fired the car up and made it to Dugo’s house. He showed up at her door with dinner and a backpack carrying his clothes.
“Chums, can I bunk with you for a while?”
She answered him with a kiss, going on tiptoe. When she took the dinner off his hand and turned around, he spanked her bum. She was nude. They were alone in the house. Terwe wasn’t the only one who was going to have a long night.