Church was uncomfortable. Dugo had issues with organized religion and with God altogether. Her beef began a couple of years after her introduction into the world of sex slavery. She had spent nights in endless prayers, for God to come rescue her, but what she got was excruciating silence and darker nights.
Her flickering faith fizzled out when her maman, the woman who ran the brothel in which she was held, took her to church on a cold Christmas morning. At that point, she had taken a liking to Dugo and allowed her the privilege of living with her and servicing choice clients. Still Dugo remained a slave, and even the visit to the church was without her consent. She would have found herself flogged and starved if she had refused.
The Mass that morning had been torturous. Dugo picked out a few faces that frequented the brothel, including the organist who always made her do disgusting things to his butthole. It was on that Christmas morning when parishioners renewed their faith in Christ that Dugo lost hers entirely. Religion, to her, depicted cruelty.
And thus, it was with much unease she sat in Luper’s church. She wondered who, amongst the worshippers, sold underage girls to Europe; which one of them ran an underground brothel; which of them frequented such places to debase young girls. And the pastors too, did they make fifteen year-olds lick their buttholes as they forced their dicks into their mouths to choke them almost to death?
Unable to continue with the service after sitting for an agonizing hour and a half, Dugo arose and hurried out. It was a large church. She was certain that Luper, if he was present, wouldn’t miss her. But as she got to the stairs that led out of the building, she heard him calling after her.
She turned around and gave a surprised smile. “Luper? What are you doing here?”
He had on a navy blue kaftan. His shoes were a pair of brogue boots.
“This is my church. I worship here,” he replied.
“Wow. How random.”
“Are you leaving?”
“Yes. I don’t feel so well. I have a headache.”
“Sorry about that. You should go and rest. I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“If you’re feeling better, that is. I’ll call you when I get home.”
“I’d appreciate that. Thank you.”
His hand had comfortably rested on her upper arm. “Take care.”
Dugo was about to turn away when she spotted his ex-wife coming towards them, emerging from the church hall. In her tow was Wendy. Both women were dressed alike, bedecked with jewels that accessorized formfitting gowns.
“Trouble is here,” Dugo muttered.
Luper turned, and his hold on Dugo’s hand became snugger. She watched his face get into a frown.
“Just the man I wanted to see,” the ex-wife said as she came to stand before them.
“Hi Wendy,” Luper greeted. Wendy waved. She smiled at Dugo who smiled back. “What do you want Shipinen?”
“A word with you. I was waiting until the end of the service, but then I saw you leave…”
“Yes, we’re on our way.”
“Together?” She looked at Dugo.
“You have an issue with that?”
Shipinen smiled. “No. It’s none of my business what you do with your love life.”
“And yet you stalk me.”
“Stalk? Ha! Please, Luper, don’t let all these small girls you run after make you feel important. The only reason I want to see you is to talk business.”
“The church is not a place to talk business, Shipi.”
“But you won’t grant me an appointment during work hours or even pick my calls.”
“And that’s because I want nothing to do with you, Shipinen. Is that hard to accept?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I don’t want you.”
“Then what do you want?”
“My school. I want it back.”
“Your school?” Luper laughed. “She said her school.”
“I am a Torkuma. I partly own that school, and I’ll either get what’s mine or that school will close down.”
“Shipi…” Wendy sighed.
“Stay out of this.”
“Yes, Wendy, unless you want to lose your job, stay out of it,” Luper threatened. Wendy took a step backwards, hands raised in innocence. “And why are you even here? You’re ganging up with her against me now?”
“No o! Ah! Me keh. I just followed her to make sure she doesn’t cause any trouble o.”
“Too late. She’s doing her thing again.”
“There’s nothing I’m doing that I shouldn’t have done a long time ago,” Shipinen bit back. “I allowed you for two years for the sake of peace and also to see if you would be reasonable and take Daddy’s advice about working together…”
“I don’t want to fucking work with you.”
“Easy with the language. God’s house.”
“I don’t want to work with you, Shipinen. My dad was an old man who was out of his mind, clearly manipulated by you.”
“That’s a lie, and you know it.”
Her voice was raised. There were security personnel in the area who suddenly took interest in their conversation. Wendy pleaded via hand motions to Shipinen to lower her tone.
“Look, Shipi, I won’t do this with you,” Luper stated. “Not here. Not anywhere else.”
“Then you’ll push me to present my case to the school board.”
Luper’s eyes narrowed on her. “Shipinen, don’t stir the hornet’s nest.”
“Is that a threat?”
“Don’t push me to ruin you.”
She laughed, clapping hands in a typical manner. “I’ll like to see you try.”
“Go away, please. And FYI, you’re not a Torkuma.”
“Wendy, let’s go.”
She spun around. Wendy stared at Luper apologetically before running after her. He bent his head in a show of embarrassment and then lifted it up to look at Dugo.
“Don’t ever get married to the wrong person. Even after you’re done with them, the drama never ends. I’m sorry for what you just witnessed.”
His fingers were lodged between hers now. She had been so carried away that she didn’t know when that had happened.
“I guess church is canceled for today. I said the F word on holy grounds.”
Dugo gave a silent chuckle.
“You want to go get something to eat and take a pain killer for your headache?”
They started down the stairs. He held onto her hand. There was a food stand outside the church where vendors sold an assortment of snacks and light meals. Dugo allowed Luper pick out her brunch. They sat in his car with the windows down. It was a cool morning.
“My dad and Shipinen had a thing going on,” Luper revealed.
“A thing? You mean…?”
“At first, it looked like a father and daughter relationship. But they became too close for comfort. One night I almost caught them in an awkward position. It was distressing. It was then my father’s displeasure over everything I did began to make sense. I think he was jealous of me or disappointed, I don’t know which. He fell ill and Shipinen was by his side, throughout. Before he died, he included her in his will and also gave her shares from the school.”
“Do you think they had an affair?”
“I have no idea. I thought about it a lot. I wanted to confront him, but…” Luper wiped his mouth. He picked a ball of kpof-kpof from a food pack lodged between him and Dugo.
“How do you ask your dad if he’s seeing your wife? How do you even bring up that discussion?”
“You asked her, though?”
“I did. She denied and made an issue out of it.”
“You should have confronted them both when you almost caught them.”
“I saw them nearly kissing, but when I walked in, her lips moved to his cheek to give him a peck, which was not a new thing. How was I supposed to confront them on what I almost saw?”
“But I’m sure they did more, especially after we divorced. She spent so many nights in his house. Nobody raised a brow, of course. But I have my dad’s phone. She’s tried to steal it from me. Anyways, I stored all the texts and chats between them. I haven’t read a single one. I’m scared of what I’ll see.”
“And your mom? Where was she in all this?”
“My parents separated almost ten years ago. She lives in Benin.”
“Nothing. Enjoying money from her tenants, I guess. Sometimes, traveling to some foreign country to enjoy herself.”
“You have issues with her too?”
He smiled. “You ask direct questions, you know? You should be a journalist.”
“I’m sorry I asked.”
“It’s fine. My mom and I are not cool, but I can’t talk about that.”
“She’ll be in town soon, though. At the end of the month. She always tries to bridge the gap with her month-long visits. But I’m never interested.”
“She must have hurt you badly.”
“Something like that.”
“Or maybe you’re just the black sheep in the family? You like to be fighting with everyone.”
Luper laughed hard and then looked at Dugo. “I like you, Ada.”
“You make me laugh without even trying to. I like you.”
“Should I tell you that I like you too?”
“No. I’m just saying.”
They continued their snack, listening to the sounds of cars speed by on the highway, not far away. Luper picked a bottle of zobo and sipped from it with a straw.
“I also want to say that it’s improper for me to like you. I’m your boss. We should keep things between us strictly professional.”
“You didn’t do that with Wendy.”
“Wendy was some kind of rebound mistake, and that’s more reason why I should not like you more than I should.”
Dugo didn’t appreciate the taste of her zobo. She closed the bottle after her first mouthful. Her mind was on Madam America and her impending visit. Dugo needed to ensure she was in Luper’s life before the woman arrived. The chemistry between them needed to be acted on quickly.
“And what if I like you back?” she asked.
Luper looked at her.
“Is it against the rules at work?”
“No. But it’s still unprofessional. And if you’re waiting for me to make the moves, I won’t. I don’t want to be seen as taking advantage of you because of my position as your employer.”
“And what if I make the moves?”
He seemed to want to say something, but he smiled instead. Dugo felt a sudden surge in her pulse. She was beginning to get on the path she had prepared. Things were falling into place. She hadn’t hoped it would happen this fast, but thanks to Madam America, she had to hasten stuff up. Dugo was both scared and excited.
“And what would your moves be?” Luper asked.
“Kiss you maybe? Isn’t that how it starts?”
“You want to kiss me?” He licked his lips.
“Not here. Not on holy grounds.”
He bent his head over the steering and snickered. “This babe!”
“Let’s get out of here.”
He straightened up. “To your place?”
Dugo thought about Ace and his loud mouth and the fact that he could be having sex with his ex on the couch in her absence. She shook her head. “Your house. But mind you, I will not kiss you yet.”
“At your pace, Miss Ganiru. At your pace.”
Dugo kept to her promise when they got to his house, not because she was making him hunger for the kiss, but because she wasn’t sure how to go about it. He had been her first real kiss fifteen years ago. And it had been messy, infantile. The feelings, entirely one-sided. She had been smitten, and had given herself to him wholeheartedly. He had been drunk or something close to it. He tried to be gentle with her, but failed at doing so, leaving her hurting, physically and emotionally, and yet falling for him. Their second night together did the magic, giving acceptance to the emotions she had borne for him from afar.
Again, he seemed high on something, but he was gentler and sweeter, telling her how beautiful she was, even though the moment happened in the dark and they could hardly see each other’s faces. He held her tightly afterwards, and wouldn’t let go.
“You’ll make a beautiful wife. I think I should marry you,” he told her that night.
“Yes, I’ll marry you.”
But she never saw him after that. He went away with his promises and sloppy kisses.
His amnesia over their ephemeral affair left her perplexed each time she thought about it. How could he forget when she remembered everything? Did he even recollect that a girl named Charity ever existed in his life?
“Tell me about the women that have been in your past,” she requested as they shared a bottle of wine and sat in the comfort of his man cave.
“All the women or the memorable ones?”
“Okay, you asked for it.”
He retold the stories of his past. There had been a lot of women. Many were brief encounters, one-night-stands that he was not ashamed of. The notable ones had left him heartbroken. Charity never made it to the list.
“Is that all?” Dugo probed.
“Your younger years too?”
“Oh! I missed one!”
She looked at him expectantly.
“I can’t remember her name or even her face. She lived not far from my mom’s house in Benin. She used to come and fetch tap water. Dark, beautiful girl like this. But I was always high.”
“You loved her?”
“Love? No. It was just sex. Terrible sex. As I said, I was high, and she was…very local. Her English was poor. She had this body odor thing going on too, but I think she was a sweet soul. Gentle, submissive.”
Hurt by his words, Dugo downed her wine in one gulp. Luper topped it.
“Did she like you?”
“I don’t know. I was just a horny bastard that disvirgined a poor, village girl. I should have treated her better, but I didn’t even have the time if I wanted to. I had to go back home. I wonder what happened to her. I never saw her after that.”
“How about you? The men in your past?”
“Not much.” She averted her eyes. “The first guy was a blödes arschloch.”
“Stupid asshole. Sweeter to say it in German.”
“I feel you.”
“He didn’t care. He did his thing and got me pregnant and disappeared.”
“And when I went to tell his mom, she made me abort the pregnancy without my mom knowing. This was before I went to Europe. In fact, she helped me get into Europe.”
“Mighty nice of her considering what her son did.”
“And any boyfriends in Europe?”
“I was heartbroken after what I went through in Nigeria, so I stayed away from men. Had only meaningless sex…”
“Until you met your boyfriend.”
“The one that brings you to work and picks you up,” Luper answered with mischief in his eyes.
“I’ve told you that Ace is not my boyfriend.”
“You’re sure that he won’t come for my head should things ever get heated between us? Wait, things will heat up between us eventually, right?”
“If you want to.”
“I feel it’s too fast. We just met.”
“We’re both adults, Luper. Why delay things? And if it doesn’t work out, no hard feelings.”
“You won’t come after my neck like Shipinen and Wendy?”
Dugo chuckled. “No.”
“Okay, then. I’m waiting for that kiss.”
He was looking into her eyes fixatedly. She went up on her feet and headed for his pool table.
“Let me beat your ass again.”
Sebastian. He was from one of those rich families, but he liked to pride in being self-made. He owned a car dealership business, a chain of tech stores and other startup companies. Apparently, he was a name in the growing tech world. Seen as focused and enterprising, he wasn’t known to be crazy about women. Asides Joana and his ex-wife, he had dated an Instagram model from Rwanda. The circumstances behind their breakup was not made public, even though the model was the type who enjoyed sharing every breathing moment of her existence with the world.
Ace had combed the internet for everything he could find on Sebastian. Apart from his occupational achievements in tech, his social life wasn’t hidden from the public eye. He spent some weekends with friends in a high-class nightclub for socialites. Membership was exclusively earmarked for people of a certain financial echelon. Joana was also a member. This was another piece of information Ace found interesting.
His three-hour research in Sebastian came to an end when he recalled that he needed to shop for provisions for the week. He got off the couch, picked his wallet and took a walk to a supermarket in the neighborhood. On his way out of the supermarket, he attended to a phone call from a friend. Phone lodged between his shoulder and ear as both hands bore the combined weight of loaded plastic bags. In his distraction, he stepped onto the sidewalk of the street without looking. A car driving into the complex he was emerging from ran into him.
There were a couple of screams from observers. Ace found himself falling to the ground. It didn’t feel like something serious. The car had stopped abruptly and he had gotten up at once. His shopping lay scattered on the ground, as the driver of the car ran out to help him.
Apologies were made, Ace assured the man and the small crowd that rushed to the scene that he was okay, save for the scratches on his arm. His phone had miraculously landed on a bag of semovita. All seemed well. The man offered to take him home, but he declined. He took the short walk back to the house.
He found a car that wasn’t Dugo’s parked outside the house. When he walked in, he was met with the presence of Luper. Dugo’s door was left ajar. He surmised she was in her bedroom.
“Hey,” Ace greeted.
Luper got on his feet, hand stretched out for a handshake. “You must be Ace.”
“Oh. Dugo’s boss.”
They shook hands. Dugo materialized from her bedroom, donning one of the dresses she wore indoors.
“You’ve met my boss.”
“What happened to your hand?” she asked, going towards Ace.
“Nothing. Just a scratch.”
He picked the shopping bags and entered the kitchen. Dugo went after him.
“Are you okay?”
“Yup. Have you gotten your boyfriend a drink?”
“No. He’s not staying. He brought me home and I asked him to come in, just to see the place. He’s leaving.”
“Let me escort him out.”
She left the kitchen as Ace began to shelf the items he had bought. He felt the first pang of pain on his affected thigh after a few movements. He ignored it and continued until he was done. Dugo returned to the kitchen.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“Did Joana come here today?”
“Yes?” he answered defensively. “Why are you asking?”
“Nothing. She came and…”
“You did things on the couch again and you are now angry with yourself.”
“It’s not something I’m in the mood to talk about.”
He was only realizing he had a mood.
Dugo put a pot over the cooker to prepare a bowl of oatmeal. She poured in water and tossed in some uncooked oats.
“Won’t you wait for the water to boil first?” Ace asked.
“Waste of gas.” Dugo put a lid over the pot.
“Joana wants me to be her sidecock.” Ace sat on the counter. “She’ll give me everything I want. I should just have sex with her and have her kids.”
“Have her kids?”
He stretched a hand to lower the heat on the burner. “It’s too high. Do we need to take you to catering school?”
“It’s simple oats, Deedee. And you don’t cover it. It’ll boil and spill over.”
“She wants you to have her kids?”
“Yes. Her man is having a marker for a dick. She doesn’t want marker genes passed onto her kids.”
“Yes. Like a permanent marker that you write on a whiteboard with.”
“What?” Dugo held back laughter. “Are you serious?”
“Yes. She wants to use me for sex and for reproduction.”
Still muting her laughter, Dugo kept her face thoughtful. “And you told her…?”
“That I’d think about it.”
“And you’re really thinking about it?”
“I am doing it, though not on her terms. On mine.”
“And your terms are what?”
“I’ll take full advantage of the situation, get what I want from her and leave her broken.”
Dugo made a facial expression that demanded to know if he was serious.
“I’m not playing.”
“That’s a brilliant plan, Ace,” she responded in sarcasm. “You that cannot keep your schwanz down when you get as much as a text from her.”
“Is that how you see me?”
“I know you. You don’t have control of yourself when she’s around. She is in control.”
“Not anymore. She just showed me who she really is and I am done with that person.”
“So you want revenge?”
“Not any more than you do.”
“Don’t compare my case with your case.”
“Because mine didn’t hurt as much?”
“That’s not what I’m saying.”
“Dugo, don’t even try to chook mouth in this issue. I will do it, and you don’t even know the half of what I’ll do When I finish with Joana, she’ll strip naked at midnight to swear for me and my descendants.”
Dugo gave up with a sigh. “At least, you’re no longer stupid in love.”
“She was playing me the whole time. Using me.”
“And now the hunter will become the hunted.”
Ace came down from the counter. He needed to rest his thigh. “I want to lie down a bit abeg.”
“What happened to your leg?” Dugo inquired when she watched him limp out. He told her about his minor accident. She freaked out for a second, but he assured her that he was fine. He lay on one of the couches in the living room. Dugo joined him with her bowl of oats shortly after. As she had her meal, he gave her a detailed account of how his day had gone. She shared hers as well.
“He’s waiting for a kiss,” she said of Luper.
“And what’s stopping you from giving him one?”
“I don’t know how to.”
“This your kiss matter dey confuse me. I’ve seen you kiss the men you did stuff with in your movies.”
“Mechanical kiss. Director says ‘kiss’ and you kiss. Nothing great about it. I have never led a guy into sex in my life before.”
“What did you do in your twenties then?”
“Work and work and work. My male friends, most of them gay. Just one or two straight. I was low-key not liking men.”
“I see. So you want to blow this guy’s mind?”
“Mm-hm.” Dugo placed her empty dish on the stool beside her. “But I don’t know how to do it. Do I hold his neck or put my hands on his chest…?”
“You’re nervous?” Ace found her honesty amusing, but not as much as he found her nervousness intriguing. “Deedee, you like this guy?”
“You do. You’ve always liked him. And I don’t think this payback thing will work.”
“I don’t think yours with Joana will work too.”
“Aunty, it’s not a competition abeg. I know what I’m doing. I’ve lost feelings for this chick.”
“In few hours? Somebody you banged in this place this morning?”
“Trust me, I can hate you in seconds.”
“And I can take years.”
“Too many years to hate someone weakens the hate. You still like him.”
“Stop saying that. Just tell me how to kiss him. That Madam America is coming soon. I want her to meet us as a couple already. Imagine her shock when she sees me.”
Ace tilted an eyebrow in an amused expression. “What if she has forgotten you?”
“I’ll remind her.”
“And what if she tells her son who you are?”
“Then I tell her son who she is. But don’t worry. She won’t.”
“Just teach me how to start the kiss. I can do the rest.”
“It’s pretty easy. You first have to realize that kissing is instinctive, but you have to create the mood. No distractions. Make sure you’re sitting side-by-side. It’s easier to kiss that way. Place your hand on his chest lightly, like this…”
Ace put his hand over his chest.
“Look into his eyes, and then down to his lips.”
“I can do that.”
“Lean forward and let your lips touch his. Make sure you part them a little bit.”
“Open them a little. Like this.”
Ace showed her. She imitated it and grunted. “It’s stupid. Why can’t I just drag his collar and kiss him?”
“That’s crude, Deedee. It’s porn kiss and you know that. You don’t do it like that unless he’s already your man and you are asking for sex.”
“So I open my lips like this?”
Ace laughed at her demonstration. “Just a little. Don’t pucker. Place them on his. In-between, sort of. Touch his lower lip with the tip of your tongue and he will open up to let you kiss him. Or he may even kiss you first. And you can take it from there.”
“Very simple. Just take it easy and brief. The thing with men is once you make that first move, they’ll do the rest.”
Dugo’s face became pensive. “We talked a lot today.”
“You already told me. Having a change of mind because you’re realizing he’s not the enemy here?”
“He’s still the enemy.”
“Keep lying to yourself. You like him.”
Dugo expressed exasperation through a sagging of her shoulders.
“Can I have an aspirin or some strong painkiller?” Ace requested.
“Ace, let’s go and see a doctor if that leg hurts. There’s a hospital on this street.”
“See doctor on top of wetin? I’m fine. Once I take painkiller and sleep, I’ll be okay jare.”
“Okay, let me massage it with something.”
“Something like what?”
“A cream for pain.”
Dugo disappeared into her room. Ace managed out of his jeans. When she stepped out again, she slowed in her movement, finding him dressed in his boxer-briefs.
“I didn’t see that coming,” she said.
“Or does the cream work through jeans?”
He made space for her to sit on the couch with him. The topical cream felt cold on his thigh, but the touch of her hands was warm against his skin. She massaged him gently, sometimes eliciting a moan from him when she hit a tender spot. She reiterated that he needed to see the doctor. He maintained that he was fine.
The massage brought on some relief, and he made this known to Dugo. But she kept on with her treatment until her hands tired out. She got off the couch with a yawn and stretched out on the one she had sat on earlier.
The crime channel was on. They watched something on serial killers that had a medical background. Halfway, Dugo fell asleep. Ace stayed up until midnight. When he went to wake her up, she turned around, making herself more comfortable. It wasn’t something new. She was a deep sleeper. He picked her off the couch. She opened her eyes and smiled drowsily.
“Hmm… I like this.”
“You’re mad o. Shey you can see that I’m limping. I’ll drop you down now.”
He took her to her bed and put her down with the same gentleness that he had carried her.
“Danke,” she whispered, pecking his nose.
“I’m not Luper.” He straightened up.
“Dugo nau,” he complained.
“Please…” she hummed.
He tugged off the blanket from the edges and covered her. She touched his cheeks gently, saying something in German. By the time he was out the door, she was already asleep. He turned off the lights and did the same in the living room.
In his bed, he checked his phone to see that he had missed calls from Joana. For the first time, he didn’t feel the urge to call back. His phone began to buzz. She was calling again. He switched it off without remorse. It was his first step to accomplishing his plans against her and it felt good.