CHAPTER FIFTEEN – Playing in the big league
Recovery seemed slow initially, but Rain was determined to move on from the ugly incident. After returning from Paris, she spent a week with Dora to receive complete care from her since Tari had to travel to London for work-related reasons. But the moment he returned, she went home and resumed her life as if nothing had happened. Days and weeks passed, and she pretended that Naomi was someone she vaguely remembered.
This morning, six weeks after the assault, Rain delivered her first speech to her fellow shareholders at a meeting. Smiling, she believed she had performed splendidly, seeing as she had felt unwell all morning. The resounding applause she received after the speech eased her out of nervousness. Smiling back at her audience, she accepted that fame had come to stay with her for the rest of her life.
Something in her had changed since Naomi’s assault. A change brought on by anger. Not the type of anger that bore revenge. The kind that made her want to shake the core of her life.
She suddenly remembered the dreams she had for herself before now. It bugged her that she was thirty-six and had yet to achieve anything close to what her parents had done, despite having every available resource within her reach. Was she really that spoilt and privileged? What was her identity asides from being Kofo Aboderin and Habib Kareem’s daughter?
The public had been vicious with her over the past month. She had had to deal with unwelcome attention for being the largest shareholder in Hara, a reality with which she struggled. It was bad enough to be exposed as the lovechild of two popular and successful people; now, she was seen as unqualified to have what her parents had passed down. Rain agreed with them, but she didn’t need the attention.
Yet, the press bugged her, sending email requests for exclusive interviews and appearances on TV shows. They also shared details about her on their platforms from unnamed and unverified sources. But she was also a favorite online, mainly to a demographic of young women she inspired. In the tech and business world, she garnered as much attention too. So far, she had been invited to four events, one of which was a speaking engagement. Two days ago, she received another invitation in her email while preparing to leave for the office. They wanted to know if she would give a Ted Talk in March. She declined the request, as she had done with the others.
This, of course, infuriated Kofo, who was responsible for getting her the gig.
“This is your time,” she told her on the phone this morning. “Take the limelight, Rain. Own it! You’ve worked so hard to be here.”
“Have I, really?” Rain asked. “Or was it passed down to me because of my DNA?”
Her relationship with Kofo, shaky as it had been, was now worse. Kofo never apologized for what she had done to Tari, and Rain kept her distance, although Kofo didn’t care. She made it hard for Rain to escape her strings. And this left their interactions one-sided and difficult. Kofo sent over an assistant two days ago to help manage Rain’s life. This was asides from the chauffeur and bodyguard she had already assigned to her. Rain protested about the assistant as she had done the others. But Kofo’s response was, “I don’t think you realize who you are. Check the internet.”
Rain didn’t need to. It was the same thing every day. It would be exhausting to lean into it, as she was working in default mode, tossing herself in her usual bubble and doing that thing where she chose to dissociate from her trauma rather than face it.
Her ordeal had shaken her loved ones but had scarcely left a dent in her disposition. She was still typical Rain—bubbly, cheerful, seemingly unperturbed by her situation. The only difference was a new gritty, and ambitious personality. There was also the anger that remained, searching for release. Rain chose, instead, to direct it to a positive outlet. Tonight, she was throwing a house party just because she could.
Concerning Naomi, she was indifferent about her fate. But she was specific about wanting the case to be hushed. The shareholder drama was enough headache on its own, as there was a constant reminder that she was walking in shoes too big for her. The man who previously held her position was an industry giant in his sixties and owned manufacturing and tech companies. Kofo’s move to unseat him from his throne without his consent had been met with intense antagonism from him. He hadn’t been just the major shareholder for more than five years; he had also invested in Hara when Kofo had moved to expand outside Nigeria.
The Hara Group advised her to speak to him personally to ensure that he was appeased, but she snubbed their counsel and swore to die first before reaching out to him. Later, Habib explained to Rain that there was history between Kofo and the man—one that had to do with a demand for sexual favors on one end and resentment on the other. Secondly, he had unseated her as the highest shareholder in the same hostile manner she had now done to him. Her move against him was of revenge and had been long coming. Rain had tried to reach him, but upon learning of the backstory through Habib, she withdrew her peace mission. Kofo was family, no matter her angst toward her.
Hence, Rain’s next move was to soothe her fellow shareholders and Hara’s investors. Habib had asked to do the job, but Rain knew she had to bear her cross alone. The company’s stock was rising in the market, despite the noise brought on by her new position. She needed to take the veil off her face and present a Rain Kareem different from the version the public knew.
Habib spoke at the meeting, as did Sunny and the chief financial officer. They assured those present that Hara would continue to be in the hands of a capable team, and they need not fear for the days ahead. When it was Rain’s turn to speak, she began to feel lightheaded. She had a speech prepared but fumbled the first paragraph, as nervousness and blurry vision made it hard for her to read. Yet, she pressed on, delivering her thoughts from the heart, clearing through a bumpy start and ending on a high.
As she stepped away from the podium in a cloud of applause, she knew that her life had changed, moving forward. Everything she had experienced over the past month would be doubled now. Her crowd of acquaintances and business contacts was going to change. She believed she was ready. But first, she had to see her doctor to find out what this strange new illness was about.
“You have an email from one Marsha…”
“Not Marsha Jennings from Forbes Africa?”
“Yes, ma’am,” her assistant responded, walking down a hallway with her. They were leaving the hotel where the shareholders’ meeting had been held, her bodyguard tailing them. Rain didn’t want to speak with anyone. The meeting was still in session, and it was the best time to leave.
“Do I respond to the email, Ms. Rain?”
“Forbes has fallen off.”
“They still matter.”
Rain sighed. “Fine. Tell her we’ll get back to her when I’m ready.”
“Yes, ma’am. Then, there’s…”
“Please, don’t talk again until I say so. I feel so sick this afternoon.”
“Sorry, ma’am. I hope you get better.”
Rain didn’t like this assistant as much as she did the one in the office. That one called her by her name, as she had instructed her. This one told her she couldn’t dare to address her in that manner. She was more efficient but was too much of a pleaser. Rain couldn’t get used to it. Everywhere she went in Hara, people stumbled over themselves to please her. It irritated her so much that she thought of quitting the job. But tech was her life. As a cyber security expert and software engineer for eleven years, she didn’t know how to do anything else. And this was frustrating, as she had dreams and passion for other pursuits.
For instance, as a teen, she had wanted to be a nurse, having been inspired by Mide’s mom. But Dora wouldn’t let her study nursing, as she considered it beneath her, and pushed her toward tech. When she embraced the tech world, she soon discovered that African teens were far behind their counterparts in the Western world. She dreamt of opening free tech education centers for teens across the continent, beginning in Nigeria. But again, like her other dreams, this one went to the burner.
“Ma’am, your phone is ringing. It’s Mr. Tari.”
Rain stopped moving and took the phone from her assistant, shooing her away. She hadn’t heard from Tari in two days. He had been out on one of his many trips and was to be home today. She worried that she was seeing less of him these days.
“Hello, Ms. Kareem.”
Rain smiled at the sound of his voice.
Dora’s heart was somewhere in the Middle East this afternoon. The long abaya and mildly-scenting oil perfume she wore were indicative of her state of mind. Despite having traveled the world, her favorite places were the ones connected to her roots. Her late father had been a gold merchant who embarked on many business trips to Saudi Arabia. A few times, he had carried Dora and her mother along. She had been his favorite child then because of his relationship with her mother, the most beloved among his three wives. But she had died in childbirth when Aisha was fifteen, and the baby also died. It broke the man’s heart and left him cold toward everyone else, especially Dora. When she turned eighteen, just a few months after completing her secondary school education, he married her to a fellow gold merchant in his early forties.
It took Dora many years to forgive her father, but their chasm couldn’t be mended. Getting the news of his passing two nights ago left her indifferent. Due to his debilitating health, she had prayed for an easy death for him for years. Now that it had happened, she felt nothing good or bad, just a deep realization that she had made many mistakes with Rain, which she needed to fix.
Hence, she invited Rain and Tari over for a talk. It could have been dinner, but she had to catch the last flight out to Kano. Habib was already with the family, waiting for her to come over.
“When last did we go on a trip?” she asked Rain, who was helping her pack a bag. Tari was yet to show up, as he was doing a last-minute thing at the office, having just gotten into Lagos. “Asides Bahamas, I mean.”
“Early last year, I think.”
“We need another one, Watermelon. We’ll stay three days, tops.”
“So, what’s this talk you want to have with Tari and me?” Rain asked.
“Can you stop pestering me, young woman?”
“Let me tell you what you’ll say. You will say that you endorse our relationship because you’ve had time to think about us, and you realize how wrong and silly you’ve been.”
“Silly? Rain, all I’ve done is protect you.”
“Yeah, I don’t need protecting.”
“You’ll understand when you become a mother.”
She would never tell Rain, but her greatest fear in life was losing her. Rain had always triggered that fear with her poor taste in men in the past. Dora’s reason for keeping Tari at bay was different from Kofo’s reasons. She feared that Tari might steal Rain from her. There was something about the boy that made him stand out from all the men that had been in Rain’s life.
“You’re not losing me or whatever nonsense is going on in your head right now.”
Dora looked at Rain as she came to sit beside her.
“Nothing is going on in my head o.”
Rain nudged her. “It’s in your eyes. You’re thinking far.”
“Finish packing that bag for me, abeg.”
Rain resumed her activity as Dora watched her. She knew she had raised a fine woman, but she couldn’t deny that Kofo’s influence had been part of her upbringing. A good case of this was when Rain wanted to pursue a course in nursing outside the country, but when Kofo learned of it, she instructed Dora to stop her.
“My daughter will not become a nurse. She is good with computers. Let her do a course in programming.”
“But she wants healthcare.”
“Pandora, no woman nurses her way to the top. I need her on the board of directors of Hara someday.”
Thus, Kofo picked Oxford for Rain, and assisted in the admissions process. Rain had been mad at Dora and refused to speak to her for an entire semester. But she eventually fell in love with the school, as she told her a couple of years later, claiming that it was the best thing to happen to her career life. She pursued a master’s degree at Yale after completing her bachelor’s degree. Again, this was Kofo’s doing, using Dora as a proxy. But she didn’t always get her way, especially in Rain’s love life. Dora allowed her see and date whomever she wanted, which infuriated Kofo a lot, as Rain always dated down and ended up with the wrong men.
“Is she disgusted by men from wealthy families?” Kofo once asked Dora when she discovered that Rain was dating a banker. “Has she no class?”
“What she has is the freedom I have given her, Kofo.”
“Freedom is not a license to be undiscerning and stupid. You must do everything to break them up.”
“You must learn how to. You’re a mother. That’s your job.”
As both friends fought over Rain that night, Kofo threatened to reveal herself to Rain and ‘take her’ from Dora. It would not be her first time speaking in this manner. She had done this since Rain was a baby. Kofo was a loving and loyal friend, but she had a dark side that scared Dora.
Even now, she was apprehensive that Kofo’s plans for Rain were borne out of selfish reasons and spite. She could never love Rain as much as Dora did, and she would use her as she used the people around her. But Dora couldn’t say these things to Rain, as she was devoted to Kofo and grateful that she had let her have her daughter all these years. Secondly, Hara Telecoms belonged to Rain by right. Her father’s money had started the company. It would be tragic for her to lose her mother’s sweat to an Olumese.
Rain tossed a dress at Dora, and she caught it, disconnecting her from her thoughts. “You’ve overworn that dress.”
“But I like it.” Dora held up the dress. “You bought it for me, didn’t you?”
“Yes. 2019. Barcelona. The Calmillo de Morsa Store.”
“Yeah… That one with the storekeeper that was playing a Davido song, and we were dancing to it?”
“Vibing. That was what you told him. ‘I’m vibing with my daughter.’” Rain shook her head, laughing.
“And he kept saying ‘goals!’ Yeah, I remember.”
“Do you remember how he said you were beautiful and he would marry you if you just said yes?”
Dora shook her head in a smile. “Don’t remind me.”
“He was very handsome, and I imagined two of you together for a second, dancing to Davido or something Spanish.”
“Why is your head always filled with romance?”
“Because I want you to experience love.”
“You know I’m asexual, right?”
“I’m not talking about sex.”
“Rain…” Dora sighed.
“It’s time we had that talk.” Rain came to sit beside her on the bed again. “Were you born that way, or was it a choice you made for certain reasons?”
“I was born that way,” Dora replied with certainty. “I’ve had sex a few times in my life, and each time, I realized it was just not my thing. I’ve never been sexually attracted to anyone. I don’t even know what that feels like.”
“So, you’re saying you’ve never been horny?”
“I have, but I don’t desire to act on it with anyone. I believe in self-pleasure.”
“Any more questions about my asexuality?”
“No. But about your late husband—”
Dora rested both hands on her lap. “What do you want to know?”
“All about him.”
“Can we do this another time?”
“Okay. So…I was literally sold to him by your grandfather, who wasn’t poor, as you already know. He felt like an alliance between both families would serve him well.”
“And your husband? Was the marriage something he wanted?”
“Yes. But he wasn’t a bad man, no. He was just way older. At first, we didn’t have a relationship…”
Memories from Dora’s past barged into her head. She saw her late husband smiling at her as he clipped a gold bangle around her wrist. She saw him teaching her how to use a fork and knife correctly. She heard his laughter from the living room as she prepared tea for him and his friends in the kitchen.
So, she told Rain about Zubairu, who turned out to be a blessing to her after an awkward stretch of months that had them living like strangers. Dora had discovered quite early that he cared little about religion or marriage. Aside from the rare lovemaking, which they performed for procreation, he didn’t care for sex either.
“In bed, we were like two tree barks rubbing against each other. We couldn’t do it right. And it frustrated me a lot because I believed then that all I needed to do was lie there, and he’d do his thing and leave. At least, that was what my mom taught me. But it was horrible! Appalling!”
“Was he impotent or…?”
“Oh, no. He was gay. Very gay.”
“And very different from any other man I knew.”
Dora explained that Zubairu didn’t ask her to perform traditional wifely duties. He had helpers for everything.
“He spoilt me with money because he was buying my silence.”
Once a month, Zubairu organized secret parties inviting closeted gay friends to sit and enjoy each other’s company. At first, Dora had been appalled by his lifestyle and had planned to tell on him to her family; but after confiding in Habib, who was more exposed than she was, she saw how foolish it was to end her marriage with a liberal husband who let her do as she desired.
For instance, Zubairu had allowed her to take charge of his jewelry shop, permitting her to sell oil perfumes to his clients. Secondly, he carried her along on most of his trips outside the country. In addition, he was okay with her not bearing him a child, despite the pressure put on them by family and friends. In fact, he had asked her to find some man out there to impregnate her—albeit discreetly.
But Dora had not taken Zubairu’s offer, as she found the idea of giving another man her body disgusting. She talked to him instead of adoption, and he was sold on it. Unfortunately, a few weeks before they brought home the baby they had sought to adopt, he was murdered by masked men who broke into their house at night. They were religious fanatics, claiming they were carrying out the will of God as they hacked Zubairu to death while reciting holy scriptures.
That night, Dora lost her religion. She took over Zubairu’s business after she mourned him and moved houses, far away from her family, who wanted her to remarry. She opened a bigger shop, selling gold jewelry and oil perfumes. Her trips to Saudi Arabia doubled, and she soon discovered her love for traveling. She took no lovers, male or female, as she accepted that she did not need to be in love with anyone. It would take almost a decade for her to discover that people like her were termed asexual. The great loves of her life remained her constant travels and Rain.
“I’m so sorry, Mommy,” Rain whispered to her, not knowing what else to say.
“He’s the reason we all have money today.” Dora smiled, bringing her eyes back to Rain. “I didn’t know anything about willing properties and assets to loved ones then, but he did because he had studied law. He knew his life was in danger, so he prepared a will in which he handed everything to me. Luckily, his family was illiterate and were fine with whatever I gave them. I think they were secretly happy that God punished him for his sins.”
“It must have been difficult being alone.”
“It was. Habib was hardly around, and our family stayed away from me because I didn’t want to remarry and was resolute in my decision to remain single. But Kofo came, and I found companionship and blessings in her. Then, there was you too.” Dora rubbed Rain’s hand. “The night you came into this world was my happiest. I carried you in my arms and knew I could never let you go. I won’t lie, Rain, I kept advising Kofo not to tell you who she was while you were growing up. It was selfish, and I am sorry. But I will do it again because you’re too precious for me to let go.”
“You say the sweetest things.”
“I do.” Dora’s smile faded, and she tightened her grip on Rain’s hand as she felt a sharp pain in her knee.
“Are you okay?” Rain asked. “Your knee. Has it gotten worse? You looked a bit off when I came.”
“Just a little pain. I think I’m jaded by being here all alone, Watermelon. That is why I want to travel,” she said, adding some zest to her tone.
“And travel, you will!” Rain said in a French accent, throwing a pointed finger up theatrically. Dora laughed, then rested her strained back on the bed and listened to Rain talk business as she resumed packing Dora’s suitcase. Rain hadn’t been wrong about her looking off-color. She hadn’t felt well since being last treated for rheumatoid arthritis in her left knee. Her doctor had advised her to have surgery done as her joint was in a critical state, but she was scared that Rain would halt her entire life on her behalf. Hospitals and medical procedures traumatized her.
So, Dora continued with her corticosteroid injections and other non-invasive treatments. But she was starting to see how stupid her decision was. It was time to let Rain know the severity of her situation, as the joints in her hands and ankles had started to suffer the same fate as her knee. Her doctor also worried that she would soon begin to show symptoms of the disease in other organs.
It wasn’t something for her to stress over, however. Her restless feet were itching to leave Nigeria again. She missed the freedom of just ‘being’ as much as her health could permit her.
There was a knock on the door, and her housekeeper peeked in.
“Mommy, your visitor is here.”
Dora watched Rain’s face light up.
“Tell him we’ll be downstairs soon.”
As the housekeeper left, Dora looked at Rain. “I’m about to go against your mother’s wishes and let Atari into my life. I don’t want to regret it, Rain.”
“You won’t, Mom. I promise you.”
Rain’s house party went exactly the way she planned it. Close friends and new business acquaintances made the guestlist. The food was light, the drinks and conversations flowed, and the music suited the mood. Rain didn’t know much of Tari’s social side until tonight as she watched him play the jovial host alongside her. Usually, he would be aloof in settings like this, so much so that Rain had accused him of being a snob. But tonight, he mixed with the crowd, a clear sign that he had accepted his position as a person of importance and class. She suspected that the short time they had spent with Dora earlier was responsible for this change. Dora had blessed their relationship and wished them well.
The party lasted slightly over three hours, and the guests began to leave. Rain handed small gift bags to them at the door, shaking hands and sharing hugs. Her close friends and Tari’s were the last to say goodbye, taking special gift bags with them.
“Remind me what this party was for again?” Jaya asked as Rain walked her and Mide to the door.
“Nothing,” Rain answered. “You remember how we threw parties back then for no reason?”
“We were in our twenties and very jobless,” Jaya said.
“I miss those days.”
“Me too,” Mide agreed, and Rain smiled at her. Rain thought she looked pretty this evening. Her makeup seemed professionally done, and her dress was shorter than Kevin would typically allow. Rain had almost paid her a compliment earlier, but she was minimal with her sweetness to the undeserving these days. Mide had caused her so much pain. It would be foolish to keep acting like her friend wasn’t a problem, even though she understood why she acted the way she did.
“Is it me, or Mide is shining these days?” Jaya teased. Rain smiled again but said nothing. “Ha-ahn! Look at you, eating all of us up with that dress! Give us a twirl, Mama!”
“Leave me, joor.” Mide blushed.
“Na wa o. I hope all this sexiness is not going to lead to another baby o.”
Mide’s face dropped.
“Just saying. It would be silly of you to get pregnant with that lowlife yet again.”
“How’s that your business?”
And before Jaya could respond, Bara came by, bearing a unique smile for her.
“Ladies, I’ll be calling it a night.”
“Thank you for coming, Bara.” Rain hugged him.
“My pleasure, Boss.” He looked at Mide. “Mide?”
“Good night, Bara.”
Jaya took his hand and led him outside, throwing a secret wink at her girls.
“I think they’re cute together,” mentioned Mide. “He’s the calm she needs in her life.”
“Why are you shipping people who are yet to ship themselves?”
“But they’ve hung out a couple of times since the Bahamas.”
“Not everybody wants to get into a relationship, Mide.”
“I…” Mide looked at Rain. “Why does it feel like you’re mad at me?”
“Me? Mad at you for what? I’m not, boo.” Rain gave her a soft look. “Why would you think that?”
“I don’t know. You seemed to have changed ever since… You’re just different these days, sha.”
Rain would have told her she felt the same way about her, but she held back her words. “Change is a good thing, nau.”
“Yes.” Mide’s phone beeped. “My Uber is here.”
“All right, boo. Take care. Send kisses to my babies.”
The women hugged, and Rain watched Mide walk to the gate until she disappeared. She thought of the long journey she had to make to the other end of Lagos tonight and all the journeys she had made and would still make without her own car. It bothered Rain greatly, even now that she said she wouldn’t care. Previously, she had offered Mide a car, but Kevin had just gotten a Camry. Mide thought it would serve them both. Three years later, Mide was hopping buses and using Ubers, even when she was with her kids.
“It bothers me,” Rain told Tari after everyone was gone. They were picking beer cans and paper cups off the living room floor. “And yes, she was right. I was acting differently towards her.”
“You’ve been acting differently towards everybody.”
Rain stopped and reflected on his words.
“It’s not that serious, babe.”
“So, thoughts on my mom?” Rain asked.
“Well…” Tari sat on the coffee table. “She’s… What’s the word? She’s different. She’s motherly but doesn’t have that motherly thing going on. She’s sweet.”
“Then, she’s woke!”
“Like woke, woke. I like her. I see us getting along. We will no longer need to elope or have a baby out of wedlock.”
Rain rubbed Tari’s bearded cheek. He caught her hand and landed her on his lap.
“I’m so proud of you,” he said, kissing her and looking up at her face. “Clips from your speech today have been circulating online. You’re trending again.”
“You’re famous, Rain.”
“Well, my parents are very popular…”
“No, you’re becoming famous on your own, especially after what you did today.”
“I don’t think I’m ready for the fame or the responsibilities of my position in Hara.”
“You’ll do great, Raindrop. I’m not worried about you. I’m more worried about the people who are unhappy with you.”
“Like your dad?”
“Like Chief Chidubem.”
“Don’t remind me.”
“Rain, you unsat him, and he’s been uncharacteristically silent.”
“Not exactly. We know he’s pissed at my mom.”
“At your mom. Let’s hope he doesn’t have anything against you.”
Oscar barked from nowhere. They turned and found him facing them.
“I think that’s our cue to go to bed.” Tari yawned. “I’m tired.”
Rain got off his lap. He stood and grabbed her by the waist with one arm. Lowering a little, he picked her off the floor. She bore a playful smile as he carried her to the bedroom. Not breaking his movement, he laid her on the bed with his lips already between hers. Rain accepted the kiss, bringing him closer to her.
But again, Oscar barked. He was standing on the bed, staring at them. Rain almost jumped off when she spotted him.
“Oscar? Seriously, dude?”
“He doesn’t like my house,” Rain said. “Next time, we’ll leave him at yours.”
“Come on, boy.” Tari motioned to the dog to get off the bed. He led him outside the room.
Rain’s phone buzzed, and she went for it. There was a message from Chief Chidubem asking to meet with her for lunch tomorrow. She was surprised by the invitation. Was she to tell Kofo? Should she even go?
Tari returned, taking off his shirt. “So, where were we?”
Rain dropped her phone and responded to the touch of his lips against hers.
Tari didn’t think lunch with Chief Chidubem was a good idea.
“First of, he sent you that message late last night and didn’t give you time to prepare. Does he know who you are? Put some respect on your name, Rain.”
“In all fairness, I tried to reach him before but couldn’t because of his tight schedule. This is him finally getting back to me.”
“I still think you shouldn’t go.”
“I will.” Rain placed her feet on Tari’s lap. They sat outside on the front porch of her house, having just had breakfast from a café nearby. Rain had managed through hers, as she had found her sandwich too plain. She would have canceled the café had their cappuccino not redeemed them.
It was a lovely Saturday, with the smell of rain. The flowers in the compound didn’t look as healthy, but their blend of green and purple petals gave the atmosphere a delightful feel. The trees were also a refreshing sight. Rain remembered choosing this house specifically for the slice of nature it held. It had cost her a little more than the fair market price, but she was glad she bought it. Sitting out here this morning was therapeutic to her. She would have felt as off as she did yesterday if it weren’t for the fresh air.
“Yesterday, you said no need to elope or have a baby,” Rain reminded Tari. “Did you mean it?”
He was reading a business newspaper, eyes behind a pair of glasses. Earlier, she had laughed at him. She told him he was giving ‘old aesthetics’ and took a picture of him. He had bought the newspaper from the café after seeing a headline that intrigued them both.
“Did I mean what?”
“Not wanting to elope or have a baby with me.”
Tari put down the newspaper. “I meant that there was no rush, seeing as your parents are beginning to come around.”
“Secondly, I think it would have been childish for us to rush into lifelong commitments.”
“But you asked me to have your baby when we were in the Bahamas.”
Tari folded the newspaper. “Make no mistakes, Ms. Kareem. I don’t want to co-parent with anyone else but you. But we have to establish ourselves first.”
“I know, I know. I’m not in a hurry, either. I have my whole life ahead of me, and the prospects excite me, to be honest. It’s like I’ve been living on someone else’s terms. Now, it’s all in my hands. I don’t want anything to delay me.”
He leaned toward her, staring at her lips as he spoke. “So, we take our sweet time and get to know each other better, travel to different places, fuck ourselves silly all over the world…”
“Then, we have the grandest wedding in all of Africa.”
“So, how do you want our relationship to go? Public? Private? Or uber private?”
“Uber. Of course, it would leak out. But let’s be extreme about it. I don’t want online in-laws to ever weigh into our matter.”
“Come here.” Tari called her over with a finger. She smiled, suddenly realizing that it was a power trip for him. She didn’t know if it was due to the age difference or unequal financial statuses. But she didn’t mind. If it made him feel good, she was all for it.
She left her chair and went to his. She sat astride him, hands holding on the chair. One strap of her spaghetti top had slipped onto her arm. Tari pushed the other down and gently tugged her top to peep at her breasts as if he were a teenager beholding a grown woman for the first time. Rain threw a glance at the security post by the gate. Her guard was outside, trimming the flowers in front of the house. She looked at Tari again, who was relentless in getting her half-naked on the porch. She kissed him softly and got off his lap.
“Too much sugar is bad for you,” she said, walking into the house. As she heard him grumbling, she laughed. But she meant what she said. She had a theory that if a man had too much of you, they became bored. Maybe he wouldn’t have returned to his wife if she had applied this approach with Nzamo.
Chief Christian Chidubem wasn’t what Rain had expected him to be. She had seen his pictures online and even watched a couple of his videos, but meeting him out of his business element wasn’t something she had prepared for.
In his sixties, he looked fit and suave; sexy, even—for those who liked that sort of thing in older men. He reminded her of her father without the fatherly air. Christian Chidubem looked like he ate women for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with snacks in between. His eyes were normal one minute but lecherous the next. Rain could feel him undressing her when she wasn’t looking.
“I don’t want us to be strangers,” he said while they ate. The lunch was held in the VIP room of a restaurant—classical music played in the background. Rather than chairs, there were couches and low tables. The ambiance was reminiscent of a time between the 60s and 70s.
“I don’t think my mom would like me to have anything to do with you.”
“Your mom hates me, naturally. I was a pest to her in the past. I apologized, but she wouldn’t forgive me. She even went as far as telling my late wife that I had intentions toward her.” He pressed his hand over the chest area of his shirt as if to straighten out something. “Well, that’s all history now. But between you and I, the two highest stakeholders in the company, there should be no bad blood. You have never walked this path while I am a veteran on these streets. We should be more than business partners. We should be friends.”
“Because we both have Hara’s interests at heart. Well, unless, for you, it’s a thing of inheriting something of which you’re unworthy. But your speech yesterday said otherwise. I watched you online, noting your passion for and deep knowledge of Hara. It was…” he skimmed over her cleavage, “rousing and exciting.”
Rain gave a bland smile.
“But you still need me. I have to show you the ropes, how to play the game and introduce you to society, which can be very unwelcoming to young, single women, despite their wealth. But I have my way around if you stick with me.”
“You want to get back at my mom.”
“No. I want to protect what’s mine in Hara.” Christian’s face became serious. “I took a chance with your mom years ago, which cost me a lot. But look at us here today. I wouldn’t want a pretty face to ruin everything I worked for.”
“I’m not just a pretty face.”
“You are the face of Hara, the name everyone is calling. You’re like Elon Musk, whose tweets affect the stock market. You can’t afford to slip. This means no scandals like the one you had with your married ex or the recent one who is a clout chaser. It also means that your circle of friends must be curated deliberately. It would stretch to business acquaintances too. Then, on the foreign scene, you must take over from where I stopped.” He laid his hand on hers. “Rain Kareem, you cannot do it alone. You need me.”
Rain withdrew her hand. “Thank you, but I have my father—”
“Habib does not have my vast experience.”
“He has the connections, even more than you do.”
“But not my experience.”
“I think we should just eat and talk about more pleasant things. Tell me about your children and grandchildren.”
Christian smiled. “My first grandson turned eight yesterday…”
Rain listened to him talk. He seemed a great father and doting grandfather behind the scenes. But she still considered him lecherous. All the same, he was right about her being a maladroit prawn amid goldfish. She needed to blend in and become who her parents wanted her to be. She had to be introduced to society—but not by him. It was time to kowtow to Kofo’s preeminence. The thought of it made the food in Rain’s mouth lose its taste.
She stopped eating and sipped her ginger and apple juice. The lunch lasted for half an hour before she stopped for the day.
“Let me know what your answer is, Rain. It was lovely talking to you.”
He gave her air kisses on both cheeks and walked her to her car before going to his. On her way home, she sucked on a CBD lollipop to relieve a headache while reviewing official documents. Somewhere halfway through her journey, while stuck under a traffic light, she got an email from her doctor’s office. Her bloodwork and scan results were out. She clicked open the email with some apprehension. Her doctor had been kind enough to leave a note explaining some technical terms. But there was one he didn’t need to explain. It read that her HCG was 108 and progesterone was 28. But just in case she wasn’t clear, there was confirmation on the following line that she was pregnant.
Her chauffeur looked at her through the rear mirror. She stared at the email until her phone screen went dark. She stared at the buildings on the street, winging past them as they moved forward. She tried to take her mind away, but she couldn’t. The thoughts sat with her until she got home.
Tari was in a virtual meeting, seated at the dining table. He blew her a kiss when she walked in. She stopped to take off her shoes and kept her eyes on him, imagining what it would look like to be a parent with him. Did she genuinely want to spend the rest of her life with this man? Was it what she wanted? What if things went south between them?
Oscar came running out of the kitchen to welcome her. Its bulky and saggy body wiggled as he trotted toward her. She bent to give him a rub and kiss his head. He followed her into her bedroom, but she shut the door behind him.
Then, she sat to reread the results.
“Are you sure?” she asked her doctor when she called him.
“You could come back for a second test. But first, take one of those home tests to confirm.”
Rain was silent.
“I’m sorry, I’m just…”
“I’m guessing this wasn’t planned.”
“Well, if you don’t intend to carry it to term—”
“For God’s sake, Ayo. I just found out.”
“I know. Well, you’re already four weeks gone. Best to start taking folic acid. I’ll email you a subscription, but if you’re coming in today or tomorrow, you can buy from our pharmacy here.”
Rain wasn’t listening; she was cursing Naomi in her head. If she had not assaulted her, she would have gone to see her doctor that day to take a morning-after pill and to be put on contraceptives.
“Thanks, Ayo. I’ll come tomorrow.”
Rain hung up and laughed to herself. It was funny how she had wanted this at some point, but now that it was here, it didn’t stir the emotions she had imagined it would bring.
The door opened, and Tari walked in, carrying his laptop. His meeting was still in session, but he put the laptop away and peered into her face.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. I just… I could use a hug right now.”
“Okay?” Tari looked curious. “What’s wrong?”
“Just hug me, Atari.”
He dragged her off the bed and covered her in a hug, rubbing her back and gently swaying.
“Should I stop?”
Despite his hard muscle formation, she could swear by the healing power of hugs, and Tari gave the best ones.
She breathed easy in his arms, channeling positive energy from him. She cast off disturbing thoughts and appreciated the moment. It was just her, Tari, and their baby—and, of course, Oscar, who was at the door, staring at them curiously.
“I’ll be fine,” she said. “You are fine, Ms. Kareem.”
©Sally Kenneth Dadzie @moskedapages