It’s been a while, fam. It feels good to be back. Enjoy this episode, and please, drop a comment. I always appreciate it.
Previously on The Scratch On Your Shoulder…
- Cheta and Nero decided to fully go into the dating thing, and so far, it has been great.
- Ozzy showed up from nowhere, as usual, but he gave Gold and Ransome a shocker when he revealed that he was epileptic, due to a traumatic brain injury he suffered while in jail. He still wants his revenge on Hadiza. First, he asks Ransome for some money for business.
- Mazino and Hadiza went down memory lane, as things began to ease up between them, thanks to Baby Muhammed. They were all getting set to leave for Dubai for Muhammed’s treatment.
- Joy paid Nero an unannounced visit, seeking his help. Turned out she was a drug addict the whole time. Nero wasn’t having all that drama. When he offered to take her to her sister’s, she disappeared.
- Julius was still in Lagos, last we checked. He was worried about Beni and what she was doing with Cheta. He even had the guts to call Hadiza about it. Well, you trust Hadiza and her ways.
- Meanwhile, Hadiza called Cheta and revealed her grand plan for Julius. She wants Cheta to do a ‘Surviving Julius’ documentary. Cheta is torn.
- Basim and Gold hooked up at Nero’s, and Basim made it clear that he wanted Gold back.
- Hadiza offered to give Gold a better life outside Nigeria if Gold walked away from Basim’s life. She gave her till mid-January to make up her mind.
- Gold was considering the offer, and she had plans to get knocked up by Basim since they didn’t use protection during their thing at Nero’s.
“Are you here with me?”
Ozzy stared past his friend to the lifeless clock on the wall behind him. The time was stuck on three minutes past three. It was only eight in the morning.
“Are you listening to me?” Ozzy took his eyes off the clock to focus on his friend’s stethoscope. He remembered how he had dreamt of becoming a doctor. But his mother told him he was too much of the devil’s child to heal anyone. She believed he would kill them if he tried. Armed robbery would be better for him, she held. At fourteen, she was already tired of him and was ready to abandon him at some evil forest somewhere.
Oswald found his friend’s eyes.
“For a second, I thought I lost you there.”
“How bad is it?” Ozzy asked.
“Do you want me to tell you the truth as your doctor or as your friend?”
To Ozzy, he was neither. Being here with him and having been treated by him for an entire week only happened because of fate. He had gotten a seizure one random evening and one of his neighbors was kind enough to rush him to the closest hospital. Once the doctors realized they couldn’t handle his condition, they referred him to another hospital that had a neurosurgeon, who turned out to be his childhood friend. Ozzy hadn’t seen the guy in two decades and wouldn’t have cared much for him if he hadn’t saved his life. There had to be a law that allowed for the erasure of years of friendship after a long passage of time, especially if the other party was doing well and went from looking like a toad to a Nigerian version of Doctor McDreamy. Ozzy wondered if his female patients feigned brain injuries just to come and see him.
“Kuti, I dey hear you.”
“So, based on what you just told me—your history, I mean—I think you’re playing with your life.”
“Are you saying I’m going to die? They told me I could live with fucking this thing.”
“Well, this fucking thing gave you back-to-back seizures for two days. I almost opened your head to fix you up. Why on earth would go off your meds?”
“Ever heard the word ‘broke’ before? Those drugs aren’t exactly five naira.”
“But it’s your life.”
Ozzy was soon going to get tired of this conversation. He needed Kuti to discharge him, so that he could sort out a couple of important things. The first was his accommodation. The second was a woman he had worked hard to get. She had just texted him good news.
“Status epilepticus is serious, Ozzy. Do you even know what it means?”
“For fuck’s sake, Kuti.”
“No, I need to break it down to you, so that you know how close to death you were. Status epilepticus is a prolonged seizure. Most seizures will stop on their own, but this one is multiple seizures, back-to-back, without full recovery of consciousness in-between. It’s continuous abnormal brain activity with many brain cells firing at the same time. That was what you went through…”
“You didn’t have brain damage, but there is a risk.”
“I know. Now, can you just discharge me and let me get out of here?”
“Fine.” Kuti sighed, pressing his lips. “The bill…?”
“My ex is on her way. I already told you she’d handle everything.”
“Can she get you the drugs too?”
“Good. She also needs to keep an eye on you. And I don’t mean call you up or send you a text or something. At least, for a month, she needs to be around you, to watch you.”
Ozzy mused at the thought of Gold watching him. She hated his guts, at this point. She already made it clear that he was a burden on her the last time they spoke. This was because his landlady, having evicted him under the claims that he was demon-possessed, almost threw Gold out of her house when she went to beg on his behalf. Gold was then left with the stress of being responsible for his belongings while trying to raise funds for his hospital bill.
“Can you let her know how serious my condition is when she comes?” Ozzy requested of Kuti.
“No, I mean, like serious, serious. She should feel like it’s a matter of life and death.”
Smiling naughtily, Kuti leaned on his table. “You wan use sickness knack your ex, ehn? Bad guy!”
Again, Ozzy wondered why this person felt the need to be friendly with him. He smiled back, though, maintaining his ‘bad guy’ facade.
“I’ll let her know, playa’,” Kuti said. “It’s not a problem.”
Ozzy stood. He stayed still a few seconds to let the brief wave of motion headache he felt to pass. “Thanks, man.” He shook hands with Kuti. “I suppose buy you drinks one of these days.”
“You suppose.” Kuti nodded. “Before then, do me a favor and take your meds. If not for yourself, for Momsi.”
Ozzy’s face went cold.
“I’ll come in and check on you one last time before you leave.”
“Cool. Oh, and… Momsi’s dead, by the way,” Ozzy said, walking out of Kuti’s office.
Gold bowed her head, releasing her breath, having held it in for long. She braced herself for Cheta’s full anger, but Cheta walked past her from her bedroom and went downstairs to the kitchen. Gold followed her.
“Cheta,” she called.
“Yes, my very dumb friend,” Cheta answered, reaching for her French Press coffeemaker.
“Did you just hear all I told you about Ozzy?”
“Yes, I did, which was why I asked if you were mad.” Cheta poured the coffee she already made into a thermal cup. “Because if you were sane, you wouldn’t have asked me to let Ozzy come and stay with me.” She looked at Gold. “In my house.”
“He’s not staying with you. He’s staying with me.”
“In my house,” Cheta repeated.
Gold released a sigh and leaned on the kitchen counter. The strong aroma of coffee was getting to her, and she longed for some fresh air. No one told her morning sickness would hit this hard.
Yesterday, she confirmed her suspicions of being pregnant after running a test and a scan at a clinic nearby. First, it had occurred to her, before visiting the clinic, that the last time she had her period was on the last week of November. It had bothered her a little when it hadn’t shown up in December, but she concluded that the stress from her breakup with Basim made her body act up. Not for a second did it click that she might be pregnant. She didn’t even recall that she hadn’t taken a pill after their first unprotected sex.
Of course, she had dabbled with thoughts of getting pregnant for Basim the last time they had sex, but she hadn’t taken herself seriously. By then, she was already pregnant and she had no idea.
“Can I just explain Ozzy’s situation one more time?” she asked Cheta. “Maybe you didn’t hear me well the first time.”
“Goldie, I heard you the first time…”
“Let me just…” she sighed. “I’m all he’s got…”
Cheta took out some cake from the fridge. “Talk o.”
“Like I told you, Rans and I found out that he was epileptic that night Rans and I met up with him for drinks. The thing scared the hell out of me, walking into that lounge and seeing him on the floor like that, jerking and…”
“You didn’t exactly tell me this part.”
“I did, but I think you spaced out while I was talking.”
“Yeah, I did. I heard the maggot’s name and I switched off.”
“Well, that was what happened to him. He recovered and acted like it was nothing, but I could tell that he was disoriented. I was scared for him, Cheta. So, I kept up with him after that, just to know if he was okay. On one of those days, he told me that he had another seizure and it was becoming a thing. He sounded frustrated, saying it was messing his life up. Then, last week, I got a call from his doctor friend at Glade Hospital in Gbagada, and he told me to come over, that Ozzy had been admitted…”
“And you went there, and the doctor informed you that they feared his condition would get worse if he didn’t get back on medication. You were shocked that Ozzy was off his medication in the first place. When you asked him why, he said he was broke and couldn’t afford the drugs, because they were expensive. Afterwards, you went to see his landlady whom you heard had thrown his things out, because she believes he is demon-possessed. She wasn’t even his landlady, in the first place, as she had leased his house to a friend who is now out of the country. Hence, Ozzy has no place to stay. Of course, you asked Ransome if he could bunk with him, and Ransome said no. Then, you carried yourself and came here to ask me if he could stay with us.”
“Phew! You heard all that part.”
Cheta placed a piece of cake, wrapped in foil paper, into her handbag. “My answer is still no. And my point is that it’s very dumb of you to think you have to be responsible for Ozzy. He’s a grown ass man.”
“He is sick.”
“Anyways, Rans sent me money to get him a place.”
“Then, go and get him the place.”
“I’m on it, but you know how hard it is to get a good apartment around here.”
“The doctor says I have to keep an eye on him nau. Look, accommodation won’t be a problem soon. It’s not even a problem. His health is. He needs me, Cheta…”
Cheta picked her handbag. “Still, no.”
Gold’s eyes dipped with tears.
“Don’t do the tears, Goldie. You know that’s my weakness.”
She wasn’t trying to emotionally blackmail Cheta. The last thing she wanted was to make her friend uncomfortable. They had been in a good place since she moved back in from Ransome’s house. Staying with Ransome had felt like living in a five-star hotel, but being with Cheta was more like home. The best part was that Naza, Kamharida, and Uncle Before-Before were gone. Things were now the way they used to be between both friends, even though Gold hardly saw Cheta these days. Cheta was always at her studio or on some set, shooting something.
Gold, on the other hand, still sold her baked goods on a small scale. She had Hadiza’s offer hanging over her head. She did not plan to rely on the woman’s deviousness, although she still wanted her money. The initial plan was to get pregnant and leave for some other country without letting Basim know. Now that she discovered she was truly pregnant, she wasn’t sure anymore.
“Babe, I have to go,” Cheta said to her. “I have a meeting, and I’m running late.”
Gold put on a smile. “You look good, by the way,” she complimented.
“Aww, thank you.”
Cheta made her way out of the house, with Gold following her. The moment they stepped outside, Cheta stopped moving. Ozzy was seated on the steps, head leaning on the wall. He looked as fragile as Gold had left him in the cab that brought them.
“Ozzy?” Cheta called. He looked at her and mumbled something. She glared at Gold.
“Ozzy, what happened with the cab nau?” Gold asked.
“He left,” Ozzy answered, words coming out with difficulty. “He-had-to-pick-some-one. He’ll-call-you.”
Gold gave Cheta an apologetic grin.
“Ozzy, sorry about your health,” Cheta said. She drew Gold into the house. “I didn’t know it was this bad.”
“He’s not himself. I’ve never seen him like this. He can’t even walk for a whole minute.”
“Fine. He stays, but only for a week. Hurry and get him that apartment.”
Gold hugged her tightly. “Thank you.”
“Let him take the room here. He’s not allowed upstairs, and he doesn’t touch anything in the house.”
“Sure. Thank you.”
Cheta gave her a probing stare. “You’re not still stuck on this idiot, are you?”
“And if Basim finds out?”
“He won’t. Please, don’t tell Nero.”
“By the way, I have something to tell you.”
Cheta looked at her watch. “Can it wait? I’m late for that meeting. We’ll talk when I get back.”
Cheta hurried out of the house.
“You did the right thing.”
Cheta stared into the rearview mirror and caught Laja’s face. She caught his form too. He looked the same way he did when she last saw him on his hospital bed.
“Haba, Laja. You too?”
He laughed. “It’s called emotional blackmail. Thought I should rub it in.”
“I already said yes na.”
“But you’re not sure he deserves your kindness.”
“I don’t want to lose another friend.”
When Cheta looked into the mirror again, she saw that Laja had gone back to his chubby self.
“You know this is beyond just Ozzy. I’m still dealing with Nero and his ex. Now, I have to deal with this too?”
“The Joy girl bothers you, obviously. Why did you tell Nero she didn’t?”
“Let’s not get into that.”
“You brought it up.”
“All I’m saying is that everyone wants me to be benevolent. It’s too much for me to handle.”
“Well, Hadiza doesn’t want you to be benevolent. She wants violence.”
Cheta laughed. “Don’t even get me started on Hadiza.”
“Just reminding you. Why haven’t you given her an answer?”
“Because my answer comes with me making a decision, no?”
“And you’re not ready?”
“No.” Cheta kept her concentration on the road. “But do you think Ozzy will get better?”
“That bastard has nine lives. He’ll survive.”
“About the Hadiza thing…”
“Maybe you should talk to Nero about it?”
“Talk to someone, Cheta.”
“But do you think I should do it?”
“It’s totally up to you, baby girl.”
“You’re not helping.”
“I’m not supposed to help.”
“With all pleasure.”
He vanished from the car. She exhaled. “I was only joking. Come back, Large.”
She saw less of him these days. He was beginning to fade away from her conscious thoughts.
“I miss you.”
The silence from him brought tears to her eyes.
“I’m selling off your buildings today and getting very rich from it. I’ll retain some shares, but majorly, I’m cashing out from your buildings. I feel like an ass for it. Everyone, including your family members, says it’s okay, but I feel like I’m betraying you. I know we’ve talked about this before, but please, say something, Large. Show me a sign that you’re with me on this.”
The silence continued. Cheta wiped her eyes and kept on the road until she arrived at Laja Towers.
The first thing Nero wanted to do when his plane touched down in Lagos from Abuja was to go to Laja Towers. This morning, he canceled his trip to Lagos, but it hadn’t been deliberate. This was Joy’s doing. He was presently hooked to her and her problems. From the moment he made the decision three weeks ago to ensure that she got into a treatment plan that would free her from her drug addiction, he knew he was diving deep into troubled waters. First, he had visited her sister who revealed that Joy’s dependence on amphetamines had progressed to crack cocaine and then to meth.
The amphetamines, he knew. But crack? Meth?
“How did she get hooked on meth?” The news left him stunned. “Do we even have it in Nigeria?”
“Clearly, you’ve not been keeping up with the news. NDLEA has been raiding meth labs in Lagos for the past few years. Somebody went and brought in some demonic Mexicans and they’re doing Breaking Bad in our backyard.”
“How did Joy get into meth?” he asked, distressed.
“Are you asking me?” her sister retorted. “Joy cut everyone in our family off, especially me. She got fired at her job because she couldn’t keep up.”
“She got fired? She told me she quit.”
“No, they fired her. She became incompetent. Sometimes, she didn’t even show up at work. When she lost the job and didn’t have money anymore, she started borrowing here and there. By then, her rent had expired and her landlord was threatening to throw her out. She went behind my back to my husband to ask for money, but he told me, and I confronted her over it. Nero, Joy told me to go fuck myself. Yes, in those same exact words.”
“I wish you had called me, Patience.”
“So that you’d do what, Nero? She is beyond redemption…”
“Don’t say that.”
Patience laughed. “Clearly, you don’t know how this addiction thing works.”
Nero knew quite well what addiction could do. He had been there with Joy before. It broke his heart that she was back in that hole again.
“She sold off her car and went to live with a friend.”
“So, her house didn’t burn down?”
Patience hissed. “She told you that nonsense story? That’s what she was telling people up and down and they were giving her money.”
“I gave her a car and two million naira.”
“You shouldn’t have. You were simply aiding her addiction. Do you know how much meth costs? A gram is about 100k, if not more than. And do you know what a gram looks like?”
“Half a teaspoon,” Nero answered.
“Good. Crack is cheaper.” Patience held up the upper part of her pinky. “A rock of it, as small as this, is ten thousand naira. Go and see how both drugs are finishing people in Lekki. That is what our Joy is doing. Me, I’ve left her to God. If she wants to kill herself, let her do so. We’ll jam in heaven—or hell.”
Nero was distraught. He remembered the first time Joy opened up to him about her addiction to Adderall and Dexedrine. She told him it began when she struggled with her studies in the university. As a chemical engineering student, it had been hard to keep up with her mates in school. Harder for her was the fact that she came from a family of brilliant minds. Her siblings had arranged for her to study abroad, and she was expected to return home with great grades, even though they knew she wasn’t particularly interested in being a chemical engineer. Her dream of becoming a fashion designer was set aside to please her family. When the academic pressure became too much to handle, she looked to a friend who introduced her to Adderall to help her stay focused and alert. She went from taking a pill or two to popping them regularly. She admitted to Nero that the drugs helped with her studies, which she aced in the end; but by then she was already hooked.
He met her at the height of that addiction, unknown to him. She seemed so much fun to be with, as she never appeared to run out of energy. The sex was amazing too, and he soon found himself falling fast. In a short while, he became obsessed with her, never truly knowing who the real Joy was. Hence, when she began to crash and her personality started to unravel, he saw the ugly side of her—a side that Hadiza had seen long before he did. But it didn’t diminish what he felt for her. Instead, he plunged himself into her life and vowed to do all he could to help her get better. From the beginning, he believed that her drug dependence was an illness she couldn’t fight alone. She needed people. She needed him. He was the first person to successfully get her into rehab. Her siblings had tried in the past, but they had failed. It didn’t discourage him when she relapsed a year after her first treatment. He was there for her again and a third time, even when they were apart and he got married to someone else.
Joy seemed fine for a while, but there came the depression, the long spells of silence when she didn’t want to have anything to do with him, the repeated breakups and reconciliations. Slowly, his heart began to take a beating from her emotional abuse. But he had been too addicted to pull out. Each time he tried, she drew him back in, and this would have gone on, had they not lost their baby and she decided to disappear again—had Cheta not reappeared in his life.
He hadn’t been aware then that Joy had secretly been using Adderall the entire time. Whenever she vanished from his life, she went back to the drug. She had confessed this to him yesterday when he went to visit her at a rehab center in Abuja.
“I killed our baby, Nero,” she told him. “I couldn’t live with myself.”
“That should have been a breaking point for you, Joy. Why did you go back?”
“Are you seriously asking me? Adderall helped me get through school, through work, through my entire life!”
“No, Joy. You did those all on your own.”
“You can never understand. You never did. All you wanted was to see me as perfect as you were.”
“That’s not true.”
“You had the perfect life and all the support from your family. If I had half of what you had, you think I’d have touched drugs? I’d be a designer today, Nero.”
“You can still be a designer, but you have to get better first, Joy.”
She shrugged. “It’s too late.”
Nero was exhausted. She had been this way for three weeks. The negativity was threatening to swallow him up. He needed to get back to Cheta to plug into her sweetness and forget this side of his life.
“Who even introduced you to crack and meth?” he asked. The question had burned in his mind since his initial discussion with Patience.
“It was at a party. You know… you just walk in there and friends are offering you all sorts.”
Nero recalled how they didn’t have the same friends. She had her circle, he had his, and she had maintained that both worlds never needed to come together. He wished he had made an effort to know her friends better.
“Meth gives you this buzz for the entire day, but it’s expensive. So, you go for crack, which is way cheaper, although the high doesn’t last.”
“So, you keep using and using…”
They were seated on a couch that backed a large window, which gave an exterior view of one side of the rehab center. There was a wide stretch of green lawn, shadowed by towering trees and beautified by flowerbeds. With eyes that looked like they would break into tears any minute, Joy stared out the window, resting her chin on her arm.
“How is your girlfriend?” she asked.
“Cheta’s good,” Nero answered.
“She treats you well?”
Joy looked at Nero. “I think your visiting hour is over.”
He stared at his watch and nodded. She was still good with her internal clock.
“You’ve done roughly ten days here, and I’m glad you’re looking better already. Will you promise to stay the course?”
She looked out the window again. “I’ll try.”
He didn’t believe her. The doctors informed him that she wasn’t responding well to the treatment program. This was the second rehab center; the first had been in Lagos and she had escaped on her fourth night there. It had taken three days to find her and another two to bring her unconcerned family together to assure her that they were there for her. Armed with that guarantee, Nero flew her to Abuja to get the best care any rehab program could offer.
As he drove home to Hadiza’s, he prayed the doctors wouldn’t call him with bad news. But when morning came, they did as he had feared. Joy had gotten into a physical exchange with another patient, resulting in an injury that needed treatment. The attending doctor explained that Joy hadn’t thrown the first punch, but she had goaded her attacker and refused to fight back when the girl hit her.
“It seems she really wants to get hurt. There’s a lot of passive aggression, which she wouldn’t let us look into when in therapy.”
“Well, look hard into it. You’re the experts.”
“Of course, behavioral therapy and anger management are part of her treatment program, but we’re considering putting her on suicide watch in the near future, if our psychoanalysis about her is true.”
“You think she’s suicidal?”
“Not yet, but we are beginning to see a pattern. Anyway, I just thought I should let you know. She lost a tooth from the fight, and we’re stitching her lip up right now. She also had a head injury and might be hospitalized for a couple of days.”
“Is it fine if I stopped over to see her?”
“I think your presence would uplift her.”
Nero moved his morning flight to the evening, abandoning the meeting he had with the investors who were taking over Laja Towers. He reached out to his lawyer but didn’t put a call through to Cheta. He had sensed her displeasure over the entire Joy issue, although she hadn’t said anything yet.
He visited Joy and stayed with her until she was lucid enough to acknowledge his presence.
“What are you doing here?” she asked in a frown when she woke up. “You’re supposed to be in Lagos.”
“I just want to be sure you’re okay,” he responded.
“I’m fine. I can handle myself. Go home.”
He couldn’t tell her that she wasn’t fine, that all the times she was left alone to handle herself, she always got worse.
“Okay. Just don’t get into any more fights.”
She touched his hand resting on the bed and stroked it as she spoke. “I don’t want you to lose your present relationship like you did the last time. Cheta sounds… amazing. So, please… go home, Oghenero.”
He left the hospital, still worried about her. When he got home to Hadiza’s, he found her making lunch. She wanted to know where he had gone off to so early.
“Work,” he lied. He opened the fridge to take a bottle of water.
“Has it got anything to do with your crackhead ex?”
Nero slammed shut the fridge and faced his mom. “You have to stop.”
“Sending people to follow me around.”
“I’m putting an eye on my children, to be sure they are safe.”
“That’s not what you’re doing. You’re being controlling, Mom, and you have to stop it.”
“Nero, I can’t afford to lose you or your siblings. So, get it into your coconut head that I will always keep an eye on you.”
“Fine. Do whatever you want, but don’t meddle in my life and relationships.” His voice was a little raised. He was irritated and exhausted. “I’m tired of having this conversation with you.”
“Joy will drain you again and again until you banish her from your life.”
“Stop meddling!” He stormed out of the kitchen and went to his bedroom. After a shower, he got on the road to the airport where he waited five hours for his flight, sleeping in a VIP lounge.
Hey Domina, my flight just came in. Are you at home or the office?
Cheta took a break from her laptop and stared at Nero’s message. She replied:
On my way to you
It was past seven and she’d been working for two hours, following a six-hour session with a sound editor. The last thing she remembered eating was the slice of cake from her fridge this morning. She was hungry and needed a break, but the workload in front of her couldn’t wait.
She went back to it, happy that today was Friday. She usually didn’t do weekend breaks, but she would shut down until Monday. She needed to sleep in. Last night, she had crashed on a sofa, because she had been too lazy to climb upstairs. Gold had been kind enough to get her a blanket.
Cheta looked up from her laptop. Grant was standing by the doorway.
“I ordered a chicken salad for two. Thought you might like it, since you liked it the other day.”
“Yeah, sure. Thank you.”
“Cool.” He lingered by the doorway. “Why didn’t Nero show up today for the acquisition thing?”
“He’s in Abuja, but he just got in.”
She gave Grant a second stare. He seemed to have lost some weight, and she didn’t like it. She had found his chubbiness somewhat cute.
“Any reason you’re staring at me like that?” he asked.
“No. Just wondering where all your beer gut went.”
He laughed. “I’m watching my weight,” he answered. “40+ and a penchant for high blood pressure. I don’t do beer, by the way.”
“Cool. You look good sha.”
“Thanks. Let me do a few things in the office. I’ll be back with your salad.”
Cheta nodded, amused by his kindness. The man hadn’t stopped wanting her since their harmless date. She enjoyed the company he offered whenever she worked late nights. Being that he lived in the building and was responsible for its management, it wasn’t so much of a big deal that he was available at odd hours.
She focused on work until he reappeared with food packs of chicken salad.
“Yay… food,” she said tiredly.
He set the salad before her and pulled a chair towards her desk. They conversed like old friends as they ate. There was laughter in-between that took the edge of Cheta’s exhausting day, but her evening got better when Nero walked in towards the end of the meal. He didn’t pause when he saw Grant. He went behind Cheta’s chair and put his arms around her, kissing her cheek and neck. They hadn’t been together in a week.
“Hi.” She stroked his beard. She had missed touching it. “How was Abuja?”
“Tiring.” Nero looked at Grant. “Hey, man.”
“Chairman,” Grant greeted, getting on his feet. “I’ll let you two be.”
Nero released Cheta and leaned on her desk, facing her. “Is it me or you’re getting finer each day?”
“It’s me,” she answered, batting her eyelashes. She told him he looked good in joggers and a hoodie. “You also look tired. “Let’s go home, snuggle on the couch, and eat ice-cream as we watch a horror movie.”
She didn’t ask him about Joy until they got into her car and they shared a long kiss.
He fastened his seatbelt. “Yeah, she’s good.”
“Do you want to talk…?”
“No. Let’s go to your place.” He touched her cheek. “Your pillows are feathery. Your bed too. It smells so nice.”
“I thought you liked my bed because it squeaked whenever we fucked.”
He chuckled. “That too.”
Cheta smiled as she started the car. With his eyes shut, Nero caressed her thigh all the way to her house. Once they got in, she picked a bottle of wine from the kitchen and led him upstairs to her bedroom. He helped her take off her clothes; then, he drew her body to his and kissed her as if they hadn’t kissed in years. After that, he hugged her, resting his chin on her shoulder. He was silent and so was she. Cheta understood that she brought comfort to him in some way.
They stayed in each other’s arms for a while before he released her. She looked up at him.
“Are you sure you don’t want to talk about Joy?”
“No, she’s fine.” He kissed her forehead, resting a leg on the wall behind him. Cheta leaned further into him by placing her head on his chest. Doing so, she yawned.
“Yes, but I have to wash off my makeup and pee.”
She didn’t move immediately. Nero helped her undo her bra. He then escorted her to the bathroom. Once in there, she changed her mind about washing her face, going for a full shower. She returned to the bedroom and snuggled into bed with Nero and they picked a movie on Netflix. She slept off a few minutes into the movie but woke up hours later to use the bathroom. When she returned, she wasn’t surprised to see Nero lying on his back, eyes wide open. His sleep cycle was unpredictable.
“Go back to sleep, Okiemute.”
He gave a weak smile as she crawled under the blanket beside him. The instant his body touched hers and he responded in an agreeable moan, Cheta knew they would be awake until daylight.
They began under the blanket but soon threw it off as their bodies heat up against each other.
“I missed this,” Nero murmured into Cheta’s ear after his second orgasm. “Can we do it every day?”
Cheta laughed. “You’ll get tired of me.”
She tugged his beard. “That’s how these things go.”
He rolled over and lay on his back. In silence, they watched daylight creep in.
“Are you on the pill?” he asked.
“I took a shot. It lasts three months.”
“That’s good, but I don’t mind you getting pregnant.”
“What’s it with you men and wanting to knock up your women?”
“It’s about territory, I guess. Wanting to own all of you.”
“Well, you have Obi already.”
They went quiet again. Soon, Cheta heard him snoring silently beside her. She left the bed to the bathroom for a shower. Then, she went downstairs to get some tea. Gold and Ozzy were in the kitchen. She paused in her movement, adjusting her mind to Ozzy’s presence in her personal space. Many things had changed about him, like the tattoos and the presence of a beard, which made him older and more handsome. She recalled how the girls in school used to go crazy for him then.
“Good morning,” he greeted. He was chewing a toast in the slowest manner she had ever seen an adult male chew anything. She felt some pity for him.
Gold, standing before the sink, turned around. “Hey.”
Cheta smiled at her.
“I want to make breakfast,” Gold said. “What do you want to eat?”
“Don’t worry about it. I came for tea first. Nero and I are going to his place in a bit.”
Gold dried her hands on a kitchen napkin and faced her. “We need to talk.”
Gold took Cheta’s hand and dragged her to the living room. She made her sit on a sofa.
“This looks serious.”
Gold sat, facing her. “Please, don’t go off on me over what I’m about to tell you.”
“I won’t. Just say it. I hate suspense…”
Cheta’s brows slowly came together in a questioning frown as she stared at Gold’s tummy. “You’re pregnant?”
“Are you joking?”
Cheta’s face opened to a smile. “Am I allowed to be happy for you?” she asked.
“Aww!” She hugged her. “We’re having a baby.”
“Keep your voice down.”
Cheta put the brakes on her excitement. “Wait… I hope Ozzy is not the father.”
“No, he’s not. He used a condom when we had sex. He didn’t even cum.”
“So, the baby is Basim’s?”
“Aww, Goldie. Congratulations.” Cheta hugged her again. “We’re going to have a baby!” She did a dance. “I’m so happy for you! Do you know what this means? It means you’re carrying Obi’s cousin. Isn’t that wild?”
Gold merely smiled. Cheta toned down her excitement.
“Wait, why are you not happy?”
“I don’t know. I just…” Gold shrugged. “You’re not asking me if I’m going to tell Basim about it.”
Cheta was puzzled. “I don’t follow. That’s standard nau. He has to know.”
“His mom is offering me money to leave Naija for good.”
Cheta frowned. “Why is that woman always interfering?”
“Wouldn’t you interfere if Obi got involved with a nobody?”
“You’re not a nobody, Goldie.”
“Cheta, please, stop. You’re speaking from a place of privilege. It’s either you’re somebody or nobody in this Nigeria.”
“How about potential somebodies?”
“They don’t count.”
“I hate the way you view yourself.”
“Here is the thing. I want this baby, so I’m keeping it. But I don’t want Basim to know that it’s his…”
“Because he’d want us to get involved in some way, and that means I have to constantly face Hadiza who hates my guts.”
“So, what’s your plan?”
“I thought about it all night… I couldn’t even sleep.” She sighed. “I want to take her money…”
“Hear me out. I need that money. I need to disappear to some place and have my baby there. But the problem is that it makes me feel like a terrible person.”
“You’re not, but trust me, you don’t want your child growing up without their dad. Obi still resents me for what I did, even though he doesn’t show it.”
“So, what do you suggest I do?”
“Tell Basim. He deserves to know.”
“Fuck Hadiza and her impossible demands. Take money from Basim, instead. He will set you up for life. Didn’t he already start doing that and you stopped him?”
“I don’t know…”
“Do the right thing. Basim deserves to know he’s going to be a father. He’s one of the good ones, Goldie.”
Gold groaned, throwing her weight backwards on the sofa. “I wanted this, but now that it’s happened, I feel so scared.”
“Don’t be. Everything’s going to be fine.”
She sat up. “I hope so. Meanwhile, morning sickness is killing me. And I have to go and look at apartments this morning.”
“Do it tomorrow. I’ll go with you.”
“You’re so sweet.”
“I know.” Cheta stared at Gold’s tummy. “But heads up. I’m not a baby person like that.”
“You have roughly eight months to change your mind.”
Cheta stood. “Let me go and drag that man out of bed. If you need anything, call me.”
Cheta returned to the kitchen, made her cup of tea, and went back to her bedroom. Nero was awake when she got in, nursing an expression of worry on his face. It was something new to her, but she was getting used to it, learning not to ask what the problem was, because his answer would be the same. It was always nothing.
“Hey.” She smiled at him as she got on the bed.
“Morning.” He smiled back. “I want to show you something.”
He threw the blanket off his body, and out sprang a morning erection.
“Wow.” Cheta sipped her tea. “Just look at all that straining aggression.”
“Do you want to…?”
“Oh, fuck yes.” Nero laughed as she put her teacup aside and climbed the bed to sit on him.
Hadiza heard the doorbell go off in her head before she heard it ring. She had seen Mazino’s car pull up into the compound seconds earlier.
She stared at the night robe she was wearing. It was transparent, and she knew Mazino’s eyes would lust after her body in the manner they had done during their stay in Dubai. The man was shameless in his thirst for her. Dubai had been a reminder of the early days in their relationship when he had done everything to win her heart over. She hadn’t been into him as he had been into her back then. Mazino came as a distraction, an unnecessary one, at first. But he soon crept into her, starting from her mind. In a little while, her heart met him halfway—this was after their bodies had known each other in many intimate ways. He never seemed to be satisfied with just having enough of her; he always hankered for more. Decades later, and he still had that look in his eyes.
She opened the door for him.
“Good morning,” he greeted and slowly let his eyes adore her body.
Mazino walked into the house, staring in the direction of the hallway that led to the bedrooms. “Hajara! Come out here now!”
“She’s gone.” Hadiza shut the door.
“Gone where?” Mazino demanded.
“I asked her to wait for you, but you know her… She just took her things and left to the airport.”
“Where is she off to?”
“Lagos. To Basim’s.” Hadiza moved further into the living room. “See, I’m done with Hajara. Done.”
“Let me get you straight. She told you that they fired her at work?”
“Yes. She was supposed to go back when we traveled to Dubai, but she didn’t, as we all know. Well, they fired her.”
“I told her she could still go back and get another job, but she said she was not interested in going back. She wants to stay here.”
“Hmmm…” Mazino crossed his arms. “I think I agree with her…”
“Of course, you do.”
“Calm down, Diza. I agree that Nigeria is the best place for her right now. She will stay here and do the right thing by getting married.”
“For God’s sake, Zino.” Hadiza sat.
“She’s twenty-seven. Her mates have kids and are happy in their matrimonial homes, not clubbing all night and getting pregnant for strange men.”
“Marriage is not the answer to Hajara’s issues.”
“But it will make her responsible for once in her life.”
“She needs to pursue a career, first.”
“No, she needs stability, which would come with marriage and children. I will have a talk with Basim about this. He can speak sense into her. Meanwhile, we have to start looking for a suitor.”
“Suitor? Mazino, are you listening to yourself? I will not push my daughter into a situation she doesn’t want.”
“But that’s what you’re doing right now. You’re pushing her into becoming a career woman, and she doesn’t want that.”
“How can she not want that? It makes her independent and non-reliant on any man for finances.”
“Finances?” Mazino scoffed. “Our daughter has everything she needs. No child of mine would ever rely on anyone for anything.”
“All I’m saying is that marriage isn’t what she needs, Mazino.”
“It is what will cure her restless feet. I will make some phone calls. We have friends with responsible sons.”
Hadiza gave up. On issues like this, she and Mazino could never agree. He was traditional in his ways, and nothing could change him. Secondly, he could be quite persuasive with Hajara, if he wanted to. Hadiza’s only option right now was to make nice with Basim and ask him to guide Hajara back into the path of being productive, even if it means settling for a job in Lagos.
“Consider the matter settled,” Mazino added. She noticed that he hadn’t sat.
“Do you want to have breakfast?” she offered.
Again, his eyes washed over her body. “That would be fine.”
She got off the sofa, and when she made to walk past him, he stopped her, taking her hand.
“Haja will be fine.”
She took her hand away from his and went into the kitchen to make breakfast. They ate in her garden, talking like old friends. These days, all they seemed to do in each other’s company was to talk about the past. There was something Hadiza loved about going into her memories, although there was always that part of her past she preferred to leave buried. Nnedinma haunted that place.
“I should head back home,” Mazino said after breakfast. “Thanks for the meal.”
“Maybe we can do this often?”
She walked him to his car and accepted the peck he placed on her cheek. As his car turned towards the gate, she made back for the house. In her bedroom, she undressed and dialed Abeni’s number, seeing that she missed seven calls from her.
“What’s the problem?” she asked as Abeni answered her call.
“Ma, it’s Julius o.”
“Talk to me.”
“He sent someone to pick Enekole up.”
“Yes, and she told the person that we asked her if she could go on record to expose Julius on camera.”
Hadiza was instantly annoyed. “Didn’t she sign the NDA?”
“She did, but…”
Hadiza swore silently.
“But not to worry, I recorded my phone call with her. She told me that they were offering her a million naira not to go on camera.”
“She’s going to take the money.” Hadiza swore again. Julius was closing in on them. It was only a matter of time before he got to the other women who had agreed to tell their stories. If only Cheta had made up her mind and swung into action before now!
“Okay, here’s what you should do. Reach out to the other women and assure them that we’re still on track. Don’t warn them about Julius coming for them or they’ll be spooked and back out. We just need to make sure they keep to their word.”
“Good job, Beni. Keep me posted, please.”
Hadiza hung up and went into the bathroom. As cold water washed over her body, she thought about her Plan B and perfected it in her head. The moment she stepped out of the bathroom, she put a call through to a contact.
“Hajiya, good morning.”
“Good morning. It’s time for us to move. You still have everything ready?”
“I want you on standby for my call.”
“No problem, Hajiya.”
She terminated the call and sent Kadiri a text. A couple of minutes later, he was in her bedroom. She passed her body lotion to him and sat before her dressing mirror. As he creamed her back, she massaged her breasts with olive oil.
“I think we have our eye on the wrong target, Kad.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Send your person to follow Jonah, instead. Julius is not whom our eyes should be on.”
Kadiri ran his fingers up her neck and delivered a steady massage on both sides.
“I want his every move reported to me. Nothing should be missed.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He allowed his hands roam down her neck, towards her chest, and down to her breasts. She stopped him before he reached his target but held his hand.
“Get us flight tickets to Lagos this evening.”
“I’m not sure when I want to get back. So, just one way.”
In the living room, the doorbell rang.
“Pass my robe.”
Kadiri reached for a thicker robe than the one she wore earlier. She put it on, annoyed that she had to answer the door herself. Her housekeeper had gone into town to shop for groceries.
The bell rang again as she entered the living room. She stopped at the door, snuck a look into the peephole, and took a step backwards, gasping. She stood still for a few seconds, her heart pounding.
The bell rang for the third time.
Bracing herself, she unlocked the door and opened it with the straightest of faces.
“Hadiza,” the woman in front of her called.
“Nnedinma,” she answered, and then, she was lost for words. She couldn’t believe the moment was real. There was no way the woman she once loved was standing before her in a beautiful red dress that stripped years off her age. For a moment, time refused to move. Both women stood, staring at each other. Hadiza could feel her heart hitting wildly against her chest. Four decades had passed and this woman still had the power to make her feel this way. She was still beautiful too, even with the wrinkles on her face that should not be there.
Hadiza knew that no matter what Nnedinma had come to say, she was already forgiven. She stopped bearing a grudge against her years ago. In fact, she had thought about her a lot in Dubai, and when she returned, she put a framed photo of her in the living room. She added it to the collection of photos on a wall, dedicated to the people in her life. Mazino saw it and put up a tantrum about it. He wanted to know why his own photo wasn’t gracing the wall. The following day, she had him up there as well.
“May I come in?” Nnedinma held on to her purse, squeezing it tightly.
Hadiza saw how nervous she was. She moved away from the door and let her in. She watched how her eyes took in the living room. They stopped on the photo wall.
“Your house is so beautiful,” she commented.
Hadiza shut the door. “What do you want?” she asked.
“How are you?” Nnedinma inquired in her usual calmness, as if she had not heard the harshness in Hadiza’s voice.
“What do you want, Dinma?”
“Hadiza… I owe you years of apology. I hurt you and…” She paused, staring away. “I’m sorry,” she muttered faintly. She tried to speak again, but her words would not make it out. At first, she took deep breaths. Then, she began to gasp as tears filled her eyes.
“Dinma, you’re hyperventilating.”
“Yes, I know.” She fanned herself. “I think it’s hot in here.”
Hadiza switched on the air conditioner. “You should sit.”
“No, no. I… I’m sorry, Diza.” She wiped her perspiring face. “This is a mistake. I shouldn’t have come here. I’m sorry, I have to go.”
“You don’t understand.” She sniffled. “Julius sent me to you, to… To talk to you, to do everything to make sure you stop going after him… I shouldn’t be here.” She made for the door, but Hadiza stood in her way. “Please, let me go.”
“You have to explain to me why, Dinma.” Hadiza felt a nob in her throat. Her eyes were smarting from tears that suddenly filled them. “You owe me decades of explanation. I want to know why. Why did you choose him over me? Why did you walk away from us?”
“Sorry is not enough, Nnedinma!” She held back a sob, but it choked her, and she gave in. “It’s not! You don’t do that to someone who loves you, Dinma! Sorry is not enough…” She stopped, unable to speak any further.
“Please, let me go.”
“Sit down, Nnedinma.” Hadiza rubbed her eyes and drew in her breath.
Nnedinma chose the sofa closest to her and sat on its edge. Hadiza picked another sofa that was adjacent to Nnedinma’s. Facing her, she stared at her for an awkward stretch of time.
“Please, talk,” Nnedinma pleaded.
“Did you get my letters?”
“And you never replied any of them? Why?”
“You know why Diza. What we did was wrong. I repented of my sins and never looked back.”
“Forget religion for once, Nnedinma. Didn’t you feel something? Tell me I was the only one who was in love.”
“Please, I can’t do this.” Nnedinma lifted her body off the sofa, but Hadiza stopped her.
“I’m sorry, I’ll stop with the questions. Please, sit.”
Nnedinma clutched her purse again. “So, Cheta and Oghenero… Did you in any way orchestrate that?”
“Dinma, I’m not God. I found out about Obi only last year.”
“God is…” Nnedinma smiled. “He has a wicked sense of humor.”
“I agree.” Hadiza laughed a little. “We both share a grandchild. I would have never imagined it would turn out that way.”
“Well, that’s life for you.”
“I do hope you gave them your blessing?”
“I didn’t, at first. But Cheta loves your son.”
“He loves her insanely. I want them together so badly.”
Nnedinma looked up at her photo on the wall and Hadiza stared at it.
“Do you remember how you were scared to wear that top because it was sleeveless?”
Nnedinma laughed. “You wanted me to take off the scarf too.”
“Yeah. But look at you today. All grown.”
“You’re not doing bad yourself.”
They laughed together and Hadiza pulled towards her. “Dinma, I’m so happy you came. I have a lot of questions to ask, so much to say, but we can do it another time—if we have another time alone. I hope we do. At least, for the sake of our children.”
“Julius will not let that happen—”
“To hell with him, Dinma. He is not God. Cheta and Nero will get married. We will see to it that they do. It’s our duty as their mothers to make that happen, okay?”
“It’s also our duty to bring Julius down.” Hadiza touched her hand and she was taken by surprise at the change in texture from what she used to know. Time had made her skin more fragile.
“We will bring that rapist down together.”
Nnedinma shook her head. “That’s not why I came here.”
Hadiza moved away from her sofa and sat with her, holding both of her hands. “Listen to me. We’re taking his yoke off your back today. You will not go home the same. Do you hear me, sweetheart?”
“Enough is enough, Dinma. That man is going down for all the evil he has caused, for tearing us apart, for taking away your freedom and free will. It ends today. Do you hear me?”
“That’s okay.” Hadiza flicked off the remnant of tears from Nnedinma’s long eyelashes and put her hair in place. “It’s fine, sweetheart. I expect you to be scared.”
Nnedinma gave her a regretful stare. “I feel so ashamed of myself for what I did to you. I’m so sorry, Diza.”
“It’s okay, baby. It’s fine. We’ll get through this.”
“I don’t know…”
“Shh…” Hadiza drew Nnedinma’s head towards hers. “There’s so much at stake, Dinma. So many women he’s hurt.”
Nnedinma heaved, giving into more tears.
“And he’s not going to stop until we do something about it. We have to.”
“He has money and influence…”
“So do I, Dinma. Just trust me, and everything will work out for your good.”
“You don’t know Julius, Diza. He would go to any length to bury his sins.”
“Have no fears, beautiful woman. We will get him. His time is up.” She touched her forehead with hers. “Please, stop crying.”
Dinma pulled back but only to put her arms around Hadiza for a hug that hadn’t happened in over forty years. Hadiza tried not to cry, but she couldn’t hold back. She broke down in the arms of the woman she still loved.
®Sally Kenneth Dadzie @moskedapages