“Some people can’t forgive infidelity, but you would wouldn’t you? I mean, what is a little unfaithfulness between soul mates?”
I leaned back on the plush pillows savouring my seedless grapes as I admired Eka, my beautiful wife, while waiting for her response. Standing by the windows of our honeymoon suite, she was a picture of poise and perfection. Her honey coloured skin, generous figure and cherubic face turned heads everywhere we went. Everyday, other men told me how lucky I was, as if I didn’t know that already.
Her laughter was shrill, filled with amusement and certainty. “Akan, you will never cheat on me.” And with that, she left the window to her laptop where she shopped, blogged and chatted.
In my entire life, I had never been faithful to a woman. I had never loved a person in exclusion of others, sometimes I liked to think I was polyamorous. At other times I told myself the hard truth: I was a fickle, selfish man ruled by his desires, but such times were rare. I liked to settle for flings, have friends with benefits, be the side-guy to rich women whose husbands were inadequate, roles that offered all of the fun with none of the commitment.
Before Eka, I had just two real girlfriends: Aduke, who left me to marry an eighty year old Canadian man and Nneka whose wedding I stumbled on one Saturday while watching TV. And even during those relationships I had never said no to the occasional roll in the box, moan in the dark, kiss in the hallway.
As an estate manager, I had a lot of time on my hands. Time I spent overseeing housing projects for wealthy clients and chasing women. Most of the projects were successfully delivered but the women were another matter. I didn’t mind though, the game was the game.
When I met Eka, I thought it would be another sexcapade for the history books. She came to see how well her aunt’s house was going, I was to show her around and answer questions, I did much more than that.
“You have made so much progress! Aunty Ima will be so pleased, at this rate she will be able to move in by Christmas,” she said walking through the rooms and inspecting the property. I listened and nodded while she went on about workmen and wiring, all I could think of was how good her hips would look, spread out on my bed.
I asked her on a date and she said yes. Soon we were talking and chatting like we knew each other all our lives. She refused to sleep with me, however. No matter how long or hard I begged. I gave up after a while, my side gigs were still on and I never liked sex with a reluctant partner. It reminded me of necrophillia.
Over time we settled into an easy rhythm of weekend dates, daily phone calls and a never-ending chat. When she proposed to me, I said yes.
We were married in a small intimate ceremony in a little church at Lekki. My parents were late and so were hers so there was no one to stampede our idea with an elaborate African reception party with a football stadium filled with guests.
My guys made fun of me and my new status. Gbenga, my best man, led the taunts; swirling his beer glass in front of his pot-belly, “Akan, you are finished, nothing nice for you,” he said, swaying slightly, “Okro soup, morning noon and night. Even Okro soup snacks.”
The rest of the groomsmen laughed at his vulgar humour but I was annoyed. “At least it is my own Okro soup, I have no fear of Jedi-Jedi and other diseases,” I answered frowning slightly. The retort was a low jab at Gbenga’s recent incurable Gonorreah scare. He’d caught the bug from a one night stand and it had only been susceptible to Imipenem, a crazily expensive antibiotic. My barb hit home and he glowered at me over his drink.
“Leave story!” Taiwo said with a smirk. “This one no fit last two weeks. One week and e go dey find tasting up and down.”
“Haba!” Said Ikenna, “You no try for my guy, this is a changed man, transformed by the power of love and the support of a good woman. I am sure he’ll be faithful for at least three hundred and sixty. Minutes.” And they all burst into fits of belly-shaking laughter.
Listening to laughter ringing in my head, realising how true it was, infuriated me, I left my drink on the centre table and went to find other guests to mingle with, useless groomsmen.
One of the things that had made me say yes was Eka’s job. She worked as a surveillance engineer for an international oil company on an oil rig. The job paid well and came with six weeks of annual paid vacation but those were asides. What mattered most was the intermittent nature of her job schedule: two weeks on, two weeks off. Fourteen whole days! Where I was free to jump, hop, skip and cartwheel anywhere and anyhow I pleased.
I saw this as a blessing, so when she said I would never cheat on her, I made up my mind to keep things as discrete as possible. I was flawed, no saint, but I didn’t want anyone miserable on my account. I did have a wandering eye but it didn’t mean I should have a callous heart. I also made up my mind to keep all my exploits safe: no rubber, no lover style.
Our honeymoon was a pleasant blur of plush hotels, great food and mediocre sex. Eka was inexperienced and unwilling to experiment. I cursed myself for buying the no premarital sex scam and counted the days to her resumption. Then, finally, it was over. Eka was gone for two weeks and I was free to frolick.
My immediate target was a young lady in the estate I managed who ran a small hair saloon in front and drinks/water business behind her flat. She had dropped out from a Diploma program when her parents could no longer afford fees. She was single, slender, not very pretty, but there was something about the way she greeted me that made me feel wanted, gave me hope. Her name was Peace and she was from Delta state. Not that it mattered really, she could have come from Zamfara, Cameroun even, it wouldn’t have changed much.
The first week, I drove by regularly and stopped to gist a little. I asked how business was doing, I helped with minor repairs around the flat. I bought drinks and let her keep the change.
The next week, I stopped at her place and bought drinks for her and her girl. I drew her outside and she smiled shyly while I asked how she was and what her plans were that evening. She would be going for choir practice, she said, but what about the weekend? Would I be free on Friday? There was a nice, new club she wanted to visit, would I like to come along? Of course I would. We talked a little more before we parted amicably, but not before I had given her some pocket money and she had given me a peck.
The countdown to Friday was on.
I spoke to Eka everyday. I told her how I missed her (this was true, our three-bedroom apartment was as lonely as a graveyard), how I couldn’t wait for her to come back (a lie, I could wait, I had a date), how my efforts to find her a tabby cat were going (pretty bad, there were Bull Dogs, German Shepherds, parrots even, but no cats).
When I got to Peace’s place on Friday she was waiting for me. I could barely recognise her in the skintight electric blue dress and party makeup she had on. She hopped into the passenger seat, handed me a chilled can of Orijin and we zoomed off.
The club was overflowing but we found our way in and got more drinks. We danced a bit and I whispered my plans for the rest of the evening into her ears. She nodded with a faint smile on her lips and I felt a jolt in my loins. Holding her hand, I made my way towards the door.
Halfway there, I heard someone shout “Where you dey carry my woman? Ufuoma, who is this?” Looking up, I saw a muscular man at least half a foot taller than I was blocking the exit. I was still wondering who he was talking to when he grabbed my shirt and lifted me off the ground.
“Abel, stop this now, wetin dey worry you?” Ufuoma/ Peace said clutching the man’s shirt.
“Just shut up! Ufuoma, so this is the man you left me for? I fit just waste am here.” Abel said glaring at me with red eyes.
“Ab, relax, abeg,” Ufuoma said and Abel let go of my shirt. With that he turned around and hoisted Ufuoma on his shoulder, he wanted to march past me, I blocked his path, “Guy, you dey craze?” I asked him.
I woke up spluttering outside in a pool of water with some teenage boys fanning me and dousing me with water. The story came in trickles. Peace’s Uroboho name was Ufuoma, she translated it to the English version when she came to Lagos. Abel and her had left the village together to seek a better future in Lagos. They had been going steady for years, on and off, mostly because Ufuoma wanted him to stop drinking and get a steady job and he wouldn’t hear of it. Ufuoma was eager to move on but Abel wouldn’t let go, he swore she would either marry him stay or single. I was lucky to have fainted after the first punch he gave me. That had satisfied him and he left me alone. The last guy he saw with Ufuoma hadn’t been so fortunate, he lost two teeth and a finger.
Somehow, I made my way home and buried my head in an ice-pack. Two days later, Eka was back.
She took one look at my swollen face and made a clucking sound, “these terrible area boys, sorry my love, let me fix you some peppersoup.” I surrendered myself to her ministrations. Somehow, I got Ufuoma out of my mind. Somehow, two weeks passed and it was time for Eka’s crew change again.
On her way out, she walked up to me, looked at me for a minute, gave me a peck, and made for the door.
“Won’t you ask me to be a good boy?” I said, making a lame attempt at some morbid humour.
Again she laughed, “You can never cheat on me honey, I need to go so I don’t miss my flight.” And with that she walked out of the door.
Since Operation Peace had been a colossal flop, I decided to go for something more straightforward. Picking a girl off the street seemed extreme so I decided to look for a runs girl instead. Someone who traded her pleasures on the side while holding a day job or pursuing an education, they were said to be pricier but worth the effort. A few discrete enquiries and I was given a name and a number
Stella picked once the phone rang. She was happy to hear from me and what do you know, she stayed in Lekki too. We made a date for Wednesday and I ended the call smiling. On Wednesday she called to say she had to cancel, could we move it to Saturday evening? I was upset but I played cool, of course we could. We agreed to meet at a the Prime hotel bar by 6pm. I was seated by 5:30pm.
Nothing prepared me for Stella, she was funny and sexy and intelligent too. She smelled of flowers, vanilla and dreams come true. Her pink shorts showed off her lovely legs in the most lustful way. I began to wonder if I had settled into marriage too soon. I began to wonder if I could ever truly settle for one person at all.
We shared drinks and talked about sports, books and music. She told me she was into business but she wouldn’t say more. I told her I was a farmer and we laughed.
Soon we found our way upstairs to a small but cosy single room. I began to kiss her and she responded eagerly. We undressed each other quickly and I pulled of my boxers. Stella took one look at me and let out a scream. I was shocked and confused, her screams were still ringing in my ears as she hastily pulled on her clothes, grabbed her bag and left me in the room. Naked.
That is when I looked down at myself. There on my pubic region were clusters of large angry-looking boils. I stared at them in disbelief. I had my bath before coming and there hadn’t been a trace of them. My erection disappeared and I slowly wore my clothes. My head was aching. The boils began to hurt.
At the clinic, the doctor listened to my story with a smirk. “Mr Akan James, I have run this clinic for ten years and while I wont say you are lying, the history you have given is highly unlikely. I am placing you on medication for a week. Make sure you abstain during that period. Bring your partners for counselling and testing. Be more careful.” And with that Dr Dosumu saw me out of his office.
Over the next one week the boils cleared. Eka came back and I was in prison again. I served my time with honour: cooking my share of the meals, dressing up for silly parties here and there, reading the books she bought for me. I could sense she wanted me to make some amorous moves towards her but I just couldn’t, she was more of a sister to me at that point but I didn’t want to rock the boat or spoil anything. Sisters are forever, right?
One week into her time off she was called to cover for a colleague. I feigned annoyance while I threw a mini-tantrum, “how dare they call you up after just one week? Don’t they know you have a family now? When are we meant to have time together? How are we meant to have a baby?! I yelled at the top of my lungs and threw my shirt on the rug.
Eka picked it up and walked over to rub my shoulders, “it is okay. It is just for a week honey, I’ll be back in no time.”
I pretended to fuss and fume while she did all she could to placate me. Riding on all the drama we managed to have sex that night but it was still boring and wooden.
When I woke up the next morning Eka was gone. On the fridge was a note:
Couldn’t wake you, you were so cute asleep.
Your favourite soup is in the freezer.
I’ll call once I arrive.
Ps: Please don’t try any of that again, for your own safety, I love you.
My stomach sank, I sat slowly on the nearest chair and read the note again. Eka knew. Or did she? What was that? And why didn’t she bring it up throughout her stay?
Anger, fear and disbelief swirled in me like a boiling stew. Determined to brush it all aside I tore up the note and made myself a cup of coffee, as hot as hell and as black as midnight and sat back to plan my next move.
Since Eka was due back in a week I didn’t have much time to plan or plot anything elaborate. Girls in the estate were out as were any strange women. Our people say that old firewood burns fast, keeping this in mind, I called one of my previous partners, Halima.
Halima was married but I had often warmed her bed when I was single and her rich husband was away on business trips. Usually, I just had to flash, once she saw my called ID– The Tailor– she would find a way to reach me when all was clear.
I called and waited. Two days no reply from her. Three days, no word still. On the fourth day she called and I picked quickly, giddy with gladness. I froze when I heard a man’s voice, ” Don’t ever call this number again or I will make your balls into testicle suya, your eyes and internal organs into assorted peppersoup. You have been warned.” I dropped the phone gently and held myself trying to quell the shiver in my bones.
Disappointed and miffed, I decided to hangout with my guys. Ikenna was out of town but Gbenga, Taiwo and some of the other groomsmen where around. They had already ordered the first round of drinks, I asked for a Heineken and took a seat. They were discussing the Nigerian police how corrupt they were, how useless the Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS) had become, how they beat up innocent citizens and targeted young men with beards and tattoos. I nursed my drink in silence, I didn’t have any personal experience with the Nigerian police. It all sounded kind of anecdotal to me. My dealings with the police didn’t go beyond giving them the N200 they asked for when I drove into the estate. Soft work.
The girl serving drinks came with the next round of orders. She smiled at me and winked. I looked away but I could feel myself respond. Gbenga had seen it too. “Ah! Mr A, that one like you oh! How far? I know say by now you don even forget the vows, e no easy!” He exclaimed chucking into his glass.
“Gb, mind yourself,” I replied, my eyes subtly following the girl’s figure as she strutted across the grounds. There were possibilities there, I thought to myself. If only I could get some time with her alone….
My prayers were answered when Gbenga’s phone rang. An emergency in his office–he was needed right away– Taiwo had to follow him because he didn’t drive. After they left, the others began to leave as well, soon it was just I and a free drinker at the table. I left in search of the girl.
She asked me to call her Pepe. And pepper she was. In the next four hours, she took me places I had never been and showed me things I had never seen. It was like being born in heaven, over and over again, like a feast of all your favourite foods cooked to perfection, like being made into a cup, filled to overflowing with pleasure.
After about the seventh round, I managed to find my way back into my car. It was almost midnight, I thought about spending the night with Pepe but the mini- slum she lived in didn’t look too safe and home was just 15 minutes away. Basking in the euphoria of a successful evening, I pressed a little too hard on the accelerator, when I noticed a motorbike crossing the street ahead, it was too late.
Though my Honda Baby Boy was totalled, the bike man was without a scratch. I broke my femur, I had bruises from head to toe but that was the least of it. I felt numb in my waist and later the doctors told me I might never have an erection again.
Eka took time off work and when she saw me in the hospital wrapped like a mummy she held me and whispered “Why honey? Why? Didn’t I tell you not to try?”
I came back from work to meet my wife sitting on the verandah with her ex. Not just any ex, but Nathan. The one she couldn’t forget and always compared me to. The one that was taller, sexier and better hung; my nightmare.
They didn’t look up as I walked past.
The kids ran to me and I scooped them up and planted kisses on their cheeks. As I walk-hopped to the kitchen, they told me how their day went: Akan had an extra star for excellence in maths, Akem learnt a new stroke in swimming.
I microwaved yam porridge and chicken and ate it in bitter silence. I wanted to go to them and disrupt their little chit-chat. I wanted to call the police. But Nathan was taller than I was and probably stronger, the police would only laugh at me, extort me and add me to their stories- that- touch- the- heart files. Nah.
I put the children to bed and walked into my bedroom to find Nathan and my wife there.
“Hi, get out of my house!”
“Easy,” Nathan said holding up his hands in mock surrender and in that moment I hated him more than I knew was possible. I wanted to make him scream and squirm in pain, I wanted to wipe his memory from the face of the earth in the cruelest, slowest possible way. I took deep breaths and gripped a chair to steady myself.
“Let’s take this outside, Nikki is asleep, she needs some rest.”
I scowled at him but left the room to the sitting room and slumped into a chair. Nathan walked up to the fridge and got himself a can of beer and tossed me one. I caught it and dropped it on the side stool in front of me, “I don’t drink.”
“Then why do you have them in the house?”
I ignored him.
He opened his, drank it all in one everlasting gulp and dumped the can on the floor. “So, Victor, I have come to take back Nikki.”
“Well, for starters, she is mine. Yes I loaned her to you for a while but I want her back. I need her back. She was the only woman I have ever loved and I have spent the last eight years looking for her in everyone, everywhere. When she was right here. I want her back and I am here to take her.”
“Get out of my house!”
“Please. You have said that already and it didn’t work. I am not leaving until I get what I came for, with your blessing of course. I ll give you some time to get used to the idea and say your goodbyes. Tidy up your accounts. Have some farewell sex. Whatever. But in three days I am leaving and taking Nikki with me.”
With that he got up and walked into my guest room and locked the door.
I ran upstairs and tiptoed in to the bedroom, Nikki was fast asleep. I got into the bed beside her and stared at the ceiling long into the night.
The next morning I woke up late. Nikki was gone and in her place was a brief note on rose coloured paper:
Good morning Love,
I am off to work. I have taken the kids to Mama. Food is in the warmer in the table.
I jumped out of the bed and bounded down the steps two at a time, I was hungry and curious, was Nathan gone too?
Nathan was in the dining room, polishing off my breakfast. He belched noisily when he saw me. A volcanic rage began to bubble inside me.
“Morning Vic, I figured you could do with some intermittent fasting.” He laughed at his lame joke.
“What are you …”
“Oh this? Thanks man. Who would have known we were the same size in T-shirts. It is more of a singlet on me but whatever.”
“You will not wear my clothes and you will not eat my food!”
“Duh. Already done. But there is cornflakes if you care.”
I grabbed the cereal bowl and made a plate.
“I have been thinking, we need to find a gentleman’s solution to this problem. A mutually amicable way to let all parties leave the scene with some decorum.
Do you play chess?”
“Can you shoot?”
“Never held a gun in my life.”
I stood up and banged the table sending a table mat flying. “Look, Nat or Rat or whatever you call yourself, I am a busy man with things to do and people to see. I don’t have time for this. Don’t have time for you. And if you don’t mind I would really appreciate you leaving my house, my life and my wife.
Nathan doubled over with laughter. He held his sides and panted for a while with tear streaming down his eyes.
“Listen, you aren’t going anywhere. I called your office to tell them you won’t be coming because you have monkey pox. I am not interested in your house or your life. But Nikki is mine, she promised me she would love me forever and I did the same. So, if you don’t mind, waddle back upstairs and get dressed. We have a long day ahead of us.”
A small chill ran down my back. My hands began to itch and as I scratched small pustules appeared.
“Oh, don’t worry about the rash, it is benign, just a a little reminder of who is boss here. Hurry up.”
I rushed a bath and watched in horror as the rash spread over my chest and back. My joints ached too and the anger I felt was now a stream running through my veins like lava. I hobbled downstairs where Nathan was waiting beside the TV.
“Good. Sit down. I want to tell you a story.”
I found a chair as far away from him as possible and wrapped myself under a blanket like a mummy.
“Once upon a time, there was a young man whose parents died before he was ten. He passed from uncle to uncle until he became fifteen and ran away from home. He found a job as a house boy for an old man who paid for his education. Then he met the sweetest, most beautiful lady ever…”
“Let me guess, Nikki.”
“Exactly, and they would have lived happily ever after if the boy didn’t bungle some things and have to disappear for a while but that is history.
Now the boy has a chance to live happily ever after with his princess and the only impediment to that blissful future is you. So what do we do about you?
At first, I thought of killing you, a nice clean shot on your way home and then slicing off your ears and balls to make it look like rituals. But I thought nah, this man is a gentleman, a reasonable man, he ain’t never done Nikki dirty. He has been good.
Then I considered a kidnap. Nice and quick. One day you are quarreling over how salty food is and the next day Poof! She is gone. But where is the beauty in that? Eh? Where is the class?
So now I come to you as a man. Let Nikki go and I will walk away and you will never see me again. What do you say?”
You will begin by opening an account. There will be no ‘conventionally beautiful’ pictures in your gallery so you will use one of Tiger Woods. When the scandal breaks you will change this quickly to Chiwetel Ejiofor, who wan die?
You will try to think of usernames but everything you come up with will already be taken. You will look longingly at the three letter handles and snobbishly at those filled with numbers and symbols. Finally you ll settle on something with a few extra letters thrown in. Tundrrr isn’t your first pick but you can live with it.
Your handle will attract a modest following, but that is over stating things. You have ninety followers but you know that half are bots. You ll agree to all the follow suggestions, attaching yourself to the feeds of several celebrities. They won’t follow you back. Soon you ll have a sense of worthlessness.
You will consider closing the account. You will even close it briefly before resurrecting it just in time, nothing will change.
One day in a fit of existential boredom you will wander into your account settings and begin fiddling with possible name changes. No one knows your name or your face, you can be anyone.
You decide to be pretty young girl, unemployed and naive. You call yourself Tola and change your username to sexxxxygirl and find a black little known pornstar’s picture and affix it. Your header changes from a rural football field to a lush black and velvet boudir.
You unfollow all the celebrities and follow similar handles instead: bustyBerve, greedypunta, xxxxxfroreal, hotcreamyfun.
The first thing that stuns you is the decorum. In this dark end of the street, everyone is polite. Good morning tweets are replied with kisses. Everyone is boo, sweetie and baby. All bodies and indeed all booties matter and every one gets likes and share.
You are still trying to fathom this when a miracle happens.
You get followed. Not by bots and company reps but by real people all over the world. They compliment your hair, your nails, your smile. They want to meet you, chat with you, sit out and have drinks with you.
Over night they are 2000 strong and counting.
You don’t know what to do. You watch and wait. The numbers keep climbing, 3000, 4000, 7000! Your notifications are paragraphs filled with new handles, many you ll never know or acknowledge.
You decide to play along and see how far it can go: you make some flirting comments, you like some racy posts, you RT some things you shouldn’t have and the numbers just keep swelling.
No one is asking for follow backs, no one is asking you to turn on notifications. No one is asking you to follow and share to be be followed back. It looks too good to be true, but it is. You are a god by now, but you aren’t sure what to do about it.
The you ll meet Trix, or rather trixlickalot and she ll light up your rather dead DMs. She ll tell you all about herself while you equivocate between half truth and full disclosure. You are scared she ll run if she knows you are a guy, but you will keep the friendship going offering help, advice and sometimes money. Not a lot of money but enough to make her squeal and OMG and type thank yous filling your screen with emojis. You toy with telling her your name is Tunde and not Tola, that you are a 5″10 male not a 5″5 female but you send her memes instead.
One night, a post looking for influencers catches your eye and you know what you must do. You change your handle to Progress2019 and follow the political influencers of the day. You get a professional picture taken, properly airbrushed to show you at your most handsome. By noon your alert confirms that you have been paid your first installment of influencing fees.
Trix stumbles into your DMs full of questions hurt and betrayal. You are still composing some kind of explanation when you discover you can no longer send direct messages to that user.
(She ll forgive you later but not after all kinds of middlemen, peacemakers and go-betweens are sent with entreaties.)
You ll sit back now and exhale. Congratulations, you are now an overlord.
When you were 23 the suitors came in droves. Uko, the Americanah that wanted you to follow him to Huston. Anietie, the local one who owned a row of stores at the market and looked at you like he was inspecting a young nanny-goat. Michael, whose father tapped wine and lived in a small thatch house. Many others whose names you didn’t know because you never met them. They went straight to your father to ask for your hand. Each got the same response.
” Adiaha is still in school. I won’t receive any drinks from any suitors till she is through. Come back next year…”
And so the suitors left. Only they did not come back the next year. Or the next. Two years later your belly was swollen and your monthly flow was like a broken fountain, spurting, gushing, unending. The doctors diagnosed fibroids.
The gynaecologist’s twisted smirk crushed your aching heart.
“I’m sorry Joan. It’s a good girl’s scourge. The bad ones get abortions, the good ones get fibroids. Your womb may not be able to bear after this operation. We are sorry.”
You were tongue-tied, submerged in a pool of questions, doubts and fear. Food lost taste, soon you were going whole days without a meal. Your clothes began to sag then were entirely useless.
Your friends tried to console you. Amina came with her twins in tow and a belly so large it floated ahead of her.
“Joan, don’t let this get to you. You have so much to live for. A beautiful and intelligent girl like you will definitely find love. The doctors who said you won’t have babies are not God. Eat something, anything, please.”
You nodded and promised to try, but her visit just made you feel barren.
Pelumi brought you music, books and perfume but you couldn’t touch any of it, wouldn’t touch any of it. Was a song a man? Was a baby a book? Was the perfume something that made dreams come true?
Terwase cracked jokes at first, but when all he heard was his own hollow laughter he gave up. He sent you airtime instead; it piled up in your phone unused. The next thing you heard he was in England doing his Masters.
Soon the fainting attacks came. One minute you stood by the window watching the chicken strut past and the next you didn’t. You woke up to see your mother crying as she sponged your face and muttered prayers. Your father stood by the doorway with a worried look on his face, gripping his mug of coffee.
You thought of death. You imagined it to be a sweet release, an end to pain, shame and suffering. You traced your fingers over the fibroid op scars and wondered why you were still alive. Was this all? Was this worth it?
When your younger sister Peace brought her fiancé home they were dressed in matching green kaftans. You smiled through out the introductory visit but already you felt like an old hag. The man never came back though and you as you listened to Peace scream out her pain, you realized it was time to heal. You realized that you had to save yourself, no super heroes would be rescuing you.
You took baby steps. First, you cut your hair and dyed it auburn. Then you began to jog. Your appetite improved and your cheeks filled out. Some old clothes began to fit again. You started yoga and liked it. You tried heavy lifting and hated it. You began to text back your friends.
When you saw the call for volunteer nurses you ignored it but it stayed in your head all day. You applied the next day and forgot all about it. Weeks passed with no reply. Then the email came. You were invited to spend two weeks in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp at Malkohi, Adamawa state. You began to sweat and nearly backed out but you didn’t.
The twelve hour ride from Umuahia to Malkohi left you drained and dizzy but the next two weeks were some of the most fulfilling of your life. You made new friends in the make-shift clinic. You tried new foods. You saved lives. And you met Gbenga.
Gbenga worked with an NGO piloting the use of renewable energy in household fuels. He was an inch or two taller than you were, he made you laugh. He said you were the most beautiful person he had ever seen and you believed him.
When the project was over, you didn’t want to leave. You stayed in for one more week and let Gbenga count how many kissed it took to cover your back.
You followed him to Abuja, to his nice little two bedroom flat in Asokoro and his overweight cat called Max. When you visited home a month later your parents said you glowed.
Gbenga called everyday. He wanted you back. He didn’t want to lose you. He even found a job for you in a private hospital.
You were late that month, but you didn’t notice. It wasn’t possible, the doctors had said so. But when you went for a scan eight weeks later there was no mistaking the heart beating furiously on the screen.
You couldn’t tell anyone but you knew you were keeping the baby. You found a job in a clinic and moved to your own place. You weren’t ready when Gbenga showed up at your house one Saturday morning. You cried when he proposed.
You hugged yourself at night and willed time to standstill while Gbenga smiled in his sleep. You didn’t know what would happen next but you were content.
I wake before dawn and quickly create the days content for my social media platforms: a short article on “Women Winning at Work” for my blog, some sponsored tweets on a new restaurant to be posted throughout the day, and a short video on “Caring For Your Beard” for my YouTube channel. I meditate for some minutes and recite my daily affirmations: I am loving, successful, healthy and gorgeous and today is going to be an excellent day.
Breakfast is fried egg, toasted bread and homemade orange juice arranged and photographed for my Instagram page where I advertise my cupcakes, other restaurants eateries and some food brands. I shower and dress ln a flash,soon I am standing by the school gates welcoming the preschool kids in.
I teach them songs, we sing, dance and clap. Then we scribble, colour and eat. I keep an extra eye on Ola, her parents pay me to make sure their only child wants nothing. When she wets her uniform, it is a chance for me to shine by cleaning her up and dressing her in my thoughtfully provided play clothes. I take a few pictures which I send to her mother with a short note. Ola looks lovely in the pink dress and I know her mom will be pleased. Soon, the bell rings and we say our goodbyes.
By 2pm I am back home for my 20 minute power nap. The alarm rings and I am up filling orders for cupcakes: red velvet, vanilla, chocolate, coconut, banana and strawberry. Midway I run out of gas and the first batch flops. Daniel, my assistant, arrives on time to go for a refill. We work frantically over the next few hours and I can feel my heart thudding in my chest. What if we don’t make it? What if the cakes are late? Daniel helps with packaging and delivery. He is works fast and in silence with a small frown on his dark face. Soon we are done, he is off, and I start to breathe well again. Five dozen cupcakes sealed and delivered. Five credit alerts received and rejoiced over. It is gym time, so I change, whip up a smoothie and sail through the door.
On my way to the gym I sip my pre workout smoothie and look through my messages and emails. It is junk mostly, but there is a call for upcoming artists I note and pass to my followers. The women’s holistic fitness class I teach is waiting. We stretch and begin. when we are done two hours later, sweat is dripping from my brow but I am smiling and fulfilled. At home, I spend the next two hours making liquid soap and bottling beard oil. Before I sleep, I drink a cup of green tea. I fall asleep dreaming of a private island with dancing children, bearded men, happy women and coconut cupcakes.
She swung her arms as fast as she could and moved her legs to a silent beat. The sun was dipping in the horizon but she had to walk one more block before she went home. She ignored the bemused stares most bystanders gave her and focused on a tree about a hundred feet away. She was almost there when she heard a voice behind her say, “impressive”.
Annoyed, she turned around to meet crinkled grey eyes staring into hers; she ignored them and bent over panting for breathe. She could see his legs: large feet in shiny black canvas, sparkling white socks with black lines, faded denim shorts. She wondered what he wanted but decided not to ask. She had been hoping for a training partner, praying even. He sounded pleasant enough, she guessed he had a degree at least. His clothes were clean and he smelled of a woody aftershave. Who knows? Maybe this was answered prayer.
She missed Ekaette her last training partner. She had been good company and committed to their daily routine. She had been sure they would be together for the next year at least.That was before Ekaette got promoted and transferred to Tokyo.
“I am Mike,” he said, offering her a tanned muscled hand.
She shook it and straightened. “Kara,” she replied, resuming her brisk pace.
They walked in silence for some time. Above them, the skies began to darken, the sun disappeared and large dark clouds hurtled across the plains.
“It looks like it is going to rain,” Mike said. “I think we should start back.”
They had barely turned around when the heavens burst open. They had to run the last couple meters to take shelter under a bus stop.
They weren’t alone: a homeless woman had her things propped up in one corner and eyed them angrily as they stomped into the shed, a teenage boy was dozing, huddled in a corner with a tray of bananas and groundnuts, a group of students were in the center arguing and laughing in the care free manner of young adults .
They found space to stand and she tried to catch her breath. The rain worsened with jagged lightening flashing through the sky followed by thunder that threatened to make the sky fall.
She clasped her hands on her ears to shield herself from the worst of it and soon found that she was shivering.
“Here, have my jacket, you look cold.”
“Thank you,” she said slipping the oversized denim jacket over her shoulders. It was warm and smelt of peppermint.
“So, how long have you been walking?” He asked, studying his nails.
Kara hesitated. She wasn’t sure what answer to give him: the detailed one covering all her starts and stops or the neat simple one. “A month,” she said after a while.
“Nice. I have walked on and off for the past year. I started when I stopped smoking. It helped me keep my weight down and stay focused.I hope I can walk for at least six months straight this time. I hate that, to keep starting and stopping.”
“Me too,” Kara heard herself say.
Soon they were talking like old friends. He was visiting Eket from Lagos. The telecoms company he worked for had laid him off. He needed time to plan his set of moves so when his sister invited him down he took the next plane over.
His sister worked in ExxonMobil. She was widowed five years ago and hadn’t remarried. She was glad to have him around now that all her kids had left for school.
Kara told him about her job as a administrator in the civil service and her one year old cat named Phillip. She didn’t tell him about her struggles with bulimia or the boxes of worthless weight pills and potions in her room. She didn’t tell him about her five year old daughter Sara or her ex- husband Chinedu.
When the rain stopped, he walked her home.
“Same time tomorrow, then?” he asked with a smile.
“Sure,” Kara replied shrugging off his black jacket.
They walked together all week. Kara found that with Mike she didn’t need to say much. She could just nod and listen as he told her about his former colleagues or his future plans. She got used it: the companionship, the stories, the sound of matching footsteps following her own.
One evening Mike didn’t show up. Kara thought he might be ill or out of town. She had never asked for his number and she had never offered hers. That evening she only went half as far as she usually did; the walk wasn’t the same alone.
After three days without any sign of Mike she got genuinely worried. “He has gone the way he came,” she thought sadly, making her way home after another solo walk. Maybe she should look for him, check on him, she thought. But where would she start? She knew he stayed nearby but she didn’t know the address. She wished she had asked him more questions, about his sister’s name or his house address.
The next day, she started off but she couldn’t take her mind off Mike. What if he was sick or worse…? She took a turn off her regular route toward the general direction she had seen him walk when he wasn’t seeing her to her door. The neighbourhood was noisier and the road bumpier. Tricycles and cars jostled along the narrow road. Pedestrians and hawkers thronged the fringes. She was beginning to feel foolish about the whole venture when she saw a small crowd gathered round a white house.
A police van was parked in front of it and three policemen where hauling a handcuffed figure into an open van she walked up to the van and saw Mike; or what was left of him.
His clothes were dirty and torn. His face was swollen and one eye was the size of an egg.
“Officer, what has he done? Why are you beating an innocent man like this?” Kara demanded.
“Madam, I suggest you stay out of this. This man is wanted in connection with the kidnap and murder of three women in Lagos.” A wiry police man in plain clothes replied as the van zoomed off.
Kara was stunned. She opened her mouth and closed it again. She tried to breathe but her chest felt like a burst balloon.
Over the next few days she would gather that his name was Cosmos not Mike. She would read with sick fascination of his alledged victims and their tragic fate. She would find that he had no sister in Eket, never worked in telecoms and smoked a pack a day.
She went to the police station to see him; part of her still couldn’t believe any of it. There had to be a mistake, the whole thing had to be mistake. She took him food and water, a T-shirt, a newspaper and a Bible.
The police station was located at the border of the town. She drove there in her white Toyota; anxiety bubbled in her belly like boiling oil. She filled all the papers and handed over the items she had brought for inspection. She couldn’t help noticing the blood smears on the walls were mosquitoes had once been or the sweat-soaked stench the place gave off. She was offered a chair but she declined and stood instead. After a while, a portly police officer beckoned to her and she followed him into a small office.
The office was a study in paradox. Several files lay on a polished table and even more files lay on the floor. Cheap blue curtains adorned the windows. An expensive air-conditioned unit hummed on the wall. Shiny new chairs contrasted with dull blue painted walls. The police man sat and asked her to do same. She sat and thanked him.
Cosmos had been transferred to Lagos. The orders had come a few days ago and he was sent via black Maria yesterday.
Kara rose and thanked him once again. She walked out of the station and down the road in the sunshine. A few blocks away she remembered her Toyota and walked back to get it.
She drove home and tried to banish thoughts of Mike Cosmos from her mind but every time it rained her mind went back to that evening at the bus stop and to the black denim jacket that smelled of peppermint.