The air stilled almost dramatically.
“And I thought the birthright exchange was farfetched”, she said calmly wiping the corners of her mouth; her cutlery resting like old African logs on the fine china. I knew dinner was over and I found myself drinking more of the content of my glass. I meant to let the evening slide without any drama, but the more I stared at her; her delicate hands, excellent frame, witty retorts: I was convinced she was exactly the kind of woman I needed for a wife and a business manager.
Debbie Black, a name in the Nigerian business world had come up last week at lunch with Goge Lawal….my Jewish friend with a Fulani mother and Irish Grandmother. We sure made a good team of mixed-blood men but Goge was going back to Israel and I needed a new manager for the African market. There was no picture of her on the internet, no social links and less than 200 words on the Zenith Group website.
“You sure about her?” I asked, skeptical.
“She is the only one I am going to give my job to”. A meeting with Mr. Fatasho, father’s bunk-mate in secondary school was set.
The moment she had stepped into his office with her strong sweet perfume and confident steps, I was sure Goge was unto something; and then she smiled, unapologetic of her sarcastic comments; I was suddenly in need of a wife.
I looked at her now and wondered if she was going to bite the bait. “I apologize for springing this on you. I didn’t mean to let it slip” I said taking in her calm demeanor.
“Of course” she said taking a sip of her glass, studying me over the rim.
“I take dinner is over?” I asked after a minute of awkward silence, distinct buzz of live electronics surrounding us.
“Not quite” she was looking at me intently.
“Not quite?” I drank some more.
“Why would you propose marriage to a total stranger? I know you are all about showmanship but getting married as a publicity stunt for your new collection and show is rather expensive, desperate” disapproval lacing her voice.
“I am surprised you know about my new collection. And no, this is not a publicity stunt. It is about managing my affairs. Putting my house in order” I stood up and went for some whiskey. Pouring a large glass, I took a hard gulp. It was time to spin a tale. She wasn’t biting.
“Listening” she said as I walked back to the dining table.
“I have 6 months to live. Lung Cancer. Impresario, the Farms, St.Gor….all you know of me is dying and I am afraid of losing it to the vultures I have as family” I said drawing out a chair to seat in front of her.
“Oh my God, are you serious?” she was sitting up now. I knew it was probably below the belt but I needed her on my team and as my wife. I didn’t need to marry her to have her take Goge’s place but she looked so good and was such a delight. I couldn’t pass her up. Moreover, I could use a divorce if it didn’t go as planned. Either way, it was a win-win.
“I need you to be my wife. That way you have a stake and I’d be sure you won’t betray me. I trust your professional judgment, you have an impressive résumé, a beautiful recluse, it won’t be difficult to take over my affairs, keep away my family and convince the press – of course – of your capacity” I said almost in a whisper.
“Take over your affairs? Don’t you have business partners? Friends?” she asked still looking at me with kind eyes.
“I am a man of one. I do not trust friends…moreover, I need a wife too” I supplied with a small painful smile.
“How long have you known?” her eyes misting. I hated to see her tears and stood up.
“Four months. It is the real deal Debbie. I’m done” I sounded pathetic but I didn’t care.
The room was quiet for a while.
“You need to think about this some more” her voice strained and low.
“I don’t have the luxury of time. You are the one”
“I don’t know what to say”
“Say yes?” I turned to face her as I emptied my glass and headed to bar for a refill.
“I can’t marry you” it was a bold statement.
“I have to go” she said, the sound of the bottle hitting the marble top between us.
“Try sucking on lemon after this glass” she said as she came to stand beside me, taking a healthy sip of my glass. I gave a sad chuckle.
“Thanks for dinner” our eyes fixed, I gave another sad smile, exhaling loudly.
“He will take you home” I said taking her hand as we walked out of the house.
Silently waiting for the driver to bring the car around, I tightened my grip on her hand and she held me back; her eyes rising to meet mine.
“Good night Debbie” little intimate caressing of her flawless cheek as my eyes roamed her face before depositing a dry peck on her opened lips. I couldn’t help myself. She jerked on contact.
I opened the door for her as the car came around and she was gone few minutes later. As if on cue, my phone rang. It was Goge.
“Did she say yes?” his voice edged with pain.
“I don’t have time” he croaked
“I am wearing a wristwatch. Don’t die on me” and I cut the call before it got more emotional. Goge was dying of lung cancer and there was nothing neither of us could do about it.
The unusual request left me stunned and emotionally drained as his ‘black’ driver took me home. I couldn’t believe a man – Kole McGregor was dying and in need of a wife to keep his family off his fortune. The fact that I didn’t like his guts before now didn’t matter anymore and it seemed as if the universe was putting me in position to ‘save’ the life I had taken.
Was this a chance to make things right or simply a test? Was accepting to marry the specie I so detested some kind of sign that I was healed of Androphobia or just a mockery of my existence – all I have fought against. Will he want an heir? Want to have sex with me? A contract maybe? I didn’t ask why he was bent on making sure his family got nothing but the thought of marrying him was unthinkable as it was appealing. What was his business empire like? And why did he pick me? What if his family were flesh eaters? I wasn’t going to be part of a snake fest. Was I? Questions swirling in my head.
‘Marry Kole. Lung cancer. Marry Kole. Lung cancer. Marry Kole. Lung cancer’…the continuous repeat had me hugging myself as her memories washed over me. Mrs. Thomas had died of lung cancer…I was thrown out of the house that night after three years of feeling safe..…I closed my eyes tighter to block out the memory; stopping my misting eyes. ‘Lung cancer, Lung cancer, Lung cancer’…the repeat was back on and I let it play out as I stared out of the window helplessly. Somehow, I knew the time had come for me to stop running and the thought of stopping was terrifying.
The house was quiet and imposing as usual as I got down from the car, hugging myself and walking slowly to the door. The unholy image of Vince on Sandra flashed before my eyes as I looked at his apartment. I wasn’t sure what I felt for him but he gave pretty good kisses and I was always putty in his hands but if he wanted Sandra, he could have her. I was tired of the conflicting emotions he brought into the room every single time and the last thing I needed was a love triangle and aching body parts.
The climb to my room was slow and exhausting. Undressing slowly with my door wide opened, I thought of Kole, Vince, Caleb…my impromptu marriage proposal…..
“Shouldn’t you be undressing with a closed door?” the voice I had gotten used to said almost in a drawl and I found my body responding shamelessly. An increased heartbeat, constricting nubs, tightening stomach muscles….this was absurd! I turned around. He stood at the door with hands in cotton pants and eyebrows burrowed in concentration as I approached him in nothing but my bra and panties. I must have looked like some star from the adult movies. I felt his eyes all over my body as I came to stand in front of him in white lace bra and black lace panties. “Shouldn’t you be in your house?” I retorted, engaging him in a stare match before closing my door firmly in his face. It was a while before I heard the front door slam close.
Climbing into bed and staring at the ceiling with shoes on, I finally decided. I was ready to step into the light.
I was going to marry Kole McGregor.
(4 weeks later)
At first, the news didn’t sound just about right. It was headline gossip and had the ladies scrolling their phones at the reception.‘Kole McGregor, confirmed billionaire bachelor weds childhood sweetheart’. I laughed at the superficial headline making prints in traffic, emails and pings. A search on his social pages confirmed the news but I was far from getting dragged into the circus. Kole wasn’t getting married; ever! That much I knew. As a family friend and longtime pal, I laughed at the absurdity. Kole McGregor was gay for Christ sakes. This, definitely was a publicity stunt. A man has got to respect his play of the press. Keturah – a mistake of a one night stand – joined me on the third floor as I rode up the elevator.
“So when are you going to propose?” she was breathing down my neck in the elevator. Perpetually looking surprised with her thick Nike eyebrows and lips looking like live coals, I remembered the night she held over me – at Jacob’s housewarming party. I had too much to drink and had hated myself the moment I realized I was way too deep in her bushy valley. I still cannot explain how I ended up in her house butt naked but listening to her crappy voice drone out nonsensical off-putting words as she clamped my hipbones with her metallic thighs all in the name of an orgasm, I knew my missionary days were over and firing her would translate to hot news on LindaIkeji’s blog. She made sure I knew she was a relative as soon as I had my release.
“Not anytime soon” I said with a fake grin and walked out the moment the door opened on the next floor. I would wait for another to continue to my office.
“Good Morning Sir” it was my sloppy secretary thankfully in long trousers.
“Good morning Rita” I greeted. She had the glassy eyes and I was sure she was itching to say something about the news. She confirmed it.
“Sir, have you heard?” she said, following me into my office.
“No Rita, heard what?” I said exasperated at the excitement. I was tired but had to submit a four weeks report on the impromptu trip to London, China and Texas that had me aching all over. The industrial estate proposal had picked the interest of a few of our partners and board of directors. Dad had insisted I made rounds but practically dragged me down last night for a ‘little’ debriefing.
“Mr Kole McGregor, the international mogul is getting married” she said almost breathless.
“yes, that. I heard” already dismissing her as I sat down.
“Miss Debbie is so lucky” she said heading out with her iPad. “What did you say?” I asked, my ears tingling at the mention of a name I was in love with.
“He is getting married to Ms Debbie Black. The new….” I was out of my seat in record time and was headed to her office. There was no way in hell that was happening. Was that the reason she didn’t return all of my calls? The house had been empty last night when I came from the airport and the doors were locked this morning. The guard had not seen them in a week.
It couldn’t be. It just could not be. The look on Idris’s face as I stepped out of the elevator told me I wasn’t the only one who was not comfortable with the news.
“Is she in?” I asked walking to her office.
“She took a leave of absence on Friday. She won’t be coming back till after the wedding” he said as if he was the latest minion, swiveling on his chair to face his screens. I headed to Dad’s office.
“Look who comes in just in time” it was Dad coming around for a hug. This was another first.
“Good Morning Dad” I greeted as he patted me.
“Morning Son! A good day today is” he said, indicating I sit. “Why are we celebrating? Did I do that good?” I asked sarcastically, sitting up.
“You, my son get the job you nearly had my neck for” he chuckled.
“Isn’t it too early to let her go?” I asked no longer interested in Debbie’s job….well, mostly her office and private elevator.
“Let who go?” he asked
“Ms Black?” I answered in a question, waiting for some information.
“She resigned and I am talking about taking my chair for real. It is yours son” he said with a white wide smile. Dad was retiring? How untrue.
“Are you serious?” the question was more on Debbie resigning.
“Of course” he was in high spirits.
“Why did she resign?” I asked, my chest beating too fast for comfort.
“Seems she is getting married to Kole and wants to manage his businesses here” he said studying me.
“When was this?” I asked, totally devastated.
“Last month I suppose. Kole was here some weeks back – something about his new TV show and having Debbie on it. I called Debbie to take care of it and now I hear they are getting married. You should be thinking of getting married too” he said, looking at me.
I was quiet.
“It seems you liked her” it was a question.
“I am in love with her Dad” I answered looking at him dead in the eye. I wasn’t going to let her get married to another man while I was alive.
“You do know she is with Kole” he cautioned knowing what was going on in my head. God forbid history repeated itself. It was no secret that my father married his best friend’s woman and the two men had hated each other’s gut for years.…Bassey Mbre mostly did the hating.
“Well, your mother and I think it is time you take over” he said with a small smile taking me back to why he had called me back. “When was this decision made?” I asked, wiping the loser look off my face.
“Last week. She is dying to see Joshua” her grandnephew, mum had the habit of visiting new babies.
“Great! I will mail in the report and you should get the board together” I said, jumping to my feet.
“Modupe” he called my first name in full. It was a warning.
“I am good Dad. Thanks for letting me wear your shoes. I won’t disappoint you” I tried a real smile this time.
“Then I say congratulations are in order C.E.O” he smiled and I rewarded him with another.
I was out of his office and out of the imposing structure in less than a minute. I was going to stop that wedding. I had to find her and find her fast. I dialed the one person I knew for sure would know where she was.
“Omo” she picked on first ring.
“Where is Debbie Black?” I cut to the chase.
“You know I shouldn’t be selling my news for free” she laughed.
“I am serious”
“How much?” she demanded as she always did.
“Enough to get you a land in Abuja” she gasped.
“She is in Lagos. McGregor Estate somewhere in Ikoyi. I really don’t know the street name and house number but will get it asap” Omo had ears to the ground and I knew I count work on her information.
“Thanks” I heaved in relief. She was still in Nigeria.
“What about my land?” she cried.
“When I get back…..and Omo? I don’t want to hear this in the news” I warned.
“When you get back” her lips were sealed. A land in Abuja could do that.
I was headed to the Airport.