Luiz Benicio sprang up from his bed like a mad man. The loud banging he had just heard in his dream turned out to be actual loud banging on the door of his hotel suite. Someone outside was screaming for him to open the door. He guided himself in the direction of the sitting room in a dazed stagger, knocking a few things to the floor on his way. His head hung on him like a heavy bag of water, unstable and throbbing. His eyes were not his; they felt like the eyes that attacked him whenever he was drunk to stupor.
“OPEN THE DOOR!”
The banging had now turned to attempts to break into the suite and Luiz made it to the door just in time. He turned the key and a familiar man burst in, elbow first and almost falling, but he steadied himself and jerked Luiz by the collar of his t-shirt.
“Where is my sister?!”
Luiz stared back, still in his daze. His eyes could hardly bring the form of the man before him into one piece.
“You’re drunk!” The man shoved him aside and marched towards the bedroom. Luiz staggered after him and stopped at entrance to hold the doorframe for support.
“Ariya!” the man dashed to the bed, lifting up Luiz’s wife who was soaked in what seemed to be blood. “Ariya!” the man shouted again.
From where Luiz stood, he wasn’t sure if his wife was alive but the blood brought him to full queasiness.
“Look what you’re done to my sister, you Brazilian maggot!”
“Ato…” Luiz began to say to the man but he couldn’t go on. His head swirled in large and small circles and he could hardly make himself stand, but his thought process was beginning to come together.
What happened to her? Why was there so much blood? What had happened to him? What was going on?
Ato was now screaming things, laying out threats at Luiz, as he tried to get pregnant Ariya off the bed. Suddenly, three men barged into the suite. Two were in white uniforms or it could have been grey or yellow, Luiz could not tell. The third man was dressed in plain clothes and he stood tall; Luiz thought he looked like a tree.
“My sister called me not long ago and said this bastard husband of hers had beaten her!” Ato, in tears, said to the tall man. “How do you beat a pregnant woman?! She is six months pregnant for God’s sake! Is that how you do in Brazil?!”
Luiz shook his head. Had he heard well? He beat Ariya? His Ariya? The only woman he ever truly loved? No, something was wrong.
“I have to rush her to the hospital,” Ato announced.
“The police have arrived,” the tall man informed him.
“Yes, I called them before I came. Please, let them have this bastard arrested! He is going nowhere! He thinks this is Rio! This is Naija o, my guy! You go waste for prison! Idiot! Murderer!”
Then Ato ventured off in pidgin. It was one language Ariya tried teaching Luiz severally but he was poor with languages. English was still an uphill battle for him sometimes.
“Mr. Benicio, please come with us.” The tall man laid a hand on Luiz but Luiz pushed him off.
“Mr. Benicio, please do not fight me. It is my job as manager of this hotel to find out what really happened before I hand you over to the police. Please, follow me to my office.”
Luiz who had been leaning on the doorpost tried to put himself in a solid stand but he stumbled and almost came crashing down, had one of the uniformed men not held him up.
“Ari…” he whispered, looking at his wife.
Luiz felt himself being harried out of the hotel suite. He couldn’t protest. He couldn’t say a word. His head had never felt so messed up. He didn’t recall taking any serious amount of alcohol; it was only a bottle of wine after his quarrel with Ariya.
Why then was he so drunk? He was certain something was wrong somewhere.
The moment the door to the suite shut, Ato let go of his sister and got off the bed. His clothes and hands were soaked in blood and he picked a towel nearby to clean himself. His sister moaned beside him, her face a full picture of agony. Ato observed her carefully.
“Chi-chi, ya tafi,” Ato said to her in Hausa, almost laughing. “He’s gone. You can stop acting now.”
“I’m not acting!” she almost bit his head off as she went into full obscenities in Hausa.
“Calm down,” he said gently. “How’s it doing you?”
“I’m in serious pain here! I was telling Toshiba when he came to rub this disgusting chicken blood that I was in pain but he refused to listen to me! I need to get to a hospital, Ato! Now!”
“Haba, Chi-chi. You can’t be in labor na. You still have three months.”
His sister jerked him close and lifted her nightgown to reveal a bloody mess streaming from between her legs. Ato’s laughing face in an instant turned to one of panic and he tried to help her off the bed but she pushed him away and struggled up. She walked a few paces on her own and stumbled. Ato caught held her in his arms just as the one she had called Toshiba walked in.
He was a tall guy with the face of an angel but underneath he was Machiavellian, a ruthless con man.
“Wetin dey happen?” Toshiba asked in a guttural tone.
“Abeg help me carry her go hospital. She dey bleed.”
Toshiba’s brows came together in worry as he bent to take Ariya from Ato.
“Make I pursue dis Luiz case,” Ato said, walking out. “Abeg, keep me informed.”
Toshiba carried Ariya up in strong arms but he was gentle with her. She muttered something he couldn’t hear but he responded as he rushed her out of the suite. She kept muttering the same thing and he kept responding until they got into an elevator at the end of a long hallway. Under the yellow lights of the elevator, he looked into her face, into waning eyes that were trying hard to focus on him.
“You’ll be fine. Just hold on, Mine.”
It had been long he had called her that. Mine was his pet name for her back when it was just two of them and the world was a trouble-free place. She was his then and he loved her. He still loved her, even though she loved someone else now. Toshiba felt the ache of that betrayal upon his heart but he buried it.
He looked down into her eyes and he saw them close up.
“Mine?” He shook her in panic and she came alive again, still moving her lips. His eyes stayed on them and his ears finally caught the whisper they sent out. She was repeating a name over and over and it wasn’t hard to miss now.
She was calling the name of the man she loved…
Luiz Benicio had no idea what type of trouble he was in. His was still dizzy on his journey to the police station and he dozed off at some point. When he arrived he couldn’t comprehend a word of anything that was said or even see clearly his environment. All he wanted was a nice, warm bed to sleep in. He thought of Ariya but she would have to wait until he woke up. It was all a bad dream he told himself as he curled up on the filthy cell floor that stank of urine and teemed with all sorts of unnamed organisms. Luiz smiled as he drifted away. Yes, everything was going to be fine when he woke up.
A splash of cold water hit Luiz and he jolted up, speaking in Portuguese. He stumbled a bit but he steadied himself immediately and cleaned the water off his face to have a good look at the person who dared assault him in that manner.
Another splash of water brought out cusses from his mouth and he charged towards the policeman in front of him without thinking. This resulted in blow in his face inflicted by something wooden and hard. Luiz screamed out in pain and stumbled backwards.
“If dem born your papa well, come again! Muntulla! You think say dis na Brazil.”
Luiz felt blood gush from his nose. He tried to lift his t-shirt to his face but found that he was without one. His straight fit chinos was gone as well and he was left in his boxers alone. He couldn’t remember when all this had happened. Last he recalled, he was downing a glass of wine at the hotel to ward off the anger of fighting with Ariya and…
He turned to the policeman who was speaking in pidgin.
“My wife! Where’s my wife, Ariya? How I get here? What happened to my wife?”
The policeman laughed and shook his head before he walked out. Luiz went after him in full confusion but the cell door was slammed in his face.
“What is this going on?!” He banged at the door.
“What I do?! Tell me, policia! Hey!”
No one answered or attended to Luiz. He was left there until noon the next day. Luckily for him, he wasn’t given the full Nigerian police treatment. Upon request from the powers concerned, he was allowed stay in that one filthy cell alone, fed only Gala and sachet water. Luiz was about to learn that Warri was a long way from Rio de Janeiro.
Ariya or Chi-chi or otherwise known as Marie, left listless eyes on a fruitless mango tree before her. It was situated just outside the gates of the hospital where she had just emerged. Standing with a polythene bag of drugs in her hand, she was waiting for a cab to come by but the tree had captivated her.
The night was dark and the sky lay moonless. Black forms jumped into her mind from the shadows. She felt as though something was watching her from the thickness of the mango tree or from the darkness around her.
But she knew it was nothing other than her reproving conscience. Sometimes she wished she could just reach in, yank it out of her, cast it into a voracious flame and walk away while it burned.
But then she would have cast her heart away too, the one that had invaded her and without her doing, nurtured itself for three years. It was sitting in the center of her soul, protected by measly shreds of all that was once simple and good in her.
Outside that core, roamed blackness and the facade that she truly was.
A certain pain tugged at her heart but she pushed it away and made plans in her head. In the next three days, she would be out of the country for good. She had succeeded in her final scam, the one that was going to put her out of the map. Everything was set. It was supposed to be perfect with the baby but now he was gone. Her hand subconsciously ventured to her tummy and she felt the emptiness of his absence. Now she was going to face her life alone. She shuddered and the pain in her heart returned. As much as she had been a loner and drifter most of her adult life, she wasn’t yet ready for solitude.
Then she felt it coming at her without warning. A full rush of memories from her recent past attacked her, bringing Jimi’s and Kiki’s faces to her mind. Like a pregnant woman experiencing timed contractions, these memories had been invading her for months and she always did away with them but now she was under their hold and there was nothing she could do but cave beneath their weight.
Tears began down her cheeks and she started a slow walk by the pavement of the half-busy street beside her. Her body racked in violent sobs but she walked on until a car pulled up by her side.
She heard Toshiba’s voice and she stopped.
Luiz Benicio couldn’t believe all he just heard. He stared in confusion into the face of the lawyer before him.
Charged for attempted murder and oil fraud?
He could go to jail for more than fifteen years here in Nigeria?
NÃO! He screamed in his head. Why wasn’t anyone listening to him? He did not hurt Ariya! There was no way in hell he could have. And he wasn’t drunk! He had only a glass of wine and went off to sleep! No, something was wrong! Someone was setting him up and it was the same person that drugged him. Was it Ato? Or…Ariya? Had it all been a scam from the beginning? He shook his head. It couldn’t have been. Ariya loved him. It was written all over her; in the way she kissed him and made love, in her eyes, her words, her touch… she was carrying his baby, for heaven’s sake. No, Ariya couldn’t have been a lie.
He shook his head again and said out loud, “NÃO!”
He was perspiring profusely and the kind-hearted lawyer with the sympathetic smile handed him a handkerchief to mop his face. He was very close to tears but he held back. There was no way he was going to cry in front of a woman. But he wished he could…just let out the steam of his present tribulations. What sort of mess had he ventured into? How was he going to get himself out?
He couldn’t call home. His father would not listen to him. No one back in Brazil would. He was a rogue son and disgrace to his family.
The lawyer yawned and leaned back on her chair. She was tired. It was dark already. She was now used to his deep thoughts that ended up in verbal proclamations made in Portuguese. She allowed him go into another as she adjusted her ash colored suit and the white chiffon blouse beneath which was held at the cleavage by a yellow and green diamond brooch given to her by her best friend. The interrogation room was hot and she sweated buckets beneath the blouse.
“Mr. Benicio?” she called as she saw Luiz staring emptily at her. But he made no response. He was gone again.
Luiz heard the lawyer call but it could have been a dove cooing outside for all he cared. The image of Ariya was still on his mind. He didn’t believe she conned him.
Eight months ago, they met on an exclusive dating site that required a thousand dollars to register. Ariya was the first to catch his eyes with her gap-tooth and sunny smile. Luiz had a thing for African women, being dark-skinned himself. From childhood he had dreams of getting married to an African who would take him back to his roots. Ariya was the perfect woman for him. They started off with harmless chats via BBM and got bolder by sharing pictures and heartfelt emails. In no time, he trusted her and couldn’t hide anything from her and it seemed she kept no secrets too. She told him she was an orphan with a brother who was an oil marketer living in the oil city of Warri. She didn’t seem like the gold-digger type looking to make money off a foreigner. Luiz felt she was perfect for him.
He told her about some ten million dollars in his keeping and how previous attempts to do business with Russian oil marketers online had left him fifty thousand dollars less. Now, he wanted something done under the radar. He claimed it was money stolen from his father, a popular wealthy oil tycoon in Brazil. It had been a risk finding a way to put all the money into an offshore account but he got someone in Sao Paulo to do it for him. His next step was to invest it in oil to fetch him more money and leave no trace leading back to the original funds. Ariya told him Nigerians specialized in such underground deals and her brother could help.
But Luiz wasn’t ready yet. There was still heat around him over the missing money. He needed to throw all suspicions off him. Ariya was a good distraction. He invited her to Brazil and she readily honored his invitation. They lived together in a beautiful countryside called Santa Catarina with Luiz’s grandmother. There he popped the question and married her. Two days after their wedding they commenced on their honeymoon, beginning a tour around Asia that lasted three months and brought them back to Europe, Cyprus being their final destination, before Luiz made his first visit to Nigeria.
It was straight into business for him as he got into Warri. He was introduced to Ato, who in turn, hooked him up with the necessary people needed for a successful oil trade. Ato told Luiz that running an underground oil business in Nigeria was all about paying the right money into the right hands. Hence, Luiz paid through his teeth but didn’t mind because he was assured that his investment was secure. He was taken to see where his merchandise was loaded at the docks, ready for shipment; he also had the privileged of meeting with whom he was told was the minister of petroleum resources late one night in his office in Abuja and they spoke at length. With that, Luiz let his fears rest, paid up his balance to the marketers in millions of dollars and made plans to enjoy the last two days of a two week long break with Ariya.
He was crazy about her. She was his light, the break of dawn in his dark life, and theirs was a marriage of pure bliss filled with laughter and void of quarrels. Ariya was nothing like the sassy Brazilian girls he knew back home. She was always happy and full of positive energy, which was why he found it strange that she picked up an unnecessary fight with him on the day of his arrest. It had to do with some joke he made about Nigerian women being too loud. Ariya went off on him in a manner he had not seen before and pressed his buttons until he responded in the same vein. Afterwards, he apologized but she ignored him and went to bed. He remembered he had a bottle of wine he had popped from the morning resting in the fridge. He filled a glass, careful not to take too much. He had a past with alcohol. Any little annoying situation could get him drinking to stupor.
He gulped down the glass of wine with restraint and dozed off.
But then he woke up to a nightmare which didn’t end, that was getting more horrific by the moment.
The lawyer sighed. A long, drawn sigh that sounded like a yawn.
“Mr. Benicio, are you ready to listen to me now? I have a solution for you,” she stated and he sat up.
She had already laid out to him that the Nigerian police did business in a different way. They weren’t going to let him call his embassy because of his scrupulous oil deals with a certain group of fraudulent men that had been on their Most Wanted list. Luiz had tried to prove that his business was not so illegitimate; it was just under the radar and he had documents as proof in addition to evidence of a registered oil company in Brazil. The lawyer had waved him off and reiterated that as long as he had gotten involved with the men in question, he was done for. The police wanted a signed confession about the deal, so as to nail everything on him because his accomplices where now off the grid, leaving him alone to face the backhand of the law.
“Here’s what is on ground now,” the lawyer was presently saying as Luiz wiped pouring sweat off his face. “The police will drop all charges and let you get on the next flight to Brazil for a certain amount.”
Luiz drew closer. He didn’t care what the police were asking for. He had a good sum of money in his account and he was willing to empty it and get away from Nigeria as fast as he could, not minding the loss of the millions even though it hurt him to death. The stink of the cell and the mosquitoes and betrayal of Ariya were worst torture at that moment.
“Quanto?” he asked the lawyer. “How much?”
“Fifty thousand dollars.”
Luiz shut his eyes. It was all he had in his account.
“They take thirty?” he asked. “I give thirty.”
The lawyer shook her head as she stood up.
“Forty!” he was desperate.
She thought about it. “Okay, I’ll make them collect forty but you pay me five.”
Luiz held her hand in his. “Obrigado muito. Thank you very much. Thank you.”
She nodded and walked to the door but he called her back. She turned.
“Ariya? I see Ariya, please?”
“Não. Go home,” the lawyer said and walked out.
Marie was all cried out and done with her emotions. Now she sat in Ato’s hideout—a completed house in a yet-to-be inhabited estate—consuming a bowl of goat peppersoup as Ato and Toshiba drank to the success of their scam. It was a big risk venturing into a long con but Ato trusted Marie’s abilities to rope in any mark she dug her claws into. Being a big time handler, connected to a wider cartel with connections extending outside Nigeria, Ato played his part by involving the necessary people that made the scam all come together. The success of it all was going to take him to a level amongst the big boys in the business and to Marie, he was grateful.
“Udo, you don finish?” Marie turned a lazy eye towards her best friend who was hunched over her laptop in a serious face. Her discarded grey suit and yellow and green diamond brooch lay on the floor beside her. A white chifon blouse was cast on the arm rest of the plastic chair she was sitting on, leaving her with just a bra covering ample breasts that jiggled with each movement of her hands. Udoka was responsible for all their online scams, transactions and creation of fake government and oil company websites. She had a first degree in computer programming but dropped off the job market to follow her boyfriend, Ato into fraud.
“Done!” she raised her hands off the laptop. All payouts were completed, from the tithes paid to the bosses at the top, to the other small men involved, down to Marie herself who was the roper. Ato nodded in pride and winked at his sister but she stared back vacantly, tearing at a piece of goat meat. He saw the look of dissatisfaction in her eyes but before he could ask her why, she sat up.
“I’ll be leaving in three days but I need your help for one last job.”
Toshiba frowned. He felt Marie was pushing her luck too far.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Well, now that I have no baby again, I want to get Kiki back and take her with me.”
The room went silent.
“For what na?” Toshiba asked. “Kidnap? Me I nor fit do dat one o.”
“Not really kidnapping.” Marie stood up and stretched. “I have a plan…”
“What plan?” Toshiba was incensed.
Marie smiled. “Just trust me. Udo, block your number and give me your phone.”
“Chi-chi, mai’n kuma?” Ato asked.
“Relax, big brother. Everything will be fine. I just want my baby back.”
“You don’t see the risk you’re putting all of us into, Mine?” Toshiba said in annoyance.
Marie took Udoka’s phone from her. “I do see it, yes, but wouldn’t you do everything to have your child in your arms?”
“I don’t a give a fu…”
“Kiki’s yours, Toshi. She’s not Jimi’s,” Marie revealed casually, dialing Alhaja.
“What…did you say?” Toshiba’s expression was one of a stunned man.
“You can get shocked later. Now, let’s get our daughter back.”
They were quiet as she put the phone on speaker. But Marie had not expected what she heard next. The first thing to hit her ears was Kiki’s cry and she drew back, almost dropping the phone.
“Hello?” Alhaja Nnenna’s voice came on. Marie lost her nerves. “Hello? Hello? Who is on the line?”
Unable to trust her voice, Marie cleared her throat before she spoke.
The response was silence and then they heard a distortion like Alhaja’s phone hitting hard surface. Marie fell into her chair as tears pooled into her eyes.
“I can’t…” she whispered, unable to breathe well.
“I can’t do this.”
mai’n kuma? (Hausa): what is it again? Or what again?
ya tafi (Hausa): he’s gone
So real quick, remember I told you about Humor-Wednesdays coming on AfricanLoveStories.Com? Well, guess what?! Starting tomorrow, @itsUnclestephen will be featuring one of my favorite piece “The Flight” posting tomorrow. Keeping fingers crossed. Enjoy
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He was dead. He walked around like a zombie. Life around him also departed, floating by in hues of grey and rust-brown, during which time he evaluated his mortality and came to the conclusion that he also did not deserve to live. The only reason he remained was because he was too much of a coward to kill himself. He went through irrepressible grief as months dragged by and when he finally came to the point of acceptance where he knew he had to close the door and at last recognize that Marie was gone forever, six months had passed. He was in isolation in his father’s old house in Jos and had not seen Kiki during the time. The room he slept in was a shrine dedicated to Marie that had most of her belongings and pictures. He was going insane and he knew it but felt it was his right to be allowed his madness no matter how long it lasted. It didn’t last forever, though. His mom visited and had a serious talk with him.
“You have to move on, Olujimi. Kiki cannot grow up without you. Her mother is gone but you’re still here and she needs to know that she’s not alone.”
“I am not ready, mom. Besides, Kiki is the exact replica of Marie. How do I look into her face every day knowing I’m looking back into Marie’s?”
“It’s Allah’s blessing to you. It means Marie is not gone forever. Son, you have no choice but to go back.” She picked out the words in slow bits to emphasize every point. “Pack your bag. We leave tomorrow morning.”
Her voice carried that final note Jimi couldn’t go against but the love in her eyes was unmistakable. For her sake and Kiki’s he was going back to the place where he was certain he would feel Marie’s loss more. He was not so scared, though. He wanted to hold on to her for as long as he could.
There was a quiet dinner organized by his sisters for him when he arrived home. It was bittersweet as he sat at the table Marie always insisted that they have their meals. It felt somewhat calming to be back and good to be accepted by Kiki who opened up her arms for him with an endearing hug. She didn’t remember him but she let him hold her. She was Marie personified in character with all the love and cuddliness. He was also relieved to find that Terdoo was still there. For the first time, he dared look into her face and saw that she was a withdrawn, beautiful lady with wise eyes. She loved his family as much as she loved hers and he knew he owed her a lot for all the sacrifice she put in to care for Kiki.
After the dinner, he retired to his bedroom which he had not seen in six months. In keeping with his instructions, no one moved a thing out of it. When he walked in, he half-expected the overbearing presence of grief to engulf him but what he felt was strange peace and the fruity smell of Marie’s perfume. It still hung in the air, her essence confined. He went to sleep that night without pain. Marie was finally resting in peace and so was his heart. The aching, he knew, would always be there but for the moment, he was not burdened by sorrow.
He used the subsequent days to accommodate his new life outside Marie, spending most mornings making important phone calls to get him the job of his dreams. He still had the position of his old job waiting for him since it was a family business but he wanted to do away with everything that would put him back into the life he used to know. A couple of evenings had him driving into town to places cursed with traffic so that he could get stuck on the streets just to enjoy the feeling of being lost and to cry alone; other times, he would just sit in and watch some boring football match or foreign news.
On one of those evenings when he picked the news, fate came visiting without warning just as it did on the day Marie died. Jimi was watching a sponsored piece on tourism in Cyprus. The location was Nissi Beach, one of their famous spots. He felt bad watching the report because Marie had always wanted to holiday there but his work had not allowed them.
As the reporter walked the length of the beach, asking a tour guide questions, Jimi followed their conversation out of boredom. They stopped at some point where a group of people, couples mostly, were relaxing on loungers under canopies. Jimi was marveling at the clear blue of the sea when the silhouette of a woman caught his eyes. She was dressed in a turquoise blue, short-sleeved dashiki and a pair of shorts and she was staring into the sea as gentle breeze blew into her springy Bohemian hair. There was scar on her left elbow that drew him closer to the screen and he leaned all out to have a clearer look at her.
Jimi’s heart began to beat really fast and he felt his head pulsing in apprehension as the woman in a slowed motion turned to her side and smiled at someone he couldn’t see. The world stopped moving for him at that instant because the woman smiling was none other than his Marie.
She did a full turn and stretched out her hand to the person she was smiling at – a young guy about his age with the body of a runway model. But it wasn’t the presence of the man that unnerved him. It was the bulge Marie was carrying. She was pregnant. And to add to his pain, he saw a gold ring on her wedding finger.
Jimi shot up from his bed. He suspected he was seeing things. It couldn’t be Marie. Marie was dead and buried! Who was this woman impersonating her?
Thank God for a PVR decoder. He got the remote control and rewound back to the moment she turned her face to smile at the guy. The mole on her nose was there and the gap-tooth was clearly identifiable. Unless she had a twin with the exact features, that was certainly Marie. Jimi pressed the rewind button over and over and over again until the screen froze at the point where she stretched out her hand to the guy.
There was a riot of emotions in him—anger, pain, confusion, denial, sadness, dejectedness—and he could hardly breathe.
A knock came to his bedroom door and Terdoo walked in. She curtsied.
“Uncle, good evening.” She stared at the TV screen. “Uncle I have something to tell you.”
Jimi threw a frosty look at her from her head to her toes as if she was a stranger. He took note of the delicate curve of her form and the dark, introverted beauty on her face and all of that combined together gave him an immediate feeling of nausea and edginess upon his already teed off mood. Without thought, he let out the first words he found on his lips.
“Get the hell out of my room and my house right now! You’re fired!”
He didn’t care what Terdoo’s reaction was, he just wanted her out of his sight, but when he realized she was still standing there, he shouted the more.
“Are you deaf?! GET THE HELL OUT!”
Terdoo retreated calmly and Jimi slammed the door after her. When he turned back to the TV screen, he found it had unfrozen and Marie was gone.
At this point, He was enraged and out of control. With one full force, he grabbed the television, wrenched it off the wall and hurled it to the ground.
He picked his car key. He had no destination. He only wanted to be away from everything that reminded him of Marie. He had been a fool to trust in a woman and have her fail him. His hands trembled as he grabbed the door handle and pulled the door open. He stopped when he saw Terdoo standing before him. His head immediately went down.
“I thought I told you to leave.”
“I was watching the report on Cyprus on CNN just as you were…”
Jimi couldn’t believe he was hearing the same Terdoo that had worked for him for almost three years speak articulate English. She had always conversed with Marie in pidjin.
“I can help you find your wife. Just…don’t send me away, please. I have a son who relies on me. Without this job he won’t go to school.”
Jimi’s anger made an immediate withdrawal from the exterior and into his insides, simmering in his heart in silence.
“Get out of my way,” he said as he walked past her. “And pack your things tonight.”
Alhaja Nnenna Bahaushe was the first wife of Alhaji Babajide Bahaushe, a major gold and jewelry merchant. He began his business as a trader to the north in the early seventies, selling gold in bulk to top wholesalers and retailers. He was so shrewd in business that his customers named him Nyamiri, an offensive term used for Igbos, even though he was Yoruba. Afraid that the name would stick and spoil his business, he began to call himself Alhaji Bahaushe. Bahaushe was simply the term used to refer to the Hausas, especially those from the core north. With time, the name stuck on Babajide, even though he was neither an Alhaji nor a Muslim. But to fit in better with both his suppliers that were mainly from the Middle East and his end buyers, he changed his religion and took a second wife, a true blood Hausa lady from a well-known family.
His first wife, Nnenna, Jimi’s mother was displaced after her stubborn refusal to convert to Islam. She was sent to live in Jos while the new wife lived with Alhaji in Lagos. Eventually, Nnenna, to keep her marriage and retain her status as first wife, converted from Christianity and turned into a fulltime veiled Muslimah, a Niqabi, or Eleha as she was called by the Yorubas. Yet she retained her Igbo name and offered her children freedom to practice the faith of their choice. Jimi and his two sisters chose Islam while Jimi’s elder brother and the younger stuck to Christianity. Nnenna had no problems with the diversity and encouraged both faiths in her house, sometimes even indulging in a healthy argument about the Bible with her first son. It was with this same liberality she ran her business.
All the girls that worked under her, she treated with respect and generosity. Terdoo was one of them. She had worked with Nnenna for five years before she was transferred to Jimi’s home. She was the most trusted amongst the girls. And it was the same with Marie who only started working for Nnenna a few weeks before the Christmas of 2010. She had shown up at Nnenna’s high-end jewelry store at The Palms asking to fill in the vacancy for a new salesgirl. The post was already taken but Marie’s face held unexplainable charm that Nnenna was drawn to and she offered her immediate employment.
Marie became all that any shop owner could hope for. In just three months she established that she was not just a reliable employee but also a charming money-maker. However, Marie’s greatest advantage presented itself the day Nnenna invited Jimi over to the shop to pick up a pair of silver and diamond earrings for his elder brother’s wife. It had taken Nnenna over ten minutes on the phone to persuade him to come over. She could have easily chosen his younger brother for the errand but Nnenna was worried about Jimi’s gynophobia turning into a fear of everything else that could keep him outdoors. She wanted good things for him, to see him become as successful as his father. She also desired for him to fall in love with someone and get married, and that was not just for the main reason of dealing with his phobia. Nnenna had an entirely different reason for seeing him tie the knot.
Alhaji had announced to both his wives that he was soon going to be sharing a blinding 80% of his wealth amongst his children. Obviously, the boys were to have larger shares, followed by those who were married and had children. Nnenna didn’t want Jimi to have less than what was due him, so she sought for ways to hook him up with her friend’s daughters but nothing worked. Every disastrous meet-up and failed date only drove him deeper into his shell. Therefore, Nnenna looked for opportunities to have him out in the wild at the mercy of females. She had gotten to the point where she wasn’t going to care if he came home with a girl who wasn’t up to their status; all she wanted was for him to be normal.
Hence, on the day he came to collect his sister-in-law’s jewelry from the store, Nnenna urged him to take a stroll round the mall just to enjoy the ‘sights’.
“Come on, mom, I’ve been here a dozen times.”
“You have?” she feigned surprise.
He rolled his eyes. “Yeah.”
“Not important. Can I take the earrings and go, please?”
Nnenna didn’t like his impatient tone and she also had a strong urge to yank off the unflattering sunshades he was wearing. She shook her head at him in pity and called for Marie who was in the inner office.
“My dear, please bring that jewelry box I gave you to keep earlier.”
“Okay ma!” Marie replied and Nnenna leaned towards Jimi briefly.
“Come here. There’s something on your nose,” she said. When Jimi got closer she pulled off his sunshades.
“Mom, don’t you get tired of doing this? You’re removing my glasses when you’re all covered up like a ninja.”
“That’s not a nice thing to say to your mother.”
Nnenna shoved the frames into her handbag as Marie emerged from the office with a gift bag. Jimi who had in an instant lowered his head, slightly lifted it in a side glance to stare at Marie as she stepped out. And like a bolt of lightning, he was struck.
Nnenna noticed what was happening with him and she wished she could get out her phone to record it.
Though not fully facing Marie, Jimi’s head had remained in an angle that left his eyes on her. He stared without blinking. It was something Nnenna had never seen before and she didn’t want to disrupt the moment.
“Give the bag to him,” she whispered and Marie obeyed with a step in Jimi’s direction. His concentration became broken when she appeared before him and he returned to his senses, lowered his head and managed to push out a croaky “hi”.
Another thing Nnenna had never seen him do. Usually, the females she introduced him to made the first move.
“Good afternoon, sir,” Marie replied.
“Hi,” he said again and Nnenna held a chuckle. Her poor boy was in a mess and it was fun for her to watch.
He looked her way. “Mom, my glasses.”
Nnenna handed the pair to him.
“I’m leaving,” he said to her and she nodded, watching him as his eyes grazed over Marie one more time before they went behind the sunshades and he hurried out of the shop.
When she got home that day, he visited her bedroom where she was unveiled and the creamy tone of her subtle skin lay exposed under dim lights. He talked about pointless topics, walking round the bedroom with his hands in his pockets. She knew he had something else on his mind but she waited for him to bare it out. It took him over an hour though, but he did come round to saying the purpose of his visit.
“Mom, that girl I saw in your shop today…Marie? I think…I like her.”
Nnenna almost came to tears. The last time she had heard him use similar words was in his Primary Three. He had come home one hot afternoon and slammed his schoolbag on the kitchen counter and said, “mommy, I’m in love!”
Her immediate reaction had been hearty laughter. What could a seven year old boy possibly know about love? But Jimi was not joking. Sade, the object of his affection, became a constant name on his lips. He often helped her with her homework, shared his lunch with her and used all his savings to buy a pair of blue studded earrings from Nnenna for her birthday. Like every observant mother, Nnenna saw that the relationship was one-sided but she thought it was a jinx to disrupt one’s first crush, so she let him be, waiting for the day his heart would come back home to her in pieces. And it did. On another hot afternoon, he slammed his bag on the kitchen counter again and went, “I hate Sade! And I hate girls!”
When Nnenna asked what had made him change his mind, he said nothing and stomped to his room. She threw the same question to his elder brother, Jude but Jude shook his head and said, “I’m not telling you.”
Nnenna never got to know what happened that day but she was okay with it, since it did not affect Jimi’s grades. In fact, it seemed his heartbreak helped him do better in school, but there was something her eyes missed about him and his interaction with girls. By the time she noticed it and was zooming in on correcting it, he had gotten his heart broken a second time, alongside his head and elbow – the result of a bloody fight with a senior in secondary school over a girl who embarrassed him in front of his entire classmates. The details of that encounter also remained sketchy to Nnenna but what bothered her more was the way Jimi stayed away from females like they carried a deadly disease. The journey to try to cure him would take a rough road with visits to psychologists, imams, pastors and even native doctors. Yet Jimi would remain the same, excelling in every other thing but lacking in the love zone.
Now, here they were, after all the trying years and he was saying he liked a girl. No doubt, Nnenna was the happiest mother but she maintained her calm.
“Let me just clear this off your mind sha,” Jimi said, leaning on her bathroom door. “I’ll not go near her or toast her, so don’t try to set us up or something like that. I just want to observe her from a distance at my own pace.”
In a strange manner, Nnenna understood him; she recognized his need to be fond of someone from a distance. It was his own way of telling himself he was still normal and could still have feelings. However, Nnenna wasn’t going to be satisfied with his way alone. There was a lot for him to lose, inheritance-wise from his father and it was her duty as first wife and mother to ensure that all her children were well settled. As a result, she spoke with Marie three days later when she noticed that Jimi made good on his word for not going near her.
“My son likes you,” she stated matter-of-factly as Marie was dusting the glass shelves that held expensive diamond jewelry in the shop. Marie stopped and so did Terdoo, who was mopping the floor. Terdoo was in charge of another branch of Nnenna’s shop at Allen Avenue but Nnenna had invited her over because she had plans for Marie.
Noticing Terdoo was eavesdropping, Nnenna turned to her. “Tee, go and mop my office.”
Terdoo curtsied and disappeared with the mop into Nnenna’s office.
“Pick that stool and come here, Marie.”
Marie did as she was told and sat on a high stool before Nnenna.
“Where are you from?” she asked.
“What are your full names?”
“How old are you?”
“Level of education?”
At this point, Marie paused. She was sure the CV she submitted to Nnenna before she got the job had all the information. Still she answered.
“Diploma in accounting.”
“You have a child?”
“Ever been pregnant?”
“Any family disease, mental or otherwise I need to know about?”
“Any disease you have now?”
“Where are your parents?”
“They are dead, ma.”
“No sister or brother?”
“Just one brother. He lives in Yola.”
“Any criminal records?”
“Who do you live with in Lagos?”
There was hesitation again. Nnenna narrowed her eyes.
“You can confide in me.”
“You have sex with him?”
Another hesitation. “Yes, ma.”
Nnenna nodded and pulled her handbag close. She got out her wallet and drew out some money. She also scribbled down a note on a small piece of paper and handed it to Marie.
“There’s a clinic at Phase One. That’s the address. Go and get yourself tested. I want your blood group, genotype, HIV status, everything. I have already spoken to the doctor and they’re waiting for you. Just ask for Doctor Itopa.”
Marie nodded. “But please ma, what is it for?”
“Just go and when you return, we’ll have a talk.”
Nnenna watched her as she left the shop, taking a full view of her body. She approved of what she saw.
The results of Marie’s test came in the following day and the doctor declared her ‘clean as a whistle’. Nnenna was elated. She went in for the kill while she and Marie were walking towards her car in the parking lot.
“How would you like to go on a date with my son?”
Marie was shocked at the question and all she could do was stare at the ground she walked on. Nnenna asked no further questions until after they were seated together in her car.
“You haven’t replied me yet,” she said to her.
“I asked you a question earlier.”
“Ma… I have a boyfriend.”
“Has he proposed to you yet?”
“Then the relationship is useless as far as I am concerned.” She turned to Marie with a slight shift and took off her veil, exposing her face to her for the first time. “My son, Olujimi likes you, which is a miracle. A huge one. And I don’t want it to turn into a nightmare for him when he finds out he can’t have you. So here’s what you’ll do for me. You will make the first move, date him and then marry him.”
“What?” Marie smiled but only to hide her shock and unease.
“I will pay three million naira into your account to be my daughter-in-law. I have no hidden agenda, I am an easy woman to be with and Jimi is the most gentle of young men. You will be marrying into a prestigious name and family and you will be well taken care of.”
Marie began to perspire. Nnenna started the car and turned on the air conditioner.
“What do you say to my proposal?”
“Ma, I have a boyfriend.”
Nnenna rolled her eyes. “You already said that but what has he offered you? Just look at you. You’re beautiful, intelligent and charming but you’re just a salesgirl! Is that how you planned your life to be? You deserve more and the Bahaushes can do that for you. Once you get married to Jimi, you can go back to school or open your own business or work wherever you want to work. Nothing will stop you from achieving your dreams. Don’t tie yourself to someone you’re not certain will be there for you tomorrow, either financially or emotionally. But I can assure you that my boy will love you the way no man has ever loved you before.”
Nnenna knew she was beginning to sound desperate but she didn’t give a damn. She was going to throw all in for Jimi, the one who gave her most trouble, the one she loved most.
“Ma, can I think about it?”
“Okay. Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll give you five million naira. Five.”
“Let me think about it ma. Please.”
“Okay. Put on your seatbelt.”
Nnenna started the car and they drove away.
Marie’s answer came in the next day. She accepted the offer. Agreeing never to mention the deal to anyone, she had her first pay which was not inclusive of the five million. It was for a shopping spree for new clothes. Jimi showed up the following afternoon for some vague errand as requested by Nnenna. This time around, he avoided Marie but Nnenna noticed he had come without his shades. Later, at home, he spoke about Marie’s good dressing over dinner and wondered out loud if she had a boyfriend.
“None that I know of,” Nnenna replied.
“That’s good.” Jimi nodded and got a smirk from his younger brother, Sesan.
“Dude, just yarn the girl or simply shag her.”
Nnenna eyed Sesan from her place on the table. “I am sure Doctor Itopa switched you after I gave birth. You’re not my child because no son of mine will be suggesting that kind of rubbish in front of me.”
“Alhaja! The only Hajia in my life.”
Sesan laughed, licking ogbono soup off his thumb. “Ma binu but did Jimi tell you he cannot shag a girl or that he’s a virgin?”
Nnenna was on her way to replying Sesan but she paused and considered his question. She looked at Jimi.
“Not now, mom,” Jimi replied, his head bent.
“He’s been disvirgined,” Sesan mouthed inaudibly to Nnenna and rose from his chair. Sesan was a short boy with a small stature but he carried around a big mouth and didn’t know how to use it. Picking up his plate of soup, he did a sorry moonwalk whilst singing TLC’s Red Light Special as he left the dining area.
“Jimi, is it true?” Nnenna asked. “You’ve had sex? With who? How did you manage to…?”
Jimi shot Nnenna a mean stare with a raised brow. “Drop the issue, mom.
Besides, it’s Sexy and his antics. No one should be listening to him.”
“Okay o.” Nnenna kept quiet and picked out a huge piece of kpomo from her soup dish and left it hanging in the air. “I’m just surprised that you didn’t tell me there was a girl at some point in your life that you’ll even go all the way to have sex with her.”
“Mom!” Jimi snapped. “Haba!”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I won’t talk about it again.”
“Thank you,” he said in annoyance.
“By the way, your father and his wife will be here for dinner tomorrow. Your sisters also. Make sure you get back from the office on time. Your father wants to have a word with you.”
Nnenna watched Jimi’s jaw clench and observed how he slowly lost his appetite. He wasn’t his father’s favorite and family dinners with both of them always ended in fall outs. Alhaji was coming to discuss his displeasure at Jimi’s ‘issue’ even as much as Nnenna had begged him not to. Alhaji was very certain Jimi was gay and hiding it. He was determined to prove it and after doing so, cut him off from his wealth. But first, he enjoyed the game of harassing him. If there was anybody Sesan took after, it was Alhaji.
Always one to think fast, Nnenna dialled Marie after Jimi left the table and invited her for the family dinner the next day. Smiling on her bed as she went to sleep that night, she imagined the shock that would be on everyone’s face when she introduced Marie as Jimi’s girlfriend. Jimi, she was certain, would be mad, but she was Mommy Dearest to him and everything she did was for his good. He always understood that and he would forgive her no matter what she did.
The dinner came and went the following day and everything happened as she had planned; she couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. The whole dinner table was silent after her introduction of Marie. Jimi was embarrassed and wanted to deny the relationship but Marie’s hand found his under the table and held it. If Nnenna hadn’t been observant from where she sat beside Marie, she would have missed that special moment when Marie wanted to pull away but Jimi held on tight and some form of peace filled his face, yet revealing nothing of what was going on under the table.
After that night, their relationship progressed without her butting in. It was difficult to stay away but she felt she had done her bit already. As soon as they announced their engagement seven months later, she found some quiet place to cry and to thank God. Like every Nigerian mother would, she arranged the wedding and made sure it was a noisy one. Jimi got his share of the inheritance, Marie got her deal money, they both were expecting a baby and Nnenna was proud of herself.
When Kiki was born her joy reached a new high and she went all out to shower her love on her. She sent Terdoo to Jimi’s as both nanny and housemaid. Her payment to her was school fees for part-time evening classes at the Lagos State University for a postgraduate diploma she had been seeking to acquire.
Nnenna also put Terdoo in the house as a spy, to report any strange behavior from Marie towards Jimi but Terdoo never had any reason to suspect Marie. In her words, Marie loved Jimi wholeheartedly. With that report, Nnenna assured herself that Marie had fallen in love with Jimi and the money had nothing to do with it. She had believed it was going to be smooth sailing henceforth but Marie’s sudden death jolted her from her castle in the air. It hit her almost as hard as it did Jimi. She cried for weeks and refused to eat or even leave the house. Her dread was for Jimi and how he would recover from his loss. All her efforts were to waste and finding someone new to fill in the void Marie left was near impossible.
She allowed Jimi mourn but when she felt he had suffered enough agony, she traveled to Jos to get him home. He was not the son she used to know. Hollow cheeks, sunken eyes and an overall skinny frame greeted her eyes when she sighted him but she remained strong for both of them. On their return to Lagos, she made sure he was settled in and comfortable. She didn’t mind that he didn’t want to go back to work; she was just glad to see that he was coping fine. Before now, she was back in business and had even expanded her line of shops to Port Harcourt. Jimi’s return home gave her reason to rest for a while.
After a short week of taking it easy, she was spending the last evening with Kiki before she made another week-long journey to Dubai and Qatar. Kiki had gotten into a tantrum at dinner time and while Nnenna was trying to force her to feed, they were interrupted by her ringing phone. Nnenna instructed Sesan to answer the call but he passed the phone to her instead.
“Must be your business people,” he said. “Private number.”
Nnenna clicked on the answer button and put the phone to her ear while trying to get Kiki to stop crying.
There came silence from the other end.
“Hello? Who is on the line?”
She heard the sound of someone clearing their throat and finally a voice came.
Nnenna’s eyes shot out at once. The phone left her hand and fell to the floor. Sesan who was strumming the strings of his box guitar nearby, turned to her.
But Nnenna couldn’t move. She glared at the phone on the floor with eyes of fear and kept pointing at it without speaking. Sesan put his guitar away and hurried to where the phone was. He picked it up and saw that it was still connected to the caller.
No one spoke.
“Who is this? Hello?”
A man’s guttural voice came on.
“Give the phone to your mother, young man.”
“Who the hell are you?”
“Give the phone to Alhaja!”
Sesan put the phone on speaker and urged Nnenna to speak up.
“H-hello?” she said.
“Mommy…” The initial voice Nnenna had heard returned. “It’s me. It’s Marie.”
Nnenna held her chest to keep from falling. Sesan held her, his own shock palpable as well.
“I’m not dead. I’m alive. Mommy,” Marie began to cry over the phone, “this man…he kidnapped me and he won’t let me go unless you do what he wants.”
“Are you okay?”
“Yes, I am.”
“What does he want?” Sesan asked.
“Kiki. He wants Kiki.”
“Why?” Sesan almost shouted.
“Kiki doesn’t belong to Jimi, mommy. I’m sorry. She belongs to him… to my kidnapper.”
Nnenna looked down to see her precious granddaughter who was now clinging to her leg, her cries abated, her thumb in her mouth. Nothing was making sense to Nnenna at that juncture; not Marie’s resurrection from the dead and certainly not the strange phone call. All she knew was that she wasn’t giving Kiki up.
“No. Nobody will take Kiki o.”
Sesan nodded in agreement.
“Very well,” the man’s guttural voice returned.
“Prepare another funeral for your son’s real baby whom Marie is carrying as we speak! And this time, Marie will go for real! Have a nice evening.”
Is Marie a victim or villain? Find Out next week!
NO HEART FEELINGS IS WRITTEN BY ©Sally. Follow on twitter @moskedapages
Her smile was blinding…
but maybe it was the morning sun in his face.
He blinked to adjust his eyesight away from the brightness and back into the beautiful gap-toothed smile that was before him. She who had the blinding smile laughed at his dilemma and stretched up like a kitten to pull the curtains close. She returned to the bed and he had her in his arms.
“Don’t go,” he pleaded. She giggled and kissed him. It was just one of her tease-kisses.
“And Udo will kill me. I didn’t go for her Igbanku. I have to go for this white wedding. And if it wasn’t because of how tied you are at the office, I would have asked you to come along.”
“No, the real reason I’m not invited for that wedding is because Udoka hates me.”
“Only because you hate her back and hate every other woman on the planet.”
He squeezed her bum underneath the covers. “Hate is a bad word, Marie. How about love? Let’s try love now.”
She giggled as he kissed her lips down to the side of her left arm, the most sensitive spot on her body. She used to tell him that if that part of her was stroked lightly non-stop, it could make her lose her mind. She said it touched somewhere in her brain that couldn’t be controlled.
And so he made her squirm in his arms uncontrollably. Marie wiggled and giggled and stopped only when he tasted her skin as he lightly nibbled a love-handle in her side. She tasted of clean sweat and sheer womanliness. He buried his face into the soft fluff of her belly which was intricately tattooed with stretchmarks. She hated the stretchmarks but they were part of her and of him as well. He loved her like that.
“Jimi?” she lifted his head to look up at her face.
“What?” Jimi put his head down again and rested his ear on her belly. He could hear her innards churning. Funny sounds.
“Have I told you how much I love you?”
He kissed the little knob that was her belly button and lifted himself up. “I would like to hear that now but not in words, Marie.”
He got to her breasts and just as he was about to make his famous move on them, a baby’s scream from the next room interrupted him.
“And she’s up,” Marie murmured. “Baby of life!” she complained and shimmied out of Jimi’s arms. “Be right back.”
She rolled off the bed, walked to the baby nursery and seconds later Jimi heard their six month old daughter giggling in response to her. Despite the fact that his morning sex was cut off, he was glad to hear such happy sounds. Marie was singing now. She had the most amazing voice; it made him feel like the luckiest man.
Everyone knew about his bizarre dislike for women. His friends had concluded he was going to end up gay, a priest or marrying the ugliest woman in the world but Marie came and changed all that. At first, he treated her like he did the rest, shying away from her as if she was the Bubonic plague. But his phobia for her died the first day she held his hand. He was scared that they were going to be stuck together, his hand glued to hers. Yet when she tried to pull away, he held her tight.
Marie was enchanting.
She had a noticeable gap-tooth and there was that tiny mole on her nose like a stud earring. It was another thing she didn’t like about herself because she felt her nose was big enough and didn’t need any more attention but to Jimi she was all allure without the nastiness beautiful women were known by. Their love was cocooned and untouchable even by his hatred for her species. While he stayed away as much as he could from every other woman, his love for her grew each day. She was the only woman in his life – well, apart from his mother and sisters.
Jimi got off the bed. He still wanted Marie but she was taking longer than usual with her breastfeeding. He walked out of the room to the nursery to peep on mother and daughter and saw Marie in a conversation with someone on the phone. She looked stressed to the point of crying. Only Udoka could put her in that state. Jimi disliked Udoka. To him, she was another daughter of Eve who thought using men the way she felt like was her God-given right on earth. She and Jimi never hit it off (not that he had ever hit it off with any of them); especially since she found out that she couldn’t push him around as she did her fiancé. Jimi endured her because of Marie.
“I will be there na. I gave my promise, sweetie.”
Marie looked at Jimi and smiled as she tried to end her call. “I’ll be on my way. Akure is just four hours away na. Okay, see ya!”
She rolled her eyes and dropped her phone. “Udoka and her stress.”
Jimi strolled to his daughter’s cot. She was playing with a rattle but her eyes lit up when she saw him.
“You think she recognizes me?” he asked Marie.
“Yes Jimi, she does.” Marie was taking off the spaghetti top she had on which was stained with breastmilk. She peeped into the cot. “Kiki knows and loves her daddy.”
“I’m hardly home on time.” Jimi said in apology to Marie.
“It’s okay, baby.” She rubbed his back gently as she hurried out. “Terdoo!” She called the housemaid. “Come baf dis pikin o!”
“I’m sorry for being away so much, Ki.” Jimi tickled his daughter’s cheek. “But I’ll try to make it up to you, soon. I promise, okay?”
Kiki gurgled and continued with her rattle. Terdoo, the housemaid, almost bumped into him on her way in. She curtsied in apology and moved away. Jimi kept his eyes away from her. Looking at females other than the ones in his family was still a big issue for him, despite the fact that he was seeing a therapist for his predicament…or phobia, as he was told.
Gynophobia was the general term used for people like him but his was beyond the general type. He found the company of beautiful women, in particular, nauseating. Caligynephobia it was called.
Getting hitched to Marie seemed to have helped his situation a little in the initial stages but after a while he relapsed. At work, he stayed in his office the whole nine to five, every single day. He usually took a back entrance in, created for that specific reason, and he left work after everyone was gone, which was the major explanation for why Kiki hardly saw him. At the office they dubbed him The Phantom but it was a good sub for him. He was the boss and it was important that he was a specter to them. On the rare occasion when he came out for board meetings, the whole office slowed down as females stopped whatever they were doing to gawk at him as he walked by.
At home, he stayed in all day. His social life was dead and his friends had given up on him entirely. When he had gotten married to Marie two years ago, they found it hard to believe that he had ended up with a drop-dead gorgeous woman. They were certain he was playing a fast one. They waited for the curtain to fall and reveal the sham they were certain was his marriage but when they saw them moving past the first year and into the second and even with the birth of Kikelomo, they gave up and accepted that Jimi had been finally broken. From that time, Marie was awarded a high level of respect in their midst, mostly because they held that she was jazzing him. He didn’t mind. Marie had a special magic on him that locked him in her forever.
Marie was calling him in that exceptional voice that only meant one thing. He felt his heart race. It wasn’t excitement; it was fear. The same fear that always held him whenever an attractive woman looked his way or called his attention. Even with all the time he had spent with Marie, it was still a struggle for him. He took a deep breath and counted one to ten as his therapist taught him. After the count, he walked into the bedroom. Marie was kneeling on the bed, nude. She called him forward with her forefinger and he felt the racing heart again. This happened on a daily and his breathing exercises plus other therapeutic tricks to help up his confidence always worked.
Marie leaped into his arms and pushed him to the bed.
“My treat,” she said and sat on him. He wore his sunshades. He couldn’t look into her eyes for long.
She was in control. He was her slave and he let her do as she pleased. But halfway, she stopped and began to cry. He took off his shades. She had never cried during sex before. He was worried.
“What’s wrong, Marie?”
“I love you,” she said. “I want you to always know that.”
“Okay. I’ll try not to forget.” He laughed lightly. “Is that why you’re crying?”
She nodded. “Just…love me like this was your last day on earth.”
“With all pleasure.” He sat up and without break, switched places.
“Mmmm…smooth,” she smiled but a tear slid to the side of her face. She shut her eyes and cried some more as he complied with her wish.
He went to work late that day, right after he made sure she was safely tucked behind her seatbelt, ready for her journey to Akure.
“I still don’t think you should drive alone,” he had reiterated to her.
“Bukky is coming with me.”
“Okay. Ehm…no overtaking without making sure a car is not coming on the opposite lane.”
“Your limit should be eighty kilometers.”
She laughed. “Haba. You want me to reach there next year?”
“If any tire bursts, don’t step on the brakes.”
“And don’t ignore anything your dashboard is telling you, okay? Read all the regulators and meters.”
“Okay, sir. May I go now?”
“I already prayed but you’ll get there safely Insha’Allah.”
She beamed into his eyes and he looked away shyly. It still didn’t stop him from kissing her.
“I have given Terdoo all the instructions for Kiki. But I left a copy on the dresser. I love you, baby daddy!”
“Come back first thing Sunday morning o.”
He blew her a kiss. She keyed the engine and drove away from the house. Jimi stood until her car disappeared from his view. He didn’t feel right about her journey.
* * * * * * * *
Jimi was restless at work, unable to concentrate for most of the morning. When he was sure Marie had arrived Akure, he called her phone and she answered.
“I’m here, alive and safe, so you better stop worrying.”
He was a bit relieved. “Okay, have fun and ping me with enough pictures o.”
“Marie?” his voice waned a little.
“Missing you already.”
“Me too but it’s just two days na.”
He was silent.
“Marie, you there?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m here.”
“I just have this bad feeling…”
He wanted to explain what he meant but his secretary walked in. She was an old woman, almost as old as his mother and she fumbled and frowned a lot. Jimi was planning to fire her and hire a young guy instead.
“Everything’s fine,” Marie whispered in his ear. “I have to go. Talk to you later.”
She hung up and he faced his secretary who dropped in to tell him he had guests waiting.
His day went by in a slow, busy wind and he didn’t have time to call Marie back, though he constantly expected to see the blinking, red light on his phone indicating she was pinging him. But he saw nothing all day. Finally, work came to a close and he left quite early to spend the time with Kiki. He was glad when he got home and found her awake. They had a good father and daughter time until she fell asleep in his arms and he passed her on to Terdoo. He put off calling Marie till later in the night when he was sure she would be resting from all the excitement of Udoka’s bachelorette party. He had a shower and settled in to watch the news while having dinner and that was when he heard his phone come alive with Marie’s ringtone.
He went for it.
There was a short pause.
“Hello? Good evening.” The voice belonged to a male.
“Are you the husband to the woman who owns this phone?”
“Yes? Where is she?”
“I am sorry sir. She was involved in an accident and has been rushed to the hospital. We would like you to come immediately…”
Jimi didn’t hear anything that was said after that. He merely kept nodding in a daze. The caller was smart enough to text the address to him. Jimi called his best friend, Kaseem, who drove him to Akure. He was still not lucid when they got out of the car and walked into the hospital. Kaseem got all the information they needed and Jimi saw himself being led out of the emergency entrance to another part of the hospital. He didn’t mind the distance as long as he was going to be with Marie again. He was so lost in his haze that he didn’t see the huge sign above the large double doors they came to that read MORTUARY.
He walked in blindly and then it felt as if someone slapped him back to life and he became aware of his milieu. The temperature of the room they were in was cold. It was a small, empty room with a sleeping attendant at his desk who sprang up when they walked in. Kaseem talked to him and he led them to an inner room. It was larger and had stainless steel tables, refrigerators and floor coverings that extended up to half the walls.
“Wh-what are we doing here, Kas?” Jimi turned to Kaseem but Kaseem just followed the attendant further in. On one of the tables at the end lay something covered in a white cloth stained with blood. It didn’t look like a human corpse even though Jimi suspected it was. The attendant stopped and urged them forward.
Jimi couldn’t move.
“Tha’s not…that’s… That’s not Marie…”
Kaseem looked at him. “Jimi…”
He shook his head. “It’s not my wife. No. Let’s go.”
Kaseem came back to him and held his shoulders, looking straight into his eyes.
“Jimi, Marie was crushed by a trailer as she was crossing a street. I’m sorry, man. She didn’t make it. She’s gone. I am so sorry.”
Jimi pushed Kaseem’s hands away and moved towards the table, one unhurried step at a time. He could feel every part of his body coming to a convulsion but he pressed on until his hands were resting on the cold, steel edge of the table.
He couldn’t lift the cloth. He nodded at the attendant to do so and he did, very fast.
And what Jimi saw…or did not see of Marie’s remains sent a poisoned arrow to his heart. He heard someone scream in agony and didn’t realize the sound came from him until he was taken over by uncontainable sobs. He backed away from the jumble of bones and flesh on the table and was almost toppling medical apparatus on a counter behind him.
Kaseem put a hand on him. In his tears Jimi managed to tell him to take out Marie’s wedding ring to see if it had a certain engraving. Kaseem did, with the help of the attendant, and confirmed the engraving. It was Marie. She was really dead.
That day Jimi’s world collapsed.