Alama Dickson. I hated my name from the first moment I knew that the first four letters meant the lower part of a man’s anatomy responsible for global misery – the one tool responsible for the abuse of the defenseless and the destruction of lives. It had come to be my everlasting enemy and the only reason why I had not taken to the streets in search of the four letter word to cut off was because I was contented ignoring the bearers and conquering companies. Oh! The thrill of closing deals, the opposition, the faces of speculators as we fought for the prize, the media… but only for a short while. I wanted more. I thrived on paper chase and there was no life but business.
The old ugly gateman – Johnnie had unzipped his rusty fly that cold Saturday morning and had expertly whipped out what he told me was my name from his foul-smelling mid-section; dark as charcoal and sprouting like the dense Amazon forest, I had seen my name in flesh at an early age of 7. A timid and defenseless child with absentee parents had me at the mercy of the gateman and the new ‘cousin’ – Oman who it was whispered was a bastard nobody wanted. Both men had molested me nonstop whenever, wherever until I ran off with the first man that had gotten me pregnant at the age of 16. There was no report for a missing teenager in the news. It was good riddance.
The four letter word represented what had caused me great pain but I had long buried the hurt, neglect and abuse with the premature baby I had given birth to 6 months after running away from home with Caleb. He never returned to the dingy shack nested in the deep valleys of a town and a place I had long obliterated from my memory – induced amnesia. Life had changed drastically after that wet night when..……. loud crack of laughter jolting me from the memories that sneaked up at unexpected times, I plastered a smile on my face and joined the discussion at the noisy table.
“Yes, DICK-son is such a loving man” it was Uloma cooing after the new man in her life. The girls had gathered to celebrate the success of Sandra’s first art exhibition and the constant lewd stress on the four letter word had my drink stopping at my throat and getting hot under my ears.
“Let me go to the ladies” I said excusing myself from the table at the Secilles, memories threatening to overwhelm me, already breaking out in cold sweat. What if I was related to this Dickson guy? Was I paranoid? Yes. Was it possible? Yes.
“Make I follow abeg” it was Tina. She was true to herself and didn’t care about coming off as the most advertised Warri-babe that never took last. Speaking pidgin and chewing gum with her full afro hairdo and bleeding thick lips, she grabbed my hand as we giggled at a private joke at Uloma’s expense.
“I heard you!” Uloma called after us as we walked from the trio still waiting for the appetizer.
“Dickson, Dickson, person no go hear word today again” it was Tina mimicking Uloma. I laughed adjusting the cup of my nuBra and propping my twin towers after mopping my ears with wet tissue. I felt my temperature drop and the sweat receding into my pores. Coming back to the table, the sexy waiter with cute butt cheeks was serving the grilled chicken wings and another glass of freshly squeezed pineapple juice for me and a bottle of American Honey for the girls. Soon the exchange and jabs started, laughter overflowing and loud whispers with white flesh in our mouths. Dickson was forgotten and the evening took the mood I needed to make an announcement I had kept for a week. I cleared my throat and raised my glass. The activities stopped, all eyes resting on me.
“I have a new job in Abuja. I am moving” I said excitedly to the group of five. Sandra, stopped on her drink looked at me with huge eyes. The frail and delicate Being sat obviously overwhelmed at the success of the night and the fact that the person who was behind it all was moving. A sales guru, there was nothing I could not sell if I put my mind to it. All her works had been sold and she had 45 orders to deliver in a month – all thanks to me. She had been talking me into becoming her agent and owning a gallery together but the email had changed things. I didn’t tell her I was moving and had put all mind to the organizing the exhibition after I resigned two months ago. Reason? I was bored at work and restless. I needed new challenge after years of growing Sage&Sages – a business support and development firm.
“Really happy for you” it was Uloma Richards, a fashion designer and owner of a small-scaled bakery who was going through a divorce but had her adulterous eyes on younger men.
“When was this?” Sandra Sani asked, her expressive eyes filled with hurt. We were the closest of the five and I knew she was pissed at my announcement mostly because I kept her in the dark.
“I got the email a month ago. They can’t hold the position any longer. It is good offer Sandra, really cannot pass it up” I told her. The table was quiet now as Uloma, Tina and Eva looked at us.
“But we were planning, the gallery, 5% commission on all sales is for you and….. you just can’t go to Abuja” she said angrily, licking her fingers, stabbing the serviette and balancing her eye glasses on her rather straight and narrow nose.
“I know but we can take this to Abuja and we can make it work” I tried. Of course I knew she couldn’t leave Port Harcourt but I had to try. My best friend was hurt and I felt bad about the move but the package was great. A house, trips, a car and driver and six figure monthly salary plus commission on closure but what was more thrilling was the workload – Business Development for a conglomerate on an international scene! This was business on the frontier. An idea candy shop. I was excited. A gallery wasn’t going to bring all that plus I knew I could still pull some buyers whether I was in Port Harcourt or not.
“Your mind is made up but you should have told me earlier! I already made a down payment for a space” she said, upset.
“We can make it work” I said trying again with a wink. She wasn’t biting.
“So you will be leaving Port Harcourt to Abuja, when?” it was Eva Falana, the rich kid who had no idea what work meant. The idea of hard work or going to an office was foreign to her and she wondered why Sandra and I would want to run a gallery or why I never had the time for a date but had the time to fly across the country for deals at the snap of fingers.
“On Sunday” I said, waiting for Sandra to react.
“Tomorrow?!!! My God Debbie, you have outdone yourself. I am so so out of here” she said dramatically, standing up as she spilled her glass content and struggled to get out of her seat.
“Haba Sandra, Common on” it was Uloma and Tina at the same time. Clearly she was past upset and I was guilty as hell.
“No, No, let her be going. Why did she bother telling us, me” she corrected carrying her heavy bag and leaving us at the table, awkward silence following.
“Well, that went well” it was Uloma, taking more wine.
“You sef, you for tell am since na. wetin she go do now?” it was Tina, the advocate.
“She had a better job, she needs to take it” it was Eva. She always sided with me on arguments and even now, I knew she would defend my position.
“Shey you go refund am na” Tina continued in her trademarked pidgin.
“I will” Eva said offhandedly and the tension in the air reduced. I wanted to send a message on BBM to Sandra but decided against it. I’d go over to her place tonight.
Just then, a couple entered the restaurant and Uloma sat up, eyes blazing.
“Uloma! Your eyes go make these men fall o” it was Tina Ugulur. A real estate agent, Tina was one known for going after a deal and hardly closing it because she was brutally honest and surprisingly easy with the older men. She must have been the one Sandra had gotten the gallery space from; and being the only one to drive a Lincoln in the group, she preached the virtues of hard work but we all knew how hard she worked.
“Please leave me. Make I feed my eyes nah” Uloma said still staring blatantly at a man who had just taken his seat with a nicely curved lady. I was more interested in the shoe she was wearing than the man that accompanied her. I was off men and my friends thought Sandra and I were lesbians. We did little to dispel the belief and Eva just wanted a part of the action. Oh yes, I knew she was one and had put her straight the night she had come crawling all over my body. Perhaps that was why she was so agreeable or simply because she was still having evil thoughts. Which, I didn’t want to think about.
“I am sure you know how many men are present” it was Eva, winking at the waiter who had served us earlier. I knew she had eyes on him and gave off a joke about having a thing for handsome waiters as he set the orders. He had smiled politely but kept his distance since then.
“There are 13 men present. All but one has made eye contact” Uloma said proudly. It was no news that she was getting divorced because she couldn’t keep her eyes and hands off men but no one said it. We all pretended men were the evil ones and women were well, angels. But we knew better.
“And who is the exception?” Eva asked taking a large sip.
“He has his eyes on the girl with him. 9’Oclock” she said with an evil grin on her face.
“I see him” it was Tina. At this time, I was thinking of how to leave the table and head to Sandra’s before heading home.
“He seems to be begging the lady” it was Eva. She had turned 180º now and was studying the distressed couple without propriety. I had to leave but found myself glued to the seat and still tearing at the large lettuce in the salad.
“I bet he cheated on her and now wants second chance. Am I right Debbie?” Eva asked dragging me into the conversation. Truth be told, I cared less about the couple and was more concerned about getting a good seat with cloud view on the flight at 1600 hours.
“I do not know, you can ask him or just walk up and pretend to be the other woman” I offered sarcastically, deciding on wearing a denim jeans and frayed white top. A large aviator and hand luggage would do me good. I already saw myself walking out of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, being picked up by the company driver and heading to the Hilton. The Zenith Group was known to be one of Nigeria’s largest groups of companies and had the best work environment. I was going to resume as the regional head for Business Development and my track record in sales/marketing was going to work in my favor. How else was I going to put down some real roots if no one bought new ideas I was bursting with. I couldn’t wait for my first meeting. It was exhilarating and I was looking forward to the challenge, long hours, beautiful hotels, interesting people……
“Debbie! Debbie!!” a rude tap.
“Yes?” I tried to hide the irritation from the corners of my mouth.
“Please go do it for me now” it was Uloma, all eyes resting on me the second time tonight.
“Do what?’ I was lost.
“Go as the other woman” Uloma said, her eyes glinting with mischief.
“I was just joking” I said in a laugh and taking a sip. No one laughed but instead stared back quietly.
“I cannot do that” I shook my head as Uloma pleaded with her eyes.
“You are leaving tomorrow. What are the odds that you would see him again? Just go now” Uloma pushed again.
“She is afraid” it was Tina.
“I am not” I defended. Tina didn’t know but she had pressed the right button. I was never afraid of anything and I was one to prove wrong those who thought me so.
“Then just have the last fun night, do something crazy and travel to your new shiny job tomorrow” Eva pressed drinking heavily. Dropping my phone, I powdered my nose slowly and wondered why I was doing their bidding. The dare had left me with no choice and Uloma was right, I was not going to meet the stranger again.
“Get his contact” Uloma urged and I I shook my head as I marched confidently across the room.
“I won’t” and I was off. As I approached, I noticed the eyes of his partner on my long legs before it met my eyes.
“Hey Mark” I said dropping a hand on the shoulder of the man who had backed the ladies all along. I was not ready for the perfection in his features as he turned and I caught my breath albeit briefly. His eyes were dark with anger and he looked ready to pounce on anyone who distracted him but I had gone too far and it was simply impossible to go back now. Or was it?
“Excuse me?” more of a demand than a question, his perfect upturned lips rose like he was trying to be patient but failing terribly.
“Forgotten me so soon darling?” I insinuated, looking at the confused lady already sitting up and thoroughly enjoying the challenge.
“I swear Ele, I do not know this being. I am surprised you doubt me” he said with disdain as the curvy girl stood up and quietly stared at me, her eyes misting just a little. I felt terrible, ashamed of creating the scene but it was for her good. I could smell it on him, he wasn’t a faithful soul.
“I hope you people are happy now, the wedding is off. Goodbye Vince’ the small curvy woman removed the ring and dropped it in his hand before she walked out of the cozy restaurant into the chilly night. The man named Vince stared down at me with venom before running after his fiancée.
I waited a while before walking back to the table.
“That was his fiancée” I announced to the trio who had ordered another bottle and had resumed drinking with a new man on my seat.
“Dickson, Debbie, Debbie, Dickson” Uloma introduced. A thin smile and I picked my purse and silently walked out, all the while regretting not leaving with Sandra. While I wasn’t sorry blowing off the engagement of God’s perfect creation, I was ticked because the trio already had moved on to their favorite four letter word.
I am sorry.
Think about the move with me.
Abuja won’t be bad for business.
See you when I get back.
It was a new beginning and I was ready for it as Debbie Black.