Gentlemen of the Bar – 14

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LEKKI LAGOS

NADEN’S APARTMENT

The house was dark, save for the light from the television. It was hard to tell that dawn broke over the city five hours ago and that a sun from which a scorching heat emanated was high in the sky outside. On one of the sofas of the living room, a still figure took up space, limbs scattered and hanging loosely from the sofa. It was Boma, and he was doing his best to feel at home in his brother’s luxurious apartment. Boma had stopped wondering about the source of Naden’s wealth since the previous day and had taken to worrying about his future.

He knew he was safe. He had known he was safe from the moment he stepped out of the dark airless room where he and Cletus had spent two nights, hands bound behind them and legs shackled together, to a waiting Pathfinder driven by a thickset man with bushy mustache. The man had taken them from the police station at Ikpoba Hill to a mansion at GRA with automatic sliding gates.

The mansion, harbouring nothing but furniture and expensive water colour portraits had been impressive and eerie at the same time. Boma felt as if invisible eyes followed him every step he took. The feeling was amplified when he came out of one of the bathroom of one of the mansion’s rooms where he had gone to wash the bacteria and grime of the police station to meet fresh clothes on the bed. He met with Cletus at the wide hallway connecting the rooms of the mansion. He too was dressed in new clothes. Throwing his arms wide open to show Boma the size sixteen gray striped shirt and a charcoal black trouser that hid most of his bulky frame, he shook his head, wonder in his eyes.

“Why?”

Downstairs the silent driver of the Pathfinder had handed them tickets without a word. Boma and Cletus had found from their tickets that they were to be separated. Their flight out of Benin would take them to different cities. Lagos was his point of destination while Cletus was to go to Asaba. Feeling disconnected from reality, Boma had taken his friend’s hand in a farewell handshake, holding on to it for several minutes. No words passed between the two friends but in their hearts they mourned the brief friendship they had enjoyed. Boma especially found himself swallowing hard. Even though they had only met when he came to Benin, Boma considered Cletus family.

Boma had been filled with uncertainties during the flight to Lagos. He knew nothing about the benefactors that had freed him and his friend from detention. He wasn’t even sure he was going to see his family again. He had regretted not being conversational when he spoke to his mother while at the mansion at Benin.

The plane touched down at Lagos forty minutes later and Boma found himself in the company of yet another silent driver. The man had found him in the throng of passengers pouring into the arrival hall of the airport. The man’s expression had been friendlier than that of his counterpart at Benin, even though he wasn’t smiling when he said,

“Boma?”

Boma was driven through a pulsating, vibrating Lagos, the air conditioned interior of the tinted Audi Q7 protecting him from the sun that caused pedestrians and hawkers alike to squint under it. The roads widened as they progressed from the population heavy areas of the city to the upper class neighbourhoods of the Victoria Island and Lekki. Their drive ended when they got to the locked gates of a white bungalow with nicely trimmed flower hedges. The driver made a call, sounding several yes sirs.

“I will leave you here,” he said, turning to Boma at the end of his call.

So Boma found himself joining at least one third of the Lagos population under the sun, unprotected eyes narrowed to slits as he scanned the empty street for whoever he had been handed to. He found out who it was exactly ten minutes later.

Their meeting had been awkward. Naden had changed in the years they had been apart. His face had a leaner look and his eyes danced over Boma in speculation and suspicion. Boma found his defences rising to protect him from his brother’s scrutiny. Naden had always been the golden child, the one who found success easy, winning laurel after laurel so that Boma found it hard to compete. He was twenty when he gave up trying to be like his brother, giving in to the resentment that caused a complete breakdown of communication between them.

That afternoon Boma opted for civility. He nodded at Naden.

“Good afternoon Naden.”

“Good afternoon.”

Nothing more was said after that. Accepting the silent invitation into Naden’s apartment, Boma had begun a second phase of life. They lived in silence and occasional monosyllables. As the days went by, Boma filled his head with questions about the luxury that surrounded him. It became clear that Naden was somehow connected with his release. At the beginning, he vowed to ask questions, but the resolve wore off later on. Naden’s silence was hard to break. He would keep to himself.

Boma heard his phone ring and stretched one hand towards the table beside him to pick up the phone.

“Mama, how far?”

“Boma how you dey?”

“I dey fine.”

“You dey house?”

“Yes.”

“Naden don comot?”

“Yes.”

“But Boma, why you no tell Naden say you dey road that time wey I call you?”

“How I take know say na im I been dey go meet?”

Falling into reproachful silence, his mother refused to answer his question. Boma felt contrite for snapping at her.

“Sorry.”

“I don hear.”

She told him she had to go, but did not leave without reminding him about the benefits of getting along with his elder brother.

“I take God beg you, no do anything wey go vex am because na only am you get for Lagos.”

Boma sighed and wished his mother worried about him as much as she worried about Naden.

“Okay.”

“Una don dey talk well well?”

Impatient with their Naden themed conversation, Boma snapped again.

“Mama abeg…”

His mother snapped back.

“Na wetin ehn, Boma na wetin? You no know wetin Naden don do for you? Ehn? I dey tell you make you try talk to am, you dey do anyhow. Wetin?!”

Hurrying off the phone in a huff and leaving Boma with a dial tone in his ears, his mother made her displeasure known. Boma struggled with his temper for some minutes and then remembered how much he loved his mother. He sent her a text…

Sorry.

…and went back to lounging on Naden’s sofa. Studying the lines on the ceiling above him, he thought about his relationship with his brother.

Was there hope for them?

Boma was lost in thought and only heard the knocking at the gate two minutes after it had begun. A frown on his face, he left the sofa and the apartment. Once outside, he approached the gate with cautious steps. Through the bars at the top part of the gate, he saw the beautiful features of a young woman. He walked towards her, unsure what his next action should be. Unaware that she was being approached, the woman knocked again, a pout on her glossy orange lips this time. Boma judged from the expression on her face that she was familiar with her surroundings.

Naden’s girlfriend?

“Hi,” the woman said when he got to her, curiosity in her eyes. “Is Naden around?”

Boma pushed his hands into his pockets and cocked his head. The woman’s false lashes put him off immediately. There was something about her.

“No.”

The woman’s eyebrows drew together in what Boma thought was confusion.

“Are you erm…his friend?”

“His brother.”

The woman’s face lit up.

“Really?” she squealed, stepping closer to the gate and wrapping fingers with talon like nails around one of the bars of the gate. “That’s nice. He didn’t tell me he had a brother.”

Boma tried to smile but ended up with a grimace.

He did not like this woman.

“Okay.”

His lack of enthusiasm seemed to affect the woman and she stepped away from the gate.

“Erm…so where did Naden go?”

Boma shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“Okay.”

They shared an uncomfortable silence before the woman made another attempt at conversation.

“When did you come?”

Boma frowned, growing uncomfortable by the minute. He struggled with the desire to walk away from the woman.

“Some days ago.”

“Okay.”

“Erm…can I come in and wait for Naden?”

Boma held her eyes as he considered her question. In the end he concluded that Naden’s life was not his business. He excused himself from the woman and walked back to Naden’s apartment for the key his brother had shown him the first night of his stay at the apartment. He let her in minutes later, offering her one of the living room sofas and the television remote control.

He went back to the three-seater and pretended to sleep.

************************

THE OYELOWO MANSION

MARTIN OYELOWO’S STUDY

NADEN

“Yes he is….no….I believe he can do that. Yes…a Nigerian university. He studied Petro chemical engineering….”

Lifting his eyes to mine, Martin cocks his left eyebrow to confirm Boma’s course of study at the university. I nod. He nods back and goes back to his conversation.

“Good…good…I will appreciate that. Thank you Braimoh.”

The smile disappears from Martin’s face the next minute as he ends the call and lowers the hand holding the phone to the table.

“So, he is adjusting?”

“I think so.”

Martin nods, his eyes growing thoughtful. Leaning forward and picking his gold fountain pen, he twirls it around his fingers.

“So you know what to do.”

I nod again. “I do.”

“Good.”

“When does he start?”

“Next week.”

Martin declares the meeting over. I leave his office just as he reaches for his intercom to speak to his wife. My steps echo in the marbled hallway as I walk past the winding staircase and head towards the living room. I try not to look at the staircase or think about the fact that Angela lived in the house.

“Hi!”

I almost trip at the picture of the smiling girl sitting cross legged on one of the sofas of the living room.

“Are you Aunt…Aunty Angie’s boyfriend?”

I remember Kano and Angela sitting in the middle of the bed in the same cross legged position and talking on the phone with someone she called Fausat.

I shake my head.

“No.”

The smile still on her face, the girl pushes out her lower lip.

“Shame. You are sure better than sir douche bag.”

I try to fight the smile fighting its way to my lips but I lose. The open honesty on the face across the living room pulls me in like a magnet. I walk towards it.

“Come sit with me,” the girl says, throwing her legs off the sofa and patting the space beside her. I smile my thanks at her, but pick the sofa beside hers.

“So, I am Fausat.”

I lean back on the sofa.

“Pleased to meet you Fausat.”

“You?”

“Naden.”

“Nice to meet you Naden.”

Fausat leans across, grabs my hand, gives it an enthusiastic pump and announces that she is going to like me for a long time.

*************************

IN THE HALLWAY

Martin Oyelowo closed the door behind him and walked briskly towards the staircase. He had not gotten far before he heard voices in the living room. His eyes narrowed and he came to stand in the part of the hallway hidden from the view of the living room occupants.

“So you see….I tried to talk to him while he waited for Angie but he…he was just sitting there and looking at me…like I was a nuisance or something…so I call him sir douche bag now.”

Martin’s lips curled in a smile. He knew who his niece was talking about. He was glad to see that someone else shared his sentiment about the man he had begun to see with his daughter in recent times.

“He never cracks a smile every time he comes here…I wonder why…Angie likes him.”

The silence from the living room told Martin that Fausat was involved in a soliloquy more than she was in a conversation.

“I wish you were her boyfriend…you are way cue…cuter.”

Naden’s voice reached Martin for the first time.

“Thank you.”

“Please date her.”

Martin smiled again and turned away from the living room to meet the wife that waited for him in her room. Some things did not need his intervention.

*************************

OUTSIDE THE OYELOWO MANSION

ANGELA

Peter is complaining like he has been doing since we left his apartment about my response to his advances. He shakes his head as we drive into the compound.

“You are cold Angela, I don’t get it.”

I sigh and rub my hands together to ward off the cold air from the air conditioner of Peter’s car….

“Sorry.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

“There is something Angela. Did you meet someone?”

I shake my head.

“No one.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes I am.”

“So why didn’t you let me….”

The memory of our fifteen minutes foreplay strikes an uncomfortable chord. I look outside the window and face the perimeter of the compound fence as we drive past it.

“Who are those?”

I turn to Peter and frown.

“Who?”

“There,” he says, nodding in the direction of the house. I follow his finger and find out that there are people standing on the steps of the house…

“It’s that your little cousin,” Peter says again. I sense displeasure in his voice and begin to question him about it until I recognize the person standing beside Fausat. My heart jumps in my chest as the distance shortens, revealing the humour and curiousity in the eyes of the man I have done my best to forget. I panic. Spinning in my chair towards Peter, I grab the front of his shirt.

“Kiss me.”

Peter is slow to respond, so I press my lips against his own and begin to kiss him. Recovering from his surprise, Peter grabs my shoulders, pulling me closer to his body and deepens the kiss. I try not to feel revulsion as Peter’s tongue pushes to the back of my throat, leaking gallons of saliva into my mouth. I pull back to lessen the assault but Peter is relentless. His hands climb up my chest and begin to squeeze my breasts. Feeling violated, I exert enough pressure on Peter’s chest until he releases me.

“That is more like the old Angela,” Peter says, right hand still cupping my right breast. I force a smile, push his hand away and tell myself the truth.

The old Angela was gone. The new Angela was not attracted to Peter anymore.

**********************

NADEN

“Ewww, she let sir douche bag kiss her,” Fausat says, making a disgusted face as we witness Angela’s car romp with her boyfriend. “Yuck.”

I smile and dig into my pocket for my car keys.

“So I have to go now. It was nice talking to you.”

Sighing and looking up to me with big eyes, Fausat takes one of my hands.

“You will come back?”

“Sure.”

“Great.”

I leave a thoroughly satisfied Fausat at the top of the steps and jog down to my car. I drive out of the compound minutes later, passing Angela and her boyfriend. As I speed to my apartment, I do my best to forget the picture of Angela kissing her boyfriend.

Jealous?

I shake my head and make a face.

“Nah,” I answer my inner voice, shrugging as I overtake a white Honda Pilot. ”She can do what she likes. We are done.”

The lights are out when I get to the apartment. After opening the gate for me, Boma tells me I have a guest.

“She is in your room now.”

He disappears into his room afterwards, leaving me mystified by his announcement. The mystery ends when I open my room door to find Jewel under my bed covers.

“Hi,” she says, rising out of the covers and showing off her nakedness. “Glad you are back. I almost left.”

I groan inwardly.

God please, not now.

I dump my car keys on the bed side table and stand beside the bed.

“You should have called me.”

“I know. Sorry.”

“You can’t stay here Jewel.”

Shock registering on her face, Jewel picks up the covers and pulls it over her body.

“Why not?”

“Because….” I look away from the hurt in Jewel’s eyes. “I did not plan for this.”

I leave Jewel in the bedroom and head back to the living room. I am fiddling with my phone when Jewel joins me. Now appropriately covered and confident, she tells me she is ready to go. I offer to drop her where she can find a taxi to her place.

“It’s late,” she tells me in a flat tone. “Drop me instead.”

Too tired to argue, I nod.

“Okay.”

I drop Jewel at her aunty’s place at Yaba and she leaves the car without a backward glance. I watch her perfect figure disappear into the void of darkness surrounding the colonial styled duplex and the houses around it. Leaving the drone of generators behind, I drive off into the night and hope that my chapter with Jewel is closed forever.

At home, I knock on Boma’s door. He is sleepy eyed but alert when he opens the door.

“Hi.”

“You should be starting something soon.”

“Okay.”

I turn away from the door and take two steps forward.

“And erm…Naden?”

“Yes?”

“Thanks…for everything.”

“Okay.”

In my room, I indulge in a long hot shower. Twenty minutes later, I return to the room and find a message from Angela.

Hi. We need to talk.

Towel on waist, I send back a reply.

About?

Something important. Tomorrow noon. Office.

I type again.

I won’t be available.

I switch off my phone, push it under my pillow and climb into bed. She had kissed another man. Only God knew what else she had done with him.

You are jealous then?

I do not bother with denial. I just sleep.



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