Gentlemen of the Bar – 17
The brothers sat beside each other in the X5, chiseled faces identical and expressionless as they took stock of the frenzied human and vehicular activities outside the car. The air inside the car was frozen with a civility that barred conversation and frivolous speech. Along the geometry of leather, plastic and metal were invisible lines neither of the brothers wanted to cross. Somewhere past zebra lines and the towering edifices, among which was an expensive hotel rumoured to be owned by a political bigwig in the state, the phone of the younger brother began to ring, ending the uncomfortable silence. The brother stirred. His face loosened.
“Good morning mama.”
A few inches away, the elder brother listened as he slowed the car to a stop before a traffic light…
“Yes…na today…I don do am…Amen…Amen…Amen…yes…okay hold on.”
The younger brother turned to the elder one and offered him his phone. The other took it with a simple nod.
“Mama,” he said, a smile curving his lips. “How far?”
A brief conversation ensued between the elder brother and the mother. She shared her concerns over the news that the city had been threatened by the Boko Haram terrorist group. The elder brother allayed her fears, assuring her of their safety. They spoke for a few more minutes until she said goodbye. The call over between him and his mother, the elder brother handed the phone back to the younger one.
“What if it is true – this bomb threat?” the younger brother asked, breaking the polite silence between him and his brother. “They have hit Abuja twice in less than three weeks.”
The elder brother shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess we have to be careful.”
The silence turned, but not for long. The elder brother turned from his driving to look at his brother.
“So who are you going to see?”
“So…having a date today?”
Caught off guard by his brother’s question, the elder brother smiled.
“Yeah – with the chick that came looking for you that night.”
The smile traveled all the way across the elder brother’s face. He shook his head.
“I don’t know.”
“You like her?”
“Okay. Good for you,” the younger brother said with a nod, and then turned to window to think of the woman he once loved. Their meeting was only an hour away.
THE OYELOWO MANSION
Damilola Oyelowo felt queasy. Her stomach rumbled with her undigested breakfast, forcing her to sit up suddenly in bed. Struggling to the edge of the bed, she stood up and hurried to the bathroom where she knelt beside the toilet bowl and retched, throwing up bits of vegetable, yam and liver. Her body shook for the while her ordeal lasted.
Finally she rose shakily to her feet and flushed down the messy goo. She walked to the mirror and stared at her reflection for several minutes.
What is wrong with me?
It was the second time she had thrown up her breakfast. The previous day, she had been in her husband’s study, picking through cubes of diced pineapples and paw-paw when he leaned in for a kiss. The spicy notes of his cologne had hit her with a force that made it necessary to shrink away from him. Her reaction had surprised them both. She began to crack a joke about it when a wave of nausea swept over her. Abandoning her bowl of salad on his desk, she had rushed into his study toilet to empty her stomach of its contents.
It must be typhoid, she reasoned, turning away from the mirror and walking out of the bathroom to her bedroom, last time she had been down with the illness, it had been difficult to keep her meals down. Yes, it was only typhoid. She would call her doctor later in the afternoon. With those thoughts in mind, Damilola returned to her bed and resumed jotting down her chores for the day. Five minutes into her writing, she was distracted by thoughts of her illness.
I should call Tosin.
So she did. Her former course mate and long time friend listened to her without interrupting her.
“What do you think?”
“I think you are pregnant.”
“Damilola you have been pregnant before. Surely, you know you are having morning sickness.”
Damilola shook her head, refusing to believe Tosin’s words.
“But I can’t be pregnant.”
“And why not? You are having sex with Martin, aren’t you?”
Damilola swallowed hard. “Yes.”
“So why are you surprised?”
“It’s just….weird. I am in my fifties Tosin.”
Placing the back of her hand on her forehead, Damilola felt for her temperature.
Dear God, please let this be a bad dream.
Damilola’s hand lowered back to her side.
“I am – too old to be having a baby. Can you imagine me parading a pregnancy at this age?”
Tosin laughed. “Don’t be ridiculous. Women have babies at your age these days.”
“I am not most women,” Damilola said, releasing a sigh. “I am a mother to an adult daughter. I don’t even want to think of what Angela’s reaction will be when she learns of this pregnancy.”
“Okay, let’s not anticipate problems before they arise. For all we know, this thing – it could just be that you are suffering from stomach upset.”
Damilola drew in a deep breath. Tosin was right. It could be a stomach upset. She repeated the words to calm herself.
“But you should go for a pregnancy test to be sure.”
Panic seized Damilola again. She clamped a hand over her mouth.
THE CHAMBERS OF OYELOWO & CO
I feel transparent as I sit under the scrutiny of my friends but my façade of cool indifference keeps them from guessing answers to the riddle of my text message.
“So you won’t say anything?” Agatha says after a while.
I smile. “Not yet.”
Amina sighs. “What’s the point? It’s not like we don’t know already.”
I push one of the files on my desk towards me and flip through its contents.
“You don’t actually.”
I feel the pressure of my friends’ eyes as I flip through the file. Somewhere in the corridor, voices rise in conversation.
Don’t you have a case this morning?
We do. Federal High Court Ikoyi.
Court eight sir.
Shouldn’t you be leaving now?
We were just about to leave sir.
I close the file and look up to see Agatha shaking her head.
“The smile on your face says it all.”
Amina begins to say something but then someone knocks on my door. The three of us turn to the door.
It is Naden. He slows in his steps when he sees I have company. He exchanges polite good mornings with my friends, and then looks at me.
“Can I see you for a minute?”
I nod. “Okay.”
“It is Naden,” Agatha tells Amina when Naden leaves the office. “He is the one she was talking about.”
Amina gasps and then claps. I rise from my chair and smoothen out the creases in my skirt.
“We are not dating,” I tell Amina, fighting a smile. “I said – I think I might be in a relationship. I did not mention names.”
I sweep out of the office after that, my steps quick and confident as I head for Naden’s office. My confidence disappears when I reach his door. I pause for a second and then knock.
I put a full stop to the nicely constructed verbiage and legalese I hope to communicate at the meeting with the firm’s client scheduled to hold in a few minutes. The sudden hollow echo of knuckles rapping on my door makes me look toward it. I draw back from my desk as the door opens and Angela strolls in, picture perfect in a short black skirt and leopard print blouse.
“Hi,” she says, standing behind one of the chairs across my desk, tightly drawn brows contrasting with the beguiling smile etched on her face. I motion with my head towards the empty chairs.
After minutes of settling down and arranging her smooth legs over each other, she looks up at me. For some reason, I am tensed. I deal with the tension by attempting small talk.
“How was your night?”
Pursed lips relax in a smile again. “Good.”
I nod. Angela appears to fidget before taking her eyes off me to look at the arch files at the far end of my table.
“I think we should talk about us.”
Curious eyes turn to me again. “Okay.”
I hesitate for some seconds, remembering the last time.
Well, the answer is no.
Silencing the mental replay in my head, I focus on Angela.
“I know we have talked about this before, but, be my girlfriend?”
The words are simple enough but after a few minutes of waiting, I begin to wonder if I should have said more. There is no time for an embellishment. Angela gives me an answer in the next second. It comes in the form of an almost imperceptible nod.
I unfurl the fists I did not know were tightly curled on my lap. A half smile on his face, he looks down on his wristwatch.
“It is almost time for the meeting.”
I uncross my legs, place my hands on the arms of the chair and rise to my feet. Naden stands up from his chair too. Transfixed, I watch him cross the room to the coat rack where he picks his jacket.
The thought is both delicious and perplexing. My thirty one year freedom slipping from sight, I try to look at the bright side.
The sex is great and I don’t have to worry about his motive.
I smile at the thought and then turn around.
His voice is close. I find him even closer when I turn to him. My legs propel me towards him, completely independent of my control. I stand inches away from him and wait.
“We forgot this,” he says, hands lifting to cradle my face. I feel my breath catch in anticipation of the kiss that is about to come.
Then it happens.
My arms slip into his suit jacket, climbing his sides and clinging to him as he gives me a thorough spine tingling kiss. Suddenly it is just two of us in the universe. I am aware of the rough stubble of unshaved beard on his chin and the faint taste of coffee and mint.
Rap, tap, tap.
Rap, tap, tap.
He pulls away just as I question the source of the intrusion. His eyes lift from my own and focus on something above my head. Still clinging to him, I follow his eyes and find Agatha’s surprised smile.
“Sorry – I didn’t know you guys were busy.”
I drop my hands from his sides and take a step away.
“It is fine,” Naden says, hands disappearing into his trouser pocket. He is the very definition of respectability while I stand with my smeared lipstick and wonder what Agatha is thinking.
“Okay,” Agatha says, eyes twinkling as they move from me to Naden. “I just wanted to remind you guys about the meeting. Mr. Ogunnaike is already in the conference room.”
“Thank you Agatha. We will be with you soon.”
Nodding and retracting her head from the open door, Agatha melts back into that other universe of waiting clients and curious friends.
“Now they know you are kissing the boss,” Naden says, his tone laced with humour. Self conscious like a schoolgirl, I respond to his joke with a dry chuckle. His eyes turn serious.
“Would you like to hang out after work?”
I look at the handsome face of my new boyfriend and smile.
THE PALMS LEKKI
Boma sat in the car and watched people stream out of the mall. He watched the happy skipping children running ahead of their mothers, the jean clad girls swaying on high heeled shoes and the occasional couples wearing matching T-shirts without absorbing anything. The humans moved in and out of his vision as he thought of the reason for his visit to the mall.
She was here.
Boma tapped the wheel of his brother’s car, eyes narrowing in contemplation. She had left him to his fate, why did she want to see him now? The memory of her call came back to him, her voice filtered and disembodied by a weak network signal, filled his ears.
I want to explain Boma. Please.
Boma searched his heart for the fire that once consumed him. He found nothing except a cold logic that demanded answers. He nodded. She would get her audience. Picking his phone from the console beside his gear box, he called her.
“I am here – at the car park.”
Boma frowned. She knew? He turned in his seat, his eyes scanning the entire area of the car park.
“Turn left,” her voice said.
He did. And saw her.
She stood a short distance from him, dark sunglasses on her face, the upper part of her body covered by a black tee shirt with words emblazoned in gold letters and the lower part hidden from view by the body of a black Toyota Land cruiser. The hand that had been holding the phone clasped to her right ear lowered when their eyes met. For several minutes, he watched her, taking in every detail of her features, remembering their short lived relationship, and entertaining feelings of hurt and betrayal.
Then she began to walk to him, steps slow and deliberate. Boma’s hand hovered over the panel on his door, unlocking the car the moment she reached it. Opening the door, she slipped into the passenger seat, removed her glasses and offered him a shaky smile.
“You look different.”
Boma leaned backwards and propped his body against the door. He studied her, the proximity showing him things he hadn’t noticed while she stood outside the car. Her forehead, once smooth like the rest of her body was now graced with lines. Her mouth no longer had the suggestive hint of perpetual humour he had once found attractive.
“You look different too,” he told her, his tone flat and emotionless.
She must have sensed his thoughts because she drew herself upright in her seat.
“So – what’s up?”
“I want to explain why – “
Her voice drifted. A long silence ensued. Boma shifted.
“I don’t have all day Lydia.”
“I had to go.”
Boma nodded slowly. “I see – so that’s your excuse?”
“I didn’t know what would happen next.” Lacing her fingers, Lydia averted her face, eyes roaming sightlessly on the crowd that constantly poured into the car park. “And I wasn’t thinking – I just left everything and – came here.”
Adjusting in his seat, Boma threw his head back on his chair and closed his eyes. The darkness behind his lids calmed him. Inside that void of nothingness, he found his resolve.
It was over between him and Lydia. There was no going back.
“Nice car,” Lydia was saying when he opened his eyes. Her eyes were still sad. “Is it yours?”
Boma shook his head. “No.”
“A lot has happened since the last time we saw.” Boma’s hands lifted from his thighs to grip the steering. “It should have been bad but let’s just say – I got lucky.” Succumbing to a long pause, Boma stared ahead and then glanced back at Lydia. “It is over Lydia. I am not going back to the way I used to live.”
The former lovers stared at themselves for a while, breathing in the cold air of the car. Lydia was the first to break. She hung her head and let fat tears roll down her cheeks.
“Just like that?”
Her voice was a shaky whisper. Boma looked away from her tears, refusing to be affected by it. She had betrayed him. Her tears meant nothing to him.
Sobs racking her body, Lydia reached for a piece of Kleenex from the box on the dashboard.
“Please gi – give me some minutes,” she hiccuped, shaking into the Kleenex. “This is so hard.”
Feeling his armour begin to crack, Boma closed his eyes again.
“I am sorry.”
Her sobs subsiding, Lydia blew her nose and picked another Kleenex.
“You know,” she said, bunching up the Kleenex in her hand and staring outside the window. “All I wanted was justice for my mother. My uncle – he did – things to her. I wanted him to pay. I didn’t think things would go the way they did.” She looked back at Boma. “And when I came here, I kept praying – asking God to give us a second chance.”
Boma kept his eyes closed.
“I know this is not going to change anything, but know, things have been difficult since I left Benin. It’s been hard – really hard.”
Grabbing the handle of the passenger door, Lydia stumbled out of the car. Boma opened his eyes, watching as she walked past the car, glasses going over her face again. Head hanging dejectedly, she cut a lone figure in the crowd of shoppers. Finally she disappeared from view and Boma started the car.
He drove back home, his mind dulled by the encounter with Lydia. He found the roads he had committed to memory during his trip to Naden’s office that morning. He drove into the compound not long after, making sure to lock the gates after him. Once he found himself in the privacy of the house, his icy demeanour cracked. He hung his head and sighed into his palms. Seeing her was a mistake. It was not over. Not yet.
The voices from the screen reverberate through the cinema hall. A good portion of the crowd laughs. Beside me, Angela is chuckling. I listen to the sound of her mirth, drawn to it more than I am to the movie causing it. I steal a glance at her and end up looking into her eyes.
“Enjoying the movie?”
I sneak a hand past the arm rest separating us and squeeze her hand.
The flashing lights from the screen dancing on her face and giving her an almost ethereal glow, Angela nods and then leans to whisper in my ears.
“Do you think this place is good for a quickie?”
I laugh. “No.”
My phone vibrates. I pull it from my pocket to read a text message from Jewel.
I need your help. Please call me.
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