FRIDAY, 11TH JULY 2014
Pauline stood in front of the mirror and was amazed at how her eyes were lightened up with anticipation. She could not recall the last time she felt this pounding blood rush in her veins, the fast racing of her heart and how her head was about to explode with exhilaration. She was supposed to feel guilty for feeling this way, but strangely, she did not. Instead, she felt happy. A sensation she had not experienced in a very long time that it made her feel awkward. She had been looking forward to this day since the beginning of the week, since that moment she received that call that brought a flicker of hope into her declining life. She opened the drawer of the cupboard housing the mirror and her hands shook slightly as she brought out the Mary Kay collection she had not used for a very long time. She picked out the red lipstick and dabbed a little across her lips before rubbing them together. The way the lipstick transformed her face even shocked her herself. Little by little, she could catch a glimpse into her former bubbly beautiful self. Perhaps if she added a little more… she chided herself. It was just a meeting, it was not even a date. Just a reunion with an old friend. Well, an old flame. But still, that did not mean she could make up herself in such a way that even a passerby would notice she was trying to create an impression. Her eyes caught the Christian Dior Perfume she had not used for a long while. It was once her favourite scent and she once proudly wore it especially after her husband commented he loved the way it smelt on her. That was many years ago. Now, he barely recognized if she used any perfume at all. She picked up the red bottle and dabbed some on her body. Today was a special day in her life. A day someone would appreciate her for who she was and not who she was supposed to be. He would not look at her weaknesses, but rather appreciate her good sides and make her feel like a woman and not some burden he could not tolerate. A cross he was ashamed to carry.
By the time she was done adorning herself, Pauline smiled at the image staring back at her. This was how she was supposed to look every day – beautiful, radiant and lively, and right there, she made up her mind to find herself again. Just like everyone, she deserved a happy life, didn’t she? And if she could not get happiness in her home, then she would find it outside. She picked up her handbag and walked out of her bedroom. She did not even bother to greet anyone as she walked towards the door, not that they would reply if she did greet. Already, she was used to being ignored. That was the only way they could all live together peacefully. But the story was about to change, at least for her. By the time she returned to this house, she hoped to have had the best time of her life in many years.
“What is that smell?” The voice came from the dining table, at the entrance to the kitchen.
Pauline turned to see her husband having breakfast with his ‘new wife’ sitting beside him.
“Is that Christian Dior’s Poison?” George asked with interest. “It smells really good.”
Though she tried to deny it, Pauline was a little pleased that he could recall the perfume. At least it showed he still acknowledged her presence in the house. “Yes, it is. Good morning.” She smiled and walked towards the door.
“And you used makeup today. You look really good. Today must be a special day in your office.”
Pauline placed her hand on the knob. If only he knew how special it was. “Yes, it is very special.”
“You should use it more often, you know.”
Pauline could almost swear she saw a spark of admiration in his eyes, but it disappeared almost immediately as it came. She nodded at him and opened the door. “Have a nice day.” She didn’t wait for his reply before she closed the door behind her.
As much as she tried to act nonchalant, she had not been too comfortable with the way Nneka’s arms were placed around her husband’s back, but she knew there was nothing she could do about it. Even saying anything about it could cause a problem. It was no doubt George and Nneka were sleeping together and that tore painfully at her heart, made her feel incomplete. She hurried downstairs to avoid the urge of going back upstairs to start a fight. There was no need to waste time on a lost battle. Right now, she should start planning for her future. Right now, she should start looking for how to start afresh, and a time out with Ola seemed to be in the right directon. She could hardly wait for evening to come.
“Good morning, Ma.” Thirty-five year old Rose greeted her boss as she entered the big office, carrying a big case of files. “I thought you were not going to come in at all this week. Thank God you are here now. There are many papers for you to sign.”
Lola looked away from the window and covered it fully with the drapes. “I know you must have been praying I should not come in today at all, Rose.” Lola teased her long-time Personal Assistant. “Sorry to burst your bubble.”
Rose dropped the files on the mahogany table and tried to hide a smile. “Not at all. I am very glad you are around. The office has been boring without you and there are a lot of things to sign.”
Lola sighed tiredly. “That is why we have a Chief Operating Officer to stand in my place any time I am not available.”
“Mr. Henry is not the signatory to our accounts. Only you are since the Chairman…” Rose could not complete the words.
Since the death of the Managing Director, things had slowed down a bit in the Company and while Mrs. Williams had tried to take over his responsibilities, it had not been easy for her to get the full grasp of things.
“I will just arrange the papers according to the order of importance and give any explanations you need.” Rose explained.
Lola walked to the table and scowled at the pile of paper on her table. How she hated paperwork! Her late husband had been the one doing this part of the job, while she had provided support in the little ways she could. Now, she was to do this alone. Sometimes, she wished she could just hand over the Company to her son, but on several occasions, he had indicated disinterest and had reaffirmed his love for his medical profession. These were times she wished she had more than one child. This was another reason she wanted him to come home, so she could get another chance to convince him to take over and she could finally take her mind off business and concentrate on her health. Her failing health.
Focus, Lola, focus! She reprimanded herself. Right now, this was not about her. It was about the Company and how she would keep it afloat. If anyone in the Company got a whiff of her deteriorating health, it would cause a lot of anxiety and affect the Operations of the Company. Already, it had taken God’s intervention to keep the Company together after her husband’s death and the shareholders had expressed their doubts, but through prayers and lots of meetings, she was able to regain their trust in the Company. Right now, she needed to put her act together and be the kind of boss everyone expected. Her health was her private life and should, in no way, interfere with the Company.
Her eyes flew to the Italian leather chair that once accommodated her husband and in her mind, she saw him seated comfortably, sorting through the papers, with a hot cup of coffee beside him and a young secretary helping with the paperwork. They had started this telecommunications Company together from scratch. She remembered when he was afraid to send the proposal to the Ministry of Information and Communication and she had kept pushing and pestering him until he had submitted it. The next week, they were invited to a meeting with the Minister and the following week, they started business. It had been a geometric growth from then. That was twenty five years ago and the business had grown so big that it had offices in almost every State in Nigeria and had become one of the four service providers in the industry. God had been good to them.
I know you have not left, Tobi. I still see your smile and the dimple on your left cheek. I still smell your perfume in this office and see your shadows in the darkness of our room. I still feel your breath on my neck as I dress up every morning. Life was beautiful with you. I hope I am smart and strong enough like you to keep our legacy going for as long as I have breath.
She sat on the chair and immediately took on a business-like expression, picking up a pen from the stationery case. “Okay, so where do I start from?”
Rose relaxed when her boss sat down to start the business of the day. At first, she thought her unkind reminder had sent the poor widow into a wave of painful memories and she chided herself for being too talkative. One would have thought after working with the graceful woman for almost ten years, she would have learnt some etiquette herself. She would be more careful from now on. She pushed the papers closer to her boss. “The first one is the final proposal for the ‘Express Yourself’ Promo to take off next month. We shall need twenty million naira for that campaign to launch successfully.”
Lola picked up her spectacles from the table and took a critical look at the proposal. She needed to take extra precaution against anyone defrauding the Company in whatever way. “Why is it twenty million naira. I thought the approved budget was eighteen million.’ She raised a curious eye.
Rose cleared her throat. “Yes, ma. You are right, but the Committee found out they needed an extra two million to increase the reward for subscribers. With that additional two million, if all goes well, it should bring us about five million naira.”
Lola understood the logic behind the calculation, but still… “Okay.” She signed the proposal. “I hope you people will not run the Company underground with all these campaigns you are shoving down my neck.”
“Not at all, ma. It is best for business and this is the first major one we shall be doing this year, plus it is very much still within the marketing budget for the year”.
Lola separated the signed paper and moved to the next. “What are these pictures for?”
Rose explained. “Those are pictures of all the ‘Tosin Ayoola’, the girl you told me to look for you. There are five existing people on Facebook bearing that same name, so I printed out their pictures for you to see which of them you wanted.”
“Oh!” Lola had completely forgotten about the crazy teenage girl-thief she met on Saturday. “Old age is fast taking over me. I didn’t even remember I asked you to do this for me.” A bigger storm has taken over my life. “Let me see.” She went through all the pictures carefully one after the other and shook her head. “No, she is not any of these girls. Are you sure these are all the people you can find?”
“Yes, I also checked through all other social media. Same faces kept popping up.”
“Then she must have lied to me.” Lola shook her head in distaste. “What an ungrateful girl! She gave me a lot of trouble at the Mall on Saturday and I remember adding to the goodies I bought her, I also included some cash in the nylon and my card as well. It’s been… how many days now? I doubt if she will ever call. Well, I thought I could get close to her and help her, but unfortunately, I guess it isn’t meant to be. Some people don’t just want to be helped.” She picked up the pictures, tore them and cast them into the nearby bin. “So what is the next one, please?”
Rose quickly launched into another explanation and by the time they finished getting all the documents signed some fifty minutes later, the least thing on Lola’s mind was a teenager who refused to be helped.
Bola shifted uncomfortably in the tight, little dress she had on and she tried to pull it down to cover her laps that were completely bare for the world to see, but the dress didn’t budge. Instead, the more she tried, the more upward it went, almost revealing her panties and as if it intended to spite her for her foolish decision. She wished she had stayed back and provided an excuse not to make this party, but her greed had pushed her to this. Bosco had promised to give her some money for the weekend if she attended and when she thought of other options of getting money and found out she had none, she had reluctantly agreed. It was only for some few hours, she had consoled herself, and her little brother would at least have something to eat. So, when it was almost time to leave the house, she told her father she was going to spend the night with her friend across the street. He barely acknowledged her request with a nod. He did not care whatever she did with herself, as long as she brought food to his table. With a final look at Tomiwa, who was sleeping peacefully on the mattress, she stepped out of the house and hoped she was not making the biggest mistake of her life. Some minutes later, her heart told her she was.
When Bosco picked her at the bus stop with a brand new 2013 Toyota Camry, he had frowned distastefully at her choice of clothing. She had worn a faded pair of trousers over another fading, red shirt. That was her best outfit, but it was not good enough for her new, rich boyfriend. He had looked at her as if she had just stepped out of garbage and had driven her over to a boutique at the end of the street, where he had picked out the shortest red dress she had ever seen.
“Wear this.” He had said. “This party is for hot girls, not some poor holy holy girls.”
Bola had collected the dress and went to the fitting room to try it and when she saw the transformation in the mirror, she almost changed her mind. Besides the laps that were exposed, the dress also had a plunging neck line that almost had her breasts pouring out.
“Beautiful!” Bosco had exclaimed when she stepped out. “My sweet Caro, My african queen.” He showered her with praises as unbridled lust shone from his eyes.
“I cannot wear this.” She covered her breasts with one hand and pulled down the gown with the other. “It is too open.” She felt like a prostitute. “Please let me wear something more covering.”
“Omo, this is sweeti pororo.” Bosco’s eyes gleamed with satisfaction. “This is exactly how you should dress to the party. Pretty lepa toh sexy! All my boys will be jealous me tonight.” He moved closer to her and placed her right hand on his head. “See as my body dey hot because of you. Omo, na me get luck pass today!” He took a quick look at her back. “Mehn! Your backyard na to die for! Why you dey hide these wonders since na?”
Bola looked down at herself. The way Bosco spoke made her hate herself in the dress more. A part of her wanted to tear the cloth off her body and run away for her dear life, while the other part, the more reasonable part, wanted to stay and attend the party, so she could have some money for the weekend. She wanted the money so desperately that she could do anything right now for it, and if looking like a prostitute for some hours of the night was all the price she had to pay, then she would pay it. But would that be all? What if there was more? She quickly brushed the warning aside before it got the better part of her.
A hand rubbed her laps in a seductive way and she cringed inwardly. What was she thinking? As soon as they left the Boutique and got into the car, Bosco hands had never left her. Every now and then, his right hand would stray, caressing her laps and telling her how soft and enticing they were. She tried to push further away from him, but that did not stop him.
“Calm down, baby.” Bosco cast her a quick glance from the driver’s seat. “No be my fault. Your legs are baaad. I don’t know why you hide them. Many girls are looking for this kind of sugar laps and they don’t have it. Shey you know you can get anything you want in this world with what is between those hot legs.”
Bola shut her laps together instinctively. She had no intention of letting anyone get in-between those legs tonight, not even Bosco. Her heart pounded heavily. She wished she could stop the car and find her way back to the house, but she had no dime on her and they had been on the road for about twenty minutes, so going back home was not an option. She did not need a seer to tell her she was in a precarious situation and that she just made the most foolish decision of her life. She tried to draw his attention away by changing the subject. “Who are those who will be in the party?”
“Just my friends and their girls, that’s all.”
“And when will it end?”
“Don’t worry, baby. I will get you back to the house before 5am. No one will even know you came home late.”
Bola sat straight in shock. “5 a.m.? I thought you said it was just for a couple of hours?” Had he lied to her?
Bosco laughed. “It is called a night party, baby. Na all night we go flex. Relax. You go enjoy am. Stop behaving like a small girl.”
Bola took in deep, nervous breaths. How would she be able to stay calm all through when inside her head, warning bells were ringing loud?
Just then, Bosco drove them into a corner and into a big compound enclosing a bar and a large parking space filled with big and expensive cars. Bola had never seen such array of beautiful cars all in one place before and her mouth was wide agape in wonder.
“I tell you say I dey roll with the big boys now.” Bosco spoke proudly when he saw the awe on her face. “Get ready, my love. Your life is about to change and you will thank God you met me.” He put off the ignition and got out of the car.
Bola could not contain the excited thumping of her heart as she got out of the car. So this was where the money was; this was what living big looked like. She took in the colourful duplex where low music was playing and saw some men sitting on the patio of the first floor and having the fun of their lives with some half-naked girls dancing around them.
A Mercedes Benz pulled in beside them and a young lady looking very elegant and expensively dressed came out of the car and walked towards the duplex, clutching her designer bag in her hand.
Bosco moved closer to Bola and pulled her gently at the arm. “You can be like that girl if you choose, you know. Everything is possible in a place like this.”
Bola was stiff on her feet. She had never been this close to rich people and she did not know how to react. All her life she had spent dealing with the poorest of the poor and here she was, just some steps away from the kind of life she dreamed of.
Bosco laughed quietly into her ears when he noticed how rigid her body was. “Welcome to Paradise, iyawo mi.”
Bola nodded absently. Bosco was right. This was Paradise. And she intended to enjoy every bit of it for the few hours they had. “Let’s go in.” She could hardly contain her excitement. For a moment, she forgot her reservations. All she wanted was to have a taste of what being rich felt like. Just a tiny taste was all she craved for.
“Now, that’s my girl!” Bosco curled his arms around her neck and guided her to the duplex. As they went into the house, his eyes caught a pair of eyes of one of the men on the patio and he nodded at him. The man nodded in response and turned back to the lady on his laps, as if nothing just happened.
Bosco smiled inwardly. Things were going just as he planned and before the party was over, someone would be richer and that person was him.