SATURDAY, 12TH NOVEMBER 2014
Pauline woke up with a start. She just had a wonderful dream. She had been having the fun of her life with a man she once secretly admired, still admired, and it was as if the date should not end. Her eyes were still wet from the laughter that rocked her rib cage. Ola had been cracking enough jokes to light up a house and it appeared natural to him as the words flowed out like honey from the honeycomb. To everyone else in the restaurant, they looked like a beautiful couple, what they should have been if things had gone the way Pauline had secretly wanted. It did not matter that Ola was married with two kids and was only in Nigeria briefly for a business function. In-between their conversation, Pauline had appreciated the way his lips moved anytime he spoke and the way his neck arched to demonstrate his point of view. He was a very handsome and understanding man, the kind that would stand by his woman, no matter the circumstance.
She rubbed her sleepy eyes and stood up from the king-size bed that was partly rough, partly neat. Any time she saw the contrast, it reminded her of the loneliness in her life. That side of the bed should be filled by her husband and she ached for the past days when she would wake up wrapped like a baby in George’s arms and he would plant a morning kiss on her lips. It was more depressing to know that those arms were wrapped around another woman now. Which was one of the reasons she had looked forward to the meeting with Ola last evening, very excited that she would at least have some fun time with someone who would take her mind off her husband. Within her, she had also hoped for something else. To see if the spark she once had for Ola would still be there and if there could be a re-connection between them. Though she knew it was wrong of her to desire such, as both of them were married, there was a sinful excitement that came with trying to hook up with an old flame.
And while she waited for him inside the restaurant at The Four Seasons, the place they had planned to meet, her conscience kept eating her up, condemning her motives and when she had picked her phone and almost made the call to cancel the meeting, especially as Ola was running late, Ola had walked through the door, looking very dark, tall and handsome in his navy blue suit and with the brightest of smiles on his face and apologies on his lips. And when he hugged her fondly, Pauline could almost feel her heart explode.
“I am very sorry. The traffic was really mad. Lagos is a messed up place.” He said as they settled down on the table she had reserved. “Men! How do you guys cope with that killer-traffic and the death-trap potholes?” Then he softened. “My God! You haven’t changed, Pauline. Still as beautiful as ever.” His eyes were full of admiration. “Your husband is sure a lucky chap.”
Pauline forced a smile. If only he knew how ‘unlucky’ her husband felt. “Well, you can say I am the lucky one.” She lied. She was not about to let Ola know of her woes. “He is a very wonderful husband.”
“Yes, I checked him out on Facebook.” A waiter walked up to them with the menu and Olisa collected them.
“You checked my husband out on Facebook?” Pauline was surprised he would do that. Did that mean he could be more interested in her than she thought he was? Would jealousy have pushed him to do that?
“Yes. I just wanted to see the lucky man who finally caught your heart.” His eyes sparkled like diamonds and Pauline’s heart melted. He passed one of the menu over to her. “Please make your order for anything you desire. Everything is on me.”
Pauline could hardly keep her mind on the items. Her heart thumped heavily and she tried to steady her hands. “How is your… your wife and kids?”
“I miss my kids. Wish I could have brought them here to have a feel of Nigeria.” He brought out his wallet, opened it and showed her a miniature picture of his kids. He pointed at them one after the other “This is Tayo and this is Tola. They are too American. They need to know their fatherland.” He made his choice on the menu and spoke quietly to the waiter before turning his attention back at Pauline. “How about your kids? I would really like them to meet mine maybe when I bring them to Nigeria.”
Pauline suddenly felt nauseous, praying that the ground would open up and swallow her. Why did he have to ask her that? Rub her problems on her face?
“Pauline, are you okay?” Ola grabbed her hands. “You turned stiff all of a sudden. Should I get you to the hospital?”
Pauline quickly recovered. “No, No… I’m fine.” She forced another smile. “My kids, you asked for, right? They are fine. I have two lovely girls, Mary and Martha. I am sure your kids will love them.” She turned her face to the other side and quickly dabbed at the corner of her right eye to stop the tear that hanged there.
“I know they will be as beautiful as you are.”
Pauline could only nod and she quickly beckoned to one of the waiters and made her order. All of a sudden, nothing on the menu appealed to her anymore, so the waiter was surprised when she only requested a bottle of water.
“Just water?” Ola laughed. “Come on, you can do more than that. Or is there something you are not telling me? A third on the way?” He teased, winking and smiling.
The laughter that came out of her lips sounded ridiculous to her ears. “Sorry to soil your fun, Ola. I wish there were a third.” Or even one at all. She quickly changed the subject before he made another comment that would lead to more lies. “So, tell me about this business you came to do.”
Ola relaxed on the chair, his handsome face taking on a business-like expression. “Oh, just properties. The retail industry here is growing tremendously and my company is looking for ways of coming in, so they asked me to come and do some underground research.”
“Like snoop around existing businesses and properties?”
“Yes. And see how we can come in and offer even better services.”
“Then you have met the right person.”
Ola sat upright. “How do you mean?”
“I work for a marketing research consultancy company, the best in town, really. And I am sure we can help your Company get the right info you need.”
“Wow! That makes my work so much easier. So you see our meeting again is ordained by God. I, not only, get my work done, I also will have the opportunity to spend time with an old friend.”
Old friend? Pauline shuddered lightly. Years ago, she had wanted more than being just friends with this man, but she lost. Now, that they have met again, it appeared ‘friend’ was all she would ever be to him. She sighed sadly. Life had given up on her entirely.
A loud noise in the living room snapped her out of her daydream. She quickly rushed to the door and unlocked it. George had Nneka in her arms and they were dancing around the room as if they just won a lottery. Pauline had not see George that happy for a very long time. He looked very rapturous and that made her a bit nervous.
She closed the door gently behind her. “What is it? What is the noise about?”
George walked up to her and grabbed her excitedly by the shoulders. “I am having a baby!” He shouted at the top of his voice. “God has finally remembered me. I am having a baby!”
“What!” Pauline could barely move from shock. “I don’t understand. A baby? From who?”
“Who else?” Nneka answered sharply. “I am having a baby. His baby” She picked up an item from the chair and positioned it directly in front of Pauline’s eyes. “See, I dey sure say you fit read pregnancy tests well, since you yourself go don take many before.”
Pauline could not miss the two faint lines that marked the little white stick in Nneka’s hand. It was not only clear evidence, it was also a mockery of what Pauline could never have, would never be.
“You are a liar!” Pauline grabbed the strand and dropped it on the floor, stamping on it with all her strength. “You are a big liar. How is even possible. You have just spent a week here and you are claiming to be pregnant? What kind of fool will believe that?”
“Are you calling me a fool?” George asked angrily. “You are the fool here, Pauline. Only a fool will be barren for many years and refuse to find something to do about it. You are an incomplete woman! And if you think I will allow your problems hinder my happiness in life, you are mistaken.”
“George, listen to me…”
“Shut up!” Nneka silenced her. “You think I be like you wey your belle don condemn finish? Or na because we allow you stay for this house?” She turned to George. “My love, me I cannot stay in this house with this kain insult o! if dis woman stay for this house, I fit lose my belle. Her wahala go too much for me.”
Pauline was horrified beyond reason. “Excuse me? What does this… this rat mean?”
“Nneka means three is a crowd, Pauline.” George replied curtly. “And she is right. You will be too much of a trouble to her and our baby.” He moved to wrap his arms around Nneka protectively. “You will need to excuse us.”
Pauline’s blood boiled like hot steam. “You cannot do that to me. I am the wife in this house and no woman, not even a village street dog, can take my place in my home. Remember our vows, George.”
George laughed in a sarcastic manner that made Pauline feel very foolish. “Vows? You talk of vows when you are going about town committing adultery with your boyfriends. You think I did not know about your date last night? Tell me, was it not another man you dressed up like a prostitute for?”
“What!” Pauline was shocked. Had he followed her up?
“You see, you cannot even deny it. For the first time in a long while, you dressed up as if you were going to see the President of Nigeria. You even used an expensive perfume and you thought I would not know what you were up to? Vows, my foot! Get inside and pack everything you have and get out of my house right now! I cannot take this nonsense anymore!”
Pauline fell on her knees, pleading with her husband. “Please, don’t do this to me. It isn’t what you think. It is …”
“Don’t let me have to repeat myself, whore!”
Whore? Pauline was horror-struck. What had she done to be called that? Tears slid down her face like water falling off a cliff. She bowed her head in deep-seated pain. I cannot do this anymore! I am a failure. My life is over. I just want to die now. I want to die now!
Two strong hands pulled her off the floor roughly and pushed her towards her bedroom. “Your presence in this house nauseates me.” George breathed hard on her neck. “I give you just thirty minutes to get out of here. If not, I will have to throw you out myself. And keep your crocodile tears to yourself. I know they are as fake as your womb anyway.” He opened the door and flung her on the floor. “Wherever you are, I will send you the divorce papers for you to sign. We shall finally go our separate ways, thank God. I, to a life of fruitfulness and you…” He eyed her with disdain. “I don’t care wherever you decide to do with your life. Good riddance to bad rubbish!” He walked towards the door. “Your thirty minutes has started counting.” He banged the door after him so hard that the picture on the wall fell off and shattered into pieces.
Pauline laid still on the ground for several minutes, devastated, wounded and totally broken-hearted. Her whole life flashed before her eyes and all the pains of the past and present came crashing down on her like waves on a stormy sea. For years, she had gone through shame and had thought she could finally make a meaning of her life when she married George. Little did she know her troubles just began and right now… right now, everything just crumbled as if all her effort through the years was not worth it at all. Was it her fault that she was raped? Was it her fault that her womb got damaged in the process? Was it her fault that she could never conceive?
I blame you, God, for creating me in the first place. You should have just taken my life that night when You had the chance.
Her eyes flew to the Bible resting on top of the bedside table. She could not remember the last time she went through it. Why would she want to? When the God of the Book had placed a curse on her. Where was He when the fools captured and carried her into the bush? Did He not see from Heaven when the tears gushed down her eyes and how she had prayed desperately for a miracle that never came? Did He not feel her pains when the rapist took their turns one after the other? Instead, He had stood watching as if… as if she never even existed!
Fuming with unbridled anger, she stood up, picked the Book and flung it across the room. She opened the drawer in which she kept her jewelry and picked out a small leather box and opened it. Inside was her wedding ring, the symbol of love and commitment that was made almost nine years ago. New tears welled up in her eyes. She remembered how she was filled with so much love for George as he slipped the ring into her finger. She had cried with so much passion that the Minister had to patiently wait for her to recover before he could continue with the solemnization. She had been so overwhelmed with the thought that she could finally love and settle with the man of her dream. Years after, she was living a nightmare. Enraged, she tossed the gold ring on the floor, crushing it with her feet until she was spent. But she wanted to do more. She wanted to burn down the whole room, the entire house. She wanted to burn up the memories, the painful memories she had built in this place. Still, she wanted more. She wanted revenge. Revenge against a man who had inflicted so much ache in her heart, who thought she was … what did he call her? An incomplete woman? Before he married her, he had said she made his world complete and had called her all endearing names. What happened to the man who had professed so much love? He had disappeared after three years of childlessness.
Her phone rang and she almost did not pick it up, but when she saw it was Ezinne, she changed her mind.
“Hello, Pauline. How are you?” Ezinne greeted with a cheery voice.
There was only irregular breathing on the other line.
“Hello, Pauline. Are you there?”
More ragged breathing.
“Am I on to Pauline, please?” Ezinne was starting to get worried.
“I don’t know who you want to speak with.” The voice was more like a hoary whisper. “But if you do not come and get me away from this house now, you will come and meet three dead bodies in less than thirty minutes.”
“Pauline, what are you saying? Wait! You…”
The line cut sharply in Ezinne’s ears. Quickly, she picked up her bag. “I am sorry, Tunde, But I have to leave now. My friend needs my help.” She stood up from the table where she had been having breakfast with a dude she met on Facebook.
“But we only just met. Okay, let me have your number.” Tunde raised hopeful eyes.
Ezinne cast him a scathing look. “Sorry, I find you uninteresting and we cannot meet again after today.”
The man looked dejected, but Ezinne didn’t care.
“Okay, just allow me to drop you where you are going.” Tunde made a last attempt.
“No worries, thanks. I can find my way.”
Tunde gave up as it was obvious his overtures would head nowhere. “So where are you off to?” He asked dispassionately.
Ezinne took the first step away from the table. “To save a life.”
“Do you really have to go? Can’t Henry go instead? Why is he your assistant if you cannot delegate some duties to him?” Lola whined incessantly as she watched her husband zip up the bag in which he had packed his luggage he wanted to travel with.
“I want to seal this deal myself.” Tobi repeated for the umpteenth time. “We have come this far with negotiations. I do not want any little thing to disrupt it at this final stage.” He looked at his wife and stilled his heart against the concern he saw there. “You have to understand, Honey. We are looking at a deal worth billions of naira.”
Lola moved closer to him on the bed and touched his hand. “But if we do not get this business, it does not mean we will suffer for it, really. We are already comfortable enough and other deals will come.” She folded her hands like a sulking child. “I just don’t like the way you have been travelling about lately.”
“You mean you don’t like the way you have been alone lately.” Tobi’s grin covered his face. He knew his wife like the back of his hand. He knew how much she always wanted him to be around and how much she loved waking up by his side every morning for over thirty years. He kissed her forehead lightly. “Don’t worry. I will be back in a jiffy. You will not even realise I am gone. I promise to call you every hour.”
Lola jumped out of the bed angrily. It was obvious there was nothing she could do to change his mind. “You know you should try to call your son and demand that he comes home and takes over this business from you. If he were here, you will not have to be jumping here and there at this old age. At least, you will be able to trust him enough with this kind of deal if you cannot trust Henry.”
“Well, Charles has shown his disinterest over and over. He has stated emphatically enough that he wants to build his medical career and as tough as that is to accept, I am his father and have the responsibility to support and believe in him. After all, it isn’t that he is doing something illegal. You are well aware I have tried all I can to convince him.”
Lola moved towards the window, sulking. “And his wife is not helping matters either.”
“I don’t think I want to discuss your problems with his wife now.” Tobi lifted the bag off the bed and walked towards the door. He stopped at the window to kiss his wife on her right cheek. “I will miss you, honey. Promise me you will remain as beautiful as you are when I return.”
Lola looked up at his dark, handsome face and caressed his chin that housed well-cut grey beard. “If you promise to remain as handsome as you are.”
Tobi kissed her fully on the mouth. He inhaled her fresh scent and smiled. “I promise.”
“God go with you, my love. I sure will miss you for the next three days you will be away, but I will be fine.”
“I know you will. I leave you in God’s hands and I am confident He will take care of you.” He planted another kiss on her forehead and headed for the door. “By the time this deal is completed, we shall have enough money to start that Girls Foundation you have always wanted. That will be the first thing we shall do.”
Lola smiled for the first time that morning. “That would be wonderful, Tobi. I cannot wait for your return.”
Lola watched her husband leave the room, saw him enter the awaiting SUV and waved from the window as he was driven out of the compound. Little did she know that was the last time she would see him smile.
That was eight months ago and yet, it still felt like yesterday. Every morning, she still woke up disappointed anytime she turned on her bed, hoping to see his face, but was only rewarded by emptiness. Saturdays were the worst days. It was the day they would spend long hours on the bed, basking in each other’s arms and chatting about the week’s events, laughing over everything that happened. It was her favourite day of the week. Now, it represented gloom and she was not looking forward to what today had in store. She stretched lazily on the bed and wished she could speed up the day. There was a soft knock on the door and before she could respond, Dupe, her maid, walked in with a tray of bottle water and fruit salad.
“Good morning, ma.” She greeted as she dropped the tray and walked towards the window, opening the blinds to allow light in. “Sorry to disturb you, but you said I should wake you up this morning.”
Lola sat up on the bed. “I said so?” She could not recall telling her maid to do that. She racked her brain, but still could not remember anything related to that.
“Yes, ma. You told me to wake you up at 7am, just in case you were still asleep.”
“Did… Did I tell you why?” Lola stammered. She could not believe she was starting to suffer memory loss. The disease was already taking its toll and her heart began to beat faster. She normally never forgot things.
Dupe cast the older woman a funny look. “No. You just said I should wake you up at that time.”
“Go to the living room and use the landline. Call Dr. Aluko to come down immediately. I need a check-up. Hurry up!”
“Yes, ma.” Dupe did not like the look on her mistress’ face. She quickly ran out the door.
Lola ran a hand through her hair in frustration and picked up the bottle water to take some sips. What was happening to her? Her hands began to shake uncontrollably and the bottle fell off her hands without her volition. Next, her legs began to shake too and her muscles began to contract as if they would tear through her skin. She screamed in fright. What is happening to me? She tried to stand and fell on the floor, weightless like a piece of paper. Is this it? Is this how I will die?
Hold on, Lola. A gentle voice whispered into her ears. I will never leave you or forsake you.
The room began to go round and round and soon, everything looked hazy and began turning dark.
Into thy hands I commit my life, Jesus. Please don’t leave me alone.
Don’t worry, daughter. I got you.
Bola turned restively on the mattress. Her mind was as unsettled as muddy waters. Since she returned from the party in the wake of the morning, she had not been able to take her mind off everything that happened there. She had never seen so much affluence and in one place. It was as if these people lived money, breathed money, even ate and drank it. They were not afraid to spend it, show off and did not have the slightest worry it would finish as if they had a whole lot of it stashed somewhere. Bola fantasized heavily. That was the kind of life she had always dreamed of. A life where she would never have to worry about money. Where she could have everything she desired at the tap of her finger. She would not have to think of how to feed her family, get her brother the best education or even live in this kind of dejected place. She would not have to steal anymore.
But there was a problem.
During the course of the party while she had been on the dance floor with a bunch of girls she had never seen before, Bosco had walked through the crowd and tapped her shoulder, asking her to follow him to the upper floor of the building. There she had met a group of four men who looked like they had the world under their grasp. The expensive drinks on the table and the way they puffed on their cigars made her uncomfortable, but Bosco had assured her she was safe. Nothing much happened except a little introduction and one of the men, the biggest of them whom Bosco referred to as ‘Chairman’, had asked her to turn around several times while he ogled her. Then he nodded with a look of satisfaction on his face and asked Bosco to take her back downstairs. Bosco had been full of smiles as he led her back to the dance floor and told her intimately into her ears that she was lucky and that her life was about to change for the better.
Hours later as they left and she asked him what the brief meeting was about, Bosco told her not to worry and that he would tell her in due time. But Bola was worried. In fact, she had been troubled from the moment she laid eyes on those men. She noticed the semi-nude girls who were around them and how the men stroked their naked bodies as if they owned them. As much as she needed money badly, she did not want to be like those girls; and she was afraid that was what Bosco would request of her.
The door flung opened and Baba staggered in, looking very drunk and not in control of himself. “You are still sleeping at this time of the day?” His words were slurred and Bola could barely understand his thick Yoruba.
Bola quickly stood up from the bed. “You are drunk again and it is just afternoon.”
“What can I do? That is the only thing that makes me happy, that makes me feel like the man I am.” He fell on the mattress with a clumsy smile on his lips. “I should thank you for that money. I know you did not go to your friend’s place to sleep, but wherever it is you went to, you should go there every day. Before you know it, we shall be rich.” He licked his lips in a seductive manner and spoke in a husky tone, stretching his hands at her. “Come here, baby.”
“What!” Bola shrank further away. Come here to what? Baba was really out of his mind.
Baba rose on his knees and stretched his hands towards her. “I said you should come here. Come and lie beside me. I won’t hurt you, I promise.”
“Lie beside you? You are not okay, Baba.” She tried to dodge him, but was not fast enough.
Baba launched at her and tried to force her on the bed with him. “You slept with other men last night, didn’t you? So stop acting like a baby. Just imagine I am one of them. I promise I won’t hurt you.”
Bola almost puked when the stench of his mouth floated into her nose and before she knew it, she released her right hand and placed a hot slap on his face. “Leave me alone!” She shouted at the top of her voice and wrestled herself away from his grip and out of the room.
“Ashawo! You come back here now!” Baba shouted behind her. “You are just like your mother. Ashawo Oloshi!” He stood up and pursued her out of the house, ranting aloud and drawing people’s attention. “You think you can have your way with me like you have had with other men you have been sleeping around with?”
Bola did not wait to respond. Instead, she kept running and running, pushed by the fear of what just happened. Her eyes were filled with tears. How could her own father do that to her? She started crying uncontrollably and it did not matter if passersby noticed her or the dirty accusations her father cast at her back. Her life just took a worse turn. Where would she go to now? Going back to the house was never her option after her disrespectful act. Already, her father had tarnished her reputation and would not want her back. How could she ever have faith that she would be safe around him anymore and what would neigbours say about her?
“Aunty Bola!” Tomiwa called out, trying to catch up with her as fast as his little legs could run.
She turned and quickly cleaned the tears off her eyes before he came close. “Yes, Tomiwa. I thought you were playing with your friends.”
“Yes, I was, but when I saw Baba shouting at you and the way you were running, I knew something was wrong. What happened again this time?” He sounded so sad.
Bola held his face in her hands. How could she get this seven year old boy to understand the gravity of what happened? “Just Baba getting angry for no reason.” She lied. “Don’t worry. This will soon be over.”
Tomiwa looked like he was going to cry. “You say that every time. Then something worse happens.”
Bola took him into his arms. “Don’t worry. This time I have a solution. We are leaving the house. You and I together.”
Tomiwa stared at her, eyes wide in disbelief. “Really? To where? Where will we get the money to get a new room?”
Bola closed her eyes for a minute, taking in deep, calculated breaths. She never would have thought she would reach this decision. “You remember that my friend that you said you did not really like?”
“That man that gave you money that day?”
“Yes, him.” Bola ruffled his hair. “You are a smart boy. That man is a good man and he has said we can come and live with him.”
“There is no but. With him, we have a better life. Food on the table, money to send you to school. I will not have to worry about getting you new clothes.” She touched a large hole in his shirt. “And Baba will not have to shout at you anymore.”
Tomiwa looked very confused. “Are you sure he is a good man? He does not really like me.”
That question tore at Bola’s heart. Living with Bosco was not the best option, but it was the only one she had. She would rather live with him than go back home to a molesting father. “Don’t worry. I will protect you from him, I promise.”
Tomiwa held her tighter. “I will miss my friends, but I know I will make new ones. I also do not want to live with Baba anymore. He hates me. Sometimes, I wonder if he really is my father.”
Me too. Bola thought inwardly as she dipped her hand into her trouser pocket and brought out her small phone. It was time she made the decision she had been dreading. She dialed a familiar number and when the person picked up, a cold shiver ran down her spine.
“Hello, my… my love. Yes, I slept well. I just need something important from you.” There was a bit of silence as she listened to the receiver, biting her lips. “I just want to know if your offer of coming to live at your place is still open. I am tired of where I am and need to find a new place to stay.” She raked a hand through her hair. “No, not just me alone. I also need a place for my little brother. Please can you help me?”
Tomiwa watched his sister agitatedly. Would this be the escape they had always hoped for? The step into a better life? She loved his sister so much and would do anything to make her happy, even if it meant having to live with someone he did not like so much.
“Thank you so much!” Bola jumped excitedly. “You have just made my day. I promise you will not regret this! I love you too.” Bola cut the call and hugged her brother happily. “He said we can come and stay in his house for some days. He has a three bedroom flat in Surulere and he can give us one of the rooms.”
Tomiwa laughed heartily. “Really?” He jumped and held his sister’s waist. “Now we can be free from Baba. He must not know where we will be living so he will not come and disturb us again.”
“Baba will not know because we are leaving right away.”
“Now?” Bola pulled away. “But I have not said goodbye to my friends.”
Bola stroked his hair. “I am sorry, Tomiwa. I promise to bring you to see them soon. But we have to go now. If we go back, Baba will see us and may do something worse.”
Tomiwa sighed with regret and that tore at Bola’s heart. She knew she was asking too much from the little boy and she pitied him, but there was nothing she could do. Without waiting, she grabbed his arms before he pleaded some more and dragged him to the nearest bus stop. While a part of her was happy she was starting afresh, the other part condemned her and her decision. But right now, she did not care. Bosco was providing them a place to stay, better than the shack they were before, and if dancing to his tune for a while was the price she would have to pay, she would gladly pay it. Lying underneath Bosco did not mean she was a prostitute. It only meant she was using what she had to get what she wanted until she could stand on her own feet. That was the difference between her and her mother. Her mother was a prostitute, who sold her body to all and sundry. Bola was a hustler. And hustlers always found a way out of every situation. Even if they had to suffer for a while.