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Terdoo was up very early. Long before the sun came up. After turning and tossing in her bed for most of the night, she gave up and headed to the kitchen to make a mug of hot chocolate. When she was done, she sat in the sitting room, turned on the television and sucked on the beverage with a straw, blowing bubbles into the mug until it became cold. Then she set it aside and lay down on the couch. Some form of quietude rested on her as her eyes began to close in slumber. Jimi had made things easier the night before with his fit of temper. She had expected more from him, expected him to sit and talk about their future together but it was clear he wasn’t ready to take the leap. She had wished for him to return and make things right but he didn’t. It upset her that he had no idea how crazy she was over him. Yet somehow she understood his reasons and she felt it was best to let go. She decided it was time to face her career. It was a fairly empowering feeling, coupled with the mild thrill of not knowing what fate held for her.
“I always wondered who had the habit of leaving straws inside mugs littered about the house.”
Terdoo turned around. Jimi was leaning over her couch. His eyes were doing a gentle caress of her body. She sat up and pulled together the flaps of a shirt she was barely covered in. Her breasts had made it impossible for the buttons at the top to come together.
“It took me a couple of hours to finally figure out what I missed yesterday. You’re not really getting married to Liam, are you?”
“So…yesterday was all about getting me to commit to you, right?”
“I wished you’d just made it easier and told me. I can’t read minds, Tido.”
Terdoo’s tummy fluttered at the name he called her. He had christened her after the fifth or so kiss and from then on the name stuck, sometimes stopping at just the T.
“You’re sure you’re really not getting married to Liam?”
“Uhm…give me a minute.”
He disappeared from the sitting room. She lay back on the couch again, pulling her legs together. The air conditioner was suddenly turned up a notch and it sent chills over her skin. Drowsiness still tugged at her and she found herself yawning. When her eyes opened after the yawn, she saw Jimi seated on the floor before her, a dazzling gold wristwatch with diamond stones in his hand. She rubbed her eyes.
“For real, Jimi?”
“This is a Ladymatic,” he told her.
“And it’s for you.”
Terdoo sat up. She was stunned by Jimi and the brilliance of the watch. She knew how much it cost. Only three of that particular edition came into Lagos and all had been sent to Nnenna from France on request.
“Can I put it on for you?” Jimi asked and she blinked herself back to cognizance, stretching out her right hand.
“You don’t want it on your left?”
She shook her head. He smiled and fastened the watch around her right wrist.
“You have thin hands.”
“Thank you, Jimi – for this.” Her eyes glazed over the watch. “It’s beautiful.”
“So can I have a thank you kiss, then?”
Jimi didn’t have to ask. She was all over his lips before his request was completed. Her chocolate-flavored tongue dug deep into his mouth as she tugged at his shirt, pulling him to her. The embers of the previous evening erupted into wild fire in seconds and Jimi snuggled in with her on the couch.
“Will you stay?” he asked.
“Will you love me back?”
“I can be committed. I can take care of you…”
“No, Jimi.” She tried to look into his eyes but as usual, he wasn’t looking into hers. “I want more.”
“Stop complicating things, Tido. Enjoy the moment.”
Terdoo didn’t want to argue. She wasn’t going to win, not with the way her body was responding to the manner in which his fingers were working her into surrender. She let herself go under his touch. There was no harm in a little more loving. In a few hours they were going to be separated and this chapter of their lives closed. So she kissed him with no cares and clung to him with desperate need. She exorcised the pesky voice in her that told her she was making a terrible mistake. This was all she wanted and not even the framed photograph of Marie hanging on the wall could make her feel guilty.
Marie detested him.
Sitting there in his glorious hubris, with his wrinkles and grey hair, staring at her through lips that had lied to her for twenty years, he looked like a man from someone else’s past. There was no connection between them. He was not her father anymore.
And the hotel room… she looked around… it brought back memories of the past. All those times they went from place to place, living like nomads. Here they were again. The only difference was the absence of Ato and the former respect she had for him. The childlike admiration was no more. Now she knew who he really was. A part of her wished she hadn’t asked to see him. Twenty years should have produced a heartrending reunion but after a cold hug from him and a detached attitude afterward, Marie came to understand why Ato hated him so much.
Then the lies and revelations came and she freely stepped over the thin line that separated love from hate. Or maybe her heart had only become a reflection of what he was presenting to her because Dauda, the man whom she had called Baba all her life was a man full of hate.
“What killed my mother?” Marie asked from her position at the door. She hadn’t moved away from it since she stepped into the hotel room.
“Your mother died in her sleep,” Dauda lied. But Marie already had a different version told to her by Ato; of how he watched as Dauda beat their mother until she stopped moving. Marie was only a year old then and Ato five.
“I think it was her guilt that killed her,” Dauda added. “It was so heavy it choked her in her sleep.”
The words were said with no emotions; they came from thin lips that hardly moved as he spoke. Dauda was so proficient in the art of lying that it was impossible for him to be honest.
“So…Baba, you’re saying you two never got married?”
He smiled and lifted a leg to place on a stool before him. His toes wiggled as he spoke.
“She was a slut.”
“She was my mother!” Marie retorted. It was her first outburst at him. He raised his brows in slight surprise and released a condescending smile. Marie was broken at his attitude. He had just revealed to her a series of devastating news and he was going about it like it was just another conversation over a lunch table.
“She was nothing to me the moment she slept with Bahaushe. But I forgave her and went after him instead. I didn’t even know him then but I’d heard so much about him. When we finally met, I conned him after I introduced him into a diamond deal that ruined him. He lost almost everything but like a two-headed serpent, he reared his head again, dove back into the same diamond business and became a big time merchant. When he fully established himself and started his own jewelry company, he tracked me down and with some old friends of mine, handed me over to the police and I was jailed.” Dauda turned his stare on Marie. “You were supposed to complete what I started by finishing him off but you went there and lost your head.”
“You wanted me to let in robbers that would rape, rob and kill Jimi’s mother, Baba! How wicked can you be?! You didn’t even need me to do it! You could have sent the robbers without me being there! But you wanted someone to pay for the crime while you disappeared into the blue as usual!”
“You should have just followed the rules, Chimarya. I taught you.”
“I fell in love, Baba!”
“You weren’t supposed to.”
“You can’t help whom you fall in love with!”
“Same thing your prostitute of a mother said!”
Marie buried her head in the long sweater she was wrapped in and cried, her body convulsing. She couldn’t hold her weight; her knees gave in and she slid to the cold floor beneath her. Dauda remained on his chair. He wasn’t fazed. Marie was a failure to him. She had always been pigheaded and her defiance over the whole Bahaushe saga had taught her a very painful lesson, one that would follow her to her grave. Dauda almost smiled to himself. Bahaushe was going to be paid back in his own coin in the end.
Dauda stared at Marie. She looked like her mother; an almost perfect replica of her. Laraba had possessed shy beauty, same as Marie’s. But she had taught him that shyness didn’t necessarily mean modesty. Laraba’s excuse for having an affair with Bahaushe was on the grounds that he was a past lover, someone from her younger years. Dauda hadn’t given a hoot. Married or not, she was his; the mother of his son. Her body belonged to him alone. Another validation for her indiscretions was framed on the fact that Dauda was hardly home. His constantly drifting ways left her lonely and cashless more often than not. Bahaushe was always there to care for all her needs.
The neighbors knew of the affair, about when Bahaushe came and went. And the neighbors talked a lot. It wasn’t long before Dauda confirmed that the rumors were true. However, it took him over a year to confront Laraba. Before then the Bahaushes’ business had come to nothing by his hands. In those days Bahaushe wasn’t even known as Bahaushe. He was just Babajide. Following his comeback as a diamond merchant, he converted to Islam and changed his name, giving Dauda reason to hate him more. To him, Bahaushe was a man with no conviction, one who changed his beliefs for the sake of fortune. He was the sole reason why he, Dauda, had killed the woman he loved in a fit of rage.
Dauda never forgave himself after Laraba died. He never forgave Bahaushe. But fate would not bring them together again until Dauda got news that Bahaushe had used his influence against him with the law. He became a wanted man; at the slightest sign of danger he moved. Yet he was caught by the police and forced to spend four years in jail, paying for his freedom with everything he had worked to acquire through the years. After his release, he remained in the shadows, following closely the progress of his children in the professional con world. Special consideration was placed on Marie. She was the prize, and Dauda got some form of perverse pleasure from seeing her turn into a female version of himself. Ultimately, all he had wanted was for Bahaushe to have a taste of the pain he felt when he lost Laraba. He didn’t want to take everything from him. Just Nnenna. And Marie would have been the perfect revenge tool if she hadn’t fallen in love with Jimi.
“Get off the floor, Chimarya. Stop your sniveling,” he said with irritation.
It took Marie a while to obey his words. He stretched out his hand, calling her to him but her response came to him in a venomous tone.
“You’re not my father and I’m done being used by you.” She held the door handle. “You robbed me of a life of love and happiness. You robbed me of education, of friends, of my youth. You took everything away from me, even my husband and child. May someone pay you back in your own coin, Baba.”
“Shut up. You sound like your mother.”
Marie stopped another bout of tears and spared him one final glance. She paused for a second, to see if he would call her back but he didn’t, so she threw open the door, poked her head out and invited the EFCC and Interpol agents she had come along with. Dauda shot up from his chair, shocked.
“Dauda Adamu Yunusa,” one of the agents said with glee in his voice as he approached him. “After sixteen years, we finally have you. It is my pleasure to meet you, by the way, sir. You are a legend…”
Those were the last words Marie heard as she disappeared from the hotel room and walked down a long hallway. She was supposed to feel relief but a different weight rested upon her. The only respite for her would be death and she knew a million and one ways to kill herself.
Terdoo was ready to go but Jimi was doing everything to stall her. He asked to shower with her and made love to her in the bathroom; then he took his time shaving and dressing up but Terdoo was determined to take the first flight to Abuja. She had even skipped breakfast, yet he wouldn’t take his hands off her. His last move had her on the kitchen counter as he sought to under the buttons of her dress.
“Jimi, I’m sore. My knees are weak. Don’t you get tired?”
“It’s not my fault. You make me a better man.”
“Be psyching yourself.”
He made a beeline for her breasts. She let out an excited giggle that echoed in the spacious kitchen but came to a halting stop when she spotted Marie by the backdoor. Two or three seconds ticked by with both women staring steadily at each other. Terdoo silently scolded herself for leaving the backdoor open. Earlier she and Jimi had chased out a rat.
“Jimi.” she tapped his shoulders. “Jimi.”
Jimi raised his head with reluctance, not welcoming the distraction. She pointed and he turned. His face changed as he lifted himself into a straighter posture. Terdoo jumped off the counter and fastened the buttons of her dress he had undone. She tried to move away but he held her back, his fingers locked in hers.
“What are you doing here?” he questioned Marie.
“I’m sorry for interrupting–”
“What are you doing here, Chimarya?!” He bellowed. “How do you keep finding me?”
“We need to talk, Jimi.”
“That will never happen again. I’m done with you! Leave!”
“I said get out!”
“Jimi, listen to her, please. She’s crying.”
The gentleness in Terdoo’s voice forced calm on him and he ran a quick eye over Marie. She was a mess. A far cry from when last he saw her. Lost in a long, dark green sweater and carrying a distressed face, she looked like a broken version of herself.
“What do you want? I gave you another chance but you screwed it up. You’re not welcomed here again.”
“I don’t want anything, Jimi.”
“Then why are you here?”
“I went looking for my dad. I went looking for answers and I found them.”
“Good for you…”
“Not good, Jimi.” Marie tugged at the collar of her sweater as if trying to choke herself. “Not good. My dad told me things. He connected the dots between my family and yours. He told me about your parents, about you and me…”
“What are you saying?” Jimi’s impatience was apparent.
She looked into his eyes. “We’re related, Jimi. You’re my brother. Alhaji is my real father.”
“Terdoo, give us a moment.”
Jimi’s tone was dismissive. After Terdoo had watched him soften up towards Marie as she cried, and felt his fingers slowly slip away from hers, she believed Marie still held the principal place in his heart. What Marie revealed about their paternity meant nothing because Terdoo had been in the family long enough to know most of their secrets. And the best kept one was that Jimi was not a Bahaushe by blood. But Terdoo felt it was no longer her business. She wasn’t even curious to hang around and find out how Alhaji ended up being Marie’s father. Jimi’s expression as he looked at Marie was enough notice that her short-lived romance with him was over. She left them alone in the kitchen and went to get her traveling bag from her room. None of them knew when she left the house.
“You’re not a Bahaushe?”
Jimi shook his head in answer to Marie’s question.
“My full names are Olujimi Afolorunso Ibrahim Adura. My earliest memories of my childhood were when I was five years old. My dad was the Bahaushes’ driver, my mom was their housemaid. My dad was always sick and half the time, he stayed at home, but he was never fired because he was Alhaji’s childhood friend, plus Alhaja was mad crazy about me and carried me around, giving me equal treatment with Jude. In short, I slept in the same room as Jude, went to the same school and even wore his clothes. My dad died not long after I turned five. He had the same disease I have and in those days the doctors couldn’t really pinpoint what it was that was killing him. Everyone thought it was a spiritual problem and they kept feeding him what they thought were the right foods to keep him healthy but the more they did, the sicker he got. When he finally died, my real mom was in a mess. I was told his death broke her and my sickness added to her stress too because at that point, I started exhibiting the same symptoms. That year, during Christmas, when the Bahaushes’ traveled, it was just she and I left. She got up one morning and walked out. I can’t really remember what she told me but I can remember her leaving. The sun was in my face as she opened that door and left. All I kept thinking was she’s going to buy me Christmas chicken and mineral. But she never came back.”
“I’m sorry,” Marie whispered.
“I guess she wasn’t meant to be my mother because Alhaja always had a stronger connection with me. That Christmas weekend she felt something was wrong, so she left her family in the village and came back to find me all alone at home, very sick and near death. My case was so bad I had to be flown abroad and there they diagnosed me with celiac disease. I got treated and we came back and she adjusted everyone’s life and diet to fit mine. Since then the bond between us has been unbreakable. I’m not so close with Alhaji but momsie made sure I got equal treatment and rights as the others. She stuck by me during my tough years. The betrayal of my mom scarred me because at that age, even with vague memories, I knew I had been abandoned. But somehow I made it.” Jimi smiled. “That’s the story of my life, Marie. So relax, you’re not my sister; that is, if what your father told you is true.”
“I don’t think he was lying, Jimi. He was bent on using me to get back at Alhaji. And I remember him getting really mad at me when I got married to you. He kept on pushing me to leave you. When I told him I was pregnant, his exact words were ‘you’ve committed a very grave sin. You’ll live to regret it.’”
Jimi sighed. “Then there’s only one way to find out.”
“Ask Alhaji himself.”
“Jimi, everyone thinks I’m dead.”
“Well, it’s time to resurrect, Marie.”
“No, Jimi. I can’t come back. Everyone will hate me.”
“Aren’t you tired of running and hiding? Finally, you have your dad behind bars. Finally, you know about your past and you have the chance to make things right and live your life in peace and you want to throw it away again? Are you even thinking of Kikelomo? She needs her mother, Chimarya!”
“What about you?” Marie drew in a long sniff. “Do you want me back?”
Jimi pointed an angry finger at her. “You have no right to ask me that!”
“Because of Terdoo? She’s taken my place now?”
Jimi shut his eyes as he remembered Terdoo. “Shit.”
He dashed out the door and hurried to her bedroom. The place was empty. Not a pin of hers was left. He rushed to his room, got his phone and called her but met a dead tone and a phone operator telling him her phone was switched off. He tried a couple more times and got the same response. In his agitation he had failed to notice the text message icon that hung on the right side of his screen until he was done with trying to call her. He clicked on the icon and got a text from her.
Jimi, like I said, no calls. No texts. No visits to Abuja. I’m glad Marie is back. You two should work on your issues. Take care.
Jimi was pissed at himself. He stomped his foot.
“Are you okay?”
The voice of Marie at the doorway only added fuel to his anger but he kept the lid on.
Marie remained at the door, staring into the bedroom with observant eyes. Jimi had done away with everything that was hers except a small framed photo on the dressing table.
“I think you should change into something nicer before we go and see momsie,” he said, texting Terdoo back.
“Yes, her. You owe her a lifetime of apologies…”
“Okay. I’ll go. But I really need to know if there’s even a little chance left for us, Jimi.”
Jimi lifted his head from his phone. “Remind me why are we going through this again? You were the one who left, Marie.”
“I know.” She walked to him. “But that was because my life was so messed up. There was no way I could live with you and have that load hanging over my head. It would have destroyed us and…”
“Marie, Marie…” he cut her off, holding her shoulders and looking deep into her eyes, his voice steady. “I have feelings for your friend. I made love to her yesterday, this morning, in our bathroom, in the sitting room and I will do it again if she walks back into my life because she is a real woman. She has a heart and a head that is in the right place. Plus, it feels a million times better inside her than it did in you. But now, she’s gone and I want to punch someone in the face for losing her. So, don’t be confused here about what I feel because I am not. I don’t love you anymore, Chimarya. You are dead to me. I buried you with the first kiss I shared with Terdoo. Nothing’s going to take me back.”
Jimi let Marie go and it gave him no pleasure to see the strength Marie fought to maintain come crashing into a jumble of tears but he felt the load of her betrayal leave his shoulders at last. He hadn’t spoken to spite her. Everything he said was the truth.
He left her alone in the room and stood out in the corridor to complete his text to Terdoo. When he was done, he read it through.
Tido, u know the saying abt letting things go and if they return they really belong 2 u? dats BS. I’m coming after u before dat half-caste plays a fast one on me. but first giv me time to sort myself out. Until then, keep urself o. Dat ukwu is mine
Translation: Ukwu – waist (Igbo)