Catch up on previous chapters HERE
Anouk Fabrice Kouassi believed her husband was having an affair.
The signs were obvious—late nights, secret phone calls, weak excuses to stay in the office, and aloofness towards her. But of course, he denied it all, told her she was imagining things and added to her monthly allowance to keep her busy. On a rare occasion in which she managed to have his attention for a whole weekend, she prepared his favorite meal, Kedjenou, a combo of vegetable sauce and seasoned meat. Afterwards she lay him down on her lap to have a frank discussion. He assured her that he was faithful, plied her with endearing words and made love to her. The next morning he was gone again and her emptiness weighed heavier as her nights got lonelier.
She decided to open up to friends. Most of them told her to endure. Their husbands were cheating bastards too. It was a man’s nature not to keep it in his pants. With time she would get used to it. She should probably keep busy by getting pregnant. A child would be all the distraction she’ll need to endure. But Andre didn’t want kids yet. Neither did she. She was once a beauty queen and still maintained her looks. She wasn’t crazy about disfiguring her body with pregnancy.
So she sought the help of High Mistress. Everyone talked about her, the mysterious woman who gave straightforward, no bullshit advice to women when it came to men. Anouk needed help on how to get Andre to commit to their marriage. She was afraid to lose him to other women. He was wealthy and successful. For an Ivoirian man in Nigeria, that was a huge deal.
Anouk contacted High Mistress and pleaded anonymity. She used neither her real name nor email address. High Mistress replied, and soon, both women built a connection. Before long, Anouk was brainwashed into playing the same game as her husband.
Tit for tat is as old as time and it works on men, High Mistress wrote in one of her emails to her. They can’t stand the taste of their own medicine. If your husband won’t stay faithful, I don’t see why you should. I am not asking you to go all out and cheat, but please give him the impression that you are. All the same, if you feel an itch you need to scratch, indulge, if he won’t help. Body no be firewood, but while you’re at it, store evidence of his infidelity just in case he ever brings divorce into the equation. At least you’ll have something that will stand as insurance so he won’t leave you with nothing.
Anouk had not desired to start cheating on Andre initially, but she took High Mistress’ words as gold. What began as a game to get her husband devoted to her soon turned into extramarital affairs with men that gave her their full attention. Andre had no idea what his wife was up to. For months, she maintained relationships with strangers, single and married alike, while Andre focused on his sales finance company. For Anouk, she was paying him in his own coin. It was fun at the start, and although she was warned by High Mistress on a few occasions to tread carefully, making sure not to stoop down to her husband’s level, she didn’t listen. At some point, she severed her relationship with High Mistress entirely. But her indiscretions lasted for a short while before it all came to a tragic end when she was found in a discreet hotel, raped and mutilated to death.
For a whole day, Andre was oblivious of what had happened to his wife. Even when images of her hit the web with her face and pubic area blurred, he was unable to tell she was the one. In a passing remark, he muttered something about prostitutes and how they often met miserable fates. He only became aware when the housemaid called and related to him that Anouk had been out of the house for more than twenty-four hours. Andre took the next available flight back home, lodged a complaint with the police and began searching for her in every hospital in town. Eventually, he found her in a government mortuary listed as a Jane Doe, her breasts and heart cut out.
She didn’t have any resemblance to the wife he last saw two weeks before.
Andre almost went insane that night.
After a quiet funeral back home in Yamoussoukro, he returned to Lagos and began investigations into her murder. The truths he unfolded stripped him of what little sanity was left. Not only did he discover how promiscuous she had been; he also learned, from friends, how she had been heartbroken at his absence and suspicious of him being with other women.
“But I was faithful,” Andre wept. “I never cheated on Anouk for one day! Not ever! Why didn’t she listen to me?!”
No one believed him, but none of that mattered anyway. All Andre wanted was to find the bastard who raped, killed and mutilated her in that hotel. But in trying to uncover the truth, he came across some emails in her laptop from High Mistress. It was torture to read of her pain and the type of advice this High Mistress person gave her. The woman literally pushed her into an adulterous life.
Andre chose not to act on the emails at first because he was more interested in searching for his wife’s killer. However, a whole year would pass and every lead would leave him in a dead end. The hotel employees who had been present during the time of Anouk’s death had all vanished and the police were reluctant to help. Each time he tried to push, he was reminded that he was a foreigner. Andre lost focus in his business eventually and left all responsibility in the hands of his Nigerian partner. He couldn’t, in all honesty, concentrate on the same business that took him away from the woman he loved.
Besides, nothing else made much meaning to him anymore. Anouk had been the driving force behind his desire to start a company from the scratch in a foreign country. She had supported him when he had nothing and stood by him through tough times. Andre couldn’t forgive himself for choosing his business over her. Many times she had cried and begged for his attention, but he had ignored her, always making promises he had no intention of keeping.
Regret plunged him into drunken, restless nights. If there was any way he could say he was sorry, it was to find the person behind her premature death.
Finally freeing himself of all distractions, he dedicated his time in the pursuit of her murderer, and at last, the former manager of the hotel who disappeared alongside the other staff, contacted him secretly and gave him the name of a prominent politician. It was all the information Andre got. There was no proof that connected the man to Anouk. Still, Andre pressed on, reporting to the police the new piece of information and pleading that they pursue the case. Rather than a favorable response, he got threats. Two days later, his house was set ablaze while he was asleep. He barely escaped, losing every memory he and Anouk built through the years.
The next evening, one of the senior police inspectors begged him to let the case slide. But Andre didn’t take heed; he kept on, looking for anything that would tie the politician to Anouk.
Yet another year passed.
He began to lose hope. At that point his attention danced towards High Mistress. He hired a hacker who traced her anonymous online credentials to a certain Antonia Braithwaite, fondly called Toni. He went further and employed the services of a private investigator who came back with details of her lifestyle, which she successfully hid, from the public. Andre delved deeper into uncovering who she was. He monitored her movements until her daily routine became part of his life and he forgot all else. While he did this, his business partner lurched their company into ruin through bad management and Andre lost everything he worked for over the years.
Another reason to go insane.
The frustration was unbearable. Three years had now gone by since the day he saw Anouk’s molested body lying cold in a mortuary. To keep from losing his mind, he decided to employ all he had in way of finances in his pursuit of Toni. And like one growing into an obsession, he rented a small building on the same street Covet Advertising Agency was located, and there he started a delivery company. The new business was to keep him occupied; its location to help him get closer to Toni.
At first what he felt for her was hate. Clean hate. Then revulsion, which interchanged with the hate. He would sit by the window of his small office and watch her during her cigarette breaks that brought her out to her balcony. At such times, he wanted to strangle her. But then there were moments he was not responsible for that made him want to be around her. He hated himself whenever those thoughts arose. Anouk was supposed to be the only woman in his head. Toni was an object of his wrath.
Weeks and months went by that saw his business, which he sweated for, booming. Yet none of that was as important as Toni and how desperately he wanted her to pay for Anouk’s death.
His wife had been a beautiful soul. Happy and kind albeit easy to manipulate. Toni had figured that out quite early and used her powers of persuasion to push her into waywardness and her subsequent death.
It wasn’t something Andre wanted to forgive. He was not so sure what he wanted to do with her but he was certain that she was going to pay for his agony.
Yet his desire for her grew each day. After their date on Christmas day, he had stayed away to renew his focus only because she was growing on him. He truly adored her weak eyes; her loud, unbridled laughter and confident air, which sometimes turned to cockiness that aggravated him. On and off, his love and hate for her interplayed and left him in turmoil. He wanted her to feel pain but at the same time, he felt the need to protect her. He didn’t want her to end up like Anouk. And it was for this reason he took Leticia’s words to heart and went after her.
“You will have your heart broken,” his commonsense repeated. It was that part of his reasoning that had long pleaded with him to let Toni be, but he held on stubbornly.
It was all for Anouk.
From the moment Toni walked into Frendz Bar and saw Mark, she knew this was what she wanted – to have him kiss her, to hear him say he still loved her, to have him commit himself to her thoughtlessly.
And it hadn’t taken much to get him to plunge himself into her. Literally.
Andre had been a contributing factor as well. Well into her date with Mark, he showed up. Mark was in the middle of apologizing for his betrayal towards her when Andre walked in through the entrance door, took one look at them and disappeared to a corner of the lounge where the pool table was located. From that moment, Toni’s attention was divided. Half-listening to Mark, she watched as Andre hugged a plus size lady who was holding a cue stick. She gave him a peck on his cheek in return. The lady was in the company of a guy. He shook hands with Andre and all three kept themselves entertained over drinks and a game of pool.
From where they sat, Toni had a partial view of Andre’s activities. She watched him at intervals, although he didn’t as much as acknowledge that she was there. His friends took all of his attention, especially the lady. They seemed to be playing the game together, against the other guy. They handled the cue stick as one person, Andre often standing behind her with his arms around her as they played. Each time she successfully potted a ball, he was blessed with a peck or tight hug. When they won the game, she gave him a booty dance on his groin that ticked off something in Toni. They went for a second game and a third ,and at each win, she would do the same thing.
Toni felt she had had enough after the third. She was about to call it a night, but Andre beat her to it. His arm around the waist of the lady, he shook hands with her former companion and made his exit, still refusing to acknowledge Toni’s existence.
“So who is he?” Mark asked, taking a drink of his beer.
“Who is what?”
“The guy that just walked out with the chick. Who is he? Your eyes have been on him all evening.”
“I…don’t know him.”
Toni tried her best to bring her mind back to Mark. She smiled at him and he smiled back.
Not so tall. Not so dark. But so handsome. He hadn’t changed much. Character-wise he was the same guy from nine years ago. He still made her laugh, understood her expressions and made her heart flutter.
“I so want to kiss you, Antonia, but you’d probably slap me and cause a scene here.”
Toni looked around. If Mark did kiss her, no one would care. The one person that would have bothered was gone and she wanted to leave as well. Angry sex with Mark would be great, although she didn’t really know why she was angry. Andre couldn’t possibly be reason enough.
Toni’s eyes came back to Mark. No one would bother if he kissed her. She was curious to know if he still tasted the same, if his kiss still had the power to turn her on.
“This is probably the happiest day in my life,” Mark said.
“Yes, Toni. All the texts and emails over the years…and we’re here finally. I knew I shouldn’t have given up.”
Toni picked her glass of Chapman while he leaned over the table, caressing the rim of his. She studied him. He had grown older in looks, more sophisticated in style. He wasn’t wearing his wedding ring. Well-manicured nails called her attention to the fact that his obsession over his grooming had been maintained. He wasn’t so much of a vain person as he was spoilt. Being an only son, his mother had done a fine job of over-indulging him despite their strong conservative background.
“Apart from the kiss, you know what else I want to do?”
Toni knew what he wanted but she let him speak, allowing herself get turned on by the brazen way in which he explained how he would make love to her. His concentration remained on his glass cup as he went on.
“And we’ll do it every day in every place because we will go back to being us again. The world will cease to exist, Toni. I want you back.”
He looked at her and she saw a man desperate to right his wrongs. “How did I lose you, cuddle bear? Remember those nights we drove around, listening to the radio and talking rubbish?”
Toni couldn’t forget.
“Why did I trade it in for a night with a stupid bitch?”
“Stupid? Nkechi is smarter than me apparently.”
“I want you back, Antonia. Please, say yes.”
Don’t you dare! Leticia’s voice came on so strong in her head that Toni almost laughed out. She picked her purse.
“I’m ready to leave if you are.”
“You didn’t give me an answer, cuddle bear.”
“I will. Soon.”
Mark called the waiter who had served them over. The gentleman walked to them with a smile.
“Our bill, please?”
“Oh, don’t bother, sir. Mr. Andy paid for everything.”
Toni narrowed her eyes.
“And who is Mr. Andy?” Mark asked.
“He was here some minutes ago. He just left. He’s a regular customer here.”
“He paid everything?”
“Yes, sir. And he said I should tell you that you two should have a lovely night on his expense.”
Mark looked at Toni. “And you don’t know him?”
“No.” She stared at the waiter. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome ma’am.”
He walked away.
“Andy is your boyfriend, right?” Mark held her eyes.
“No, Mark. I don’t know any Andy. Can we go?”
Toni was anxious to leave the lounge. She wanted to know if Andre was waiting outside.
Mark held her hand and pulled her up. They left the bar and once in the open air, Toni’s eyes did a sweep of the parking lot. She saw no sign of Andre’s annoying ‘billboard’ car or anything that looked remotely like him.
“I’d like to ask you again who Andy is to you but you’ll say you don’t know him and…”
Toni stopped Mark with a kiss. It was not hard to feel his shock and his subsequent pleasure. The kiss was everything she imagined it would be. And that was quite disappointing. She always wanted to be wowed beyond her imagination whenever she kissed a man for the first time.
But this wasn’t a first. Old flames don’t start burning with a different fire just because they are fanned.
Nonetheless, the kiss was in all ways, beautiful because Mark made it so. He still had magic in his tongue.
“Let’s go to a hotel,” she suggested. Mark smiled into her eyes and tugged her to him, nipping her lips.
They got into his car and drove to the nearest hotel. The moment they were behind closed doors, he reminded her why she used to be crazy about him. The sex was wild and loud. Toni was sure anyone walking down the hallway could hear her scream. Mark certified that she got a spillover of pleasure before he eventually had his.
They lay exhausted afterwards. It was too late for either of them to go home.
“I don’t want to be a sidechick, Mark.”
“I don’t intend to make you one, cuddle bear.” Mark rubbed his nose over Toni’s. “I’m leaving Nkechi.”
“I’ll be stupid to believe that.”
“Cuddle bear, I swear.”
Toni suddenly felt old emotions coming to the surface. A similar scene like this had played out years ago when he came up with the idea that they were to pretend they were strangers to each other at work. He gave her a long explanation as to why, after an amazing sexual session. Toni remembered feeling cold tears slip down the sides of her face and how he had kissed them away and promised his love to her.
“I’m so sorry for all I did, Toni. I didn’t want to get married to Nkechi but my parents wouldn’t let me. I came looking for you so many times. Your family and Leticia wouldn’t let me see you. I’m sorry, cuddle bear.”
He sounded genuine. He looked so gorgeous in the nude. She wanted to believe him, but her head wouldn’t let her.
She gently pushed him away and sat up. He held her back.
“I’m going home. Come and take me back so I can get my car.”
“It’s late, Toni.”
“I’m going home, Mark.”
“When am I seeing you again?”
“I don’t know. Today was just a onetime thing. It won’t repeat itself.”
She stood up and went about looking for her clothes. She had no intentions of seeing him soon. It was all part of the plan. She would disappear and make him hanker. Knowing him, he would have no rest until he had her again. Toni gave him a smile when she was done dressing. He didn’t smile back. In his eyes she saw regret again. It was raw and deep. Clearly, he still felt something for her. She just didn’t know what. She was unable to believe that men could love. They were creatures built for pleasure. They ‘loved’ only momentarily and when the fire ran out after they got their satisfaction, they moved on to the next obsession.
She would make certain to be his last obsession.
Christie was not in faraway Beijing or some snowy place in Europe. She was next door in Ghana; Accra precisely. Lodging at the luxurious Villa Monticello. It was her favorite stop whenever she was visiting Ghana. As she always did, she chose the executive wing and was put in Nzulezu suite. The last time she was there, it had been with Folarin. They had enjoyed their stay and Folarin particularly liked being at the poolside. There he met a biracial girl from South Africa who kept him company during his visits to the pool. In fact, Christie suspected she was the reason he went there often, and weirdly, she had hoped that somehow he would have a fling if it would bring back the man he used to be. But Folarin stayed faithful and returned to her each day, replaying his discussions with the girl, confessing to mild flirtations.
“You know you don’t have to tell me, right?” Christie had said with a laugh on one of the days. “There are things you can keep to yourself, Fola.”
He gave her a confused look. “Would you keep it from me if you were crazy about someone else?”
“You’re crazy about her?”
Folarin tugged at both ends of the towel around his neck.
“I’m a man, Chris,” he replied flatly, entering the shower stall.
He never spoke of the girl again.
Christie lay on her back now, nude after a steaming bath of aromatic soaps. She wished she had come with him, but then who would keep Salma occupied and sane?
The pillow beneath Christie caressed her neck and sleep called. There was work to be done – emails, phone calls, online meetings…
She closed her eyes and for a short while, forgot about Raji and her deceitful heart.
She dreamt about her life as a teenage girl, the house she lived in with its high walls and huge mango trees that spread out like a green canopy. There were days during the raining season when she would reach out from her window and pluck an unripe mango and eat it without washing; what with its burning taste and tanginess that made her teeth weak for hours. Afterwards, she would groan alone on her bathroom floor under a spell of food poisoning. When she came downstairs and Mommy asked if she had been eating raw mangoes again, she would shake her head with a sweet smile and say no, even though she knew she would not be scolded if she told the truth.
She simply enjoyed being mysterious like her little pink book that was always kept safe with a padlock. There she hid all her secrets, especially the ones about what she did at night with HIM while everyone else was sleeping.
HE didn’t need to tell her not to whisper it to another soul. She knew to keep quiet. She knew it was wrong somehow, even though it felt nice the way HE touched her. And even on the night when it didn’t feel nice, but rather painful,l and brought blood to her bed sheet, she knew she was not to tell Mommy. That night she washed the sheet and dried it off on a branch on the mango tree, hoping that it would not rain.
It did not.
The morning came and she lay her bed just before she left for school. Daddy did not notice that she walked funny. He hugged and prayed for her, asking God to help her ace her exams. Mommy smiled as she walked out the door, still limping. None of them noticed. HE alone did and she caught a warning in HIS eyes.
But HE didn’t have to bother. She had kept HIS secret in that big, beautiful house with the high fence that kept its inhabitants away from the world.
Years have come and gone since that night and no one was the wiser. She still knew how to keep a secret…
Christie jolted up from her slumber. Her hand hit her laptop on the bed and she recalled where she was.
How long had she slept?
Daylight was darkening as the glow of the setting sun cast a shade on the doors of the balcony. Christie heard a faint knock. She wasn’t sure it was her door. She listened.
The knock was louder the second time. She got up, threw on a robe she found in the closet and sleepily walked to the door. She twisted the handle without consulting the peephole.
Raji was standing before her. Tall and striking. She was off focus for a second.
“Am I so much of a monster that you’ll lie that you’re in Beijing just to run away from me?”
“How did you know I was here?”
“I followed my heart.”
“Oh, Raji…” she complained.
“Let me in”
Christie stepped back a bit to let him through. He put his arms around her in a hug that ultimately directed his lips to her mouth. He didn’t kiss her. He breathed in, causing her skin to tingle.
“Can you keep a secret?” he whispered.
“No, Raj I can’t. We shouldn’t…”
“I’ve fallen for you, Christie, and I can’t help myself. This is wrong, I know. I promised we won’t get to this point again, but honey, I’m trying. I really am. Just one more time. I’ll leave by morning before you wake up.”
Christie let her eyelids down and allowed his lips between hers as he captured her mouth with ravenous urgency.
Yes, she could keep more secrets.
Click HERE to subscribe to this blog via email for immediate notification.