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Tari got out of bed at the sound of his alarm. It had been a long week and finally the last work day was here. The guys from Mozambique had a 7pm flight back home. With this phase going so well, he was sure they were set for the next phase of the project – actual collaboration. For this reason he was excited, and strangely he heard himself hum “Tapout” as he worked out. He got his phone from the bed, returned to his exercise mat and scrolling through his music for the song, he found it, strapped his phone to his arm, put the earphones in his ears and put the song on repeat then got back to his weekly exercise routine.
“…married to the money, millions in the bank….million dollar uhm, uhm, uhm,….make you tapout, tapout…” He sang along as he rolled up the exercise mat and headed for the shower when his door swung open. Dan walked into the room. One look at his friend told him something was up, and what ever it was, it was not good.
“Sup, man?” Tari asked, taking the earphones out.
“I dunno, man.” Dan replied pacing the length of the room.
“Talk to me, man.” Tari said, stealing a look at the time as he took the phone off his arm.
“She’s pregnant.” Dan said, still pacing.
“The 19 year old?” Tari asked.
“No, bro. It’s Thelma.” Dan said, finally sitting on the edge of Tari’s bed head-in-hands.
“Thelma?” Tari asked, trying to figure out who that was.
“Thelma in PH, naa.” Dan helped.
“The babe you gave your ride to?” Tari asked.
“I parked it in her house!” Dan corrected, clearly irritated.
“Ok? You said she works or something, yeah? And you really like her, yeah?” Tari asked
“Yeah?” Dan asked fixing his gaze on Tari.
“Yeah. You guys could….you know…go official.” Tari suggested while trying to recall all he’d heard about this Thelma character.
“Are you out of your mind? She’s engaged!” Dan roared.
“Engaged?” Tari asked, surprised.
“Yes! I told you, man! The producer guy! The dude that did that ‘Can’t escape you.’ song for Sonz of Thor or whatever the group is called.”
It was all clear now in Tari’s head. “Wow….!” he murmured. Dan had met the girl while working at a music award event in Lagos, she was a model or fashion designer. Or was it both? Somehow she had caught his eye. Her guy’s work had been nominated and the song had won, not for production but some other category, but all the same, there was a party and Dan had found his way there and “the rest was easy”, like he said. After the affair with Dan had started, the dude had proposed and Thelma had agreed. Pictures of the proposal had found their way to the celebrity gossip columns online and print.
“And its definitely your’s?” Tari asked.
“That’s what she said. I need to leave for PH today. Gatta sort this out, man!” Dan poured, jerked back to his feet and resumed pacing.
“Ok. Have you booked a flight?” Tari asked.
“No. Just got off the phone with her. She just told me.” Dan replied.
“Okay, you go get set, I’ll find you a flight.” Tari said, grabbing his laptop. “Shiiiiii!” he added as Dan exited in haste.
June grabbed the phone and put it to her ear.
“Where are you?” a female voice blew into her cranium making her wince
“Who is this?” June asked.
“Priscy!” the voice yelled back. June could hear laughter in the background.
“Jesus! Priscy, quit screaming. What time is it?” she managed.
“After 5! June where are you? We need you here. I need you.”
“What?! I’m on my way.” she said and hung up before Priscy could ask again where she was. This thing with Clifford would not be good news for a day like this. Not like there was a good day to find out. She looked at Cliff’s sleeping form beneath the sheets and shook her head. She could not believe she was back here. As quickly and quietly as she could, she gathered up her stuff, dressed up in the bathroom and ran some water over her face. It was on her way out of the bathroom that she noticed the camera on the tripod.
“What the heck!” she swore slowly with her hands to her temples, between which a splitting headache ragged. Everything after getting into Cliff’s car and driven away from the party by his manager was a haze in her head. She had a faint recollection of more dancing here in this room, both of them nude. Her phone began to ring again, she quickly cut off the incoming call and put it on silence. She didn’t have time to think now, she grabbed the camera off the tripod, put it in her bag, got her carry-on and left the room without waking Cliff.
“Where do I find a cab now?” she thought. She was about shutting the main door when her eyes fell on Cliff’s freshly purchased Honda Accord 2008. She dropped her bag on the step and went back inside to find the keys.She prayed Sylvester, Cliff’s manager, had left the keys and not taken it to his own room. Her prayers were answered when she found it on a table. Quietly, she exited again and shut the door, opened the car remotely, tossed her stuff on the back seat then got the gates open. She ran back to the car, got behind the wheel and sped out of the premises without bothering to close the gates. The CD in the player was Sonz of Thor’s first album, the one Cliff had produced, she ejected it and tossed it out of the window. She needed silence to think. She had not been this angry at herself in years. So angry she began to weep.
Tari pulled into the office car lot. Everyone on the team seemed to have arrived. Well, maybe not everyone; Becky would come with Zenaide and Patrick. Aside her, every one was very likely present, from the cars he saw in the lot. He thought about Becky. So far he had kept her at arm’s length, been formal and hardly spoken to her at work. Aside the brief meeting at the hotel the other day, they had not met outside work either. He thought back on how embarrassed she had been when he had caught her mimicking him. He was particularly glad that everyone was impressed with her, he had pulled off yet another cool feat at the company. It was all going to make him a formidable force in the scheme of things to come. And if Becky knew what was good for her, she’d hitch her wagon to him, “‘Cos, this here boy is going somewhere fast.” he said getting out of his car.
He had had to make a phone call to book a 7:15am flight to Port Harcourt for Dan who was surely at the airport at the moment. There was no economy ticket left, so he had taken business class and transferred the cash to the agent. He could not afford to go drop him, so they’d called a cab. He wished his friend well, though he knew how it was most likely going to end – a D&C, after lots of back and forth. No one passed off one man’s child as another’s in this day and age. A DNA test some ways down the line and all hell will be let loose. “All the drama”, he thought. All the same he’d done his bit as a friend, now he had work to do and he was late. Again.
“Good morning, Becky.” Zenaide said in english, as she got in the car.
“Good morning, Zenaide.” Becky replied. Zenaide had insisted she and Becky speak strictly in english whenever they could, giving practice as her reason. Becky was fine with it and had obliged. Zenaide’s english was good enough, but she often switched to portuguese when she couldn’t find the english word she needed. Other times, she would stall for long periods, stubbornly trying to find a word or expression. Becky would simply smile and wait patiently, only coming to her aid when Zenaide asked for it. Patrick showed no interest and would often read stuff on his laptop while the ladies conversed in english.
This morning, Zenaide was on about a Nigerian movie she had seen last night.
“It was fearful. Pretty girl which turns into big snake at night.” Zenaide said laughing.
Becky laughed too. From the corner of her eyes, she noticed Niyi smile. She was going to ask if he saw the movie too when her phone vibrated. It was an SMS:
“490. Even at that number, the Lord says we forgive each other. I know I have wronged you a lot, nevertheless, I believe I am far from that figure. Please, forgive me, B. Take me back, one last time.”
She knew who it was from. It could only be one man. It was amusing to her that he had suddenly found religion and apparently had been reading his Bible or listening to Bible stories. Same man who would rather have sex, watch cartoons, wash his car then drive around on Sundays just 6 months ago. It really would be nice to know the new Alfred, but she didn’t have the chips for such high stakes gambling. Her young heart had had enough for one lifetime. She put the phone away and got her mind back to listening to Zenaide’s recount of the movie she had seen.
“Are you insane?” June screamed at Cliff.
“Where’s my car?” he asked, sipping champagne from a glass in one hand.
She had practically dragged him to this secluded place behind the reception hall to speak to him. She had managed to make a good member of the bridal-train, giving the bride all the support she could, but her mind had never left the issue of the camera from the night before. She had taken the earliest opportunity she got to drag him out here without causing a scene. He had not approached her all day, going about his normal business as the celebrity younger brother of the bride of the day.
“Why the hell was a camera in the room last night?” she asked.
“You didn’t seem to have an issue with it last night, babe.” he said calmly.
“I was drunk, Clifford! Why are you such a child?” she said.
“Can I have my car and camera back, please?” he asked. “That was a $1,500 camcorder you took.” he added.
June grabbed the champagne glass from him, tossed its contents in his face and walked away with a hiss. She heard him call her name, without breaking stride she returned to her duty as a member of the train.
“Excuse me.” Becky said, as she rose and left the table.
“To where?” Zenaide asked.
“Banheiro.” Becky replied with a wink at her. Zenaide smiled back.
“Where?” Tari asked Zenaide, not sure he heard the right word.
“Washroom.” Zenaide replied.
All 6 were having drinks and asun at the hotel pool-side. Zenaide, Becky, Tari, Tari’s Boss, the chief engineer and Patrick sat together at a table. It was the last night of the visit and they had all decided to relax by the pool, listen to the live band and have a few drinks. For Tari, the live band was the problem – it was loud.
“I noticed there is something between you.” Zenaide said, bringing her head close to Tari’s and jutting a thumb in Becky’s direction.
“Really?” Tari said, laughing while trying to figure out how much Zenaide could possibly know.
“Yes. I think you like each other. I ask her, she say nothing, but I don’t believe her.” she said close to Tari’s ear.
“Why don’t you believe her?” Tari asked, cupping his mouth and ensuring no one else could hear their conversation.
“I believe she wants you. And I seen how you look at her.” Zenaide replied.
Tari laughed a little, shrugged then said in her ear “I’ll say you stand a better chance.”
“Voce e eu?” Zenaide asked
“Talvez.” Tari replied
Zenaide laughed. Tari smiled at her as Becky reappeared, He was glad he had succeeded in guiding Zenaide off the path she was exploring. No one here was to think Becky got here on anything other than merit. Any such suspicion would cast a shadow over all her good work and any future recommendations of his. There was one more loose end to tie up, though.
June secured the door behind her. She looked around the room, it was not so bad. She was exhausted but knew she had stuff to do before she could consider sleep. The wedding had been a success and so had the reception. The moment the bride and groom had left for their honeymoon destination, she had walked up to a guy she had noticed had been staring at her and asked if he would be nice enough to give her a ride. She had checked him out before hand, he met her criteria. He didn’t seem to know Cliff, he was the groom’s friend. Also he had a car – he’d conspicuously shown his keys all day. Finally, he was bigger than Cliff. The guy, Korede, had gladly obliged her. He had chatted her up all the way to Priscy’s family house where she lied she was staying. She had also lied that her name was Becky, had taken his card and given him Becky’s number.
The moment Korede drove off, she turned around and ran bare feet, heels in hand back to the junction where she got a cab to take her to where she had parked Cliff’s Accord in a shopping plaza. The guard had said he would be getting off work at 7pm, she was late already. At the plaza, luckily she met the guard she had met earlier and the night-duty guard. She apologised for her lateness and gave the night guard N1,000 from her purse. She asked the other one to come with her to the car. At the car, she asked if he could show her to a nice hotel in another part of town. They had ended up at this hotel and she had given him N4,000 for his trouble. She then got one of the ‘executive’ rooms for N6,500. She knew she was even further from the airport now, but then, she would be driving. All she had to do was leave at noon.
She sat on the bed with her bags then got out the camera and her phone. She had 21 missed calls, all but 4 from Clifford. Surprisingly, Tari had called 2ce. She was in no state to call him back. She then watched the video of herself and Cliff from the night before, shame and regret washed over her like a flood. She was so bitter she began to retch and had to rush to the bathroom to throw up. She swore never to touch alcohol ever again and prayed this episode was over. She found the memory card, broke it in two, dropped them in the electric kettle, poured in water and set it to boil. When the water boiled, she restarted it a few more times, poured out the water, then tossed the 2 pieces of plastic in the bin. She then wrapped the keys to Cliff’s car in some foil she had used in bringing back fried meat from the reception, then put it in the bin. She hoped even if she was followed, when the room is searched, no one would think to search in the dustbin for the keys.
Becky, along with Zenaide, had left the men, who had all been booked into rooms for the night, at the poolside at about 11:30pm. She had taken a quick shower and retired to bed with her novel. She had just begun to doze when her phone, which was plugged in and placed on the dressing table buzzed.
“Oooooh! Alfred, leave me alone.” she murmured as she got out of bed to check it.
“Will be @ ur door in 2mins. Its urgent.”
it read. It was Tari.
“Urgent?” she said, looking herself over in the mirror. There was no way Tari was seeing her dressed like this. She threw the hotel-provided bathrobe over her nightwear and tied it up. She then unlocked the door and sat in a couch by the TV. Soon there was a knock at the door.
“Its open!” she called out. Tari stepped into her room and shut the door behind him. “Don’t lock it.” she said. He left the door unlocked, walked to where she sat, straight faced.
“Good evening, Tari.” Becky said, still at a loss as to why he was here with the attitude. “Please, sit down.” she added.
“No, thanks. I’ll rather stand.” he said.
“Fine.” she said, rose from her seat and walked over to the window overlooking the pool area. Now she knew it was not a courtesy visit.
“What did you tell Zenaide?” he suddenly said.
“What?” she asked.
“You heard me, Becky.” he said, took 2 quick steps in her direction and stopped abruptly.
“About what?” she asked. Why was she so scared? She thought.
“You know what I’m talking about.” he said, piercing eyes on hers.
“No!” she said, brazen.
“She asked you about us.” he pressed.
“Yes. And I told her nothing.” she said. “There is no ‘us’, there is nothing to tell.” she added folding her arms across her chest.
“Ok. Please, let’s keep it that way. Can’t have people casting aspersions on how you got the consultancy.” he said, turned and headed for the door.
“This is also about you and your image, Tari, isn’t it?” she asked.
He made no answer. As he opened the door to let himself out, she said: “Then stop looking at me that way.”. That stopped him in his tracks. Same thing Zenaide had said. “What were these people talking about?” he thought. He shut the door and turned around to face her.
“What are you on about?” he asked her.
“The way you look at me. She noticed it. Maybe others do too.” she replied coolly.
“Rubbish!” he said with a laugh.
“What’s my own?” she shrugged.
“It doesn’t affect you.” he said
“Nope. Not in anyway. Guys look at girls all the time. No biggie.” she said.
“But you know.” he said walking slowly towards her.
“Know what? I know you look at me, there’s no crime in that.” she retorted, turning around to look out the window.
“You know I desire you.” he said.
She tried to will herself to feel shock. She failed. While she struggled for an appropriate reaction, he had crossed the distance between them. She sensed him behind her, the alarms in her head went off. It was time for fight or flight.
He stood behind her, noticing the pulse quicken in her neck. He found it exciting in a strange way. To know his presence had such an effect on her made his blood rush. In a way it explained to him how a vampire must feel before the first bite. He put his hands on both sides of her hips and pulled her into himself then placed his lips on the pulse on her neck in a kiss.
Becky woke up slowly with a smile on her face. She could not recall the dream, but she knew it was a pleasant one. She was in a warm and caring cuddle, carefully she turned and looked at Tari’s face then pried herself from his arms and got into a sitting position, feet on the floor with her back to him.
“Good morning.” he said
She ignored him, picked her bathrobe off the floor among her other items of clothing, put it on and walked into the bathroom.
Tari waited for exactly 15 minutes, got out of bed, pulled on his boxers and T-shirt and went to the bathroom where he found Becky standing before the mirror, still in her robe. He shut the door and leaned against it.
“Are you okay, Becky?”
“No, Tari. I’m not.” she replied, smearing a lone teardrop across her cheeks with a palm.
“What’s the problem?” he asked, resisting the urge to hold her.
“You!” she said turning to face him
“Fair enough. I saw that one coming.” he said with a smile.
“This didn’t happen, Tari!” she said, making an encompassing hand gesture.
“I know.” he replied. Now, the smile was gone, replaced by a poker face.
“Please, leave now!” she said in a shaky voice as the tears poured down in torrents.
“Good idea.” he said, turned, opened the door and left the bathroom. In the room he got dressed, picked up his phone and keys then made for the door. As he unlocked the door, she called his name. He paused without looking back, though he knew she was standing at the bathroom door.
“What has June done to you?” she asked.
He stepped out without a word, closing the door with a soft click.
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