The meeting came to an end and the directors stood up from their chairs, hands adjusting the lapels of expensive designer suits or straightening hems of well starched brocade shirts. A quiet buzzing filled the interior of the boardroom with its dark wood oval conference table, soft burgundy swivel leather chairs and cream walls as the group of six men and three women engaged each other in small talk. Soon they began to leave the room, filing past Tola who remained in his seat and waited to have the conversation his father had instructed him to wait for. A few of the directors stopped by his seat, striking up polite conversations and issuing fawning compliments in their plastic foreign educated accents. Tola took it all with as much geniality as he could muster, even though he found himself wishing they would leave him alone. At last they did, and he turned his attention on his father again.
Chief Opanuga was deep in a conversation with his secretary at the head of the table. Heads close together, they studied the sheets of paper spread on the table before them. After several nods, chief Opanuga drew back in his chair and dismissed his secretary. As soon as the petite middle aged secretary who had served his father for the twenty years walked out of the room with quick springy steps, Chief Opanuga removed his reading glasses and rubbed his thick neck.
â€œI should call Adrienne this weekend.â€
Adrienne was the young French masseuse from a spa in Four Points Hotel who sometimes provided home services for Chief Opanuga. Sometimes Tola suspected that Adrienne did more than take care of his fatherâ€™s cramped muscles. Chief Opanuga cracked his middle finger, winced and sighed.
â€œI am tired of these fines. Hopefully, this will be the last one we will be paying this year.â€
Tola left his seat and walked to meet his father at the head of the table.
â€œSit down,â€ Chief Opanuga said, pointing Tola to the chair beside him.
Lowering his keys to the table, Tola sat down and linked his fingers together. He tried not to think of the reason his father had summoned him. Making assumptions was not his favourite pastime.
â€œDo you know why I called you here todayâ€¦.apart from the meeting?â€
Tola shrugged. â€œI donâ€™t know.â€
Chief Opanuga sighed loudly and pinned his son with a hard stare.
â€œIt is about your girlfriend Tola.â€
Tolaâ€™s fingers drummed lightly on the table.
â€œWhat about her?â€
â€œYou know how I feel about that relationship.â€
Chief Opanuga inclined his head and studied his son.
â€œSo when will you end the relationship?â€
Tola drew himself up in his chair and looked his father square in the eye.
â€œI am not sure we will be ending the relationship anytime soon.â€
Chief Opanugaâ€™s lips thinned. His handsome face hardened.
â€œYou want to continue seeing this girl against my wishes?â€
Tola shook his head. â€œI donâ€™t get it. What do you have against my girlfriend?â€
Chief Opanugaâ€™s lips sloped as he frowned.
â€œI donâ€™t like her,â€
Tolaâ€™s frown matched his fatherâ€™s own.
â€œWhy? You barely know her.â€
â€œWhat I have heard is enough.â€
Tola scoffed, â€œFrom Deji? Did he tell you what he wanted to do to her?â€
Chief Opanuga paused, his eyes growing thoughtful.
â€œWhat does her father do?â€
Tolaâ€™s frown deepened.
â€œI donâ€™t care. I donâ€™t sleep with her father.â€
Heavy silence settled in the boardroom. Father and son stared at each other for several minutes. Tola was the first to break eye contact as he looked away to the light blue horizontal blinds on the windows.
â€œI plan to marry her.â€
Chief Opanuga looked at his son as if he had suddenly sprouted horns.
Tola looked at his father again.
â€œNo, you wonâ€™t.â€
Tola began to argue with his father again, but stopped himself just in time.Â Â He was exhausted and did not think he had enough energy to convince his father that Patricia was not after his money. He lowered his head into his hands, thumbs massaging his temples as he fought a headache. The frown was still on his fatherâ€™s face when he raised his head. Tola went for momentary peace.
â€œDad, I am sorry but I donâ€™t want to argue with you about this.â€
Chief Opangugaâ€™s face smoothened, his body becoming less rigid as he saw the fight go out of his son.
â€œWell, sooner or later, we have to talk about it. You canâ€™t keep running away from it. And please, let this be the last time you mention marriage to that girl.â€
Tola said nothing. His mind was made up. It was Patricia or nothing. He masked his determination and listened half heartedly as his father began a discussion about an endorsement deal with a new artiste.
As for Chief Opanuga, he spoke with his son, blissfully unaware of his lack of interest. He also nursed plans of his own. He would call his god daughter Tera and find out about the progress of their new company and of course, her relationship with his son. A marriage between Tola and Tera would mean a lot to his business. He was determined to make it happen.
â€œStop touching it Eno!â€
Eno gave a start at the sharp rebuke and then sighed. Her hand lowered from her head and fell to her lap. Onyinye walked over to her and examined the bandage at the back of her head.
â€œIt is still there,â€ she said, leaning away from Eno. â€œTry to keep your hand away from it.â€
Eno sat cross legged on her bed and thought about the fight with Joy. She remembered waking up disoriented in a hospital and wondering if her wounds were life threatening. The doctor hovering over her had assured her that she would survive. They had bandaged the gaping wound at the back of head after cutting out a chunk of her hair and weave. Funsho had been silent throughout their hospital visit. Lekan had waited for them in the car, morose and apologetic when they returned.
I donâ€™t know what to think. She has never acted this way. I am so sorry.
â€œI knew that girl was not a good person,â€ Onyinye said, shaking her head. â€œThere was just something about her that didnâ€™t sit well with me.â€
Patriciaâ€™s bed creaked as she turned from the wall to face her roommates.
â€œMaybe she is upset because she did not expect you and Funsho to get serious.â€
Onyinye snapped her fingers as realization dawned in her eyes.
The corners of her lips drooped and she shook her head again.
â€œShe was probably expecting the guy to sleep with Eno and leave her.â€
â€œMmm hmmm,â€ Patricia said, looking down at her phone and tapping on the screen. â€œSome girls can be devious.â€
Onyinye was not done with her speculations.
â€œMaybe she even told the guy that you are a runs girl.â€
Eno sat mulling over the words of her roommates, but just then the door flew open and Pero sauntered into the room, books in hand. There was a cheerful smile on her face as she marched to her bed and dumped her books in the center of it. She pulled the chair beside Onyinyeâ€™s reading table and sat in the middle of the room.
â€œI checked my scores this afternoon,â€ she told her roommates, her smile growing wide with pride. â€œNo carryovers.â€
Loud clapping broke out in the room as the roommates cheered the good news. They commented on her improved performance and attributed it to her relationship with Joe. The girls were still discussing grades when they heard a loud argument coming from the other room. Eno made a face and complained about the fighting of the girls next door. Pero stood up from her chair and hurried to the door. She pulled it open and stood in the doorway. Voices rushed into the room.
So what if I slept with him? Is he not a married man? This one that you are vibrating like one Nokia phone, I wonder what you want the wife to do.
What is my own with his wife? Just stop stealing numbers from my phone. Nonsense.
On top that your aristo wey get face like wetin trailer jam na im you dey curse person. It is not your fault o!
There was a pause and then the voices rose again.
You will do your own back? Do now. You kukuma know I donâ€™t carry married men on my head. If you want my aristoâ€™s number sef, I will give you. Aristo na public property abeg.
The voices trailed and then disappeared. Pero was reaching to close the door when a burst of wild laughter told her and her roommates the girls had made peace.
I donâ€™t really like him. Donâ€™t worry, I wonâ€™t spoil your runs with him.
There was more laughter and one of the girls said,
Na useless man. We go wreck am together.
Pero closed the door and went back to her roommates. Patricia was sitting up in bed now, her phone beside her as she sought advice from Eno and Onyinye about her relationship.
â€œI think we have become too comfortable with each other.â€
Pero crawled into Patriciaâ€™s bed and wriggled into the space between Patriciaâ€™s body and the wall.
â€œEverything is now so predictable. Sometimes I wonder if he is bored,â€ Patricia added, a worried look on her face.
â€œAsk him,â€ Pero suggested, right hand curled under her right cheek on the pillow and left hand reaching for the loose bun at the back of Patriciaâ€™s head. She pulled out a few strands from the bun and twisted them around her fingers.
â€œAre you bored?â€
Patricia did not waste a second thinking about Onyinyeâ€™s question. She nodded.
â€œYou need to spice up the relationship.â€
Patricia turned backwards to look at Pero, â€œHow?â€
Pero flipped to her back and gnawed on her nails.
â€œI donâ€™t knowâ€¦buy movie tickets and call him to go watch the movie with you.â€
Eno held up a finger. â€œOr, take him out to dinner.â€
Patricia shook her head at Enoâ€™s suggestion.
â€œI think I will just buy the movie tickets instead.â€
Patricia planned her movie date with the help of her roommates and then they discussed Enoâ€™s relationship. They learned about Funshoâ€™s plan to move out of his best friendâ€™s house and Enoâ€™s frosty relationship with Joy.
â€œShe saw me yesterday. I said hi but she acted as if she did not hear me.â€
Onyinye had problems of her own. Stanley was getting more obsessive by the day and even though her bags were packed for her trip back home, she was reluctant to leave school.
â€œIt is much easier to attend lectures from the hostel.â€
Her roommates agreed, but could not offer her advice on what to do about Stanley.
â€œJust pray,â€ Eno said at last. â€œGod works in strange ways.â€
Evening came fast and the girls drifted towards personal agendas. Pero called Joe about their evening date. Onyinye read for her test scheduled for the next day, while Patricia consulted google on her phone for the latest releases at Silverbird Cinemas.
The room was noisy as the girls chattered about their activities the previous night. Lounging in their beds, they compared notes and graded the men who had taken them to bed for a fee.
â€œI wish I went with the one that took you home. The one I went with had no action. He couldnâ€™t even get it up.â€
â€œMy own had a small kini and the idiot kept disturbing me for bj. I just dey vex. Wey the thing wey person go even put for mouth sef?â€
The third, a shapely girl with a pimple ridden face, second only in lousiness to Yemisi stood in the middle of the room and made her own contributions,
â€œMy ownâ€¦you know his name naâ€¦.Dapo. That one wey I don dey runs since two thousand and eleven. The guy wan take coke kill himself. Because of that, im thing no dey stand again. Even if Beyonce unclad, dance atilogu, the guy thing go still point for ground.â€
The girls laughed uproariously, falling back on their beds and slapping the walls. The speaker, encouraged by the response from her roommates continued to take jibes at her lover of three years.
â€œNo be lie I dey talk. I swear the only thing wey fit make Dapo thing stand na sugar. Just carry bowl wey get sugar put am near the thing, na that time you go see rising.â€
The girls laughed for several minutes until one of the hostelâ€™s cleaners knocked on the door with the lunch they had ordered. They took a break from their discussions and fed themselves in preparation for their night activities. They did not notice the unusual sight of Yemisi lying still on her bed, face turned to the wall.
As her roommates dug into bowls of rice covered with over spiced goat meat stew, Yemisi thought about her own escapades three nights ago. She had been at Mirabelâ€™s room when the president of the Islanders club received a call from a prospective client. His request was simple.
He and his friends wanted three girls for the night.
Nicely healed from her traumatic experience with Chief, Yemisi complained about her wardrobe, eyes on Mirabelâ€™s overstocked wardrobe.
â€œI have nothing new.â€
Mirabel had offered her one of her bodycon dresses. Red and low cut, the dress had fitted Yemisi like a second skin. She completed her look with a pair of red pumps with six inch heels. She made the journey to the secluded mansion in Surulere in the company of Mirabel and a new entrant to the Islanders club called Susan. They were received by young men wearing studs, glasses of brandy in their hands. The men divided the girls among themselves and took them into their individual rooms.
Yemisi had found herself with a short bald man who kept talking about his house inÂ Sat-ha-ton,Â London. He asked Yemisi if she followed the Premier League and what club she supported. He told her he supportedChe-seeÂ because it was the best club in the world. Then he took off her clothes, kissed her almost lovingly, looked her in the eyes and said,
â€œDo you likeÂ hanal?â€
Yemisi wasnâ€™t sure. She had done everything but that. There were stories of girls who had taken to wearing diapers because they leaked at that place. Shope, her date for the night assured her those stories were lies.
â€œLook,â€ he said, long gold chains resting on his hard swollen stomach. â€œHanal is very nice. I have gel. It wonâ€™t pain you. I promise.â€
He had also promised her a lot of money. He showed her a bag in the room. Notes of different denominations brightened the dark interior of the bag, causing Yemisi to swoon. Her tune changed. She would do whatever Shope wanted, and Shope wanted a lot of things afterwards. He wanted to do it without protection. His request did not bother Yemisi. She had done it without protection before and was HIV free. She was sure there was nothing to fear. That thought in her head, Yemisi went on her fours for Shope.
Nothing prepared her for the pain that followed Shopeâ€™s penetration. The feeling of him inside her was uncomfortable, but she thought of the money in his bag and faked ecstasy.
Shope had stayed through to his promise. The following morning he kissed the top of her head and pushed three hundred pounds into her hand. He had also given her his number.
â€œCall me. I like you. You will be my special girl.â€
Yemisi had been excited by her good luck. She was still floating on cloud nine the following day. She had a London boyfriend with a house inÂ Sat-ha-thon. She thought of all the expensive things he would buy for her. Her dreams of London came crashing the following day when she called Shope and found that he would not pick her calls.
Forty eight hours later, the story was still the same.
So Yemisi pretended to sleep that afternoon and thought about Shope.
Why was he avoiding her?
Had she made a mistake by sleeping with him without protection?
Did he have anythingâ€¦.like AIDs?
Patricia noticed the silver Range Rover in the compound as soon as Tolaâ€™s security man pulled the gate open for her. She frowned at it. Tola had told her nothing about receiving guests. She knocked on the door, impatient to find out if her plans for the evening had been ruined.
â€œHey,â€ Tola said, opening the door and kissing her on the lips. She noticed the strained look in his eyes.
He sighed, pushed the door close and took her hand.
Patricia found that there was indeed something, and that something was curled comfortably on one of Tolaâ€™s sofas.
â€œHi..eee,â€ the something purred, blood red lips splitting to show blinding white teeth. Kohl lined eyes appraised Patriciaâ€™s simple patterned chiffon top, flat shoes and stone washed jeans in a cool manner. â€œRemember me? Tera?â€
Patricia took the hand offered to her. The contact was brief as Tera hastily retrieved her hand. Patricia didnâ€™t know if it was just her imagination but she thought she saw Tera wipe her hand discretely on the side of her jeans. She nodded at Tera and tried to smile.
Patricia stood with Tola as Tera returned to her seat and teased Tola about keeping her away from their circle of close friends.
â€œWe never see her. You keep hiding her.â€
His forehead squeezing even though his lips turned in a smile, Tola shrugged.
â€œWe barely find time these days to attend parties.â€
Tera quirked an eyebrow at Tola, â€œWe were together last weekend at Beccaâ€™s place. You could have brought her.â€
â€œThat was a last minute decision. I didnâ€™t plan that.â€
â€œIf you say so,â€ Tera said, her tone playful as she winked at Tola. Then she turned to Patricia.
â€œWe should hang out sometime.â€
Patricia did not know what to make of Teraâ€™s invitation but she smiled and nodded. Tola walked round to the sofa where Patricia was sitting and sat beside her. They watched TV together while Patricia thought about the movie tickets in her bag as the hours sped past. When Tera finally reached for her bag, it was ten forty five. Two hours past their movie viewing time at the cinemas.
â€œHopefully, weâ€™ll see soon,â€ Tera said, smiling thinly at her as she left the house.
Tola saw her off to her car. Patricia was in the room when he came back. Patricia showed him the movie tickets. She watched the frown clear from his face. He drew her to him and gave her a long lingering kiss. When they pulled away from each other, Patricia questioned the guarded look in his eyes.
â€œI am thinkingâ€¦â€ he said, draping an arm around her shoulder and urging her back with him to the bed. â€œI am thinking we should get married.â€
Patricia giggled and slapped his arm.
Then she saw the dead pan expression on his face and gasped.
â€œWait, are you serious.â€
Tolaâ€™s nod was solemn.
â€œWhy the sudden decision to get married?â€
â€œSudden? I remember talking about this last week.â€
â€œYou saidâ€¦what do you think about getting married?â€
â€œI remember what I said.â€
â€œSo, what do you say?â€
â€œSay to what?â€
Tolaâ€™s brow furrowed in exasperation.
â€œPatricia, give me an answerâ€¦â€
Patriciaâ€™s laugh was self conscious this time.
â€œI donâ€™t know what to say.â€
Tola shrugged and began to turn from her. Patricia grabbed a fistful of his shirt.
And he did, looking up at her with earnest eyes as she searched her heart.
Was she ready for this?
Why did he ask?
What would his father say?
Afraid to give voice to the questions in her head, she closed her eyes in the end and took a blind leap.
Tola smiled, squeezed her hand and prepared for the hell he knew his father would raise. Chief Opanuga was not referred to the bull for nothing, but he was the chip of the old block. He would beat his father at his own game.