AUTHOR: OGECHI ALABI
They moved to Lagos eventually. Bashir’s uncle gave them a flat in his compound in Ikeja which was closer to where Zainab worked. It was quickly furnished for them to live. They had lived in peace for two weeks before relocating to Lagos to start their lives as a couple.
Zainab asked him to talk to Wahid about the registration of his company for contract jobs.
“Who is Wahid?”
“You exchanged numbers with him at the wedding. The one who wants to help you.”
“Did he call you?”
“No, but we are now in Lagos and I think you should set the ball rolling. He will help.”
“Do you have anything to do with the guy? Why would he attend our wedding?”
“Bashir, please don’t start. I helped him resolve some issues and as payback, he made the offer. Since I didn’t collect anything from him, I want to take the advantage of his helping you. But if you don’t want it, I will tell my cousin who needs it.”
“Did I say I didn’t want it? I just don’t want to take favours from my wife’s lover that’s all.”
“Lover? I don’t understand.”
“I will talk to him.”
Wahid helped with two companies and Bashir was issued contracts.
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When Zainab resumed, Wahid came to see her. He took her aside and talked to her. “You know I helped your husband, it was because of you. He made comments as though he didn’t trust you with me. I was surprised and I almost declined to help him but because I didn’t want you to suffer that is why I helped him. If you have a close relative who can handle jobs, let him talk to me. I want you to be independent. That man you married is jealous of your association with men. He might stop you from working, insist you cover your face or outrightly frustrate you. You are a beautiful lady, I can understand. There is something not right about him. He seems to have multi personalities. Just be careful with him. I brought your present. I will advise you to keep this safe.” He handed her a cheque for three million naira. She almost fainted. She thanked him. She took the cheque to the office and kept it there.
Finally, she called her father and confided in him. Her father asked her to cash the cheque and send him the money. He requested Wahid’s number. Wahid became a member of the family.
Nkem was posted to Abuja. She didn’t have a place to stay. Uncle Tobi organised a place for her to stay after the camp. She shared a flat with a girl. She had a room to herself. He helped her get a good job in a parastatal. She was ecstatic. She appreciated him by sending him messages. He never replied to her messages.
There were some Igbos in the parastatal. They complained about the Igbo soups being served at the canteen. The men especially didn’t find it funny. Nkem made soup in a cooler and brought it to the office with eba and fufu. It was a portion for five people. It finished. She brought some more the next day, some people pre-ordered. She cooked for ten people, and it finished. That was how she started a cooking business. She cooked in the morning and carried it to work. She made only Igbo soups. On Fridays, she makes ugba and abacha with fish and pomo. She added onions, small garden eggs and utazi leaves.
She was making more than she was earning and what NYSC was paying put together. She liked the business. The business expanded to bringing original Igbo palm oil from her village. Her mother sent five kegs, but none remained. She sent ten, it was the same. The profit margin was so good. She included other foodstuffs from the east. She was very good at her job and also did her business.
Uncle Tobi called her one day and asked her how much she made from selling food. She told him. He credited her for a month and told her never to sell food in the office again. She was surprised. She apologised and wanted to explain but he ended the call. The following month, he credited her again.
Nkem was confused. She called him but he didn’t pick up. She had to tell Funke to help ask him what the problem was. Funke was also suspicious of uncle Tobi’s intentions. First, he took her to Abuja and now he was giving her money. She called her uncle.
After exchanging pleasantries, she asked him, “What are your intentions towards Nkem?”
“I don’t get it.”
“She is a smart girl. She feels there is more to you. Why are you sending her money?”
“She would have lost her job. How can she be selling food there? I was packaging her as a smart girl so she can be retained and have an opportunity but instead, she selling food. Funke food o! I felt she was broke that’s why I decided to stop her and then help her.”
“Is that all?”
“I like smart people and she stood out. Her family has been amazing, they kept to the terms of our contract. She is a small girl and she doesn’t have the features of the women I like to spend time with.”
“Yes now. I am a Yoruba man, I like ikebe and bust. She doesn’t have it. So don’t even suspect I will have something with her. It can’t happen.”
“I believe you. Thank you for taking care of her.”
Nkem was informed of the reason. She became focused. She used her flatmate to sell the things her mother sends for sale. The lady enjoyed coming to the office to market and deliver. She gave her a commission.
She was at work one afternoon when she was informed she had a visitor. She went to see the person and was shocked to see Demian. What was Demian doing in Nigeria? She had to pinch herself to be sure she wasn’t seeing things.
He looked very different. He was a lot slimmer. He had bags under his eyes and his eyes were drawn in. What was the matter?
“I have been looking for you,” he said to her.
“What are you doing in Nigeria?”
“I needed to see you. We need to talk.”
“Is there a problem? Talk to me.” Nkem was worried.
“We can’t talk here. When are you getting off?”
“By 5 pm. Where do I meet you?”
He wrote down his hotel details and gave her. “I will be there waiting for you.”
Nkem was restless after he left. She couldn’t believe it was the bubbly Demian that just left there. She was sad. She was worried. He looked like he hadn’t eaten in months. She took permission and went home early. She made his favourite meal and took it with her to the hotel.
They called his room several times but he didn’t answer. She was more worried. They confirmed he was a guest there but they couldn’t reach him. She unblocked him and called him. He picked on the third ring.
“I am downstairs, where are you?” she asked.
“I am in my room. Sorry, I was taking a bath and dozed off in the tub. I hadn’t slept in days. My phone woke me up.”
“Should I give you some time?”
“You can come up or I could dress up and we get something to eat.”
“I brought you food.”
Demian was silent for some seconds and then he ended the call. He called the front desk and told them to allow her to come upstairs. He was by the door when she got there. He was smiling, it was a happy smile that got to his eyes.
“First things first. Should I set food for you?” he nodded. Nkem set the food for him. He ate as though he had not eaten in months. He finished the food on his plate and requested some more. She dished out more food and he ate. She became livelier and brighter.
“What happened to you?”
“I was ill for some time. Immediately I recovered, I decided to come and see you.”
“Ill? What was wrong with you?”
“I will tell you all about it. I feel so tired and would love to catch a nap. You must be tired from work too. Why don’t you have the bed while I sleep on the couch.”
“It will be very uncomfortable. I will leave and come back when you wake up.”
“You still don’t trust me?”
“It is not that.”
“Then stay with me. I just need to nap for about an hour and then we can talk. The food was heavy and I needed it. We can lay on the bed together and I promise I won’t touch you.”
“I am not sleepy. I will do some work while you sleep. I will wait for you.”
He laid down and fell asleep. The sleep lasted for almost two hours. He snored gently as he slept and he looked so innocent and angelic. Nkem wondered why he came back to see her. She still remembered what his cousin attempted to do with her. She hadn’t spoken to him in three months and here he was.
Demian woke up from his sleep. He watched Nkem chat on her phone. He wondered who she was talking to. Did she have a new best friend? Had he been replaced? Didn’t she miss him at all? He had missed her so much. The three months had been unbearable that he fell terribly ill. He hadn’t fully recuperated before he came back. No one could find her. He regretted not having the contact details of one of her roommates. He finally had to bribe Patience to get her information. The problem was, he didn’t trust her to keep his enquiry secret. He begged her not to tell anyone.
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He looked at Nkem. She looked better. She looked so sophisticated. She had added some weight, not much but in the right places. Her bosom looked fuller. He noticed her hips were broader. What could have made it broader? Did she make real her threat to see other people? Other men. If she did, he wouldn’t be happy about it but he could get past it. He stood up quietly from the bed to use the toilet. She saw him and smiled at him.
When he was out, she checked the time. She said to Demian, “I would leave soon. You needed that rest. How long are you in Nigeria for?”
“I came to see you. It is for how long you want me here.”
“That’s not a good plan. You are more structured than this. You know when you are going back.”
“My return ticket to open. Whenever you ask me to leave, I will leave.”
“What of work?”
“I have been off work for a while due to my illness. I wanted to resign but they refused. I work remotely for now until I am fully recovered to get back to work.”
“Ok. I am here now, what would you like to talk about?”
“If we start, we might not be able to exhaust the issue unless you will spend the night, there is no work tomorrow.”
“Spending the night will be difficult. I know a cab driver that will take me home no matter how late it is. You don’t look very well and I want you to go back.”
“Why did you leave me? What did I do that was so grievous that you couldn’t forgive? I kept wondering if it was beyond the fact that I acted up and you were vexed. You didn’t talk to me for more than three months, why? Am I a terrible person? How do you stop being best friends with someone just because he acted up once?”
“It was beyond that. I was angry at what happened then but something else happened. Your cousin came unto me. Did you send him to test me or something? He harassed me. Why would he do that?”
“Who did that? Chuks? Chuks won’t make a move on you. He knows how I feel about you, he won’t do that.”
“Well, he did. I felt you asked him to test me or something. I was irritated and disappointed. I had a lot of respect for him.”
“You concluded without talking to me first? Why would I do that to you? Why would I want to test you with Chuks? I knew he liked you but I didn’t know he was attracted to you, I would never have sent him to you.”
“Well, he stalked me for some time. He called me on different phone numbers and returned to where I lived. I had to talk to my neighbour about his threat for him never to show up again. He was dead serious. That was when I thought he might be working alone. I didn’t want to cause any problems in your family. I refused to marry one cousin and another one wanted me. That’s not good.”
“You should have told me. I have to get to Lagos to see him. Why do that to you? It was me he disrespected. I feel terrible. Please forgive me.”
“It’s in the past.”
“I want us to be best friends again. I will not allow my emotions to get the better of me.”
“You travelled all the way here to see your best friend?”
“If that’s all I can get for now, why not? I came to see you because I missed you so much, I can’t explain it. I slept at a stretch for the first time today. If you stay, I will sleep all through the night. I haven’t been sleeping and eating.”
“That’s why you look so sick. I will wait for you to fall asleep before I leave.”
“Why don’t you stay? I won’t disrespect you, I promise. Just stay.”
Nkem didn’t want to stay. First, her flatmate would call uncle Tobi and let him know she was out. She had done it before and she didn’t like that. Uncle Tobi called to lecture her about how dubious and deceptive Abuja men were. She didn’t want him calling her and then finding out she was in a hotel.
A part of her wanted to stay with him. She missed their friendship and the way he looked hurt her. She wished she could make everything better for him. More devastating was finding out about his cousin’s betrayal. She knew she had to tell him. She prayed she didn’t make a mistake and it won’t affect his healing process.
She called her flatmate. She told her she was staying over at a sick friend’s apartment for the night. Her biggest fear was her telling uncle Tobi about it. She begged her flatmate not to mention it to uncle Tobi, and she agreed.