Gentlemen of the Bar – 13
The house feels different. I walk through it with a curious sense of detachment that is hard to shake. I start from my room where my bags stand obediently across the bed like soldiers called to attention, three weeks worth of used and unused clothes inside them and head with purpose to the kitchen for the cup of coffee I think I need.
Fine threads of cob webs attack me when I open the cabinet above the sink, reminding me of my three week absence. Picking up a folded napkin on the microwave on the kitchen countertop, I fight back, destroying the elaborate weaving of my Arachnidan guests. I stop when the cupboard is clean enough and toss the napkin to the metal bin by the door. Filling my stainless steel electric kettle with water from the kitchen tap and plugging it into the socket beside the fridge, I begin the process of making coffee – wash, rinse, scoop, pour, mix and mix.
I finish my two minute chore and leave the kitchen, cup of steaming coffee in my right hand. My next stop is the living room where my orange rolled down window shades await my appraisal. The shades had been Henry’s idea. Fixed on the eve of the trip to Kano, there had been no time to access their aesthetic value. Now, I am simply not interested.
Settling into the sofa at the head of the U-shaped arrangement of the living room, I draw two sips of coffee, lower it to the arm of the sofa and lean sideways to pick up the remote control on the next sofa. I aim the remote control at the television and the screen is immediately coloured with an old rerun of My Wife and Kids. Pressing buttons, I stop Damon Wayans in the action of kissing Tisha Campbell-Martins and switch to Channels Television where the somber looking trio of Chamberlain Usoh, Charles Erukaa and a man I have not seen before are discussing the wedding of the president’s foster daughter.
I listen to them reel out the list of attendees and grow distracted after some minutes. I decide to pay attention to the news ticker at the bottom of the screen. I find what I am looking for in seconds.
Senator representing Edo South, Senator Nosakhare Osarodion treated to a rowdy welcome by colleagues as he resumes senate today.
I narrow my eyes at the next ribbon of news snippet.
Controversy as the police fail to account for arrested kidnappers of Senator Osarodion.
A considerable amount of weight slides off my shoulders. I throw my head back on the top of the sofa, close my eyes and exhale. The darkness behind my eyelids is calming. I stay within it for as long as I can manage until I hear the familiar sound of my phone ringing.
I pull away from the sofa with a sigh, down a considerable amount of coffee and stroll to the room. The phone is on the bed, screen still lit from the missed call. Cup in hand, I call my mother.
“Good morning mama.”
“Naden…how you dey?”
“I am fine.”
“Boma don call you?”
I shake my head. “No.”
“Ah…why na? Im talk say im go call you.”
I shrug. I had given the ultimate sacrifice for my brother. There was nothing more to do.
“I have not heard from him.”
“Okay. Maybe na because im still dey road.”
I frown. “Road to where?”
“Im dey come Lagos na. I give am your house address.”
Surprised and unsure how to react to the news that Boma is on his way to my house, I stare ahead at the bedroom curtains, my thoughts in complete disarray.
“I am here.”
“You dey vex?”
There is concern in my mother’s voice. I shake off the heaviness, opting instead for a light tone to maintain the peace of mind my mother has found in the past few days
“No, I am not…I am not angry.”
Pleased with my answer, my mother begins a fervent prayer that contains all sorts of requests. I nod my Amen to all of them until she begins to demand God’s intervention in my love life.
“….you go show am im wife. No strange woman, no daughter of Jezebel go ever see am. Father, you talk say e no good make man dey alone, na im you make Eve. I bind, I cast….”
“Amen….erm, mama, I have to go to work now.”
“…I reject, I re – you say?”
“I have to be at work now.”
“Okay my pikin, go well.”
My mother hangs up with a final reminder to look out for Boma. I mutter something incomprehensible and end the call. I drag my mixed emotions and surprise all the way to the kitchen, dumping the mug in the sink and turning back to the room. There, I pick a plain purple button down shirt and black trousers from the row of dry cleaned clothes in the wardrobe. I devote ten minutes to shower, barring my over imaginative mind from bringing up memories of my last shower tryst with the woman I had parted ways with only thirty six hours ago.
I leave shower and find out that I have another missed call. This one is from Martin Oyelowo. I waste no time in calling back.
“I want to see you at the house by ten.”
Demanding no answer and expecting none, Martin Oyelowo leaves me with his command ringing in my ear. I finish my dressing with methodical slowness before the bathroom mirror, searching my heart for the slightest hint of dislike for the man who is my boss. I find deep seated respect instead.
THE OYELOWO MANSION
Damilola Oyelowo had been in her husband’s study for the past thirty minutes and had been witness to the phone conversation between him and the Inspector General of Police as well as the one with Naden. She wondered what he was up to. She decided to ask questions.
“You were talking about the young man you employed?”
Martin Oyelowo raised his eyes from the file he was reading.
Damilola hesitated a second before continuing.
“You know his brother?”
“Yes,” Martin said, leaving the file and leaning backwards in his chair. “Why?”
Damilola shrugged. “I am just curious.”
Martin answered his wife with the right eyebrow that shot up to his hairline.
“This guy…the one you sent Angela to Kano with….are you trying to fix them up?”
A sly smile twisted Martin’s lips. He leaned his elbows on the arms of his chair and linked his fingers together.
“Why would I want to do that?”
“I don’t know…it’s just something I have been thinking for some time now.”
Martin sighed, broad chest heaving under the black kaftan he wore. He leaned forward again but kept some distance between his body and his desk. His eyes ran over his wife, taking in her smooth almost flawless features and thinking how difficult concentration had become these days. Martin Oyelowo was a man who valued his concentration above all else. He needed space to think about what his friend Yinusa had told him but thinking was almost impossible with his wife sitting across him. He devised a way to distract her and acted on his plan immediately.
He extended a hand to her.
Damilola’s smile took on the quality of shyness. Martin followed her worried glance to the door.
“I don’t think that is a good idea.”
“Anybody can come in.”
Martin waved her worries aside and repeated his invitation. Unable to refuse him the second time, she went to him and sat on his lap. Martin settled her nicely on his groin so she could feel the effect she had on him. Damilola laughed and slapped an obtrusive… hand as her husband tried to unclasp her bra.
“Seriously…behave, someone might come…”
She dissolved into delighted giggles as his quick fingers released the piece of fashionable material imprisoning her breasts. He stole the laughter from her lips with passionate kisses, stirring up the heat in her belly with fingers that kneaded, rubbed and caressed.
Damilola forgot about the door but Martin did not. Once he was sure he had aroused her to the point of distraction, he pulled back and fixed her bra in place.
“We should continue this later, what do you think?”
Kissing her husband’s neck and rising gracefully from his lap, Damilola nodded her assent. Exchanging flirtatious glances, husband and wife parted ways. Martin Oyelowo sat alone when the door closed, a smile on his face. It was a satisfied one.
Outside the study, Damilola walked the path to her room, an identical smile on her face. She was thinking of the man she left behind in the study, of his cunning ability to affect her with temporary amnesia until he had his way. She made a promise to herself to find other ways of getting the answers she sought from him.
Upstairs in her bathroom, Damilola stood naked before her bathroom mirror and worried about her libido.
Wasn’t she too old for the frisky behaviour she had been engaging in of late?
Last night, she and Martin had done things that embarrassed her to even think of. She wondered about the other occupants of the house.
Did they know?
Damilola shook her head, trying to assure herself that her daughter, niece and mother in law were oblivious to her sexual escapades. She refused to consider anything else.
No, they don’t.
A FEW ROOMS AWAY
The cold of the bathroom seeps into my skin, finding comfortable spaces in my joints. I curl my toes against the polished bathroom tiles and make faces at my reflection. Picking my way through the wild tangle of hair on my head, I deal with the repercussions of sleeping without my favourite silk scarf. There is a small squeak behind me as the door opens admitting a grinning and sleepy looking Fausat.
“So glad you are home,” she says, hugging me from behind, face pressed into my back. I manage a small smile. Slipping into bed with me the previous night, Fausat had done her best to bring me up to date with everything she considered important, including the call from her mother and friends in America and the new boyfriend that also happened to be the son of my mother’s friend.
“Did I tell you…”
Loosening her hold on me, Fausat turns around and leans on the wall beside the sink.
“Did I tell you that…uncle and aunty are talking again?”
I pick up my toothbrush from the holder on the sink, mentally dissecting Fausat’s revelation. Communication between my parents usually involved loud arguments and bitter accusations. It was hard to imagine them in a normal conversation.
Nodding and then turning to examine her teeth in the mirror, Fausat grins at me.
“Some days ago, I saw…saw them kissing in front of Aunty’s room. I think they are sexing each other.”
The brush slips from my hand into the sink before I can stop it.
In a motion slowed down by the absurdity of Fausat’s statement, I pick my toothbrush again and rinse it under warm water. Fausat turns away from the mirror and leans on the wall again.
“I know I said old people sex is gross but it was kinda cute to watch them.”
My tongue finally ungluing from the roof of my mouth, I shake my head at Fausat.
“Your eyes were probably playing tricks on you.”
“I swear,” Fausat squeals, face squeezing in righteous indignation. “Why would I lie?”
I squeeze toothpaste on my toothbrush and shake my head again.
“I can’t…it’s just weird to think of them that way.”
“I know,” Fausat says, pulling her earlobe and sporting a sympathetic look. “It was weird for…for me when I saw my mum kissing her boyfriend the first time.”
I say nothing to Fausat, concentrating more on brushing my teeth and expelling pictures of my parents making out from my mind. Work is only thirty minutes away. I tense at the thought of meeting Naden again. We were back to that old familiar ground of sullen silence and stilted conversations.
DOWNSTAIRS THE OYELOWO MANSION
MARTIN OYELOWO’S STUDY
I push the heavy door and step into what I think of as Martin’s den. The man is reclined in his chair, eyes almost reptilian as he watches me cross the room to his desk.
“Good morning sir.”
“Sit down Naden.”
I sit in the exact chair he points out and wait for him to begin the meeting. He does so without much delay. There are questions to be answered. I sit through the grilling interview, submitting details of our three week itinery in Kano. Martin listens to all I have to say, jotting into the leather journal that is open in front of him. I round up the conversation with my account of our last court visit. Martin’s lip turn and I glimpse satisfaction in his eyes.
“I guess we are done with that for now.”
“So, about your brother…”
I sit straight in my chair. Boma’s release had come with a price. I was anxious to know what the price was.
“I understand he is on a bus to Lagos.”
“Yes sir, he is.”
“He will be staying at your place.”
I begin to answer Martin and then I realize he was not asking a question, but was merely communicating an order.
I frown. Was he behind Boma’s trip to Lagos?
“Moving to Lagos was part of the conditions for his release,” Martin says, a smirk on his face as he answers my question. Slightly annoyed at being kept in the dark over Boma’s movements, I keep my face bland and unreadable.
“You don’t have a problem with your brother staying over at your place, do you?”
I look Martin in the eye and lie with effort.
“You are not working today.”
“I am not?”
“No,” Martin says, reaching for the receiver of his intercom, “you, Angela and the rest of the firm. You can take three days off.”
To his phone, Martin says,
“Angela? I’d like to see you in the office now.”
Well dressed in a knee length navy blue dress and perfectly made up, Angela walks into the office ten minutes later. There is flicker of surprise in her eyes when she sees me but she recovers well enough to turn her nose up in the air. Following her father’s gesture at the chair beside me, she jerks it backward, widening the gap between us, before settling into it and crossing her legs.
“You are taking three days off,” Martin tells her without much ceremony.
I keep my eyes on Martin but I sense from the sudden charge of electricity in the air that an argument was about to begin. It is not up to a second before I am proven right.
“Three days off? Why?”
Martin frowns, groves forming on his face.
“Because I say so.”
“I don’t think that is good idea.”
“I am not asking you to think. Just do what I say.”
This time I look at her. The expression on her face is grim, lips thinned into one angry line. I expect another show of rebellion but Angela shifts her gaze from her father and looks past him at the air conditioner on the wall behind him.
“By the way, why exactly are you rushing back to work?”
Turning her eyes back to her father, Angela moves her shoulders in a careless shrug.
“Maybe because I want to bury the memory of cheating that little girl and denying her justice.”
Appearing to turn into a statue, Martin watches his daughter for some minutes and then sighs loudly.
“Okay that will be all. You can leave now.”
Angela’s exit is quiet but the tension she leaves is palpable. Martin fills the silence with rhythmic drumming of his fingers on his desk. Then he stirs and frowns at me.
“How is your relationship with my daughter?”
Taken by surprise, I can only stare as Martin waits for my answer.
“I am waiting.”
I square my shoulders.
“We are cordial.”
The left side of his face lighting up in humour, Martin cocks one eyebrow at me.
“Cordial? Please explain what that means.”
I know he is needling me, pushing me admit more than has been said, but I am determined not to fall for his bait.
“It means sir that we can work together.”
“So I guess there was no conflict between you two in Kano.”
Backed completely into a corner, I eat my words with a clenched jaw.
“There was some sort of conflict but it has been resolved for some time now.”
“How exactly was this issue resolved?”
Looking unconvinced Martin nods and closes the open journal on his desk. When he looks at me, the light in his eyes has dimmed. There is more seriousness on his face now than before.
“I have a new assignment for you.”
UPSTAIRS THE OYELOWO MANSION
Comfortable under covers with Fausat pink toes wriggling in my face, I send texts to Agatha and Amina, filling their slow days with bitter complaints about annoying males and unwanted holidays.
And it is not even Easter yet.
Agatha’s answer jumps into my screen and I make a face at it.
Chill. I am actually pleased about the holiday. Work has been hectic in that firm abeg.
I turn to the other chat window where Amina’s last response hangs above the text box.
So what are you going to do with all that free time?
Aminu is in town. We are going to see his aunty this evening.
Okay. Have fun.
I toss my phone aside and fling my arms outwards. My action causes Fausat to twist backward to an almost impossible position, head leveling with buttocks as her eyes connect with mine.
“Are you okay Aunty Angie?”
“Sure? You look sor…sorta stressed.”
“I am fine.”
Snapping back to her former position like a professional contortionist, Fausat goes back to gazing lovingly at her phone. I entertain myself with the expression on my cousin’s face until I grow bored from the exercise. I leave the bed, carrying my frustrations to the bathroom where I begin to dial Peter’s number.
I abandon tapping the screen and turn with a sigh towards the bathroom door. Fausat is at the bedroom door, one leg inside the room and the other outside of it. Her phone is lying face down on the bed, amorous chat with boyfriend temporarily suspended.
“Mama called,” she tells me when I join her. “She says someone wants to see you.”
“Yes, a guy or soh…something.”
My visitor is no one else but Naden. We meet downstairs in the middle of the living room and say nothing to each other for the first five minutes. It is the sound of a closing door reverberating above us that forces conversation.
“The thing in Kano…can we take it further?”
The temperature in the room drops and then soars again. I breathe slowly.
“Take it further to where?”
Naden shrugs. “I don’t know.”
Something clicks in my mind and I turn back to look at the hallway leading to my father’s study, and then turn to Naden.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Did my dad put you up to this?”
Naden’s silence drags long enough for me to make assumptions, but he shakes his head before I can begin my victory dance.
I cross my arms against my chest.
“Well, the answer is no.”
Naden is out of the house before I can pull in the next breath. I replay our conversation in my head and rewind several times to the part where hesitation showed up in his eyes.
“He lied,” I whisper to no one in particular. “It was my dad’s idea.”
Upstairs, I lock myself in the bathroom and call Peter.
“I need to see you.”
I drive home, lighter in conscience and confident that approaching Angela had been enough respite for letting her down in Kano.
What if she said yes?
I shrug and pay attention to the trailer cutting lanes behind me. The trailer speeds past me after I clear off its path. I return to my curious inner voice.
I don’t know.
It would have been nice to have her as a girlfriend, wouldn’t it?
I ignore the speculations and tell myself it is time to forget Angela and our three week tryst. Life was complicated enough. Boma was on his way to my apartment, and Martin had raised the stakes again.
It is an hour when I get home to see the stranger standing outside my gate.
“Good afternoon Naden,” the stranger says, reminding me of someone I used to know many years ago – of a little boy that liked to run half naked around an apartment in Iyana-Paja.