Gentlemen of the Bar – 16
I stand in the middle of the line of lawyers shrugging out of robes and talking loudly among themselves. I let the voices wash over me, soaking in every enunciated vowel and consonant until I can no longer hear it – the conversation between Naden and his new friend, a tall light complexioned lawyer who has somehow become his shadow in the past few days.
Moving towards the open doors, I continue to cling to chaos around me, willing myself to forget the couple behind me. I am successful until the line spills into the wide corridor outside the doors of the courtroom. Naden’s laughter finds me just before I walk into the sunny car park. Miss tall and light complexioned laughs with him.
So you’ll be here next week?
Yep. Our hearing is on Monday.
So…urm…I’ll call you.
Naden’s answer fades into the afternoon air as I increase the distance between us. The firm’s driver, Bode is lounging in his seat when I reach the X6. He shoots up to a sitting position when he sees me, straightening his collar and mumbling something about not sleeping well the previous night. I give him an absent minded nod and point to the boot of the X6. Stumbling out of his seat and rushing to meet me, he apologizes profusely and holds the boot open for me while I dump my robe bag in it.
“Where is Barrister?”
I know he is referring to Naden. I pretend not to hear and do a sharp turn on my not so comfortable 5 inches heels towards the backseat of the X6. Naden arrives just as I pull the door close. Bode rushes to him, asking a multitude of questions and relieving him of the attaché case and blue robe bag with him. They stand outside the car, discussing court schedules and fuel levels. Soon Naden is sliding in beside me, one hand reaching to loosen the knot of his tie as he settles down. I keep track of his movements from the corner of my eyes, careful to maintain enough distance to avoid body contact.
We glide out of the premises of the High Court at Igbosere, Bode’s expert driving taking us towards Victoria Island. I keep myself busy with my phone for half of the journey, scrolling through a timeline busy with discussions on the missing schoolgirls in Borno. The tweets are accompanied with heartbreaking images of distraught parents waiting for news on the missing girls. I stare at the pictures, Hussaina’s big round eyes flitting through the crevices of my brain and haunting me.
How was she doing?
Did she fulfill her dream of going back to school?
Could I have done more?
My conscience was pricked and ravaged by guilt, I torment myself for a few more minutes until we run into traffic and Naden receives a call. My eyes trained on the boys thrusting their cartons of Mountain Dew and La Casera at the window, I listen to him converse on the phone.
“Oh…I forgot it with you? Okay…will come for it later…you close what time? Fine then, send me your address.”
My mental antennae twitching with curiosity, I attempt to solve the riddle of Naden’s caller. I make my calculations, putting probabilities together until I arrive at a safe conclusion.
Miss tall and light complexioned.
I treat the knowledge with a nonchalance that is not heartfelt. I give up the pretense a while later, acknowledging the sharp uncomfortable feeling in my chest. Running the nail of my forefinger along my phone’s edges, I think of the implication of the call.
Were they dating already?
I steal a sideways glance at him. His face is empty of any expression but the air around him is pensive. My eyes travel past his shoulders down to his powerful thighs. I think of him with Miss tall and light complexioned, and earn a splitting headache.
I know the exact moment she turns her attention back to the window. I wait until she is engrossed in her street watching activity before I reciprocate her profile gazing. Her lips are pursed, lids lowered completely and giving her a sleepy, faraway look. Her cheek is smooth and framed by a drop of white pearl that hangs from small delicate earlobes. I lean further into my seat, angling my head backwards to escape detection as I move my eyes downwards to the swell underneath her pink chiffon blouse. I think of the last time. Of soft satiny skin and moans that turned me inside out. Desire swells and roars inside me, pushing out thoughts of restraint.
I entertain licentious thoughts.
I flip her backwards in the dimly lit spaces of my mind, filling the gap between her thighs and becoming one with her in every possible way. Whispered sighs expose her longing and I steal them from her lips, enjoying her writhing thrashing body until the stars converge together in one startling explosion of light. My body responds to the fantasy, straining against the fine material of my Cerruti suit. I sigh inwardly and tell myself it is a fruitless exercise.
Remember your vow. You are never touching her again….remember?
I remember and steer my mind towards recent pursuits, like the investment deal I am presiding over, the case I am bound to win at the High court, and of course, the leggy, interesting female that had taken a serious liking to me.
Going to the court with a cold frigid Angela meant I was available for the animated arguments centered on points of law and bold advances from other female lawyers. Stephanie had been the boldest of the lot. Walking up to me after the court sitting in the corridor outside the court, she had exchanged stiff hellos with Angela and introduced herself.
“I like how you handled your case. You are one of the best lawyers I have come across.”
It had been difficult to shake her off after that, not that I made any particular effort to. Her company provided enough distraction from the tension between me and Angela. She sat in our row now, making us an unlikely trio. Angela did not seem to notice. I made effort not to care. Whatever had passed between me and her was safely locked away in the vault of my past.
Except you want her sometimes.
I do a mental shrug.
My attention is diverted by the burst of high pitched crooning from the car speakers.
She no want designer…
She no want Ferrari…
She say na my love o…
Angela cuts into the caterwauling, securing my attention. Her face is back in its usual cast of aloofness, her eyes are cool as they settle on the back of the driver’s head.
“Bode I have a headache, please lower the music.”
The driver obliges and lowers the volume of the music until we are left with silence and the occasional muted honking sailing in from outside. The mid afternoon traffic eases when we get to Ozumba Mbadiwe. Bode takes advantage of the freedom and speeds towards the office. We are at the firm in minutes and Angela is out of the car in the length of time it takes to blink. I spend more time with Bode, clearing out the boot of the car and thinking about the date with Stephanie.
To go or not to go?
The calming effect of the slow jazz music flowing unrestricted from my phone’s speakers wears off after only some minutes. I reach downwards with a sigh and turn off the music. Lowering my head to my hands, I attempt to massage the headache away, whispering affirmations to myself as I do.
“I am healthy. My body is not affected by negative circumstances. I am in control of my thoughts. I –”
The door jerks backwards on its hinges before I can complete the rest of my statement. I look up to see my friends walk into the office, different expressions on their faces. Amina is smiling, face glowing with the miracle of a renewed love while a scowl darkens Agatha’s face.
“Some men are so annoying,” Agatha says, pulling one of the chairs across my table and sitting in it.
My headache temporarily forgotten, I study her face.
“Is it not this client I went to see at V.I…dude was just stripping me naked with his eyes. We could not accomplish anything because he was preoccupied with my chest.”
Sitting beside Agatha, Amina laughs, her shoulders shaking under her suit jacket.
“Maybe he was just trying to read you. Some clients do that a lot.”
Agatha disagrees vehemently, eyes narrowing with indignation.
“I know the difference between an evaluation and an eye fuck okay. That man was just being a perv.”
Amina laughs again before turning inquisitive eyes to me.
“How was court?”
I exhale and lean back in my chair.
Agatha stops scowling to give me speculative glance.
“Did you guys fight again?”
Amina swings her head in Agatha’s direction.
“Fight? Who is fighting who?”
“She and…” Agatha cocks her head in the direction of the door, eyebrows wriggling mischievously. I smile involuntarily.
“Ah,” Amina says, eyes brightening as she interprets Agatha’s eyebrow wriggling. She beams a warming smile on me, “our favourite lovebirds. So yeah, did you guys fight?”
I shake my head. “We are not lovebirds.”
“They are fuck buddies,” Agatha supplies smoothly. “Angela likes fuck buddies. Love is not her thing.”
“What is eww? Ask her.”
Amina’s face squishes with feigned disgust.
“Is it true….is he erm…your…you know…buddy.”
I shrug. “I don’t know….”
“You see,” Agatha says, letting out a triumphant laugh. “She is just sleeping with him.”
Amina wags her head at me, her eyes sharpening with reproach.
“You can’t keep treating men like toys. I don’t get it. Don’t you want to settle down?”
I sigh and rest my elbows on my table.
“My life, my business.”
Eyes softening, Amina leans towards me, hands resting on her side of the table. “See, I hate to preach to you, but there is beauty in the oneness that comes from a happy relationship or marriage. You can’t spend the rest of your life jumping from one man to the other.”
I raise an objecting hand.
“Hey, you make it sound like I am sleeping with the whole of Lagos. I am not!”
I throw myself backwards in my chair and cross my arms against my chest.
“No one is saying you are…”
Lifting up her head from her phone, Agatha rests a restraining hand on Amina’s arm.
“Look, you are wasting your time. Angela will change her tune when love happens.”
Amina appears to think about Agatha’s words before shrugging in resignation. Cupping her chin in her right hand, she asks about Naden.
“He should be in his office.”
Agatha tells me Naden is not in his office.
“Oh, I guess he has gone for his date then.”
The office resonates with my words, I flash my friends the brightest smile I can manage and clasp my hands over the stack of papers on my table. Agatha shakes her head, a slow smile spreading on her face.
“I don’t know why but my bullshit meter is reading you differently.”
I raise my eyebrows.
“It says you are not really happy about Naden going for a date. It says…you might just be jealous.”
I scoff. “Yeah right.”
My friends exchange glances, an unspoken communication passing between them. I roll my eyes and pick up the papers on my desk.
“Now, let’s talk about the meeting tomorrow.”
FOUR POINTS HOTEL LEKKI
Martin Oyelowo sat with Boma Tare George in the glass enclosed and very modern bar. The two men were bathed in the reflections of the swimming pool that was visible through the glass wall beside them. Two glasses sat between them on their table, half full and untouched. Martin tapped the table as was his habit, watching the younger man with an intensity that was disconcerting. Boma held his gaze for as long as he could. Then realizing that his host had no plans to end the visual tug of war, he sighed inwardly and looked away to the next table where two white men sat speaking French.
“So why…why did you kidnap the senator?”
Boma frowned but kept his eyes on the white men.
Martin’s lips quirked, “Nothing? No one does anything for nothing.”
Boma’s face was tense when he looked back at Martin.
“No, you don’t,” Martin said, the tone of his voice steely even as his smile grew. “So go on, what was your reason?”
A pause broke the flow of conversation, allowing Boma to collect himself. He was rarely uncomfortable with people, so why did this man make him feel uncomfortable?
“Let’s just say I felt like.”
Martin raised his right hand to stroke his jaw, his gold Rolex wristwatch escaping past the sleeve of his white brocade native shirt.
Boma squared his jaw. The seconds ticked. Martin’s hand lowered back to the table.
“So, this whole kidnap thing was for nothing?”
“Yes,” Boma said tightly.
“Not even because your girlfriend Lydia asked you to.”
Boma’s eyes rounded and then became slits. His suit jacket suddenly became too tight for him. How did he know?
Martin laughed. It was a throaty chuckle, one that eased the tension out of Boma.
“So Boma,” Martin said, eyes becoming serious again. “You are not going back to that life again.”
It was an order. Boma frowned at Martin but there was no question that he would obey the order. Martin sensed his acquiescence in the silence that followed. He nodded, pleasure berthing in his eyes. Boma caught a movement from the corner of his eyes and looked downwards to see Martin pushing the envelope that had been on his side of the table towards him.
“So, congratulations,” Martin said, retracting his hand as soon as the envelope was within Boma’s reach. “You have been accepted.”
The yellow and green logo of NNPC was the first thing Boma saw when his eyes fell on the envelope. He studied the envelope for a long time and then exhaled. His mother’s voice came to haunt him. It yelled at his inability to respond appropriately to the gestures of his benefactors.
Tell am thank you. I go slap you, you no sabi tell pesin thank you? Which kain pickin you be sef?
Boma looked at Martin.
Martin said nothing, he just smiled.
Across their table, the white men watched them. One of them, tall, lean and hook nosed remarked on their resemblance.
“Le fils tient de son pere en tout.”
I nurse my second bottle of beer, half listening to Henry and his horde as they discuss women. I pick my phone from my lap and read my text to Stephanie.
Sorry. The boss called for a meeting. I will see you at the next court sitting. You can bring the document along.
I sigh and throw my head back on the top of the sofa.
I should have seen her. Why am I avoiding her?
“Guy, you sure say everything dey alright? This one wey you quiet like this today.”
I force a smile to my face as the buzzing in the room ends immediately and six pairs of curious eyes size me up.
“I am fine.”
“This Naden na coded guy,” Itohen says with a laugh. “Im own na to hear tori. Im no dey ever contribute anything.”
The horde laughs. I keep my smile in place and shrug.
“It’s not like I have anything to say really.”
Henry snorts and tells the room that I am involved with a woman at work.
“Make I hear say Naden talk say im and that girl no get anything.”
Henry goes on to conjure the picture of an alluring female with killer curves and a musical voice, and soon the horde is baying for more information.
“Talk na, Naden,” Itohen says, his voice leading the commotion in the room. “Tell us about the girl.”
I want to shrug off the interest in the room but I change my mind at the last minute.
“Okay. What do you want to know?”
There is a general hoot of satisfaction. Itohen raises his hand.
“First question, she sabi do?”
I laugh and shake my head.
“I am not answering that. Next.”
Henry sighs in defeat and then says, “okay, you don take style avoid that one. Answer this one…you like am?”
I think of Henry’s question. Angela’s face comes up in my mind’s eye. I smile.
There are other questions. Some border on mischief, others border on the inane, while some border on the extremely vulgar. I answer them all, unburdening myself with every sentence. It is an hour until I free from the drilling. I am a little exhausted from the exercise, but I am light and free with the truth.
I drive through familiar streets that look the same, hypnotized by the blinding headlights of speeding cars. Houses roll out in my view, splendid in their array of colours like impressions on a watercolour painting. I take turns, entering worlds of silence and prestige.
Why am I here?
Angela turn back.
My steering turns easily under my hands but it is more from the buildup of moisture than anything else.
Why am I here?
The house is the last on the street. It is a boxy solid thing, white and indifferent to the obnoxious architectural adventures beside it.
Like the man himself.
I drive to it, right foot lifting from the accelerator to delay the inevitable.
The car rolls to a stop before the gate of the house. I leave the engine running and unsnap my seat belt. Relaxing in my seat, I look at the boxy white thing and wonder if he is in there. Somewhere in my head, Agatha and Amina laugh, and hi five each other.
Why am I here?
I push two thousand naira through the half opened window and smile as the security guard gives a smart salute. Pulling away from the estate gate, I head down the long windy road that branches out into several streets and crescents. I am still on the road when Boma calls.
“Are you on your way?”
“There is a car outside and from what I can see it is a chick.”
A thousand and one thoughts in my head, I end the call and concentrate on getting home within the shortest time possible. I spy the car in front of my gate when I enter my street. It takes minutes to tell the identity of the car’s occupant.
I park behind her car and kill my engine. In her car, Angela is twisting in my direction, wide eyes caught in my headlights. She turns away in the next second. I turn off my lights and leave the car.
A marching band is playing a loud discordant tune in my chest as I twist forward again in my seat. I breathe deeply a few times.
He is here. Now what?
I think of excuses for my visit – the meeting tomorrow, the client that would not pay the monthly retainership fee, the next hearing at the high court. I am still thinking when he appears at the window, knuckle rapping lightly on it. My mind ceasing all function, I unlock the car and wait for him.
His cologne pervading my senses and striking me dumb, I nod at him.
Lines appear above knitted brows. “What’s up?”
I sit up straighter in my seat.
I choke on my elaborate excuse, embarrassment forcing me into silence. We stare at each other. His face is half hidden in a crisscross of shadows and light spilling in from the street. Finally, he moves, leaning forward until our noses touch, and then his lips begin a slow ascent up his face. My lips turn in response before I can stop myself.
It is a slow, tortuous and burning kiss. He probes and opens me up, tongue dancing with mine. His lips are soft and warm, and taste of alcohol. Pools of desire gathering between my thighs, I press into him to taste more of the kiss. I am out of breath when he pulls away and reaches for the door handle.
Lips tingling, I manage a nod.
He stands, hands in pockets and watches as I maneuver the spaces between our cars. Soon my car is pointing in the opposite direction. I lock eyes with him one more time and then shoot off in the direction of the house. Twenty minutes later, I am curled up in bed, phone in hand. I send a text to my friends.
I might just be in a relationship.
MEANING OF FRENCH WORDS IN STORY.
Le fils tient de son pere en tout – the son takes after his father in everything.
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