Gentlemen of the Bar – 18
The lone car on the street honked, reminding the inhabitants of the sleepy estate that dawn had arrived. In his room, Boma laid on the bed, naked from waist up, hands supporting the back of his head as he thought of all that had happened to him in the last one week. The interview at the Ikoyi office of NNPC had gone well. He had answered the questions thrown at him as confidently as he could and in the end he had left the office with the belief that the interview had been a mere formality. His place at the corporation was certain, thanks to Martin Oyelowo’s influence.
Boma flipped to his side and this time he faced the window, arms crossed against his chest. He thought again of the future and the life of relative ease that awaited him. He tried to feel excitement but saw instead Lydia’s tear streaked face.
There will be others, his mind told him, let her go.
His heart differed.
It’s not so easy. You still love her.
Restless from the torture, Boma sighed and sat up in bed and cracked his neck. Feeling a little better, he padded to the black and white themed bathroom to relieve himself of his full bladder. There he took time to reflect, watching himself in the mirror and reliving the past. Lydia’s throaty laughter came back to haunt him. Her eyes, wide and sincere burned into his soul.
You know I love you don’t you? I will never stop loving you no matter what.
Her face was beautiful once again. He stared at it for a long time, marveling at its near perfection. He drew near to her and inhaled the seductive scent of her perfume.
You are beautiful.
Somewhere a door slammed, bringing reality to the cold confines of the bathroom. Boma blinked once and the past disappeared. Releasing a sigh, he turned the silver faucet of the sink before the mirror and leaned over to splash water on his face. Feeling invigorated, he picked his toothbrush from the glass shelf above the sink and brushed his teeth. While he brushed, Boma wondered about Lydia.
Where did she live?
How was she surviving?
He remembered the visible signs of stress on her face. Pity tugged at his heart and disturbed his conscience. He excused her involvement in her uncle’s kidnap. She had wanted revenge for her mother. He rinsed his mouth, resolving to see her again. His life had changed for good. Surely he could do something for her, at least for old times’ sake.
Marching back to the room, he picked up his phone from the folds of his sheets, sat on the bed and called the last number he had spoken with Lydia on.
The pink and white bedsheet with uneven triangular lines smelled of mold and old age like the rest of the house but Lydia did not care. She smelled nothing, cared for nothing. Her eyes were vacant and unfocused as they beheld the deadly blue and white packet in her hand.
Just one gulp and it ends.
A sad smile twisted Lydia lips. She thought about death – about the absolute silence of infinity. There, her heart would be whole and free from the pain that had eaten her since the last two weeks.
She would forget Boma.
And there would be peace. Darkness. Nothingness.
Pushing herself to a sitting position, Lydia sat in the middle of the bed.
Or maybe there would be golden streets. White tall buildings like the one the woman who died and went to heaven said she saw. Angels with kind faces who touched you and washed away a lifetime of pain.
She shook her head. She had lost her faith a long time ago. There would be no white buildings or angels. Nothingness was better.
Thoughts of death and darkness firmly rooted in her mind, she opened the packet and pulled out a bottle. Eyeing the dark liquid in the bottle, she wondered about the proficiency of the poison, the length of time it would take before the world blurred and darkened around her, before the constant hooting and shouting of sweaty conductors hanging from the opening of buses melted into the void. Her pupils dilating and fingers tightening around the bottle, Lydia drew in a deep breath.
It was time.
Somewhere in the dank moulded covered room, a phone was ringing, but there was no reaction from Lydia. The phone was on silent mode.
THE OYELOWO MANSION
MARTIN OYELOWO’S ROOM
Damilola entered her husband’s room. White and spotless, with wood paneling, snarling masquerades with raffia braids, paintings of village women balancing water pots on their heads, as well as sleek electronic gadgets, the room spoke of her husband’s eclectic taste.
He was at his writing desk across the bed at that moment, back turned to her and head bent over what he was writing. He did not look up as she practically tiptoed towards him.
“Good morning,” he said without looking in her direction. “You are awake quite early today.”
Damilola smiled ruefully and wondered why she was yet to master the art of creeping behind her husband undetected. She went and stood beside him in her lace and satin body hugging nightdress.
“Why is it so hard to surprise you?”
Martin looked up, a smug smile on his face.
“It must be because I have superpowers.”
Damilola laughed. Martin dropped his gold fountain pen and pushed his chair away from the writing table.
“So why are you up?”
His question caused Damilola to stop smiling. She became pensive. Her eyes fell on the exquisite Persian rug under her feet as she avoided her husband’s eyes.
“We need to talk.”
Martin chose the bed. They drifted towards it, tension crackling in the air.
“So?” Martin said again, frowning in concern at his wife. “What is wrong?”
Damilola clasped her hands together, planting them between her thighs. She continued to avoid her husband’s eyes. She fixed her attention to the maroon red polish on her nails.
“I went to Doctor Timothy’s clinic today.”
“I see. How is he?”
They discussed their family doctor for a few minutes and then Martin nudged Damilola back into the subject of her visit to the family doctor.
“Okay, what was the appointment for?”
“You know I have been throwing up for some days now. Remember the last time downstairs – at your study?”
“Well, I did a pregnancy test today – ”
Damilola began to turn her face away again but her husband stopped her with a hand under her chin.
“You know I hate suspense,” he said, face tightened with anxiety. “Tell me what happened.”
His tone forced the words out of Damilola. They came out in a rush.
“It was negative. I am so sorry. I was thinking – you know – hoping that maybe I was pregnant. At first I didn’t want to be pregnant, but later it didn’t seem like a bad thing and I started thinking that maybe I was and I could you know – give you a son.”
Martin’s frown cleared. His face became unreadable. Damilola became nervous. It was 1985 again and she was scared of her husband’s reaction to the news that she would not be giving him a son. She waited for him to say something, fidgeting nervously as she waited.
“Let me get this straight,” Martin said, breaking the silence after a long time. “You wanted to get pregnant.”
Damilola began to shake her head but stopped on time.
“I don’t know. I just thought – “
“Okay, now I am confused,” Martin said, looking very much amused. “You thought you wanted to get pregnant?”
Martin released a throaty chuckle.
Damilola inched closer to her husband, relief making her smile.
“So you don’t want a baby?”
Martin shook his head and clicked his tongue. “No. I am too old for a baby.”
“Not even a son?”
Wrapping his left arm around his wife’s shoulders, Martin drew her to him.
“I wanted a son for a long time, waited for him to come – but you know I have come to realize something – that sometimes a son doesn’t have to come from your own loins.”
Damilola traced her husband’s chin with a loving finger. She pondered on his words and soon found a reason for them.
“The young men – “
“You were always perceptive.”
It was Damilola’s turn to be smug. “I know.”
Boma opened his wallet, removed a single note of five hundred naira from the wad inside and then passed the money to the taxi driver. The old man turned the money around, looking sideways at the waiting motorcyclist and shaking his head.
“Is too much now. Is not far where we see him now. You don’t have two hundred naira there?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Ah,” the old man said again. “Is too much from Ilaje to this place.” Turning to the motorcyclist, the old man waved the five hundred naira note. “Aboki, you have change?”
The motorcyclist frowned.
“E mi o kin se Aboki baba.”
The old man cackled and then looked backwards at Boma.
“I think is Aboki o. Is even my brother sef.”
The driver and the motorcyclist conversed in Yoruba, haggling over the motorcyclist’s charge for driving ahead of them to the street where they were currently parked. Finally, they reached a consensus and the motorcyclist reached into the breast pocket of his shirt and brought out two crumpled notes. The driver straightened the notes and passed them to Boma as the motorcyclist gunned downed the street, splattering mud on enraged passers-by. Boma refused the change.
“You can keep it.”
“Ah,” the taxi driver said, his lips peeling back to expose tobacco stained teeth. “Is your change now.”
“Please keep it sir.”
“Ah,” the driver said again, but this time he pocketed the money.
They resumed their journey with Boma consulting the slip of paper in his hand for the number of the house they were looking for. He told the driver and they counted together.
“Forty nine – fifty one – fifty – ”
“Ehen, fifty five. Is here.”
Number fifty five Ewenla street was a derelict excuse for a house. Painted brown and streaked with algae, it was flanked by wide open gutters and manned by ferocious looking men hanging from rusting iron railings. Boma frowned at the eyesore, wondering how his former girlfriend ended up there. He looked at the paper again.
“This is the house?”
It was a rhetorical question, but the taxi driver, won over by his generosity felt compelled to answer.
“Yes, is the house. Shebi is number fifty three you call?”
“Yes sir,” Boma mumbled under his breath, eyes moving back to the building. The driver killed the engine and unsnapped his belt.
“You have call the person?”
Prompted by the driver’s question, Boma called Lydia. His call was picked at the second ring. He listened to her breathe. The burden fell on him to start their conversation.
“I called you earlier.”
“Yes – I saw your call.”
“I am in front your house.”
Boma was prepared when the silence came. He explained himself.
“You gave me the address in Benin – remember?”
She said nothing, so he tried again.
“When we talked about the options – if they – “
Boma paused, reminded again of their not too distant past.
“I remember,” came Lydia’s raspy voice.
A pause delayed the conclusion of their conversation.
“So are you coming?”
Dressed down in a pair of faded blue jeans and black T-shirt, she wore no makeup. Her emergence caused a stir among the men outside the house. Boma felt a surge of annoyance as the men gawked openly at her sizeable behind. He was relieved when she appeared not to notice them. She was soon in the taxi, eyes downcast and mouth pressed in a thin line. The taxi driver excused himself, mumbling in his accented English that he wanted to get kola nuts from the wooden shack across the road.
“How is your aunty?”
Lydia raised her head a fraction and Boma saw her lips curve slightly. He saw her surprise too.
“I remember,” he said simply.
“So how is she?”
“She is fine – we were talking when you called.”
“So,” Lydia began, eyes searching Boma’s face. “Why – why did you come?”
Boma sighed. “I don’t know.” He looked outside at the purposeful activity of the people on the street and back to her again. “I honestly don’t know.”
He watched her closely until she became self conscious.
“Were you crying?”
Lydia’s jaw tightened.
“Are you lying to me?”
His question brought a flood of nostalgic memories. Lydia’s jaw shook. Her resolve shook with it.
Lydia closed her eyes and hot scalding tears rushed past her closed lids. Somewhere she heard Boma sigh.
His words did not calm her. Folding into two, she lowered her head to her palms, giving in to waves and waves of debilitating sorrow. She didn’t know why she cried. There was just a need to empty herself. It lasted only two minutes but for Boma, it felt like eternity. He was glad when she raised her eyes to him again.
Lydia nodded, dragging the heels of her hands across her eyes.
“Okay. So we can talk now?”
Boma mulled over the words he was about to speak, thinking of the consequences. What would Martin say when he found out? Or Naden?
He turned his head in the direction of the house where Lydia stayed with her mother’s cousin. He shook his head. She didn’t deserve this, and besides they had been through alot together.
“I am thinking of giving us another chance.”
Lydia stared at him as if he spoke a different language. Boma cocked his left brow at her.
Lydia blinked several times and looked down at her hands. Her whole being sang, her heart lending a rather erratic beat to the cacophony. Yet she was struck dumb.
“Lydia – I am waiting.”
Lydia found her voice again. It was small and subdued.
And then she smiled. Boma found the woman he used to love in her smile. Even the lines around her eyes seemed to disappear. He looked down at the seat to find her hand creep towards his own and squeeze it. He smiled and leaned closer to drop a kiss on her cheek.
“See you soon.”
He also plucked out several notes from his wallet and gave to her. She protested the amount, her head shaking with stubborn pride.
“No I am fine.”
“Look,” he said, grabbing her hand and pushing the money into it. “I have money these days and I have no idea what to do with it. Just take it. You are my girlfriend, remember?”
Tear pooled in Lydia’s eyes again. Boma saw it and shook his head.
“You know how I am with tears – please.”
Lydia hugged him and kissed his neck.
“I love you.”
Boma smiled. “I love you too.”
He promised to call her the following day. They exchanged another goodbye kiss and Lydia left the car. Boma was watching her disappear into the house when the taxi driver reappeared.
“Sorry o!” he said, strapping himself back to his seat. “I hope I no waste your time.”
“No sir,” Boma said, his eyes still on the house. He would find a way to get her out of this place.
Inside the house, Lydia’s aunty reprimanded her.
“You see now? Ehn Lydia?” the portly middle aged woman said, hands clutching the money Lydia had given to her as she sat in one of the living room’s faded lumpy sofas. “You see? Na so you for just kill yourself for nothing ehn Lydia?”
Lydia hung her head.
“So if I no waka come your room the time when I come, na your dead body I for meet? Ehn?”
The woman, Aunty Bella sighed. She rolled the money in her hand and tucked into the side of the sofa.
“Anyway, I thank God. Na God make me waka come your room. If not, wetin I for tell your mama?”
She remembered the good news.
“So im don come back abi?”
Lydia smiled bashfully and looked down at the threadbare rug faded brown by years of use.
Aunty Bella smiled. “I happy for you.”
Lydia was happy too. They decided that dinner would be rice and chicken stew. Aunty Bella ambled out of the room to the passage to call Moses, her neighbour’s son to run an errand to buy a kilo of chicken at the shop next door. Lydia set about cleaning the kitchen and preparing dinner. She sang as she moved around the house. Her faith had been renewed by Boma’s visit. She believed in heaven again.
I am watching football in Naden’s living room and doing my best to concentrate on the men chasing after a ball on the screen, but the voice of the man on the opposite sofa imposes itself on me, forcing me to pay attention to it instead.
“Okay, when you dey start? Nice one. Yes I see am today – “
Laughter cuts into the conversation and I am reminded of Naden.
“No worry. We go yarn.”
The room is suddenly quiet. Feeling his eyes on me, I turn to look at him. His face is a carbon copy of Naden’s own, his eyes just as unnerving. I give him a friendly smile.
His lips turn upwards.
“Hello. What’s your name?”
“You are my brother’s girlfriend.”
It is not a question, merely a statement of fact, one that seems to amuse him. I look back at the television.
“You are a lawyer too?”
I turn to look at him. He is lounging back in his chair and watching me like an interesting specimen.
I grin. “Thanks.”
A car honks at the gate. He stands up and stretches.
“He is back – and oh by the way,” he says, walking to me, hand extended. “I am Boma.”
I take his hand, pump it twice.
“Pleased to meet you.”
He leaves the living room after that. Minutes later, he returns with Naden who makes me scoot over before squeezing into the sofa with me.
“Sorry I kept you waiting,” he says, caressing the sides of my arms. “I went to meet someone.”
His brows lower a bit and he is all smiles.
He turns to Boma and they discuss briefly.
“Come,” he says in the end, standing up and pulling me with him. I grab my bag and car keys on the table. In the room, I sit on the bed and watch him slip out of his suit jacket and unbutton his shirt. He asks if I will spend the night.
“I am not sure,” I tell him, remembering Agatha’s words about giving him space.
He sits with me on the bed and gives me a mind blowing kiss. His phone rings before we can take things further. He frowns at the screen for a while before picking up the call.
“Yeah? What?! No you can’t Jewel – I thought we agreed. Look I am sorry your aunt is acting that way, but you can’t – why, because my girlfriend is here. I am sorry.”
I watch him sigh and shake his head.
“Look for a hotel, I’ll pay – you are where? Why?”
Shaking his head and exhaling loudly, he ends the call.
“You have a guest?”
He is about to answer me but Boma knocks at the door and tells him someone is at the gate.
“Give me a minute,” he says, walking briskly out of the room. It is more than ten minutes before I hear him in the living room, a female voice accompanying his own and I realize his female guest has somehow won the argument to pass the night at his place. The room door opens. He is full of apologies. I kiss him on the lips and grab my car keys.
“Time to go.”
“I want you to stay,” he says, looking disappointed.
“I told you, I wasn’t sure I would stay.”
I pass the woman called Jewel in the living room. She is in the sofa I had been sitting on earlier. Her face in a frown, she taps on the phone in her hand. My heart sinks as I register how beautiful she is. Her frown deepens when she sees me.
“Goodnight,” I tell Naden at the door. I enter my car and give him a cheerful wave as I leave his compound. On my way home, I call Agatha and tell her about Jewel.
“And you left?”
“What was I supposed to do?”
“Ugh…I hate this relationship thing.”
“Well, maybe you don’t mind Naden sleeping with someone else.”
I turn my car back in the direction of Naden’s apartment. Boma opens the gate for me. Holding myself proudly, I march into the living room. Jewel is nowhere to be found. I walk slowly to Naden’s room. It is then that I hear them.
MEANING OF WORDS USED IN STORY
Aboki – (friend) A slang used to refer to people of Hausa origin
E mi o kin se Aboki Baba – I am not Hausa sir.