Gentlemen of the Bar – 6
The bed shifts and I open my eyes to see the woman I had spent the night with staring down at me with a smile on her face. A wild tangle of hair sits above her head like a crown. Her face is smooth and flawless like the rest of her body which she exposes unabashedly to my eyes. I look down at large firm breasts topped by perky brown nipples and remember my disappointing performance the previous night.
“You are awake,” she says softly, eyes tilting as she smiles. I return her smile. I remember her name. Jewel. Last night I had thought it was an odd choice and told her so. Jewel leans into me and brings her face close to my own. “Maybe we can continue from where we stopped.”
I study Jewel for some minutes. She is beautiful, but in a superficial way. Something about her bothers me.
“Or don’t you?”
Jewel does not wait for an answer. She picks my left hand and presses it against her breasts. The skin under my hand is soft. I splay my fingers over the fleshy orb and feel myself stir. A moan leaves Jewel’s throat. I look up at her. Her lips are pursed, the curve of her neck exposed as she throws her head back. I keep my eyes on her until I feel the fires burn to embers. Jewel realizes my lack of enthusiasm seconds later.
Jewel is disappointed. Hurt fills her eyes.
“You don’t like me?”
I feel remorse but I move away from her towards the edge of the bed.
“Sorry. I am not in a good shape today.”
“That was what you said last night,” Jewel says, gathering the sheets to her body when I look back at her. I stop before the toilet door and apologize to her again. She receives my apology with a smile. I leave her plumping one of my new pillows with slender hands.
In the toilet, I lean on the white bowl shaped sink basin and think about the call that had been responsible for my loss of libido and concentration.
Boma’s voice had been clear and devoid of guilt or remorse. Something snapped in me and I had excused myself from the rowdy gathering of Henry and his friends who had chosen to congregate at my house for the second time in less than a week. Reuben had been in the crowd, flanked by Jewel and another female friend. I had taken the conversation with Boma to the back of the house and let my anger loose.
“Dude, is something wrong with you? How can you be so wicked? Do you have any idea what you are putting your mother through?”
“Naden you don start again, cool down abeg,” Boma said, cutting me off in his usual off hand manner. “No dey talk to me like small pikin abeg.”
I had lost reason and abandoned decent language.
“You are acting like a fucking delinquent, so yes I will talk to you like a fucking child.”
“See guy, no make me vex.”
“And what will happen if you get angry, you stupid selfish motherfucker.”
Boma had been silent. In the silence, reason had crept back in place, chastising me for my use of language and reminding me of the opportunity presented by Boma’s call.
“Where are you?”
Boma’s answer was curt, vague.
“I am somewhere.”
“Where is somewhere?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“Because I think you owe me the truth.”
“Abeg I no owe you anything. If I wan tell you I go tell you, no dey use any yeye lawyer sense for me abeg.”
“Okay fine. Suit yourself.”
Boma had fallen quiet for a while before giving a gruff answer.
“Udo. I dey Udo.”
“Where is Udo?”
“Any other question?”
“Okay, I need you to help me with some money.”
I wanted to refuse, to turn Boma’s request down on the excuse of his outlaw status but my mind had thrown up a picture of him as a little boy running around in a blue shorts and giggling wildly as our mother chased him around for his evening in the small two bedroom apartment at Iyana Ipaja where we lived until we moved to Bayelsa.
“Sorry, I can’t help with that.”
“How can you say you don’t have hundred k? Dem no dey pay you again, abi na so lawyers poor?”
I had found Boma’s taunt galling but refrained from responding to it.
“Are you done?”
“No. Okay, give me eighty.”
I gave Boma the same answer. The back and forth continued until we settled at fifty thousand Naira. I was to pay the money into an account owned by a certain Roy Emmanuel at First Bank. I promised Boma the money would get to him the following Friday.
I pull myself wearily from the sink and walk with heavy legs to the frosted glass that encloses my shower area. Unlike my former house, the taps here rush with clear sparkling water at the slightest turn of the faucets. Shower for me is short. When I go back to the room, the bed is empty and Jewel is nowhere to be found. I look to the cupboard where her clothes hung earlier and find them there. I dress for work and stroll into a clean living room. Gone are the empty beer cans and newspaper that were last night suya wrappings. Jewel is busy wiping down my flat screen LG television. She has taken the liberty to dress in one of my old Nike shirts, an olive green T-shirt that was once a favourite. She turns and gasps when she sees me.
“That was scary,” she says, wringing the small white towel in her hands as she walks to me. “Are you going to work now?”
Jewel stands and continues her wringing.
“It’s Valentine. Don’t you get a day off?”
“So, urm…are you going to have your bath so I can drop you somewhere you can pick a taxi?”
Jewel widens her eyes as if surprised by my question. Then she smiles.
“Oh….erm…okay, let me get dressed.”
I watch her walk with a jiggle to the room and mentally cross her name from my contact list. I know I will not be seeing her again.
THE OYELOWO MANSION
DOWNSTAIRS IN MARTIN OYELOWO’S STUDY
Martin Oyelowo was in a fix. He stared at the blue velvet box in his hand, undecided what to do with it. He should have known better than to follow Yinusa’s advice. Now the damn thing had become a nuisance and distracting him from focusing on his plans. He thought again of drinking with his friend at the boat club a week before.
“Your wife wants a divorce?” Yinusa Ali blinked at him, disbelief and surprise on his face as he brought back the glass he had been raising to his lips to the table.
“So what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. Let her go maybe.”
“Ah Martin, don’t make that mistake please. How can you allow such a thing happen?”
“Why should I force her to stay with me?”
Yinusa leaned back into his seat.
“So who do you want to marry? Olga?”
The mention of the Russian wife of the president of the boat club had brought a smirk to Martin’s face. Olga had not been much of a challenge, in fact, she had been willing to do more than sleep with him. If he ever proposed, he knew what her answer would be.
Martin shook his head.
“I am not marrying Olga.”
“So why do you want to divorce your wife?”
“Did you not hear me? She says she wants a divorce. Do you expect me to beg her?”
“Yes beg her,” Yinusa Ali said, leaning forward. “Martin if that woman leaves you, you will be sorry.”
Martin scoffed. “I can always replace her.”
Yinusa gave his friend Martin a fatherly smile even though he was only a year older than him.
“Look let me tell you something,” he said, touching Martin lightly on the arm. “You see, a woman who has been with you from the beginning, knows you and understands you better than any woman you meet today. See, my first wife Hauwa, that woman has been my strength…my rock in fact. You know I divorced Halima recently?”
Martin nodded. He had been the first person Yinusa had called after divorcing the third of his second wives after only a year in marriage.
“Yes, you told me.”
“That woman would have killed me Wallahi. Do you believe the extent she had gone in exposing some of my secrets to my deputy? Women these days have no loyalty my friend.”
Yinusa Ali made a face. A man who always prided himself about being loyal to his friends, he loathed disloyal people, just like the Deputy Inspector General of police who would not stop thinking of ways to bring him down.
Martin sighed and rubbed his eyes.
“Well, I am not begging her to stay.”
“Good, let her go,” Yinusa Ali said, a lecherous smile on his face. “Maybe I can make her my second wife. Your wife is beautiful for her age. Who knows if she can still bear children?”
Martin tried to laugh but found himself vaguely annoyed by his friend’s statement. He entertained a mental picture of his wife with his friend the same way he had been with other women and found out that the thought disturbed him.
“What do you want her for?” he said, hiding his emotions behind a jovial mask. “She is past her prime.”
“Don’t worry. You just let me have her for one day. Wallahi, you will see wonders.”
Martin laughed this time but the sound was humourless. Yinusa Ali sensed his discomfort and went back to giving him advice.
“Buy her something Martin. It is Valentine next week. I can introduce you to someone who sells good jewelry in London.”
Martin looked at the box again and decided that it was time to get rid of it. He pulled himself out of his chair and walked to the door of his study, his mind conceiving an idea as he went. The house was silent as usual. Martin climbed upstairs and crept stealthily towards the door of his wife’s room. He got there in minutes and began to carry out his plan. He was bent at the waist, the velvet box slipping from his hand to the floor when he heard shuffling behind him. Martin straightened immediately, almost losing his balance. His niece Fausat stood behind him, looking apologetic and curious at the same time. She held a tall glass of what looked like orange juice in her hand, over sized T-shirt swallowing up her lanky frame.
Her eyes were fixed on the box he was now clutching against his chest. She walked to him.
As his sister’s only child touched the velvet in his hand with reverence, Martin Oyelowo’s plan changed again. He stretched the box towards her.
“Give this to your auntie.”
He did not wait after that. He walked back to his study to begin his day. He had calls to make. The first was to the hotel in Kano.
Damilola Oyelowo stared at her husband’s niece, unable to process her words. Her eyes fell on the box once again.
“He did what?”
Fausat craned her neck toward the room, eyes fixed past her shoulders.
“Can I come in?”
Damilola stepped aside and let her in. She closed the door, one hand struggling with the edges of her robe as she hurried after Fausat who was now lowering her glass of juice to her bed stand. She turned to Damilola and brandished the box like a weapon.
“Loo…look at what you got for Valentine.”
Damilola wrapped her arms around herself.
“What are you talking about?”
Leaping sideways into her bed and falling with a loud whoop, Fausat made herself comfortable on her bed and patted the space beside her.
“Come sit down Auntie and let’s see what unk…uncle got you.”
Damilola was slow to react. She didn’t know what surprised her most, the young girl’s lack of propriety or the box in her hand. She drew in a deep breath and walked to join Fausat on the bed, on the same spot the young girl had pointed to her.
“Open it,” Fausat commanded, handing her the box.
Still numb, Damilola reached for the box. Fausat began to clap, body heaving off the bed every time her hands made contact.
“Open it….open it…open it,” she chanted, eyes bright with anticipation.
Damilola opened the box without any difficulty, and then gasped when she saw the dazzling gift that sat in it. Fausat reached into the box and fingered the glittering necklace adorned with numerous white diamonds and a single yellow diamond in oval shape.
“Wow! Are those real?”
Seconds later, the girl released her own gasp.
“Oh my God! They are real.”
Woman and girl touched necklace with reverent fingers, each thinking different thoughts. While Fausat head filled with thoughts like,
Oh my God, if only Tanya could see this. Shit! My uncle is rich. I should take a picture….Tanya will never believe it without a picture. Will she let me take a picture?
Damilola only thought one thing,
“It is so beautiful,” Fausat said at last, withdrawing her hand from the box. She looked up at her uncle’s wife with a smile. “Do you like it?”
Damilola shrugged without thinking.
“Sweet,” Fausat said, jumping from the bed and grabbing her drink from the bed stand. “Let me go tell uncle you liked it.”
Damilola started to protest but Fausat was already out of the room with a few strides. Damilola sighed and went back to the necklace in the box.
Outside the room, in the hallway that led to the staircase, Fausat began to modify her auntie’s answer, a mischievous grin on her face as she approached her uncle’s study.
MARTIN OYELOWO’S STUDY
The knock distracted Martin. He swore under his breath and glared at the door.
“Who is it?”
Me happened to be no one else but his niece Fausat. She walked to his table, without any hint of fear or awareness of the frown he wore purposely on his face. Martin sighed inwardly. She was like his mother – unafraid and always ready to approach him despite his aloofness.
Fausat leaned across the table and stared at the papers before him.
“Are you working?”
“What do you want?”
Fausat looked up from the papers to smile at him.
She stretched her well and batted her lashes at him.
“Auntie says she loves the necklace, that it is beautiful, and tha…thank you, and I love you.”
Martin’s frown deepened but Fausat continued to smile. Then suddenly, she whipped around and skipped to the door, managing the surprising feat of not spilling her drink. Soon she was out of the study and Martin sat alone. His frown cleared. He knew his wife’s declaration was nothing but the figment of his niece’s imagination, but he couldn’t help wondering,
Does she still love me?
It is past five. I should be home, checking my luggage to make sure nothing is missing and everything I need for the three week stay in Kano is already packed but instead I am in my office listening to Agatha speak glowingly of Naden.
“You know, I was almost losing after today’s case. I was so angry. I even yelled at David. Poor boy,” Agatha said with a laugh. “You should have seen the way he jumped. If not for Naden, I would probably still be upset by now. I know I shouldn’t even admit it but he is actually intelligent. I don’t know…how does he do it? He always seems to know the right precedent for every case and offhand too.”
I shrug. “Anyone can do that.”
Agatha laughs and shakes her head.
“You just hate that guy.”
“I don’t….well, not that I hate him but I am not carried away by the whole act. I don’t trust him.”
Agatha leans one hand on the arm rest of her chair and plays with her curls.
“He is not bad at all. Dude just strolled in and saw me losing my mind. He didn’t even act bossy or anything. He asked what was wrong and I complained and he just said pulled Nicholas Banna versus Telepower from the air. He even quoted some part of the judgment given by Justice Niki Tobi in the case. He is super with the law. Now, I can’t wait to meet that silly Maxwell again. Hopefully, he will ask Agbalajobi for an adjournment so I can disgrace them both with this case.”
Agatha stops frowning and goes back to praising Naden.
“He is just good.”
I roll my eyes.
“Okay enough. It is not as if anyone could not have helped you. I am sure Reuben could have helped if you asked him.”
Agatha releases an incredulous laugh.
“Since when did you start supporting Reuben?”
“Since Naden came on board.”
“Ah I see. So your plan, how are you going to execute it with all the animosity between you two?”
“I don’t know yet. Traveling with him is the first step. I will wait for other opportunities.”
“Are you sure this is even necessary?” Agatha asks, wearing a skeptical look. “What if he really has nothing to hide and you are just been paranoid.”
I shake my head.
“No, I am not being paranoid. I know my father. He never does anything for nothing. There must be a reason why he made this guy senior partner and gave him a house and a car.”
“Maybe he just likes him.”
“Trust me Agatha. My dad does not go on a spending spree just because he likes you. He planted Naden here for a reason. I have to find out what that reason is.”
Agatha gives up on the argument and shrugs. I smile, and then look at my wristwatch. It is six o’ clock. I consult the slip of the flight information the firm’s travel agent had sent me. I have two more hours until the flight to Kano. Movement from the other side of the table makes me lift my head up from looking at the slip. Agatha is on her feet, hands straightening her black knee length skirt.
“I should leave now. It is getting late.”
I reach for my own bag at my feet and lift it to my desk.
“I am leaving too.”
Agatha waits for me by the door as I sweep my phones, diary and car keys into my bag. We walk out of my office together. The corridor is empty. The other offices are empty too. I can’t help but look sideways at the door of the senior partner’s office. Resentment flares up again, but I bring my emotions under control.
Patience, Angela. Patience.
We disembark from the plane and follow the line of passengers to the domestic terminal of the airport. Twenty minutes later, I am heaving the leather duffel bags holding my belongings out of the terminal while Angela walks ahead of me, smart in a black dress, hands full with a wheeled luggage which she drags with her as she leads the way to the car park where Ahmed, the driver we had spoken to before the one hour flight is waiting. Ahmed finds us just I begin to call him. Dressed in a clean white Kaftan, Ahmed is soft spoken and polite. He relieves Angela of her bags and leads us to a dark blue Hyundai not too far from where he found us. I choose to sit with Ahmed in the front seat while Angela sits at the back.
“The hotel is not far from here,” Ahmed says as he starts the car and pulls out of the parking lot into the road outside the airport. Ahmed is right. Our journey to The Prince Hotel is over in minutes.
“This place is called Nassarawa G.R.A in case you get lost in the city.”
I thank Ahmed for the information even as he cautions us about being security conscious.
“Have there been any attacks?”
Ahmed shakes his head to Angela’s question.
“No but it is always better to be careful.”
We are greeted by the sight of heavily armed policemen when we get to the gates of the hotel. They perform their routine security check and then wave us through. The welcome at the reception is more warming and a smiling receptionist confirms our names from a black computer monitor and hands me a single key.
“Enjoy your night,” she says, eyes moving to the stocky white man that had joined us.
I stare at the key and then look at Angela. Her face is the very picture of confusion. I turn back to the receptionist to begin to complain but she is still attending to the white man who has his own complaint.
“Why didn’t you tell me I had to leave my keys so my room can be made? This is just wrong. I need to see the manager of this place.”
The receptionist spends some time placating the white man and soon he is reasonably appeased and accepts her apology and offer to send cleaners to his room. As soon as the man turns his back, she turns to us with her perfect hostess smile.
“Yes? You missed the way? Your villa is at the Plateau sector.”
Pushing back the braids threatening to obscure her round face, the receptionist smiles kindly,
I realize that villas are rooms and nod at the receptionist in understanding.
“Please can I have my own key?”
I turn to see Angela leaning across the reception desk, a strained smile on her face. The receptionist’s smile slips.
“Err…excuse me,” she says, checking her monitor again. Fingers tap lightly on the black keyboard sitting in front of the monitor and smiling eyes rise to us again. “Sorry but the room was booked in your names.”
I look away from Angela’s startled face to my phone. I am about to call my secretary. She had been the one who informed me about the ticket reservation. Surely, she knew better than to make mistakes like this.
“Our manager was the one who informed me about this reservation.”
“Please can you check who paid for the reservation?”
My phone is pressed against my right ear as I wait for my secretary to pick her call. The receptionist consults her monitor and answers Angela’s question.
“Payment was made by Barrister Martin Oyelowo.”
I pull the phone from my ear and forget to listen for my secretary’s voice. Angela is angry. She makes her displeasure known with a string of curse words. Her swearing draws a frown of consternation from Ahmed but she does not notice it. She is too busy whipping a white and brown leather wallet from her bag.
“Please get me another room.”
The receptionist’s smile is fixed but her eyes are unrelenting.
“I am sorry but we are fully booked.”
Angela swears again. I decide to take charge of the situation.
“Is there any way we can get any room at all? No matter how small? I will pay.”
“No sir, I am sorry but there are no rooms available.”
I step away from the reception desk and thank the receptionist. Angela’s face is stormy but she grabs the handle of her bag and asks the receptionist to point the way to our room. The receptionist turns sideways and motions to one of the security men manning the foyer of the hotel. The man hurries forward. She gives him instructions and he snaps into action, grabbing bags and marching like a soldier past the reception desk. I remove three thousand Naira from my wallet and hand it to Ahmed. He protests the sum and returns two notes back to me. Waving us goodnight, he promises to keep in touch. I turn and walk to catch up with Angela and the security guard.
“…ninety nine, hundred.”
I finish my counting and pull away from the wall. Checking my reflection once more in the mirror, I leave the bathroom. The darkness startles me for some seconds and I wait, door handle in hand until my eyes adjust to the darkness. I look at the bed. Apart from the pillows, the bed is empty. I creep towards the bed and climb into it. I check the left side of the bed first.
I swing to the other side.
He is lying on his side, body rising and falling as he breathes deeply. I keep my eyes trained on him for as long as I can to make sure he is really asleep. When he remains still, I move to the center of the bed, careful not to make any sound. I pull the soft duvet over my head and hide away from the nightmare that had caught me unawares. I had planned to get close enough to Naden to study him but nothing prepared me for this.
My father had turned the tables on me the second time.
I hear her moving on the bed and think about her father.
What is the man up to this time?
The last thing I wanted was to share the same space with a woman who thought herself my sworn enemy. I breathe in deeply and prepare myself for the worst three weeks of my life.
Bio: Umari Ayim is a lawyer, writer and a poet. Her books ‘Twilight at Terracotta Indigo’ and ‘Inside My Head’ won the ANA women prize for fiction and ANA poetry prize respectively. Her works have been featured on new and traditional media platforms. She shares weekly series on her blog www.umariayim.com