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Gentlemen of the Bar – 9

By Umari Ayim
25 January 2016   |   8:21 am
Damilola stood before the mirror in her bathroom and criticized her choice of sleepwear. The short satin and lace nightdress with its deep sweetheart neckline made her uncomfortable. Who was she dressing for?

Gentlemen-of-the-bar-pix

G.R.A BENIN CITY

They were in an open air bar called Time Out. The place, noted for its offering of brash scarlet women and rambunctious pleasure seekers was filled to the brim as usual. That evening, as a live band played a Makossa tune on an elevated platform with two female dancers writhing suggestively in matching red leather shorts and sleeveless black mesh tops, visitors and patrons alike were gearing up for a promising night of fun. In a corner of the bar sat three people, two men and a woman.

The group exuded a collective indifference that set them apart from the crowd of noisy revelers. No one watching them would have suspected that the men were kidnappers or that they had emerged from the leafy confines of Ehor Forest four hours earlier.

Recently ransomed and free, the woman wore a white peplum top over black jeans, her wavy brown weave loose and resting on her shoulders. One jeweled hand rested possessively on the better looking of the men, eyes checking for potential competition as skimpily dressed women, exposing large swathes of skin jostled for the attention of the men in the bar.

“I don’t like this place,” the woman complained, pink glossed lips pouting as she looked around the bar. “I don’t know why Junior suggested it.”

The fatter of the men, clean shaven and well dressed now that he had three million sitting in his bank account, grinned at the woman.

“Women, na wa for una o. Una no get patience at all. We just land here na. Cool down. Your brother go soon come.”

The other man smiled at the woman.

“Relax babe. The day just began.”

The tension on the woman’s face disappeared and a reluctant smile formed on her lips.

“Okay.”

Conversation stopped at the table and they listened to the buzzing around them.

Oga try me. My breast stand well well.

All night na ten k. Kpa kpa kpa na just three k.

Who you dey price two k? I blame you? Na condition bend crayfish.

Im say make I come ring road? I no fit abeg. Tell am say I dey run things for GRA.

The woman sighed and shook her head.

Why couldn’t her brother hurry?

She was getting tired of the place, of the oppressive odour of desperation and cheap perfumes. Worse, she hated the women that constantly stared at her boyfriend like he was some sort of tempting dish they could not wait to get their hands on.

“Na im be that?”

Distracted from her thoughts, the woman raised her head and followed the direction where the fat man Cletus was pointing. She sighed again. It was Junior alright. No one could miss the twinkling studs in his ears and the wild dreadlocks that stood like dried cornstalks on his head even if he was in a thick crowd. Today, he had opted for something less ostentatious and was wearing a dark brown T-shirt over black leather pants. He stood at the entrance of the bar, conspicuous and clueless as his eyes scanned the crowd.

The woman stood up and adjusted the hem of her blouse.

“I am coming. Let me go and bring him.”

The men watched her walk to meet her brother. Each wondered about the formal greeting that passed between siblings but said nothing about it. Soon she sauntered back to them, younger brother in tow.

“Meet Junior,” she said to the men, reclaiming her seat again.

Junior stood awkwardly and toyed with the stud in his right ear. The men extended their hands at the same time. Junior smiled shyly, but did not take them. He chose instead to give them a short wave.

“Hi.”

The woman pointed to the seat beside her and said without much ceremony,

“Sit down.”

Junior sat down, one hand still romancing the stud in his ear.

“So, did he come to the house today?”

Junior nodded at his sister. “Yes, this morning.”

“Do you know what he discussed with mummy?”

“The money…”

Junior paused and looked at the two men with his sister, wondering if it was safe to discuss the issue of her recent kidnap. He did not suspect for one instant that he was looking at his sister’s kidnappers.

“Go on,” the woman said impatiently, waving at him to continue.

Junior exhaled loudly and shrugged.

“He came to talk about the money he borrowed her for those people to release you.”

The woman scowled. “Idiot! It is not even up to twenty four hours and he is already disturbing mummy.

Junior nodded. “I don’t know why mummy collected money from him.”

The woman stared at her brother but saw something else. It was the picture of two adults struggling beside a bed, the woman wild eyed and holding to the edge of her red wrapper as the man fought to get it off. She heard their voices.

Nosa leave my wrapper, leave my wrapper. E no go happen you hear, e no go happen.

The woman’s eyes were soon fixed on her, alarm and shame in their depths.

Lydia, leave that place. Go to your room, go to your room now.

“Lydia?”

The woman blinked and the past slipped away with the question of what happened that fateful night after she had closed the door of her room and crept into bed, fearful for her recently widowed mother.

“Did you hear what I said?”

The woman’s eyes narrowed.

“What did you say?”

Junior linked his fingers. She noticed a light sheen of pink nail polish.

Did he still do the things with those men?

“He is going back to Abuja tomorrow.”

The men with Lydia exchanged looks. Tomorrow was only a few hours away. Time was against them. They straightened in their seats and leaned towards Junior whose lashes were lowering flirtatiously much to the annoyance of his elder sister.

“What time?”

“I think he said his flight is leaving in the morning.”

Lydia made her calculations. They were good. By this time tomorrow, Senator Nosakhare Osarodion of Edo South Senatorial district would be whisked off the street on his way to the airport and taken to an undisclosed location by armed fearful looking men. Lydia saw the headlines in her mind and smiled.

Tomorrow couldn’t come sooner.

***********************

ANGELA

We are sitting in court and waiting for the judge to arrive when the court clerk strolls back with a sheet of paper in his hand. Standing in the aisle separating the rows of seats filled with lawyers, he announces that some cases will not be heard today. I wait anxiously as he mentions the cases. We find ourselves on the list.

“Hussaina Abubakar, Civil society for the liberation of women and girls versus the Tanko Usman, Aliyu Nasarawa, Suleiman Bichi and the Inspector General of Police….”

Switching the paper to his left hand and using the right one to hitch up his oversized brown trousers, the clerk looked in our direction. I see Naden nod at him from the corner of my eyes.

“Your case is not holding today,” he says, turning and looking at Barrister Shuaibu who is sitting at his usual spot, face scrunched up in a serious frown as he consults his journal. “Your ruling is not yet ready. The case has been adjourned to next week….the seventeenth of March.”

I note down the new date in my journal. The brief silence that had greeted the clerk’s announcement is replaced by loud conversation as lawyers on the clerk’s list begin to reach for their cases. A lawyer saunters over to Naden, wig in the hand holding two phones. He and Naden exchange pleasantries. I get the perfunctory nod. I don’t care. I slip between them and walk to the car park to wait with Ahmed. Today I will not be visiting Ungogo.

Talk about a bad day.

*************************

NADEN

I step out of her way, my attention going back to the paper I had seen a few seconds ago as she cleared her journal off the table. The paper is still there. Barrister Ezekiel has stopped talking about the case and is now asking questions about her.

“She is pretty. How far?” he says, an eyebrow raised suggestively and in a familiar manner even though we only met at the last court sitting.

I give him a polite smile.

“We are working together on the case,” I tell him, reaching for the paper. I tuck it inside the breast pocket of my shirt and then shrug out of my robe.

“Of course, I know,” Barrister Ezekiel says with a laugh. “That much is obvious. What I want to know is, is she single?”

“I don’t know. I don’t speak for her.”

I look down at my watch and tell Barrister Ezekiel I am running late for an appointment. He shrugs and gives me a cheerful pat on the back.

“See you on the seventeenth.”

I nod and hurry out of the court room. In the passage of the court room, I bring out the paper from my shirt and read it. It is an address for a house at Ungogo. I stare at the neat letters for a second and then understand Angela’s propensity for disappearing after every court visit.

She was visiting Hussaina.

Why?

I look past the paper to the car park. Figures move in and out of my vision but I am lost in my thoughts. Angela was about to jeopardize our chances of winning the case. I had to know how far she had gone. I come up with a plan. It is not a perfect plan, but it is the only one I can think of.

*************************

THE OYELOWO MANSION

OMOLAYO OYELOWO’S ROOM

The old woman was just finishing her prayers when her granddaughter knocked on the door. She rose from her knees to see the girl poke her head through the door.

“Grandma?”

Fausat did not wait for an answer. She closed the door behind her and walked into the room. She walked a vanity table, a green and brown Persian rug to the bed where her grandmother was now sitting. Throwing her arms around her grandmother as she sat down, she pressed her nose into the woman’s neck.

“Missed my grandma.”

The old woman laughed and patted the back of her head affectionately. The young girl was the spark that made her world bright. She loved her dearly. It was a good thing her daughter had decided to send her back home. The pictures had never been enough.

“I miss Angie too.”

Thin eyebrows drew together as the old woman feigned ignorance.

“Who is Angie?”

“Angela,” Fausat said with a giggle. “It’s the short form of Angela.”

“Ah,” the old woman adjusted the wide neck of her buba. “Okay. Is that what you call her now?”

“Mmm hmmm.”

The sound of gates opening and closing disturbed their conversation. The old woman smiled inwardly. These days he returned home early. Her smile stayed in place as she thought of the nights she had seen him walking to the other room.

His rightful place.

She half listened as her granddaughter brought up the subject of her cousin’s absence again.

Her work in this place was almost complete.

***********************

MARTIN OYELOWO’S STUDY

Martin Oyelowo had been in his study for one hour. Dressed in a plain white shirt and blue check pyjamas, he was doing his best to concentrate on the television where his favourite news programme was running, but his mind kept drifting to thoughts of his wife. He had spent all day wondering just how close his wife had been with Barrister Braithwaite.

Had they….

He shook his head, refusing to complete the question. The thought of another man touching his wife sickened him. His phone rang. He sighed when he picked it and saw who was calling.

“Hello Olga.”

“Martin,” his Russian mistress said, his name heavy and foreign on her lips. Gone were the days when she got his heart racing with excitement just by mentioning his name. These days, he felt nothing but irritation when they spoke.

“I did not see you at the club today.”

“I got busy.”

“Ah I see. You are very busy these days.”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

Martin Oyelowo frowned. “Why?”

“I mean you have work before, no?”

“Okay?”

“And now suddenly you are too busy, yes?”

Suddenly struck by the inappropriateness of his relationship with the woman he was talking to, Martin Oyelowo shifted in his seat.

“Things are hectic these days Olga. I barely have time for entertainment.”

“Okay Martin. So when do we see?”

Martin Oyelowo closed his eyes and entertained new fantasies. Brown flesh replaced white flesh. Firm full breasts replaced small pert ones. He opened his eyes again.

He wanted his wife.

“Martin?”

“Sorry Olga, but I don’t know when that will be possible.”

Left with nothing to say, the former lovers bid each other good night. Martin Oyelowo struggled with himself for a few more minutes.

His bed or his wife’s bed?

Still undecided, he prepared to leave his study, taking his phones with him and turning off the lights and television. He walked upstairs with slowly. When he got to the landing, he stood in the middle and contemplated his next step.

His face grim with resolution, Martin made his choice and walked in the direction he had chosen.

*******************

DAMILOLA OYELOWO’S ROOM

THE BATHROOM

Damilola stood before the mirror in her bathroom and criticized her choice of sleepwear. The short satin and lace nightdress with its deep sweetheart neckline made her uncomfortable.

Who was she dressing for?

Damilola could not answer her own question. Instead she scowled at herself one more time and decided to go back to the room to find a replacement. She turned off the lights and left the bathroom. The sight in the room forced her to halt in her tracks.

He was here already.

Lying on his back, his phone held in front of his face, Martin Oyelowo appeared to be lost in another world but Damilola knew better. He was aware of her as well as she was aware of him. Forcing herself to overcome the embarrassment of being found in a suggestive little night dress that hadn’t even being her idea in the first place, she walked to the bed, berating herself for indulging in the five minute madness of lingerie shopping under the persuasion of Florence, her friend.

She sat on the bed gingerly, her back turned to him. She was conscious of every shift the fabric of her night dress made as she began to lower herself to the bed. Reaching blindly for the sheets, she pulled it over her body.

Damilola was beginning to relax when Martin cleared his throat.

“Are you sleeping?”

“No.”

She felt him move as the bed dipped. She stiffened, knowing for some reason that he was going to touch her. His hand settled on her shoulder.

“Damilola.”

She turned slightly towards him. His face was unreadable.

“I have rights.”

His words though tightly spoken were an echo of her dreams, but she did not know how to react. The dream had come true ten years late.

He tugged at the sheets.

Damilola held stubbornly to it. His eyes narrowed.

“Have you been with anyone recently?”

Shocked beyond words, Damilola stared at her husband, hands growing slack on the sheets.

“What?”

Unperturbed by her reaction, Martin shrugged.

“It’s a question. I need an answer.”

Damilola glowered at her husband.

“I am not you Martin. If I need another man, I would leave you…get a divorce to be with him.”

Martin’s lips thinned.

“I see.”

He remembered the sheets and looked down.

“Could you take that off?”

The change in discussion rattled Damilola. She became self conscious of herself and conscious of the need in her husband’s eyes. She wanted to deny him as he had denied her for ten years. Instead she said,

“Could you turn off the lights then?”

He did.

And then touched her.

And then she gave, and gave, until she was spent.

They separated afterwards without a word. Damilola slipped her nightdress back on and walked to the bathroom to release the flood that had been a trickle a few seconds ago.

********************

Martin Oyelowo questioned himself as he heard water run in the bathroom.

What had he done?

He remembered the wetness on his neck in the end.

Why was she crying?

He was transported back in time. They were young again. She was desirable and he was clueless how to respond to her emotions.

************************

ANGELA

I eye the phone sitting on the countertop as I step into the shower. I decide against returning it to him.

Why should I bother? I don’t owe him anything.

I hang the orange dress on one of the empty towel bars. My hands free now, I unbutton my shirt, shrug it off and then reach to unzip my skirt. My undies are next. Naked, I walk to the shower stall and proceed to wash off the disappointment of the day. Big guileless eyes haunt me as I soap and rinse my body.

Hussaina.

I rave silently at lazy judges.

“How long does it take to write a ruling?” I ask the empty bathroom.

Naden’s phone begins to ring. I sigh and turn off the water and leave the shower stall. The phone stops ringing as I reach for one of the towels hanging from the towel bars beside the shower stall.

I shrug. “It stopped.”

The phone comes alive again, light filling its screen.

Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof

Because I’m happy

Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth

A knock jolts me into action before I can think of ignoring the phone. I snatch it off the countertop, but not before looking down at the screen.

Jewel.

I open the door slightly.

“My phone,” he says, right hand held out.

I give him the phone. Our fingers make contact. I withdraw my hand and shut the door. I stand for a while, feeling the water dry from my body. At last, I tug my towel loose and look down at my body.

“It’s nothing Angela,” I tell the person staring back at me with hardened nipples from the mirror. “You are just horny. It is not him.”

*************************

NADEN

I enjoy the surprise in her eyes when she walks out of the bathroom. Cloaking the surprise with a haughty expression, she walks past me and the table of food.

“I ordered dinner,” I tell her as she dumps her on the heap of clothes due for laundry. I uncap the wine beside the dishes and uncap it. I fill the glasses and hold one out to her as she stands beside the bed watching me.

Her steps are slow and hesitant when she decides to approach the table.

“Why?”

I answer her question with a smile.

“Because I want us to be friends.”

Suspicion on her face, she pulls the chair opposite my own and sits down. We take turns in filling our plates with rice, chicken and vegetables. Then, we eat in civilized silence. As soon as our meal is over, she makes to stand up from her chair. I point at her empty glass.

“You need me to fill that for you?”

I pour more wine into her glass without giving her a chance to turn down my offer. Her body rigid, she returns back to her seat.

“Thanks,” she says, picking up the glass and taking small sips. I look away from her and pretend to be engrossed in my phone. From the corner of my eyes, I see her study her glass for some minutes before raising the glass and taking big gulps from it. It is not long before her movements become slow and less controlled. I raise my head from my phone and give her a smile of encouragement.

“Want more?”

She frowns and shakes her head.

“Not sure.”

I pick up the wine bottle again.

“Just one glass.”

I refill her glass for the third time. She shakes her head.

“I am okay, thanks.”

I shrug. “Okay. I guess we are done with dinner then.”

She nods and rises to her feet. I follow her progress. There is a quizzical expression on her face. She lifts a hand and touches her left temple.

“I think I have a headache. I need to lie down.”

I nod. “Okay, but first we need to talk.”

*************************

ANGELA

I think we are in bed, but I am not so sure. He stays above me, saying different things at the same time. I struggle to keep up but my attention is divided between my pounding head and his moving lips. I pick up some words.

…going

Why…

…Ungogo

His words make me remember Hussaina again. Sadness fills me.

I should have gone to see her today.

His eyes are so soft…so understanding. I am at peace. I confide in him. I pull him close and whisper about Hussaina, sitting on a hard bench and squeezing Naira notes into her mother’s calloused palms. I tell him a lot of things. I have no control over the things I tell him.

So…

…plan

…behind back.

His face changes and I feel him pulling away, taking the peace with him. I hold on his shirt.

“Stay…hold me.”

His body is hard, yet inviting. I press against it and push my hand into a warm place. I find something. It is part flesh, part steel and nice to touch. There is pressure on my wrist. It hurts. I tell him to stop. He stops. I go back to touching the flesh steel thing. Up and down. Up and down, until it completely transforms to steel. I hear a sound, like someone in pain. I stop touching the steel thing and look into his eyes. I tell him about my bathroom experience.

“My nipples…so hard…horny…we should….sex.”

Then I laugh and laugh until my eyes feel heavy. I close my eyes, blissfully free and at peace.

*******************

NADEN

My arms are now completely numb but I am too surprised to ease her body to the bed. I look down at myself. Most of the bulge is gone, but the memory of her hand slipping past the band of my slacks to stroke me is still fresh, and so are her words.

My nipples got so hard in the bathroom.

Silly yeah? I think I am horny.

Maybe we should have sex.

I turn to study her face again. The woman in my arms looks nothing like the ambitious lawyer or backstabbing colleague she is. The innocence on her face is striking. It invites me to hope, to believe that she is somehow different and the past two weeks have been a figment of my imagination.

I lower my head to the bed and groan.

Getting her drunk was a mistake. A very big mistake.t the memory of her hand slipping past the band of my slacks to stroke me is still fresh, and so are her words.

My nipples got so hard in the bathroom.

Silly yeah? I think I am horny.

Maybe we should have sex.

I turn to study her face again. The woman in my arms looks nothing like the ambitious lawyer or backstabbing colleague she is. The innocence on her face is striking. It invites me to hope, to believe that she is somehow different and the past two weeks have been a figment of my imagination.

I lower my head to the bed and groan.

Getting her drunk was a mistake. A very big mistake.

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