Click here to read Episode 2
I woke up grumpy the following morning. I was still as broke as hell.
Betty’s secretary had just handed her a cup of coffee when I entered her office.
‘Good morning ma’am.’ I started. ‘Please I want to talk to you about something.’
She took a sip and placed the cup on the saucer in front of her. ‘What is it?’
‘Things are a little rough for me. Please, can I get a salary advance of 20,000 naira?’
She stood up from her chair and moved to the sofa, still sipping her coffee. I stood there and waited. Fine she was the CEO of the boutique but why the plenty shakara before giving me a response.
‘Ok. I’ll ask the accountant to pay the money into your account.’
‘Thank you ma’am.’
I returned to my duty post in high spirit. A man entered the boutique with his pregnant wife. With a broad smile on my face, I showed them the maternity gowns we had and she picked five. My head did a quick calculation. 150k.
When will a man spoil me like this?
Before the man left, he gave me a tip of 5k. I thanked him and directed my attention to the next customer. My phone beeped. The salary advance had been paid. I breathed a sigh of relief.
The new customer was a light skinned woman with a sweet smile that left tiny dimple playing at the corner of her mouth. From my assessment, she appeared rich. Who knows, she might drop a tip of 10k for me. But after an hour of trying on different dresses, she left without buying anything. I was so pissed.
It was time to import frugality into my spending pattern. I sneaked into the lunch room with a pen and notebook and wrote out the things I needed. A pair of shoes and a bag. I had to make my hair too. How much does a weavon cost? Making braids might be cheaper but it would take too much time. My transport fare. Body cream. Beverages. My joy dissipated as I stared at the list that swallowed up the little money I had.
On my way home that night, an idea struck me. I grinned. I knew exactly where to get shoes and a bag without paying a dime.
I entered the bedroom and went straight to Tola’s shoe rack. Thankfully, we wore the same size. When I had selected the shoe that matched my dress, I went over to the section of the wardrobe that took up Tola’s bags.
The door opened and Tola entered the room. I swung around and faced her, holding a pair of shoes and a silver clutch bag.
‘Tola, please can I borrow these? I have a very important meeting with some customers on Friday.’
She smiled. ‘Of course you can. You are free to use any of my things.’
‘Thank you so much.’ I hugged her, relieved that I had only my hair to deal with.
‘Wale and Patrick are in the living room. You want to say hi to them?’
The evening went well. I particularly enjoyed talking with Patrick except that he mentioned a lot of scriptures even though in a more relaxed way and not like Kunle who used scriptures to threaten me. Still, ‘spirikoko’ men were all the same. They enjoyed using scriptures to oppress women and I was so done with men like that. Once you quote scriptures, I run.
When Patrick asked if I’d be free to have lunch with him on Saturday, I came up with an excuse. I didn’t want men like him around me. It’s only a matter of time before they became bossy.
Friday evening. The taxi that picked me up stopped in front of a restaurant at VI. I stared at the building, stunned. The place screamed expensive. Two white men came out of the restaurant, talking and laughing.
‘Jesus.’ I muttered.
Why did I even agree to come? Maybe I should just go home and call Funmi to explain that I had a flu.
The cab driver turned to me. ‘Madam, this is the place.’
‘Of course.’ I answered, curtly. My palms were sweaty. I paid him and got down from the car.
My heart thumped hard as I remained at the spot where the taxi had left me. I had just 10k in my account. Was I supposed to pay for my order? How much would a drink in this place cost? Water shouldn’t be that expensive. I’d have to cover up with a lie. I was invited to a friend’s birthday party and I ate to my fill or my boss treated us to lunch and I just cannot take anything in.
I turned. Funmi was strolling towards me, beaming with smiles. She was dressed in a blue t-shirt and jeans. Susan and another lady walked beside her. They were all casually dressed and immediately I felt I had dressed too much.
‘You look beautiful. I like your gown.’ Susan said. For a lady who had snubbed me in church, that compliment pleased me. The other lady introduced herself as Ronke.
‘Let’s go in.’ Funmi said and led us through the sliding glass door that opened up as we approached it.
The interior of the restaurant was breath taking. Every few feet had fine, crystal chandelier hung over iridescent pastel flowers. Business men in black suits sat at a corner sipping wine. A young lebanese man sat across from a black woman, talking in whispers, their meals untouched.
We found an empty table and quickly settled down. I noticed the polished silver cutlery, the tall empty wine glasses and the beautifully folded napkins. There was also a bottle of wine in a metal container of ice. It was so difficult to relax in a place like this when your account screamed red.
The waiter greeted us politely. I stared at the menu and was scared out of my wits. I asked for water. As planned, I lied I had eaten so much at a friend’s birthday party.
My stomach rumbled as I watched the others munch chicken steaks and grilled fish. Susan grabbed the bottle of wine and pressed the bell for the waiter.
Funmi faced Susan ‘I’ve already ordered for a bottle of sparkling cider.’
Susan hissed. ‘Funmi, not today. A glass of alcohol will not send me to hell.’
The waiter arrived and uncorked the bottle. Susan poured wine into her glass and filled Ronke’s glass.
‘You want some?’ Susan said, holding the bottle over the empty glass in front of me.
Funmi stopped her. ‘She is not interested.’
Susan chuckled and placed the bottle on the table. The waiter arrived with the sparkling cider.
After filling our glasses with cider, Funmi turned to me. ‘Tinuke, are you sure you don’t want to eat anything?’
I shook my head. ‘I’m fine.’
Funmi’s hand dropped on the table. ‘For Tinuke’s sake, I think we should introduce ourselves.’
Ronke shifted in her seat, her enormous hips filling the chair. She glanced at me. ‘My name is Ronke. I’m a content creator and lifestyle blogger. I’m engaged to the son of a business tycoon. So, money is not my problem, how to spend it is. I just returned from Paris where I did a writing gig for a travel agency. I’m good at what I do. Copywriting, ghost writing..’
Funmi raised her hand. ‘Enough o. This is not a business meeting.’
Ronke laughed. ‘Abeg allow me to promote my brand. Who knows, Tinuke might bring me the biggest client.’
Funmi winked at Susan. ‘Your turn.’
Susan smiled. ‘You know my name already. I am the CEO of Sympson Furniture House. We do all kinds of interior decorations and recently I hit a deal with some expatriates from Australia. It’s a big project and I’m excited because that’s big money coming in. My father is a real estate expert. I’m already thinking of starting up something along that line. There is so much money there, I swear. While I can be nice and sweet, I am equally the devil’s advocate. You mess with me and you wish you were never born by the time I’m done with you.’
‘Shooo! How can you be proud to say something horrible like that.’ Ronke rolled her eyes.
Susan laughed and poured some more wine into her empty cup.
Funmi frowned, her gaze resting on Susan. ‘Aren’t you taking too much?’
Ronke took the bottle away from Susan. She made a face before putting the cup to her lips.
Funmi turned her gaze away and brought it to rest on me. She smiled. ‘I don’t have much to say. I’m the last child and only daughter. My parents and siblings are all in the U.S. I was born there and only came back five years ago to manage one small firm like that.’
Ronke laughed. ‘Small firm keh. MD of a soon to become billion-dollar company is what you call small.’
‘Can we meet you?’ Susan asked. I froze.
What was I supposed to say? That my father was an electrician before he dumped my mother for a chief’s daughter? That my mum retired as a primary school teacher and now runs a pure water factory somewhere in Akure? I didn’t like that I had become the focus of attention. But I had to say something.
I cleared my throat and tried not to show that I was nervous. ‘My name is Tinuke. I work in a fashion house somewhere in Ajah. I’m hoping to learn so much there and then start my own fashion house.’ They nodded their heads and waited to hear more. When I didn’t say anything, they talked about their goals and plans and the trips for the year. I felt sick to my stomach listening to them.
The waitress brought the bill. Funmi took it.
‘I’m paying.’ She said. I wanted to cry. Why didn’t I just take a risk and enjoyed myself? Now I’d missed the steak and grilled fish. My stomach growled. I was still angry with myself when we left the restaurant.
Outside, I was the only one who didn’t come with a car. Funmi offered to drop me at home. I hugged the other ladies and climbed into Funmi’s Ford Ranger. It was a different car from the one I had seen on Sunday.
‘Let’s do this again.’ Funmi said, when she pulled up in front of Tola’s house.
‘Yes we should. Funmi thanks for inviting me.’
Funmi smiled. ‘My regards to Tola.’
I climbed down and waited until she drove off.
Tola was in the kitchen when I entered the house. My stomach growled again as sweet aroma of fried rice wafted through my nostrils.
‘How did the meeting with the customers go?’
I felt a pang of guilt for lying to my friend. But I shrugged. ‘It went well. All I saw today was money. Tola, there is money in this country.’
I opened the pot and scooped a spoonful of fried rice into my mouth. Tola laughed. I was already taking the third spoonful when she snatched the spoon from my hand.
‘Go and take off your dress first.’
In the room, I sat down and went through the pictures we had taken at the restaurant. I selected three and posted them on Instagram.
Caption: It was fun hanging out with my friends.
I waited for likes and comments. Nothing. I pulled off my dress and changed into my nightgown. I grabbed my phone again and checked.
I posted some of the pictures I took with Funmi inside Funmi’s car. I waited again. I reloaded the app. 10likes. As I stood up, a feeling of gloom descending over my heart, my phone beeped. I grabbed it.
There was a comment from an old classmate.
Wow! So my boss is your friend.
Another comment. You look so beautiful in that gown.
Third comment. I am coming for those shoes.
I laughed. The anxiety lifted a little. I kept staring at my phone hoping someone else would say something nice.
Tola cleared her throat. I raised my head. She was leaning at the entrance, her hands folded. I hurried out of the room to the kitchen.
When I was done eating, I cleared the dishes and hurried back to my phone. I waited until my Instagram page displayed on my screen. I tapped the first set of pictures I had uploaded. 40 likes.
I had almost 2k friends. Why would only 40 people like my picture? I tried to fight anxiety by playing a game on my phone. Every few minutes, I returned to Instagram checking to see if the number of ‘likes’ had increased. By 10p.m, I had just 65likes. I threw the phone aside and lay on the bed. I felt empty. I decided I wasn’t going to check again but few seconds later, my phone was in my hand. I was back on Instagram.
This time, There was a DM waiting for me. I opened it.
Hello. This is Ranti. We met at the church on Sunday during the youth meeting. Can you remember me?
Curious, I clicked on his profile. He was the guy who had asked if I’d finished from FUTA. The one I had searched for after the meeting. I smiled.
Yes I remember. How did you find me here?
His response came almost immediately.
Let’s just say I did my research well. I can see you had fun this evening.
Yes I did. Thank you.
Any plans for tomorrow evening? I’d love to take you out on a date.
I was on the afternoon shift. No I’ll be at work till 10.
That’s fine. We can reschedule. Can I have your number please?
I typed my number and hit ‘Send’. He gave me his number.
Thank you. Have a beautiful night Tinuke.
I returned to his Instagram page and was disappointed to find only three pictures. He didn’t wear a ring in any of the pictures. Maybe this was a good sign. It was time to move on and find myself a real man. I smiled and looked at the pictures again, staring into those eyes that held my gaze.
Ranti was all I thought about as I slept that night.
As I checked my Instagram page the next morning, I noticed Tola wasn’t looking happy. Without the usual ‘good morning’ hug, she went straight to the wardrobe and pulled out two pairs of suits which she placed on the bed. I’d never seen her that way and I was worried.
‘Tola, are you okay?’
I can’t believe you lied to me.’
I dropped my phone. ‘What are you talking about?’
She was fuming. ‘You are really asking me that? You told me you needed my shoes and my bag because you had a meeting with some customers. Obviously, Funmi and her rich brat friends were the customers.’
I didn’t know what to say. How did she know? Was she following me on Instagram?
‘I’m sorry Tola. I just didn’t know how to tell you.’
‘Where is the 10k you borrowed from me.’
‘I promise I’ll pay you once I receive my salary.’
She shook her head. ‘Why are you famzing with girls like that? Why can’t you just be satisfied with what you have and grow from there. These girls have their lives already laid out for them. You know your background and where you are coming from.’
I stood up, angry, ‘I don’t need a lecture from you on how to run my life. If you want me out of your house, just say so. I may come from a poor background but I do not intend staying there.’
‘All I’m saying is, be content with what you have for goodness sake.’
‘Tola please stop. Okay? Whatever I do with my life is none of your business. I’ll be out of your house as soon as I can get a place.’
‘I’m not asking you to leave. You can stay here as long you want but I don’t see any sense competing with people who can get whatever they want on a silver platter. Besides, they don’t even care about you. Anyway, like you said, it’s none of my business.’ She folded some clothes into a small box. ‘I have a meeting in Port Harcourt on Monday but I need to go sort out somethings before the meeting starts. I’ll be back by Thursday.’
‘Okay.’ My response was a little above a whisper.
After Tola left, I was still very angry. What right does she have to judge me? It isn’t her fault, I concluded. She has a fine apartment, a good man and a posh car, that’s why she can talk to me anyhow. I wished I had some money, I’d leave her house immediately. I lost my appetite and pushed my bowl of cereal aside. My phone beeped. It was a message from Tola.
Tinuke, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have used that tone on you. don’t be offended please. Love you.
Work was stressful that afternoon and by the time I returned home at 11p.m, I was worn out. Ranti had called a couple of times. After checking up on Tola to confirm her arrival, I returned Ranti’s call.
‘I’m sorry I was at work when you called.’
His voice filled my head. ‘You sound really tired. Will you be able to make it to church tomorrow?’
‘My roommate has travelled and I’m not sure I can find my way to the church. Besides, I don’t feel up to it.’
‘Your roommate, when is she returning?’
‘What if I pick you up tomorrow morning and give you a nice treat.’
I smiled. ‘That’d be great.’
‘Fine. I’ll text you the address.’
Ranti came with a white Mitsubishi Pajero. I walked out of the bungalow dressed in a white shirt, jeans and Tola’s sneakers. He opened the front door and I slide in.
‘You are so beautiful.’ He said. I smiled, feeling his intense gaze on me.
‘Thank you. You smell nice.’
We talked about everything as we drove out of Lekki. I felt on top of the world. He held my hands and we walked into a restaurant where he asked that I ordered whatever I wanted. The meal was delicious. I ate till my stomach bulged out. I laughed at the tales of his many trips to Europe and America. I imagined being married to Ranti and the kind of house we’d live in. I’d travel to Dubai and shop in the U.S anytime I wanted. I’d head one of the departments in Ranti’s chain of businesses. I was excited already.
When the waitress cleared the table, Ranti looked at me in that calm manner that stirred my body. ‘Please permit me to spoil you before Tola gets back. I want to lodge you in a hotel and get a driver to take you to work every morning. That way I can get to see you after work every day.’
An alarm rang in my head. Weren’t we moving too fast? I liked Ranti a lot but I really didn’t know much about him. Could I risk opening my heart to him? Maybe this was the best time to know him better.
‘That’s a great idea. But I’ll have to go back home to get my stuff for the week.’
‘You don’t need that. We’ll get everything you need from some of the shops around here. Just make your list.’
Few hours later, I was standing in the executive suite of a five-star hotel, too overwhelmed to say anything. Ranti sat on the sofa, watching as my eyes danced around the room. On the bed were new clothes, underwears and toiletries. Ranti wanted us to have dinner at the hotel’s restaurant but I was still heavy from the meal I’d eaten earlier that morning. There were chocolates and fruits on the table. The fridge was loaded with grilled chicken and bottles of wine.
‘Listen, you are entitled to a complimentary breakfast. Just go down to the restaurant in the morning. It’s a buffet and you can eat whatever you want.’
If this was a dream, I didn’t want to ever wake up from it.
My phone rang. Patrick. I glanced at Ranti, he looked away to the muted TV featuring Becky Anderson on CNN.
‘I didn’t see you in church today.’
‘I returned from work very late yesterday and I was so tired.’
‘Oh.ok. Hope you are well rested.’
‘Yes I am. Thank you.’
‘Have a beautiful night rest.’
I ended the call and lay back on the bed kicking against the soft bed. Ranti laughed. We talked some more and when it was passed midnight, he stood up to leave.
At the door, he held my hands and gazed into my eyes. Then he slipped an arm around me and pulled me closer. My head was now resting on his chest. His heart was beating very fast. We stayed there for a while and then he pulled away enough to look at my face.
‘Tinuke, the way I feel about you is beyond anything in this world. I don’t connect with women so easily but with you, it feels like I’ve known you a long time.’
I held him closer and he laughed. Even though we’d just met, I felt like we’ve been made for each other all along. I didn’t care if I lost caution to the wind. I loved him and that was what mattered.’
‘Can I ask you a question?’ his voice sounded choked with desire.
‘Have you ever had sex before?’
I stared into his eyes and knew no matter the answer, he would never leave me. It won’t hurt to say the truth.
‘Yes. But just once when I was in secondary school.’
He smiled. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow evening.’
‘Why do you want to know?’
‘Nothing. I’ll see you tomorrow.’ He pecked me on my cheeks. I didn’t want him to leave.
‘Tinuke, can we keep this a secret? I broke up a few weeks ago and I don’t want the youth members feeling I had quickly moved on.’
I told him I understood and I had also shortly ended a relationship.
When he left, I stood at the door, wanting to run after him to plead with him to spend the night with me.
Ranti was back the following evening. We cuddled and played in the hotel room every night and by Wednesday evening, I wanted him more than anything else.
I begged Ranti to have sex with me and when it happened, I felt guilty. Scriptures poured into my heart, reminding me I was going the wrong path. After that night, I swore I would stay sexually pure until we got married. But I found myself in Ranti’s arms every weekend. He was the drug I needed to survive. I didn’t just desire him. I needed him. I managed to keep my secret affair away from Tola.
Ranti paid money into my account weekly. Yes, I had money now. Every month, I sent money to my mum. I got new shoes, new bags and there was barely any space for my stuff in Tola’s room. Ranti suggested I move into another apartment.
The eve before my appointment with some of the real estate agents recommended by Ranti, I was at work when my menstrual cramps began. I had devoured two cups of ice-cream and eaten many bars of chocolates that morning. By the time I got to work for my afternoon shift, I was in serious pains.
I staggered to the rest room and threw up and then lay crouched on the floor, groaning in pain. One of my colleagues saw me and ran to call my boss, the head of Sales. She drove me home.
On the bed, I cringed in pain. It was as if nails were being hammered into my abdomen. I tried to drink the coffee my boss had prepared for me, but it was difficult to hold the cup.
I know I should be glad the cramps weren’t as worse as when I was on campus. Then, I was a regular visitor to the school clinic where I was admitted and placed on drips. One time, the intense pain started the morning of my first paper and as usual, I was rushed to the clinic. I wrote that exam later in the evening on the hospital bed.
Results were released the following semester and I still had the best result.
Kazeem, a guy whom I was in a fierce competition with for the first place had been furious. He knew I’d been admitted and thought that for once he’d finally be able to boast of beating me to the first place. What seemed like baseless rants ended up as a letter to the Rector. I was accused of screwing with lecturers for A grades. He threatened to take the issue up with the media houses if the Rector did not get me expelled.
It was clear the accusation was pointless. Apart from the fact that he had no proof, there was absolutely no way I could have slept with every lecturer on campus since I emerged the best in almost all my courses. Still, I was mad at him and I confronted him one afternoon after classes.
‘Kazeem, You know this allegation is false. What are you going to gain by doing this?’
‘Nonsense!’ Kazeem shouted, his face red. ‘You think we don’t know what you do? In every course you score the highest mark and you think it is normal? You know the Rector, he is a no-nonsense person. It is over for you Tinuke. Get the hell out of this campus.’
Investigation was carried out. Results showed that I had been falsely accused. Even after he apologized, Kazeem didn’t get it easy with the lecturers who made his life on campus a living hell. You don’t mess with lecturers in my school. You enter their black book and you suffer for it.
I felt better when I woke up some hours later. The entrance door opened. I figured Tola must have returned from work. Before I slept, I had locked the door and pulled out the key so It’d be easy for her to get in.
I heard voices in the sitting room. The room door was slightly opened. Tola was crying. I stood up to go to the living room but stopped at the entrance when I heard a male voice.
‘Tola, please let’s fight this together.’
‘Wale, I am tired. I don’t know if I can do this anymore.’
‘We’ve come too far already. You can’t just let go of what we have built for years.’ That was clearly Wale’s voice.
‘You don’t get it. Your family is not in support of this relationship. Your sister called me twice today and said I should leave you or else she’ll deal with me. She said she’d rather be dead than have us walk down the aisle together. My mum is not comfortable with the way things are going. Wale, we’ve been battling this for five years.’
‘I’m still trying to get my mother’s support. Please be patient with me.’
‘Your mum? A woman who hates with so much passion.’
‘Stop talking like this. I know she can be difficult. But please let’s fight this together.’
‘I’m tired of fighting. By now I should have been settled in my husband’s house with two kids. But I’m here fighting losing battles.’ Tola sighed. ‘Wale, please leave, I want to be alone.’
After a few seconds, I heard the door open and bang shut. Tola walked into the room, surprised to see me sitting on the bed. Her face was smeared with tears.
‘I didn’t know you were back. Is your shift over so soon?’
I shook my head. ‘I wasn’t feeling too well so I had to come home. What’s going on, Tinuke? If you want to talk, I’m here.’
She was close to tears again. Her lips shivered as she sat beside me.
‘Wale father is occultic.’
My eyes widened. ‘What!’
She stared at her fingers. ‘Not just his father, but his mum and two sisters. Wale’s elder brother got born-again on campus and renounced the fraternity his father had put them all into. He was disowned immediately. At that time Wale was still in primary school. When Wale got admission into the university too, in his first year, he met Christ and refused to go home. He ended up staying with his brother all through his school days. His brother had gone ahead to marry years after his parents refused to accept the lady. His uncles were cool with his decision to marry her and stood by him.’
‘Are they still together?’ I asked.
‘Yes, they’ve been married twelve years and they are doing great. They have three kids. My real fear is this, when Wale was born he was offered to whatever gods the fraternity served.’
I jumped to my feet. I sat down slowly, my hands across my chest.
Tola looked away. ‘Wale’s father is somewhere at the top of the whole fraternity thing and he really wants one of his sons to take over when he dies. But now his two sons have met Jesus and the man is angry. He is doing everything to get Wale back. I can’t even begin to mention the kind of attacks my fiancé has faced. Three months into our relationship, his elder sister called to inform him that they’d found a wife for him. She is the daughter of one of the fraternity members.’
‘Tola, when did you know about Wale’s family background?’
‘Few weeks after I said yes to Wale.’
‘And you stayed?’
‘Yes, because I knew what God told me about him. I was sure.’
I tried to stay calm. ‘Tinuke, why do you want to put yourself in this kind of wahala? Back in Akure, I was involved in many cases like this. A woman ran mad when she stepped on her mother-in-law toes. The woman was a confirmed aje. I have seen what these witches can do. They don’t have mercy at all. Do you want to fight spiritual battles all your life?’
Tola shook her head. ‘I’m just confused.’
‘There is nothing to be confused about. This is God saying, run for your life! My neigbour is almost going insane. Nothing he touches prospers. His life has been a mess because of the ancestral powers controlling him. I’m begging you. Leave Wale. I know it’s difficult but that’s the best option right now. He has been sacrificed to the gods and to tell you the truth even his born-again status cannot save him from it. I’m just being sincere with you. If you go ahead and marry him, they will come and block you at the juncture of pregnancy. I have heard where a woman who everybody thought couldn’t walk had all along being sitting on her daughter-in-law’s womb for years. It was after she died that the woman finally conceived. After ten years. Abeg o, don’t drag yourself into the camp of the enemy.’
‘Tinuke, thank you so much.’
Tola didn’t listen to me. She was back chatting and laughing with Wale and I was so angry and decided I wasn’t going to interfere again. I had done my best as a friend. I just wished she was aware of the war coming right at her.
Exactly a week later, around 2a.m, I woke up to find Tola screaming and kicking at the empty air. She was fighting for breath, as if life was seeping out of her. Fear gripped me.
‘Tola! Tola wake up!’
Click here to read Episode 4
Read: For better or Worse
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