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All resemblances unintended.
All criticisms welcome.
I woke up that morning, and as was my usual ritual since the commencement of the ASUU strike, logged into facebook. I saw many notifications and carefully scanned through them. Some were comments made by some of my online friends on a photo I had uploaded about two years back. I was surprised that a photo already two years old online would garner up to five comments in a single night when it had only three for the two years it had been online. I smiled, acknowledged and responded to some of them before going to check the other notifications. Most were group and page updates. As I checked through them, I made a mental note to leave some of the groups. I hate receiving useless updates and most of the updates I saw that morning were just that. I refreshed the page to clear off the notifications I had attended to and discovered that the only ones remaining were two friend requests. The surname of the first, Paul, was familiar; it was a family in which I had two friends. Though, I didn’t know the particular person behind the name, I deduced it must belong to a sibling of my friends, Yemisi and Tayo Igbokwe. The second request was from an unfamiliar name, Tricia Ogbemudia. Her profile photo was a portrait sketch.
I decided to check that first and clicked on the name. I knew where I was going to – her photos. I liked the name and hoped to like the photos too. As the page loaded, I searched my brains, trying to recollect if I had had any previous encounter with a person bearing that name. I couldn’t remember any and my curiosity was heightened. The new page opened, showing her profile photo and some details about her: she was a 300 level student of History in the famous University of Ibadan and had previously attended a polytechnic which I hadn’t heard of before. She was from my state and was a year younger than I was. Not too bad, I thought, but needed further details. Her profile picture was a sketched female portrait. Could that be her? I thought. The sketch was beautiful, but it could be of anybody. I saw that her photo count exceeded a hundred and I clicked on the “photos” icon to see them. The first photo that loaded was one of her in a sky blue, long-sleeved shirt with a black tie to match. Her hair was tied back in a ponytail and her smiling, parted lips showed a very perfect set of dentition.
‘Waoh!’ I sighed in excitement. ‘She is so beautiful!’
I clicked back so I could mentally compare both photos. They were of the same person. Though the hairstyles were different, every other feature matched. I was about to reload the photos folder when I heard a knock on my door.
‘Yes, who’s that?’ I shouted, making sure my voice reflected my displeasure.
‘Daddy says you should come out for Morning Devotion,’ sounded the voice of my little sister, five years old Eseosa. I had wasted the effort on making my voice hard; Eseosa was never considerate of such.
‘I’m coming,’ I replied, jumping off the bed and putting on a singlet.
I was barely done with that when I heard the baritone voice of my dad.
‘What are you doing inside that room, my friend?’ the volume of my dad’s voice defied the barrier posed by the locked door. I wonder how he did it, his voice could penetrate any part of the house and it was obviously without much effort on his part.
‘I’m coming, sir,’ I replied and grabbed my bible from the chair beside my bed. I flung my phone on the bed and rushed to the door. I remembered with a smile how I had placed it on the chair the previous night after reading some verses from it. I had wanted to meditate on those verses – to get the inner meaning, like my pastor would say – when I fell asleep. I unlocked the door and stepped out. My sister, Ivie, was clearing her throat to lead in worship when I took a seat beside her. She eyed me and smiled knowingly before raising a song. I wondered why she was smiling, was she a witch? I ignored her and closed my eyes, but was forced to open it when we joined the singing in a chorus. My dad was boldly going off-key and his voice was loudest, the same way it reverberated around the house, penetrating even shut doors when he was angry. Ivie noticed it too. This was obvious from the smile she couldn’t suppress when our eyes met. This was my dad who never tired to repeat tales of his experience as a chorister while in secondary school. He would sit us down and tell us of how we were killing music with our unnecessary adlibbing when singing.
‘You guys rarely sing in parts nowadays, probably once in a whole year,’ he had said the last time he walked in on us while I and Ivie were arguing about the lyrics of the song we had rehearsed that evening. It wasn’t the first time we would be hearing him say so and we knew we hadn’t heard the last of it too.
‘Dad, we do, but it’s usually subtly applied as most of our songs aren’t classicals…’ Ivie tried to explain before she was interrupted by Dad once again.
‘Why aren’t they classicals? Because you guys are lazy and don’t want to learn. How I long for the old days when I was a member of the St Gregory’s choir, all our songs then were done in parts, not the repetitive tremolos you sing nowadays…’
I knew he would go on to lambast our choir mistress’ adlibbing and I wasn’t disappointed. It was useless arguing with him whenever he was in such mood. I eyed Ivie when I noticed she was about to launch into another attempt at justifying our “modern” music styles. It would only lengthen the argument and yield no positive fruits. My dad was too set in his old ways to appreciate contemporary music styles, except they were native songs.
My dad was clearly in the spirit, his eyes tightly shut as he murdered the song. My mom, while being a good singer herself, didn’t seem bothered by dad’s murderous act, she swayed her head from side to side singing with relish. I quickly shut my eyes when I noticed Eseosa’s eyes on me. She could report me later of watching others while they were worshipping, an act that could prompt my dad to launch a tirade – something I wasn’t prepared for. Eseosa possessed the exclusive right to open her eyes during worship and prayers, but even she had begun imitating us. Socialization, my lecturer called it; influence, I called it.
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I had just shut my eyes when my phone rang inside the room. It would be a crime for anyone in my house to receive calls once devotion was on, except my dad, of course. He justified his right to take calls at any time to his profession.
‘I’m a medical doctor,’ he would say, looking around as if to see if anyone will counter his assertion, ‘and sometimes emergencies come up.’
My mum would laugh sarcastically, but would say nothing. I and Ivie would eye ourselves, but say nothing too.
I listened until it stopped ringing; it’s tone seemingly louder than the singing around me. I squinted to peep at those around me. Others, including even Eseosa, were fully immersed in the task at hand. What was wrong with me? Why was I finding it so difficult to concentrate? The harder I tried to concentrate, the more distractions arose in my mind. I wondered who the caller was, I wondered if Ivie wasn’t faking her pained facial expression as she led in worship, I wondered what Eseosa could actually be thinking. So many thoughts crisscrossed my mind. Then, I remembered Tricia Ogbemudia, the beautiful lady that had sent me a friend request. Her surname was popular, the immediate past Senator representing us bore same name. Could she be his daughter or was it another Ogbemudia? I remembered having a jotter with the former senator’s portrait; I would have loved to check if there was any resemblance. I would have loved to do it that moment, but for the morning devotion. Why was I finding it so difficult to concentrate on the task at hand?
My thoughts were interrupted when the worship session ended and the praises commenced. The clapping and energetic singing rendered my thoughts disjointed. Thank God, I thought, He was proving Himself more powerful after all.
I joined in the clapping and tried to raise my voice even higher than the song leader’s. Eseosa, sensing a contest, raised her voice even higher. In spite of all our best efforts, my dad’s voice still boomed through. How he did it, I didn’t know. It was so effortless. I could still notice some pitch variations, but it was no longer as pronounced as it had been during the worship session. The only time he seemed in his musical elements was when the song in question was a native one. He had never sung a classical song in the presence of any of us, his children. How we wished he would, at least for once. All he did was to occasionally sing some tonic sol-fa, the accuracy of which I couldn’t readily confirm. I was still learning the piano and didn’t know the sol-fas offhand. Who knew if those weren’t incorrect too?
After some minutes of singing praises, my mum did the Bible Exposition; it was on a topic that had to do with Samson’s love for strange women. I half-listened as my thoughts returned to Tricia Ogbemudia. I hoped my mum will be through soon so I could go and accept the request and possibly start chatting with her immediately. I was surprised when all eyes turned in my direction suddenly. What was wrong?
‘Are you deaf, my friend?’ Dad asked, looking at me angrily. We only became his friends when we had done something he found offending.
‘Uhmm?’ I muttered in surprise.
‘I asked you a question,’ mum said gently, ‘does it mean you haven’t been listening?’
I nodded and shook my head, smiling stupidly. My dad’s stare made the smile disappear instantly. In its place was what I was sure would be a look of uncertainty.
‘Mum asked what you would have done had you been in Samson’s shoes after Delilah’s first betrayal?’
Oh, so it was just that? The smile returned as I prodded my memory for the complete story of Samson. I was never scared of answering questions once the answers were available. I had good diction – many friends had told me so in the past. I cleared my throat.
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‘Had I been in Samson’s shoes, I would have acted differently,’ I began. ‘Samson’s actions, I think, lacked common sense. He should have known that he was headed down the way of destruction with Delilah when she betrayed him the first time. It was clear that she meant business when she called in the philistines after binding him. That he would continue in the game of death was unthinkable for a wise man, I really would have acted differently…’
‘My friend, will you tell us what you would have done and stop beating about the bush?’ My dad demanded, his voice deeper and louder this time.
I was taken aback, I had thought my audience would be impressed by my speech, but they obviously weren’t.
‘I would have cut all contacts with her, since she obviously didn’t mean well for me.’
‘That’s good,’ my dad boomed. I saw a smile on his face for the first time that morning. Maybe he had given one to my mum inside the bedroom, I didn’t know. ‘Samson should have escaped very fast after Delilah’s first betrayal, but he didn’t. That is why the bible asks us if we shall continue in sin that grace may abound. The answer is a straight God forbid.’ My dad had automatically taken over from my mum. ‘How often do we go after strange women today? How often do we go after strange men today? These are personal questions we need to ask and provide the answers ourselves. May God help us to avoid the allures of strange women in Jesus’ name…’
‘Amen!’ We all responded. My mum closed the daily devotional guide and we closed our bibles.
‘Like Ohis just said, when we have such encounters with strange women, our reaction should be to run…’ I couldn’t remember making any such statement. ‘We are not to wait and expect God to help us. Heaven helps those who help themselves…’ He went on and on for the next ten minutes, with my mum glancing at the wall clock on several occasions. She had to be at work by eight, but my dad’s job was the only one that allowed emergencies. It was eighteen minutes past seven already. We all heaved a sigh of relief when my dad finally called for prayers. My mum immediately took the cue, she probably didn’t trust anyone else to maximise the little time she had remaining.
‘Ivie, plug the electric kettle and go bathe your sister,’ she instructed immediately after we had said The Grace. Dad had already gone into their bedroom. ‘Ohis, go to your dad and get some money for bread. Two loaves should be sufficient for us…’ She hesitated like she was trying to remember something then shook her head. ‘That should be enough.’
Ivie left for the kitchen while I went to my parents’ bedroom. Eseosa clung to my mum and was pointing at her head, at something I couldn’t readily pick out. It was typical Eseosa, she wanted attention always.
My dad gave me a five hundred naira note for the loaves; I had demanded six hundred naira. I had made the mistake of not demanding for more, my dad had the habit of always reducing one’s financial demands. We were used to it, we usually demanded far above our actual needs, so we would still be in a vantage position when he slashes our requests.
I went for my phone before going to get the bread. Tricia Ogbemudia’s photos had loaded, all portraits, few sketches and all beautiful. I accepted her request before leaving the house. I was lucky to find the shop two houses away from ours already open, they rarely opened before eight. I paid for the loaves of bread, pocketed a one hundred naira change and made for home with the loaves. I dumped them on the dining table when I arrived home and went into my room. I could hear some sounds from the bathroom and knew it was Eseosa being bathed.
I fell on my bed immediately I got into the room and started viewing Tricias photos. She was beautiful in them all – smooth and light facial skin, perfectly placed cheekbones, pointed nose, perfectly curved jaws and exquisite hairstyles – I loved them all. I had forgotten about Paul Igbokwe, I had forgotten about the call missed during the morning devotion. I suddenly discovered that I had a pending message, which I reluctantly clicked to open. I wasn’t done admiring the photos. It was from Tricia Ogbemudia, I elatedly discovered.
‘Hello,’ it read.
‘Hi,’ I quickly replied, ‘good morning.’
‘Same here, hope your night was as good as mine?’
‘Yea, it was.’ I didn’t need to ask about hers, she had already told me how it was. The only question that kept popping in my brain was about her identity. Wouldn’t she be offended if I asked her that?
‘I’m sure you don’t know me,’ Tricia typed next. It was as if she could read my thoughts. I quickly responded in the affirmative. ‘I’m Senator John Ogbemudia’s daughter.’
‘You must be joking!’ I responded, excited. So she was his daughter after all?
‘I’m serious,’ she replied. ‘I was in your church two weeks back and saw you then.’
I tried to remember that particular occasion. That was the day I had taken the solo of our choir ministration. It wasn’t anything spectacular, but I had performed well. I could remember those that arose that day, when newcomers were asked to do so. A pot-bellied man clad in the same green lacy material as his wife who also arose, and their two beautiful kids, a boy and a girl. Why did Tricia not join them when they were being ushered to special seats reserved for newcomers in the front row? I was going to ask her.
‘Was that your first time there?’
‘But you weren’t among the newcomers welcomed?’
‘I arrived there when the service had just ended; I came to pick a friend in your choir.’
‘Oh, you drive?’ I typed, sending it before realising I shouldn’t have done so. I couldn’t drive and my question could prompt a similar one from her. And who that fellow chorister of mine she was talking about?
‘Not really,’ she replied, ‘I have a personal driver.’
She had a driver! I was dazed. When I couldn’t even drive, a girl probably my age had a car and a personal driver! What was my dad still doing in the medical profession when there was money for the taking in politics?
‘That’s good,’ I typed. ‘What’s the name of your friend?’
‘That’s a secret for now,’ she replied, giving me multiple heartaches. Now every female in the choir would be a suspect.
‘If you insist.’
We chatted on and on until she asked for my number which I didn’t hesitate in sending. What was there to hide? She could have easily gotten it from her friend. And she was a very beautiful girl.
A few seconds later, my phone rang. It was Tricia. We had spoken for almost an hour when Ivie came to my room. She was wondering why I was yet to take my breakfast which was very unusual. It was already past nine and my parents had been gone for over an hour. I rarely left my breakfasts beyond 8.30 A.M.
‘I will be back very soon,’ I told Tricia and arose lazily. I ignored Ivie’s knowing smile as I made for the dining table.
For the first time, I felt the pangs of hunger. My tummy suddenly started giving out rumbles, so loud that Ivie, who was following me, could hear the sounds. She fetched a teacup from the fridge and poured in some hot water from the water flask. I watched her in surprise; she never made my teas in the past.
‘Who was that on the phone with you?’ She asked, spooning some Milo into the cup of hot water.
‘Now I know why you’ve been so nice, amebo!’ I replied.
‘Information is power, bro. You should know that as a mass communicator.’
I knew what she was talking about. Mr Igbe, my H.O.D, had repeatedly used that cliché. Yet, I didn’t think it applied to her sudden pryingness.
She was patient, as was typical of her. Ivie added some sugar to the cup and laid it on the table. Then she removed some bread slices from the nylon holding them. These she placed in a saucer, beside the cup, before drawing out a chair for me. I smiled and sat to eat.
She had drawn out a chair and sat down too, by the time I opened my eyes from the customary prayers that preceded every meal in our house. I found her smile funny and smiled too; I hoped to have a wife like her in the future – a patient and understanding woman like her.
‘Well?’ I asked, taking a bite at a slice of bread.
‘Who was the lady on the phone with you? I know it wasn’t Olanike.’
It was then I remembered the existence of an Olanike. I hadn’t given her a thought since I woke up that morning. She was a girl in Ivie’s department who I had been wooing for almost three months and was only just beginning to show signs of friendliness. Ivie knew all about my intentions for her and had been of much help in maintaining contact between us. Olanike could get lost, for all I cared; Tricia was prettier, richer and sounded homelier.
‘Who told you it was a lady and even if it was, what makes you think it wasn’t Ola?’
‘Cos no conversation with Ola has ever spanned so long and they are never so cheerful and mirthful.’
‘Everything starts in a day, and…’
‘Stop giving off those lies, I know and I’m sure it wasn’t Ola on the phone with you since morning.’
‘What makes you so sure?’ I knew I would eventually tell her about Tricia, but was happy pulling her legs meanwhile.
‘Cos I spoke with Ola on phone while you were making that call.’
‘Huh?’ I muttered, setting down the teacup in my hand. I hadn’t expected that. The taste of the bread in my mouth instantly went sour. ‘What did you talk about?’
‘Now the questions have changed source, I thought you were with Ola a moment ago?’
‘I never said so, what did you guys talk about?’
‘She was worried that your line was still busy after five attempts by her to reach you.’
Ola tried calling me five times? The same Olanike who had abruptly terminated my call the previous day when I told her that she was only shifting the judgement day by refusing to accede to my wooing attempts? I had sent her a text message when she wouldn’t answer my call afterwards, but she never replied. She called me?
‘So, what did you tell her?’ My voice had suddenly gone raspy.
‘I told her it was possible that the network was responsible,’ she paused and looked at my face, ‘that sometimes I was a victim of such erratic network performance.’
I heaved a sigh of relief and resumed sipping of my tea. What was it about Olanike that made me feel that way?
‘You did well,’ I told her and smiled in relief. She had lied, she knew it, but what were sisters for? I quickly gobbled the remaining bread slices and arose. She remained on her chair, watching me.
‘You still haven’t told me who called you for over an hour?’ She gently asked.
I sat back. ‘That was Senator Ogbemudia’s daughter; she sent me a request on facebook this morning.’
‘Senator Ogbemudia!’ She exclaimed. ‘Now I see why the person could call you for over an hour. What’s her business with you?’
‘We are just friends,’ I replied evasively, ‘at least that’s what it is for now.’
‘Are you saying there’s the possibility of things going beyond just friendship?’
I was done with the questions and arose again. She sensed my mood and arose too.
‘I want to go take my bath now,’ I told her and left the table. Ivie smiled and went to her own room. I was in the bathroom some minutes later.
Over the next one week, I and Tricia were always on phone. It was so pronounced that, to prevent my parents asking, I would switch off my phone whenever I was with them. Tricia could call for over an hour and would constantly send me recharge card pins to call her too. I was getting more attached to her every passing day. I dreaded her, I wanted her, I was wary of her. We could talk for over an hour only for her to call me again in less than two hours’ time.
Ola was now more responsive, in fact, the chase had changed direction. Whenever I decided to call her, which was gradually less frequent, she would complain about my tone. She would tell me I was no longer enthusiastic about getting her to accede to my request, an accusation I made no attempt to either accept or refute. While we would speak for long durations on such occasions, courtesy of Tricia’s credit vouchers, I could go without calling her again for the next two days. Soon, the calls started pouring in from her. She would inform me of how she wished the strike action would end soon so she could return to school, so we could see. I was no longer keen on seeing her; I was only being courteous in not telling her so outrightly. Ivie relayed her complaints to me; she told me herself that she couldn’t imagine what was wrong with me. It was surprising that after so much effort to get Olanike, I was now totally oblivious of how she felt. While I failed to tell her so, I now saw Ola as a distraction. Tricia was the girl – fair, pretty and rich. She had two cars, a personal driver and travelled overseas every now and then. She had even offered to take me along once I was able to obtain permission from my parents, something I knew would be difficult if not impossible.
I was eager to meet her and she claimed to want to see me again too. Her curiosity was better satisfied, she had seen me once. She finally agreed to meet me one Monday morning; it had rained all through the night and Morning Devotion had been hell for me, in particular, as I had to be tapped awake several times in the course of it. I was about going back to bed, after the devotion, when my phone rang. I knew who it would be and wasn’t too keen on answering it, the call duration would totally spoil my sleepy mood. I thumbed the answer key anyway.
‘Hello, sweetest heart,’ Tricia’s voice came.
‘Hello, baby,’ I replied, falling on my bed and closing my eyes.
‘How was your night?’ She asked.
‘Twas great, and yours?’
‘Splendid, I dreamt of you.’
‘Really, what did you see me doing?’
‘You held me and whispered in my ears that you would always be there for me.’
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Olanike face flashed through my thoughts that instant, I beheld her smile, the smile that attracted me to her in the first place. Did I really want to forsake my feelings for her? Despite all Tricia had to offer, Ola still had a place in my heart.
‘Are you there?’ Tricia demanded, her voice assuming a teary tone. I was used to that tone; she used it whenever she felt I wasn’t giving her all my time during a call.
‘Yes, I heard you,’ I replied, still unable to erase Olanike’s face from my mind.
‘My dad met us there and gave you the keys to a Sports Utility Vehicle; with that he welcomed you into the family.’
I could feel my head spinning. I, who was yet to learn how to drive, who had informed a friend only the previous day that I would want him to teach me how to drive; was she saying I potentially stood the chance of receiving a car gift? The image of Olanike was no longer as vivid as before, some SUV images were struggling to displace it.
‘Are you there?’ She asked, forcing me back to reality.
‘Yea, that was a nice dream,’ I pronounced slowly. The sleep was beginning to clear off my eyes.
‘You sound like you would reject it if you were offered a car gift?’
‘I won’t,’ I replied sincerely, ‘it will be a pleasure.’
‘Good, that’s why I love you.’
I hummed a response, remembering Ola. Was I prepared to forgo her forever? Did I really know Tricia so well as to sacrifice my love for Ola on the altar of material and financial inducements? Was I prepared to go the entire haul with the ex-Senator’s daughter? Ivie would be highly disappointed. I had pushed her on many an occasion to make entreaties to Ola on my behalf, how would she feel when she finally discovered that I had forsaken Olanike for Tricia?
But I hadn’t considered these all along, why were those thoughts suddenly coming in.
‘I would like us to meet today; my parents will be attending a wedding in Port Harcourt today. Their flight should take off by 9.00 a.m.’
Just like that? I thought. This was a lady I had requested to meet on many previous occasions. Now that the doubts were beginning to arise in my mind, she wanted us to meet?
‘Are you there?’ She asked again.
‘Yes, I am,’ I managed to say, the thoughts were making speech difficult.
‘I’m not even sure you want to see me?’
The accusation was partially true. I had gradually adapted to the anonymity of our relationship. Meeting her would change that, and the doubts were setting in: What if she didn’t like me at close range? What if she was taller than I was? What if her actions were in defiance of her dad and his informants discovered us and informed him? There were so many unanswered questions in my mind, and there was only one way to get the answers, going out there to meet her.
‘Why won’t I want to see you? Of course, I want to,’ I affirmed.
‘Nice, dear,’ she said. I could perceive her smile from her voice. ‘Let’s meet at Grassland Chops by 9 A.M. Hope you know the place?’
I did, but also knew it was a place for the high and mighty. A friend of mine who was taken there by his overseas based uncle had once told me that the price of a single dish in Grassland Chops could make a meal for his entire family of six. He could be exaggerating, I knew, but the assertion couldn’t be far from the truth. I told her that I knew it.
‘Good, tell any waiter you see that Tricia expects you.’
Was she so popular? So popular that that every waiter at Grassland Chops knew her by name? I would find out. I only hoped not to appear foolish while doing so.
‘That’s okay,’ I told her. ‘Expect me there by nine.’ I was about to end the call when her voice came up.
‘You are wondering how the waiters will know me in the midst of other customers, right?’
How did she know what I was thinking? Was my tone so readable? I admitted to her claim.
‘You don’t know that Grassland Chops belongs to my dad?’
‘Wow!’ I mouthed, checking myself too late.
‘Yea, and there are two other branches in Lagos and Port Harcourt. That’s why I’m studying Hospitality Management, so I could take over their management after graduation.’
I had been blown away a long time already, but she was now capping it off. So Tricia was going to be in charge of such a large fortune?!
‘So, 9 A.M. it is, right?’
‘Yea, 9 A.M.’ I knew my efforts to mask the enthusiasm in my voice had once again failed, but who could blame me?
I didn’t dare end the call this time. In fact, the phone was still on my ears five minutes after she had ended the call. I was just too blown away. It was Eseosa’s sudden barge into my room that brought me back to reality.
‘What is it?’ I demanded, sitting up with a start.
‘Daddy said I should call you.’ She moved out before I could scold her for entering my room without knocking. I had warned her about it several times, but she obviously wasn’t listening.
I went to the sitting room to meet my dad’s scowling face. He stood, hands akimbo.
‘What sort of call was that, that spanned so long?’
I hoped my dad had not eavesdropped on our conversation. He was used to making short, mostly medically related calls, which were straight to the point. Was he expecting everyone else to be like him? My mum, who was setting the table, looked up briefly and continued with her task.
‘Well, I’ll be attending a meeting of the N.M.A today and would want the SUV clean. I want that done as soon as possible.’
‘Yes, sir,’ I said and went to the store room for a bucket and detergent.
My dad’s SUV was used only when he had to attend meetings of the National Medical Association and when we were going to church on Sundays. On other days, it was parked beside the other car, a Peugeot 504, covered in tarpaulin.
I knew he would be out of the house before 8.30 A.M. My mum didn’t go to work in the weekends, but she was rarely an impediment when I had to leave the house. Unlike my dad who would want to know where I was going to, what I was going for and when I would be back, my mum would only tell me to come back soon. She was a bit more inquisitive when Ivie was involved, but that was probably because she was a lady. I wished the strike will soon be called off.
I made for the bathroom immediately I was through with the car; I wanted to be ready as soon as possible. My phone rang as I entered my room, it was Olanike.
‘I am very busy now, please,’ I said before she could utter a word, ‘can you call me back in three hours’ time?’
‘It’s okay,’ she sulked and wanted to add something else when I ended the call. I felt bad, treating her that way, but who wouldn’t, considering what Tricia had to offer?
I dressed up quickly and went to take my breakfast – a meal of boiled yam and eggs sauce. My dad left for the meeting while I was still eating, I had thirty five minutes to spare. Ivie joined me on the table. She had taken her bath too, having entered the bathroom immediately after my exit. She made a joke about my early bath, which was unusual since the strike began, and tried to pry out the reason from me. I was alert to her antics; they weren’t going to work that morning.
My mum was in the bedroom when I took my leave. Eseosa and Ivie were watching a film on television which, though engrossing, didn’t stop Eseosa from inquiring about my destination. I ignored her initially, but had to strongly rebuke her when her enquiry became louder. I hurried out before my mum would come out, I didn’t want to explain myself to anyone at all.
I was at the gates to Grassland Chops twelve minutes later. The security men observed me suspiciously before letting me in. They, probably, weren’t used to guys arriving on foot. The only persons I saw on the tarred road from the gate to the entrance, trekking like me, were ladies. One of them was making a call to her companion who was already inside the restaurant, informing him that she had just arrived. I brought out my phone from my hip pocket and called Tricia too. She received the call at its first ring.
‘Where are you?’ She spoke first.
‘Inside Grassland Chops,’ I replied.
‘It’s okay; just tell any waiter you meet to lead you to Tricia.’
‘Alright,’ I said and ended the call. I didn’t like her haughty tone. She didn’t sound like she was excited by my presence.
Two cars glided past me, one’s number plate had green letterings indicating that it was a government owned car. Their glasses were tinted and up, I was sure they didn’t know how intense the morning sun was.
A huge black man and a short fair lady emerged just as I got to the glass entrance door. She was holding a cup of ice cream, and was playfully trying to feed the man from it, oblivious of being under the glare of the public.
‘Stop, baby, stop,’ said the man with a deep voice, pausing at the doorway.
‘Oh no, you must taste it and now,’ she insisted, lifting the spoon up to his lips again. He opened his mouth briefly, allowing her to slip the spoon between his lips. ‘That’s better, you are a darling.’
He grunted a reply and resumed movement again. She chattered excitedly after him. I went past the door, nodding at the doorman. He regarded me with an air of condescension; was my class so written all over me? A whole me, the son of a doctor! A waitress approached me once I was inside the hall, her smile seemed genuine, not like the condescending ones I had been receiving from the gate. She had a dimple on her right cheek which came on once she smiled. She was beautiful.
‘You are welcome, sir; please, over here,’ she said, leading me to a set of empty tables.
We had almost gotten to the closest one when I found my voice. ‘Please, I’m here to see Tricia.’
‘Oh, you mean the boss herself?’ Her voice was now almost a whisper.
‘I mean Tricia Ogbemudia.’
‘Okay, please hold on a minute.’ She approached another waiter and exchanged whispers with him. He glanced in my direction before meeting a third waiter who smiled and approached me.
[nextpage title=”episode 5″]
‘She’s been waiting for you,’ he said before I could even say a word of greeting. The waitress who had initially welcomed me and the other male waiter stood and watched us from a distance. I was led through a door marked VIP, into another hall. Here the tables were farther spaced and divided by strategically placed giant artificial flowers, which were compact enough to protect the privacy of the occupants. There were chandeliers above each table too, giving the room a much more exquisite grandeur than the regular hall. The customers in the VIP hall were much fewer and it was quite quiet, save for the rhythm and blues track playing through the overhead speakers.
I was led to the far end of the hall; to a table at which I had already caught sight of a plump, fair lady, who I was sure couldn’t be Tricia. She arose just as I got there to reveal Tricia in all her beauty, seated with her chair against the wall. The plump lady had been covering her.
‘Ohio-re-nuan?’ She pronounced slowly, her face breaking into a smile. Her fingers caressed a half empty glass of wine on the table.
‘Tricia,’ I said, wondering if I had done the right thing coming there. The waiter who had led me to her bowed low and took his leave.
‘Meet my friend, Eki,’ Tricia said, indicating the plump lady. ‘Eki, this is my mysterious beau, Ohis.’
‘Oh, it’s nice meeting you.’ The words rolled off her tongue as they would Dr Shantel’s. Dr Shantel was a Black American neurosurgeon who worked in the same hospital as my dad. She visited us occasionally.
‘It’s nice meeting you, too,’ I answered, finding my voice suddenly unsteady. It wasn’t unusual, my voice always went that way when meeting ladies for the first time – especially when there was a romantic undertone. I shook hands with Eki, perceiving a whiff of her perfume in the process. It was gentle and, I was sure, expensive. Everything in that hall, except me, seemed expensive.
‘Please, sit down,’ Eki indicated the chair she had just vacated. ‘I’ll see you later, dearie,’ she said to Tricia.
‘Not before you give me a hug!’ Tricia said sharply as I was about to sit on the chair. Then, she waved at Eki who was already walking away.
Obediently, I went to hug her, remaining stooped until she agreed to release her grip on me. Her perfume was cool, too; its fruity fragrance seemed to fill my tummy. She hadn’t budged from her chair since my arrival. I went to take my seat.
‘We finally meet,’ she said when I was seated, ‘and I’m not disappointed at all. You are much more handsome from close range.’
‘And you are very beautiful, yourself,’ I replied sincerely. My voice was no longer unsteady.
‘Thanks, dearie,’ and she chuckled. ‘What will you take, now that you are here?’
‘I don’t think I want to take anything,’ I replied, despite the tantalizing aroma of exotic foods that pervaded the entire hall.’
‘No, I won’t take that from you. If you aren’t telling me what you would eat, I would order on your behalf.’
I shrugged in acceptance. My initial rejection of her offer hadn’t been wholehearted anyway. I was sure the worms in my stomach were already jumping around in anticipation of a delicious meal.
‘Kehinde, come over!’ Tricia called, beckoning to a waitress who obediently came and squatted beside her. The waitress left after some whispered conversation between them. She was beautiful too. ‘Once again, you are welcome to Grassland Chops, I’m sure this is your first time here?’
‘Yea,’ I nodded slowly. A waiter walked past us and bowed in greeting to her. ‘It is a beautiful place.’
‘I’m glad you like it.’ She took a sip from her glass, then glanced at my face suddenly, catching my eyes which were too slow in darting away. ‘Care for some?’
‘Oh no, thanks,’ I replied quickly. I had thought I would be in charge whenever we met, but the reverse was being the case. I was unable to assert my manliness, now in front of her, something I had done so often on phone.
‘I never thought you were this shy and…’ She stressed the last word before pausing.
‘And what?’ I asked, trying unsuccessfully to bolster up myself. At least, my voice was back, my wits had to follow.
‘And handsome,’ she said, after a chuckle. I swallowed hard, but didn’t say a thing.
I wished the words would come, the lines that were so often used in movies depicting similar scenes. I tried to recollect some of such movies I had watched in the past, but couldn’t come up with anything. My brain was unusually blank, Tricia was having much more of an effect than I expected on me. Or was it the environment? I was brought back to reality when I felt her soft palm on the back of my hand on the table. I hadn’t even seen it coming. I stylishly shook off her hand, pretending to pick something on my face.
‘What are you thinking about, my love?’ Her voice was softer now, it was more familiar too.
I had no answer to her question, at least not one I would have loved her to know about. Where was Kehinde? Where was the delicious meal she was serving? I heard some approaching footsteps behind me and looked back, they were Kehinde’s. I sighed in relief and adjusted a bit on my chair.
‘You haven’t told me what you are thinking about, my love,’ Tricia cooed, her eyes darting between my face and the approaching waitress.
‘I was thinking about something that happened at home this morning, something my dad said about my sister.’ The ease with which the lie came off my lips surprised even me. I hadn’t preconceived it at all.
‘Is it something you may wanna share?’ She looked directly into my eyes, forcing me to blink away.
‘No, I would rather protect the privacy of the person involved; you know it’s not me in question?’
‘I understand, dearie,’ she said, just as Kehinde arrived our table to set down the tray. Kehinde shot at me a glance which made me wish Tricia would, at least, stop talking until she was gone. It was a vain wish. ‘You are just the kind of man I would like to have as a husband…’
Why was she saying this in the presence of a third party? Couldn’t it wait until Kehinde was through with setting the table? I knew Kehinde was listening to our conversation, despite her indifferent demeanour. I could bet she wasn’t going about her task as quickly as she could. Wasn’t it obvious to Tricia that she was trying to buy time with her extremely careful removal of the dishes, glass and bottle from the tray before placing them on the table? It was.
‘Will you be done and go do other things?’ Tricia suddenly snapped. It was a tone I had never heard her use before. Kehinde was done in a few seconds and scampered off to the main hall. ‘Sorry, dear,’ Tricia beamed, facing me. ‘Do you know that she was eavesdropping on us?’
‘Huh?’ I feigned ignorance.
‘Yes, she was and she thought I was too daft to notice!’
I noticed the venom in her voice and shook my head; Tricia would be a difficult lady. She would be like one of our lecturers who was rumoured to control her husband, by the students close to her. She spoke like the woman when offended, a masculine metal vicious edge replacing the hitherto sweet feminine tone of her voice.
‘We all like some gossip once in a while,’ I said. It was easier to talk when the topic was about someone else.
She chuckled and pointed at the covered dishes before me, on the table. ‘The table is set, please eat.’
It was an invitation I had been waiting for. I opened the bigger dish to reveal very rich looking fried rice. It was unsurprising that their food was reputedly expensive. The quantity of liver cuttings in the rice could compete with the rice grains themselves. The rice smelled real good. I opened the smaller dish to reveal chunky meat pieces. I wasn’t so greedy as to eat so much meat and rice, I wasn’t even actually hungry. I looked up to meet Tricia’s eyes on mine. She smiled, helped open the bottle of wine and poured from it into a glass. I muttered my thanks and picked a spoon.
‘Won’t you pray before eating?’ She asked. I instantly halted the movement of my hand to the dish.
Her smile showed that she had probably intended the statement as a joke, but it was a timely intervention as I hadn’t intended to pray initially. Why was I so uncontrolled in her presence? It was very unlike me to be like that.
‘I was about to do that,’ I lied, suspending my hand just above the dish and lifting up my second hand to join it in that position. I knew it was an unusual posture for praying over a personal meal, but had I been normal since I stepped into Grassland Chops? I closed my eyes and said some words of prayer – much longer than I would, normally.
‘I didn’t know you were a Pastor,’ said Tricia after a loud “amen” at the end of my prayers. She hadn’t closed her eyes when I did; I knew that from the clarity of her stare when I opened my own eyes.
‘I am an ordinary student,’ I told her, ‘an ordinary student like you.’
‘That’s okay, babe, I know you are only being modest. Now, eat.’
I scooped some rice with the spoon and slowly lifted its contents into my mouth; I was careful to allow no contact between my teeth and the metal spoon, I would have been very embarrassed had that happened. The food tasted good. As I chewed slowly, ensuring my mouth was shut in the process, my eyes scanned the hall. How had I come to be there that moment? It was way beyond my league. It wasn’t like I couldn’t have afforded a meal there, but I hated extravagance, even when the money involved wasn’t mine. Tricia’s eyes were on me the whole time; was she observing my table manners? Was she trying to see if I had class? Why the intent stare, like she was trying to count the sweat pores on my face? My phone rang that moment, breaking into my thoughts. Her hand reached for my breast pocket where the phone was, but I was quicker in getting it. Why did she want to get my phone, wasn’t that an invasion of my privacy?
‘Oh, so you make calls while eating?’ She said as if in response to my thoughts. ‘Men and their funny habits; my dad does same.’
Was she a learner? What was wrong with answering a call while eating? My dad, in particular, did it all the time – it could be to inform him of an emergency, he would be quick to explain. The caller was Ola and I lost my appetite. I had barely taken five spoons.
Why was I so affected by her calls? Why didn’t Tricia’s calls make me feel same way? I no longer felt the excitement I used to get from her calls; I now felt a kind of trepidation, the type someone felt when he knew he was heading into danger yet was powerless to halt his advance.
‘You are not answering your call?’ Tricia said, seeing my lost glance at the phone screen. ‘Hope nothing is wrong?’
I shook my head, switched off the phone once it stopped ringing, returned it to my breast pocket and resumed eating. She repeated her question, but I pointed at my mouth in reply. The food was now tasteless. I scooped a few more spoonfuls and placed the spoon beside the plate. I hadn’t touched the meat pieces.
[nextpage title=”episode 6″]
‘Are you done so soon?’ Tricia inquired, concern all over her face. I nodded in response and sipped from the glass of wine. ‘That won’t be a problem,’ she said next, her face suddenly relaxed. ‘I will tell the waiters to package it in a takeaway.’
I wanted to stop her but she had already beckoned to a waiter who hurried to squat beside her. Why was everyone squatting beside her? She deftly gave her instructions and the waiter got a tray with which she carried away my dishes.
‘Now, baby,’ she said, turning to me, ‘I want you to know that I love you so much and that I’m prepared to do anything for you. I don’t know why this is so, but one can never explain love…’
It was a question that I desperately needed an answer to too. Tricia was a beautiful lady, the type that would attract any man any day. This, coupled with her rich background, was supposed to make men worship at her feet. Why was she neglecting other – whom I was sure would be there – better qualified guys for me? I sensed danger.
‘I will take you places, do much more for you than you ever imagined, be the best you could have ever wished for, but only on one condition…’
I was curious to know the condition. She had spoken slowly, the slowest I had ever heard her speak and her statement had been heavy, probably the heaviest I would ever hear from her. ‘What’s the condition?’ I asked.
‘Are you sure you want to know the condition?’ She asked in the same slow manner. Why was she employing reverse psychology with me? I was however still curious.
‘Of course, I would like to know it,’ I replied.
‘Do you promise to abide by the condition?’
Now, it was getting scary. Why would she expect me to commit myself to a cause I knew nothing about? I thought of the comfort a person like Tricia could afford me, I thought about the social elevation, the connections and…I was almost giving in. But Ola’s face suddenly loomed into my thoughts, the face wasn’t happy and I found myself overtly affected by the forlorn expression of her face. Was I being warned of something? I also remembered our devotional topic on Samson’s love for strange women. Could I really claim to know Tricia?
‘I can’t make such a promise, I’m sorry,’ I replied, my heartbeats suddenly on the rise. I noticed the brief flash of pain on her face.
‘You don’t have to be, honey. I love you, but I fear someone wants to take you away from me. Is that correct?’
How did I get myself so entangled with Tricia? I could love her, I really could, but not when she made love so obligatory. I remembered the many calls we had made in the short time I had known her, I remembered the number of numerous recharge card pins I had received from her, I remembered the promises she had made, promises that – when fulfilled – could change my life forever, but those largesses increasingly seemed like baits hiding a hook. Where was the hook?
‘I can’t really say so,’ I mumbled, Ola’s face etched in my mind.
‘You aren’t even sure, so pathetic!’ Her voice was unusually strong. I could perceive the metal edge coming on it, a sign of growing anger. She sounded desperate, she sounded dangerous!
‘I’m sorry,’ I muttered.
‘Forget it!’ She snapped, the dreaded tone now fully on. ‘What is it I even see in you…?’ Just then the waiter arrived with a customised polythene bag. Behind the letterings of the restaurant was a portrait which resembled Tricia’s. I couldn’t peer too hard as I didn’t want to appear too neophyte with the workings of Grassland Chops. I hoped Tricia will halt her speech until the exit of the waiter, and said a quick prayer in my mind, to that effect. My prayers were answered, for with great effort, her teeth clenched, Tricia held her outburst until the waiter had bowed and moved away.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said again, hoping the penitential tone of my voice would chill out her tensed state. I was wrong.
‘You are not! You are laughing behind that serious façade! You are laughing at me, right?’ her voice stung my ears. I was sure other customers could hear her. A few glances were thrown at our table.
And what was she talking about? Why would I laugh at her? ‘I am not,’ I said softly, shaking my head slowly. ‘Why would anyone…’
‘Liar! That’s what you are! A rotten f—–g one at that! A rotten, stinking, motherfucking…’
Where were these obscenities emerging from? I couldn’t believe they were emerging from Tricia Ogbemudia, the beautiful daughter of Senator Ogbemudia, the sweet lady with whom I had spent no less than an hour with every day since we met online. Was this the same person?
I arose; things were getting out of hand…
‘Will you sit right back there?’ She ordered through clenched, now vicious looking, teeth.
I saw some wisdom in obeying her and sat. I wasn’t her match should she want to play dirty and I was even in her territory. Every waiter could come in handy, in handing me the embarrassment of my life, if Tricia so wished. And they already seemed to be picking up the signals for a possible confrontation.
‘That’s better,’ she continued. ‘You’ve been digging around me? Huh?’ As I didn’t know what answer would be acceptable that moment, I maintained a wan expression. ‘So, what did you find out? What did you find out, b—h?!’
‘Nothing,’ I said and her glass of wine narrowly missed my face. It crashed just before the table behind me, sending its occupants jumping to their feet. I was sure some of the wine in the glass would splatter on the man’s navy blue suit. The lady with him was shielded by his frame.
What mess had I gotten myself into? Why was she going bonkers on me? I had jumped up too and she was trying to do same when I heard the sound of onrushing feet and strong hands held her down to the tiled floor on which she had fallen in her bid to get at me. With the two waiters who held her down was Eki, the fair plump lady I had met with her on my arrival.
‘No, baby!’ She cried, ‘not again…’ Tricia was still wrestling with those holding her down. The whole scene seemed surreal; I couldn’t believe it was happening.
Eki gave me a stare I thought was malicious, and was about to say something when another lady arrived with a sphygmomanometer and a briefcase. Eki grabbed the suitcase from her and opened it; it contained syringes, needle rolls, wool pack and vials. So she was a doctor!
What was wrong with Tricia? Everything had been okay just a few minutes back. I knew the questions would soon come, flying at me and tried to prepare my answers beforehand. It was useless; I didn’t even know how the questions will be put.
‘What did you say to upset her so quick?’ Eki threw at me suddenly, catching me off-guard despite my preparedness. She had just withdrawn injection with a syringe from a vial.
‘No…thing,’ I stuttered and was about to say more when she hushed me.
‘You said something to her, of course! She never gets agitated so quickly after a dose.’
A dose? What was she talking about? There was none to ask, everyone was focussed on the now limp body of Tricia. I didn’t even know when she stopped struggling. The body seemed lifeless.
‘Get him out of here!’ Eki barked as she crouched to inject her.
I needed no further prodding as I made for the exit. A waiter followed me. I knew he was supposed to walk me out, but his disposition was that of a friend. We had just walked out of the main hall when he drew closer to me.
‘Are you mad?’ It was only a whisper, but in a censorious tone. I waited for him to continue. He did. ‘What did you think you were doing with Tricia…?’ Oh, so she was no longer the boss? ‘…You are lucky to still be in one piece…’
‘What is it about Tricia?’ I managed to ask.
‘Have you heard of the term “intermittent explosive disorder”?’ I shook my head in the negative. I knew, from experience, it was a medical term, but had never heard of it before that moment. ‘That’s what she’s suffering from.’
‘Huh?’ I was surprised by the revelation, though the briefcase containing the syringes and vials had given me an impression in that direction.
‘It involves repeated cases of impulsive, aggressive and violent behaviour which may not be in proportion to the situation at hand.’
‘Hmmm, I will research further on that.’ I really meant to – on the net and my dad’s medical books.
‘Do you know she’s been on a wheelchair for the past eight months?’
‘Are you serious?!’
‘Of course, she had a serious accident while driving her ex-boyfriend. He must have done or said something which activated her fits, resulting in the crash?’
‘Yea and the poor guy died on the spot. She can do anything when in the mood. None of us dares to get on her nerves.’
Was that the message Kehinde was trying to pass across? That I was with a potential killer? Was that why Tricia had verbally shoved her off so violently? Now I knew why she had seemed so stuck to her chair, and why she had crashed when she attempted to rise.
I was surprised at the quantity of air I exhaled. I didn’t know I had unconsciously held in so much breath.
‘Thanks, bro, you just saved a life,’ I said in relief and shook hands with him.
He turned back at that point, leaving me to continue my now hastened exit from the premises of Grassland Chops.
I never told any member of my family what transpired that day at Grassland Chops. I carried it all alone until the strike was called off. Even then I shared the information with only Chidi, my closest pal in school. Tricia called and texted me for some time, but eventually stopped, probably discouraged by my non response. I knew she was sorry, from the research I had carried out on her condition, I knew her reaction that day wasn’t of her making, but I also knew I was a lucky chap to know all that when I did. Ola was surprised at the sudden positive change in my disposition towards her. Ivie was too. She gave up trying to pry out the reason after some time, her efforts were clearly yielding no fruits. Ola didn’t ask too much questions herself, it was her desire after all.