Tari shut the door behind him. He was still in a daze. He was slightly disoriented as he tried to find the stairs. Racing down the stairs, he could feel his phone buzzing in his pocket. He knew it was someone from work. This was supposed to have been a lunch break. Not the initial lovemaking session it had turned out to be. No! Not the shocking revelation session that had followed either!! No, Sir!!! Now he was super late.
He fumbled for his keys as he arrived at his SUV. “What have you done?” he asked himself as he unlocked the door. His head suddenly felt warm and heavy. He rested against the cool frame of the vehicle as he tried take deep relaxing breaths. He was in no condition to be behind the wheels of a vehicle, he knew that, but he had to get back to work and quickly too.
June let the curtains fall back in place. She had been lucky to have a window overlooking the car park. She had watched Tari while he had stood at the car for a while, gotten in and stayed put behind the wheel for an even longer period. If she was not hurting so much herself, she would have felt bad for him. Maybe even gone downstairs to talk to him and hold him or something.
He had been very matured and forthright in his reaction. After the initial shock, he had simply pulled on his clothes, called House Keeping to clean up the spilled wine and glass pieces,then sat on the bed and listened to all she had to say. He had accepted he was wrong and told his side of the affair with Becky. It all matched what Becky had told her earlier. He had taken the blame for it all and apologised profusely to her. He also wanted to keep it quiet. She had made it clear she had no intentions of doing otherwise and it was also important that he stayed away from Becky. He said he had no qualms with that – they had actually had a fight. He was sorry and now he knew better.
“I don’t feel so good” Tari said when Meg opened his office door.
“What?” Meg asked, approaching him, a concerned look on her face
“I don’t feel so good”he repeated rubbing his temples. He’d asked the receptionist to inform Meg of his return, knowing Meg would show up instantly. She had called him over a dozen times while he was away.
“Sorry about that. Taken any medications?” she asked.
“No. Can we re-convene?” he asked
“Not with your state. And anyway, we have covered everything that came to mind. You’ll get it in your mail” she said. Still looking at him. She reached across the desk and touched his forehead with the back of her palm. “No temperature spike” she declared.
“When do we leave?” Tari asked, rising to get a bottle of water from the fridge.
“In a few days. One twelve-hour stop in Addis is the best way, if you all go commercial” Meg explained.
“That would require hotel bookings and all. Moving around a bit. More stress” Tari said.
“Yeah. So I requested quotes from a couple of chatter airlines” she said, taking a seat. “It would make more sense to take you all out there in one haul” she added.
“True” Tari agreed standing behind his desk.
“You want to talk about it, Tari?” Meg ventured. Her instincts told her whatever was wrong with him, was not in his physical body.
Tari gave her a level look, “Talk about what?” he asked
“Talk about whatever it is that happened to you during your lunch hour” she replied
“Its nothing. I’m okay” he insisted.
“Listen Ironman, I’m not only concerned about the project and and all, I need not remind you how crucial it is that you be at your best on this, I’m more concerned about you. Because I care. Yes, I said it. I still do care” she said, rose and headed for the door.
“Margaret” he called. She stopped at the door without turning around. “Thank you” he added. She pushed open the door and left.
Tari sat down slowly, turning his swivel chair till his back was to the door. There was only one person he needed to talk to at this stage.
Becky stood at the kitchen sink. She had suddenly lost her appetite. She stared at the bowl of oats she had just made but her mind was miles away. She had picked herself up during the day, there was no one else to do it for her. She had her skills, and with or without the job at the school, she could make a decent living. She had decided to quit anyway, but Lagos was out of the question. She was staying put in Abuja. She would find clients to service, hopefully not as manipulative and evil as her last. She would need to find herself an accommodation somehow. Between now and the time she would quit, she had to save up enough for a place and have some sustenance before her next client. She needed to use her network.
She turned around and dumped the oats in the waste bag as she heard her phone ring on the counter. She walked across and picked it up. It was Zenaide.
“Hello” she said excitedly
“Becky!” Zenaide’s voice came over the line with her signature laugh.
“I’m so relieved you called” she said with a chuckle that quickly turned into a sob.
“Are you fine?” Zenaide asked, picking up that something was amiss.
“Estou grávida!” she declared now crying.
“Are you for real? For who? Stop crying and tell” Zenaide demanded, clearly worried.
“Tari Whiteriver!” Becky blurted
“No. You never tell me about….” she left off.
Through a flood of tears, Becky related the whole ordeal, she spared Zenaide no detail. From Tari’s first visit, the coaching, the night at the hotel, the incident at her place and the happenings of this morning. She told all. Zenaide had to call back twice to get the whole story. At the end, Becky was sitting on the kitchen floor, exhausted but relieved.
“I need to think, Becky. You want to keep it, I am right?” she asked
“Yes. No more abortions” Becky affirmed.
“Have you talked to him?” Zenaide asked
“No. I no longer have business with him. I don’t want to talk to him, I don’t want him around me” Becky said
“But, he is responsible. We have to know what he -” Zenaide was saying.
“No! I don’t care what he wants or thinks” Becky cut her short.
“I don’t want any more issues with June too” Becky added.
“Okay. Let me think. Will call you tomorrow” Zenaide said and with that the ladies said their farewells.
Becky got up in some pain, she had been curled up against the wall, her knees beneath her jaw, one hand holding the phone to her ear, the other wrapped around her. She went into the bedroom and found her Bible. She could not remember the last time she opened it on her own. Her last church attendance was Alfred’s invite which she had accepted. She decided to pray, remembering something she had heard in church that day – “when God seems far away, its you who moved”. She had strayed too far from God. It was time to fix that.
June was woken by her alarm. Surprisingly, she had slept well. She turned to find Tari staring at her in the darkness. She smiled and kissed him.
“Good morning, love” she said
“Good morning” Tari said with a smile.
He had returned to the hotel just before 10pm last night. They had talked some more. He maintained his position – taking full responsibility and willing to make it right. June had assured him she had forgiven him and was willing to move on. She had also told him of her plans to get a place. Tari suggested she move in with him while she searched, at least. She refused and he had finally agreed with her and asked she kept him posted. Sometime before midnight, she had fallen asleep while he had stared at a mute TV for quite a while longer, thoughts of many kinds running through his head.
“I’ll be going house-hunting with Thelma after the show. Dinner at your place?” she asked getting out of bed.
“Sure. Call me if you find something you like” he said.
“Will do” she said.
She typed an SMS to Thelma:
“Good morn, dear. Will come by d house afta work. Hav Dan leave d car.”
That sent, she went into the bathroom.
In less than half an hour, she kissed Tari goodbye and left for the studio.
Becky locked the door. She was feeling much better. As she turned to begin her walk to the staff room, she heard her name. She turned to find Tari stepping out of his vehicle parked on the other side of the lane. She had not noticed it.
“What is it again?” she asked herself as she waited for him to walk down.
“Good morning, Becky” Tari said as he reached her.
“What do you want?” she demanded. She noticed he was looking at her tommy, it made her uncomfortable.
“I just want you to know how sorry I am about all of this” he said now looking into her eyes.
“Okay” she said. He looked like he had had little or no sleep.
“Could we go in for a minute, please? There’s stuff I think we need to discuss” he said looking down at her tommy.
“No, we can’t. And there’s nothing to discuss. Also, quit staring at my tommy.”
“Becky -” he was saying.
“Listen, Tari. I’m a grown woman. I don’t need your help or pity. Whatever guilt or strain of warped responsibly that has gripped you is entirely your business. I am not interested in discussing it. I am not your business and you are not mine” she said
“And the baby?” he asked, unable to keep from glancing down at her tommy. “She said you insisted on keeping it” he added when Becky frowned at him.
“What baby? That also is none of your business. Go back to ‘she’ and be a better man than you have ever been. I have betrayed her and I may never have the luxury of her forgiveness. You stand a better a chance, I suggest you make things right with her and leave me be. I’m sure she doesn’t know you are here” she replied.
“How about -” he began.
“I’m running late, Tari. Goodbye and have a nice life” Becky said, turned and began to walk away.
“You shouldn’t have hit her” Tari said
“You shouldn’t have cheated on her” she threw at him without looking back nor slowing her strides.
“How are you?” June asked Thelma who had just opened the door.
“Hmmm! Thought you’d abandoned me” Thelma said, as they embraced each other.
“I’m sorry, dear. Some stuff came up” June said, slipping off her heels as she sat the the dinning table with Thelma who had been working on some sketches.
“Resolved?” Thelma asked.
“Resolved what?” June asked.
“The stuff that came up” Thelma clarified.
“Oh, yeah!” June replied.
“I got another mail” Thelma said, dropping her pencil and picking up her tab. She launched it, got into her mailbox and passed it to June.
June read it. It was a blatant threat. Cliff was mad he could neither find nor reach Thelma and that she had ignored his last email. He had given her 24hours to reply his mail or he would go public with the nude pictures he had.
“24 hours, huh?” June said
“The idiot” Thelma replied
“You seem pretty calm” June added, passing back the tab when she was done reading the mail.
“Learned from you” Thelma said smiling back. She rubbed her tommy, “Gatta be strong for the baby” she added.
“True. So I got the contact of some guy today who’s the agent in-charge of a couple of freshly built and sold blocks of flats. Apparently, some buyers have put up their purchases for rent. I have called and he is expecting us” June explained, getting to the business at hand. Cliff was not going to be a problem. She had decided to downplay the possibility of him carrying out his threats as much as possible; and if she could have Thelma ignore it all together, that would be much better. After all, how much damage can a few nudes really do? A sex tape was a whole different ball game, but it seemed Cliff didn’t have that.
“Okay. Give me a few minutes to put these away and change into something else” Thelma said.
June slipped on a pair of flat shoes. “How’s Dan?” she asked.
“He’s fine. Thanks for asking. We hardly see these days” Thelma said, leaving for the bedroom.
It did seem Dan had not heard about all the stuff that was up with his friend. Either he was too busy or Tari was just plain embarrassed and had not found the guts to share. She knew if Dan had heard, he would have reached out to her by now. She knew it wasn’t her place to inform him, she would not embarrass her man by tossing his failures into other people’s ears – friends or not.
“We’ll take these two” June said after a quick eye-message exchange with Thelma.
The agent had showed them around the flats that were available for rent. The ladies had fallen in love with the estate and flats instantly and had settled for two top flats, in a block of four, with a view of the highway a few miles away. It was slightly above what Thelma had budgeted for but June was sure Dan would not mind. He didn’t. They had both spoken to Dan and then June had called Tari. The apartments were two bedroom flats, both rooms en-suite – perfect for Thelma and Dan, with a baby on the way. A little too much for June, but she didn’t mind. Having Dan and Thelma next door would ensure she had company and the spare room would ensure she could host guests and still maintain her privacy.
“Okay. When will you be making payment? I can’t promise to keep them for you for more than a few days” the agent said.
“How about now?” June asked. Her dad and one of her brothers had come through with sizeable transfers earlier in the day.
Becky was sitting on the couch in her night wear, nursing a bowl of ice cream and watching a series, when a key slipped into the lock and turned it. Her alarm was quickly taken over by a realisation – it was June.
“Good evening” Becky greeted, looking up at her friend. Could she still call her that anyway? She didn’t think so.
“Good evening. I came to get my stuff” June said shutting the door and beginning to take keys off her key ring. She brought two keys over and placed it on the table beside the remote control.
Becky put the ice cream away and got up. “June, I am sorry” she said, holding her lightly by the arm. When June didn’t pull away, she turned her towards herself. “I am really sorry, dear. I messed up big time and I regret it. I don’t want us parting ways this way. We have come a long way and this is not how we said we’d part ways, remember?” She said looking into June’s eyes.
“I remember. But I didn’t reckon you’d stab me so deeply in the back. I never expected you would -” June was saying.
“Please, June” Becky pleaded.
“No. Let me finish. I have shared all I have with you. Then I found you a coaching job and from that we pushed for the consultancy. Big mistake on my part – keeping you in close quarters with my man. All the money you made, I never asked for a dime and you never offered – No big deal. I shared my secrets and fears with you. My biggest fuck-ups, I told you. And how do you pay me back? You sleep with my boyfriend and didn’t stop nor mention it until I found out you were pregnant! And we got in an argument and you hit me like a silly child. How have I ever wronged you, Becky?” June poured, tears glistening in her eyes.
“You never wronged me. I was angry and confused and hurt. I am sorry, June. Forgive me, I beg you” she said in an unsteady voice.
“Tell me, how did you feel when I sent that message telling you I just had sex with him for the first time? After you had been with him twice” June asked.
“June…” Was all Becky could muster.
“Tell me” June demanded.
“I was sad. I cried” she recalled.
“Why?” June demanded.
“Because I knew I had done you wrong. You were excited about him and I was praying I had not ruined it for you” she replied.
Without a word, June broke free of Becky’s hold and headed into the room to pack up. Becky followed.
“Please, don’t move out in anger. Where will you stay?” Becky said as she watched June putting her stuff into her boxes.
“I already got a place. Moving in right away” June replied without taking her eyes off what she was doing. Becky sighed resignedly.
June left about an hour later, refusing Becky’s offer to help her move her stuff into the car she brought. It was Dan’s, but Becky had never seen it and so didn’t know but also didn’t ask.
June moved only her personal effects, leaving behind stuff she had gotten for the house. She had not bothered with a “Goodbye”, she had simply shut the door on one occasion and Becky and heard the car start up and leave.
Becky felt terribly alone and filthy. June was right in all she had said. She looked at her phone for the umpteenth time. Still no call from Zenaide. She began to cry. Slowly she got to her knees, deciding to pray. There was no one else to turn to. She remembered the story of the thief on the cross (she’d heard he was definitely more than a common thief to have been condemned to death by crucifixion), God didn’t turn him away though he came at the last possible minute. If he was saved, then there was hope for her.
She had to put her life in order before the arrival of her child. It would take a lot to raise a child as a single parent in her particular circumstance. But before all that, she needed the strength to make it through each day.
The weekend had been quite eventful for both June and Thelma as they both went around getting stuff for the houses. Now most of the stuff were in and set up.
June, Thelma, Dan and Tari stood on the terrace at Dan and Thelma’s sipping drinks and enjoying the view.
“Real nice place, guys” Tari said. It was his first time seeing it. June had not allowed him come see her’s all the while until earlier in the afternoon. She had insisted she wanted to have it set up before she had him over.
“It was all their doing” Dan said, pointing at the ladies.
“Who was talking to you?” Tari replied making everyone laugh.
Thelma got a phone call and stepped in to take it. She returned with ashen look, got June’s attention, led her to a room and shut the door behind them.
“Cliff just called me” she said, clearly shaken.
“Cliff? How did he get this number?” June asked.
“I have no idea” Thelma said.
“Was he threatening you again?” June asked
“No. He sounded very cool. Said he didn’t want to cause me any troubles, he still loved me and could not bring himself to hurt me, bla, bla, bla, like that”
“He wants a face to face in Lagos”
“Lagos? Is he insane?”
“He asked where I was, and I lied that I was in Lagos. Didn’t want to say Abuja”
“When does he want to see you?”
“Okay. Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Yes. Should I be scared? Like could he get physical or maybe drug me or something?”
June didn’t understand why Thelma thought she knew Cliff better. In calmer times, she would have pointed out to her that she was the one who had been engaged to the guy for months. “I doubt that” she said instead.
“I need your help to convince Dan on this one. I really want to get this over with before its evident that I am pregnant. If seeing him one on one will do it, I’m all for it. And really I have a few things to say to his face” Thelma said.
“True. Best you got it over with now. I’ll speak with Dan”
“Thanks. I need to book the flight” Thelma said beginning a search for her tab.
“Let me get Dan” June said leaving.
It had taken over two hours and Tari weighing in on the matter to get Dan to agree to Thelma’s trip to see Cliff. And then another hour to get him to agree to her going alone. But he insisted on making some phone calls to guys he knew in Lagos. Someone agreed to pick up Thelma at the airport and return for her when she called. Dan made it clear to him he did not trust the creep Thelma was going to see. So they’d agreed he’d stick around inconspicuously instead, but he would need the address before hand. Better still, if she could determine the venue, he suggested a bar owned by one of his buddies on the Island.
Thelma called Cliff back and put it on speaker with all four of them listening in. She told him she would only do lunch with him if he would let her choose the venue. He agreed and she quickly gave him the name and location of the bar suggested by Dan’s friend. Cliff agreed.
“So that’s what the creep sounds like outside of a studio?” Dan asked when the call ended making them all laugh. “Ama still crack his skull when all of this is over, though” he added drawing another round of laughter.
June stepped into the building. A stream of cold air from an air conditioning unit swept across her face. It was a little darker inside. She looked around slowly while moving to get out of the light spilling in from the doorway behind her. She didn’t find what she had expected to see. A thought crossed her mind, but she immediately brushed it off “That would be the Guinness World Record for silly” she thought.
She called the attention of a lady who was dressed in a uniform, clearly a member of staff.
“Hello” June said when the lady reached her.
“Good afternoon” she replied.
“Are there tables upstairs?” she asked pointing at a winding set of stairs at the far end of the room.
“Yes” the lady replied.
“Thanks” June said with a smile and headed in the direction of the stairs. She wanted to see before she was seen, so she ascended quietly and peeked around the entrance to spot her mark before moving in. She found them. Her heart was racing now. Luckily, he had his back to the entrance. With quick strides June tried to cover the distance without tripping. Her heels sinking into the rug with each step was not helping issues.
Thelma looked up and spotted June. The surprise in her eyes was unmistakable. June had a finger to her lips asking that Thelma said nothing. She didn’t need to. The surprise she had shown could not be masked, Thelma was speechless. Cliff saw it and turned around just in time to see June pull up a third chair to their table.
“Hello, Cliff” she said with a fake grin.
“What is she doing here?” Cliff asked Thelma angrily. Thelma was still stunned and made no attempt at a reply. She just kept staring at June mouth agape.
“Awwww. Don’t be like that, darling Cliff. I am happy to see you” June said, picked up his glass and had a sip. “Hmmmm. Nice. I see you have stepped up” she said, examining the bottle of wine on the table.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Cliff said to her then, “Did you invite this bitch?” to Thelma.
“I told you never to call me that again, didn’t I?” June said, her eyes searching for and finding his car key on the table. ‘Bloody show off’ she thought, then chuckled as she recalled his look when she had dunked the key in a glass of diet coke the last time they had met.
“So, this is how you wanna play it? I thought you were serious about an amicable settlement” Cliff railed at Thelma who looked lost and scared.
“Amicable? Really? Demanding sex from her is amicable settlement in your books, yeah?” June said. The moment she had switched on her phone as her flight landed in Lagos, she’d gotten a text from Thelma:
“Been trying to reach you. He’s asking for break-up sex!”
This had made June extremely mad. She had called ahead to have her brother’s driver pick her up. The moment she found the guy, she had given him the address to the bar and told him she was 30 minutes late and they had to hurry. He had not disappointed her.
No one knew about June’s trip to Lagos. The night before, she had booked a return ticket to Lagos, called her director explaining she had a family emergency and would not be in on Monday. She had then called a guy from the studio and asked him to do some work for her urgently. They had agreed to meet at his place this morning and she had headed there at about 7am, leaving Tari at her place. She told him she was off to the studio.
Cliff was livid! “You told her?” he asked.
“Shhh! Let’s not raise our voices” June said.
Thelma made to say something but could not find the words, June gave her a look that said “Be quiet. I got this”. Thelma got the message and gave up on finding words.
“You are her puppet now?” Cliff asked Thelma with so much disdain it hurt June, but she could not be drawn off her direction. “Okay! That’s how you bitches wanna play it! You want a war, you have a war!” he said menacingly, pushed back his chair and stood.
June laughed for a bit while Cliff glared at her and Thelma looked around the room trying to call the attention of the the bulky guy with “Security” embossed on his T-shirt.
“If you leave this table until I say so, your career is over, Cliff. You think you can quote some lame lines from some cheap flick you saw then do a grand exit? You are just a silly child. Now sit down” June said with a straight face.
“Listen, bitch, I am not moved by your idle threats. I-” he suddenly stopped.
June had whipped out her iPad, tapped at it a few times, then shown him its screen. Slowly Cliff sat down.
“Good boy” June said with a fake smile, tapped the screen again then locked the device. Thelma, who had not seen the screen was wondering what had happened.
“You devil!” Cliff swore at June.
“I told you I was going to do this, didn’t I? I have taken my face out of the whole flick. Now its just you and some face-less girl having a good time. Now, listen carefully. I and Thelma are going to walk out of here and never hear from you again. You will go, quietly, back to your pointless existence, and leave us alone. I don’t want you in the same vicinity with us. You see us, you run. Or else, this” June tapped her iPad’s locked screen “will be all over the internet. Understood?” she finished.
Cliff was clearly furious but also looked quite beaten. His shoulders sagged as he stared at the iPad on the table.
June picked it up. “Come on, Love, let’s go. Wonderful men await us” she said to Thelma who rose and quickly picked up her bag.
With her left had, June was trying to slip the iPad in her bag while reaching out to Thelma with her other hand. She suddenly noticed a look of alarm on Thelma’s face. At the same moment, she felt a tug at the iPad. She swung around, quickly clasping both hands around it while Cliff tugged at it with his right hand.
“Security! Help!” Thelma screamed, dropping her bag and spilling its contents.
Cliff snatched the iPad free of June’s grip but as he turned to make for the exit, he was stopped by the security guard.
“He’s taken my iPad!” June yelled.
“Shut up!” Cliff barked at her.
“Sir, give the lady her iPad. I saw you take it from her” the guard said. By now a few other people had gathered, including Posi, Dan’s friend who’d brought Thelma as arranged.
“Fuck off” Cliff said, shoved the guard in the chest with his free hand and made to walk past. The guard grabbed him by the shoulder and twisted his arm. Instantly, the iPad and his key dropped while he howled in pain.
“Now, pick it up and hand it to her, sir” the guard said maintaining his grip on Cliff’s arm and shoulder.
In pain, Cliff did as he was told. June snatched the iPad from him and handed it to Thelma who quickly raced back with it to her bag. She understood whatever was in there was her Ace.
Thelma jerked at the sound of a loud slap. She looked away from putting her bag in order to find June standing before a restrained Cliff. His face looking very red, a pattern of a palm quite visible on one cheek.
“That’s for calling me a bitch” June said. “One last thing” she added, picked up Cliff’s key from where it had fallen, walked back to their table and dumped it in Thelma’s nearly full glass of wine.
“Noooooooooo!” Cliff yelled.
They had thanked Dan’s friend who had witnessed the altercation, got in June’s ride and left for the airport.
A few minutes of silence passed on the ride before June spoke.
She turned to find Thelma looking at her. She smiled. “You shouldn’t be drinking, you know?” she said.
“Yes…. Thanks a lot, June” Thelma stuttered. She still look quite stunned from it all.
“Its ok. I’m sure you wanna know what’s on the iPad.” She said. Thelma made no answer. She was not sure if she wanted to know. “Pass it” June asked.
Thelma gave June the iPad, June retrieved her earpiece, plugged it into the iPad, unlocked the screen, pulled up the video and handed it to Thelma.
“Hit play” she said, closed her eyes and tried to relax as the car sped along. She knew she had just committed relationship suicide.