Tari pulled up beside Dan’s car. Dan had told him he was at the house and had something to discuss with him. Tari had left the office as soon as he could get away, bought takeout and headed home. He wondered what mess Dan was in this time.
“Maybe a new baby-mama has surfaced” he said chuckling as he took the stairs to his apartment. “Or something about that Cliff business with Thelma” he added more seriously. Whatever was eating Dan up, he was about to find out. He did hope it was nothing serious.
“Sup, man?” Tari said as he unlocked the door and stepped in. Dan was at the dinning table nursing a can of beer.
“Sup?” Dan replied without as much as a glance at Tari.
Tari set his food on the table, turned around and headed off towards his room, knowing Dan would speak when he was good and ready.
“When were you going to tell me?” Dan asked.
Tari stopped. This was not about Dan after all, it was about him. He turned around and looked at this friend who had gotten up and was walking in his direction.
“Oh! You didn’t think it was any of my business?” Dan said standing one step away from Tari.
“You’ve been occupied. And so have I” Tari said, knowing exactly what Dan was talking about.
“I can’t believe you! I would have sworn you had nothing to do with Becky. You acted like she was nothing to you, while you were busy screwing her behind everyone’s back and now she is pregnant and yet not a word of it to me?” Dan poured enraged.
“What is this? The Spanish inquisition?” Tari challenged, not liking Dan’s tone one bit.
“Call it whatever you will! You are my brother, man! What you should have done is mention that something was up with you guys. No! You had to let it go on and explode and then have me hear of it from your girl? ‘The fuck’s your problem, man?” Dan shouted.
“Calm the fuck down!” Tari shouted back, then “I’m sorry I never mentioned it. It all happened out of nowhere and when it became clear it had no future, I let it go and thought that was the end of it. I was surely going to say something to you, bruv” in a calmer tone.
“Come on, man! You didn’t even like the girl, it was June you were on. And she is June’s friend. Damn! You know you are a dick-head sometimes, yeah?” Dan said pacing.
“Initially, I didn’t like her. Got to know her better and that was when things came to a head. I know I made a mess. A terrible mistake” Tari explained.
“Shit, dude! How could you do that to June? Her roommate for Pete’s sake! You fucked up!” Dan raved.
“Don’t you think I know that already? And whose side are you on anyway?” Tari said now getting angry.
“Oh? You gonna lose your cool now? You need to keep your head screwed on straight right now, bruv” Dan said pointing a finger at Tari.
“Or else?” Tari asked defiantly.
“I see you really do not care about either of them” Dan said.
“Really? And you know this how?”
“You are not exactly remorseful right now, Tari”
“Dude! You were not there when she confronted me with this. Apparently you have not been fed the full story. I have pleaded and apologised as best as I can. I have even tried to patch things up with Becky. I have taken immeasurable flak for this shit” Tari said, walked into Dan’s path, then added “And you are the last person who I expected to be getting heat from on this”
“I know I am not exactly holy, bruv, do not rub it in”.
“That’s far from my point, Dan! You are my brother, man! Stick by my side”.
“How do I do that? When you hide stuff from me”.
“I was not hiding, Sir! Maybe next time you’d like to hear my own side of stuff before you take sides with some chick you barely know”.
“She’s your girlfriend” Dan said with an awkward grin.
Tari sighed. “Yes, she is. But you barely know her” he said, tired.
“Sorry, man. I should not have come at you that way. I was just totally blown apart when I heard. Couldn’t believe it. We were just chilling last night and she just let it all out. I was stunned” Dan said, placing a hand on Tari’s shoulder.
“I should have told you. It just didn’t matter at the time” Tari said.
“It’s ok. So what you gonna do, bruv?” Dan asked returning to his beer can.
“It’s pretty well laid out. Becky wants nothing to with me, in fact, I think she’s barred my number. She also doesn’t want me asking about the pregnancy, she was very clear about that. June is willing to forgive and move on. That’s it” Tari said rubbing his temple.
“Sorry, man. These are hard times for us all.” Dan said taking a few gulps of his drinks. Then he said “Now, to the second reason I came over”.
“Awww, crap! Dan! Who are you right now? I’m bone tired and have a lot to do” Tari complained, collapsing into a sofa.
“Here” Dan said pulling two sticks of marijuana out of his chest pocket and offering Tari one. “Been a while we hit up together” he added with a grin.
Tari took it with a smile and both guys stepped out onto the terrace and lit up.
“How are you holding up?” Tari asked blowing smoke into the night air and beginning to relax.
“It’s been hard, bro. Absolutely flipping hard. Seeing your girl struggle to ditch her past and knowing you can’t abandon her, yeah? But you are also well aware that bullets could come screaming out of left field and take you both down, because of course, you are now a target of recriminations from her past” Dan said.
Tari nodded, his mind beginning to wander.
Dan went on “But, if you really do care about her, you have no choice but to stick by her side. Letting go of the past and forging ahead”. He took his phone out of his pocket and sent a message.
There was a knock on the door. Tari threw Dan a questioning look. “I’ll get it” Dan said, getting to his feet.
They were done smoking, Tari was devouring his food hungrily, stopping only for gulps of his beer. Dan was on his 3rd beer of the night and was relating to Tari some of the high points of the past couple of days on the set.
“Hi, girls” Dan said, letting June and Thelma in.
“Hello” June said giving Dan a hug that lasted a heartbeat longer than normal before heading to the dining table where Tari was.
Tari rose to greet June with a kiss. “Hmmm” she said after it “You need a shower, dear” She had caught the smell of marijuana on him.
“Yeah, right after I’m done. What’s up? You didn’t say you were coming” Tari said settling back to his meal as he looked over at Dan and Thelma who were talking in low tones at the door.
“We just thought to stop by and see what mischief you boys were up to since we were bored at home” June said smiling.
“Hi, Tari” Thelma said with a bright smile when she noticed him starring at her and Dan.
“How are you, Thelma? Looking radiant, you know?” Tari replied. There wasn’t exactly an alarm going off in his head. It was more like the electronic beep of a time-bomb slowly getting louder and quicker. ‘What the hell’s coming?’ he thought, taking a long drag on his beer can.
“Finish your food, Love” June said reassuringly. The effect was lost on Tari but he did as he was told. Quietly he ate his food while the others settled in and got talking about some upcoming award night.
June followed Tari to the kitchen when he was done. “How was your day?” she asked as Tari tossed the take-out plate and his empty beer can in the trash.
“Went well. Your’s?” he asked getting two cans from the fridge.
“It was ok” she said shaking at her head at Tari’s offer of a can beer. Tari returned one can.
“I went to Lagos yesterday. I went to help Thelma” June confessed.
“Ok? You didn’t mention that. We were together yesterday morning” Tari said.
“Yes, and I am sorry. It was something I had to do. I knew I could help her. But I didn’t want to get you all worried. She didn’t even know I would show up” June explained.
“How did that go?” Tari asked, not wanting to press the issue of her trip without even a word about it to him until over 36 hours later. It was one of those irritants that came with dating someone like her with an independent frame of mind. He could deal with it. It was better than having someone that had no mind of her own.
“Went well. Better than we expected, to be honest” she said with a weak smile.
“Ok. So we can assume it’s all over now, yeah?” he asked, feeling something was not exactly right.
“We hope” June said. “You shouldn’t drink straight out of the can” she added as he opened the can.
“You don’t sound overly optimistic. Did something go wrong? A fresh complication?” Tari asked. He took her advice and instead poured the beer in a mug.
“Not really. I did something” June said. With that, the warning beeps in Tari’s head became a continuous scream.
“Something?” Tari asked, trying to keep cool. He sipped from the mug.
“Basically, I blackmailed him” she said unable to hold his gaze.
“With?” Tari asked, left hand in his pocket, right hand holding the mug halfway to his mouth.
“A tape” she said, managing a look at him.
“A tape? Of?” he asked
“It’s a sex tape”
“Interesting,” he said, took a sip from his mug, then “how did you get hold of that?”
“It was our’s” June said staring at the kitchen floor.
“Our’s?” Tari asked, unclear as to what the pronoun meant in the context of their discussion.
“I and Cliff’s” June dropped the bombshell after a whole minute of silence.
Tari walked past her without a word. Appearing in the living room, Dan looked up at him. Looking at Dan he immediately knew he was the last in the room to hear what he had just heard. But still could not keep from asking “You knew about this?”
“Last night” Dan said, getting to his feet with both hands slightly raised in a posture of surrender. He saw Tari’s eyes ignite. “Shit” he murmured.
June walked in and got on her knees before Tari without a word. Thelma, who had advised she did just that, came to stand beside her while Tari and Dan starred at each other in silence.
Slowly Tari turned to look down at June. “You made a tape with Cliff?” he asked.
“I didn’t, he taped it without my consent” she said.
“But there is a tape?” Tari pressed.
“Yes” June said through a flood of tears. “Tari, I am sorry. This is the most shameful thing that has ever happened to me” she bawled.
“When was this? This tape. When was it made?” he asked in the coldest voice June had ever heard.
“The weekend I went to Asaba” she said after some hesitation.
Tari blinked. It hit him, that was the weekend she went for the wedding and had not spoken to him throughout her stay neither had she bothered to inform him of her return until much later. The same weekend he had slept with Becky for the first time. The weekend he had spent the past week atoning for.
There was a loud smash, Thelma jumped. June raised her hands over her head in a protective gesture.
Tari had brought the mug down on the dining table with such force that instantly shattered the mug on impact, sending porcelain shards and beer into the air.
“I’m sorry” June said looking up at Tari, who starred down at her in a mix of surprise and anger.
“Tari, you are bleeding” Thelma said, pointing at Tari’s right hand.
“Shit!” Dan said taking Tari’s hand and bringing it in for a look. The blood was dripping steadily. “Get a towel” he said in the direction of the ladies.
June leapt up and dashed into the kitchen. She returned with a small towel, she tried to take Tari’s hand, but he snatched it back making her flinch. Instead he took the towel from her and put it to the gash on the back of his palm, somewhere between the thumb and index finger.
Thelma had turned away, unable to stand the sight of blood.
“Let me clean this up” Dan said going to get a broom and mop.
Half an hour went by with Tari barely speaking, but he listened and had learned all he needed to. June had told him everything about Cliff – their past, the Asaba incident and the events that had followed and then the final one with Thelma.
Once in a while he would look over at Dan, who kept telling him in words and gestures to be calm.
“I know this is hard on you and some would have rather kept it from you so as not to rock the boat, but I am convinced this is best thing to do. I have to tell you the truth if this is going to work” June finished wiping tears off her cheeks.
“She has the only copy” Thelma said concerning the tape. They were her first words since the cut to Tari’s hand.
June got up, “I’m sorry, Tari” she said, got her bag and made for the door.
“Let Thelma drop you off” Dan said, sending Thelma a non-verbal message with his eyes.
Thelma got up, getting the message. The boys needed to be alone. “Good night, Tari. Please, have that hand taken care off tonight” she said then left with June.
“Let’s get that hand to the hospital. We’ll talk on the way” Dan said the moment the door was shut.
Tari was still quiet. There was so much running through his mind, he could not keep up.
Becky was grading scripts alone in the staff room when her phone rang. She lazily reached for it and was immediately excited to see who the caller was. She picked up.
“Hello, Zenaide” she said excited.
“Becky!” Zenaide’s voice called over the line.
“How are you?” Becky asked.
“No. How are you?” Zenaide said.
“I’m fine” Becky replied laughing.
“Glad I hear that. And Tari?”
“Please, let’s forget Tari. How is work? And your son?”
“Hmmm. Ok. All fine. How is your work and the pupils?”
“Fine too. I have decided to quit”
“Quit? Then do what?”
“Yes. I plan to teach languages to private clients. German, French or Portuguese”
“Ahhh….” Zenaide said in comprehension. Then asked “When is this?”
“In another three months. Before it’s obvious that I’m pregnant”
“Before the tummy grows?”
“Why wait if you want to leave? Why not leave now?”
“Well, for one, I need to save up some money. So staying a few more months means I earn a few more salaries. Then, also, I need give a month’s notice anyway”
“A month’s notice before you can quit?” Zenaide sounded surprised.
“Yes” Becky replied laughing. Of course, Zenaide had never had to work for anyone but her dad, so she had no idea what getting or leaving a job entailed.
“Estou entendendo” she said, then “let me think some more” after a slight pause.
“Ok, Zenaide” Becky said, a little deflated.
“You have given me new information. Let me think on them”
Tari was sipping a cup of coffee when he heard a knock at his door.
“Come in” he called, he did wish he could have said otherwise, he really wanted to be alone. The discussion, (it was more like listening, though, because Dan had done all the talking and he had simply nodded most of the time) did not do much to help clear his mind of the rampaging thoughts. Meg walked in.
“What happened to your hand?” she asked on seeing the swath of bandage around Tari’s right hand.
“Glass cut” Tari said simply. He didn’t want to talk about this.
“How come?” Meg came around his desk and stood before him, inspecting the hand.
“Kitchen accident” he lied. Didn’t she see he didn’t want to talk about it?
“Does it hurt?” she asked.
“Did you want something?” he said, stepping away and veering away from her chosen line of discussion.
“Why are you like this, Tari?” she asked sitting on the edge of his desk. His back was to her as he starred out the window. June had tried calling him severally, he’d finally picked up, barely two minutes before Meg’s entrance, and told her he was busy at work. He wasn’t,
“How?” he asked.
“You shove people out of your life. Hell! You don’t even let them in” she said
“Can we talk about why you are here, please? What’s the final itinerary now?”
“I’m sorry for you. Really I am”
He turned around, giving her a level look. She held his gaze. Why was she so bent on pestering him? “What do you want from me, Meg?”
“You know what? It’s my fault. I should not have come down here to check on your welfare. I’ll mail you your itinerary” she said, heading for the door.
“I’ll appreciate that. Kindly let me have it ASAP”
“You are going to die an angry and lonely man” she said at the door.
“Maybe. But I would have lived on my own terms” he said.
She slammed the door behind her so hard it rattled his maps.
June and Thelma settled to lunch. Their kitchen time had been uncharacteristically quiet.
“He’s not talking to me” June said dropping her fork loudly.
“Relax, Hon. Give him time to take it all in. Dan is in constant touch with him”
“It’s unfair! Didn’t I forgive him too? He got Becky pregnant and I have put that behind me. He hurt me too naa” she complained.
“See, this is Africa. Men find their ego seriously bruised when they hear such things”
“That I stepped out on him?”
“Yes…and the sex tape”
“I refuse to regret my decision. I am happy I was able to use it as a leverage to get Cliff off your back”
“And I am indebted to you for life for that alone” Thelma said. June managed to smile.
“Hush. You don’t owe me. I did the right thing”
“Yes, you did” Thelma said, rubbing June’s arm.
“Can’t wait for POP. I need to travel for a month or two” June said.
“Becky” she heard her name, she had turned instinctively before her mind had the time to process and recognise the voice. There was no need anyway, she was staring straight at Alfred.
“Hi, Alfred” she forced herself to sound pleased. There would be no room for bitterness in her life. She was building a brand new life and the past was simply a story.
“How have you been? Thought I saw you downstairs but was not certain it was you ’til I saw you here again” he said with what looked like a genuine ‘I’m glad to see you look’.
She was at the mall. She had come for ice cream, pizza and a movie. Staying home was getting quite boring since June left.
“I’ve been fine. You?” she asked genuinely. Somehow she was still curious about him. Was the change all an act or had he really cleaned up?
“I thank the Lord” he said.
“What are you doing here?” she asked
“Came to pick up a few things” he said, getting a shopping list from his pocket and showing it to her – proof that he was here on his own business and was not stalking her. She took it from him and scanned through. She shook her head smiling. The items screamed “Bachelor with no patience to cook proper meals”
“Typical you” she said handing it back to him. He laughed.
“Came shopping too?” he asked.
“No. Here to see a movie. But I’ll grab something to eat first”
“Okay. Any particular place in mind?” he asked
“Yes” she said pointing at a place ahead
“Shall we?” he asked
She looked at him for a bit, not actually weighing whether to agree or not, like he was thinking she was, but trying to assess if he was actually a changed man. He did dress and act different in their last set of encounters. “Sure” she said, leading the way.
They had shared a pizza and had ice cream, all of which he had insisted on paying for. Then they had seen the movie she wanted. When she had asked about his shopping, he had simply said “It can wait. The mall opens every day, I don’t get to see you every day” and she had thought ‘Nice’ but had said nothing.
“That was a nice flick. You’ve always had good taste in movies” he said as they walked out of the cinema hall together.
“Yeah, I saw the trailer on TV”
“Lucky you. I don’t even own a TV” he said
“Liar!” she said laughing.
“No. I’m serious. My TV went bad and I have not found the time nor need to take it in for repairs. And it’s still under warranty oh!”
“Sounds like you’ve been busy”
“Yes. Cotonou, Lagos and back here, mostly. A few deliveries to other states as well. I try to call sometimes, but you have blocked my number. I always get a busy tone. I’m also sure you don’t receive my text messages” he said as the got on the escalator.
“I’m glad business is booming” she said
“And she just side stepped it”
“Side stepped what?” she asked feigning ignorance.
“Never mind. May I drop you off?” he asked smiling.
“I’m going home”
“Let me drop you at your bus stop, please” he insisted.
The ride was pleasant. He had a Hillsong CD playing at low volume as they talked on the drive to her bus stop. She found him to be even nicer than the last time they had met. He had again, given her an invitation to come worship with them in church the next Sunday. She’d taken it but had not given her word.
“I’ll be fine at the junction” she said, seeing her turn off ahead.
“Okay” he said. “It was nice running it you today” he added as he pulled up.
“I had fun, thanks” she said
“Good night, Alfred” she said making to unlock her door, she felt him hold her arm.
“I still want to be back in your life, Becky. I’m not over you in the least bit. Maybe we just take it slow and you’ll see that I’m for real. Believe me when I say I’m still in love with you” he said
“I believe you, Alfred. But it’s a little late”
“You have someone else?”
“I’m carrying someone’s baby”.
“Ok? So, you guys are getting married soon?”
Becky laughed, “I wish it were that simple, Alfred. It’s a long story, but here’s the bottom line – I’m having a baby, by myself” she said.
“You guys broke up?”
“Kinda. It’s a long story, Alfred”.
“So, you wanna have the child? Does he want that as well?”
“It doesn’t matter what he wants, I am having the child”.
“Are you sure?”
“Alfred, you of all people know why I can’t have an abortion”
“Yes. I’m sorry. What if he comes back?”
“I’m not interested” she declared.
After a long silence, she spoke again “May I leave now, Sir?”
He smiled, “Becky, I still want you. You and your baby” he said.