Tari picked up the phone after a slight hesitation.
“Hey, man” Dan’s voice came over the line.
“How’s it going?” Tari asked.
“Good, good. How’s work going?”
“On it. Wassap?” he asked, though he knew why Dan why was calling.
“You need cut yourself some slack, bro.”
“Yeah, once we get this project off the ground.”
“So, you coming tonight?” Dan asked. There was an event holding and Dan had gotten passes for them all. June had called him earlier too asking if he would be coming.
“No, bro. Looks like I’m going to be here for quite a while still. Got some stuff to tidy up” Tari said glancing at Zenaide’s mail on his laptop’s screen.
“Sad, man. You could use some fun tonight.”
“Yeah” Tari replied, getting tired of the phone call, he had stuff to attend to.
“Later, man” Dan said and rung off.
Tari switched windows to the documentation he had presented to the partners two weeks ago. It was this documentation that had been severely scrutinised and brought into question by someone who clearly did that at the request of Zenaide. She had then sent an email to him with everyone, including his CEO and Chief Engineer, in copy raising what she termed “slight concerns”. The best he could do, really, was to accept that most of the specifics she questioned could only be clarified when the team were on ground in Zimbabwe. But he would be damned if he didn’t send back a lengthy and elaborate email to state just that. With references and documentation to boot.
“Why is she suddenly giving me hell?” Tari asked himself.
His CEO had actually come down to his office to talk about the mail. Things were almost set for the team’s departure and the actual commencement of the company’s largest project yet. “Nothing must go wrong” he had said. To which Tari had replied by reassuring him that everything was well looked into and that he would handle the issue of the “slight concerns” today.
And so here he was with the time inching towards 9pm and he was still putting together his reply. Zenaide’s mail was an unexpected jab and it had almost thrown him off balance. He had briefly considered putting through a call to her to handle her concerns but thought that would come across as weak and begging to be let off easily. He was good at what he did and he was going to prove it to her. Beyond doubt.
“Good night, Alfred” Becky said, opened the door and got out.
“Becky” he called, exiting the car, “I mean every word I just said” he said coming around to her side of the car.
“Please, don’t come any closer” she said. He stopped in his tracks.
“B….” he said, at a loss as to what to do.
“Good night, Alfred” she repeated and walked off. The moment her back was to him, she let go and the tears rolled down her cheeks.
She walked briskly, stopping briefly to wipe her tears just before she encountered the security guards at their gate-post. She greeted them as gaily as she could and continued her walk to her flat. The moment she was in and the door secured, she crumbled against it and wept bitterly.
“Shit!” Dan said coming to a slow halt at the entrance of their estate. A sign he had never noticed before read: GATE CLOSED FROM 12:30AM – 4AM DAILY.
“What’s up?” June asked from the back seat.
“That” Dan said pointing.
“Wow!” June said.
“How come I have never noticed that?” Dan asked.
“Maybe because it’s new. It was not there yesterday, of that I am sure” Thelma said.
“This is so not cool” Dan said.
“Folks have started moving in, I’m sure it was someone’s bright idea and the rest agreed” June said.
“It’s time to start attending residents association meetings, eh?” Dan said, turning the car around. “They will hear from me on this one” he added gunning the vehicle back towards the main road.
“Where are we going?” Thelma asked putting her seatbelt back on.
“Tari’s. Can someone call him, please? Have him know we are on our way over” Dan replied.
“Still not picking up?” Dan asked as they arrived at Tari’s.
“No” June said.
If it had only been June’s number dialling Tari’s and there was no response, they would have thought maybe Tari didn’t want to talk to her, but they had used all the phones they had on them. Four in total. The result was the same – No answer.
They all got off and headed upstairs to Tari’s flat.
“Is he even home?” Thelma asked, really drowsy and needing sleep. If she could have her way, she’d sleep in the car.
“Yup” Dan said pointing at Tari’s SUV at the far end of the lot. “In any case, I have a key” Dan added as they began their ascent to the flat.
They met a cleaner on Tari’s floor. He and Dan exchanged pleasantries.
“My guy dey?” Dan asked the man.
“E be like. Because I see when e come” he replied stopping his mopping.
“Which time?” Dan asked.
“Kai! Maybe that kind after 11” the man replied.
“Ok, thank you” Dan said, then knocked on the door.
A few more knocks went unanswered and everyone, including the cleaner was getting concerned. Dan decided to use his key. He really didn’t want to violate Tari’s privacy, but he had no choice at this point. Having Thelma and June with him didn’t make things any easier. He had no idea what lay beyond the door tonight. Hopefully it would be a solidly exhausted Tari snoozing comfortably in bed. Alone.
He opened the door. The TV was on, a science station was showing, all lights were off making the TV the sole source of light in the house.
Dan turned on the light. Tari lay on the couch. Motionless.
He ushered the ladies in, thanked the janitor and shut the door. “He’s asleep” he said.
June walked over to Tari and felt his forehead, it was cool. The whole house was cool. The air conditioner was running at high. She looked down beside her feet. There, beside the couch, was a nearly empty bottle of cognac. She picked it up as she looked across the room at Dan who was holding the cork to his nose. He smiled at her.
“You think he drank it all?” June asked holding the bottle up. Dan shrugged.
“I don’t see any glasses” Thelma said, settling in a couch.
“That’s a lot” June said, put the bottle aside, then began trying to wake Tari. “Babe” she said tapping his shoulder. He was fully dressed aside from his shoes which were beside the couch on which he lay.
“Where is his phone, though?” Dan said coming over to where Tari lay. He spotted the car keys on the stool, but no phone. He went into Tari’s room to continue his hunt.
“Leave me alone! I don’t need your help!” Dan heard Tari’s drunken drawl from the room. He came out to find Tari extricating himself from June’s arms.
“Hey, bro” Dan said.
“Wassap?” Tari said to him, struggling for balance.
“Our gate was locked by the time we got there. We thought we’d crash here, if that’s ok with you” Dan said.
Tari only looked at the ladies, said nothing and started towards his room’s door where Dan stood.
“Where is your phone?” Dan asked. Tari pointed to the stool which held only the keys. Apparently, he believed he had placed it there with the keys, but of course that was not the case. Dan let it slide for now, knowing the search would resume in earnest when Tari was lucid.
Dan moved up to Tari, put one hand around Tari’s waist, then with the other took Tari’s hand and put it over his shoulder. Well supported, Tari made the walk to his bed without incident.
“Thanks, man” Tari said dragging a pillow under his head.
Dan turned around without a word and walked past June who stood at the door. He’d not seen Tari this drunk in years. The last such event was when they had celebrated new year’s in the Gambia and they had had a little too much of some local brew. “You guys, crash in the other room, I’ll crash here” he said, sitting on the couch Tari had just vacated, beginning to take his shoes off.
“Did you hear him yelling at me?” June asked Dan. Thelma had immediately gone into the other room to get some sleep.
“He’s drunk. He’s not himself” Dan defended, turning off the TV.
“What’s that they say about alcohol removing inhibitions and making people actually show their true feelings and nature?”
Dan laughed, recalling a few drunken men and women he had seen. In his line of work, he saw quite a number often. “That’s crap. Alcohol makes you plain stupid. Gives you bad judgement. That’s the science of it” he said, stretching out on the couch.
“Okay. Because, honestly, I am getting a little tired of his attitude of late. Don’t know how much more I can take before I react in an unpleasant way” June said then left.
June stirred some sugar into her coffee, she had brewed a kettle knowing Tari would need it when he got up. Dan and Thelma had left at about past 6am, but she’d opted to stay behind. She had then begged off work, but had promised to take the all-night show as penance. The lady on duty had called to thank her. She knew getting full-time employment at the station when she was done with her NYSC would be a breeze, for she had cultivated a lot of friendship and goodwill. She was not about the money – the pay the others on her level earned was really nothing to her, but she knew being an OAP was what she wanted to do.
Nearly all of her NYSC allowance went towards making the Powers-That-Be at her place of assignment happy. That way, they turned blind eyes to her constant absence at the school she was posted to serve at.
She had just turned on the TV and switched to an entertainment channel when Tari walked into the living room in a pair of boxer shorts.
“Good morning” June greeted
“June” Tari said surprised.
“There’s coffee on the table” she said pointing at the dining table.
“Thanks. Good morning” he said heading straight for the kettle of coffee, it was actually what had brought him out of bed.
“Do you remember anything from last night?” June asked.
“Why?” Tari asked.
“You are surprised to see me here, yet we talked last night. I, Dan and Thelma spent the night here with your permission”
Tari groaned slightly as the coffee scalded his tongue.
“You want to tell me what’s eating you up, Tari?” June asked getting up and heading in his direction.
“Eating me up?” Tari replied.
“Yes. What else would make you drink yourself into such a state?”
“What sort of state, June?” Tari said, pulling out a dinning chair and settling in.
“The type we met you in last night”
“Maybe I was just having me a good time. Did you think of that?”
“Really? You nearly emptied a whole bottle of cognac.”
“It was a half bottle.”
“Thanks mum, I won’t do that again” Tari mocked.
“That’s not even funny.”
“It wasn’t meant to be.”
“Do you hate me, Tari?” she blurted after an awkward silence.
He carefully put his cup down. “Why would you think that?” he asked.
“That’s not love I see in your eyes” she said
Tari laughed, then said “Really, now, June?”
“I need to know what’s up with us. Since you learned about the whole sex tape thing, you have been cold, distant and emotionally unavailable.”
“That’s a nice good heap of accusation you have there.”
“Don’t be silly, Tari. I’m serious here.”
“Silly?” he said, eyes narrowing
“I’m sorry I said that. I just need to know if you have forgiven me and that we are moving on.”
He sipped his coffee. “I need time to process it all. Right now, I have to get to work. Have you seen my phone anywhere?” he said rising to his feet and heading into the kitchen with his cup.
“How much time, Tari?” June called after him.
He reappeared “I don’t know, June. This is uncharted territory for me” he said, heading to his room.
“I forgave you, Tari!” June said.
He reappeared after about a minute, dressed in a pair of shorts and T-shirt, “Yes. I sinned. I don’t need a reminder” he said, picked up his keys and headed for the exit.
“Are you leaving me here?”
“Searching for my phone” he said, stepped out and shut the door behind him.
June sighed then blinked hard repeatedly. No, she was not going to cry.
Tari found his phone in the cup holder in between the front seats of his SUV. He woke up the screen “18 missed calls” starred back at him.
Quickly he went through them. Most were from Dan, June and Thelma. A few he didn’t know and 3 from work. He was late, they were already looking for him, but he couldn’t be bothered. He’d left the office at 11pm last night, he deserved some slack. He checked his mail and just as he had guessed, Zenaide had replied, still with all the top guns on copy. She stated that she was partially satisfied and that she would like to go over some other specifics when the team arrived.
“Partially?” Tari said. He swore for about 15 seconds then added “What does she even know?” He stepped out of the vehicle, locked it and headed back to his apartment where June awaited him with all her drama. Whatever it was June was up to, Tari didn’t think her timing was great in the least bit.
June looked up as Tari walked in, phone in hand, “You found it” she said.
“In the car” he replied, “Aren’t you supposed to be at work?” he asked.
“Tonight” she replied. She didn’t think it necessary to say she had begged off work and why.
“Ok, I need hit the bath and get to work” he said heading for his room.
“Tari” she called rising to her feet. He stopped and turned to face her.
“Whatever you really want to say to me, please, go ahead. I need to hear it now. Don’t spare me the truth under the guise of sparing me hurt” she said.
“I have nothing I need to tell you.”
“Are we cool, Tari? Can we move on?”
“I need time.”
“Whatever, you decide I’m cool with it” she pressed.
“June, I need time!” he stressed.
“Okay” she said, unplugged her phone that had been charging and left.
Tari locked the door after her and headed to the bathroom.
June was in a cab heading home. She placed a call to Thelma.
“Hi, Thelma” she said when the line connected.
“Babe, what’s up?” Thelma said over the phone.
“I’ll be home in a bit, will freshen up, then I want us to go shopping. Are you open?”
“A car shop.”
Becky flushed the toilet. She had just thrown up.
“Actually following through on this is not going to be easy” she said to herself as she steadied herself with the sink.
It had been exactly a week since Alfred had proposed to her again, if she could call it that. It still felt like it was yesterday. She had to try hard to not hate him for what he had done. He could say whatever he liked now, as if those declarations were easy to accept and live by.
Zenaide had been quiet. But she expected her to call anytime soon. The thought had hardly left her mind when she heard her phone ring, she got to it in time, it was Zenaide.
“Good morning, Zenaide. Was just thinking about you” Becky said.
Zenaide laughed heartily, then asked “About me?”
“Yes. Haven’t heard from you in a bit” Becky replied.
“I was busy. Now at the office but have news for you, so I called”
“Oh? News?” Becky asked sitting on the edge of her bed. It used to be June’s side.
“Yes. I have prepared documents and I will be sending them to you today. I want you to come live with me in my place till you have baby.”
Becky screamed excitedly making Zenaide laugh even more. “Really?” she finally managed to ask.
“Yes. Unless you don’t like” Zenaide said
“Of course I’ll like that! When do you want me to come?” Becky said excitedly.
“As soon as you can. You will get the invitation soon. Everything has been arranged, but you need apply for a visa.”
“Hmmm” Becky said, she realised her friend had been busy on this for a while. “And you want me to stay till I have my baby?” she asked.
It had been over a month he had been here.
It still looked the same, he however hoped the outcome would be different this time. He parked in front of the apartment and got off. He had spoken to his aunt and she had assured him it was the right thing to do “even if she acts otherwise, a woman carrying your baby would like to know where you are. You can’t just leave the country indefinitely without at least letting her know” she had said.
Last night he had invited June over to tell her he was leaving in two days, for one. She had turned up in a Honda CRV which he had noticed when he walked her downstairs. He’d asked and she’d said she got it a week ago. He let it slide, there was no point asking why she never mentioned it, since he had asked, about half an hour prior, that they put an end to their relationship. They were not doing well in the same city, obviously it would not survive with them living on different coasts of the continent. He explained he didn’t see the point in tying her down with their commitment.
She had simply said “Thank you and have a safe trip”, picked up her bag and made for the door. At which point he had offered to drop her off and she had told him she drove down. So he had decided to walk her to the car lot.
Tari walked up to the door and knocked with his free hand. In the other he carried a box of chocolate and something the lady at the store had suggested when he had told her he needed to buy a gift for an expecting mother. It was some milk for pregnant women, he had never heard of it.
The door opened, a young lady stood before him.
A little confused, he said nothing until she said “Hi. How may I help you?”
“Good evening. Is Becky home?” he asked noticing she was in shorts and a white T-shirt, but bare feet. She was pretty.
“Becky?” the lady asked with a questioning look.
“Yes, the -” he was saying.
“Oh! The former occupant? She left” she cut in.
“Left?” he asked.
“Yes. She quit. She no longer works here at the school” the lady explained.
“I see” Tari said, “Any idea where she is now?”
“No, I’m sorry. But maybe I could ask the other teachers, who have been here a while, on your behalf. I only resumed yesterday” she replied
“I -” he was saying.
“You could, maybe call her?” she suggested
“She blocked me” he said simply, then, “Thank you for your time” as he made to leave.
“You could try from another number” she said sticking out a hand with her phone in it.
Tari thought about it a bit, then took the phone from her. He had to hand her the bag to hold for him while he got his phone to retrieve Becky’s number. He dialled and got a network response – the number was unavailable.
“Unavailable” he said handing back her phone, “Thanks” he added as she took it with a sad smile.
“Maybe if you could come around tomorrow, I’ll have some information for you” she said beginning to pass the bag back to him.
“I’m leaving in the morning” he said “You can keep that. Please, help trash whatever is of no value to you” he added.
“Thanks” she said with a much brighter smile, “My name is Martha” she added.
“I’m Tari. Thank you for your help” he said and walked back to his car. He was sadder than he could ever remember. He would tell his aunt how it had gone here today. He’d done his best.
At that same moment in a high brow residential apparent complex in Maputo, Becky stretched and turned towards Zenaide’s voice.
“Welcome” she said.
“You were sleeping?” Zenaide asked
“Yes, got tired of TV. Nothing to do” Becky complained.
“Good. I don’t want you to do anything. If you need anything -”
“Call Joan! I know.” Becky cut in and they both got laughing.
Becky was finding it hard adjusting to the life. She was staying in Zenaide’s 5-bedroom duplex. Everything, from her meals to her laundry, bed making, every sort of chore, was taken care of by staff. She had a car and driver to take her around whenever she wanted to go anywhere. It was the life of a princess. Best of all was the opportunity to start afresh, leaving all the baggage behind. Zenaide had been talking about getting her a job after the baby comes and working on her immigration status. It was all like a dream.
She was reminded of a verse she had read on the flight over, her first international flight ever, Psalms 126:1
“…When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed.”
“Very apt” she thought.
“Let’s go shopping, you’ll need some new clothes. Your belly is growing” Zenaide teased, breaking her reverie before leaving her.
“God, please, Bless her for me” Becky murmured.
June looked at Thelma who was trying really hard to be supportive. “Poor little thing”, she thought.
Thelma had not asked for any of this. She had simply followed her desires for Cliff and then Dan, one thing had led to another and then their paths had crossed and all of this had happened.
“I know I did the right thing, but Thelma, I’m hurting” she said.
“I know, dear. It will pass. Come and eat something at least. You’ve hardly and anything to eat since monday night. Ehn! And its almost 7:30, tuesday evening” Thelma said.
June turned away, burying her face in her pillow as fresh tears began to pour.
Tari touched foot on Mozambican earth. The tarred grounds of TQ’s private hangar. There was a huge clock across the hanger, over a small office. He looked at his watch, then adjusted it to reflect the correct time.
He smiled when he saw Zenaide and two other guys in dark suits, they looked like assistants. She didn’t seem to notice his smile, she wore a straight face. He could hear the excited chatter of his underlings behind him as they all disembarked from the private jet that had brought them from Abuja, stopping once for refuelling in Addis Ababa.
“Hello, Tari. Hello, Sir, Hello, guys” Zenaide said as the party reached her. They all responded with varying greetings.
The assistants kicked into action, ushering them all, except Tari, into a waiting bus. Another bus had pulled up near the craft to get their luggage.
“You ride with me” Zenaide said as a BMW 750i inched towards them.
“Nice ride” Tari said, trying to break the ice.
“A gift. By my son’s father” she replied as she climbed in.
He went around and got in on the other side, trying hard to recall if she had ever mentioned anything about a child in previous conversations. He came up with a blank.
“I hate liars” Zenaide suddenly said, a few minutes into the ride.
“Pardon me?” Tari said. His mind switched to overdrive, trying to go through anything of consequence they had both discussed. His words were only to buy him time and give her an opportunity to clarify.
“I don’t like working with people who lie to me” Zenaide reaffirmed.
“Everything I presented was -” he was saying.
“Not your work! Becky!” Zenaide said, doing all she could to keep from screaming at him.
“Becky?” Tari asked, now in a completely confused state.
“Yes. You said you had nothing for her” she said.
“I don’t understand”
“But she carries your baby!” she dropped the bomb.
“She….she told you?” Tari managed after a full minute of silence.
Dinner had just been served. Zenaide, her son and Becky sat around the table.
“He’s around” Zenaide said after Garritt, Zenaide’s adorable son, had blessed the food in Portuguese.
“Your man?” Becky asked thinking she spoke of her son’s dad.
“Yours” Zenaide replied.
Becky dropped her fork. “Where?” she asked agitated.
“Be relaxed. He is not here. At his villa. They come from Nigeria today” Zenaide explained.
“Ok” Becky said, a little less tense.
“We spoke for long. He is sorry and would like to visit you.”
“No. I don’t want to see him.”
“Sem problemas” Zenaide said.
It was almost 5 weeks since they arrived. The past 21 days had been spent off the coast working dawn to dusk. Tari heaved a sigh of relief as the boat docked. The weather was getting bad and he was glad they had made it to the safety of land before it got worse. A bus was waiting to take them to their villa in town.
Every week since his arrival and talk with Zenaide, he had called/mailed/texted her, whichever he could, pleading to be allowed to visit and at least see Becky. She had assured him, often, that she was trying hard to convince her.
Finally, the day had come. He was not going to get his hopes up, he would simply keep his expectations low – get to see and speak with her. That would be enough. Being offshore, seeing the vastness and raw force of nature, completely aware of how puny he was in the grand scheme of things, he had spent many nights thinking and had come to realise he didn’t want to permanently damage his life by a making a decision he would always wish he could undo.
At the villa, he took a shower and dressed up quickly. He found a taxi and in his near-fluent Portuguese asked to be taken to a store. There he picked up a book on pregnancy and a box of chocolate for Becky, then a bottle of wine for Zenaide. He got the items wrapped, hopped on a cab and gave the driver Zenaide’s address.
“Hello, Tari. Você olhar bem” Zenaide said, as they hugged each other.
“Você também” he replied as she showed him to a seat. He handed her the gifts which a staff took from her and disappeared. “Thanks for having me” he added.
“Your guest is here” Joan said to Becky, who stood before a mirror.
“In a minute” Becky managed. She looked herself over once more. Her tommy was bulging and she had added weight. Zenaide had said she had to start using the exercise equipment soon. Becky kept procrastinating.
She tried to maintain her calm as she descended the stairs and Tari’s voice floated up to her. In a few seconds they were face to face.
“Hello, Becky” Tari said, rising to his feet.
“Hi, Tari” she said, making her way to a seat beside Zenaide.
“Tari bring us wine and chocolate and a good book for you. Now I need to look in the kitchen” Zenaide said with a wink leaving them. Becky wondered why she was always so mischievous.
Tari smiled, “How have you been?” he asked
“Been well” she said.
An hour later, they had an early dinner, just the two of them. Over which Becky learned Tari had broken things off with June a few days to his departure and how he had gone looking for her at the school flat. He said he needed to start afresh. He thought he had also lost her and the child. He said he had learned his lessons. He reminded her how he had no one but an Aunt and he really didn’t want to continue that way.
“I want my own family. My own home. A place of love and trust. A rock” he said starring into her eyes.
She looked away. “Why are you telling me all this?” she asked moving a grape seed around in her otherwise empty fruit bowl with her fork.
“Because, Becky, I want to start that family with you. You both. You and my child. I want you both. I need you both. I have never fancied myself a family man, but with you, I want it all – the house with the white picket fence, a garden, kids running around and a seesaw for them, …everything, Becky. So long as you are in the picture, I’ll die a happy man” he poured.
The picture he painted made Becky smile, but she killed it before she turned to look at him. His gaze was fixed earnestly on her. “Why me, Tari?” she asked.
“Because I have fallen in love with you and want to spend the rest of my days with you” he said.
Becky already saw that coming, but it still made her heart skip a beat. Her feelings were not enough to go by anymore. She had learned her lesson.
“I have heard you, Tari. Let’s see how you feel about it all after the baby comes” she said with a faint smile. Then raising her voice she called Joan. She rose to her feet as Joan appeared, “Kindly show Mr. Whiteriver to my car. Have Ernest drop him off wherever he’s going” she instructed her in Portuguese. With that, she ascended the stairs leaving him to watch her go.