FOUR YEARS AGO…
Sola Irumogbe walked into the hotel room, it was empty. She hissed in irritation, seeing he had not arrived and looked at the leather watch strapped tightly across her chubby wrist, her husband would be home at any minute and she had not gotten anything ready. She hoped and prayed that her daughter would at least prepare something before Festus got back.
She dropped her new bag with care on a nearby faded chair, tied her iro more securely around her waist and sat down on the bed. Waiting, her mind slowly went back to her childhood; her yesteryears, she could swear that if they had told her she would be cheating on her loyal husband, she would have denied it vehemently.
She remembered her home in the most pitiful slums in Lagos. Still, her mother had gone through hell and high water to send her to school while her father was the area’s drunkard. She had been teased while growing up, insulted and pushed around until she had pulled out of the clutches of poverty, she had broken the chains her parents had lived in.She had defeated the very thing she despised the most and yes, all those who mocked her now drooled with envy leaving them behind in the pit of mediocrity.
Look at her now. Who would have thought she was on the verge of the same thing she had despised her parents for? ‘A whole Sola Arebodun Irumogbe?’ Never!, Sola shouted within her, she would never go back, never be mocked and teased for anything, she would never be what her parents were.
“There must be a way out” Sola said to herself full of conviction. “There has to be a way out”. She would rather die than go back along with her husband and two girls to the pit of poverty and mediocrity. To be laughed at among her peers, those that feared her would fearlessly tread on her feet. Never!
* * *
Festus Irumogbe stared at the broken glass windowsill and smiled slowly to himself. The smile of a defeated man. He walked to the king-size bed that seemed to dominate the entire room and sat on the edge, resting his elbow on his knee and supporting the sagging chin with the cup of his palm.
What had he done to deserve this? Who had he offended? Was it God? He had cried and cried like a baby, rolled restlessly on the bed at night while his wife who was now the breadwinner of the family snored loudly beside him. Life indeed had dealt a terrible blow on him. Festus shook his head in shame; the shame of a defeat was the worst kind of shame for a once rich African man.
It all started when he had invested in a bad deal having taken a hefty loan from the bank. That was the beginning of his misfortune. Ah, had he listened to the prophet! His mind flashed back to the time of their last prayer session when he immediately ignored the warnings of the prophet. He had always been a daring man and now the lion had been tamed to a lamb.
He almost spat in self-disgust. The once rich and mighty had fallen like a great iroko tree, what would people say? Would they now laugh and mock his family? His mind was working furiously thinking of a way out, he had screamed at his friend when the investment in the South African firm had gone sour. The company was said to have folded up taking all the money he had invested into it; his friend, Chief Omotayo Ariyo had called it a pansy scheme.
Festus wiped the tear stained cheeks with the back of his hand, what would he do now? Whom would he turn too? He thought of his family who live by just the money from their mother’s business. Imabong would be off to school soon and that would mean another session of bills and school fees of the private university she attended. Thank God, Priscilla was done , left with her National Youth Service Corporation (NYSC) programme to complete.
Sola walked into the airless and dark room and let out an exasperated sigh as soon as she saw her husband staring morose into the air. She walked up to the curtains and opened them startling him from his thoughts.
“Ah Sola, when did you get in?” he asked turning to look at her
“Just now o”, his wife replied, sinking into the chair by the dressing table “I didn’t see Ima when I got in”
“She went to church,” Festus said waving his hands in dismissal.
“Have you eaten?”
“Yes, I warmed the vegetable left” he turned to look at her. “Mr Gbenga just called; the remaining investors have pulled out. I have nothing left,” he sobbed placing his face in his hands. Sola walked to her husband and rested his head on her stomach “There will be a way out, I’ll think of something. You should trust me.”
He looked at her sniffing like a child. “What are you planning, Sola?” Festus studied her under his bushy eyelashes; a shudder ran through him as a dark shadow fell across her face. He knew she slowly brewed something and this was one of those moments when he feared his wife the most.
Tunde drove into his parents’ house at the corner piece of Osborne Estate with the car his parents had presented as his birthday gift; the house seemed empty with only his father’s car parked under the shed. He parked his car and walked into the house, the door was strangely opened.
He was musing, musing over Karen again after the fight they had at her place in the morning. How many times would he have to ask her to marry him before she agreed? Why was she bent on being in his class before they could get married? Heck, he knew why. She had always felt inferior to people, having grown up in an average home. But it was not so bad, she was not suffering. She was just over ambitious.
Where was his father? His car was parked outside. The house cleaner, Margaret came out of her room quickly with a masked look of discomfort “Good afternoon oga”
“Good afternoon. Is my mum around?”, he looked round him as he spoke, wondering why the house was quiet.
“No sir, madam went to church for a meeting.”
“And dad?” Tunde caught her brief look of discomfort “where is he?”
“He is in the study”, Margaret replied hastily in a condescending tone. They looked at each other and he could tell she was uncomfortable. Margaret had been with them for long so why would she start acting formal.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes sir” she scurried away as though running from him and he watched her leave the sitting room. Tunde shrugged it off walking to the study with his mind still on Karen.
Somehow, the more steps he took closer to the door of the study the more he felt a cold tug at his heart. He could hear distinct sounds coming from the room and he placed an uncertain hand on the door knob his heart beating unsteadily in his chest.
Tunde slowly opened the door. He staggered back not prepared for what he saw.
TWO WEEKS LATER…
Tunde jolted upright from the bed; his body was slick with sweat and for a second, he tried to remember where he was, yes he was in Karen’s house. Not the study, “Karen’s house” he repeated quietly to himself.
His chest heaved unsteadily as in his mind’s eye; he kept replaying what happened two weeks ago. He could not understand why he had to be the unfortunate one to witness what he did as his eyes stayed on the sleeping body beside him.
Karen slowly got up rubbing her eyes in sleep. “What are you doing up?”
“I cannot sleep”, he replied shakily. She placed a hand on his shoulder in quiet understanding.
“Take things easy Tunde”, Karen replied gently. “This is life. Let your parents work it out, don’t get yourself involved in it”
“My mother doesn’t know” he replied, so full of pity and guilt. “I just can’t get over the shock of it, I can’t believe he would cheat on her with his best friend’s wife.”
“I’m sorry”. She kissed the smooth curve of his shoulder trying to ease his pain “Come back to bed Tunde”. Her tone was soft; it soothed his aching heart “Let me hold you for a while.”
This was why he loved her. She had a way she put his troubled mind at ease, they lay down with his head gently placed on her chest. She hummed sweetly to him until he fell asleep.
Tayo sat on the window ledge overlooking the busy roads of Ikoyi from his air-conditioned office; he gently swished the glass of burgundy in hand. He was buried in deep thought these past few weeks that everyone seemed to notice his eyes bulged from hours deprived of sleep. His wife readily believed it was stress from work, adding that he needed a vacation.
Tayo smiled, remembering Toun’s note of concern in her voice. His heart beat unsteadily waiting for the call from his assistant announcing Sola’s arrival. He had ended it the same day they were caught but it seemed she was dogmatic- though he had only just picked up one of her numerous calls after the threatening text message she sent to him. He knew she would go to his house if he did not grant her audience in his office.
Yes, she was that kind of woman, she claimed to love him but he knew she was the kind of woman who loved only herself. Sometimes, he wondered how she had stuck to his friend, Festus. Though Festus had openly cheated on her on several occasions, she herself had admitted to him on more than one occasion that she had gotten a fair share of lovers after her husband, in one of his throes of passion, had impregnated one of his flings.
He shuddered, thinking of what kind of marriage that would be and he felt a pang of guilt thinking of his faithful quiet wife at home who was innocent in all this. He thought of his children and how they would feel if they found out. Well, one of them found out and it didn’t go down well.
Tayo smiled a bit to himself thinking of his son, Tunde. Things had changed between them now. He could not even stand proud before his son and Tunde in turn shielded away from even looking at him. Damn Sola for this, damn her for getting under his skin four years ago…
The intercom shrilled interrupting his thoughts and Tayo got up, placing the receiver on his right ear. “Hello”
“Sir, Mrs Irumogbe is asking to see you.”
He took a deep breath before replying, “Send her in.”
He heard the call disconnect, placed the receiver back in its cradle and sat behind his large oak desk. He sat there staring at the door. The door finally creaked open and Sola came in, smiling benignly at him. She closed it softly behind her, not taking her eyes away from him.
He stood up not moving from his seat while she walked up to him; Going round the table to face him, she left no space between them.
She tried to kiss him but he looked away and she smiled in understanding. Sola walked back around the table and sat on a sofa, her boubou making a whisper as the ankara swept the tiled ground.
“I came to talk.”
He sat in his hair not taking his eyes off her. “I ended this a while back, if that’s why you came then I’m sorry but I’m busy.”
She laughed, a callous sound, “This is more important.”
“Does Festus know you are here?”
“Does Festus know we make love?”, she pinned him with her gaze at the direct question, making him feel a flood of guilt wash over him.
“What did you come here for?” His tone sounded weary.
She shrugged “Festus is planning to sell his company.”
“What does that have to do with us?” Tayo asked puzzled, he loosened a button from his shirt.
“It’s ‘us’ now I see?” She raised an eyebrow in amusement. Sola stared at him, seeing he was trying to maintain his composure and she almost smiled. It was very easy to control a man, which was her pride in being a woman. It was what got her to where she was.
“As I said Festus is planning to sell his company to you.”
He shook his head the minute she spoke “We won’t buy. It’s a lot of money to get that firm started up again.”
Sola laughed this time, her eyes brightened up at the challenge “Oh you would, you see Festus has been assured that you would.”
“By who?” He knew the answer before he finished his statement.
“Me of course”, Sola replied, staring at him, challenging him.
Tayo grunted. They both knew she was playing at something but he was patient. He wanted to hear it out. “That still won’t help you out of your situation” he scoffed. “I don’t think you understand the full extent of a pansy scheme.”
She smiled at him tentatively. “You seem to forget that I too am educated and unlike my ignorant husband I know what a pansy scheme means and trust me I hold the 4 aces here”.
He eyed her cautiously slowly understanding with dread what she wanted to do “What game are you playing now Sola?”
“No game at all Chief Ariyo”, Sola replied smugly. She felt her hold on him growing each minute “You see I thank God for opening your eyes to reality the day your son caught us. My pastor always says that all things work together for those that love the Lord,” she laughed, giving full effect to her words. “Your decision opened my eyes to new possibilities”
“What are you planning Sola?” Tayo replied shakily as the cold hand of fear slowly curled around his heart. “What do you want?”
“I want you to buy that company and I want a percentage of any profits you make come straight to our account. I can settle on 20% if you don’t mind.”
Tayo threw back his head in laughter. “You must be mad Sola! Raving mad!”, he sniffed trying to regain his composure. “Who gave you such an outrageous idea? I should have known you would come up with such a dull plan. You think you can sink your claws into my money, you think Festus would agree to that?”
“Leave my husband to me”, her tone was curt and she could feel her anger rising. “I’m very sorry for you, you are laughing at me? You forget I hold the cards here.”
“I think it’s high time you left Sola, I’m a very busy man and I don’t have time for your weak fantasies on how you can blackmail me into giving you money.”
“My weak fantasies?”, she repeated, “I am very serious and I give you just three days to decide.”
“What would you do if those three days are up?” He stared at her. “You would threaten to tell our families? Please get out.”
She laughed and ignored his last statement clapping her hands “So you are catching up! Yes,”, Sola replied coldly. “l would tell everyone what a husband you are! How is your wife’s health? I hope you aren’t going to give her a heart attack with her high blood pressure.”
“Are you mad Sola? You think I would sit back and watch you terrorize me?”
“I don’t think we would let it get to that”, she replied sweetly. “Think of this as a business deal and you know I don’t make idle threats. I have nothing to lose. Even if my husband hears about my unfaithfulness, he would never dare to speak but your family…” she grimaced. “The great Ariyo family…”
“You are very wicked”, he looked at her in deep hatred. “You think your plan will work? If the company has been sold, people will wonder why a percentage of the profit belongs to you”, Tayo snared.
“Not when Tunde is married to my daughter”, Sola replied calmly as his face darkened in anger.
Tayo almost jumped out of his seat with what she said. God, he wanted to kill this woman, he wanted to throttle her neck where she sat so comfortably spilling all this nonsense from her mouth. “Get out of my office”, he barked in anger “Leave my office.”
Sola slowly got up, clutching her purse. As she did, she plastered a broad smile on her thin lips gazing steadily at him. “You keep forgetting that I also know about this pansy scheme and I know it was you who set the whole thing up.”
“That is a wild allegation to make; you forget that I was also punned into it.”
“You make me laugh. It was you who set the whole thing up, you seem to forget the day you let a little of your escapade slip from your running mouth.”
“All you have are just empty words”, Tayo replied coldly.
Sola smiled. “Not when I have a flash drive to prove it. I’m sure you’d like to know when I had it with me.” He said nothing and she continued “I’m not stupid. In fact, in this whole game I’m the wisest.”
“Just get out.”
Sola walked towards the panel door leading outside his office “Three days’ time”, she laughed and walked out of the office.
Tayo sat slowly in his seat, he realized he was shaking; he was in trouble, deep trouble.