A hasty pocket of wind wafted in through the blinds of the single suite Angela checked in to the previous night just as she opened them. It carried with it the strong smell of bougainvillea that ran around the hotel building, every square foot around its foot. She’d cleared her schedule for the day. Her boyfriend would soon stop by to pick her up. He had tried all he could to conceal it, but it surely was obvious by now; I mean, if Janet could guess at it properly, then it wasn’t very good concealment to start with. He didn’t know she knew though. It was her fortieth birthday, and as well would be the first time anyone would refer to her as ‘fiancée’ by the end of the day. After today, Kike would’ve started referring to her as ‘Tope’s Property’. She never agreed to being owned by any standard, Kike, marital or otherwise.
“How are you enjoying Calabar?” the concierge asked. Tope had pulled up with the company car. How did the concierge know this was her first time? “You said so, last night, after you made a remark on our excessive use of bougainvillea…that it was your first time, I mean.” After that quick addition spared her a scare, Tope was in her arms. They had met on facebook. He made her believe that people can actually fall in love on social media.
“You know I know you keep stealing my lotion, Angela.” Kike kicked her in the butt while chatting with a hot senior soon to go to college on facebook on her mobile. “They smell so nice,” Angela replied. “It’s called bougainvillea. It’s a common shrub.” Kike was the know-it-all, Angela was the one to keep reminding her she was. “Flower,” Angela corrected. “Shrub,” Kike went again. And on and on they went till they both fell asleep on top of each other’s pillows, wearing matching striped black and yellow jeggings, black and yellow panties, and a black crop top. The man representing the ad agency by the other side of their laptop screen came back on to tell them they’ve got the gig, and then found them asleep. He mailed them immediately.
Tope had convinced Angela to try some Chinese once in Calabar. Angela had insisted on local dishes instead. So, they met each other halfway, doing both. Tope kept readjusting the inside pocket of his jet black blazers that matched the mountain of hair sitting on top of his mountainous figure like an island that had lost its way. She knew it was the ring. It just was. They were at an open delicatessen overlooking a surprisingly well-groomed golf course that weaved its way into the compound space of the infamous Le Meridien Hotels. He was stuffing. Like, badly. A nice-mannered elderly-statesman-looking gentleman wearing an off-putting trilby walked up to them and explained how the food should be eaten. Angela noticed he was dark-skinned and had a flat nose and thick lips like an African, but was more Mongoloid instead. No, it was not sushi. It had a name she could not pronounce, so did the insignia on his shirt. Under the insignia though was something she was sure was the translation to the unreadable Cantonese words that came after: “more work never hurt.” He owned the deli, she later affirmed.
“Does his shirt really say, ‘more work never hurt’?” Kike almost screamed at Angela, wondering exactly what the work ethics of the agency was. The lounging room was way too loud for human beings. Angela was getting a headache, and this was bad. As much as Kike was the know-it-all, Angela it was who was the nerd. She had further mathematics mock exams the next day. She was one of five people writing the subject in the upcoming WAEC. A hundred and two had shied away from it. “How much do you think they pay per scene?” Kike turned to Angela whose attention returned from Pascal’s Triangles. Kike’s feet were restless. Kike was restless; the question, asked the tenth time, was to ease tension. They had both psyched themselves up, and gone ahead to sign up, so if anything went sideways, they could blame no one. They had both played their parts efficiently. Too efficiently it would seem, because the customer rep for the agency—the one with the shirt—returned to announce that ‘Tata Lozenge’ and ‘Nani Silver’ were the only girls hired. Part of the NDA they signed included that they had the option to use and stick to aliases. They did, obviously.
Angela had started getting a little bit impatient with Tope. He had taken the entire day off to woo his girl. What he didn’t realize is that you can woo someone nine, ten times too many. All her focus was on the ring. How lucky she was, to get a chance at love again, after so many years. She was sure she’d entirely forgotten how to have sex. Oh, how she used to enjoy sex. Now, that is all she could remember of it, the fact that she used to enjoy it, and not the enjoyment itself. If she was asked to scream ‘I do’ right there and now, she would, in a heartbeat. Tope was her miracle. Her miracle, however, seemed to be more interested in scavenger hunting across Calabar and dragging her along. They were in the fourth place that evening. A shack-looking fast-food-looking day club owned by his friend, who had a weird love for board games, so much that the topiary decorating the outdoors, and the tapestry on the walls were all variations of popular and unpopular board games.
She had challenged Tope to a game of scrabble once. She had totally forgotten about it. In front of them, Tope had played a premium in his sixth move and spelt ‘beloved’. She was about playing ‘early’ under ‘d’, wondering if it was too much of a clue telling him she knew about his intended proposal, when she looked at a tapestry resembling a scrabble board right behind him and noticed the letters running across the centre of the board was just one letter more of a horrible memory of a horrible place. A memory that has surfaced twice today since that early morning bougainvillea. A memory that had taken her ten years to shelve and move on from. It’s chosen the worst of days to pop up again.
Cora House. Where Girl Power Rules. “Hi, I’m Janet,” Janet greeted when Kike and Angela met her the next day after the auditions. Usually, nubile scenes were given to amateurs during their first shoot, but Peter—the customer rep guy for Cora House Agency—had said there was something special about Tata and Nani. They had this uncanny connection and wild side most girls don’t have. Peter had paired them up with Janet and had assured them they’d not have to do anything they were not comfortable with. “Janet has been with us since the programme started two weeks ago. She’ll help you get comfortable for the next three weeks of the programme. You guys should have your margaritas, or shisha, whichever you prefer, and then make me look sexy filming you act sexy, okay?” Peter, with his potbelly, messy afro and endless changes of polos was nice and caring. He didn’t look, sound, or act, as mean and rough as his manager. There were whispers among the other girls undergoing the programme that he was a male talent too. Their chief overarching agency was in Miami, and they paid only in dollars. College was set for Kike and Angela.
“That was the first time a girl got me wet.” “What?” “Huh? S-s-orry, nothing.” She must have thought out loud. She played ‘et’ under the ‘w’ of his ‘wed’ though. Then asked to be excused and got up without waiting for a reply. She needed to get a grip on herself. The last time she had allowed herself go down memory lane this much, she’d been hit by a massive wave of panic attack. It was all trying to crawl back out into the surface again, the entire thing. She slapped the image of Janet’s tongue out of her head. Janet was reformed now. She was her only friend now. The only one who was there to comfort her when the escape went sorely sour. Returning to the table, Angela was met with Tope’s scowl, a thousand eyes on her, and a scrabble board with a shiny ring right at its centre. The words across the board in three concurrent lines read, “Beloved, let’s wed.” That was what it read before she left for the powder room. How insensitive and confusing that must’ve been for Tope.
She was taken aback. Yes, she’d expected it all day, but trust Tope to give a delivery that surpasses your best expectations, and predictions. “But, I was so sure,” he almost cried, sputtering. “What?” then realization hit her. She had to correct the impression. “No. Yes. I mean, yes. No, I wasn’t saying ‘no’ by running away. I didn’t run awa—I only we—yes. Yes, I’ll marry you.” He rushed in to kiss her and she was glad her embarrassing stuttering was over. The sense of relief was replaced with a renewed sense of worry.
Their deal at meeting two years ago was that she wouldn’t put out until he put a ring on it. They were headed to his place. He’d checked her out of the hotel, and had her things moved to his loft. He just knew she’d say yes. The driver of the company car that had been chauffeuring them around town seemed to love metal rock music a lot. Very disturbing music taste, especially for a Nigerian, Angela thought. Her nerdy curiosity came over her again. “Who’s singing? . . or rather, making rhythmic noise?” “Easy, Angela,” Tope begged. The driver didn’t seem to take an affront. “Rammstein,” he replied. And once again, another memory.
There was a large room in the middle of Cora House. Every night, most of the girls would gather there and share what their experiences were like, and the things they’d tried for the first time. Many of them started off shy, even a number of them hadn’t ever had sex before. None was above eighteen. Now, their testimonies were of how different it felt to use teeth than lips, or how much lube one used to ‘relax the sphincter’, or where they imagined the concept of a golden shower came from. These nights sometimes led to further experimentation. They were being filmed twenty-four seven, and that annoying blare of electric guitar playing inconsistent riffs had become music to their ears. “Imagine what it would feel like boning Rammstein,” one girl had expressed. “Who’s Rammstein?” a rather daft-looking minor—possibly not up to thirteen—asked. “That music you’re hearing? He’s the voice singing,” Kike Know-It-All replied her sarcastically. Angela slapped her as reprimand. “If she was mature enough to be here, she should be mature enough to take hurtful sarcasm,” Kike whispered back. The manager of the agency had announced the previous day that their viewers had so loved their performances that they were all going to Miami the next day, “for a fuller bouquet,” he said. They were to pack up their things first thing on the morrow.
“Segun loves corals?” Angela asked, taking her dinner dress off in an adjoining guest room to the parlour. Segun was Tope’s friend who owned the shack—a very craggy-looking light-voiced fellow, bearing a layered accent of dozens. “Coral is his wife’s name, honeypie.” Tope attempting to sound sweet was too cheesy, for Tope. “Why?” he inquired. “It’s a strange name, is all.” More disturbing than strange what it reminded her of. The pain in those memories. There was glitter from a black sequin of her cashmere one-armed Schiaparelli dress by her eyes. She reached for the sink and turned. The water soothed and washed away the spot, damaging her foundation in the process. She decides to wash it all off, her makeup. The mirror on the door of the cabinet above the sink drew the bathroom into perspective, everything in it. It did more. It showed how crystal clear the water running from her fake eyelashes down her cheek were. Her small almond-shaped eyes, small nose, gapped front tooth, and magnified dimples—features Tope maintains accentuated her beautiful smile—were all hidden one way or the other by the multi-layered masking perfected on her face that morning. By her lips, the water trailed red lip gloss. Her face was messy. She’d need more time to prepare herself. Tope must be down to his boxer shorts by now, or even completely nude. The thought excited her. The trailing red by her lips washed away that excitement in an instant. Kike. The beach. Pulmonary oedema. There was water everywhere. There was blood as well.
A full year had gone by since Janet, Angela, Gift and Amara left Kike behind. A full year Angela had stared at the money they’d done away with, her cut, hidden in a box, under the wooden flooring of her new Lagos apartment. Her parents had rejected her in toto. As far as she was concerned, parents that could misjudge their child’s character as much as they did hers weren’t worth being one. They had offered money for her to start up life elsewhere. She threw it on the ground, spit on it, and left Jos for good. It was her first day attending Afe Babalola University. Ekiti State was not so far from Lagos, but it was far enough to offer a fresh start to life, she hoped. Social media, it’s where it all started. A disguised facebook ad, a porn site, a facebook video chat, an email, free transport fare, fake names, lasciviousness in ways beyond count, realization that the agency was a child trafficking front, the travels, Miami and back, the promise of Bali, no cash yet, the harsher treatments, the more laborious tasks, the crying, morning, day, night, the lashing, the extra security, the guns, the knives, the decapitated head everyone was told to walk by and ignore, cigar smokes, raves, gangbangs, constantly reduced healthcare, Peculiar disappearing, then Omolola, the new girls from…was that Papua New Guinea? Or Comoros?…Angela’s broken lips, front teeth gapped permanently hereafter, Janet’s secret rebellion, Kike bringing Angela in, the plan, the perfected plan, the apple for the escape.
Social media came at Angela again on her way to GST 101 class that first day. The pictures were everywhere: Kike, one year after being left behind, swept by water waves by the shore of Elegushi Beach, found by a lifeguard. Her body and torn cloth remnants now were island to clams, sea urchins, corals, plankton, sea weed. She was inflated like a balloon. Post-mortem autopsy said she’d been that way for about three months. Died of pulmonary oedema caused by drowning. She wasn’t buried. Her people only had a wake done after the discovery. Angela never was able to bring herself ten feet close to her friend’s body, even though she followed the story in person from beach to morgue to incinerator.
Tope pushed Angela’s hands apart with his. He did the same with his legs. She was spread-eagled. The mixed taste of Gan guo, nkwobi, strawberry slushy, and bitter cola had spread from both their mouths to their faces, down their necks, and further down. He kissed her more, nibbling at her twins one after the other. It was slightly ticklish, but more arousing. She arched her back the moment he got to her navel. It was the first time in years she remembered it was an erogenous spot. His hands found her pelvis, putting slight pressure on the slope with his palms and doing a number of things to her with his fingers. His other hand slid from midriff to chest and back. His teeth, caressing gently at first, replaced his fingers. She was in a world of pleasure-pain, the kind that left unchecked, would make any woman erupt in seconds. She didn’t want to. Not yet. He wasn’t flaccid, but she could tell he needed attention. She flipped him and came on top, surprised at her own strength. He didn’t seem too pleased with the rapid change in pace, but meeting eyes with her, nodded an acknowledgement. Her hands took the form of a scissors. She didn’t know why. Muscle memory, maybe. One was clutching at his throat, the other at his manhood. She squeezed harder on both ends. He began to cough a little, but she didn’t stop. Tope’s reactions went from surprised to worried, to afraid. His fiancée, her mind, was somewhere else. He’d noticed it several times today. He meant to ask her what’s going on, but needed the sexual tension between them abated first. It would appear now that whatever had got her all riled up followed her to bed too. Her clutch at his throat shifted from entire neck to Adam’s apple, and he had a protruding one. He protested. And then when he couldn’t take the pain anymore, began thrashing around the bed. It was becoming nightmarish too quickly.
“Who knows if that’s why he loves apples so much?” “That can’t be it.” “I don’t know. I thought it was you who sabi everything.” “All I know is that Peter loves apples so much that if you handed him a bunch and seduced him well enough, he’ll be distracted, and we’ll take the key.” “Okay, but why does Kike have to do the seduction? She’s got even less breast and ass than Amara. No offense, Amara.” “Plenty taken, but go on.” “Yes, why me?” “Are you serious right now? Peter fancies you more than all of us. He has since day one. That’s why he chose you for this. His ‘Tata’, he calls you.” “Okay, okay. I’ll do it. Wish me luck, girlfriend.” Angela had a bad feeling about this.
The plan had been moved up. The guards were returning an hour earlier. Kike was still with Peter. The rest had run. Janet and Angela stayed back to figure out how to get Kike out without spooking Peter. They’d release the bulldog at the kennel and make a run for it. The wild thing would come straight for Peter and he’d have to get it under control. They did. They ran. Reaching Peter, Kike was not there. Neither was Peter for that matter. She’d realized their plan, she was going for the exit already. Angela was so sure. Only one person in that house used lotion that smelled of bougainvillea. How glad Angela was that she knew that word right now. They made for the exit, Angela and Janet. They ran until they were sure they were completely out of sight. The rest of the girls came out of their hiding places. Where was Kike? Where was Kike? Angela tugged and dragged at them all.
“Where’s Kike? Where the hell is Kike?” “Ang—el—who’s Ki—Kike?” Tope choked and gagged and coughed. Angela realized what she’d done and took her hands off his neck. She got off from her dominatrix scissors position. A hasty wave of shame washed over her. She began sobbing, running out of the room. Tope held her engagement ring on his hands, coughing still, confused still.
Sorry for being so incommunicado for so long. I was rounding-off my NYSC. Now, I’m through. And I’m free. And I’m hunting for some accolades, and do not wish, in any way, for my name o be included i the list of lazy Nigerian youths. Therefore, I’m now fully into this blogging thing. Yea. Tukobos is alive again.
A special thanks to all who wished me a happy birthday on Saturday.
God bless you all for me.