STARTING OVER AGAIN
Starting Over Again – Copyright © 2017 Amaka Azie
All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be used, reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the authors except in the case of brief quotation embodied in critical articles and reviews. Any person who commits any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.
Amaka Azie has asserted her moral right to be identified as the author of this book.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.
Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
Published in the United Kingdom by Accomplish Press
First published July 2017
Cover Design: Love Bites and Silk
A Note to My Readers 6
Chapter One 12
Chapter Two 27
Chapter Three 49
Chapter Four 74
Chapter Five 98
Chapter Six 130
Chapter Seven 162
Chapter Eight 191
Chapter Nine 219
Chapter Ten 243
Chapter Eleven 266
Chapter Twelve 277
About the Author 299
A Note from the Publisher: 300
More from this Author 301
Abandoned by her husband and left to care for a sick child, Onome is desperate to find a job. After several failed attempts, she eventually lands a job at one of the most prestigious banks in Lagos. She is finally rebuilding her life after her divorce and everything seems to be falling into place. However, she finds herself irresistibly drawn to her new boss, Nnamdi, who is also notoriously known for his womanising ways. Desperate to fight this attraction, she struggles to keep him at arm’s length. She can’t afford to let her growing attraction to him jeopardise her job, and most importantly, her heart…
Scorched by the burden of a scandalous family secret he stumbled upon when he was a young boy, single father Nnamdi, finds it hard to trust women. He has always lived his life lightly, with his relationships free from deep emotions and entanglements. To protect himself from hurt, he has built a wall around his heart. But there is something about his new executive marketing assistant, Onome, that makes him consider a future with her. The more time he spends with her and her daughter, Fejiro, the more the wall around his heart crumbles. And just as he is beginning to warm up to the idea of forever, her ex-husband resurfaces…
Thank you for sharing this journey with me. As a part-time family doctor, I can’t help bringing in bits of my medical background into my books.
This book touches on sickle cell disease, a blood disorder affecting many Africans or people of African descent all over the world. It is passed on genetically.
I remember sitting by the hospital bedside of a friend of mine in University, while she was in agony during a sickle cell bone-pain crisis. She told me that she often blamed her parents for her suffering whenever she was ill with complications from sickle cell disease. When I asked her why, she said, “my father is a doctor and my mother a nurse, they should have checked their genotypes before deciding to have me. They should have known better.”
Her response, even though given at a time of weakness and pain, touched me. I decided to check my genotype that day.
I am hopeful that one day, there will be a cure for sickle cell disease. But until then, I encourage everyone with African heritage, to know their genotype. A simple blood test that shows if one carries the gene and therefore can pass it on, is all that is needed.
There are many charities supporting people with sickle cell disease. Active research into the disease is still ongoing. I hope reading about Fejiro and Onome’s experience touches you to become a part of the future of Sickle cell disease.
Onome, 18 months ago
“I’m sorry, I can’t do this anymore,” Efe, mumbled, yanking clothes off their hangers and shoving them into a large box on the bed.
“What do you mean by that, Efe?” Onome spat out, trying not to shout, careful not to wake Fejiro who was fast asleep.
“I mean, I want out. This marriage is not working. We are not working.”
“You can’t just walk out, we have a daughter, a sick daughter.”
“I’m sorry, but I am miserable. I shouldn’t have to be miserable because I have a child.” Efe did not look up as he spoke. He continued his movement from the closet to the bed, gathering clothes and dumping them into the box.
Onome moved from the door towards him, despair choking her throat.
“She is your daughter; I am your wife. You can’t abandon us.” Onome’s voice broke at the last sentence. Tears clouded her vision.
“We should never have gotten married, even your father knew that.” he spat back at Onome, without looking up.
“Leave my father out of this.” Onome felt her heart ripping out of her chest by the words Efe had thrown at her. It was true that her father had been against the marriage from the start. He had disowned Onome when she insisted on marrying Efe despite his strong objections.
“I gave up everyone in my family for you, Efe, how can you leave me?”
“I didn’t ask you to do that… I feel trapped. You have trapped me in this life of sorrow, and I have to get out. I have to survive.”
“What do you mean trapped you? We were both adults when we—”
“Yes, Onome! Trapped. We both are sickle cell carriers. You knew it, and yet you pushed us to get married.”
“Pushed us? Pushed us?” Onome shook her head in disbelief. “I didn’t push you to do anything. We were both adults when we got married. We chose to get married!”
“Well, it was a big mistake. I can’t take any more of Fejiro’s sickness…She is always ill, always in hospital. I can’t take it anymore!” He paused, shaking his head, “And then there is you… I mean, look at you. You are no longer the woman I married… All you do is surround yourself with Fejiro. All you do is talk about sickle cell disease. I’m fed up!”
“She is your daughter! Our daughter!” Onome snapped, unable to keep her voice from rising.
Drawing in a deep breath, she lowered her voice. “Efe, please don’t leave me.” She moved towards him, placing her hand on his arm. “Please, please. I love you.”
Efe shook her hand off his arm. He snapped the box shut and fastened the zip swiftly.
“I don’t love you anymore, Onome.” Efe turned to face her for the first time since they began the conversation. “I don’t love you anymore. And I think it’s best I move on.”
Onome froze. She stared at the blank expression on his face when he said that. He looked far away. As if he had already moved on. She no longer existed to him.
“Efe, please, I’ll do better. Please, tell me what to do. I’ll do anything, please.” Her last desperate appeal to him hung in the air for moments. And for a second, Onome thought she saw a flash of regret in Efe’s eyes, before it turned indifferent again.
“I will send the divorce papers through my lawyer, Onome.”
“Divorce? We can just separate, and think for a while. We don’t have to divorce—”
“Yes, we do! I can’t be with you anymore.”
Onome began to panic. She had not considered divorce as a possibility. That Efe even mentioned divorce startled her.
“So, you are just going to leave us in the middle of the night? Without a word to Fejiro? She is your daughter.”
“No, she is your daughter! I never wanted a sickler in the first place.”
“How can you say that? How can you say that about your own child?”
Tears flowed from Onome’s eyes. Her heart was breaking into pieces. Staring at Efe’s handsome face, she couldn’t believe this was the man she had devoted her entire life to. Since she was eighteen years old, she had fallen hard for him. She had met him as a freshman at the University of Benin. He was a third-year law student at the time. She had not looked at another man since then. Her whole life had been about him. When they both discovered they were sickle cell carriers, they had been devastated. Yes, she remembered Efe storming out and saying he didn’t want them to go ahead with their marriage plans. But he had come back to her. She had not forced him to.
“I can say that because it is true. I told you then that getting married was risky.”
“You did, and I agreed too. But you came back to me. I didn’t force you.”
“Listen, Onome, I don’t want to go back and forth with you about this. I’m moving on, I suggest you do the same.”
He lifted the box from the bed, grabbed his car keys from the table stand.
“My lawyer will be in touch with you,” he said, marching towards the door.
“Please, Efe. Please!” Onome rushed towards him, falling on her knees, tears in her eyes, pleading.
“I’m sorry, Onome,” was his final statement before he shut the door behind him.
Onome collapsed on the floor crying. How had things come to this? She had devoted her whole life to Efe. Right from when they had met at University of Benin. She had clung to his side. Even Voke, her best friend and roommate at the time, had advised her she was too young to get so involved with any man. But she had not listened. She had fallen in love with the tall, slim, and funny law student.
And here she was, fourteen years later, sprawled out on the floor of the home she and Efe had created together, unable to stop the flood of tears that poured out of her eyes. What was she going to do now? She did not know herself apart from Efe.
“My life is over!” she sobbed. “My life is over!”
Onome strutted briskly into a large waiting room alongside a young man who showed her where to sit before walking away. Dragging in a short calming breath, she sank stiffly into the long leather couch, beside four other tense candidates. Her gaze skimmed over her surroundings. The room was spacious with beige painted walls. There was a large flat screen television mounted on the wall opposite where they sat, it was tuned to a news channel but was on mute. She focused her attention on the painting hanging at the corner of the room, above a standing fan. It portrayed a dark-skinned African boy dressed in a red and black school uniform carrying a school bag. Although Onome found the painting out of place in the waiting room setting, the smile on the young boy’s face was so fetching that she felt like smiling back at the painting.
Perspiring under the navy-blue skirt suit she wore, Onome finally turned her attention to her competition. She was the only female in the room. The interview was for a position at Zenith firm that had been advertised four weeks ago. There had been about a hundred initial applicants. That she had been shortlisted for the final interview pleased and surprised her immensely. The four male candidates were dressed smartly, each holding folders thick with evidence of their qualifications. She looked down at her very thin folder and sighed inwardly. There was no way she was going to get this job. Obviously, it appeared they were more interested in male candidates with portfolios thicker than her bum. And she did have a huge bum, which she had packaged under her skirt hoping it was not too noticeable. She wanted to be taken seriously today. She hated that sometimes, people did not take her seriously because of the size of her bottom.
“Mr. Kunle Aramide. You can come in now.” A tall slim lady announced, stepping into the waiting room. Onome watched as Mr. Aramide rose to his feet, his face transparently anxious. She understood exactly how he felt. With this present economic climate, every job interview brought with it a sense of hope, but also anxiety. Each rejection meant another build-up of hope shattered. Another chance lost. She had been on six similar interviews since her husband left her eighteen months ago. None of them had been fruitful.
This was her seventh opportunity. The job of marketing assistant at Zenith mortgage bank. The salary was quite substantial. A few of the attractive perks included health insurance for employees and their family members under eighteen years of age, including six weeks of annual paid leave. She needed this job badly. She needed the money to look after Fejiro, her daughter.
Mr. Aramide’s disappearance into the adjacent room with the tall lady was followed by silence. A heavy sigh erupted from one candidate which made them all chuckle.
“Serious problem dey,” he muttered, and they laughed again, breaking the tense environment.
“I have been to ten interviews this year. Ten!” he grumbled.
“That’s not a lot, my brother, this is my thirteenth interview,” the man sitting on the couch beside him responded. His skin tone was a deep mahogany hue that contrasted dramatically with the pale grey suit he had on.
“What about you, ma?” He turned towards Onome.
“Onome,” she corrected. She hated being called “ma”. She was only thirty-four years old. That people felt it was polite to call a young lady “ma”, irritated her. But it seemed as if in Lagos, it was the norm.
She missed Benin City. Nobody called you “ma” unless you deserved it.
“Onome, so, how many interviews have you been to?”
“This is my first,” she lied. They didn’t need to know the truth. After all, they were competition. Let them believe that she didn’t desperately need this job. Let them underestimate her.
“Eh, you are lucky o…. It seems you have just graduated abi?” The mahogany man appeared surprised that this was her first job interview.
“No, I was working somewhere else. At a large mortgage bank in Benin City,” Onome continued to lie. The lies flowed so effortlessly from her mouth. It was almost comical how easy it was making up stories to total strangers. “I’m only here because they refused to promote me at my old job, so I quit.”
“Eh, so you left your job? In this economy?” The man seemed even more dumbfounded.
“Yes, I can’t be disrespected.” Onome struggled to keep her face straight. The expression of disbelief on the man’s face was laughable.
“You no get problem o!” he muttered in broken English as he turned away from Onome.
Onome almost laughed. She had succeeded in making the man uncomfortable. The room was thrown into silence again. Awkward silence. It appeared even tenser than it had been earlier.
Before long, Mr. Aramide strolled out of the interview room and into the waiting room, his face distraught, yet hopeful. He did not even bother to speak to anyone as he made his way out as fast as he could. The interview must have gone badly, Onome thought, her stomach twisting. She peeked into the interview room as the second candidate was called in. She wanted to see who the interviewers were; if there were any female interviewers. But she could see no one. The door shut before she could catch a glimpse of anyone in the room. The ticking clock hanging on the wall was the only sound in the room as she and the two other candidates waited for their turns.
It was about four in the afternoon when the tall lady called Onome in. She was the last person to be interviewed. Typical. The only female in the cohort, yet the last person to be interviewed. These people knew nothing about the concept ‘ladies first’. Now she would be late picking up Fejiro from Madam Bisi’s place. As she rose, clutching her folder tightly, she held her breath. She followed the lady into a spacious room. The tall lady announced Onome’s presence and exited the room.
Three men occupied executive seats across from where she now stood nervously. The fourth executive seat was empty. Onome briefly wondered who had occupied that seat and where he or she was. She was yet again the only woman in the room. Great, she thought, dismayed. Do I really stand a chance?
With her heart pounding ferociously, she took the leather seat opposite the six peering eyes. This was it. Her chance to dazzle these people. She could do it. She had the qualifications. A second class upper degree in banking and finance from the University of Benin, a master’s degree in finance from the University of Lagos. Yes, she could do it. After all, what a man can do, a woman can do also, if not better.
One man cleared his throat, indicating that the interview was about to begin.
“Good afternoon,” Onome said, trying not to sound nervous.
All three men nodded in response.
“Tell me about yourself,” the man sitting beside the empty seat, said. His name and position were written in front of him on a small wooden desk wedge. Mr. Rotimi Falade. General manager, finance division.
“My name is Onome Odafe. I graduated from—”
“I can see you have started without me,” a baritone voice interrupted her words, causing Onome to turn her head sharply towards the entrance of the room. Her heart almost stopped. The most handsome man she had ever seen in her life had just walked into the room. He was tall with broad shoulders encased nicely into a perfectly tailored black suit and silver tie. He had light brown skin. Onome was not usually attracted to light-skinned guys, but his skin was evenly smooth, like butter. And his face—almost pretty. Thick curly hair, thick eyebrows, long lashes, dark brown eyes, a strong long nose and full pink lips. He was beautiful. Not handsome. Beautiful. Yet, there was no denying that he was all man. A firm strong jaw, a strong neck and large hands and feet. Yes, he was all man.
“So, Onome, continue telling us about yourself,” Mr. Pretty said, a small smile playing on his lips.
It was obvious that he knew he was stunning and was used to rendering women speechless by his beauty. He took the empty executive seat and Onome quickly glanced at the desk wedge in front of him. It read, Mr. Nnamdi Obi, CEO. She was face-to-face with the owner of this establishment. Now, she knew she did not stand a chance.
When applying for this job, her research into Zenith investment and mortgage firm had revealed a little bit about him. She had read from a few gossip blogs about his total lack of respect for women. His social media pages depicted him as a relentless womanizer and a brutal heartbreaker. In fact, she found his twitter post following his latest breakup with a prominent socialite very distasteful. He had tweeted, “another “hoe” bites the dust.”
Sighing inwardly, Onome flickered her gaze over the other interviewers.
“I’m a graduate from the University of Benin—” she resumed, her pulse rate quickening. This man’s presence had increased her anxiety a thousand-fold. She never expected the CEO to be carrying out interviews himself. She couldn’t afford to let herself get overwhelmed by this man. She needed this job badly.
“We know who you are, we can read,” Mr. Pretty CEO interrupted again, quite rudely.
Onome immediately disliked him. Although he was attractive, he was rude and obnoxious.
“Tell us why you think you will suit this role?” he continued, rolling his pen between his fingers and reclining in his seat.
“I’m passionate about banking. Especially mortgage banking. I know how difficult it is to own a home or any property for that matter. Mortgage banking has transformed the way Nigerians view home ownership.” Onome paused, focusing her attention on the other interviewers’ expressions for a clue on how she was performing. Their bland expressions gave nothing away. “During my youth service, I got a few farmers at Irrua to mortgage farming land so they could own the lands they had been borrowing for farming—”
“Impressive, but we have seen all that. You dropped your CV with us, Onome,” Mr. Pretty CEO cut in, shaking his head. Onome turned towards him fighting the irritation creeping up her spine. “Tell us things about you that will convince us you can work with this firm, the best mortgage bank in Lagos and, soon, in Nigeria.”
Onome hesitated, then looking boldly into his eyes, she said, “I don’t take no for an answer. I fight tooth and nail to get what I want and I won’t accept bullying of any kind from anyone.” She noticed a twist of the corner of his lips.
“Are you married? Do you have children?” Mr. Okon, the man at the far end corner asked. The desk wedge placed in front of him described him as the General manager of human resources. This was a tricky question. Onome wanted to tell the truth, but she knew if she announced she was a divorced single mother to these female devouring four, she was as good as done.
“No,” she murmured. She heard a snicker from Mr. Pretty CEO. She ignored it.
“So, if given the job, will you be devoted to the hours we expect of you, and not distracted by your personal life?”
Mr. Pretty CEO’s rude question infuriated Onome. This interview was going pear shaped. How dare this man insinuate that a woman could not handle the pressure of work because of her personal life?
“For example, it’s Friday and you have to stay late because of work, or perhaps travel on short notice to secure an account, would you do it? Or would there be an unhappy boyfriend somewhere making this hard for you?”
What? Onome could not believe the question she had just heard. Was this a joke? Was there someone hiding in the corner about to jump out and tell her that she was being pranked? She eyed Mr. Pretty CEO sceptically, expecting him to crack a smile, but his expression was serious. This was no joke. He was dead serious.
Now she understood why she was the only woman shortlisted for the interview. She was probably there to fulfil a legal quota so that the firm couldn’t be accused of gender discrimination. They had no intention of hiring her. This knowledge infuriated her immensely, so she decided to play the game. If she was not getting this job, she might as well make them feel ashamed of their chauvinistic behaviour.
“Actually, Mr. Obi, there is no danger of me having a boyfriend. I’m attracted to only ghosts. Therefore, in my case, it would be an unhappy ghost.” The room fell into startled silence. “And, by the way, I spent the entire week preparing to answer the question about the four-year gap in my employment history. I’ll tell you, since you did not bother to ask that very important question.” She paused, suddenly enjoying the shock on their faces. “I spent those four years in a convent practicing to become a nun. Anything to keep me away from men like you.” She rose to her feet and picked up her folder. “I’m a hard-working woman with zeal and determination and if you don’t even want to consider that I have a lot to offer your firm, it’s your loss. Good day, gentlemen.” Onome turned and strutted out of the room with her head held high.
It was only when the heat of the sunshine greeted her outside that all her bravado fled. The reality of what just happened dawned on her. She had messed up this brilliant opportunity because she couldn’t control her anger.
“Oghene me! I’m cursed! Cursed!” she muttered angrily to herself as she rushed towards her small grey Audi, tears stinging her eyes. She opened the second-hand car she had purchased a few months after her ex-husband, Efe, left, and got in quickly. Tears flooded her eyes and streamed down her face. She had believed she had a chance with this job when she woke up this morning. Now, she had flushed this much-needed opportunity down the toilet with her outburst. She should have tried to control herself better. But since Efe left, she’d been in a man-hating zone, and couldn’t stand chauvinists. She just couldn’t.
Wiping her tears with the back of her hands, Onome started the car. She needed to rush to pick Fejiro up. She couldn’t afford to pay Madam Bisi the doubled rate she charged after six p.m. She glanced at the time; she had about an hour before she had to worry about that. If the traffic would let her, she would be there just in time.
As Onome navigated her way through the surprisingly thin traffic, she thought about the interview she had just ruined, and fresh tears flowed from her eyes. Who knew when another opportunity like that would come? For the past year, she had been living from hand to mouth. Efe never sent any money for the upkeep of his own daughter. He had not even bothered to visit her since he left. Onome was slowly running out of options and she needed a way out fast.
Many times, she had wanted to reach out to Efe and plead with him to see reason and provide for his daughter, but she always stopped herself. Her pride wouldn’t let her. She never wanted to grovel, and she was determined to make it without returning to her father’s house. Doing that would mean that all the years she had gone against her family’s strong objections to elope and marry Efe had been for nothing. Nothing! She couldn’t even admit it to her own self. No, she would not return to Benin City with her tail in between her legs. She would find another job. That pretty devil CEO could take his job and jump off a cliff.
After parking her car in front of Madam Bisi’s gate, Onome stepped out of the car anxious to see her daughter, the only good thing going in her life. Her one ray of sunshine. No matter how heartbroken she was about Efe, she was thankful for Fejiro. She loved her so much.
“Mummy!” Fejiro exclaimed, running towards Onome in excitement. She flung herself on Onome who caught her and twirled her around. Onome loved that Fejiro still showed her exhilaration at seeing her every time she picked her up from Madam Bisi’s house or from school.
“My little angel,” Onome whispered, kissing her on both cheeks. “Sorry I’m late.”
Madam Bisi walked into the sitting room, a toddler balanced on her hip.
“You are not late, Onome, right on time,” she said, patting Onome on her shoulder.
Madam Bisi was a short chubby woman in her early fifties who ran a child-minding service in her home, looking after children in the neighbourhood at an affordable price. She was greatly loved by the working parents who lived in the area. She owned a mini bus with which she picked up children from the nearby primary school where Fejiro attended, so she could look after them until their parents came back from work. Madam Bisi had performed this service for years and was well trusted by the community.
“Fejiro was well-behaved today, and did all her homework,” Madam Bisi informed Onome, who was engaged in packing up Fejiro’s bags so they could leave. Onome paused and glanced at her daughter with a smile. “She is always a well-behaved girl.” She kissed her daughter again. “Thanks, Madam Bisi.”
“How was the job interview?” Madam Bisi asked, accompanying Onome and Fejiro to the front door.
“Don’t even ask…it was a disaster.”
“Erm, what happened?”
“Nothing but me being me again. I messed up!”
“How? I saw you practicing your answers earlier when you dropped off Fejiro this morning.”
Onome proceeded to tell Madam Bisi about her encounter with Mr. Pretty CEO and his annoying interview questions as well as her own dramatic outburst.
“Onome, you should have ignored them. You needed this job,” Madam Bisi chided after Onome concluded her story.
“I know I should have, but I couldn’t help myself…. you know how I am.”
“That’s the problem with women nowadays. This female empowerment thing was not heard of in our time o! We controlled men by pretending to be submissive.” Onome laughed. Her mother had repeated those sentiments many times when she was growing up.
“Don’t worry my dear, I always say what you don’t get is not meant for you. If you don’t get this job, it was not for you in the first place. You will find another one by God’s grace.”
“Amin o. I really need a better paying job; I can’t continue with the salary I earn teaching economics in a secondary school.”
She was over-qualified for that job, but she had no other choice. They were the only ones who were hiring at the time when she desperately needed a job. Her salary barely covered rent and looking after Fejiro. With Fejiro’s repeated hospital admissions, she needed a higher paying job.
“See you tomorrow Madam Bisi,” Onome said with a faint smile. She was glad for people like Madam Bisi who always had words of encouragement for others. Onome strolled towards the car hand-in-hand with her daughter. She cast a sidelong glance at her daughter when they settled in the front seat of the car. Fejiro was a fighter. She had been through so much, but remained an upbeat happy child. A sweet lovely girl she was, her long-limbed seven-year-old daughter. She was tall for her age but also too thin. Although her dark cocoa skin tone and small beady eyes were like Onome’s, she looked more like her father. Onome brushed her hand over Fejiro’s cornrows.
“We’ll be fine, baby girl, I will look after you.”
“I know, mum, you always do,” Fejiro said with a smile, revealing a set of white teeth protruding from swollen gums. A telling evidence of the illness she suffered. Sickle cell disease. A sense of guilt gripped Onome. She blamed herself repeatedly for passing this faulty gene to Fejiro. Her throat tightened.
Onome vowed to do everything in her power to look after Fejiro. She would not allow sickle cell disease to defeat them. She would eventually find a good job so she could afford proper treatment for Fejiro. Nobody would stop her. Not Efe, and certainly not Mr. Pretty CEO!
Parting the curtains slightly, Nnamdi peered through the window of his newly purchased five-bedroom duplex home. His chest felt tight with a mixture of trepidation and excitement.
“Relax, Nnamdi, she is not here yet,” Adaora, his sister, muttered, moving to stand beside him and placing her hand on his shoulder. A gesture that usually comforted him but did nothing at that moment.
“I’m trying, but I can’t seem to,” Nnamdi said, pulling the curtains back together again. He rubbed his eyes with his index fingers. He had not slept a wink last night. In fact, he had not slept much since finding out that his daughter was moving in with him.
Although he had spent much of the past year fighting in court to see more of her, he had not really expected to be solely responsible for her. A single father. A single father of a little girl. Boys, he knew what to do with, but a girl? How was he going to raise a girl? Alone? The only thing he knew about women was what they could offer him between the sheets.
“You’ll be a good father, Nnamdi. You are a good father,” Adaora’s soft voice came again, breaking through his pensive thoughts. Nnamdi swallowed hard and smiled at her. She had been his rock through all of this. He did not know what he would have done without her. A mother of two herself, she had been there helping him develop a bond with his five-year-old daughter, Nkem.
“I don’t know, Ada… I hope I don’t mess her up.”
“Don’t say that, you don’t give yourself enough credit.”
“I haven’t been with her longer than a day, and now, I’m supposed to look after her all day, forever? I don’t know the slightest thing about raising children.”
“Nobody knows everything about raising children, and you do know a lot more than you think… I’ve seen her with you. She adores you.”
“Yeah, because I buy her gifts and toys. Now, I also have to discipline….”
“You will figure it out, Nnamdi. Besides, we are here to support you, Chuma and I. We have been there before you.”
“Oh, Ada, I’m so glad you are here. Thanks for dropping everything to be here.”
“No problem, she is my niece and I love her.”
The sound of a horn at the gate made Nnamdi jump. Nkem was here. He felt a sudden thick lump wedged in his throat.
This was it. Today marked a new beginning for him. A new beginning for her. Suddenly wrenched away from her mother, whom she had lived with since birth, she was here to live with him, a man who had never had any major responsibilities in his life. A man used to living his life lightly, with no deep feelings, connections, or regrets.
“You’ll be fine, big bro, don’t stress out,” Adaora said softly. Her words brought immediate tranquillity to him. He needed to be calm for Nkem. If he was this anxious, he could only imagine how anxious Nkem felt. Inhaling deeply, Nnamdi left the sitting room. Adaora followed closely behind him.
He walked slowly but steadily down the short corridor and opened the front door. Standing by the open door, Nnamdi watched as the SUV pulled into the compound. The car came to a halt and, within seconds, his twin brother, Chuma, stepped out from the driver’s seat and opened the back door of the car.
His heart pounding furiously, Nnamdi watched Nkem step out of the open car door, a worried expression on her face. It looked as if she was fighting tears.
Moved by this, he rushed towards her and took her in his arms. She stiffened and appeared to withdraw from his embrace. She blinked, and tears escaped the corners of her eyes.
“It’s okay, Nkem baby, Daddy is here now… It’s okay,” Nnamdi crooned, holding her closely and rubbing her back.
“Put me down!” she wailed. He complied immediately, anguish contorting his face. He swallowed hard.
Nkem held tightly to her colourful backpack, wiping tears from her eyes. She averted her gaze from his.
“Let’s go inside,” Adaora suggested in a soft voice. Chuma and Nnamdi nodded.
“Yes, let’s go inside,” Chuma said. He grabbed the rest of Nkem’s luggage from the trunk of the SUV and they all made their way into the house.
Adaora stretched out her hand towards Nkem. Nnamdi observed how easily Nkem took it, and a jealous emotion tightened his chest. Nkem had opened up to Adaora but not to him. It hurt him a little. But he had to force himself to understand. It was still day one. He couldn’t expect her to warm up to him instantly, considering that her mother had just died. She was still grieving. He would just have to be patient.
“Let me show you your room,” Adaora said to Nkem, who turned towards Nnamdi, eyeing him hesitantly.
“You can go with Aunty Ada, Nkem,” Nnamdi said. Nkem nodded and followed Adaora up the stairs. He waited until they had disappeared before he sighed.
“I’m worried I’ll mess this up,” he muttered, scrubbing his face with his hand.
“No, you won’t. You can’t afford to doubt yourself now, Nnamdi. She is here now; you have to figure it out.” Chuma’s tone was stern. Nnamdi appreciated it. He needed to hear it straight. He didn’t want to be cuddled. He was now a single father, and he needed to get his act together. Raise Nkem to be a responsible classy lady. Not like the type of women he was used to.
Yes, he had to admit he was usually attracted to crude women. Women who had very little respect for themselves. He hated women he had to pursue. The easier to get into bed, the better. He never had patience for women who liked to be courted before they gave up the goods. No, his preference was usually women who were instantly turned on by a flash of cash and his good looks. Women he broke up with after a few romps between the sheets. How could he raise a daughter? How?
When he found out he was Nkem’s father last year, he had gone through phases of denial, anger, withdrawal and acceptance. And just as he was getting used to co-parenting with her mother, like a sudden explosion, he had been thrust with the responsibility of being Nkem’s sole source of guidance.
“Listen, Ifeoma and I are still figuring out parenting each day. Nobody knows how to be a parent instinctively. We learn every day.” Chuma was gentler this time. They strolled into the sitting room as he spoke.
“It takes time,” Chuma continued, settling into one of the plush brown leather chairs. “You will make mistakes…. We all do. But you have to keep pushing on.”
“She hates me—”
“No, she doesn’t, she is still in shock. She is only five years old, and just lost her mother.”
Nnamdi considered Chuma’s statement in silence for a few seconds.
“What was she like when she was staying with your family?” Nkem had stayed with Chuma, Ifeoma, and their three-year-old twin sons all week as Nnamdi worked tirelessly to get the house he had purchased on short notice ready for her.
“She was quiet most of the time. Played with the boys sometimes. But mostly quiet.”
“And food? What did she eat? What does she like…. I’m not even sure what to cook—”
“Ifeoma prepared some food and packed them in bowls. The bowls are in the car. I’ll store them in the freezer later.”
“Oh, thank her for me. That wife of yours is an angel,” Nnamdi said, and Chuma smiled.
“She is, but don’t tell her I agree with you.” They both chuckled. The tension in Nnamdi’s gut loosened slightly.
Nnamdi regarded his twin brother with gratitude. Chuma had been very supportive during this process of getting to know Nkem, and for that, Nnamdi was grateful. Dark skinned with his head shaved bald and sparse facial hair, Chuma looked nothing like him. They were both about six feet tall and maybe had a similar muscular build, but that was where any similarities between them ended. Nnamdi was light-skinned, had a full head of thick hair and was completely clean-shaven.
“I can see you have child-proofed the house. Very good,” Chuma observed, his gaze sweeping across the sitting room.
“Yes, I went over every detail with the interior decorator so many times he thought I was crazy,” Nnamdi responded.
“You can never be too careful. See, you are already thinking like a father, Nnamdi. You will be fine. You and Nkem will be fine.”
“I hope so, Chuma, I hope so.”
Moments later, Adaora and Nkem joined them in the sitting room. Nkem looked more relaxed and less pensive.
“Did you like your room?” Nnamdi asked, smiling down at her.
“Yes, thank you, sir—”
“Daddy,” Nnamdi cut in. He never wanted her to call him, sir. Nobody called him, sir. Not even at work where he was the boss. He never allowed that. All his employees called him by name. He believed if they saw him as a friend, they worked harder.
“Yes, thank you, daddy.”
“Nnamdi, you went over the top,” Adaora teased. “The room is beautiful, painted pink, loads of toys, a huge princess bed…. Just like Ikenna did for Anuli’s room. You guys do too much.” Anuli was Adaora’s daughter and Ikenna, her husband.
“Nothing is too much for my little princess.” Nnamdi smiled at Nkem. She smiled back shyly and turned away, her grip on Adaora’s hand tightened.
Later that evening, after Chuma and Adaora left, Nnamdi sat in the dining room with Nkem. They were having fried rice and chicken for dinner. He watched as Nkem picked at her food, her eyes focused on the small plate, avoiding his gaze.
“Do you want to eat something else?” Nnamdi asked her. She shook her head.
“I’m not hungry,” she muttered. “I ate at Aunty Ify’s house.”
“I have chocolate ice cream in the freezer—”
Her face brightened instantly. He chuckled.
“It’s obvious you would like some,” Nnamdi commented, still chuckling.
“Yes, thank you…Daddy.” Her soft voice caused his chest to tighten. Whenever she called him daddy, the weight of his responsibility for his beautiful little one became more real to him. He arose to get the ice cream.
Nnamdi watched her silently as she relished her bowl of ice cream. She was lovely, with caramel skin and large eyes like his sister Adaora’s. She wore her hair in two ponytails and looked just like his own late mother. Now that he was solely responsible for raising her, he vowed to do his best to make sure she turned out to be an accountable member of society. Although, he probably wasn’t off to a good start by bribing her with ice cream on the first day. But heck, he needed to break the tension. He knew she loved ice cream and just wanted her first day with him to be less gloomy.
“It’s just me and you now, kiddo. Just me and you,” he whispered, twisting her ponytail with his fingers. “I’ll look after you. I promise.”
He was up to the task. His father had been a single father too, and they all turned out fine. Okay, maybe he turned out less than fine, but he would not repeat the mistakes of his father who had turned to alcohol after his wife died, leaving his children to fend for themselves for a few years. He would give his all to raising Nkem. First of all, he knew he had to change his mind-set. Maybe if he started respecting women, it would translate into raising his daughter properly.
Seated at the desk in his large office located at the top floor of a four-storey building, Nnamdi stared disbelievingly at the document in his hands. A string of irritation tightened the muscles between his shoulders. Massaging his neck trying to ease some of it, he pressed down the intercom button.
“Kunle, come in here please.”
“Yes, Sir,” Kunle sputtered.
Nnamdi heard the clatter of items crashing to the floor, a muttered curse from Kunle, before he rushed into his office.
“Yes, Nnamdi. How many times do I have to tell you to call me by my first name?”
Nnamdi held out a file towards Kunle. “You have made another mistake with this document. You’ve been here two weeks already. Why do you keep making the same mistake?” He tried to keep the annoyance from his tone, but failed.
“Sorry, sir,” Kunle muttered, reaching for the file Nnamdi held out to him. “I’ll correct it right away.”
“Nnamdi…Nnamdi…You can’t even get that right.” He shook his head in exasperation.
“I don’t want to keep hearing your apologies. I want you to step up quickly and stop making the same silly mistakes.” He sucked his teeth, brushed the sides of his eyes with his thumb and forefinger, and then added, “I’ve highlighted the corrections needed. Don’t make me call you in here again for this same mistake.”
“Yes, sir…Nnamdi.” Kunle mumbled as he sauntered away.
Alone in his office once again, Nnamdi let out a long exasperated sigh. He missed his old assistant, Tayo. He couldn’t believe it had been only a week since Tayo left him to relocate to America with his family. It seemed like a decade ago. They had worked well together for over twelve years. His leaving felt like the end of an era. Now, here he was, forced to work with an incompetent and clumsy assistant. He was slowly running out of patience.
I should have just hired Onome. The unexpected thought caused his heart to lurch in his chest. He pulled open the drawer at the edge of the large Maplewood desk in front of him, and retrieved a file. Opening it, he glanced at the passport photograph of the face that had repeatedly popped up in his mind for the past two weeks. Typical of a cheap passport photo, it was unflattering and blurry. However, the eyes that stared back at him were clear and sharp. Their intensity drew him in. They were determined eyes. Intelligent eyes. Eyes of a woman who knew what she wanted from life. There was just something about her that intimidated him. Her boldness during that interview had stunned him and strangely aroused his interest at the same time.
After the interview, his other colleagues had been so intrigued by her that they all wanted her employed. He had vehemently refused for two reasons. The first reason was that she had made him uncomfortable during that interview. No woman had ever made him feel uncomfortable. He had felt ashamed of himself after the interview; ashamed of the way he had treated her. That was a new feeling for him and he did not like it one bit. For reasons he couldn’t explain, he found himself thinking about her a lot after that day. He knew instinctively there was more to her.
The second reason he didn’t want Onome—he loved the sound of her name in his head—working for him was that he didn’t want to work with a woman. He believed women were not dependable. Women always left. That was all they did. His mother left when he was only a young boy. She died suddenly, no warning, leaving him with so many questions and pain. Nkem’s mother also died suddenly from a car crash while driving intoxicated. He just didn’t want another female to come into his life only to abandon him.
He glanced at the photograph again. This woman scared him. The aura she had carried around her reminded him of his late mother’s poise and sassiness. All the character traits he loved about his mother, but wanted to forget, so he could continue to focus on his disappointment in her.
Nnamdi’s stomach roiled. He knew something about his late mother that he had never told anyone. Including his twin brother. But that secret left him scorched and untrusting of women. Every time he thought about the gravity of the secret he kept about his mother, the woman whom everyone had adored, he felt sick to his stomach. Over the years, he had often wanted to confront his father about it, but he never did. No, he would take this secret to his grave. Because despite what he knew about his late mother, Angelina Obi, he had loved her. And so had his father.
Nnamdi smiled when he thought about his father, Chief Obi. After many years of hiding his relationship with Mama Uzo, a widower and mother of five whom he had dated for many years, they were finally engaged. There was no need dredging up the past and ruining his father’s happiness.
Sighing deeply, he put the file back in the drawer. He redirected his attention to the desktop in front of him and scrolled through the slides on the screen. Everything seemed perfect and ready for the presentation at Port Harcourt next week Friday. He needed to secure this account. It was worth over five hundred million. There couldn’t be any mistakes. Not only would his twin brother be greatly disappointed if there were any mistakes, but they might lose the yearly bonus given to the junior staff. At the rate at which the country’s economy was declining, every account mattered.
Hours later, Nnamdi rose from his seat. He needed to pick up Nkem from Chuma’s house. The adjustment process since she moved in to stay with him two weeks ago had been difficult. Nkem seemed to have withdrawn into a shell. He knew she missed her mother, and it was too soon for her to get over it, but it hurt all the same. He felt so helpless that he couldn’t connect with her the way that he wanted to.
The traffic to Chuma’s house was heavy. As he wove his way through it, Nnamdi found his mind wandering to his five-year-old daughter. He was worried about her. Although everyone kept telling him that he needed to give her time to adjust to the change in the circumstances of her life, he worried that she may need psychological help. The funeral service for Bianca, Nkem’s mother, was in two weeks. Nnamdi was anxious about that day. He knew Nkem needed to attend, and he had to be with her, but he was worried about her reaction to a funeral. He tried to explain to her intermittently that her mother was never coming back. Sometimes she seemed to understand perfectly, but other times, he noticed a faraway look of hope in her eyes. As if she expected the ordeal to end.
After parking his SUV in the large compound of his twin brother’s home, Nnamdi smiled as he got out of the car. His life was gradually changing. Ever since he had found out about Nkem, he had made rapid changes. He had finally bought a house after years of ignoring his brother’s advice to do so instead of renting the former three-bedroom penthouse apartment he had lived in. Not only that, he had finally purchased a sensible child-friendly car. He glanced at the SUV again and his smile widened. Never in a million years did he imagine that he would be caught driving a non-flashy, average-sized black car, instead of his ostentatious bright yellow Lamborghini with gold plated rims. Yes, he had definitely changed.
“Hey, bro,” Ifeoma, Chuma’s wife greeted him with an embrace.
“Hello, madam, you look ever so lovely,” he responded, walking beside her into the hallway of the six-bedroom home his brother shared with his wife and two sons.
“Thanks, Nnamdi, you are kind for saying that even though you know my hair is a mess. The children have been playing with it all day pretending to be hairdressers.”
Nnamdi chuckled. Her hair was indeed scattered in various directions on her head. But it still did not take away from her natural beauty. His brother was a lucky man to find one of the few good women available. He sometimes envied the love his brother had for his wife. He’d never felt that way about any woman. He was forty-one years old, and yet had never trusted any woman enough to let go of his heart like his brother had.
“I hope looking after Nkem has been no trouble for you,” he said.
For the past two weeks, Ifeoma had picked Nkem up from school and brought her back to her house to stay with her own three-year-old twin boys. She left them in the care of a trained nanny before she went back to work. The owner of a well-established restaurant, Eastern Delight, she could make that arrangement work. Nnamdi was grateful for her help.
They walked into the sitting room.
“Are you kidding? It is a delight to look after her,” Ifeoma answered, a jovial smile brightening her face. “How has it been at home with her?”
Nnamdi sighed before he replied.
“She is always so withdrawn. I sometimes feel like she blames me for her mother’s death. I’m not even sure if she fully comprehends what has happened.”
“Give her time, it’s only been two weeks. Children are more resilient than we give them credit for.”
“Do you think I should take her to see a therapist?”
“I’m not sure how that might help, she is only five and she may find it hard speaking to a total stranger. But I’ll ask Dr. Olubanjo. He was my therapist. He might know about therapy for children.”
“Very kind of you, Ify… And thanks for everything.”
Ifeoma smiled again before exiting the room to fetch Nkem who was in the playing room with the twins and the nanny.
When Nkem saw Nnamdi, she lowered her lashes and muttered a greeting. Determined to keep trying to win her trust, Nnamdi crouched down and kissed her forehead.
“How are you, my princess? How was school today?” he asked Nkem, with a smile. She returned his smile hesitantly.
“It was fine, daddy.” A moment of silence passed. “I made a new friend at school today.”
“Excellent! What’s her name? Or… his name?” Nnamdi asked, encouraged by her willingness to share this with him.
“Amanda is a girl! I hate boys!” Nkem shrieked.
Ifeoma and Nnamdi burst into laughter.
“That’s what you say now. I hope it stays that way for a long time.” Nnamdi said, patting her ponytail with his hand.
“Yes, daddy, I’ll always hate boys… well, except my cousins.”
As if on cue, the three-year-old twins rushed into the room.
“Uncle Nnamdi!” they yelled, jumping into his arms. He staggered backwards slightly as he tried to balance them both in his arms.
“Chinedu! Chibuzo! My boys!” he cried excitedly as he kissed them on their heads. From the corner of his eyes, he noticed Nkem’s downcast expression. The awkwardness between them had returned. He knew exactly why. They didn’t share the same relationship he had with his nephews. She was wary of him, therefore had never flung herself into his arms the way her cousins had. Nnamdi swore within himself that he would change that. He would get Nkem to lower her guard and trust him.
The drive home was tense. Nkem sat in the back of the car on the booster seat, staring out of the window. Nnamdi searched his brain for something to say, something to lighten the mood, but his brain came up empty. He didn’t know what five-year-old girls talked about. It disturbed him that he never saw the relaxed laid-back side of Nkem when they were alone.
Peering through the rear-view mirror again, Nnamdi smiled at Nkem.
“So, tell me more about your new friend, Amanda,” he said, trying to get her to talk, to open up to him again like she did a few minutes ago while they were with Ifeoma.
“Erm… she is six years old… and she knows how to draw.”
“Wow, she sounds interesting. Is she new to the school?”
“No,” Nkem replied. She paused for a moment as if considering her next statement. “Her mummy just died…Like my mummy, so she is my new friend.”
Nnamdi’s chest constricted with emotion. He had also been through that pain of losing his mother. It had been difficult for him many years ago, and he could only imagine what Nkem was going through.
“Tell me about your mummy,” he asked her. She hesitated, but her face brightened a little.
“She enjoyed baking yummy cakes.”
“Wow! I love cakes! What is your favourite cake?”
“Easy. Chocolate cake,” Nkem answered with a chuckle. Nnamdi laughed.
“Me too! I love chocolate cake and ice-cream.”
“Ice cream! Oh, daddy can we get some ice-cream?”
“Okay, baby, let’s get ice-cream.”
Nnamdi knew he shouldn’t give in every time Nkem wanted ice-cream, but he was having such a nice time hearing her talk. He wanted more moments like this with Nkem. More moments where she didn’t have a wall up, where she was simply a child with her father. Nnamdi changed direction and drove towards a popular ice-cream shop in Lekki.
They got there in twenty minutes, and Nnamdi drove around for another ten minutes before he found a place to park. The place was crowded with families also stopping for ice-cream. He held out his hand to Nkem who tentatively took it. As she smiled up shyly at him, his heart melted. This was a good day. A step closer to her. He felt hopeful. Maybe they could actually overcome this hurdle and be closer.
A small sigh escaped Nnamdi’s lips when he noted the long line queuing up for the counter. He wasn’t in the mood to wait his turn, so he pulled out his mobile phone and rang the manager, a close friend of his. Before long, a waiter left the counter to attend to him and Nkem. He heard a few grunts of disapproval from people in the queue but he didn’t bother to look up.
His wealth always got him favours. He never stood in queues or waited for anything. That was how it had always been since he was a boy and he didn’t know how to live any differently. Nnamdi ordered two medium chocolate ice-creams with chocolate chip toppings and moved to the corner of the shop to wait.
“Daddy, that was rude,” Nkem murmured, as soon as they moved away from earshot. “We should have waited our turn like everyone else.” Her reproach rendered him speechless. She looked so cute with her frown directed at him and her face so serious.
“I probably should have waited like others,” Nnamdi replied, feeling slightly ashamed of his behaviour. This was the second time he had felt this way recently. The first time was after the interview with Onome. He wasn’t used to feeling ashamed of himself or guilty. He simply did whatever he wanted selfishly with no thought of another person.
“I’ll try to remember never to do that again.”
“I promise.” Nnamdi said, lifting his right hand in scout’s honour. Nkem giggled and Nnamdi smiled, loving the easy atmosphere they had just shared. Minutes later, the waiter approached them with their ice-cream cones. Nnamdi avoided the gazes of the irritated customers still waiting their turn.
Holding hands with Nkem who was already engrossed in her ice cream, Nnamdi stepped outside the shop into the evening breeze. They were on their way back to the car when he spotted a familiar figure stepping out of a grey Audi car. Nnamdi’s heart crashed powerfully into his ribcage. It was Onome. That he recognised her instantly after having met her only once did not surprise him. Although it had been two weeks since the interview, her image was ingrained into his brain. He’d often wondered if he should call her and apologise for his outrageous behaviour, and had at one time dialled the number recorded on her CV, but stopped himself from letting the phone ring.
Nnamdi stepped away from the entrance of the shop and quickly hid behind another vehicle. His heart drummed rapidly as he watched Onome stroll over to the passenger side of the Audi. She was beautiful. Tall with dark brown cocoa skin, like smooth dark chocolate. And he was partial to dark-skinned women. There was something about the contrast to his own skin tone that always excited him. Her hair was plaited in large cornrows that hit her back. She was wearing a pair of tight blue jeans, which emphasised a generous curvy ass. He was an ass-man. To Nnamdi, there was no such thing as too much ass. The bigger the better. But then, her tiny waist compared to her curvy bottom was perfect. She was the definition of an hourglass figure. And she wore her curves with confidence.
“Daddy, who is that lady?” Nkem asked, tearing Nnamdi’s gaze away from Onome.
“Err… someone I met a few weeks ago,” he replied, turning back quickly to Onome. She had opened the passenger side door and was holding it open. A young girl hopped out of the car.
Nnamdi’s heart fluttered as he continued to watch Onome. The girl said something to Onome and she responded with a smile. He noticed the striking dimples denting Onome’s cheeks when she smiled. He had not noticed her dimples during the interview. In fact, he had not noticed how stunning she was.
“Can we go now?” Nkem said, tugging on his hand.
“In a minute, sweetheart,” Nnamdi muttered absentmindedly, his gaze transfixed on Onome and the girl she was with. Who was the girl? Onome had denied having children. Was she married? The thought of her being married made him feel uneasy. For some strange reason, the idea that she might be unavailable, made him cringe inwardly. He observed the easy rapport between Onome and the thin and long limbed girl. They are definitely related, he concluded within himself. Their eyes and complexion were alike, although nothing else was.
He stood watching as they made their way towards the ice-cream shop. The trickle of his melting ice-cream on his fingers jolted Nnamdi back to his surroundings.
“Can we go now?” Nkem asked again. She had since finished her ice-cream.
“Oh, yes, darling… sorry. I was just… Erm… I…”
“Your ice-cream has melted.”
“Yes, it has. Yes, it has,” Nnamdi muttered, throwing it into a nearby trash can.
“Okay, princess, let’s go.”
He moved away from behind the vehicle where they stood, and resumed his stroll towards the car, Nkem strutting happily beside him.
He placed Nkem in her booster seat and fastened the seatbelt. Just before he got into the driver’s seat, Nnamdi turned his head towards the shop. His eyes collided with Onome’s. She was standing by the entrance of the shop and just happened to look in his direction at that exact moment. Nnamdi’s heart took a tumble. He noticed Onome’s eyes widen with surprise and then narrow with disdain before she turned and disappeared into the ice-cream shop beside her excited young companion.
Fejiro lay in the hospital bed grunting in pain. Two catheters hanging on each side of the bed, transferred saline from drip bags into each of her arms. Onome glanced at her daughter helplessly and then turned to watch the nurse draw up a liquid medication slowly into a syringe. The nurse had a bland and bored facial expression.
“Ahhhh!” Fejiro groaned as another jolt of pain travelled through her bones.
“Nurse, please hurry up!” Onome cried, her own body quaking as if she was also experiencing the pain her daughter felt.
The nurse neither looked up nor hastened her movements. Onome sighed and held tightly onto Fejiro’s hand.
“Shhhh, darling, soon you’ll have your morphine…soon,” she crooned, tears clouding her vision. She had been through this with her daughter so many times. Bone-pain crises. Fejiro groaned again and Onome felt her stomach twist. She watched her daughter writhing in bed, her eyes slightly yellow and rolled to the back, her face contorted in pain.
“Nurse, please,” Onome pleaded.
“Madam, please… I don’t want to make a mistake,” the nurse admonished Onome, taking a small bottle from the top of a silver table beside the bed and drawing up clear fluid into another syringe as slowly as she did the first time.
Onome glanced at the overweight middle-aged nurse in a tight white uniform that threatened to burst with any sudden movement. The woman was so stoic and emotionless. As if a little girl was not in severe pain beside her. Onome hated this hospital. The consultant doctors were rarely present and only showed up in the mornings for short ward rounds with a few naive looking trainee doctors hovering around them as if they were gods. And the nurses were downright mean. Detached and sluggish. Like the one standing beside her now.
A few seconds later, the nurse held the syringe towards Fejiro. Onome watched as the nurse took Fejiro’s limp hand in hers. She opened the cannula at the end of the tube attached to Fejiro’s arm and pushed the drug into the cannula with the syringe. Picking up the other syringe containing a clear fluid, she flushed the fluid through the tube before she shut the cannula. Onome sighed with relief; soon her daughter will be pain-free and asleep. Even if it lasted for only two hours.
“I’ll come back to check on her in an hour,” the nurse said to Onome as she disposed of the contents of the table into a yellow bin with a tight white lid.
“Thanks,” Onome muttered, although she didn’t feel thankful. It had taken an hour for Fejiro to be admitted because of all the paperwork involved and they had wanted Onome to pay the deposit first before providing the bed for admission. All the while, Fejiro sat in the waiting room grunting in pain.
“No problem, it is well,” the nurse said as she waddled out of the room.
Onome drew the curtains to the cubicle to provide some privacy for her and Fejiro.
“It is well.” Onome loathed that phrase. Everybody used it these days. No, it was not well; her daughter was lying in bed riddled with pain. Tears burned the back of her eyes but she pushed them in. She wouldn’t cry. Fejiro needed to see her in control and not falling apart.
“Mummy, I’m sleepy,” Fejiro mumbled, her eyes glazed and unfocused.
“Yes, baby, that’s a good sign,” Onome responded, squeezing her hand. “It’s a good sign, my princess. No more pain.”
“No more pain,” Fejiro repeated slowly, and seconds later, she was fast asleep. Onome sat there by the bed, still holding Fejiro’s frail hand, watching the slow rise and fall of her chest as she slept.
This was Fejiro’s third bone pain crisis this year. Onome felt a sense of guilt. Just like she did every time Fejiro was in hospital attached to drips and groaning in pain. Pain from the blood in her veins crumpling and starving her bones of nourishment. This was no life for a seven-year-old; she should be out there playing with her friends, exploring the world, being a child.
Onome drew in a short breath and fought back tears. It was all her fault. She knew this was a possibility when she married Efe. But she was so in love, and so hopeful, and so blind. Everyone else saw this coming, but at the time, she couldn’t see past the love she had for Efe.
“No more pain,” Onome whispered, stroking Fejiro’s hand. “I’ll give up everything so you have no more pain.” She sighed and reclined into her seat.
Onome loved Saturday mornings. It was the only time during the week when she could spend precious quality time bonding with Fejiro. Because of her job, she hardly had time to focus on Fejiro during the week.
Today was one of those mornings. The sun was shining brightly, but was not piercing, and a soft wind was blowing. Onome had prepared a large breakfast of fried plantains and eggs to serve Fejiro in bed. It was her favourite breakfast, and Onome wanted to spoil her daughter to make up for the horrible week she had spent in hospital eating stale cold food. Although Onome had tried to bring food every evening for Fejiro while she was in hospital, she couldn’t bring breakfast or lunch because she had to be at work.
“Wake up, sleepy head,” Onome said, walking into Fejiro’s room, the tray of food balanced in her hands.
Fejiro stirred in bed, but turned to her side, dragging the blanket over her face. Onome smiled. She did not blame her for her exhaustion. She’d had a rough week.
“I come bearing your favourite breakfast, fried plantains and eggs.”
Fejiro jolted upright in bed, a big grin spreading across her face. Onome laughed. The words “fried plantains” always did a lot of wonders. Those words never failed to produce this reaction from Fejiro.
“Yay, mummy, I love fried plantains,” Fejiro chirped, swinging her thin legs over the side of the bed.
“I know you do, love, and that’s why I prepared it for you this morning.”
“Thanks, mummy, you’re the best.”
Onome’s heart swelled. Moments like these made every struggle worth it.
“Okay then, sit and eat.” Onome placed the tray of food on a small table in front of the bed.
Fejiro took a fork from the tray and began to eat silently. After a few forkfuls of plantains mixed with eggs, she turned to Onome.
“Mummy, does daddy hate me?” she asked randomly. Onome caught her breath. Fejiro had never asked about her father. Not since he left. She had just accepted the explanation Onome gave to her without one word.
“No…” Onome swallowed, afraid to continue with this conversation, but knowing she had to.
“Why do you ask?”
“Nothing… It’s only that…” Fejiro hesitated.
“Go on… only that what?”
“I see how other dads are with their children in school. Dad never played with me like that. It’s like he ignores me…” her tone wavered.
Onome felt her tummy tighten. Fejiro was right about that. From the moment Fejiro had been diagnosed with sickle cell disease, Efe had avoided her as if she were a plague. As if he blamed her for her own illness, for disrupting his life every time he had to rush her to the hospital or stay by her bedside when she was sick.
“Fejiro… he doesn’t hate you.” Onome answered, unsure of how much to tell Fejiro.
“Then why doesn’t he visit us? Why did he leave?”
“He left me, Fejiro, not you, okay? He didn’t leave you. He is just… it was all too much for him… I’m sure he’ll come back.” Onome felt tears choke her throat. She had cried for weeks after Efe left and she thought she was done crying. Apparently not. Fejiro’s question and uncertainty about her father’s love had struck a painful nerve within her.
“Is it because I’m a sickler? Is that why he left?” The anxiety in Fejiro’s soft voice, along with her question, broke Onome’s heart.
“Darling, you are not a sickler, you have sickle cell disease. There is a difference. And I promise you that I will fight it with you. I will do everything within my power to fight it with you… okay?” Fejiro nodded, and then forked a piece of plantain mixed with eggs into her mouth.
“And your father left because of me… Not you. He loves you… okay?” Onome added and Fejiro nodded again.
Although she knew it was a weak response and that Fejiro probably did not believe her, Onome left her explanation at that. She didn’t want to tell Fejiro the complete story. The whole truth had to come from Efe. Whenever Efe was ready for it. Onome was giving him time to get over whatever demons he was running away from. She knew he was not a terrible man or father. He was only a man overwhelmed by having to deal with a sick child. Onome was waiting for him to come to his senses. And she hoped he did soon; before Fejiro’s heart hardened against him, the way her own heart had hardened against her father.
“I don’t need him anyway,” Fejiro blurted, causing Onome’s heart to leap into her throat. It was as if Fejiro had read her thoughts.
“Don’t say that, sweetheart, everyone needs their father.”
“You don’t… You have never visited grandpa.”
Onome was surprised by Fejiro’s sharp deduction. She had rarely spoken about her own father to Fejiro. All she ever told Fejiro about her grandfather was that he lived far away in Benin City. In fact, she rarely spoke about any member of her family. Since she left Benin City nine years ago, she had never looked back. She was afraid of facing the disappointment from her father, so she had never returned. The only member of her family who she kept in touch with was her brother Tobore, but she hadn’t seen him for over three years because he had moved to America.
“That’s because Benin City is far away, dear.”
“Stop lying to me, mummy. I know Benin City is not that far.”
Stunned by Fejiro’s outburst, Onome remained silent.
“I am seven, mummy. Not a baby. I know grandpa and my uncles don’t talk to you because of me and I know daddy left you because of me, because I’m a sickler. I know, and I don’t care.”
After that comment, Fejiro continued to eat her breakfast in silence. Onome sat quietly beside her, mulling over Fejiro’s words, her heart heavy with sadness for Fejiro who was forced to face an illness from birth that she had no control over. Not only that, she was also facing rejection from people who were supposed to protect her. Onome couldn’t help but blame herself for everything. The silent guilt she carried inside for Fejiro’s health problems threatened to burst to the surface.
“Mummy, can we go to the park today?” Fejiro asked, snapping Onome back from her sorrowful thoughts.
“Of course, darling, if you are up for it. I wanted you to get some rest today.”
“I’m up for it, mummy. I am sick and tired of resting. I feel fine and I want to play in the park. Lola, my friend from school, said they have fixed more swings in the park. I want to check them out.” Fejiro’s voice was drenched in excitement. Onome glanced at her daughter, a deep sense of admiration for her positivity and strength filling her. She was a jovial and sweet child with a bubbly personality despite her many setbacks in life. Rejuvenated with determination to ensure Fejiro remained cheerful, Onome smiled at her.
“Yes, dear, finish your breakfast while I draw you a warm bath so we can go,” she said getting up from the bed. She patted her daughter’s neatly braided hair.
“Fejiro,” Onome whispered, her tone husky from the deep emotion in her chest. “You are not a sickler. You are perfect and I love you just the way you are.”
“I love you too, mummy,” Fejiro replied, her mouth full of plantain as she spoke.
After Onome left Fejiro’s room, she walked through the long hallway to her room to take a quick shower. She put on a pair of faded blue jeans and a pink T-shirt with the words “can’t touch this” written across the front in big bold print. Turning her back to the mirror, she checked her reflection, hoping her bottom did not look too prominent in the jeans she wore. It did. Onome sighed, shaking her head. She hated that although she was slim everywhere else, her backside was large enough to draw attention to her. It didn’t matter what she wore, it was always protruding and bouncing with each step she took. She had received many crude and obscene remarks and multiple catcalls thrown her way from lecherous men over the years because of her bottom. It had been hard initially to get used to the attention it brought her, but she had eventually grown to accept it. After all, some women stuffed their trousers with padding to give the illusion of the generous bottom that was naturally bestowed on her.
Smoothing her palms over her jeans, Onome turned back to face the mirror. She brushed her thick chemically straightened hair and packed it into a neat bun. She thought briefly about putting on makeup but decided against it. It was Saturday morning, and she was headed to a park full of children. The likelihood that she saw anyone she knew was slim. She simply dusted her face with a neutral tone powder and applied a nude lip balm to her lips. Satisfied with her simple appearance, Onome left her room in search of Fejiro. She found her taking a bath, so she helped her get ready.
Thirty minutes later, they were off to the park singing along to Beyoncé’s single ladies playing from the car radio. Onome was at the wheel and Fejiro sat beside her on the passenger’s side. They got to Central Park in an hour. The distance to the park from their apartment was slightly far, but it was a large park with a well-equipped playground. Although it cost eight hundred Naira per child and a thousand per adult to use the park, Onome liked bringing Fejiro here because it made her happy. There were more affordable parks closer to their home, but those parks were poorly maintained and reports of accidents over the years from rusty old swings and slides did not sit well with Onome. Besides, Efe used to bring Fejiro to this park, and she didn’t want that to change. She didn’t mind the cost; she wanted to make sure Fejiro’s life didn’t change much because of the divorce.
Before long, Fejiro settled on a swing and Onome pushed the swing from behind. As Onome pushed the swing, her mind wandered back to the week Fejiro had spent in the hospital. That had been her longest admission for complications of sickle cell disease. Since Fejiro’s discharge from the hospital two weeks ago, Onome had become even more worried about her. This year had been particularly difficult for her. Perhaps because of the extra stress involved with the divorce and having to move from the house she and Efe had been renting to the two-bedroom flat they now rented. She feared that Fejiro’s body would not handle another bone pain crises. This last one had nearly knocked her to the ground.
“Higher, mum!” Fejiro shrieked, breaking through Onome’s thoughts.
Onome pushed the swing slightly higher, enjoying Fejiro’s squeal of delight. She mentally chided herself for her distraction, and resolved to give her full attention to pushing Fejiro on the swing as high as she wanted.
“Higher!” Fejiro cried again. Onome pushed the swing even higher this time.
“Better!” Fejiro screeched her appreciation.
Sweeping her eyes around the large park while pushing Fejiro on the swing, Onome took in the scenery. She loved parks. There was something about the sound of happy children running around, watchful parents warning children to be careful, squeals and laughter from children jumping on the trampoline that gave her hope for Fejiro. Those gleeful sounds made her feel happiness and health was within reach, that it was possible.
Her eyes caught sight of a lovely little girl with smooth caramel skin and beautiful large eyes, running around a statue of Minnie mouse at the centre of the park. Onome smiled. The excitement on the girl’s face was alluring. The girl jumped up high, and her ponytails swung in the air as she did. She landed awkwardly on the ground and toppled over. Instinctively, Onome moved a step towards her, but came to an abrupt halt when she spotted a tall male figure rush to the girl and scoop her in his arms. He held the girl protectively, muttering soothing words to her and kissing her forehead. Onome knew intuitively that the girl was in good hands so she stepped backwards to continue her task of pushing Fejiro on the swing.
There was something vaguely familiar about the man. Although his back was to her, Onome sensed she had seen him before. She silently hoped he would turn to face her so she could confirm her suspicion. He did. Still holding the girl in his arms, he suddenly swung his head in her direction and their eyes collided and held. Onome’s heart crashed into her ribcage. Her instincts were right. Standing there was Mr. Pretty CEO, looking delectable in khaki shorts, white sneakers and a dark brown T-shirt, which clung to his muscular arms and chest like a second skin. Her heart skittering like a train run amok, Onome stood frozen. The mechanical action of pushing Fejiro on the swing became a reflex action. Mr. Pretty CEO also appeared disconcerted for a few seconds before his face broke into a charming smile. He began to move towards her.
Onome began to panic. He was coming over. Why is he coming over? Her heart continued to pound ferociously in her chest and Onome silently derided herself for not taking time with her appearance this morning. She was sure she looked a complete mess and wished he didn’t look so delicious approaching her. Her tummy twisted when he was near. She had a sudden severe urge to snatch Fejiro from the swing and run as far away as possible from the tall handsome specimen walking towards her. However, she stood rooted to the spot, waiting for him to reach her. She sucked in a deep breath when he did.
“Onome,” Mr. Pretty CEO muttered, the corner of his full lips turning upwards into a wry smile. He remembers my name, was the first thought that came to Onome. The second thought was whether to pretend she had forgotten his name.
She decided not to. There was no point. Meeting him left an indelible impression on her. Onome was convinced nobody ever forgot his name after meeting him, and she was sure he knew it.
“Mr. Nnamdi Obi.”
“Please, call me Nnamdi,” he said, idly patting the little girl in his arms on her back. His gaze dropped to Fejiro who sat motionless on the swing with a curious expression.
“And who is this pretty little lady?” he asked, broadening his smile and showcasing dazzling even white teeth. Fejiro blushed, returning his smile with a shy smile. Even little girls are not immune to his charms, Onome thought with a twist of her lips.
“Fejiro Odafe,” she answered, breaking the rule of not talking to strangers without even a glance at her mother.
“Fejiro, that is a lovely name. Do you know what it means?”
“Yes, it means Praise God,” Fejiro said, jumping down from the swing and moving to stand beside Onome.
“Lovely… Praise God…” he turned his face to look directly into Onome’s eyes. “I feel like saying that today… Praise God that I saw you here.” Onome’s stomach tightened. Is he flirting with me? Onome thought, then quickly shook herself out of that delusion. There was no way he was flirting with her. A sophisticated wealthy man like Nnamdi did not need to flirt to get women. He is just being polite.
As if deciding she’d had enough of being ignored, the little girl in his arms kicked her legs about, attempting to get down. Mr. Pretty CEO put her down.
“And this is my daughter, Nkem Obi,” he remarked, twirling the little girl’s ponytail with his fingers.” Onome smiled and stretched her hand to Nkem for a handshake.
“Nice to meet you, Nkem, my name is Onome.”
“Daddy, is this the ice-cream lady you were staring at?” Nkem asked, taking Onome’s hand in hers.
Nkem’s question caused Onome’s heart to jump to her throat, and she snapped her head up. She noticed a subtle dusky flush creep up Nnamdi’s cheeks.
“I wasn’t staring at her,” he muttered, his eyes shifting sideways in what could only be described as embarrassment. “… And she is not the ice-cream lady.”
Nkem turned away from him abruptly as if suddenly losing interest in the conversation, and walked over to Fejiro.
“How old are you?” she asked Fejiro.
“Seven, and you?”
“I’m five… but I will soon be six.”
“Do you like playing on the slides?” Fejiro asked Nkem who nodded in response. She turned towards Onome. “Mummy, can we play on the slide, we’ll be careful. I promise.”
“You can, but I don’t know if Mr. Obi wants Nkem on the slide.”
“Nnamdi,” he corrected her again. He glanced at both girls whose expressions were pleading and hopeful. Nnamdi nodded. “Okay, but be careful. And I want you both where I can see you.”
They nodded excitedly and scurried away.
Now alone with Nnamdi, Onome felt her insides churning. His nearness overwhelmed her. The scent of his woodsy cologne filled her nostrils and spread warmth across her chest.
“Let’s sit over there, Onome,” Nnamdi said, pointing to the nearest empty bench under a shade. The way he pronounced her name with a slow lazy drawl sent shivers down her spine. Onome nodded and followed him to the bench.
They sat down almost simultaneously on the wooden bench. Onome made sure to put some distance between them. She wasn’t sure about him yet and her reaction to him put her at a disadvantage. While he appeared relaxed and unaffected by her, she was thrown into pandemonium just by being this close to him.
“Fejiro is your daughter,” he remarked with a conviction that left no room for denial.
“Yes,” was Onome’s simple reply. She crossed her legs. He cast a quick glance at her left hand and then turned back to the girls.
“And her father?”
“We are divorced.”
Nnamdi did not respond. His eyes remained focused on Fejiro and Nkem. Onome’s heart flipped. She wondered what he was thinking. Was he disappointed? Turned off maybe? She shook her head, annoyed with herself for caring if he was. He didn’t matter. His opinion about her marital state or lack thereof didn’t matter. She had made peace with being divorced. It was for the best. She had long overcome her initial reaction of humiliation to the disapproval from people whenever she mentioned that she was divorced. Why did his silence bother her?
“And Nkem’s mother? I didn’t know you were married.” Onome broke the silence.
He turned towards her and smiled.
“Have you been researching about me?” he queried, amusement gleaming in his eyes.
“Only because I was shortlisted for the interview,” she answered quickly. Not wanting to give the impression that she was interested in him. Which she wasn’t. He was not her type. Yes, she was physically attracted to him. Who wouldn’t be? He was a striking man. But, she preferred nice men, like Efe—when Efe was a nice man. Not arrogant men who treated women without respect.
From everything she had read about him, and the way he had treated her during the interview, she knew without a doubt that he was an arrogant jackass who treated women terribly. To her, that made him eye-candy only and not a potential boyfriend. Her plan now, if she ever managed to get past her hurt and date again, was to find a dependable man who would be there for her and Fejiro. Not a fluke like him.
“Ah… the interview.” Nnamdi’s voice crashed through her thoughts. He paused for a few seconds, brushed his fingers over his jaw, and then he turned away from Onome. She noticed a flicker of regret cross his eyes before he turned away.
“I was an asshole,” he said. His tone was solemn.
Onome’s stomach jumped. Was she hearing properly? Was Mr. Pretty CEO admitting guilt? She almost did a double-take, her eyes widening in shock. If only she could record this moment, keep it in an audio file to replay in the privacy of her room.
“Yes, you were,” Onome agreed. He didn’t look offended by her comment. In fact, he looked remorseful.
His apology was so unexpected that Onome’s heart skipped a beat. Conflicting emotions swirled around in her mind. She desperately wanted to dislike him; it helped her fight her attraction to him. But, how could she, when he had just given her such an honest apology? When he sounded so sincere? Was there more to him than social media portrayed?
“Apology accepted,” she replied, breaking into a smile.
His eyes focused on her lips for a few seconds before jumping to her eyes. Those few seconds made her insides heat up and her throat go dry. She swallowed hard.
“You should smile more often, Onome. Your smile is beautiful.”
Too stunned for words, Onome turned her face away from him, afraid he would notice how his words affected her. “Thank you,” she muttered in response after a few seconds. They lapsed into silence filled by the noise of excited children playing in the park. Onome struggled to keep calm and breathe normally as she sat beside Nnamdi. She stole subtle glances at him as he watched the girls play. She was acutely aware of him, of every breath that he took. There was something about him that confused her. She couldn’t quite fit his reputation with the man who sat beside her apologising for his behaviour and complimenting her on her smile.
“Careful girls!” he called out suddenly. Onome darted her eyes to the slide. Fejiro was sliding down, shouting in glee with Nkem following closely behind her. They were so excited that they didn’t acknowledge his warning.
“Nkem’s mother is dead. She died a few weeks ago. So, I’m now solely responsible for looking after her.” Nnamdi spoke again. Onome turned to face him fully, her interests piqued by his admission. Questions about his relationship with Nkem’s mother whirled in her head. Were they married? Dating? Had he loved her? Onome wanted to ask all those questions, but felt it wasn’t appropriate to be so intrusive especially if he was still grieving.
“So sorry about that,” she murmured instead.
“Oh, I am fine. Bianca and I were never close… I mean, we were not dating, married or anything like that. Nkem happened after a one night…” his voice trailed off. “Bianca only told me about Nkem a year ago. I didn’t even know Nkem existed before then.”
He had not been in love with or married to Nkem’s mother. An unexpected irrational feeling of relief arising from that revelation struck Onome. She didn’t even want to analyse that feeling yet; it was too unsettling.
“It must have been hard for Nkem, losing her mother, I mean.”
“Yes, it was initially, but she is gradually getting better.”
“She looks happy. You must be doing a good job, Mr. Obi.”
“Nnamdi,” Onome repeated.
She found it strange to be calling him by his first name. Strange and confusing. She wanted to keep her opinion about him unchanged. That way, she could cope with her attraction to him. After all, he was the arrogant CEO who caused her to lose the job opportunity of a lifetime, not the friendly person sitting beside her. But it was getting harder to cling to her resentment with each second that she sat beside him. Onome watched his face crack into a captivating smile.
“You see, it’s not so difficult saying my name, Onome.” There was a teasing flash in his eyes as he spoke. Heat warmed her cheeks at his words. “And thank you for saying that about me and Nkem, I only hope I do a good job raising her.”
“I have never met a single father, ever,” Onome admitted. “I think it is admirable that you are looking after Nkem on your own.”
His smile broadened.
“I think it is admirable when any man or woman manages to cope well as a single parent. It is not easy.”
His response made her smile. It was rare for her to hear anyone talk about admiration for single mothers. The emotion always shown to her because of her single parenthood was, pity. Not admiration. They sat watching the children silently after that exchange. Onome peeked at her watch, it was almost noon and she needed to head back home to prepare lunch for Fejiro.
“Onome, have you found another job?” Nnamdi asked her randomly. The unexpected change in topic was surprising. She cast a quick glance his way before refocusing her eyes on Fejiro and Nkem.
“Why?” she asked him, wondering why he was suddenly interested in her employment status, especially when he was the one who had sabotaged her interview with Zenith Mortgage bank.
“Nothing…” Nnamdi began, and then hesitated. “… I’m glad I saw you here. I have been meaning to call you.”
Her head spun towards his direction so fast that she felt slightly lightheaded.
“Why?” she asked again, not sure where this conversation was leading to.
“Last week, I fired Kunle, the guy we hired for the position you interviewed for.” Nnamdi answered, still gazing ahead at the girls who were now climbing the stairs to the slide.
Onome’s memory quickly identified Kunle as the first person who had gone in for the interview.
“Why?” This time, her question was associated with butterflies flickering around her tummy. Was this leading to what she hoped it was?
“Well, he was awful, and slow. Imagine, I asked him to tabulate income and expenditure and use the data to create a bar chart and he didn’t even know what a bar chart was.”
Onome laughed. “Really?”
“That’s not the worst part,” Nnamdi continued, his expression incredulous as he turned to Onome. “I asked him to send details of a presentation to a group of very important clients. The fool sent a folder without opening it… Let’s just say, the folder contained some very confidential information I would never have shared with clients.” He paused, shook his head and turned his attention back to the girls.
“What I’m saying is, I have been trying to swallow my pride all week and call you… to hire you.” A momentary pause. “Because I need you.”
Onome’s heart skipped a beat. Because I need you. Those words so effortlessly and carelessly emitted from his mouth, turned her insides into mush.
“Please tell me you haven’t found another job and you can still work for me, work with me,” he added, his tone deep and low.
Onome was speechless. She sat immobilised by surprise. Had he just offered her a job? The job of her dreams? More money than she could want? Enough to look after Fejiro comfortably? Without having to go back and beg Efe or her father for money?
“What do you have to say?” he asked, his question shattering her inertness.
“I’m…. I’m stunned.”
“Is that a no? I could raise the salary by another ten thousand a month… please say yes.”
“Deal!… I mean yes,” Onome answered quickly.
An additional ten thousand a month to the already huge salary? Oh, my, today was really a lucky day for her.
“Great, Onome, great news,” he said, smiling. His smile reached his brown eyes as if he was genuinely pleased. “How soon can you start? I mean, I don’t want to rush you—”
“Next week Monday. I have to give my job notice, and I’m all yours on Monday.”
“Yes, Onome, from next week Monday, you are all mine.”
There was something about the way he said those words that made her wonder if he was still talking about the job. Before she could dwell on that thought, the girls rushed towards them screaming in excitement.
“Daddy, did you see us on the slide?” Nkem cried enthusiastically.
“Mummy, it was fun!” Fejiro proclaimed elated.
“Yes, my darlings! You were both perfect,” Onome muttered, kissing Fejiro’s cheeks.
“Yes, you were.” Nnamdi agreed as he pulled Nkem to sit on his knee.
Onome’s eyes gleamed over his sparsely hair-dusted muscular legs and thighs with appreciation. He was truly a gorgeous sight to behold. She had never reacted to a man in such a raw and primal way. Not even to Efe, her ex-husband. And now, this man was going to be her boss.
Quickly reminding herself that her thoughts about him should be strictly business, Onome turned back to her daughter.
“We have to leave now, sweetheart,” she said to Fejiro who nodded her head in agreement.
“Can I see Nkem again?” Fejiro asked.
“We’ll have to ask Mr.… err, Nnamdi, if—” Onome began, reluctant to insert herself or Fejiro into Nnamdi and Nkem’s family time.
“Your mother now works with me, so I am sure we can arrange something in the future,” Nnamdi cut in, a wry smile on his lips. He rose to his feet, carrying Nkem in his arms and across his left shoulder.
“See you next week Monday, Onome. I’ll make sure the staff welcomes you properly.”
“See you next week Monday… Nnamdi,” Onome replied.
She held on to Fejiro’s hand, a bit too tightly, attempting to quell some of her anxiety. She would be working closely with a man whom she found insanely attractive. How could she survive that? Well, as long as he didn’t find her attractive, it would be easy. And she was sure he didn’t find her attractive. The only reason he had come over to talk to her was because he wanted to offer her this job. Nothing more. Onome knew she had a cute face and lovely clear skin. She also knew she had a figure many men found sexy. She was not too modest to deny that. However, she knew she came with plenty of baggage—an absentee ex-husband and a sick daughter. There was no point in thinking otherwise, and there was no time for relationships. She needed to focus on her daughter and for her to do so adequately, she needed this job. Badly. So much that she’d be damned if she did anything to jeopardize it, including allow her physical attraction to her future boss to impede on her performance.
“Thanks for accepting my offer,” he said, his deep voice cutting into her reveries.
“Thanks for the offer.”
With one final smile at her and Fejiro, Nnamdi turned and walked away. Nkem waved farewell to them, still balanced across his shoulder.
Excited! That was the only word Nnamdi could think of to describe the way he had been feeling since the day he offered Onome the job and she said yes. He would soon be working closely with Onome. Apart from being breathtakingly beautiful, he had been pleased to discover that she also had a warm personality. That she had instantly let go of her grievances about the interview impressed him. Nnamdi disliked women who held grudges; it was an instant turn-off for him.
Grunting loudly, Nnamdi lifted the heavy dumbbell with both hands above his head. He held it steadily over his head for five breaths before lowering it. He repeated the action five times, his adrenaline pumping. Excitement coursed through his veins. He couldn’t wait to see Onome again. Worried that she might have changed her mind about the job offer, he had fought the urge to telephone her all week to confirm that she was still interested. After all, it had only been a verbal agreement. No evidence of their conversation existed. He had only calmed down after his secretary told him that Onome had called on Friday to confirm that she would be in today.
When he had seen Onome in the park, he’d been both surprised and pleased. But, as soon as he noticed the same little girl he’d seen with her at the ice-cream shop on the swing in front of her, he’d felt deflated. Because he’d known without a doubt that the girl was Onome’s daughter. That meant there was another man in her life. The unexpected emotion of relief that passed through him when Onome informed him she was divorced, stunned him into silence. He’d relaxed instantly after finding out she wasn’t married or in a relationship. It was easier for him to swallow his pride then and offer her the job. He knew instinctively that she would be excellent at it. There was something about her that exuded intelligence and innovation. Her CV and references were excellent, but he couldn’t deny that he made the decision based on instinct and the way she’d carried herself during the interview.
After a few more rounds of weight lifting, Nnamdi moved over to the treadmill. He loved to exercise because he enjoyed good food. He knew the only way to keep his physique firm and tight was to keep to a strict workout regimen. Therefore, he rarely ever missed his early morning workout routine. He had turned this guest-room into a well-equipped home gym shortly after purchasing the house, so he could keep up with his exercise.
As he pounded his legs on the electric treadmill, he found his mind wandering again to Onome. He had been extremely relieved that she was single. Although he had resolved not to pursue an affair with her because they would be working together, he didn’t like the idea of her with someone else. If he couldn’t have her, he wanted no one else in the picture, not until his interest in her faded. Nnamdi knew it was completely irrational and possessive, but he couldn’t help himself. He had never experienced an intense attraction to any woman before her. And he couldn’t understand it. Yes, she was beautiful, but not the most beautiful woman he had seen. Even though she had a perfect hourglass figure, he had been with women with similar striking curves. His attraction to her was inexplicable, more than physical, confusing, and until he could understand it, he wanted her to be free from the attention of other men.
The alarm clock in the room buzzed loudly, jolting Nnamdi out of his thoughts. His workout time was over, he needed to shower and start his morning routine of getting Nkem ready for school. Climbing down from the machine, he reached for the small face towel hanging on the wall mount and wiped the perspiration from his face before placing it back neatly. Nnamdi whistled softly as he switched off the treadmill. He strolled out of the room and into the kitchen in search of a bottle of cold water from the fridge. A deep sigh of satisfaction gushed through him as the chilled water trickled down his throat. Part of his healthy lifestyle choices was to drink a litre of water daily. Based on what he’d read from an issue of the Health Magazine he subscribed to monthly, doing that helped reduce toxins in the body. Though he wasn’t sure about the accuracy of that information, he followed the advice anyway. Water couldn’t be bad for anyone. As Fela, one of his favourite musicians sang, water no get enemy.
Feeling energised and refreshed, Nnamdi climbed the stairs to his room. A quick shower was what he needed and he would be ready to start the day. Within ten minutes, he was dressed in a pair of black trousers and a striped white and black collar shirt folded at the elbow, and on his way to Nkem’s room to wake her up.
“Wake up, angel,” Nnamdi said, switching on the light. She did not budge. He walked over to her medium-sized pink princess Cinderella designed bed and sat down beside her. He watched her sleep for a few seconds and smiled. She was a beauty, a perfect mixture of him and Bianca. But she also looked like his mother. He was glad that the funeral service for Bianca was over and the new phase of their life could now begin.
He reached over and gently shook her.
“Wake up, angel,” he said softly. This time, she stirred slightly and then turned from her side to lie on her back. She closed her eyes again and went back to sleep. Nnamdi smiled and shook his head, then he lifted her from the bed and watched as her eyes fluttered open.
“It’s Monday, love. Time to get ready for school.”
“Oh, is it morning already?” Nkem grumbled. He laughed.
“Yes dear. Next time, you won’t stay up watching Peppa Pig when I tell you to go to bed.”
She giggled. “It was Peppa’s birthday. I had to watch.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah… Now you have to wake up,” Nnamdi snorted, carrying her to the bathroom. He undressed her, placed her in the pink bathtub and turned on the tap. He watched her soak in the warm bubbly bath before taking over and rubbing the parts of her body that she could not reach.
When he was done giving her a bath and helping her dry herself with her favourite pink towel, it was a mad dash to the bedroom where he helped her into her grey and blue school uniform.
“Nkem, where are your shoes?” Nnamdi asked her, sticking his head into her closet where they were supposed to be.
“They’re in the closet,” Nkem said, trying to tie the belt of her uniform by herself.
“Uh, I don’t see them in here, sweetie. Can you help me look for them?”
Nkem rushed over and searched the closet. “I left them in here on Friday after school.”
“But they’re not here now,” Nnamdi responded, the building frustration almost evident in his voice. “Look under the bed.”
Nkem bent over and lifted the ends of her bed covers and looked under the bed while Nnamdi searched her toy box.
“Here they are!” he exclaimed, heaving a sigh of relief. There was always something out of place when it was time to get her ready for school. Today was no different. This time, he had found her shoes hanging on the feet of one of her dolls.
About twenty minutes later, they were sitting in the dining room having breakfast at the large Mahogany dining table. He had made pancakes for Nkem but he was eating scrambled eggs and toast.
“Are you looking forward to the week ahead?” he asked Nkem once they had settled down to eat.
Initially, Nnamdi had found getting Nkem ready every morning to be gruelling, but he had gradually gotten used to it. And surprisingly, he found himself enjoying it. He had even learnt how to braid her hair into ponytails after studying the process repeatedly on YouTube. He now considered himself some sort of pro in natural hair braiding. He was particularly proud of that achievement.
“Yes, daddy,” Nkem answered, lifting a small piece of pancake with her fork. “My friend, Amanda, keeps talking about her parrot, a new pet her granddad bought for her.”
“Oh, how exciting, Do you like parrots?”
“Yes daddy, I want a parrot too.”
“Hmmm… but do you know anything about parrots, how to look after them properly?”
“No, but I can learn. I promise!” Nkem sounded excited. Nnamdi hesitated. A pet was another responsibility. He was just getting used to looking after Nkem. The flicker of hope in her eyes got him.
“Okay, I’ll think about it.”
“Oh, daddy, you are the best!” Nkem shrieked, jumping to her feet, and flinging her little arms around him. Nnamdi laughed. His heart constricted with all the love he felt for her. He knew he was putty in her hands. He couldn’t deny her anything.
“When will we get the parrot? I can’t wait to tell my friends!” Her excitement was almost palpable. Nnamdi laughed again.
“Slow down, Nkem baby, we have to first find out more about parrots, learn what they like to eat, how to look after them before we buy one.” Nnamdi said, holding onto her a bit longer. These moments with her were precious. He would never replace them with anything in the world.
“Okay, daddy. As long as we get to have a parrot, I’m happy.”
“Baby girl, sit and eat, we’ll be late if you don’t,” he muttered with a straight face, trying to sound stern. He couldn’t quite pull that off yet. He knew that at some point, he would have to introduce discipline into his relationship with Nkem, but for the moment, he was simply content that she was no longer wary of him and had completely relaxed around him.
After breakfast, he washed the dishes and packed Nkem’s lunch bag. Following a quick sweep of his gaze around the kitchen to make sure he had everything he needed, he picked up the lunch bag and turned to Nkem.
“Time to start a new week,” Nnamdi said, the excitement in his voice difficult to hide. Only he knew exactly why he was excited.
The traffic to Nkem’s school was heavy. Nnamdi swallowed back the curses that threatened to erupt at the motorcycle rider who had carelessly cut in front of him, and the bus driver who had halted abruptly to disembark passengers. The unbearable traffic was the only reason he disliked Lagos. Having lived in Lagos for over fifteen years, he still found it difficult adjusting to the traffic.
They eventually got to Evergreen Primary School just in time. He had enrolled Nkem in this very expensive private primary school because Adaora and Chuma, whose children also attended the school, had highly recommended it.
From the moment that he had found out that Nkem was his daughter, he had insisted that Bianca pull her out of the poorly staffed grammar school she’d been attending, and had secured a place for her at Evergreen Primary. He didn’t care how much it cost. Bianca had gladly agreed because she knew it was best for Nkem. That was just over six months ago, and Nkem seemed to have settled in now. Nnamdi followed Nkem to the school gate and bade her farewell with a hug and a kiss before retreating to the car.
His drive to work was surprisingly smooth because the traffic had eased up, and for that, Nnamdi was glad. He reached the office car park at eight a.m. and made his way to his office, his heart rate pumping at full speed up. He was consumed with anxiety when he walked into the empty elevator of the building leading up to his office on the fourth floor. Nnamdi glanced at his reflection in the elevator mirror and straightened his tie. He knew he was a handsome well-built man. It was his blessing and his curse. Women were automatically drawn to him, especially because he was also a multimillionaire and a successful financial mogul. He had never worked hard to pursue any woman. He’d never needed to. It was no surprise that he now found himself lacking the skills needed to woo a woman. Where would he start? What was he supposed to say? He had no idea. Just a few years ago, two gorgeous women had even been willing to share him.
Somehow, he knew Onome was different. She was a woman he would have to chase into his bed. That unexpected thought caused his brain to snap back. Whoa! Slow down, he admonished himself, as he felt his body respond to the thought of Onome in his bed. She works for you, idiot. Minutes later, he was at the front office leading to his own office.
“Good morning, Nnamdi,” Folusho, his secretary, greeted. “Your coffee is on your desk.”
“Thanks, Folu,” Nnamdi responded with a smile. Folusho was very efficient and had worked for Nnamdi for over ten years. He was like a human gate to Nnamdi’s office. No one got to Nnamdi without passing through him and he was great at preventing unwanted visitors or calls from getting to Nnamdi. Standing by Folusho’s desk, Nnamdi held himself back from asking if Onome had shown up. His eagerness would be perceived easily by Folusho, and he did not intend to be the subject of idle office gossip. Seconds ticked by as Nnamdi remained still, waiting for any news about Onome’s arrival. Folusho did not mention Onome. To avoid the appearance that he was lingering idly by Folusho’s desk, he picked up his briefcase and strode into his office disappointed.
Nnamdi closed the door behind him and walked over to his desk and sat down. He was trying to control the extent of disappointment he felt at Onome’s absence. Did Onome decide not to take the job after all? Had she changed her mind? His stomach churned, rage gradually boiling inside him. If she changed her mind, he would track her down and force her back here. She had made an agreement with him and she couldn’t break it. He would ensure that—
“Miss Onome Odafe is here, Nnamdi,” Folusho announced via the intercom, penetrating his steaming brain. “She is back from the office tour you arranged with Mr Alade.”
Nnamdi caught his breath. He had completely forgotten about the tour. He smiled. Of course, that’s where she was! I had arranged an office tour!
“Send her in,” he replied, hoping his voice did not betray his emotions. He couldn’t control the rapid pounding of his heart as he sat in his brown leather seat waiting for Onome to walk into his office. When she did, he rose to his feet a bit too eagerly and had to warn himself silently to get a grip.
“Welcome, Onome. I hope the staff welcomed you well,” Nnamdi said, offering her his hand. She beamed and took it for a brief handshake. Too brief, Nnamdi observed, as if his touch scorched her. His eyes zeroed in on her gorgeous dimples that were only visible when she smiled. He wished she would smile often. That way, he would be treated to the beauty of those dimples constantly.
“They have been so welcoming, thanks. Folusho even brought me a basket of fresh fruits and a bouquet of flowers.”
Nnamdi was pleased with Folusho’s innovative thinking, but felt oddly jealous that he hadn’t been the one to think about the gesture himself.
“Great, great… please take a seat,” he said, pointing to the seat opposite him. Smiling nervously, Onome sat down in the comfortable leather chair. Nnamdi couldn’t help but admire how well her curves fit into the black skirt suit she wore. Her cocoa brown skin glowed brilliantly in the bright lighting of the room. Her hair was packed into a neat bun and her face was lightly made-up although her lips glimmered with a nude shade of lipstick that accentuated their succulent fullness. Thoughts of tasting those lips which looked as sweet as a succulent ripe udala fruit, swamped his brain. Nnamdi had never been a man who enjoyed kissing. He rarely indulged in the act with women he had sex with. It felt too personal. But Onome’s mouth would have him break that rule easily. Her lips looked so soft, so pouty, so kissable, he thought, and then rapidly snapped out of his lustful thinking. You shouldn’t be thinking about kissing her, idiot, she works for you now. Nnamdi cleared his throat before speaking.
“So, have you been to your office yet?” he queried.
“Yes, Mr Alade has already shown me my office. I… um… I didn’t know my office was… err… beside yours.”
“Yes, I arranged things to have your office next to mine.” When he saw the confusion on her face, he added, “it makes things easier. I always had to walk across the hall to fetch my former assistant. So, now, you will be next door.”
She nodded, but still appeared worried. Nnamdi wondered why. Did she also feel the pull of the unexplainable, uncontrollable attraction he felt? Was he not alone in this struggle? His mind was still contemplating that thought when he heard her speak.
“Folusho said that there are many accounts still pending resolution and that you wanted me to go through them right away.”
“Yes, there are. Unfortunately, Kunle was completely useless, and I have been struggling to put the pieces together. But I want to ease you in.”
“I’m fine, really, I can start straight away if you want.”
“No, today is your first day, I’ll teach you how to use the computer software and filing system today, then give you your personal login information for the software.”
Nnamdi knew he could have assigned someone else to teach Onome what she needed to know, but he wanted to spend as much time with her as possible. He kept telling himself it was purely to make sure that the training went smoothly, although he knew he was only lying to himself. He enjoyed being near her. Even though he knew little about her, he’d found her company enjoyable that Saturday morning at the park.
“Okay, I’m ready when you are,” Onome said, crossing her legs. Nnamdi noticed that she repeatedly ran her palms over her skirt. He wanted to tell her to relax, but he didn’t. Even he wasn’t relaxed. His body was on full alert, aware of Onome in a way that he had never been aware of any other woman. And for the first time since he hired her, Nnamdi wondered if he had made a mistake. Could he really work with her, when he was irresistibly drawn to her?
“I am, we just have to re-arrange the chairs so we both face the computer,” he replied.
“Oh,” Onome muttered, then stood. She was about to lift the heavy chair when Nnamdi rose and assisted her. He placed her seat beside his on the same side of the table behind the computer, and noticed she moved hers slightly farther from his before sitting down.
Nnamdi switched on the computer and they waited in silence while the screen came to life. He typed in his password and then opened the software.
“We have used this software for over a decade. I’m sure we need to upgrade it at some point. But all the partners have been stalling because we hate change,” he remarked, trying to lighten the aura of uncertainty she exuded from her rigid posture beside him. He fought the urge to place his hand over hers to still her hand, which kept smoothening over her skirt, or to do something to calm the anxiety he perceived she felt. His comment seemed to have done the trick because the ends of her lips turned up into a half-smile, giving him another quick glimpse of her dimples.
“After the change Buhari failed to deliver, I think “change” has become a word all Nigerians are wary of,” she replied.
Nnamdi threw his head back and laughed.
“I know, and to think that I voted for him. My brother was so livid when I told him.”
“How could you?” Onome contorted her face in mockery. “So, you were among the Nigerians he tricked to get votes.” She shook her head teasingly before she continued. “With the terrible dive in the economy, the one thing I can say with pride is at least I didn’t vote for him.”
Nnamdi laughed again, loving the easy repartee between them.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, my brother has told me off repeatedly for voting for Buhari, but, I stick to my guns. Nigerians needed a change. It’s only a shame that the change didn’t work out.” He heard Onome giggle, the sound was so husky and warm that it aroused him instantly. Nnamdi shifted in his chair, slightly ashamed of his reaction to her. He needed to focus. It had been too long since he had a woman in his bed. Maybe he needed a woman. Soon. Perhaps that would cool his continuous need for Onome before he gave in to his desires and embarrassed himself.
Since finding out about Nkem the year before, he had dedicated his time solely to being a good father. His nightly clubbing activities had gradually reduced to a point where he couldn’t remember the last time he went to a club to pick up women. In fact, the last time he had sex was about two months ago with Amina, his ex-girlfriend—if she could be called that. That was way too long for him. Yet he knew that he wasn’t interested in going clubbing or picking up women. For now, he was only interested in Onome. It frustrated him that the first and only woman to arouse his interest in such a severe way, was his employee. And he would do nothing about it because he believed that mixing pleasure with business always ruined everything. Plus, it was against office policy.
“So, how do I know which accounts I have to work on?” Onome enquired, her husky voice interrupting his thoughts. She had refocused her gaze on the computer screen and her posture returned to being rigid. The tension in the air returned as if she had sensed his predicament.
Nnamdi cleared his throat and shifted his eyes back to the computer. “We will use a dummy account today so you can learn how to use the software first before I give you the list of the real accounts,” he muttered, moving the desktop mouse with his hand and flicking open the training software on the computer. Shortly after, they were immersed in the files on the screen. Nnamdi was impressed at how fast Onome leant the software system. She took less than two hours to pick up the details when it had taken Kunle almost three days to learn. Even then, he had continued to make mistakes. As he watched her take over inputting the numbers into the dummy files confidently and independently, Nnamdi became resolutely convinced he was right for hiring her. She would be an asset to this company. He also made up his mind to keep his lust under control, to fight his attraction to her. It would be a shame if he lost her talent because he didn’t control himself.
By lunchtime, Nnamdi had gone through all the features of the software with Onome. His eyes began to hurt and his tummy growled.
“I think you have got the general gist of it, Onome, maybe it’s time for a break,” he announced, closing the last file left opened. She appeared relieved at his announcement.
“Yes, I think so too. I’m starving. I was so anxious that I didn’t have breakfast,” she blurted out. He noticed her embarrassment by her sudden admission.
“Nervous? About what?”
“Well, starting a new job, and…” She broke off.
“And what?” Nnamdi sat upright, now curious. She hesitated, appearing to consider whether to reveal her reasons. After a deep sigh, she spoke.
“I know you didn’t want me to work here initially, and that I’m only here because the first employee messed up. I spent the whole week worried I would mess up too.”
Nnamdi contemplated her answer in silence for a few seconds. He’d been nervous for completely different reasons. His own anxiety stemmed from his unexplained and profound attraction to her. Mixed feelings about her admission whirled within him. On the one hand, he was touched by her determination to excel at her job, but on the other hand, deep inside, there was a part of him that wanted to hear that she was worried because she also felt the attraction, the chemistry between them. Apparently, it was one-sided, and that was new for him. Most women he’d met fell for him easily. Onome’s seeming lack of interest was disconcerting, although he was somewhat relieved too. At least, if she didn’t feel the same attraction he felt for her, it would be harder for him to destroy their working relationship and perhaps they could work well together like he and his previous assistant had.
“You will not mess up. I’m sure you’ll do a brilliant job.”
Nnamdi’s statement proved accurate in the weeks that followed. By the end of the month, Onome was handling the firm’s mortgage accounts with effortless efficiency. She had even balanced all the outstanding accounts and corrected the mistakes Kunle the previous employee had made. While Nnamdi was pleased with how competently Onome worked, he found it grating that she connected with the other staff members in a way that she hadn’t with him. He noticed that she was liked by members of his team. She relaxed around them, smiling, making jokes and laughing. But whenever she was around him, she sat rigidly, avoided any personal conversation and remained painstakingly formal. He cringed as he recalled her snatching her hands away when he had accidentally touched her while handing her a file. That act of rejection stung him, bruised his ego. No woman had ever treated him this way—like he was unattractive and revolting. It was as if she took extra care not to be alone with him unless necessary.
Nonetheless, he couldn’t fault her for her dedication to the job. She was usually very early to work and left a few minutes after the closing time. She did her job proficiently and attended all the meetings, well prepared, contributing innovative ideas to the team. Her suggestion to send out gift baskets to three prominent potential clients, secured two of those accounts. In a short space of time, everyone loved her. She became the star employee. Of course, he knew part of her charm was her gender. Since she was the only female in his immediate team, they were drawn to her, and she seemed to handle the attention well without using her gender as a weapon.
She easily entered the offices of the other managers with a smile, exchanging friendly chitchat with them, but never did the same when she entered his office. And she did not even enter his office unless she was summoned.
Three days ago, he had discovered—only by accident when his secretary mentioned it—that she had joined three managers for lunch at the canteen opposite the office building. It had irritated him more than he cared to admit because she’d rejected his invitation to join him for lunch days prior, muttering a quick excuse about having already eaten. She limited communication with him mostly through the internal email, yet found time to chat with others. By the end of the fourth week, Nnamdi was fed up with being ignored by Onome. He was wound tightly with annoyance. He wanted to force her to acknowledge him, to make her show him some attention.
Sounds of laughter coming from the adjacent room tore through Nnamdi’s frustrated rumination. He got up from his executive seat, and, for the first time, intended marching up to his secretary to warn him to keep his voice down. There had always been a laid-back environment around his team. He allowed the friendliness and occasional banter because he believed that friendly working environments increased productivity. But for some reason, today, the jolly laughter from his secretary annoyed him.
Nnamdi was on his way to see his secretary when he heard Onome’s voice coming from the other side of the door. He stopped in his tracks.
“You shouldn’t have eaten so much, Folusho,” Nnamdi heard Onome say.
“But the food was so nice. And thanks for giving my wife the recipe.” Folusho’s voice brimmed with amusement. “If she gets it right, I can finally have something better than her bland jollof rice.”
Onome gasped. “Folu,” she protested. “That’s a horrible thing to say! I will tell her what you said.”
“Tell her, please. She knows she is a terrible cook. But I married her despite that.”
“She is not that bad. The roast chicken she made was decent.”
“Don’t let my wife fool you. I made that chicken myself. All she did was remove it from the oven.” Nnamdi heard them both giggle. His stomach twisted.
“I really enjoyed having dinner with your family, Folu, we should do it again.”
“Yes, we should. And bring your lovely girl, Fejiro, again. She is so polite.”
“She is. She is an angel. I’m so lucky.”
There was a moment of brief silence followed by Folusho’s voice.
“Your ex-husband is a fool—” Folusho broke off abruptly. His tone was passionate. For reasons Nnamdi did not want to explore, his annoyance level rose to an insurmountable peak when he heard that comment from Folusho. Not only had Onome shared dinner with Folusho and his family, she had also talked to him about personal stuff? About her life? About her ex-husband? Yet she avoided him as if he was diseased. Never saying a word to him unless it related to work.
An irrational anger overwhelmed him. He recognised the anger to be jealousy. Yes, he was jealous of Onome’s relationship with the rest of the staff. It was an emotion he had never experienced before. It was a completely misplaced emotion in this situation, although very real and uncontrollable to him.
“He wasn’t always like that, he—”
Nnamdi opened the door briskly.
“Onome, I need to see you in my office right away,” he snarled, interrupting their cosy tête-à-tête. Her lovely dark eyes widened in surprise at his gruff tone.
“Is everything okay? We weren’t disturbing, were we? Sorry—”
“No, you weren’t disturbing,” he snapped. “It’s about an urgent matter.”
With disconcerting emotions charging within him, he turned and walked back into his office fully expecting her to follow. She did, walking in tentatively. Nnamdi took in a deep breath fighting to control himself before facing Onome. He was considerably calmer when he did. His quick perusal noted how lovely she looked in a brown skirt and a pale-yellow silk blouse. Her outfit accentuated her curves in a way that was not over the top. Her hair was woven into tiny braids packed into a neat bun that brought attention to her striking facial features highlighted with subtle makeup. There was no denying her presence was a breath of fresh air to his team that consisted solely of men. It was easy to understand their fascination with her. Hell, he was equally, if not overtly, fascinated by her himself.
“Please have a seat,” Nnamdi said to her as he walked behind his desk. With a small sigh, she took the seat opposite his chair, her facial expression obviously worried. Nnamdi suddenly felt like a heel. He had not meant to make her apprehensive.
“Is there a mistake with the report I sent this morning? I’ll rectify it—”
“It was perfect, Onome,” Nnamdi promptly assured her with a gentler tone. He still felt turbulent emotions he couldn’t yet identify raging inside him but it wasn’t her fault. There was no need to make her feel anxious. Realising he was still standing awkwardly, he resumed his seat. He noticed the apparent questions in her eyes and realised that she was waiting for the important issue he had called her in to discuss.
Nnamdi couldn’t remember the last time his brain worked as fast as it did at producing the next words that spewed out of his mouth.
“There is a very important meeting I have to attend in Abuja next week Friday,” he said, straightening his tie, hoping his tone sounded smooth. “A member of my team has to attend this meeting with me. Are you okay doing so? Is it possible for you to arrange childcare for Fejiro in time?” Nnamdi watched Onome inhale deeply.
“Of course. Not a problem. I can arrange it.”
“If it is too short notice—”
“No, it isn’t. It’s no problem at all.”
“Great. I’ll get Folu to sort out the flight arrangement and accommodation; we’ll leave on Thursday afternoon, and come back on Saturday. Is that okay?”
She nodded. “Yes, thanks,” Onome said.
Nnamdi relaxed in his seat, slightly proud of himself for his quick thinking.
“I’ll send you an email attaching files of the account we are trying to secure as well as details of the property in question.”
“Thanks, Nnamdi.” She smoothed her palms over her skirt. Nnamdi now believed this gesture of hers was a sign of anxiety.
“Anything else?” Her question irritated him. It seemed she couldn’t wait to leave his office and his presence. There was no longer any reason to keep her there even if he wanted to, just to keep looking at her, listening to her husky voice, inhaling the soft flowery scent of her perfume.
“No, thanks, Onome,” he said instead. She stood up and turned to leave. Nnamdi couldn’t prevent his gaze from dropping to the perfect curve of her bottom made much more appealing by the slim-fitting of the brown skirt that hugged her slender waist. He loosened his tie, suddenly feeling suffocated. How long could he carry on like this? He was definitely a glutton for punishment. It was bad enough that he had the hots for his assistant, now he had committed to travelling with her and spending two days working closely with her.
After Onome closed the door behind her, he exhaled. His brother, Chuma, had been assigned that trip to Abuja. But now, Nnamdi had to find a way to convince him and the other partners to allow him to go instead. Even though he really didn’t need Onome going with him, he was already looking forward to spending two days away from the office with her. Maybe after the trip, she would relax around him.
How on earth am I going to survive two whole days out of town with him? Onome muttered to herself as she drummed her fingers furiously on the keyboard of the desktop in front of her. She sat behind her dark Oakwood desk inputting data into the spreadsheet on the screen.
“Shit!” she swore, realising that she’d made another mistake with the figures. Dragging a rugged breath of frustration into her lungs, Onome clicked the backspace tab on the keyboard to delete her entry and typed the correct figure into the appropriate space of the debit column of the spreadsheet.
She had done everything she could to stay away from Nnamdi because every time she was near him, her entire body twisted tightly with sexual tension, became highly charged and alert. He made her want to do things she had never contemplated doing before, like forgetting she needed this job, leaping into his arms, clinging to his broad shoulders and pulling him in for a thorough kiss. He was devilishly handsome and sexy in a way that ought to be sinful. The way he dressed, the way he smelled, his posture, his height, his build, everything about him oozed sex appeal. And Onome was fighting a hard battle not to be pulled under by her attraction to him.
Not only was he occupying her thoughts at work during the day, he was invading her dreams at night. Images of him and her in various wanton positions infiltrated her dreams to the point that she had woken up several times fully aroused and frustrated. She had never felt like this before. Not even with Efe whom she considered the love of her life. Ashamed for wanting her boss so much, she avoided him as much as she could. She never allowed herself to be alone with him unless she had no choice. And even then, she kept their interactions to the barest minimum. That was the only way she could keep herself under control. But now, she was due to spend next week Friday in Abuja with him. Alone with him, nobody else there to act as a buffer. How could she do it? How?
The sound of the door of the adjacent office closing brought Onome back from her musings. Nnamdi was heading home for the day. She glanced at the large clock on the wall. It was five p.m.
Holding her breath, Onome listened quietly as his footsteps gradually disappeared. She’d done this for the past four weeks—listened to the sounds coming from his room. Like an antenna, she kept her ears attuned to his room. Although a thick wall separated their offices, she was aware of movements in his. Sometimes, she heard his rich laughter as he spoke on the phone, or his muffled conversation with staff members. Her favourite sound to hear from Nnamdi’s office was of him whistling. He whistled a lot and Onome loved the sound, and though she could never tell what song he was whistling, it roused her curiosity. She wanted to know what type of music he liked. Was he into rap music, or jazz? Or did he like highlife music and afrojuju like she did?
Onome was so curious about Nnamdi that she not only followed him on twitter and Instagram, hidden amongst his thousands of followers, but a few days ago, she had also checked his blood group and genotype from the staff database computer software. She had been so pleased to find out that Nnamdi didn’t carry the sickle-cell gene like she did. Her excitement about that fact quickly tapered when she reminded herself that he was her boss and his genotype shouldn’t mean anything to her.
When Onome no longer heard his footsteps, she let out the breath she had been holding. Nnamdi was gone, so she could leave in another twenty minutes. Yes, she admitted she was a coward. She was avoiding him. She was afraid to leave at closing time because she worried about bumping into him somewhere in the hall or elevator on the way out of the office building. There was no longer a need for her to hurry to pick up Fejiro before six p.m. Thanks to her huge first paycheque; she could now pay for extra childcare.
Nearly an hour later, and having got more work done, Onome rose from her seat. She switched off the computer, picked up her handbag and strolled out of her office. By now, most of the staff had either left or were on their way out. Her three-inch heels court shoes clicked across the bright beige terrazzo floor as she made her way towards the nearest elevator.
Admiring the tasteful landscape paintings decorating the spacious main hallway, as she strutted through it, Onome felt grateful for her employment in this well-established bank. Zenith Mortgage bank was one of the few banks in Lagos that closed before six in the evening, hence promoting a high morale that was clear amongst the staff in every department of the establishment.
In her opinion, the high morale amongst the staff was the reason for the bank’s success. The employees were so grateful for their jobs here that they were fiercely loyal and worked hard to bring in accounts. They were well-paid, given extra benefits, and supported with health insurance. Including the cleaners and domestic staff.
“On your way home I see,” Onome heard a voice behind her. She turned to find Emeka, one of the managers, walking towards the elevator, behind her. She smiled, nodded and waited for him to catch up with her.
“Yes, but I have to pick up my daughter from the childminder’s first,” Onome said, pressing the button beside the elevator.
“I didn’t know you were married,” Emeka remarked. They stood side-by-side, waiting for the elevator to arrive. A few other people had since joined behind them, also waiting for the elevator. Onome wondered briefly whether to lie about her marital status. The strangers behind them didn’t need to know her business.
“I’m divorced,” she replied in hushed tones slightly embarrassed.
“Oh,” he gulped.
Onome saw the flash of surprise in his eyes before the elevator door sprang open. They walked in along with a handful of people. As the elevator descended, Onome felt a rush of irritation gather inside her tummy.
“Oh what, Emeka?” she asked him, unable to keep the irritation from slipping into her tone.
“Nothing, it’s just that you don’t seem like the divorced kind.”
“And what kind is that?” Onome asked incredulously, finding it hard to believe that someone as educated and enlightened as Emeka could reason this way. There was a voice in her head telling her to ignore him, that he wasn’t worth her annoyance, but she couldn’t seem to obey that voice.
“Well, you know how divorced women are.”
“No, I don’t. Enlighten me, please.” Onome’s voice was louder than she wanted it to be, but Emeka had hit a sore nerve with his flippant comment.
Quickly glancing around, she noticed the uncomfortable expressions on the faces of the other occupants on the elevator. They averted their gazes from the corner where she and Emeka stood, probably wishing to get to the ground floor instantaneously.
“You know, divorced bitches… I’m paying you a compliment. You are not like those divorced bitches.”
“Paying me a compliment,” Onome repeated, shaking her head in disbelief.
A few people in the elevator snickered. “For your information, Emeka, not everyone who is divorced is the devil. And why is the woman always blamed, called a bitch? Why not the man? Eh?” She heard someone chuckle.
“Get off your judgmental high horse,” Onome continued, bolder now that she was on a roll. She glanced at his finger. “I know for a fact that you are married. Yet you prance around the office without wearing your wedding ring, and flirting with female staff on the third floor. Keep that up and you will soon join me in the land of divorce to become a fellow divorced bitch.” Loud laughter erupted at her comment. The elevator chose that moment to chime, indicating that they had reached the ground floor.
As everyone exited, Onome noted the few glances of admiration that were thrown her way. An elderly gentleman winked at her before walking away. Their support warmed her heart. She stepped out of the elevator with her head held high.
“I was just playing o,” Emeka called after her, but she was already walking confidently ahead of him, a broad smile brightening her face. She was glad she had put him in his place. Never again would she hide her divorce status. Yes, her marriage didn’t work out. So bloody what? It neither made her a terrible person nor did it give her a reason to be ashamed.
The short trek to the car park kept Onome’s adrenaline pumping. She usually avoided confrontation. In the past, she always sought approval from others and habitually conceded arguments and let people trample on her. But since her divorce, she had become bolder. Maybe this change arose from having to defend herself so much or constantly fighting for Fejiro’s welfare without any support. Whatever the reason, she liked the new Onome. And this Onome was no pushover. If this made her a divorced bitch, then she would wear that title as a badge of honour.
Smiling from ear to ear, she got into her car and switched on the engine. It made a loud rumbling sound before it suddenly died. Onome’s smile faded immediately. She started the car again. This time, the sound she heard was from the bonnet. The loud spark startled her, causing her to jump out of the car.
“Oghene me!” Onome muttered, throwing both hands above her head. She stood that way staring in resignation at the smoke emitting from the car’s bonnet. She had ignored the abnormal humming sound of her car all week hoping to take it to the mechanic later that Saturday. As it seemed, the car had other plans.
Onome glanced around the car park anxiously. It was almost empty, apart from the few unoccupied cars parked at the far end. Everyone was either in the queue leading towards the gate or already gone. What was she to do? She knew nothing about cars and was afraid to open the bonnet, which was still smoking. Her best option was to call a taxi to take her to Madam Bisi’s house to pick up Fejiro. But first, she needed to let her know. She retrieved her mobile phone from her large handbag and dialled Madam Bisi’s number.
“I am in deep wahala,” Onome wailed into the phone as soon as there was a connection.
“What is it, Onome? I hope you are okay,” Madam Bisi’s voice was calm.
“I am fine, but my car has broken down.”
“Chai! Onome, I told you to take it to the mechanic two days ago.”
“I know, ma, I was going to do so this weekend but… I should have listened to you.”
“You should have,” Madam Bisi admonished Onome in a maternal tone. “Would you like me to pick you up?”
“No, ma, I’ll call a taxi.”
“No, don’t call a taxi, I’ll bring Fejiro and drop you both home.”
“You don’t have to—”
“I insist. You’ll have to wait for some time though. I’m expecting Chinwe’s mum to pick her up in twenty minutes. Can you?”
“Of course, ma. Thank you so much.”
“You are welcome, Onome. You are like a daughter to me.”
Onome’s throat choked with emotion at Madam Bisi’s words. From the time she moved to Lagos, Madam Bisi had taken over the role of her mother. She had always been there, a steady guiding hand when Onome was going through tough times with Fejiro and even during her painful divorce.
“Thank you once again, ma,” Onome’s voice sounded strained.
“Okay, dear, stay put. I’ll text you when I’m on my way.”
After ending the call, Onome walked over to the bonnet of the car and lifted it slowly; scared it might blow up in her face. A deep sigh of relief gushed from her when nothing dramatic happened. The stench of burning wires wafted into the air causing Onome to cough and move backwards.
“Stupid car!” she spat. She kicked the side of the car repeatedly as she chanted, “stupid car!”
“That won’t get it to start, you know,”
Onome’s heart slammed into her chest, realising who had spoken without having to turn around. Slowly, she turned to face him, her heart pounding and her cheeks burning with embarrassment. His brown eyes sparkled with amusement and the left corner of his lip twisted into a small smile.
“Nnamdi, I um… I thought you had gone home,” Onome murmured as she scrubbed her suddenly sweaty palms down the sides of her skirt. His gaze followed that movement slowly, and like a caress, moved with the same unhurried fashion back up to her eyes. Onome felt a clench in her gut and her nipples tightened behind her bra. The evening breeze did nothing to cool the fire heating her belly. God, this man’s eyes were so intense. It was as if he was branding her with the scorching heat of his gaze.
“Yes, I went home, but Nkem wanted to spend the night with her cousins, so I left her with them and came back to the office to get some work done…” He hesitated, darted his eyes to the car and then back to her and added, “… I guess it was good that I did.”
Lowering his briefcase to the ground, he moved towards the car.
“What happened?” he enquired, peering into the engine. “The engine overheated,” he answered his own question, flapping his hand across his nose at the smell emanating from the engine.
“It must have been giving you trouble before now,” Nnamdi said dryly. He took off his suit jacket and handed it to her. Onome took it from him and watched with fascination as he folded up his sleeves to his elbows exposing strong muscular forearms faintly dusted with dark hairs.
“It kept making a horrid sound throughout the week, but because the engine kept going, I ignored it hoping it could serve me until I visited the mechanic this Saturday,” Onome explained as she stepped out of the way for him to move closer to the car.
Nnamdi nodded, then flashed her a smile. The brilliance of his dazzling white teeth temporarily mesmerised Onome.
“Is that how you deal with problems, Onome? Ignore them? Hope they disappear?” he asked, refocusing his attention on the engine. He removed the top of the spark plug and sniffed it and shook his head.
“I don’t ignore problems,” she countered. “I just like to handle things on my own time.”
“Good. Because some things can’t be ignored. Like heat. It keeps building up inside until it suddenly explodes.” He turned to look directly at her. “Heat can’t be ignored.”
Onome’s pulse quickened. Were they still talking about the car? The look in his eyes when he said that made her head spin, set her body on fire. A sudden uncontrollable desire to fling his suit jacket from her hands and throw her arms across his broad shoulders overcame her. Swallowing past the lump that wedged in her throat, she turned her face away from him and towards the car.
“Can it be fixed?” she asked him, bringing her focus back to the vehicle in front of them—her only way of distracting herself from giving in to her desires. Nnamdi paused, as if he wanted to continue with that line of conversation.
“Yes, it can be fixed,” he replied instead. “Just not tonight. Let me drive you home.” Nnamdi slammed the bonnet shut and wiped his hands on his trousers.
“Err… thanks, but you don’t have to. Someone is coming to pick me.”
“I’m here now. Call the person and cancel—”
“I really don’t want to keep you from—”
“I’m taking you home, Onome,” he said with a finality that commanded no argument.
“I have to pick Fejiro up from the childminder,” Onome muttered, her hands shaking. She hoped that discouraged him. But there was another part of her that wanted him to insist so she could spend more time with him—without the office as a barrier and without having to think of him as her boss. The thought of being beside Nnamdi in his car while he drove her, sent chills down her spine. Excitement and anxiety bubbled up inside her. Being enclosed in his car with him seemed too personal, too close for comfort. Yet a thrill ran through her at the prospect. Her mind was still roiling with those thoughts when he spoke again.
“Then we’ll pick Fejiro up,” he responded, extending his hand towards her. Onome stared at his hand in confusion for a few seconds until she realised he was asking for his suit jacket back.
“Oh!” she gushed, handing it to him. “Let me call Madam Bisi to cancel.”
Onome dialled Madam Bisi who informed her that she was still waiting for Chinwe’s mother to pick up her child. After letting her know that she no longer needed her to come and pick her up, Onome thanked her and hung up. Heart thumping like a disco beat, she followed Nnamdi to the other car park for senior staff.
The exterior of his brand-new SUV was shiny black and stunning, but it was the interior of the car that stole Onome’s breath. She sank into the plush comfortable black leather passenger seat and inhaled the fragrance of his cologne, which lingered in the car, saturating her senses.
“I know my way around Lagos, so if you tell me where to pick Fejiro up, I’ll find it with no hassle,” Nnamdi said to Onome as he secured his seatbelt beside her.
“I bet you don’t know everywhere in Lagos,” Onome teased. “I bet you have never been to Agege or Ishaga… I mean, what reason would ever bring you to the slums of Lagos?”
Nnamdi chuckled as he pulled out of the car park.
“What do you take me for, Onome? Eh? Don’t let my flashy exterior fool you. I’m a simple man at heart.”
“Hmmm… hard to imagine you driving around Agege in that flashy bright yellow Lamborghini you used to drive.” Onome noted a sparkle of surprise widen his eyes and realised her blunder. She had just admitted to him that she knew more about him than he had shared with her. To save face, she added, “I saw pictures of you in the car a few times in gossip magazines.”
A smile curved his lips.
“Don’t believe everything you read in those magazines, Onome,” he muttered, steering towards the main gate. The gateman opened the gate and let them out. Onome told Nnamdi where they were headed and he drove smoothly through the traffic. He put on the radio and the sounds of Bob Marley’s, no woman, no cry, floated in the air. Onome wondered if this was the song he whistled in his office. She turned to ask him about his music taste when he spoke.
“What type of music do you like, Onome?”
“I was just going to ask you the same question.”
“Really?” He looked amused. “Well, you know what they say about great minds.” He cast her a sideways glance, his face relaxed, looking more handsome than ever. “So, what kind of music do you like?” He repeated his question, seemingly keen for her response.
“Afrojuju and Fuji music,” Onome replied, her face warm with embarrassment.
“What?” Amusement glistened in his brown eyes.
“No joking. Sir Shina Peters, Pasuma Wonder, King Sunny Ade. I’m into all of them. I have all their CDs.”
Nnamdi burst into laughter. The sound was so rich and satisfying that it tugged on Onome’s heart. “Yes, I was part of that shinamania craze. I used to play that album from Sir Shina Peters every day in University, shaking my behind to Fuji music. My roommate tried to hide that CD from me many times to keep me from playing it.”
“I can almost picture you dancing to afrojuju beats.” His tone was still shaky from laughter.
“I’m the original afrojuju queen,” Onome bragged.
“And to think I call myself a music whore…”
“Yes, I mean, you can find any music genre in my collection. Rap, rhythm and blues, highlife, rock, you name it, it’s there. But I have never listened to Fuji and afrojuju.” He paused. “Do you still have that CD from Shina Peters? I’d love to borrow it.”
Onome laughed and nodded.
“Sure, I’ll bring it to work tomorrow.”
He smiled. “Yes, that would be nice. I may add afrojuju music to my collection.”
They lapsed into companionable silence. Onome turned towards the window at her side. She observed the faces of strangers in the street carrying on with their busy lives as the car drove by. It was Wednesday evening; the streetlights were on, casting a brilliant illumination to the scenery before her. The traffic was heavy because most people were heading home from work so the car moved slowly. A woman carrying a baby on her back, with a tray full of fresh oranges balanced on her head, walked past. Her face was laden with worry, probably hoping to sell more oranges before nightfall.
Onome felt Nnamdi’s gaze on her, so she turned her head from the window towards him. Her pulse jerked at the ferociousness of his gaze. He had a way of destabilising her with his eyes.
“Why have you been avoiding me, Onome?” The question he asked her was so unexpected that she caught her breath.
“I haven’t been avoiding you…” Onome’s voice came out breathlessly. Nnamdi shrugged his shoulders, sucked his teeth, and then refocused his attention on the road. Onome’s heart was beating fast and her stomach tensed. The silence between them after her response stretched.
“I… um… I need this job,” she mumbled, breaking the silence. He flickered his gaze to her and then back to the road.
“What?” He sounded puzzled. “I don’t understand. Why are you worried about your job? You will not lose your job…”
“I know you hate working with women, it’s obvious. Your entire team is made up of men… I just don’t want to do anything to jeopardise my job. I need this job.”
They rode on in silence. Nnamdi appeared pensive, perhaps pondering her comment. Pointing with her finger, she directed him towards the street leading to Madam Bisi’s compound. He followed her directions with a grave expression on his face. Onome wondered if she had struck a nerve with her remark. Maybe I should apologise, she thought as the car came to a halt in front of Madam Bisi’s house. She opened her mouth to apologise when he unexpectedly cupped her face in his large hands, causing all rational thought to cease.
“I find it hard trusting women.” His voice was deep and low. Those words from him sounded earnest and broken. Chill bumps pimpled her skin. “Women always lie. No matter how beautiful and nice they are, they always lie. You won’t ever lie to me, Onome, will you?” The intensity of his gaze pierced through her defences. The car suddenly felt like a cage, the heat within it encompassing Onome, she could hardly breathe.
“Will you?” he repeated. She shook her head rapidly and had to clear her throat before she could speak.
“No,” she breathed, perspiration trickling down her back. His gaze skimmed over her lips slowly, enticingly. It looked like he was about to kiss her. Onome parted her lips slightly, her mouth moist with anticipation.
Onome broke away from Nnamdi speedily and burst out of the car.
“Fejiro!” she cried, gathering Fejiro into her arms. “I’m sorry I’m late. My car broke down.”
“I know, Madam Bisi told me.” Fejiro looked over Onome’s shoulder. “Uncle Nnamdi!” she exclaimed. Onome turned towards him, her cheeks burning. He had stepped out of the car, looking like a well-carved Adonis with the way he stood tall and sturdy.
“Hey, princess,” Nnamdi greeted Fejiro with a broad grin. “How are you?”
“I am fine, thanks. Is Nkem here?”
“No, darling, she is with her cousins. I’ll make sure she gets to play with you some other time. I’m here to take you home.”
Madam Bisi strolled out of the compound. Her eyes flashed with annoyance as she marched towards them.
“Fejiro, don’t run out of the house and into the street like that again. That’s too dangerous,” she scolded Fejiro softly.
“Sorry, Aunty Bisi,” Fejiro apologised.
“It’s okay,” Madam Bisi said. She directed her attention to Nnamdi and curiosity replaced her annoyance. “You must be the boss,” she remarked.
Nnamdi chuckled. “The boss? I don’t know about that,” he said. “I am Nnamdi Obi.” He extended his hand towards Madam Bisi. She shook it cheerfully and said, “nice to meet you.”
Onome stood there, Fejiro still in her arms, avoiding Nnamdi’s eyes. Although his easy confident swagger was back, she had glimpsed his vulnerability in the car. Something had happened in his past to make him untrusting of women. Onome was sure of that. Was it a relationship with an ex-girlfriend? Was that why he was still single? Onome had often wondered why a handsome wealthy man like Nnamdi had remained unattached for so long.
“Time to go,” Nnamdi announced, breaking through her thoughts. After thanking Madam Bisi and settling Fejiro in the back seat, Onome climbed into the front seat and sat rigidly beside Nnamdi. This time, the drive was filled with idle chatter mostly between Fejiro and Onome or Fejiro and Nnamdi. She didn’t say anything else to Nnamdi until they reached their destination. And even then, all she could manage was a quick mumble of gratitude before she escaped into her flat clutching Fejiro tightly against her.
The next morning, Onome left her flat with Fejiro, ready to ring a taxi when she spotted a black jeep parked in front of her apartment building. A tall thin man rushed out of the drivers’ seat.
“Madam Odafe?” the man queried. Onome nodded.
“Yes, can I help you?”
“I am Idris Hussain. Oga Nnamdi asked me to drive you around until your car is back from the mechanic.”
Onome was speechless.
“Any luggage?” the man asked. Onome shook her head. “I would like to confirm this first if you don’t mind,” she told the stranger. Holding Fejiro’s hand and stepping away from him, Onome fished her phone out of her handbag and dialled the office. The line connected after the second ring.
“Nnamdi Obi’s office. How can I help?” Folusho declared from the other end of the line.
“This is Onome,” Onome felt her insides twist. She couldn’t believe Nnamdi had arranged her transportation so thoughtfully. “How are you Folu?”
“Fine, Onome. Nnamdi told me to expect your call and to reassure you that the driver he sent is neither a thief nor a kidnapper. He is Idris Hussain, one of the company drivers.” Folusho sounded amused.
“Oh, okay. Thanks. See you soon.”
Folusho giggled and said, “see you soon, Onome.”
After hanging up, she followed Idris to the black jeep anxiously while Fejiro trotted beside her unperturbed.
Idris remained her driver, showing up every morning and leaving in the evenings, until Monday. Onome came back home from work on Monday to find her car parked in front of her apartment building. She gasped in surprise at the sight before her. Her Audi had been repaired, repainted and remodelled such that it almost looked brand new. Nnamdi had told her he’d sent it to his own mechanic when she’d discovered it missing from the car park the day after it broke down. She had thanked him profusely; thinking it was only for repairs. She did not expect that her car would be completely revamped and looking brand-new. He had even changed the seats and interior to brand new leather seats. She felt as if she was in an episode of the MTV series, Pimp My Ride. She opened the door to find a simple note from Nnamdi, which read: Please don’t thank me. It’s company policy. Onome couldn’t prevent the smile that broke across her face as she read the note. She knew without a doubt that this was not company policy and that the personality he showed the world differed completely from his real self. She was beginning to like him a lot. In fact, she was falling hard for him.
“Thanks again for getting my car fixed,” Onome said to Nnamdi. They were in the backseat of a taxi taking them to the airport.
His lips twisted into a half-smile. “If you thank me again, eh…”
Onome laughed. “Okay, this is the last time. But I’m grateful. You completely changed the engine. It’s like a brand-new vehicle. I’m not sure I can call it my Audi anymore.”
Nnamdi’s smile broadened. “My mechanic is a genius. I believe he could easily manufacture his own car. It’s a shame we don’t have indigenous car manufacturing in Nigeria. What a waste of talent.”
“Yes, we import almost everything in this country. It’s ridiculous.”
“I agree, and our people don’t even trust Nigerian made products.”
“That’s why I like Senator Ben Bruce. He may talk a lot of nonsense, but at least he believes in buying Nigerian made products to grow Nigeria’s economy.”
“You are right about Ben Bruce. I rarely like the things he rants about, but he is right about that.”
Onome relaxed in her seat. Her thoughts drifted to her daughter. She had dropped Fejiro off a few hours ago at Madam Bisi’s place with mixed feelings. She would miss her, but she also knew Fejiro enjoyed sleeping over at Madam Bisi’s house because she had other children to play with. Onome sometimes felt guilty for not giving Fejiro a sibling. But she had been too scared to have another child with sickle cell disease, so she never tried for another baby. Besides, Efe had been completely against the idea.
“Is Fejiro okay with the childcare you arranged? I feel guilty for yanking you away from her for two days.”
Onome was astonished by his comment. It was as if he had read her mind.
“No, don’t be, Fejiro loves to stay at Madam Bisi’s place. Lots of other children to play with.”
Nnamdi nodded, stretched his legs in front of him and drew in a deep breath.
“You don’t talk about her father much,” he mentioned casually, although Onome suspected there was nothing casual about his remark. “What happened between you two?”
Onome hesitated, running her palm over her dark blue jeans. She hated talking about Efe.
“If I’m being too nosey, I apologise—”
“No, it’s not that,” she assured him. “It’s just that… It’s a long story.”
Onome sighed as she turned towards Nnamdi. It was the first time she wanted to rant about Efe to anyone and not try to justify his leaving her and Fejiro, which she did anytime someone asked her why he left. She always made up excuses for him, blamed herself rather than tell the complete story.
“Efe and I were inseparable once. He was my first and only love. He was everything to me. I have never loved anyone the way I loved Efe. I left my family for him. Nobody in my family talks to me because I married him.”
“Why? What happened? What was your family’s beef with him?”
“Well, my father forbade me from marrying him because he doesn’t share his religious faith.” She paused. “My father is a devout Cherubim and Seraphim Church leader, and Efe is Catholic.”
Nnamdi’s eyebrow flew upwards. He appeared bewildered.
“That’s another long story…” She shook her head, not sure she wanted to tell Nnamdi about her father’s religious bigotry. It was a topic she loathed talking about. “When I insisted on marrying Efe, he forbade my brothers and mother from contacting me. He threatened to cut them off financially if they did. He didn’t even change his stance after Fejiro was born.” The silence that followed her comment was brief.
“I gave up so much for Efe…I can’t believe he hurt me…” Her voice broke. “I’m not perfect. But I loved him. I gave up my job, my ambition, everything to look after Fejiro. Five years of my life, I stayed at home, no progress in my career, just to look after Fejiro.” Onome noticed the confusion in Nnamdi’s eyes and added, “Fejiro has sickle cell disease.”
Her admission was followed by another moment of silence. The car bumped over a pothole on the tiled road. A street hawker selling mobile phone recharge cards in the traffic, tapped on the car window on Nnamdi’s side.
“Buy one thousand Naira recharge card at a discount of eight hundred Naira,” he said, barely avoiding collision with the motorcycle that swerved around him.
“Useless boy!” the motorcycle driver roared at the young man before he disappeared into traffic. Nnamdi dismissed the young seller with a wave of his hand. Hissing loudly, the street hawker wandered off in search of the next vehicle to harass.
“Did he leave because of that? Because of Fejiro’s illness?” His low tone sounded lethal.
“I think he left because he blamed me for Fejiro’s illness. You see, we both knew we carried the sickle cell gene, and that there was a twenty-five percent chance we could have a child with the disease.” Onome swallowed past the lump of regret that lodged in her throat. “We agreed to get married despite that. We planned to have children through in vitro fertilization. He worked very hard, trying to save up enough money for us to make the trip to America to have it done. But I found out I was pregnant before he could.”
Their driver slammed the brakes suddenly to avoid hitting a motorcycle that cut in front of them out of nowhere, startling both Nnamdi and Onome.
“These okada drivers sef,” the driver grumbled. He glanced at Nnamdi and Onome through the rear-view mirror. “Sorry oga. Sorry madam. These motorcycle drivers are stupid.”
“Be careful, Joshua, and avoid them,” Nnamdi warned. The driver nodded and carried on with his duty.
They continued in silence, ruminating. Onome wondered what Nnamdi was thinking. His face looked clouded with uncertainty.
“Did you get pregnant on purpose?” His question hurt her, but she supposed it was expected. Her ex-husband had also asked that same question.
“No, I didn’t. My contraception failed.” She shook her head. “I would never do that to him, I think he believed I got pregnant on purpose and blamed me. When Fejiro had her first sickle cell crisis, I saw it in his eyes, the blame and the hurt. He withdrew from me, from Fejiro. With each crisis Fejiro had, he became more distant. He moved out of our bedroom to the guest room. Telling me he was busy with work and needed space to rest. I tried to understand. I quit my job at the bank so I could stay at home with Fejiro to help reduce his stress.”
Tears burned her eyes as she recalled how she repeatedly tiptoed around Efe, sometimes hiding Fejiro’s sickle cell crises from him so that he didn’t even know when she was ill.
“This went on for four years. I put up with his distance, him not touching me, avoiding me. I swept everything under the carpet until he started coming back late at night, answering calls in the middle of the night. I knew there was another woman before he admitted it to me. One morning, he told me we should never have gotten married. That I had lured him into marriage.”
Nnamdi didn’t say a word; he kept his eyes trained on Onome.
“The night he left me, I knew he was going to be with that woman. I never bothered to find out who she was. Efe and I had not been intimate for over two years before he left. I knew he was getting his sexual satisfaction from somewhere else. But I never expected him to actually leave me, to hurt me. But he did. He left without looking back. I have not seen him since. Fejiro has not heard from him for a year. He communicated the divorce proceedings through his lawyer. I signed the divorce papers without even reading it. I was just too hurt.”
Onome looked out of her window. They had approached the entrance to the airport. The driver paused while security men inspected the boot of the car and inside the car.
The taxi driver drove through the gate and found a parking spot. After parking the car, he got out of the car to retrieve their luggage from the boot. Nnamdi chose that moment when he and Onome were alone, to tilt her face up with his thumb.
“I’m sorry he hurt you,” he said, and then suddenly let go. He opened the door of the car and jumped out. Onome sat there immobilised for a few seconds, stunned by the intensity of the emotions that erupted inside her from his touch.
A few hours later, following a smooth flight to Abuja, they checked into the Sheraton hotel with no hassles. Her room was opposite Nnamdi’s. After a quick shower, Onome went to the restaurant and bar for dinner. Nnamdi was already there seated and having a drink. He beckoned for her to join him at his table, so she did. They ate, chatting about work and other general topics. Onome found out that he was passionate about Nigerian politics and wanted to make a difference. He admitted to her that he had thought about running for senate but had changed his mind because of the corruption he’d encountered in the process.
Later that evening, they worked on their presentation for the next day, snacking on roasted peanuts and drinking wine. Onome enjoyed working with Nnamdi in a relaxed atmosphere. Conversation between them flowed easily. It was as if an invisible wall between them had been broken after she opened up to him about Efe.
“You should give this presentation,” he said. They were in his hotel room, sitting together at a small worktable beside the bed, his laptop open in front of them as they went through the slides on the screen. Nnamdi had asked her to go through the slides with him once again before the presentation the next day.
“Me?” Onome’s eyebrows shot skyward.
“Yes, you. I believe you will do a better job at securing this account than me.”
“No, I don’t think I can… I—”
“I think they would rather listen to your lovely voice than mine. And you are well prepared,” Nnamdi pressed gently. “I’m confident you’ll be fine.”
Onome considered his suggestion in silence for seconds before she said, “okay, I’ll do it.” She smoothed her palms over her trousers. His eyes followed the movement of her hands, and a shadow of a smile touched his lips.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be there to support you. But I’m sure you will do a brilliant job.”
On Friday morning, Onome stood in front of the conference room. Dozens of attentive eyes peered at her as she delivered the presentation on the large screen. Although her heart pounded heavily and her anxiety level heightened, she spoke smoothly and answered all the questions thrown at her with ease. At the end of the presentation, the room sounded with applause. Smiling shyly, Onome’s eyes zeroed in on Nnamdi sitting at the back of the room. His eyes gleamed with pride and joy flooded her heart.
Hours after her presentation, Onome heard a soft knock on her hotel room door causing her heart to jump. Her eyes flickered to the clock on the wall. It was seven p.m. She knew it had to be Nnamdi. He was here to tell her whether they got the account or not. Her pulse quickened as she moved from the bed to open the door. Nnamdi was leaning against the doorframe, looking virile in a brown muscle-hugging shirt, a pair of black jeans trousers and white Nike trainers on his feet. His thick curly hair glistened with moisture as if he had just stepped out of the shower. A subtle citrus aroma most likely from a bath gel assuaged her senses.
“Can I come in?” he asked in a relaxed tone. Onome stepped away from the door, holding her breath as his tall frame strutted into her room.
“Did we get the account?” Onome asked nervously, scrubbing her sweaty palms over her bright green cotton shorts. He hesitated, his facial expression serious. Onome’s heart sank. She had let him down, let the bank down. Her stomach knotted with trepidation. “We… we didn’t get it?” she mumbled hesitantly. His lips twitched momentarily, then cracked into a disarming smile.
“Congrats, Onome, you have brought in your first account.”
“Oh my God!” Onome exclaimed, jumping in delight. “I have been so anxious, oh my God!” He opened his arms. Without a thought, she ran into his outstretched arms, wrapping her arms around him. He lifted her, twirled her around briefly before gradually lowering her on her feet.
“I’m so proud of you, Onome.” His deep baritone resonated within her.
“Thank you for letting me do this. I have actually missed doing this, hustling for accounts.” They stood that way, locked in each other’s arms as moments ticked by, neither of them making any move to break the connection. Slowly, the atmosphere between them shifted from elation to sensual awareness. Their eyes locked. His brown eyes, darkened now, dipped to her lips.
“I’m going to kiss you,” he murmured. He sounded as if he was warning her, giving her a chance to back away from him. Onome had no such desire. She had dreamt of kissing him countless times, been consumed with the desire to feel his full lips glide over hers, spent nights wondering if he kissed softly and sweetly or if he plunged in, hard and rough, taking, demanding—
Before she could complete that trend of thought, his mouth descended on hers. Onome parted her lips without hesitation, welcoming the intrusion of his tongue into her mouth. She moaned at the rush of pleasure that rippled through her, shooting molten heat between her legs. His tongue swept inside her mouth slowly, tangling with hers, caressing the corners of her mouth as his soft lips meshed with hers. Whimpering with pleasure, Onome dragged her hands through his thick hair, clutching a fistful and pulling him closer. She pressed her body against his, trying to get even closer. She could feel his hard arousal pressed against her belly and she rubbed against him persistently, her blinding need escalated by his potent maleness. It had been too long since she felt a man pressed against her. Way too long.
“Oh, Onome, damn!” he rasped. His hands moved boldly down her back to grab her butt cheeks and squeezed firmly. The forceful jolt of pleasure Onome felt because of his boldness shocked her. With a strained sound escaping her lips, she suddenly pushed him away, panting. She stood staring at him, gasping for air, trying to think. Her mind spun with reasons why she should stop this. He was her boss. She needed her job. Her mind froze beyond those two reasons and her body trembled all over. The blatant lust in his eyes as he watched her deliberate, frightened her. Sex with him wouldn’t be a quick romp in the sack. Somehow, Onome knew if she crossed this line with him, it would be catastrophic.
Her indecision must have shown in her eyes because he turned to leave. Suddenly panicked, she reached for him and roughly pulled him back into her arms. This time, she initiated the kiss, flickering her tongue across his full lips, goading him to acquiescence. Finally, with a guttural groan, he opened his mouth for her tongue. This kiss was more passionate, demanding, and soul shattering. She felt Nnamdi back her gradually across the room until her back hit the wall, all the while, devouring her mouth. His hands were everywhere. They roamed over her back, her breasts, her hair, but always came back to her bottom, squeezing, and kneading. Her soft moans and his harsh groans ricocheted off the walls of the room. He lifted her slightly so her legs were anchored around his waist and her throbbing centre, flush against the bulge in his jeans. Arms wrapped around his shoulders as they kissed feverishly, Onome ground her core incessantly against his arousal. A sudden intense wave of ecstasy hit her.
“Nnamdi! Ohhhhhh!” Onome cried out as she came. Hard and fast, shuddering with sweet release.
Her shrill cry of completion seemed to snap him out of his sensual haze. He withdrew his mouth from hers, and buried his head in the crook of her neck, dragging air frantically into his lungs. He stayed like that for a few more seconds before pulling away from her. His eyes were glazed with desire as he stared at her, his breath coming in short spurts. Without a word, he turned and walked out of her room, leaving her standing there, trembling and wondering what the hell just happened.
The next morning, Onome found herself seated alone on the business class flight back to Lagos. On the drive back to her flat, Joshua, the designated taxi driver who had dropped them off at the airport, informed her that Nnamdi had taken an earlier flight to Lagos. He had not even bothered to tell her about his change of plans, and that stung.
Her disappointment worsened when she saw a tweet and an Instagram post by him later that Saturday night. The picture was of him in a popular Lagos nightclub surrounded by two scantily dressed women fawning over him, with the caption: Chilling with my bitches. Once a dog, always a dog. Staring disbelievingly at the tweet, Onome felt like the biggest fool on earth.
Nnamdi stumbled into the house with his arms wrapped around two eager women.
“Strip!” he ordered, as soon as they got into a guest room in his home. Both women complied readily, chuckling.
“How do you want it?” The woman with long hair extensions asked, running her hands over his chest. The other woman with thick blonde braids was already positioned on all fours, waiting on the bed.
Nnamdi turned his attention from her and back to the long-haired woman who had dropped to her knees. “Ooohhhh,” she cooed when she unzipped his jeans trousers. “Very impressive.”
She took him in her mouth and began working on him.
Closing his eyes, Nnamdi tried to be in the moment, to relax and enjoy what she willingly offered. He was alone in the house, single, and free to do as he wished. And for a few minutes, he found himself lost in the blissful freedom of emotionless sexual gratification. The feeling did not last long. Images of Onome easily floated into his mind, and a flash of shame hit him out of nowhere. His erection deflated. Swearing, he pushed long-hair woman away from him.
“What’s the matter?” She tried reaching for him again but Nnamdi stopped her, shaking his head. He pulled up his boxers and jeans in one swift move, and fastened the zip.
“Nothing, I am not in the mood.”
“Maybe I should do it. I am better at head,” Blonde-braids woman proposed, sitting up on the bed.
“No, thank you. I need both of you to leave.”
“What? You bring me here and I don’t get fucked?” Blonde-braids woman stood up and walked towards him. “Let me do it, I’ll get it up in no time. I am very good at head.”
Nnamdi shook his head again. “Thanks for the offer, but no. I need you to leave.”
They remained still, bewilderment apparent on their faces.
“How dare you waste our time? There were other men in the club, but we chose you.” It was long-hair woman this time. She got up from the floor and dusted her knees.
“You did not choose me,” Nnamdi retorted. “I chose you.” He ran his hand through his hair. It didn’t matter who chose whom. That was not the point. He needed them to leave him alone in peace. Sighing, he added, “Listen, let me write both of you a cheque—”
“I’m not a prostitute, asshole. I’m a lawyer!” Long-hair woman cried in frustration. She rolled her eyes. “So, when a woman enjoys sex as much as a man, she must be a prostitute abi? Chauvinist pig!”
“And I am a journalist, fool. Don’t assume we are hookers because we are here with you,” Blonde-braids woman chimed in, her eyes flashing with irritation.
Nnamdi’s eyebrow flew upwards in surprise. Who would have ever thought? A lawyer and a journalist dressed as they were, gallivanting in clubs looking to get laid? Lagos had really changed. But who was he to judge them? He was a respectable banker and had been willing to engage in a threesome with women he just met in a club. He had no right to claim superiority just because he was male.
“I expected to get fucked tonight, and I will get fucked.” Blonde-braids woman’s voice fractured his thoughts.
“You may, but not by me,” Nnamdi muttered, motioning with his hands for them to get dressed. “Sorry ladies. Shop’s closed.”
Grumbling beneath her breath, long-hair lady quickly put on her skimpy black dress and silver sandals. However, blonde-braids woman took her time getting dressed.
“Are you sure you won’t change your mind?” she asked seductively. Nnamdi surveyed her as she dressed. She was his type physically—Dark brown skin, glorious large braids, a big round ass, large breasts and a tiny waist. He should be in bed with her, pounding his way into oblivion. His old self would have. But somehow, he felt like he was someone else. He wasn’t even remotely turned on. He was still flaccid even as he stared at her half-naked beautiful body. Onome had broken his penis.
Sighing, Nnamdi watched her zip up her short red dress, which had a deep plunging neckline. “No, thanks again for the offer. Maybe some other time,” he said, walking over to the door and opening it.
“I don’t think so,” Blonde-braids woman shot back, grabbing her purse. “I like men who can give me action. I thought you were that man. A friend of mine told me you were a stallion in bed, and with your huge package, I was expecting a good night. I’m very disappointed.”
“Linda, let’s leave this chump, abeg. Let us find someone else.”
“I’ll call you a taxi,” Nnamdi offered, as he followed them to the front door.
Long-hair woman threw an exasperated look his way. “Yes, do. That’s the least you can do, mister Limpy.” She looked at his crotch with disdain as she spoke.
A surge of relief rushed through Nnamdi as he watched them disappear in the taxi. He hoped he never ran into them again. What a joke he had become—mister Limpy. Shaking off that embarrassing episode, he mounted the stairs to his room. He took a quick shower, put on his pyjamas and climbed into bed. The house felt quiet and empty without Nkem who was still with her cousins. He’d decided to pick her up the next day so he could spend some time alone, to try and make sense of his conflicting emotions.
After he escaped Abuja with the earliest flight like a coward—and he admitted to himself that he ran away from Onome like one—he had rushed into a nightclub. He wanted to find a woman, any woman to sleep with, take the edge off him. Maybe if he had good old-fashioned detached sex, he would stop panting after Onome like a love-struck puppy. Nnamdi knew she followed him on Instagram and twitter because he had inadvertently come across her profile amongst his multiple followers one idle Saturday when he’d been putting up posts. So, he had impulsively played a childish game to get her attention.
He reached for his phone, opened his Instagram page and looked at his latest post on Instagram. He cringed with disgust at himself. Had Onome seen it? She must have, he thought, his stomach twisting. He had put up a picture of the women he’d brought home earlier, clinging to his arm with a childish caption as a defence mechanism. Just to prove to himself that Onome was not getting under his skin, that he could remain the unattached bachelor he was notorious for being. But now, lying in his bed alone, he knew that he’d only been deceiving himself. Onome had gotten under his skin.
The kiss they had shared was more than just a kiss, it was overpowering. He had wanted to devour her, consume her, claim her as his. And when she had come, he had almost exploded in his pants, like a teenager. Never had he trembled in the arms of a woman. Never! He was always the conqueror, the one in control. Whenever he was with Onome, he wasn’t in control. She made him want more, to hear her laugh, to hear her talk, to be with her, to think of forever. The husky sound of her moaning out his name when she came, made him want to keep her moaning and screaming out his name with pleasure forever.
That thought sent a gush of blood down his body, stretching him fully. He glanced down at the tent on the bed cover made by his arousal. No, his penis wasn’t broken. It wanted only one woman. It wanted only Onome. Grunting with annoyance at himself, he deleted the Instagram post and tweet and rolled roughly to his side. How had he allowed himself to get to this point? How? After years of being in control of his emotions and avoiding emotional entanglement with women? Now, he was being sucked into an abyss surrounded by Onome and fighting for survival, because he didn’t want to trust her only to have her cheat on him and lie to him. Just like his mother had cheated on and lied to his father. He could still recall that feeling of helplessness and disappointment that had overwhelmed him when he found out that his mother whom he had adored, whom everyone had adored, was capable of deceit. He remembered the conversation he’d overheard vividly, like it was yesterday.
“Dozie, did anyone see you come in here?” Nnamdi heard his mother ask. He crouched under the staircase, keeping very still. He had only managed a quick glimpse of the man his mother was speaking to before he darted under the stairs.
It was midday and Nnamdi had escaped school again during break time to play at home. This was a habit he had developed a few weeks ago, after his first successful attempt went unnoticed by his teacher. He often scaled the school walls during lunch playtime, walked home to play for about thirty minutes, then returned to school before playtime was over. So far, he had not been caught.
Today was no different. He had played video games for about twenty minutes in his room and was on his way out of the house and back to school when he heard the front door open and his mother walk in with a tall light skinned stranger. With only a few seconds to think, he had ducked under the stairs to avoid being discovered.
“No, Angie, I would never put you at risk,” the stranger replied. Nnamdi peeked from under the stairs trying to catch a better view of the stranger’s face, but he could only make out the outline of his side profile.
“Please, don’t come back here, I’m married… my husband…”
“Angie…” the stranger moved closer to his mother, she took a step back.
“Please, don’t… we shouldn’t have… I am married.”
“Angie, I love you, I can’t stop thinking about you.”
“No, please don’t say that… I’m married. I love my husband.”
“You don’t. You can’t love him and give yourself to me the way that you did.”
Nnamdi’s heart thudded violently as he listened. He was only ten years old, but he understood what he was hearing. This man was talking to his mother like a man talked to a woman, like a husband talked to a wife.
“It was a mistake…” his mother’s soft voice came again.
“No, it wasn’t… I felt you here, and here.”
Nnamdi saw the man touch his groin with his hand and then lift his hand to his chest as he spoke. Cringing inwardly, he tried to block his mind from what he was hearing, but he couldn’t. A brief silence followed that statement. Nnamdi remained frozen, hidden from sight, hardly breathing, not making a sound.
“I love you, Angie, always have. You came to me because you know that.” The man’s deep voice broke the silence.
His mother began to pace. Stooped under the stairs, Nnamdi could only see her legs because she was farther away from him, standing across the room from the stranger who stood directly opposite where he was hiding.
“I’m sorry for using you that way… I…” his mother’s voice broke off. Her voice sounded unsteady. “I shouldn’t have… I just needed some comfort and I was wrong for dragging you into my mess.”
The man heaved a ragged breath. “Angie, you didn’t drag me into anything. I wanted you. You wanted me. We wanted each other. We can be together. You can do better than that slime. I’ll never hurt you.”
“He is my husband, I love him.” She stopped pacing.
“It doesn’t matter how many times you say it; I won’t believe it. He is not worthy of you. You were with me because you wanted me.”
“Please, let’s forget that… please. I don’t want my husband to ever find out.”
“I can’t forget what we shared, Angie, I can’t. Don’t ask me to.”
This admission was followed by another moment of silence. The only sound Nnamdi heard was his mother sniffling.
“Please, Dozie, please… don’t come back here, I have children, I love my family. It was a mistake… we were a mistake.”
There was sudden movement and, within seconds, the man was out of Nnamdi’s line of vision. He could now only see the man’s legs moving towards his mother. Then he heard kissing sounds and a deep groan. Nnamdi covered his ears and squeezed his eyes shut, fighting the urge to jump out from under the stairs and announce his presence.
A sharp smacking sound caused him to remove his hands from his ears. He opened his eyes again and saw the man back in his line of vision. His palm was on his left cheek and he was not moving.
“Get out of my house, Dozie! Get out and never come back!” Nnamdi heard his mother growl.
“Leave now, Dozie! I have nothing else to say to you.”
“You have not heard the last of me. I’ll fight for you.”
“I’m married, Dozie. I love my husband.”
“Well, you should have thought about that before you spread your legs wide for me.” Silence.
Nnamdi covered his ears again and shut his eyes. He wished he had never heard that. The image of his angelic mother in that way with this strange man burned his brain.
“Get out!” was the last statement he heard from his mother before the sound of the door opening and slamming shut.
Nnamdi remained hidden under the stairs, unwilling to fully assimilate what he’d just heard and seen. He poked his head out slightly, just enough to get a clearer view of his mother while remaining obscure. She had crumpled to the floor sobbing, with her hands covering her face. He watched her with a mixture of sadness and anger. How could she betray her husband, his father? She was the epitome of purity to him. Sweet, gentle mannered, well respected by her family and the community. How could she?
Those painful memories knotted his stomach. He never wanted to end up like his father who remained oblivious to the deceit of a cheating wife, and submerged in his love for her. Petrifying thoughts of being crushed under by his growing feelings for Onome swivelled in his mind for hours before he drifted off into a fitful sleep.
Monday morning arrived before Nnamdi wanted it to. Although he had managed to keep thoughts of Onome buried throughout the weekend, he could no longer help the anxiety that gripped him when he woke up this morning. Today, he would see Onome again for the first time after their kiss and his subsequent juvenile behaviour. He wondered how awkward it would be to have to face her at work. Would she overreact and yell? Or give him the cold shoulder? One never knew with women. Whenever he played games, he often got a wide range of responses. He wasn’t sure what to expect. Nevertheless, he resolved to take whatever Onome threw at him like a man. He deserved her anger or indifference.
Rising from the exercise bike, Nnamdi strode to the kitchen, grabbed a bottle of water and rushed upstairs to begin the rigours of getting himself and Nkem ready for another week. He arrived at work at his usual time in the morning. His heart was racing as he walked down the corridor leading to his office, and escalated even more when he approached the front door of Onome’s office. Nnamdi knew she was in her office. He paused momentarily, wondering if he should knock on her door and face the music sooner than later. Taking a deep breath and shaking his head, he decided not to. Whenever he saw her, he would just have to accept whatever she dished out. After all, they had a meeting later that morning to discuss the account she had just secured.
Seated in the large conference room, Nnamdi waited for the rest of his team to join him. He threw a quick glance at the large digital clock on the wall. It was nine a.m. The meeting would start in another thirty minutes. With no new project to work on, and his stomach roiling with anxiety, he had left his office to wait for the meeting in the conference room. All he could think about was seeing Onome again. His mind coiled so tightly with worry about seeing her, that he sat rigidly, his gaze focused on the door. It was nearly nine-thirty in the morning before she appeared in the conference room. His heart rate doubled when he saw her walk through the door. Although he was sitting, he felt dizzy, as if he would fall if he weren’t already seated.
Onome flashed him a dazzling smile, giving him a glimpse of her dimples.
“Hello, Nnamdi, I hope you had a wonderful weekend,” she said, taking the seat directly opposite him. His heart somersaulted, refusing to slow down. He had not expected this reaction. Anger, yes. Cold indifference, more likely. But friendly and chatty, not in a million years.
“I’m… I’m fine, Onome, and I did,” Nnamdi muttered, heat rushing to his cheeks at the shakiness of his tone. “And you?”
“I had a brilliant weekend,” Onome responded, smiling again. His chest tightened. He could never get enough of that smile. “Fejiro and I are learning how to ride a bicycle. Imagine, I am only just learning how to ride a bicycle in my thirties…” She giggled.
Nnamdi couldn’t believe what was happening. He had prepared himself for her anger or indifference but not for this. This was almost worse than the reactions he had predicted. It was as if nothing happened between them, as if their kiss never happened and they were good friends having an idle chat. Only that it had. And the image of her quivering against him was as fresh and vivid to him as the hot cup of coffee he held in his hands.
“So, we are expecting Jide, Seyi and Folu?” Her voice broke through his ruminations.
“Yes, they should be here any minute.”
Nnamdi opened his mouth but hesitated. He had more to say, wanted to talk about their kiss, force her to acknowledge what had happened between them.
“… Onome,” he began. The conference room door burst open, and in walked the two managers they were expecting, and Folusho. Nnamdi swallowed back the rest of his words.
“Hello guys. We are not late, are we?” Folu asked, settling in the seat next to Nnamdi. Onome turned towards Folusho and smiled.
“Not at all, Folu,” she replied, reclining in her seat. Nnamdi’s gut jerked, his mind in turmoil. What the hell is going on? he thought. Onome’s happy cheerful mood bothered him more than he anticipated. Nonetheless, the meeting had to go on. And it did. They discussed the account details, the profit the bank would make, mortgage payments and how to secure payment from the account holder. Onome led the discussion proficiently. Her strategies were simple but effective and her disposition bright.
Feeling a bit out of sorts, Nnamdi listened and tried to contribute as much as he could even though half of the conversation flew by his ears as he focused his attention on Onome. She finished speaking and relaxed in her seat, unsettling Nnamdi even more. How could she be so relaxed? When his muscles ached with tension? When all he could think about was her pressed up against him, whimpering, calling out his name. His body reacted predictably to that image and he adjusted himself in his seat. This was ridiculous; he was so attuned to Onome, as if she was the only one in the room. And his body was out of control, calling out for her in a conference room with his colleagues present. She was doing a number on him without even touching him.
“Great, Onome. You have been brilliant,” Jide, a senior manager at the mortgage bank, cheered. Nnamdi’s mind was brought back to the present by that remark. “You are really pulling your weight.” Jide’s raspy voice boomed in the room.
“Thank you, sir.” Onome said, smiling shyly at Jide, her long lashes lowering. Nnamdi’s gut clenched with jealousy. He couldn’t explain why, but he wanted that shy smile reserved only for him.
“I agree with Jide, Onome. We should all go out and celebrate your first account,” Seyi, the other manager sitting beside Onome chipped in, patting Onome on the shoulder. “We all need to go on a—”
“No! We have more work to do.” Nnamdi interrupted sharply, startling everyone in the room. They turned to look at him, strange expressions on their faces. Embarrassment warmed his face. “I mean, it’s not yet time to celebrate. We have not hit our quota yet. Not enough for Christmas bonuses,” he muttered in a less grating tone.
Sucking air into his lungs, Nnamdi lowered the coffee cup he held onto the table. “Thanks, Onome, for your excellent work,” he said, avoiding eye contact with her. He knew he needed to regain control of his emotions. “You are responsible for this account now, so keep me posted on the progress.”
“Thanks, Nnamdi,” she replied pleasantly. For strange reasons, her pleasantness pushed his buttons. It made him want to send everyone else out of the room, back her up against the wall and kiss her senseless. Replay Friday night until she moaned out his name again. Until she became as unsettled as he was.
I’m being silly, he thought. I should be happy she is being professional and not allowing personal feelings to cloud her judgment. Shaking himself mentally, Nnamdi asked everyone in the room if they had anything to contribute. When they declined, he ended the meeting, and watched the room clear out. Onome strutted out of the room last with a confident and carefree air around her. For inexplicable reasons, this made Nnamdi feel even smaller about the childish post he had put up on his Instagram and twitter feed. Onome was certainly a rare gem, a woman he couldn’t play games with. A woman who had the power to break his heart. He had to keep away from her.
And in the days that followed, he did. His focus was on work and Nkem. He spent time with his family in the evenings and even planned a barbeque for the coming Saturday so all their children could play together. He planned it as a sleepover at his sister, Adaora’s home. It was an eight-bedroom mansion she shared with her husband, Ikenna, a famous Nigerian musician, and their two children. So, there was enough room for everyone. Chuma, his twin brother, and Ifeoma, Chuma’s wife, would also be there with their twin sons. He was looking forward to spending time with his niece and nephews this weekend.
A sudden movement on the other side of the wall fractured his musings. Nnamdi held himself still as he listened. He heard clicking sounds of high heels on the floor and the squeak of the door opening and shutting, suggesting Onome was on her way out for lunch. It was noon, and she often went to the small canteen opposite the office building for her lunch. He also preferred to have his lunch there because it offered a wide choice of satisfactorily prepared meals. But for the past few days, he avoided the canteen; afraid of bumping into Onome there. It was bad enough they encountered each other during meetings, but to sit in a canteen watching her eat with other members of his male staff laughing and having a good time, made him feel queasy.
Their encounters during departmental meetings were cordial. It was as if she went out of her way to be nice to him. It was killing him. The saying “kill people with kindness” was true, because her kindness towards him was killing him. Guilt and shame overtook him, so did a feeling of loss. Onome walking around happily and unaffected after their passionate episode meant she couldn’t care less about his tactics. She obviously wasn’t as affected by their kiss as much as he was.
A rumbling growl resounded from his tummy. Nnamdi sucked his teeth. He had skipped lunch for the past three days. It was taking a toll on his temper because he loved food and hated being hungry. He’d found himself snapping at people for no apparent reason.
By Friday, Nnamdi’s irritability rose to a peak. He had even snapped at Nkem when she accidentally poured her cereal on the dining table at breakfast time. Flinching with embarrassment, he remembered how he had gathered her in his arms, apologising profusely for his unnecessary harsh tone. Her words, “dad, why have you been so upset?” replayed on his mind on his drive to work. He knew exactly why. And he planned to address the reason today.
“Nnamdi, are you not going home? It’s past six,” Folu asked, leaning against Nnamdi’s office door with his briefcase in his right hand and suit jacket braced across his left arm.
“No, I have a few more things to tidy up,” he replied, a shadow of a smile playing on his lips.
“What about Nkem? Who will pick her up?”
“Tonight, we are having a sleepover at my sister’s place. She is already there. A whole weekend of fun with everyone in the family.”
“Oh, that sounds like fun. I always love when my own nieces and nephews sleep over…” Folusho paused, his eyes bristling with reminiscent pleasure. “Loads of noise in the house, but, generally, fun.”
Nnamdi laughed. He agreed. There was always a lot of chaos when the children got together, but he enjoyed seeing Nkem play with her cousins. She derived so much excitement playing with other children that Nnamdi sometimes wished he could relax enough to find a woman to bear him more children, siblings for her. Onome’s image flickered through his mind. Damn, he thought, silently deriding himself. I can’t spend an entire hour without thinking about her.
“Okay, I’m off. Enjoy your weekend.” Folusho said, turning to leave. Nnamdi heard Folusho’s footsteps pause by Onome’s door. Seconds later, he heard their voices as they chatted jovially. His ears itched to hear their conversation, but the walls were thick and he could only make out some muffled words, Folusho’s loud laughter and his final greeting before he left Onome’s office. Nnamdi waited a few minutes and rose from his seat. He walked purposefully to the next room, his heart beating at a manic rate. This conversation needed to be had, or he would implode.
He knocked on the door and waited. There was slight hesitation for a few seconds, and then he heard a shaky, “come in.” Nnamdi strolled right into the centre of Onome’s office. Immediately, her flowery scent filled his nostrils. He inhaled deeply. His stomach flipped, and his groin stood at attention. Everything about this woman turned him on, confused him. His eyes zeroed in on her. His expression must have startled her because she shot up from her seat.
“Eh, Nnamdi, is everything okay? The weekly report—”
“Everything is okay with the weekly report.” Nnamdi interjected, moving closer to the Oakwood table, which separated them. She took a step back.
“I… err… rechecked the details,” she mumbled, turning her attention to the open file in front of her before turning back to him. Nnamdi noticed the pulse at the base of her neck pounding.
“You know that’s not why I’m here, Onome,” he said to her, grasping the edge of her table, facing her directly.
“Erm… I’m happy to go over it again, I’ll even do it tonight.”
“I’m not here to discuss the weekly report, Onome.”
“If it’s another project, you can email me—”
“I’m not here to discuss another project!” Nnamdi growled. “I have had my tongue deep in your throat, your body flush against mine while you moaned my name as you came apart in my arms. This isn’t about any damned new project.”
He heard her shocked gasp as her eyes widened.
“Yes, Onome, yes!” Nnamdi said between clenched teeth. “I know you want to forget it happened, erase it from your memory! But it did happen! And you wanted it as much as I did!”
He was breathing heavily from the intensity of his emotions.
“Maybe I should have stayed, finished what I started. Then you won’t walk around as if nothing happened between us, you’ll be begging me for more. You’ll be—”
A sharp slap landed across his face, stopping his rant. She had moved too quickly for him to prevent it.
“You can’t talk to me like I’m one of your bitches!” she cried, walking around the table to face him. “What do you want from me, Nnamdi, eh?” Her face sparked with anger. It excited Nnamdi. He welcomed her anger. Anything but the unaffected disposition she had treated him to all week. “Why don’t you go find your bitches and continue to be the dog you always are!”
Nnamdi’s heart soared. Adrenaline rushed through his veins.
“So you noticed!” he shot back. She shrugged, but he saw the brief disappointment that registered in her eyes before they reverted to the angry glare at him.
“I really don’t care—”
“So you noticed,” Nnamdi repeated more calmly, a deep understanding dawning on him. He wasn’t alone in his confusing feelings. “Were you jealous, Onome?” he muttered in a low tone.
“I don’t care what you do with your life or how many bitches you screw!” Onome spat, her chest heaving with anger. “You can screw a thousand bitches for all I care! I am not your woman; I am your assistant!”
“You were jealous.” Nnamdi moved towards her. She stepped back. “You were jealous, Onome,” She raised her hand to slap him again but he caught it and held her wrist. Still holding her wrist, he placed her palm gently against his thumping heart and held it there for a few seconds.
“I’m sorry about that post, Onome. I… wanted to… I was running away from this, from what you do to me. From how you make me feel.”
Silence. Their eyes locked, staring into each other’s souls. His heart beat dangerously fast, threatening to burst out of his chest.
“Onome, I want you so much,” Nnamdi groaned. He cupped her face in his hands, trying to control the flood of emotions saturating him. “When you are around me, I can’t think straight, I can’t breathe…” His voice tapered off. Onome parted her lips, her body trembling. His control scrambled. With no further words needed, Nnamdi’s mouth sought hers. Her arms flew around him. They both stumbled clumsily towards the desk clinging to each other, kissing with ardour. “Oh, Nnamdi,” she moaned against his lips, exciting him even more. He was so turned on, he felt like he was on the verge of bursting.
Onome was so responsive. Her tongue tangled with his urgently, moaning huskily as their hands roamed over each other. She dragged his suit jacket off his shoulders forcefully, tossing it carelessly on the floor. Sighing as if frustrated by his clothing, Onome pulled up his tucked in shirt from his black trousers and clutched at his flat stomach.
“Ohhhh,” she moaned against his mouth. Nnamdi groaned at the contact of her hands on his bare flesh. He lifted her so that she sat on her desk, and stepped into the space between her opened thighs, holding her closely, trying to bring them as physically close as their awkward position allowed.
They continued the feverish mating of their mouths and tongues as they ground their bodies together, both attempting to ease some inner tension. Alarm bells chimed in Nnamdi’s brain as his balls tightened, threatening to explode.
“Onome, God!” he rasped, pulling away abruptly. “Our first time can’t be against your desk!” he groaned, panting heavily as he struggled to bring himself under control. Her eyes flipped open. Her mouth looked swollen from his kisses. The buttons of her bright pink blouse were undone, revealing round firm breasts in a push-up bra. When had he unfastened those buttons? He couldn’t even remember.
Onome appeared dazed for a few seconds before reality set in. She glanced around the room slowly. He noticed slight embarrassment cross her expression as she did. Files were scattered all over the floor of her office, her desktop positioned at a dangerous angle a few inches away from falling off, while she sat in the centre of the desk in a state of disarray with her skirt bunched up around her upper thigh.
Nnamdi cupped her face again and kissed her gently on her lips.
“Onome,” he murmured huskily. “We want each other. Let’s have each other. Let’s stop playing games.” Nnamdi paused, kissing her softly again. “Nkem and I are sleeping over at my sister’s home on Saturday night. Call me when Fejiro is asleep.” She remained motionless, gaping at him. Nnamdi kissed her forehead, still unwilling to break complete contact with her. But he knew he had to. “I’ll drive over to your apartment as soon as I get your call.” He moved away from her and watched regretfully as she buttoned her blouse, missing the view of her spectacular breasts encased in the pink push up bra. She stood and arranged her black skirt. Her hand moved promptly to her hair, which was braided in large cornrows, as if to check if it was still tidy. Nnamdi smiled. The way he had run his hands over her cornrows; it was surprising that it was still as neat as it was. His own hair most likely was dishevelled. Onome had curled her fingers inside his trimmed Afro relentlessly as they kissed. A smile still curving his lips, Nnamdi put himself back together, tucking his shirt back into his trousers.
“I’ll be waiting to hear from you, Onome,” he said, then reached for her one more time, because he couldn’t resist, and kissed her softly.
Feeling a lot better, he picked his jacket off the floor and strutted out of her office. The message was clear in the air now. The ball was in Onome’s court. He had made his intentions clear. All he had to do was wait for her response.
It was a stressful wait. Sitting in the very large backyard of Adaora’s mansion with Chuma and Ikenna as they watched the children play, Nnamdi felt his stomach twist with tension. His eyes scanned the garden playground that was well equipped with various outdoor games including a slide, swing, seesaw and a large trampoline. Nkem and her cousin, Anuli, his niece, were jumping on the trampoline and squealing loudly. His nephews were running around playing a game likely to be cops and robbers because they were shooting at each other with toy guns.
“I keep telling the boys that guns are dangerous and they shouldn’t enjoy this game so much,” Chuma remarked, breaking the silence. Nnamdi glanced sideways at his twin brother and raised his glass of beer to his lips.
“It’s just a game, bro, lighten up.” He took a sip.
“I know, but still, I would prefer if they spent more time reading a book instead—” Nnamdi and Ikenna erupted into laughter, interrupting Chuma’s speech.
“Chuma, you can never change,” Ikenna muttered, shaking his head.
The three of them sat around a plastic table in the backyard, enjoying roasted corn and beer while watching the children play.
“Relax, man, it’s a weekend. Here, have more corn.” Ikenna held out a hub of corn to Chuma.
Hissing, Chuma snatched it from him, and then laughed, as if he just realised the absurdity of his remark. Comfortable silence stretched between them. Nkem’s squeal as she jumped high on the trampoline reverberated in the air.
“I saw your new assistant at the canteen yesterday,” Chuma said to Nnamdi before biting down on the corn hub. Nnamdi’s heart crashed into his chest. That out-of-nowhere comment from his twin brother startled him. He averted his gaze and took another sip of his beer, trying to soothe the sudden dryness in his throat.
“She is pretty,” Chuma continued, seemingly oblivious to the emotions his words evoked in Nnamdi.
“Who is pretty?” Ifeoma questioned, emerging from the house with Adaora, who carried a tray in her hands, beside her. “You better be talking about me,” she added as she pulled out a chair beside Chuma, and bent to kiss his shaved scalp.
“You will always be my number one beauty,” Chuma responded, his eyes softening. Nnamdi watched his brother place his hand on his wife’s thigh. Chuma was always serious, but it seemed only Ifeoma could get him to relax like this. “But we are talking about Nnamdi’s new assistant, I believe her name is Onome.”
“Yes, Onome,” Adaora chimed in, placing the tray containing multiple pieces of spiced barbequed chicken on the small red plastic table in front of them. “She is hot, Nnamdi.” Adaora sat on Ikenna’s knee and he placed an arm around her midriff.
Nnamdi felt his face growing warm.
“I have not noticed,” he muttered, avoiding everyone’s gaze and instead focusing on his drink.
“You haven’t noticed?” Adaora queried disbelievingly.
Nnamdi remained silent, his face on fire. “So, how was your North American tour?” he asked Ikenna, desperate to change the topic.
“It was fun,” Ikenna answered, idly caressing Adaora’s tummy. “It was mostly in Atlanta, New York and Baltimore.”
“Yes, my Ikenna was on fire during those shows. I was privileged to experience them live and up close,” Adaora murmured. Pride brimmed in her eyes. She leaned in and kissed Ikenna passionately on his lips and everyone grunted in protest.
“Cut it out,” Chuma shrieked. “That’s my sister you are groping.” Ikenna laughed heartily, continuing to hold Adaora firmly. Nnamdi was pleased that his ploy to change the subject had worked. Not for long.
“You haven’t noticed?” Adaora’s soft voice came again, bringing the focus of discussion back to Onome. Her left eyebrow lifted as she spoke. Nnamdi shifted his gaze from her. “She is okay… I guess,” he mumbled. Chuma and Adaora snickered.
“Hmmm…” Adaora made a disbelieving sound.
“Hmmm what?” Nnamdi sputtered, feeling defensive.
“It’s just that she is your type… you know—” Adaora made a figure eight sign with her hands.
“What does that mean?” Nnamdi interjected.
“Well, it means, she is the usual type you go for. So, I am wondering why you hired her.”
“I don’t have a type.”
“Yes, you do.” It was Chuma this time.
“No, I don’t.”
“You do,” Ifeoma said, picking up a piece of chicken from the tray in front of them. “We have seen you with different women over the years and they all look the same. They are all dark-skinned, curvy, and empty-headed.”
“Well, Onome isn’t empty headed. Apart from being stunning, she is clever, smart, funny and interesting!” Nnamdi blurted out. Silence followed his outburst.
“Oh my God!” Chuma’s eyes widened like saucers. “You are sleeping with her.”
“No,” Nnamdi denied, his face flushing with embarrassment. Chuma shook his head.
“You can’t be stupid enough to sleep with an employee.”
“I am not sleeping with her.”
“But you want to.”
Yes, a thousand times, yes, Nnamdi thought, I want to sleep with her, hold her, keep her forever.
“No, I don’t,” he muttered instead, gulping from his glass. Another moment of silence.
“Don’t shit where you eat, Nnamdi,” Chuma said, his tone serious. “It is always a recipe for disaster.”
“I am not…” Nnamdi quickly swept his eyes around to make sure the children were out of earshot. “Shitting anywhere!”
“Let’s change the subject,” Adaora suggested, picking up her almost empty glass of wine from the table. “So, how is Nkem coping in school?”
“Be careful, Nnamdi,” Chuma continued, as if Adaora had not spoken. “Although she looks like the woman you usually go for, she is not really your type. You can’t play games with this one, she may sue and make trouble for the firm—”
“Don’t call her this one!” Nnamdi snapped, his eyes flashing at Chuma.
“Oh, my goodness, it’s more serious than I thought. You are falling for her.”
“I am not! And mind your fucking business.” Nnamdi rose abruptly, grabbed his pint of beer and stormed back into the house.
He burst into the kitchen, took multiple breaths in and out, trying to reduce the fury boiling inside him. That didn’t work, so he downed the rest of his beer from the glass before unceremoniously dumping the empty glass in the kitchen sink. His twin brother was right of course, but it didn’t stop him from wanting to be with Onome. He had agonised over it multiple times, looked through company policy documents on dating within the workplace. He wasn’t allowed to date Onome because he was her direct supervisor. So what? He didn’t intend to date her. He just needed to have her, get her out of his system before he burst into flames with his desire for her. Was that so wrong, especially now that he knew the attraction was mutual? He wasn’t forcing himself on her. She had a choice, and he would accept her choice. Whatever it was.
“Nnamdi, are you okay?” Adaora’s soft voice shattered his thoughts. She was behind him. Nnamdi turned to face her.
“Arrrgh! Chuma is so annoying!” he growled.
“We all know he is, but he is also right.”
“I know, damn it!” He hesitated. “I just… I like Onome, okay?”
“It was quite obvious out there. You were blushing. You never blush.”
Nnamdi smiled despite his frustration.
“Be careful, that’s all we are saying.” Adaora added, her eyes twinkling with amusement. “Personally, I am glad to see you actually fall for someone. It means you are not the male slut I always thought you were.”
“Yes, Nnamdi, male slut. And that is putting it mildly.”
Adaora smiled. He smiled back, not bothering to deny her statement. He knew his track record with women was appalling. But heck, he was single and never led anyone to believe he was interested in more than just sex. And he practiced safe sex and always used protection. More vehemently since finding out about Nkem. He even tested for STDs almost every three months since then. So, he didn’t care who judged him. Except for the first time, he had felt repulsed by his own scandalous reputation when he noted the disappointment in Onome’s eyes in her office.
“Let’s go outside and enjoy the rest of the evening, okay?” Adaora said softly, regaining his attention. Nnamdi nodded. He followed her back outside and did just that. The minor spat with his twin brother was quickly forgotten.
Later that night, while lying on the bed, Nnamdi glanced at his watch. It was eleven p.m. He darted his eyes to his phone on the bed beside him. There was no sound. Nothing. The dark screen showed no signs of life. No word from Onome. His gut tumbled. The house was quiet because everyone else was asleep. He had put Nkem to sleep hours ago, taken a quick shower and put on a pair of black jeans, a Bob Marley T-shirt and sneakers.
Nnamdi lay fully dressed on the bed, expecting Onome’s call. He glanced around the room, admiring the simple but tasteful decor. White walls surrounded him and a large painting of a fisherman by the seaside hung on the wall opposite where he lay on a medium-sized comfortable bed. The curtains were dazzling white with an intricate gold embroidery design. Beside his bed was a Victorian-style dressing table. Indeed, it was a cosy and comfortable guest room. He should be fast asleep in this comfortable guest room, having had a full and exciting day with his daughter and extended family. But he couldn’t relax. He kept glancing at his phone, his heart lurching every time he did, hoping to get a call from Onome telling him to come over.
Fejiro should be asleep by now, he thought with conviction. So, the logical conclusion was that Onome had changed her mind. Maybe she had considered the ramifications of sleeping with him. He was, after all, her boss. Or maybe she didn’t want him as much as he wanted her. He recalled their passionate kiss in her office and shook his head. No, she wanted him. Nnamdi was sure of that. There had to be some other reason. She was probably being cautious. He was her boss. Even though his heart sank with disappointment, he had to respect that. He had to find a way to accept her decision, move on—
Nnamdi’s phone buzzed with a text message. His heart stopped when he glanced at the screen. It was a text message from Onome; Fejiro is asleep. Nnamdi heaved a huge sigh of relief. “Damn,” he muttered. “I want this woman so much.” His eyes caught the clock on the wall. It was eleven fifteen p.m. and he was out of here!
“I must be crazy,” Onome muttered to her reflection in the tall mirror at the side of her bed. “Oh, why? Why did I text him?” She smoothed her palm across her purple silk nightgown. “I am about to sleep with my boss.”
She couldn’t believe what she was setting out to do. As if it wasn’t self-destructive enough that she thought about making love to him constantly, she was actually about to do it for real. What if sex with him turns out to be bad and disappointing? She thought, and then shook her head. If the hot passionate kisses between them were any indication, it would be life-altering. And that was the real problem here. What happened after tonight? She wanted to continue with her job. She needed to continue with her job. But she also wanted Nnamdi so much.
It had been twenty-eight long months since she last had sex. And even that night she had practically begged Efe to make love to her. He had complied like it was a chore, leaving her even more frustrated afterwards. Onome shuddered as she thought about Nnamdi. She could bet he never considered sex a chore. She had read about his sexual prowess from a blog where two women stupidly revealed that he was, as they had put it, a stallion in bed. Although an unsettling bout of jealousy consumed her anytime she thought about that article, it also made her curious.
Onome knew she was putting herself in the same category as those women—one of his conquests—so she had to play the game right. For this to happen successfully, she had to set some ground rules first. Tonight was going to be a one-night thing, a physical satiation of lust between two people. No relationship beyond today. Just a man and a woman helping each other out. Excitement sizzled inside her at the thought. She had never done anything like this in her life. She’d never been with any man other than her ex-husband.
Onome moved from the mirror and sat on her bed. Butterflies skittered all over her tummy. She took short calming breaths to ease her tension, but nothing worked. Tonight, she was crossing a line she wasn’t sure she should. Yet, nothing could have stopped her from sending that text to Nnamdi. She had tried to keep from doing so, keeping her mind busy by watching old movies after she put Fejiro to bed. She had even tidied up the house, telling herself she was doing it because she wanted to make use of the free time on her hands. However, when she found herself changing the bed sheets and pillowcases, she’d collapsed on the bed, laughing frantically at her own foolishness. It was obvious she was preparing for Nnamdi’s visit. Finally, she had to admit it to herself; she wanted him to come over. That was when she threw caution to the wind and texted him. After sending the text, she had taken a quick shower, put on subtle makeup, and splashed perfume on her wrists and neck. She didn’t own any sexy lingerie, and the closest thing she had to being remotely alluring was the silk nightgown she had on now that clung to her curves and accentuated her breasts and butt.
Perched nervously at the side of the bed, Onome scanned the room with her eyes. It was a medium-sized room with minimal furniture that included the bed she sat on and a small dressing table beside it. The bright yellow walls surrounding her, contrasted with the dark brown carpet, giving it a surprising cosy feel. Onome hated clutter, so she kept her clothes neatly folded inside the wooden built-in wardrobe, and her shoes stacked on a small five-tier wooden shoe rack. The room was simply decorated but tidy and she loved it. She was proud of herself, proud of being able to provide a place for Fejiro and herself without having to beg for money to do so.
That thought brought her mind back to Nnamdi. Onome rose from the bed, picked up her mobile phone and moved towards the window of her apartment on the ground floor of a three-story building. Parting the brown curtains slightly, she peered into the darkness of the night. A half-moon hung in the skies cast a striking subtle illumination to the landscape. Onome sighed. She hoped whatever happened tonight didn’t ruin her relationship with Nnamdi or cost her her job. The streets were silent. Apart from the intermittent barks of her neighbour’s dog, there was no sound. Onome turned to the clock on the wall. It was twelve-thirty in the morning. Nnamdi was not yet here. Her stomach churned.
Had he decided not to show up after all? Had he changed his mind? Fear gripped her. Although uncertainty clouded her decision to be with Nnamdi tonight, the thought of not being with him was more unsettling. There was so much sexual tension between them that she knew if they didn’t deal with it one way or the other, there was bound to be some disastrous ramifications.
Moving from the window, Onome began to pace. She stopped pacing and glanced at the clock again. A huge sigh of disappointment escaped her lips. “He changed his mind,” she muttered. Her tone was filled with dismay.
Just then, the sound of a car driving into the compound of her apartment and the resumed barking of her neighbour’s dog disturbed the silence of the night. Onome rushed to the window holding her breath. She knew without a doubt that it was Nnamdi. Not bothering to conceal her enthusiasm, she dashed to the front door, took a deep breath and waited, trying not to appear too keen. Wait for him to knock at least, she chided herself. She waited for beats. There was no knock. Instead, her mobile phone chimed with a text message. She glanced at the screen. I am at your front door. Nnamdi.
Onome pulled open the door. Her heart pounded a staccato beat in her chest. She caught her breath when she saw him. God, this man is stunning, she thought, taking in his casual yet suave appearance. He stood by the open door, not saying a word as his gaze swept over her from head to toe and then back to her eyes again. She noticed his brown eyes darkening gradually as he did so. A gust of chilly night breeze floated into the apartment, spreading chill bumps on her skin. As if he noticed, he moved into the apartment and shut the door behind them. They stood motionless, regarding each other silently for a few seconds.
“Onome—” Nnamdi began.
“Let’s go to my room.” Onome interrupted. Wanting to move them away from the hallway, which was close to Fejiro’s room. He followed her silently down the long corridor to her room at the opposite end of Fejiro’s room.
As soon as she shut the door, Nnamdi pulled her into his arms and placed his forehead against hers, breathing harshly. He was taller than her by a few inches, so he had to bend his neck a bit. Onome’s heart raced uncontrollably at his nearness.
“Onome, we don’t have to do this,” he murmured huskily. “I hope you know your job is safe, no matter what happens here tonight.”
Onome’s throat tightened, and her chest expanded with the intense emotions rising within her.
“I want you badly.” He pulled back and gazed into her eyes. There was a tortured look in his eyes. As if he was fighting for control. “But, I also want you to know that you can turn me down with no repercussions. You are a fantastic banker, an asset to the firm. You can tell me to piss off and—”
“Shut up and kiss me,” Onome whispered, cutting him off. She heard his harsh intake of breath before his mouth captured hers. Onome flung her arms around his neck and crushed her body against his, desperate to be closer to him. Nnamdi’s tongue delved into her mouth decisively, stroking hers gently at first, then firmly, drawing a response from her. Onome moaned as a rush of pleasure shot liquid heat between her thighs. Involuntary small spasms shook her core. She felt his hands drop to her bottom and squeeze both butt cheeks as he continued to explore her mouth.
“You are so sexy…” she heard him groan against her opened mouth. “So damn sexy. I can’t keep my hands off you, I can’t keep my eyes off you.” His words aroused her further and Onome became impatient. She was already so wet.
“Nnamdi,” she moaned. “Please, now, please.” She reached for the bulge in the front of his jeans and he swiftly jerked away, dragging air into his lungs. “I want this to be the best night of your life,” he declared in a gruff voice. “Onome, sweetheart.” Nnamdi cupped her face. “There will be no rushing tonight. I want every moment to count.” There was a fierce determination in his eyes as he reclaimed her mouth with a powerful command that left Onome weak with need. A deep throaty moan escaped Onome when Nnamdi’s mouth descended to her breast and sucked her taut nipple through her nightgown. “Oh, Nnamdi, please,” she whimpered, trembling with lust. He seemed deaf to her plea as he attacked her other breast and sucked deeply. A flood of moist pleasure soaked Onome’s panties as he continued his sensual assault, alternating between both breasts.
He pulled away abruptly again. “Take off your nightgown,” he ordered.
Onome’s heart leapt at the intensity she observed in his eyes. She suddenly felt shy. The only person who had seen her naked was Efe. She shifted her gaze to the light switch.
“The light,” she murmured. “Please switch it off.” Nnamdi appeared shocked for a few seconds. As if he couldn’t believe what he just heard.
“What?” He seemed genuinely confused.
“The light… I… I…” Onome broke off. How could she explain to him that Efe had found the faint stretch marks she developed during her pregnancy repulsive and had insisted on making love to her only in the dark?
Nnamdi made no move towards the light switch. Instead, he pulled at the straps of her nightgown until it fell like a pool at her ankles. He pulled her panties down and she stepped out of them. His eyes slowly swept over her naked body, lingering on her breasts and the curve of her hips, and then settling briefly on the clean-shaven mound at the juncture of her thighs before slowly moving back to her eyes. Onome fought the impulse to cover herself all that excruciating time, holding her breath. She saw his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed hard. Their gazes held without blinking. Heat burned her entire body at the pure lust registered in his eyes.
“How can you not know how totally stunning you are?” His eyes blazed with passion. Onome’s gut clenched, another gush of molten heat shot from her core.
“I… I… thank you.” Her throat felt raw. His hoarse tone sounded so sincere. Tears stung her eyes. She had never felt so desirable in her life. Never. Not even with Efe.
“Don’t think about him,” Nnamdi murmured before he reached for her and crushed her mouth with his once again. “I want you to know… that you are the sexiest… most beautiful… exciting… woman on this planet,” he said between kisses. Onome emboldened by his words, moved her hands restlessly under his shirt, trying to take it off.
“Not fair!” she cried in frustration when she failed. “Take off your shirt.” She heard Nnamdi’s deep chuckle before he complied. “Okay, okay,” he responded, grinning. His eyes shimmered with amusement at the appreciative sigh from Onome when he pulled his shirt over his head and tossed it aside. It landed on the bed.
“You are hot,” Onome gasped, staring at the hard contours of his chest. Nnamdi’s chiselled muscles were a gorgeous sight to behold. He was firm and athletic in a way that was not over the top or off-putting. She found herself unable to stop her hands and mouth from tracing his body. His harsh moans filled the room as Onome slowly kissed her way around his broad chest and down his flat stomach. When she moved her mouth lower, dropping to her knees, he stopped her with a low hoarse guttural sound.
“Damn it, Onome!” Nnamdi gasped, lifting her and carrying her to the bed. As if she weighed nothing. “I swear, if you touch me there, this will end before it starts.” Onome giggled. He placed her gently on the centre of the bed and reached for his back pocket. He fished out his wallet and pulled out a strip of condoms. Onome’s eyes widened, and he chuckled.
“Yeah, Onome, it’s on tonight.” His tone was hoarse as he eyed her naked body on the bed. “I have wanted you so much and for so long that I won’t be surprised if we use all these.” She couldn’t help but laugh at his mischievous candour. The easy repartee between them and how comfortable she felt lying naked and exposed to Nnamdi, with the light on, surprised her. She had not felt this sexual in a long time. It was empowering and intoxicating. Onome watched keenly as Nnamdi unfastened his belt and pulled away his jeans and boxers in one swift move. Gasping with astonishment and bolting upright, she stared at the powerful erection jutting towards her like a weapon. She swallowed hard, trying to soothe the strange dryness in her throat. She was no virgin, and her ex-husband had been well endowed, but Nnamdi was enormous. Could her body handle his size? Sudden panic struck her.
“You can take it,” he said, as if reading her mind. “I’ll make sure you are ready first.” And he did exactly that. He took his time to worship her body with his hands, lips, and tongue while she writhed restlessly on the bed, moaning.
“I love your tiny little stretch marks,” he murmured hoarsely, as he trailed his tongue over her stomach. “They are little medals of motherhood, evidence that you brought life into this world.” Onome could barely hear what he said. A flood of intense sensation rippled through her from his ministrations. Nnamdi moved his mouth lower and lingered over the top of her fleshy mound for a few seconds. He gripped her firm thick thighs and spread them wide apart. Onome shot up.
“Erm… what are you doing?” she asked in a shaky voice. He lifted his head and their eyes connected.
“I want to eat you.”
“Wh-what? … Erm… I don’t… I mean… I have not done that before.”
Silence. Then a grin spread across his lips.
“Oh,” he gasped, his pupils widening with discovery. “So, this will be a first for you?” His eyes glimmered with an emotion that looked suspiciously like triumph when she nodded. He looked as if he had just won a personal battle. “All right then, relax and enjoy,” he drawled.
At first, Onome struggled to relax as his tongue delved into her pulsating centre. The pleasure was too intense, and she tried to escape the sweet torture but he held her down and feasted greedily on her. Soon she was thrashing her head from side to side, moaning with ecstasy. She clamped her thighs around his head; her hand moved to the back of his head and fisted his short coils. A volcano of pleasure discharged inside her when he sucked her swollen nub into his mouth, and she shattered. “Nnamdi! Ooohhhh!” she moaned, biting down hard on her lower lip to prevent herself from screaming. She arched her back off the bed as wave after wave of sheer pleasure shook her entire being. He did not relent his sensual assault until her shudders quelled.
“Oh, Nnamdi,” she breathed, sated, watching him wipe the moisture off his face with his shirt before he tossed it carelessly on the floor. “What have you done to me?”
A rich arrogant laughter erupted from him.
“We have not even started yet,” he bragged, a cocky smile curving his lips. He grabbed a condom and sheathed himself. “Now that you are ready for me, we can. We don’t need to waste any more time before the main course, do we?”
“Oh, no, we don’t.” she muttered, shaking her head and laughing softly. Her laughter died off quickly when Nnamdi gripped her hips and thrust his turgid thick length into her, filling and stretching her.
They both moaned simultaneously. Sighing with relief, Onome closed her eyes and anchored her legs high up on his shoulders, enjoying the ride of her life. Already, another wave of pleasure was building up deep inside her core. After twenty-eight long months of a dry spell, she was in for a blissful night.
“Damn, Onome, you have worn me out,” Nnamdi grumbled in a groggy voice. He was lying face down on the bed beside Onome.
“No, you wore me out,” Onome giggled. “I have used muscles I did not even know I had.”
He laughed. “Don’t blame me, blame that fine round ass of yours.”
“You do like it down there, don’t you?”
He raised himself off the bed slightly, his facial expression amusingly solemn.
“Your ass is so fine; it deserves a book dedicated to it—Onome’s big round ass.” Onome broke into a fit of giggles.
“Seriously, when you bent over, I almost died.” he continued in a humorous tone. “I mean, they are perfectly round and yet surprisingly firm. I’m sure you can tell by now I am an ass man, and I couldn’t get enough of grabbing your ass.”
“And spanking it too,” Onome teased, still giggling. His eyes clouded with concern.
“I hope I didn’t hurt you, I got carried away a little bit.”
“No, you didn’t.” She shook her head swiftly to reassure him. She had surprisingly enjoyed the sharp stings of his palms swatting her bottom as he rode her from behind. “I mean, you did, but in a good way.”
The corner if his lips lifted into a half-smile at her response.
They continued in silence for a few moments. Onome stroked his back idly.
“This is a beautiful tattoo, but it is strange,” she said tracing a finger over the lines of the huge tattoo across his back. “What does it signify?”
Stretched across his back was a colourful image of a large angel with its wings spread and a devil with thick horns coming out of the angel’s belly. Above it was scribbled in gothic letters, Angelina vs Lucifer. Nnamdi did not respond for a while and Onome wondered if he had fallen asleep.
“That’s my mother,” he murmured finally, in a tone so low she barely heard him.
“That’s my late mother. She was an angel and a devil.” Onome sensed he had more to say, so she remained still.
“My mother had an affair with a man named Dozie while married to my father,” Nnamdi continued, sitting up. “I am the only one in the family who knows this about her. No one else knows, not even my father.” Disdain contorted his handsome face. “My mother was very beautiful, so sweet and lovely, so polite, and so angelic. Just like her name Angelina…” He paused with a faraway look in his eyes, as if struggling with painful memories. “If I didn’t catch her with that man myself, I would never have believed she was capable of deceit, never.”
Onome held her breath, listening, soaking it all in. “I watched her for days after I found out about her affair. She didn’t act differently. She didn’t even flinch with shame, fear or regret when she was with my father. Not once!” His tone was harsher now. “I remember one Friday night, a week after I found out about her affair. She served my father his dinner, with an angelic smile. When I saw my father smile back at her with his love for her shining in his eyes, I felt so nauseated.” He trailed a finger over his temple before he continued. “I literally ran out of the dining room and threw up. I couldn’t believe how normal she was acting. I goaded her for days using subtle innuendos, trying to get her to admit her infidelity…but she didn’t. Unfortunately, she died before I could get her to reveal the truth.” He shook his head. “She remained the angel she pretended to be until the day she died. So, yes, my mother was an angel, but she was also the devil.”
Onome drew closer to Nnamdi, wanting to soothe his inner turmoil but not sure how to proceed. She placed a palm on his bare chest.
“I’m sorry you had to bear the burden of that secret alone.”
He drew in a harsh breath, tilted her chin with his thumb and forefinger and meshed his mouth with hers for a passionate kiss. Suddenly pulling away, he whispered, “I will never allow a woman to deceive me that way.” His tone sounded like a threat. He kissed her forehead and then her mouth. His face softened once again to the carefree facade he always exuded, as if he had not just bared his soul to her. Another moment of silence ensured. Their soft breathing and the ticking of the clock was the only sound in the room. Then the neighbour’s dog began to bark.
Nnamdi swept his gaze to the clock on the wall and rose from the bed stark naked, not in any way embarrassed by his nudity. She didn’t blame him. He had a striking statuesque build.
“It’s almost five in the morning,” he mumbled.
Onome glanced at the clock too and stretched on the bed like a satiated cat. “Thank you for a wonderful night,” she purred. Her eyes caught the unused condoms on the bed stand and she smiled. “Although we didn’t use them all, I am thoroughly satisfied.” He followed her eyes to the condoms on the wooden bed stand.
“I should thank you, Onome, it was amazing. And we did use three in one night. Not bad, not bad at all.” He picked up the strip of unused condoms and his lips slanted into a half-smile. “We will use these up in no time.”
Onome sat up, covering herself with the blanket.
“I eh… I thought this…” She pointed her finger to him and then to herself, “… was a one-time thing.”
“And why would you think that?” He looked puzzled.
“Well, because we work together. You are my boss.”
“I know that, and I told you your job is safe.” He brushed a palm across his face. “Onome, I don’t think you understand how much I want you.”
“But how can we work together and be involved?”
He hesitated, searched for his boxers and put it on, before turning back to her.
“Onome, nothing has to change. We have great chemistry. Why can’t we continue to explore that?”
“But it’s against company policy for us to date.”
“We won’t be dating, we’d just be—”
“Oh,” Onome turned away from him, holding tightly to the bed covers. “Sleeping together,” she finished for him.
“Onome, I didn’t mean it that way,” Nnamdi began, taking a step towards her. She held out her palm to stop him.
“No, I know exactly what you meant,” Onome said, her tone surprisingly calm considering the anger boiling within her. She had actually set herself up to be spoken to in this manner by him. What was she thinking? “Listen, Nnamdi, I don’t blame you for thinking I’m willing to settle for this, but to be honest, I just wanted one night with you. To test the waters before I plunge into the dating scene again.”
“You will not be dating anyone!” Nnamdi growled, moving to stand directly in front of her.
“You have no right to tell me what I am or am not to do!” Onome hissed. He took in a deep breath as if trying to calm himself.
“You are right. I don’t have any right to tell you what to do,” Nnamdi said more gently. “I’m sorry. I… I just wanted…” He trailed off, running his palm over his face.
“Nnamdi,” Onome’s voice was soft. “Why don’t we just call tonight what it was? Two consenting adults who had a night of great sex, and move on.”
Nnamdi considered her statement in silence for a few seconds, then nodded.
“Okay, if that’s what you want.”
Onome sucked in a breath. She didn’t feel pleased by his quick agreement. But what else could she do? He was not husband material and she needed to be in a relationship with someone who would be there for her and Fejiro. She was not willing to have a prolonged fling with him. Knowing how attracted she was to him, it would only end up in disaster. She was prepared to cut her losses now and cherish tonight’s memories for the rest of her life.
“Okay,” she nodded. “And thanks for a superb night.”
Nnamdi’s eyes sparked with annoyance at her words. He opened his mouth to say something but appeared to change his mind. He rummaged through the room for his clothes and got dressed quickly and angrily. Fully dressed, he moved towards her and planted a kiss on her forehead.
“See you later tonight.”
“What? We just agreed this was a one-time thing.”
“I know what we supposedly agreed, but I also know what will happen. Because as I told you earlier, heat can’t be ignored.” He strutted confidently to the door. “I’ll let myself out. Text me again when Fejiro is asleep tonight. Considering we both have kids; we may as well make use of this weekend.” He winked at her before he opened the door and walked away.
Onome and Fejiro spent Sunday morning in the park, riding their bicycles. After that, she went to the saloon to sit with Fejiro as she got her hair braided to prepare for school on Monday. They also dropped by the shopping mall to get a new pair of school shoes for Fejiro. After dinner, she helped Fejiro with her homework and tried to keep her awake for as long as she could. She wanted to do anything to prevent Fejiro from dosing off too early, anything to prevent herself from texting Nnamdi telling him to come over. It was silly of her, she knew, but she couldn’t seem to help herself.
“Mummy, I am tired.” Fejiro murmured, snuggling closer to Onome. They were seated on the couch watching a teenage movie. Onome hadn’t concentrated long enough to get the title of the movie because her mind was saturated with thoughts of Nnamdi.
She peeked at her watch. It was nine thirty p.m.
“Sorry, baby, I wanted to spend more time with you.”
“I love spending time with you too, mum, but I need to sleep. Tomorrow is a school day.”
“Okay, baby, I’ll put you to sleep.”
Onome stood up and held out her hand to Fejiro. They walked together to Fejiro’s room, which was at the opposite end of the corridor from her room. After Fejiro brushed her teeth and changed into her nightie, she climbed into bed almost lethargic. Onome kissed her on her forehead.
“Mummy, you need a boyfriend,” she muttered drowsily.
“What?” Onome gasped, not sure she had heard her daughter correctly.
“I said, you need a boyfriend. You know, someone to make you happy.”
“I am happy with you. I don’t need anyone else. Besides, what do you know about boyfriends?”
Fejiro chuckled. “I am seven. Not a baby.”
Onome rolled her eyes. Children grew up too fast these days. When she was a little girl, she dared not mention the word “boyfriend” in front of her mother.
“And you are too young to be alone forever because daddy left.” Fejiro’s groggy voice interrupted her musings. “I bet daddy isn’t alone.” She turned to her side. “Goodnight, mummy. I love you.”
“I love you too, baby.” Onome kissed Fejiro who was already asleep. She sat there staring at her sleeping daughter. How can someone so young be so wise? Fejiro was truly a blessing to her. “Goodnight my darling blessed child.” Onome kissed her again and exited her room. She went to the sitting room, sat down on the sofa and flickered through various TV channels. When she found nothing of interest to watch, she rose to her feet and walked over to the kitchen. She washed the dishes, emptied the bin, and mopped the kitchen floor. Still restless, she strolled into her room and ironed Fejiro’s school uniform and polished her school shoes.
“I need to sleep,” she said to herself and walked into the bathroom. While in the shower, all she could think about was Nnamdi’s hands on her body, his lips on her mouth, her breasts, and her core. Oh, what has that man done to me?
After her quick shower, Onome slathered herself with coconut oil, splashed perfume on her wrists and applied nude lip-gloss on her lips. Unable to stop herself, she picked up her phone and typed, Fejiro is asleep. She pressed send before she could talk herself out of it.
All the anxiety Onome felt about working with Nnamdi after their blissful weekend together dissipated after a few days. He was always professional when they were together and they had not gotten any time alone since the week commenced. Although, Onome kept stealing glances at Nnamdi during departmental meetings, trying to figure out if he thought about their two nights together as much as she did.
Every time she saw him, her heart somersaulted and her respiratory rate doubled. She felt like she was constantly in a heightened state of awareness whenever he was nearby. So far, he appeared indifferent and aloof. There were moments when Onome felt grateful that their weekend together didn’t cause a problem at work, but there were moments when she resented that he was unaffected by the experience that had completely altered her world. She craved his touch like a junkie looking for the next fix. Sitting across the room from him in the conference room surrounded by other members of the mortgage bank team, her heart pounded as his deep voice resonated in the room. He was dressed in his usual expensive impeccable black suit, which looked as if it were custom made for him.
She was farthest from him on the round conference table but she could swear she smelt only his scent. It was branded into her nostrils. As he spoke, his eyes scanned the room and caught hers. Onome’s heart jumped to her throat when his intense gaze lingered on hers briefly before moving again. Her mind immediately recalled that same intense look in his eyes when he had held her in his arms on Sunday night as he thrust into her slowly. Moisture pooled between her thighs at the recollection. She squirmed in her seat. This is ridiculous, she thought, trying to focus on the discussion going on around her. Seconds later, she was once again thinking about the nights she spent with Nnamdi. Throughout this week, she had woken up from a deep sleep every night, sweating and aroused, needing a shower before she could drift back to sleep. Why on earth did she think she could have a brief affair with this man? Why?
“So, Onome, what are your thoughts on Mr. Adeola’s account?” The room turned to her. Warmth burned her cheeks. She hadn’t heard a word from what was discussed. She glanced at Nnamdi who had asked the question.
“I would like to go through the proposal one more time before I can conclude.” Onome was proud of her even tone. She had sounded astute although her heart was pounding furiously. She noticed a small smile on Nnamdi’s lips.
“Seems fair to be cautious,” he said. He turned to the manager who had brought the proposal to the group. “Send the details of your proposed client to everyone via email and we will decide next week Friday.”
Onome almost sighed with relief. What a clever escape. She had to get a grip on herself; she couldn’t continue daydreaming about her boss during meetings. She needed this job.
“Anything else?” Nnamdi scanned the room as he asked.
“No,” most of the managers chorused, and a few shook their heads.
“Well done guys. We are close to reaching our target this year. So close I can taste the Christmas bonus already.” Laughter broke out. Onome laughed too. Her own Christmas bonus would be almost half a million Naira. She could taste it too. It was only September. She was sure with the devotion the team displayed; they would hit their target before Christmas.
“Okay, let’s get back to work and make some more money. Marketers, remember our strategy. We don’t take no for an answer.” Grunts of determination erupted from the room.
“Meeting’s closed.” Nnamdi rose, gathering his laptop. Everyone rose too. Onome jumped up, feeling relieved to escape being in a room with Nnamdi. She needed space, the silence of her office to gain control of her emotions.
“Onome, I want to see you in my office now,” Nnamdi said in a gruff tone. Onome’s pulse skittered. Nobody seemed to have heard his words to her. They all appeared busy packing up and leaving.
“… Err… Okay,” Onome muttered, her heart thudding, almost precariously. She picked up her mobile phone and files and marched beside Nnamdi out of the conference room. He walked fast and Onome had to take longer strides to keep up with him. She sent subtle side glances his way and noticed his face drawn into a severe scowl. Was he angry with her? Why?
As soon as she shut the door to his office behind them, he turned towards her swiftly and pressed her back against the wall. The contents in her hands dropped to the floor.
“You were thinking about me in there, Onome,” he rasped. Onome’s eyes widened. She shook her head in denial. He was so close to her, and she fought the impulse to fling her arms around his neck and draw him in for a much-needed taste of his lips.
“Yes, you were,” he rebutted, his tone hoarse. He rested his forehead against hers and drew in a harsh breath.
“Oh, Onome, I can’t stop thinking about you,” he groaned. “I have tried to, tried to pretend thoughts of you don’t consume my days and nights. I can’t stop wanting you. I can’t pretend anymore.” He paused, his piercing eyes drilling a hole into her soul. “I can’t pretend anymore, especially when I know you are thinking about me too.”
“Kiss me, Nnamdi, please,” Onome whispered.
“Oh God, Onome,” His voice was husky as he brought their lips together for a searing wet passionate kiss that left her trembling in his arms.
“Nnamdi,” she moaned against his mouth. “What are we going to do?”
He did not respond but lowered his head and trailed his mouth over her sensitive neck. She whimpered, twisting her neck, offering him better access.
“We will be together,” he murmured, kissing his way back to her mouth. “To hell with company policy. I am the bloody company. And. I. Want. You.” He punctuated his last sentence placing wet kisses on her face.
The sharp ringtone of her phone shattered their sensual haze. Onome broke away from Nnamdi and picked up her phone from the floor where it had fallen with the files she’d held in her hands. She glanced at the screen. It was an unknown number. Suddenly feeling apprehensive, she answered.
“Hello, this is Onome Odafe.”
“It’s Madam Bisi, I’m calling from Government hospital in Ikoyi. Fejiro has had another sickle cell crises.”
“Oh my God, Is she okay?”
“Yes, she is on a morphine drip, her school principal tried to reach you this morning but couldn’t, so she called me.”
“I’ll be there now. Please stay with Fejiro till I get there. Thanks, Madam Bisi.” Onome cut the connection and glanced at Nnamdi who was regarding her with concern in his eyes.
“I’ll drive you there—” he began.
“You don’t have to—”
“Yes, I do,” he countered. “Let’s go.”
Nnamdi drove Onome to the hospital in a rush. Luckily, there was not much traffic. Onome and Nnamdi rushed to Fejiro’s ward as soon as they arrived. She thanked madam Bisi who left shortly after. Fejiro was drowsy but managed a brief conversation with Onome, even managed a small smile at Nnamdi before she drifted off to sleep. Onome sat by Fejiro’s side, holding her hand.
“You don’t have to stay,” she said to Nnamdi. Nnamdi didn’t answer. He simply dragged the chair beside Onome and sat down.
About an hour later, Fejiro began screaming in pain. Nnamdi jumped up. “I’ll get the doctor,” he muttered. Onome shook her head.
“There is no point, he is never in,” she said. “The nurses are the ones who run this hospital.”
“That’s unacceptable!” he snarled. “I’ll make sure the doctor comes down,” he declared as he left the room.
True to his words, in less than thirty minutes, the doctor was in the room with two nurses, fawning over Fejiro. He placed her on another drip and prescribed stronger intramuscular opiates to control Fejiro’s pain. In no time, Fejiro had settled once again into a deep comfortable sleep. Nnamdi continued to sit silently in the hospital room beside Onome like he belonged by her side.
Onome was grateful for Nnamdi’s silent presence. He worked well during an emergency and didn’t panic. He differed from Efe who made Fejiro’s sickle cell crises more unbearable by his irritability. Nnamdi stepped out briefly to buy lunch for them. And by late afternoon, Fejiro was upright enjoying the strawberry ice cream that Nnamdi had bought.
“I have to pick Nkem up,” Nnamdi announced, looking at his watch. Onome peeked at her own watch. She had not realised how fast the day flew by. Thanks to Nnamdi’s calming presence, this present sickle cell setback wasn’t as daunting as it usually was.
“I know. Thanks, Nnamdi, you have been great,” Onome said to him.
“Thank you, uncle Nnamdi,” Fejiro chirped, spooning ice cream from her cup. “Can you bring Nkem here to see me?”
“Of course, I’ll bring her here to visit you, princess.”
“Great!” Fejiro looked brighter and was a picture of happiness, despite the multiple drips attached to her arms. Onome felt her throat tighten.
“Thank you,” she mouthed to Nnamdi, when he got up to leave. He smiled and brushed his hand over her cornrows.
“You are welcome.” He turned to Onome when he got to the door. “We are together now,” he mouthed back to her. She nodded.
Three days later, Fejiro was due to be discharged. It was Thursday morning, and she had been given a clean bill of health after the doctor had personally handled the brief ward round. A rare occurrence in this hospital, considering he hardly ever came around in the past when Fejiro was ill. Not until Nnamdi had spoken to him. Onome wondered what Nnamdi had told the doctor to make him treat Fejiro as a priority. Probably not much. She supposed anyone who knew about Nnamdi’s wealth and influence would suck up to him.
Thinking about Nnamdi made her smile. He and the rest of her work colleagues had been so supportive for the past few days. They visited Fejiro over the weekend and had brought over some files from the office so Onome could work from the hospital. She had spent the three nights in the hospital, only going home to take a bath and to change clothes. By now, Onome couldn’t wait to go home with Fejiro.
After gathering together Fejiro’s things, she and Fejiro made their way down to the hospital entrance. Her car was still at the office car park because Nnamdi had dropped her off at the hospital. Onome rang a taxi company to take them home.
While they were waiting for the taxi to come, Onome spotted Nnamdi walking towards them.
“Hey, princess,” he greeted Fejiro with a stunning grin, lifting her into his arms. “I hear someone is feeling much better.”
Fejiro giggled. “Yes, uncle Nnamdi. I can’t wait to go home.”
Nnamdi chuckled. “I bet you can’t.”
He turned his attention to Onome. Her heart flickered in her chest.
“Cancel the taxi you called. I am here to take you home.”
“Yes, I know you called a taxi because I know how you think,” he continued, ignoring the shocked expression on her face. “I don’t think you understood me when I said we are together now.”
Onome rode silently in the car with Nnamdi, stealing glances at him. They were together now. What exactly did that mean? Were they dating? If they were now in a relationship, were they to keep it a secret from their co-workers? There were lots of questions she had to ask. However, this was not the time. Now, she would focus on getting home. She was excited to finally be on her way home, excited to be free from the hospital and away from sickness. At home, Fejiro was healthy and not a sick child. She wouldn’t have to watch her suffer at home. Unfortunately, when she got home, she discovered her home was flooded. A water pipe from the bathroom had burst, and there was water everywhere. Her apartment was flooded up to ankle level.
“Oghene me!” she cried, looking on in horror at the disaster before her. All her property was ruined. Her carpet soaked, her furniture, everything! Tears stung her eyes.
“Don’t worry, Onome, I’ll get someone to take care of this.” Nnamdi’s deep voice came from behind her. Onome’s chest tightened and tears flowed down her face. Nnamdi gathered her in his arms. “You and Fejiro can stay with me until then,” he murmured, stroking her back as she sobbed against him, mentally exhausted.
The words were out of his mouth before he could stop himself. Onome stiffened in his arms.
“I can’t ask you to do that,” she sniffled, withdrawing from his embrace.
“Why not?” Nnamdi asked. He turned his gaze sideways to find Fejiro watching them in silence.
“It’s the easiest thing to do,” he whispered, turning back to Onome.
“I can find a hotel.”
“And waste loads of money? When I have a large five-bedroom home? Each room self-contained?”
“I don’t think it will be appropriate to live with you. I mean…” She lowered her voice so only Nnamdi could hear “…what will people think?”
“I don’t give a f—” Nnamdi stopped himself from swearing. He darted his eyes once again at Fejiro. She was now pretending not to be attentive, her eyes fixed on a spot opposite where he and Onome stood in the flooded sitting room.
“I don’t care what people think,” he said in a calmer voice. “Listen, it will be for a week tops. The worst-case scenario, two weeks, and you’ll be back home.”
Onome shifted on her feet, swishing water around.
“And about what people think? I don’t care. If people want to read more meaning into this, let them. I have never lived my life based on rules set by others and I don’t intend to start now.” Nnamdi saw the hesitation in Onome’s eyes and smiled. “I promise, Onome, I only want to be there for you and Fejiro during this ordeal. Nothing else.” This seemed to convince her.
“Okay.” She nodded. “Thank you, Nnamdi.”
Nnamdi felt relief wash over him. Ever since Fejiro’s admission to hospital, he’d been worried about Onome and Fejiro. That was his first time seeing anyone experiencing a sickle cell crisis. Although he had tried his best to stay calm, Fejiro’s crying out in pain and Onome’s distressed look when that happened, had been seared into his brain. He wished he could protect them from that pain forever. If they stayed with him he could be there for them and not have to worry about them so much.
“Okay, great. Let’s look around first to see if there is anything you need that we can salvage tonight,” Nnamdi said. The three of them worked together, gathering a few things from the flooded apartment and stuffing them into nylon bags. Nnamdi switched off the main electricity supply to the apartment and opened all the windows.
“I’ll get someone to start work on your apartment tomorrow, Onome,” he promised as the three of them left, shutting the main door.
Nnamdi was not sure exactly when it happened, but he had fallen in love with Onome. The realisation struck him suddenly and unexpectedly while at the pet shop with Onome, Fejiro, and Nkem. They had all driven there that Saturday morning searching for a pet parrot for Nkem. He was helplessly in love with Onome. And now, just like his mother had done to him, she had the power to break his heart. She now had absolute control over his heart.
Onome and Fejiro had been living in his home for only one week, and now, he couldn’t see himself living there without them. He had gotten used to their cosy family unit, the four of them playing house, the four of them having breakfast and dinner together. He woke up every morning looking forward to their morning routine of getting Fejiro and Nkem to school after breakfast together, and driving to work with Onome beside him.
Although Onome had insisted on staying in the guest room downstairs, while he, Nkem, and Fejiro stayed in the rooms upstairs, Nnamdi still felt as if they were a family. He had not made love to or even kissed Onome since she moved in with him. And it was unusual for him not to make a move on her considering how much he wanted her. But more than his physical need for her, he wanted her to feel comfortable in his home. He didn’t want her to feel gratitude, like she owed him anything. Fejiro and Onome’s comforts were his priority, so he kept things platonic between them.
Even things at work had not changed much. Of course, Nnamdi knew rumours about their probable relationship were spreading around the workplace. He knew members of his staff were talking about him and Onome. He and Onome arrived at work together and left together, so he could understand why people would be curious. Nnamdi couldn’t care less. In fact, when Folusho, the only person bold enough to ask him about it, asked him about Onome, he had simply told him not to believe the rumours. He was the boss and frankly did not care what people thought of his personal life. As long as the job was not compromised in any way, there was no problem. That was exactly the case. Onome worked even harder, she had brought another account since their trip to Abuja. She was faultless at her job and he couldn’t be prouder.
She also seemed more relaxed living with him. He heard her singing around the house. He also enjoyed watching her play with Nkem and Fejiro. She often read to them at night before putting them to bed. It was a perfect family unit. And Nnamdi wanted it to remain the same. He wanted to keep Onome in his life. Except that he didn’t want to get married, and he feared she was the marrying kind. He knew his deep fear of marriage arose from his mother’s infidelity, but he couldn’t help it. Now that he was overwhelmingly in love with Onome, he was even more frightened about marriage. What if she lied to him? Hurt him?
“I think this parrot is beautiful, Nnamdi, she is crying out to us. Take me home! Take me!” Onome’s husky voice brought Nnamdi back from his musings. His eyes connected with hers at that moment and he noticed her sharp intake of breath. The intensity of his feelings must have shown in his eyes. She quickly shifted her gaze back to the parrot.
“Daddy, please, I like this parrot,” Nkem pleaded.
“Uncle Nnamdi, the parrot is so lovely,” Fejiro chimed in.
He eyed the African grey parrot in the cage. It was indeed beautiful with exquisite red tail feathers.
“Okay, we’ll get it.”
“Thanks, daddy!” Nkem squealed, jumping. Fejiro also looked delighted. But, his eyes were on Onome, lingering, forcing her eyes to connect with his.
“Anything to make my girls happy,” Nnamdi murmured, keeping his eyes locked on hers.
“Great choice, Nnamdi,” she said, turning her eyes away first. She seemed flustered by his scrutiny.
“What shall we call her?” Fejiro asked Nkem. Her tone brimmed with excitement.
“Let’s call her Suzy,” Nkem replied after a short pause.
“Hmmm… Suzy,” Fejiro tested the name, rolling the sound off her tongue. “Suzy the parrot is a perfect name.”
“Perfect,” Nnamdi said. “It is settled. Let’s take Suzy home.” He’d never felt happier than at that moment with his favourite females in the world.
After purchasing Suzy, the pet parrot, they drove home. The car teemed with excited chatter from the girls, and Suzy the parrot repeating words she heard. Onome remained seated in silence. She appeared deep in thought. Nnamdi would pay millions of Naira to find out what she was thinking about. Her deep thoughts were priceless to him. If only she could trust him enough to tell him what they were.
The following night, when the girls were asleep, Nnamdi lay tossing and turning on his large comfortable bed. He heard noises downstairs and knew it was Onome flapping about in the kitchen. She always went to bed late. A quick peek at the wall clock told him the time was thirty minutes past eleven at night. He wondered what she was doing. Probably cleaning up the kitchen. He had told her many times that his housekeeper would sort things out in the morning. But according to her, cleaning kept her mind busy.
Nnamdi sat up in bed. He might as well go down and help her clean up. It was no good lying restless alone in bed when he really wanted to be downstairs with her. He rose to his feet, dragged his pyjama top from the wardrobe and pulled it over his head. On his way out of his room, he caught his reflection in the side mirror and came back. Picking up his hair comb, he ran it through his thick hair, and then he brushed his eyebrows with the small brow brush he kept on his dressing table. Nnamdi stared in the mirror for seconds and then smiled. “Stop deceiving yourself, fool,” he muttered to his reflection. “You know exactly why you are going downstairs.”
Heart pounding, he climbed down the stairs towards the kitchen. Just as he suspected, Onome was in the kitchen leaning over the sink. Her back was turned to him and she was wearing a pair of tight bright pink cotton leggings clinging to her curvy bottom in a way that ought to be outlawed. She seemed unaware of his presence behind her as she busied herself washing dishes over the sink. The way her sleeveless pink top clung to her tiny waist sent explicit images passing through his brain. His manhood stood at immediate attention just looking at her. With her braided hair covered in a red scarf, she looked as if she belonged in his home. She looked comfortable, and yet so inviting, so irresistible.
“Nnamdi, what are you doing up?” she asked without turning to him.
“I… eh… I heard you in the kitchen and I came to help… you know I have a housekeeper who can do this in the morning.”
“I know. But I couldn’t sleep so I decided to be useful.” Her back was still turned to him.
Nnamdi did not mind a single bit. His gaze dropped to her ass again. Now, that was one view he didn’t mind seeing every day forever. That thought caused his heart to slam violently into his chest.
“Are you staring at my ass?” she questioned, keeping herself in the same position. She appeared to be rinsing the plate in her hands.
Nnamdi felt his breath trapped in his chest, the wind knocked out of his lungs by her bold question. He couldn’t respond. His throat suddenly felt clogged.
“You know you can do more than just stare at my ass, don’t you?”
Still frozen to the spot, he remained silent.
“I have been dropping hints for you all week, you know. My tight leggings and my noisy kitchen runs tonight are the last hints I’ll drop.”
Suddenly snapping out of his arrested state, Nnamdi lurched forward. With a hoarse groan, he moved faster than he had ever done in his life and grabbed Onome’s waist, pulling her round bottom flush against his erection. She dropped the plate in her hands into the sink, turned off the tap and leaned back into him.
“Oh, Onome,” Nnamdi groaned, pressing his lips against her neck. “You are killing me.” She chuckled and wriggled her bottom against his groin.
He let out a harsh moan. “You are playing with fire!” His tone was hoarse and unrecognisable. He wanted her so intensely.
“Burn me, Nnamdi,” she moaned, grinding against him. “Please burn me.”
With a guttural groan, he turned her towards him, a bit roughly. Grabbing her neck, he pulled her even closer, and crushed his mouth to hers. A fierce need burned inside him. A need to claim her. Erase any man from her past. Brand her. Prevent any other man from inserting into her future.
His tongue delved into her mouth, stroking hers, wordlessly communicating this need, demanding her surrender. He heard her strained whimper. Her palms flattened against his chest, half pushing him away, as if fighting against his onslaught. He withdrew slightly from her, panting, drawing air deep into his lungs as their gazes connected. His eyes dipped to her full lips, which were swollen, bruised and parted as she struggled to catch her own breath. He didn’t blame her for pushing him away. He had practically suffocated her with the intensity of his emotions. They continued staring at each other in silence for seconds. Their harsh breathing filled the silence.
“Nnamdi,” Onome whispered finally. “Kiss me, please.”
Nnamdi cupped her face in his hands.
“Oh, Onome. I want you so much,” he groaned, his tone raw.
“Take me, then, Nnamdi. Take me, please,” she moaned as she pressed her soft lips against his. His chest tightened. Onome did not understand what he meant yet. She did not understand that he wanted all if her. Her past. Her future. She thought he was talking about sex. Did she think this was only about sex?
A primal, uncivilised desire to mark her like she had marked his heart overpowered him. He suddenly bared his teeth and grazed her chin. He heard her moan in response. The sound clawed at his groin.
“I want all of you, Onome. All of you…your body, your mind…your heart,” he murmured huskily as he trailed his mouth slowly over her jaw, her cheek, the corner of her mouth. He moved his mouth to her ear lobe and bit gently. She moaned again. A long-drawn-out moan.
“Nnamdi,” she whimpered, reaching for his face and bringing his mouth down on hers.
He kissed her with all the passion he felt in his heart as he held her close. Her soft moans fuelled his arousal, inflamed his need to possess her.
Breaking contact with her mouth, he pressed his lips close to her ear and whispered, “do I have all of you, Onome?”
He felt her quiver against him.
Her eyes fluttered open and held his.
A triumphant rumble erupted from deep in his chest as he lifted her in his arms and carried her into the sitting room. Holding her as if she were fragile, he placed her gently on the plush sofa. His eyes did not leave hers as he lowered his mouth to hers in a gentle, sweet kiss.
“Onome. My Onome,” he moaned out her name against her opened mouth. Her hands flew across his neck, pulling him on top of her. They continued the slow wet waltz of lips and tongues.
Onome was a glorious kisser, she was not shy to use her tongue, she sucked his tongue deep into her mouth and this drove him crazy.
Unbearably turned on, Nnamdi lowered his mouth to her breast, and sucked a taut nipple through her flimsy pink top. As if frustrated by the barrier between his lips and her breast, Onome pushed him away and lifted her top over her head. He watched in fascination as her stunning full breasts bounced free. Nnamdi groaned at the sight and fastened his mouth on them, alternating between both breasts until she whimpered and moaned.
“Please, Nnamdi,” she begged, shoving her hips upwards. Seeking him with the most primitive hint of all. He pulled her tight leggings down her hips and legs. To his utter delight, she wore no underwear.
“God! Onome, you are trying to kill me,” Nnamdi groaned. He parted her thighs and brought his mouth down on her nether lips. She clamped her hand on the back of his head and slanted her hips towards his face.
“Nnaaaamdi!” Her voice was shaky. He showed her no mercy. He feasted on her, licking, nibbling, sucking. She moaned, cried out, begged him to stop, then begged him not to. Nnamdi knew she was close when her legs started to tremble and she shot upright.
Suddenly, she fell back onto the sofa, her body shuddering violently. “Ohhhhh! Nnamdi! Ooohhhh!” she cried, quaking against his face. His ego pumped when he lifted his head and saw her sated facial expression and tears at the corner of her eyes. He had practically eaten her to tears. Yes, she belonged to him. No other man will ever make her tremble like this. No other man!
Onome recovered quickly and pushed him away so he fell back seated on the couch. She pulled his shirt off urgently and loosened his pyjama bottoms. Settling herself on her knees in front of him, she pulled his erection from its confines and took him into her mouth.
Nnamdi’s head fell back.
“Onome, oh God!” he groaned as a ripple of pleasure surged through him. She had flipped the situation really quickly. Now, he was at her mercy. Her mouth and tongue moved expertly over his turgid length and a sudden bout of jealousy hit him. She was too good at this. He didn’t want to think about anybody else being the recipient of her mouth action, so he closed his eyes and fought back the jealousy, relaxing to enjoy her attention. He was enjoying it so much that he felt himself grow impossibly harder and ready to explode.
“Not yet,” he rasped, pulling her away from him with trembling hands. “I want to be inside.”
He rose, discarded the rest of his clothes before sitting down on the couch. Adjusting positions, so she straddled him, he was about to push home into her welcoming heat when warning bells rang in his brain.
“Condom!” he said, suddenly. She froze on top of him and shook her head.
“Shit! Stay put. I’ll be right back.” He shoved his pyjama bottoms over his hips and left the room swiftly.
He was back within seconds, shutting the door and locking it. As soon as he walked back into the sitting room, his breathing paused. Onome was positioned on all fours, perfectly arched for him, her round bottom suspended high up in the air. The most erotic image he’d ever seen.
“Aaaah, Onome,” Nnamdi groaned. She giggled.
“Come to me daddy,” she breathed in a throaty voice that aroused him to an almost painful point.
Like a puppet on a string, Nnamdi obeyed. Before long, they were merged together, creating a perfect tempo of sensual rhythm, matching each other’s need.
“Is this what you wanted from me, Onome?” he grunted, pounding into her fast and deep. “Is this what you want? Is this what you need?”
“Yes, Nnamdi! Yes! Don’t stop! Don’t stop!” Onome moaned in a husky voice that energised him, increasing his pace. Her inner wall muscles contracted around his shaft, pulling him even deeper into her, and causing his rhythm to stumble momentarily. Shit! I’m about to come!
Nnamdi didn’t want to leave her hanging, so he dragged his fingers down the front of her body and found her sensitive nub. He squeezed, and she cried out.
“Nnamdi! Ooohhhh!” He squeezed again, continuing to pump his hips. This time, she convulsed under him, moaning incoherently.
Not missing a beat, Nnamdi continued to move like a crazed beast.
“You belong to me!” he cried, pumping faster, his hands on her hips, curving her further into him. “You belong to me!”
With one final pump, he exploded, a ragged sound escaping from deep within his throat before he slumped on her back, his energy depleted. This woman would be the death of him. In all his years of random sexual escapades, no other woman had ever left him this drained, this vulnerable. This satisfied. She belonged to him and he belonged to her. It was that simple.
“Nnamdi, you are heavy.” Onome’s voice shattered his thoughts.
“Oh, sorry,” he murmured, getting up to discard the condom. He came back seconds after and swapped positions with her on the couch so that she lay on top of him.
“That was wonderful, Nnamdi, thank you.”
He laughed. “If you don’t stop thanking me after sex, eh—”
“I can’t help it, Nnamdi. It was amazing. I’ve never felt this much pleasure during sex before. Never.” She touched her lips to his bare chest. “With Efe, sex was never about me. It was always about him. His pleasure, his needs.”
Nnamdi held himself rigid. He didn’t want to hear about Onome’s sexual past with her ex. In fact, a part of him was pleased that Efe was a good-for-nothing dad, and that he was out of the picture. Nnamdi knew he was jealous of Efe because he considered him a threat to his relationship with Onome since he was Fejiro’s father. Although he felt sorry for Fejiro missing out on her relationship with her father, he sometimes selfishly felt happy that he wasn’t around.
“Though I didn’t mind because I loved him and wanted to please him, he never tried to find out what pleased me. I never came with him. Not once.” Onome’s words brought his mind back. Nnamdi’s stomach tightened. Her admission of love for Efe always drove him insane with jealousy. Nonetheless, he remained silent because he wanted her to be open about her past with Efe so he could understand her better.
“During the bad times of our marriage, he stopped attempting to kiss me, to hold me. He just climbed on top of me whenever he was in the mood and within seconds it was over and he was asleep,” she continued, in a quiet reflective tone. “He made me feel like a prostitute even though we were married.” She stroked his arms. “You make me feel special. You make me feel good after. Like I wasn’t just used for sex, like my pleasure matters as much as yours.” Nnamdi’s heart soared, his ego inflated like a balloon.
“Now, I see why all those women can’t stop gushing about you.”
He lifted her face and kissed her on the mouth.
“You are the only woman I want to gush about me,” he murmured in a deep voice.
Smiling shyly, Onome gazed into his eyes. “I have fallen in love with you,” she whispered.
His heart stopped. Tell her that you love her now, his brain screamed. Tell her now. This is a perfect chance.
“You are special to me, Onome,” he said instead, before kissing her again. He ignored the brief flash of disappointment in her eyes. I really need help, Nnamdi thought, For the first time in my life, I am in love with a woman and I’m not even bold enough to tell her that.
They lapsed into silence. Nnamdi wondered what Onome was thinking as she lay languidly on top of him. She had fallen in love with him and that made him feel ten feet tall. He would do everything in his power to make her happy. But he was afraid of marriage. Afraid of that marriage certificate which meant he couldn’t walk away as easily as he had done in all his past relationships. Could Onome settle for a life without marriage with him? Could he overcome his deep fear of marriage and get married to her? He knew without a doubt that he would be faithful if he got married. Especially if Onome was his wife, but still, he couldn’t vouch that Onome would feel the same way years from now. He wasn’t certain she would stay faithful to him. Even his mother hadn’t remained faithful to his father who had loved her unwaveringly. And his mother was as close to a saint as any woman could ever be.
“What are you thinking?” Onome asked him, stroking his chest. His attention was brought back to the present by her voice.
“I am thinking I’ll be ready for another round in a minute or two,” he answered with a half-smile. She laughed softly.
“Hmmm… Nnamdi, I am not so sure I can handle any more—”
“Yes, Nnamdi! Yes! Don’t stop! Don’t stop!” Suzy the parrot croaked from her cage in the sitting room, cutting Onome off. They both stiffened. They remained rigid for a few seconds before they burst into an uncontrollable bout of laughter.
A strong surge of emotions gripped Nnamdi when he glanced down from the window of his room and into the backyard. He had awoken from a pleasant afternoon nap. Although Nkem usually joined him for his weekend naps, this Saturday, she had wanted to stay awake and hang out with Onome and Fejiro. And there they were, in the backyard garden, dancing to afrojuju music playing from a portable stereo. The sounds of laughter from Nkem and Fejiro as they copied Onome’s dance move squeezed his chest.
This was what he had always secretly longed for. A happy family and a woman he loved. But his fear of hurt had kept him from searching for that woman. He had spent his life chasing women he never intended to settle down with. Peering at the delightful scene below, he knew without a doubt that Onome was the right woman for him. Nnamdi whistled a happy tune as he climbed downstairs to join his family in the garden.
By dinnertime, they were all exhausted. They had yam pottage and grilled fish for dinner, and shortly after, it was bedtime for the girls. As soon as he settled Nkem and Fejiro in their respective bedrooms, Nnamdi joined Onome at the balcony holding a bottle of water. She was seated in a reclining chair with a mug of tea in her hands.
“Thanks for dinner,” he murmured, planting a soft kiss on her lips.
She flashed him a dimpled smile. “You are welcome.”
Nnamdi kissed her again before he sank into the recliner beside her. The main electricity supply to the estate had been cut off, so rumbling sounds of multiple generators pierced the silence of the night. Whilst dancing with Onome and the girls earlier, he had envisaged a plan in his head. He felt this was the best time to present it to Onome.
“I would like the four of us to go for a weekend get away,” he said. “I have a small beach house in Mauritius where I like to escape to twice a year.”
“Mauritius? Where the hell is that?”
Her question made him laugh. “Exact words from my brother when I told him I was buying property there.”
Twisting the lid off from the bottle in his hand, he added, “Mauritius is an island nation in the Indian Ocean. It is actually part of the African continent.”
“Hmmm…sounds fancy, Nnamdi.”
“Oh, it is. It’s a lovely island. Beautiful weather with lovely seaside tourist attractions. And the people there are friendly.”
“How long have you owned the beach house there?”
“I bought the property six years ago from a friend who was desperate to sell. When I bought it, I did it as a favour because he desperately needed the money. I had planned to sell it. However, the first time I stayed there, I knew I could never let it go. It is such a beautiful and peaceful place.” He paused to take a sip of water. “I want the four of us to go there for a weekend.”
“Nnamdi, that sounds exciting, but I can’t afford a trip right now.”
“I’ll foot the bill.”
“No, I can’t…I mean…I don’t think…” She paused. Nnamdi chose that moment to continue his attempt to persuade her. He needed to convince her to come with him. He wanted to share that home with her.
“It’s not that expensive. I have multiple flyer miles accumulated, so it won’t cost me much.” She made a disbelieving sound, but he ignored it, desperate to get her to agree. “It will be for a weekend only, Onome. I had already planned to take Nkem there, but I feel it would be perfect if we all go together. I want us to be together.”
“That’s so kind of you, but I don’t want you spending so much on us. You have already—”
“Kind? Kind? I’m not being kind. I’m actually being selfish…I need you and Fejiro to come with Nkem and I… Please, Onome, don’t say no. I’ve never shared that home with anyone. I want us all to go together…I need it…Please.” His words hung in the air for moments. She glanced at him, took a sip of her drink, and then nodded. Relief flooded his senses. Leaning forward, he touched his lips to hers. She giggled. The husky sound warmed his heart.
“Okay, but I’ll add some money for the trip,” she said.
A grin tugged his lips. “If you insist, you can pay for our drinks when we are there,” he murmured, kissing her again.
“I’ll arrange for the passports and visas. I know someone who can help us organise them without any fuss.”
She nodded again. “Thank you, Nnamdi.”
“The pleasure is all mine, Onome,” replied Nnamdi, beaming.
Friday night, a week later, the four of them were on a plane en route to Mauritius. Nnamdi felt excitement bubble up inside him as he sat beside Onome. They were in business class seats. Fejiro and Nkem were nearby, seated adjacent to them, engrossed in the inflight entertainment.
He cast a sidelong glance at Onome. “Thank you for saying yes,” he whispered. She swallowed before she replied. “Thank you for inviting us. This is Fejiro’s first trip outside Nigeria and she is over the moon.”
Nnamdi glanced at Fejiro who was chatting animatedly with Nkem. Her excitement was tangible. He was glad to see the joy on her face. She had been through so much, yet remained a lovely cheerful girl. Every time he saw her smile, he resolved to keep her smiling. He wanted to always be there for her.
“Actually, Onome, about Fejiro…” Nnamdi paused as an airhostess placed drinks on the pulled tray table in front of them. Muttering a word of thanks to her, he waited until she left. “I have been speaking with my doctor about Fejiro,”
“He knows a specialist, Dr Famirayo, who is dedicated to sickle cell disease, and I would like to connect Fejiro with her.”
“Oh, Nnamdi, that’s wonderful.”
“Yes, I think so. It is better for Fejiro to be under a doctor who specialises in sickle cell disease. Dr Famirayo has been actively involved in sickle cell research and treatment and has performed many successful bone marrow transplants.” He paused, took Onome’s hand in his. “If it’s okay with you, I would like to arrange an appointment for Fejiro to meet her in the coming week.”
“Oh, Nnamdi…” Onome murmured. She leaned forward and kissed him softly on his lips. “That would be lovely.”
“Excellent. I’ll ring and arrange an appointment for Fejiro with Dr Famirayo next week. We’ll go together. Is that okay?”
Onome nodded her agreement. They lapsed into silence, still holding hands. Nnamdi felt peace and happiness in that moment. He felt like his life was finally complete.
Approximately eight hours later, they arrived at his beach home. He couldn’t suppress the feeling of contentment that enveloped him as he watched Onome and the girls gush about his holiday home. He swept his eyes around proudly, appreciating the beauty of his three-bedroom home located in Port Louis, a district of the beautiful island. It was a simply constructed brick bungalow with aluminium gable style roofing. The exterior of the house was painted white and the interior beige. The allure of the bungalow was not in its appearance, but in its location—the Jewel blue sea and white sandy beach that surrounded it and other similarly built bungalows located in the area.
Retrieving a key from his hand luggage, he opened the front door, and the four of them stepped into the living room together. Nnamdi switched on the light. Like he usually did before he came here on vacation, he had arranged for a cleaner to get the bungalow ready. So, the smell of freshly laundered linen and dry cleaned curtains permeated the air. Fejiro and Nkem ran out of the living room together searching for their rooms with squeals of excitement.
“Oh, Nnamdi,” gushed Onome as she walked towards the large window facing the sea and parted the curtains. “I don’t know what I was expecting, but certainly not this. It feels like I have died and gone to heaven.”
Nnamdi moved to the window and stood beside Onome. Placing his palm on the small of her back, he took in the scenery. It was almost midnight. Even though it was dark outside, the outdoor floodlights from the bungalow and other surrounding homes, illuminated the stunning horizon of the ocean, which was like a line of silver, and the dark clouds over it like a dusky curtain of silk.
“It is a beautiful place,” he agreed.
“Daddy! This place is lovely,” Nkem enthused, bounding into the room with Fejiro closely behind her.
“Uncle Nnamdi, I love this Island,” Fejiro chirped.
Laughing heartily, Nnamdi stepped away from Onome and held open his arms. Nkem rushed into his out stretched arms. He beckoned on Fejiro to join in. She broke into a smile and hugged him too. His eyes met Onome’s, and his heart leapt when she grinned. He loved her so intently that it frightened him a little.
“Join in,” he whispered to her. She hesitated. Then with a joyful squeal, she hurdled into the group hug.
Breakfast at a local diner the next morning consisted of waffles, toast, scrambled eggs, yoghurt, and orange juice. After breakfast, they joined other holidaymakers at the beach.
Fejiro and Nkem hurried ahead and immediately busied themselves building sand castles. Nnamdi and Onome settled under a canopy on reclining beach chairs close by. He glanced sideways at Onome. She looked particularly stunning in a red and black one-piece bathing suit that accentuated her striking curves. Her blonde highlighted braids were packed in a bun, and she wore large sunglasses over her eyes. A thin film of perspiration glistened on her lovely dark sun kissed skin.
As he sat up slightly, Nnamdi spotted a young mixed race man strolling past. The man cast a slow appreciative glance down Onome. His blatant perusal of Onome’s body caused a red hot jealous fire to burn inside Nnamdi’s tummy. He reeled in the profound desire to shout, “keep walking, asshole, she’s mine!”, to the man. However, he tactfully placed a hand on Onome’s thigh and squeezed firmly. A slow victorious smile spread across Nnamdi’s face when he noticed the man’s eyes narrow into annoyed slits as he walked away. That’s right, asshole. She is mine.
“I’m such a hypocrite,” Onome remarked, twisting her lips into a lopsided grin, presumably unaware of the male power play that had just happened. “I always grumble about the sun in Nigeria. But here I am, laying out in the sun over here in Mauritius.”
Nnamdi threw his head back and laughed. “Almost all Nigerians are guilty of this. Once something has a Nigerian tag, most Nigerians snub it. We see the same thing somewhere else and it is immediately superior. Including the sun.”
She giggled at his comment. It was a husky sexy sound. It made him want to kiss her badly. But he didn’t. Instead, he watched her take a long sip of her cocktail drink from a straw. A satisfied sigh gushed from her full succulent lips. The sound tightened his groin.
“I could get used to this,” she said with a fetching dimpled smile.
He laughed again. “And I could get used to looking at you all day.”
“Oh, Nnamdi…” Her tone wavered. She reached for his hand and squeezed it. “You are amazing.”
His chest expanded with all the love he felt for her. It was on the tip of his tongue to tell her how he felt, but he refrained from doing so.
“You are more amazing,” he said instead. “I wish we could stay like this together forever.”
Silence ensued. Nnamdi noticed a sudden change in the atmosphere between them. She appeared pensive. As if she was struggling with inner thoughts. His comment seemed to have spoiled the rapport they just shared. She slid her sunglasses off her face and anchored it over her braids.
“I called my landlord, Nnamdi. My apartment is now ready,” she announced moments later, breaking the silence. Nnamdi’s heart skipped a beat.
“Thank you so much. He told me you renovated the place. I can’t thank you enough. You have done so much for us.” She broke off, swallowed, and then continued. “I feel I should at least pay you back for—”
“Never mind,” Nnamdi interrupted.
“Nnamdi, I think it’s only fair I pay you back. After all, you put up with me and Fejiro.”
He clamped his jaw tight. He had known her apartment was ready a week ago but had kept that information to himself. The past three weeks in his home had been blissful with Onome and Fejiro in his life. They were his family, and he wanted to keep it that way.
“I want to pay you back for the renovations so that Fejiro and I can move back home when we get back to Nigeria.”
Nnamdi swallowed past a lump in his throat. He turned his attention to Fejiro and Nkem. They had abandoned their attempt at building sandcastles and appeared to be gathering seashells onto a heap.
“How much did it cost?” Onome continued, oblivious to his inner dilemma. “I’m sure I can now afford to pay for—”
“Five hundred thousand Naira,” he interjected. She sucked in her breath, her eyes widening.
“I’ll pay back in instalments. Is fifty thousand a month okay? By Christmas I may afford more.”
Nnamdi turned to Onome, his eyes blazing.
“I don’t give a damn about the money! That’s not what I want.” His voice was gruff. He halted, exhaling deeply to stall the emotions surging in his chest.
“I don’t want you to leave. I want you and Fejiro to stay.” Silence followed his admission. Moments ticked by.
“I don’t understand,” Onome said, ending the silence.
“It’s simple, Onome. I don’t want you to go back home.”
“Are you saying you want us to live together?” she asked tentatively. Nnamdi cupped her face.
“Onome,” he said, staring deep into her eyes. “I have enjoyed living with you and Fejiro. I know you have enjoyed staying with me too. Why does anything have to change?”
“But we are not married. How can we justify living together?”
“We have been doing so for the past three weeks. Who do we have to justify it to?”
“People!” Onome snatched her face away. She averted her gaze from him, grinding her jaw.
Chewing her lower lip, she snapped her head back to him.
“When people ask me who you are to me. What do I tell them? Eh? Do I tell them you are my boss? But wait a minute, maybe I could add that we are also sleeping together, and that now I’m living with you?” She didn’t wait for a response. “No, I need air to breathe. I need my independence. I need some stability for Fejiro and myself.”
Nnamdi sucked in his teeth. He was going about this situation the wrong way. Of course, Onome was a sensible mother. She wouldn’t up and give up everything to live with him with no form of security.
“Onome, you are my woman. Fejiro is like a daughter to me now.” He sighed. “I know I am not offering you much, but I’ll keep paying the rent on your apartment while you live with me. If things get too hard living with me, you can always move back there.”
“I can’t ask you to do that.”
“You are not asking me to do anything. I want you so much that I am willing to do anything to keep you in my life. You and Fejiro.” She remained silent, ruminating.
“Just try living with me. See how you feel. You can always move back if it becomes hard.”
Onome sighed. He knew he was making progress in convincing her when her shoulders slumped.
“And if people ask who I am to you? Tell them I am your man. Yes, I am your boss, but more importantly, I am your man. I will protect you. I’ll never hurt you.” When she turned towards him, he knew he had her complete attention.
“Tell them I love you.”
Nnamdi felt a rush of relief pass through him. Yes, he had said it. And he wanted to say it again. He wanted to say it a thousand times over and over again. For the first time, those three words “I love you” weren’t as scary as they seemed to him before. “I love you, Onome.”
Onome loved date nights. For the past five weeks since she agreed to live with Nnamdi, the two of them had made time to go out without the children once a week. Tonight, they had dropped Fejiro and Nkem off with Madam Bisi and were heading to a popular night club in Lagos.
Sitting beside Nnamdi in his bright yellow Lamborghini, Onome smiled. He looked so handsome in his navy-blue muscle hugging shirt and jeans trousers. He handled the steering wheel with gusto. She could tell he loved this car because of the way he drove it. Gone was the extreme caution with which he drove the SUV. He drove this car like he was handling a lover—with precision and intensity. That thought caused her body to warm up. She suddenly wished she were the steering wheel.
“Onome, if you don’t stop staring at me like that, eh, we won’t make it to the club!” His baritone voice broke through her sensual thoughts. Onome giggled.
“I can’t help it. You look hot and smell good.”
“Onome, Onome, Onome.” He shook his head playfully as he repeated her name. “We got dressed up to go out, and now you are making me want to turn this car around, take you home and make love to you all night long.”
Onome laughed huskily. The images his words had generated in her mind heated her insides even more.
“I don’t mind…” she mumbled.
He glanced at her and let out a deep groan from his throat.
“Well, I do. I’m trying to show you this relationship isn’t only about sex…”
“I know, and I love you for that.”
He sucked in a breath, turned back to her and smiled.
“I love you too, Onome.”
There was a brief pause. A mischievous smile flickered across his lips before he added, “we’ll have a nice time at the club, and then I’ll take you home and make love to you all night long.”
Onome couldn’t stop the laughter that erupted from her at his declaration.
They got into skyline nightclub through the VIP entrance. She had never been there before. The beauty of the club blew her away. It was a huge hall with a central colourful dance floor and multiple side steps leading to isolated VIP rooms on the floor above. Clear marble tables and seats surrounded the bar opposite the dance floor, and beautiful chandeliers hung from the ceiling. The lights simultaneously flashed different colours and sometimes even darkened the room. The club gave the impression of wealth and style.
She held onto Nnamdi’s hand as they were escorted to a VIP room. Onome noted multiple appreciative female glances thrown Nnamdi’s way as they walked along. The tiny daggers of jealousy that stabbed her gut were quickly replaced by a soothing air of arrogance when she turned her attention back to him. His tunnel vision was focused only on her, and this thrilled her intensely. He didn’t even seem to notice any of the other women looking at him. Smiling from ear to ear, she clutched him closer to her. This gorgeous man is my man, she thought happily, as they were shown to their seats.
“It’s beautiful here,” Onome whispered into Nnamdi’s ear.
“Yes, I love it here. My sister’s husband owns it. He purchased it two years ago and vamped up the place.”
“He did a good job. It looks very modern and yet manages to retain a historical feel to it,” Onome responded, relaxing into her seat.
They had barely settled down when a bartender brought in an ice bucket of drinks. “On the house, sir. Oga Arista saw you come in, and asked us to get you anything you want,” he said.
“Thank you,” Nnamdi replied to the bartender. A waiter appeared almost immediately after and they ordered. Onome sat beside Nnamdi on the love-seat. She was glad they were alone. A glass partition separated them from the rest of the club, which was bursting with people gyrating on the dance floor below. They were dancing to a Nigerian hip-hop beat by the live band.
“You look lovely, Onome,” Nnamdi murmured huskily. Onome swallowed when she turned to him. His eyes pierced into her as he stared at her.
“Thank you,” she mumbled, sipping her drink, her throat tight with emotion. She knew she looked good in the red knee length dress that moulded her body, and her braided hair packed into a chignon. She had bought the dress and loop earrings three days ago in preparation for tonight. Onome was glad to hear him compliment her, but there was a reflective tone in Nnamdi’s voice that she couldn’t ignore. Her heart began to pound.
“You make me so happy, Onome,” he said, bringing his flute of champagne to his lips and taking a sip. Onome couldn’t breathe. She remained silent, sensing he had more to say.
“Do I make you happy, Onome?” Nnamdi looked nervous when he asked this question. She watched him take another sip of his drink before putting it down on the marble table in front of them. Taking her hand in his, he focused his attention on her. “Are you happy? Are you happy with the way things are between us?”
Onome hesitated. She thought about his question, the underlying meaning of his question. Was she happy to continue living with him? Was she content without marriage? There was a time when the answer to this question would have been an immediate “no”. But now, she wasn’t so sure. She had asked herself this question many times without a definite answer springing to mind. She loved Nnamdi without a doubt. However, there were times when she wondered if she could settle for this.
“I am happy now,” she answered truthfully, squeezing his hand. “I want to focus on now and not worry too much about the future.” She observed a fleeting tightening of his jaw. He didn’t appear pleased with her answer. His displeasure was so fleeting that Onome thought she had imagined it.
“So, let’s make now count,” he murmured before planting a gentle kiss on her mouth. Nnamdi fulfilled his promise. It was a fun Friday night of excellent wine, food, dancing and conversation, which ended with mutual sexual satisfaction.
Two days after their pleasant night out, Onome held a tray of meat pies in her hands as she stepped out of the kitchen and into the sitting room. She had spent the entire Monday evening after work following Madam Bisi’s recipe determined to reproduce her famous meat pies for the girls. She spotted Nnamdi hiding behind a couch as she heard Fejiro and Nkem search frantically for him.
“Daddy, where are you?” Nkem called out from somewhere in the house.
“Uncle Nnamdi! Uncle Nnamdi!” Fejiro hollered, bursting into the sitting room. “Mummy, have you seen Uncle Nnamdi?” she asked Onome who stifled the smile threatening to split her face.
“No,” she muttered, trying not to turn her head towards the couch behind where Nnamdi hid.
Unfortunately for him, Fejiro spotted his foot poking out from behind that couch and put a finger over her lips, wordlessly instructing Onome to remain silent. She tiptoed towards the couch and shouted, “got you!”
Nnamdi emerged from where he hid, laughing.
“Nkem, I have found him!” Fejiro yelled in delight. Nkem rushed into the room shouting as she ran to her father. “Daddy!” she cried excitedly. “You are so easy to find.”
Staring at the three of them laughing heartily, the tray of meat pies still balanced in her hands, Onome felt her heart expand with love. Was she happy? Yes! Absolutely! She was ecstatic! This was what family was about. Love, joy and laughter. In all the nine years she had been married, there had never been a time when she had felt this happy. Her eyes linked with Nnamdi’s, tears of joy stinging them.
“I am happy,” she mouthed to him. She noticed his eyes soften.
“I love you,” he mouthed back.
The next three weeks went by in a blissful blur for Onome. She was unbelievably happy living with Nnamdi and Nkem. Fejiro was also delighted with the arrangement. Although, as expected, there were a few squabbles between Fejiro and Nkem. Onome loved how Nnamdi handled them. He never took sides and usually led the girls to figure out who was wrong and needed to apologise by using his expert communication skills. It always worked that one of them admitted guilt and eventually apologised.
And Fejiro was a picture of health and joy. They had seen Dr Famirayo who personally took charge of Fejiro’s healthcare and placed her on the waiting list for a bone marrow transplant. The fact that Nnamdi insisted on covering the entire medical cost pleased Onome immensely.
After days of deliberation, she and Nnamdi had finally explained to Fejiro and Nkem that they were living together because they were in a relationship. Onome was surprised when they simply rolled their eyes as if they already knew. They had given the girls time to ask questions but Fejiro had simply said, “I am seven and not a baby. Uncle Nnamdi is mummy’s boyfriend.”
Onome and Nnamdi had laughed hard later that night, both wondering why on earth they had been so traumatised about how to divulge the information to the girls.
Onome sighed with happiness as she peered through the large supermarket fridge, thinking about the weeks she had spent with Nnamdi. She had never felt closer to another human being. She was relaxed around him, enjoyed their conversations. Even their arguments were fun. They persistently had opposite views on Nigerian politics, and she enjoyed winding him up about his political opinions. She loved that their disagreements never affected their rapport. Her love for him was growing stronger each day and she couldn’t see her life without him and Nkem in it.
And the chemistry between her and Nnamdi was combustible. They couldn’t keep their hands off each other. Onome never felt such passion in her life. He always took his time to satisfy her in bed and made time for her outside the bedroom. No matter how busy they were at work, he carved out time for dates and romance.
They worked well together too. Onome was sure everyone at the office suspected they were involved but since no one had asked her about it, she didn’t feel the need to explain herself. As long as she did her work effectively, there was no problem. She made sure she worked hard so nobody could say she received special favours. Anytime she was with Nnamdi at work, Onome took extra measures to make sure she was professional. She held herself rigid and tried her best to avoid any physical contact with him, although there were a few moments of unintentional lapses.
Onome smiled, recalling one of them. Nnamdi had been alone with her in the elevator on their way to the office. He had pulled her in for a kiss that had rapidly turned passionate. At the next stop, a manager had walked into the elevator. Although they had sprung apart, the sexual tension in the elevator was thick, and they were breathing heavily. Onome felt they had done a good job covering their passionate elevator tryst until they reached their floor and she noticed a ghost of a smile playing on the manager’s lips. She’d caught Nnamdi’s reflection in the elevator mirror and spotted a lipstick stain on the side of his mouth. Her face had flushed furiously from embarrassment as the three of them stepped out of the elevator without a word.
Everything was perfect. Well, almost everything. Onome knew Nnamdi loved her. But she also knew something was holding him back from committing completely to her. She tried to understand. She did not want to rush him, knowing how deeply hurt he was by his mother’s infidelity. However, there were times when she worried that she could never get him to commit to her. Although she wanted to get married in the future, she didn’t want to force any man to marry her. She wanted Nnamdi to want to do so. One failed marriage was enough. She didn’t want another failed marriage just because she rushed him to commit.
“Onome!” The faint sound of her name jolted her out of her musings. Onome turned around searching for who had called her. She was in a large supermarket, shopping for household groceries and was in the frozen foods section searching for the brand of fresh chicken she preferred.
“Onome!” The voice was louder and directly behind her now. Her heart skipped a beat. There was no mistaking that voice. She took in a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and turned to face Efe. After more than a year, she was seeing him again for the first time.
“Efe,” Onome gulped.
“Oh, Onome. I can’t believe this.” He made a move to embrace her. Onome stopped him, pushing her shopping trolley between them. He halted, put a hand on his chest and broke into a grin.
“You look… wow… you look fantastic!” he gushed, sweeping his gaze over her repeatedly. “Wow, you look different, fantastic.” His eyes were wide with amazement.
“Erm… thank you, Efe.”
Onome felt uncomfortable with his scrutiny and wished he would stop looking at her like that.
“Wow,” he said again, irritating Onome.
“I have to get back home,” she mumbled, walking around him trying to make her escape. Her heart was pounding. She had not expected to see Efe today. She had not expected to see him ever again. Lagos was a large city, and she had managed not to run into him for over a year. Why now?
“How is Fejiro?” he asked, stopping her in her tracks. A storm of uncontrollable fury rose in Onome.
“How is Fejiro?” She couldn’t believe he had the guts to ask that question, so flippantly, as if he wasn’t her father. As if he hadn’t left them one year ago with no financial support, with no contact with his own daughter.
“How is Fejiro?” Onome repeated. Her voice rose, attracting attention from others in the supermarket but she didn’t care. “Fejiro is just fine, Efe,” she spat. “Contrary to your expectations, Fejiro is alive and well. We are doing just fine without you. We survived without you!”
With that statement left hanging in the air, Onome pushed her trolley towards the checkout counter, fuming. She paid for her items, the fresh chicken forgotten. She would just have to use the left-over beef in the freezer to prepare stew tonight.
While Onome was loading the groceries in the car boot at the car park, she saw Efe approach her from the corner of her eye.
“Stay away from me, Efe!” she snarled, without interrupting her task.
“Onome, I know I messed up—”
“Messed up? Messed up? Is that what you call abandoning your daughter for over a year? Your sick daughter?” Onome continued to place items from the shopping trolley in the boot without even turning to him. He grabbed her arm.
“Onome, I’m sorry.”
“I don’t need your apology!” She snatched her arm away and slammed the boot shut.
“I gave up my entire life and family for you, and you left me and my daughter without a backward glance!”
“No, my daughter!”
“Our daughter, Onome. Fejiro is also mine.”
“What a way to show it.” Onome’s chest heaved rapidly. She marched away, pushing the trolley recklessly along with her. She dumped it angrily at the trolley stand.
“Onome, I was lost. I was unhappy, I needed space.” Efe was right beside her. Like a bloodthirsty mosquito that won’t be dismissed.
“Oh, you had your space,” Onome snapped, walking swiftly back to the car. He followed her. “I gave you your space, yet you went ahead and abandoned us, abandoned your own daughter without a single Naira. No thought about how we would survive.” Efe glanced at her refurbished car.
“You survived just fine,” he retorted.
“Well, no thanks to you. I am educated and I have a brain. I can work. Although because of trying to give you the space you needed, I gave up five years of work experience to look after our daughter.”
“Listen, Onome, I don’t want to hash out the past,” Efe said in a calmer voice. “I have had time to think about things. I have had time to reflect, and I have changed.”
“I don’t care about the changes you have made. Just leave me out of it. Keep away from me!”
“What about our daughter?”
“Keep away from her too. Like you have done for the past year.”
“Onome, you may be angry with me, but she deserves a relationship with her father.”
“Oh, so now you know,” Onome opened the car door. “Well, too bloody late!”
“Onome.” His tone was desperate. “You of all people should know the importance of a girl’s relationship with her father. You told me so many times you regret how things ended with your father.”
Onome halted. Those words struck a chord in her.
“I just want to rebuild my relationship with her, Onome,” he pressed, moving closer to her. “Meet with me for lunch at any place of your choice. Hear me out. That’s all I’m asking.”
Onome remained still, contemplating. After a few seconds, she nodded.
“Give me your number, and I’ll call you,” she said.
Efe brought out a business card from his wallet and handed it to her. “It has my mobile number as well,” he murmured, heaved a relieved sigh, then added, “thank you, Onome.” Onome didn’t respond, she got into the car and waited for him to walk away before driving off.
She considered telling Nnamdi about her encounter with Efe, but decided against it. Onome wasn’t even sure if Efe was serious about his intention to become a part of Fejiro’s life again, so she decided that there was no point in telling Nnamdi until she met with Efe for lunch.
The following night, Onome lay torpidly beside Nnamdi on the bed sated after making love. She turned to him.
“I’ve been thinking about my father lately,” she murmured, idly stroking his flat stomach.
“Hmmm, I’m not sure thinking about your father after what we’ve just done is appropriate,” he teased. Onome laughed.
“I’m serious, Nnamdi,” she was still laughing. He pulled her closer to him and wrapped his arms around her.
“Why have you been thinking about him?” he asked softly.
“I… I wish I had a relationship with him.”
“You can always start now, call him. Onome, it is never too late to have a relationship with your father.”
“I don’t think you know my father at all.”
“I don’t. But from what you have told me, he was a good father. Just a very strict religious man.”
“He does not forgive easily; I am so afraid of being rejected by him that I never tried to go back to him.”
“He can’t be that bad,” Nnamdi remarked.
“Yes, he is, worse than bad.” Onome sat up slightly. “My father disowned my brother, Tega, for getting a girl pregnant in secondary school. He also disgraced him, parading him publicly in his underwear in church before doing so.”
Nnamdi gasped in surprise as he listened.
“My father is a good provider, protector, and genuinely loves his family. But religion has made him unforgiving. No one dares have an opinion not supported by his Church,” Onome continued. “When I was younger, he repeatedly told me I was only allowed to marry someone from Cherubim and Seraphim Church if I am to remain on good terms with him. Or marry someone willing to convert and be baptised into the church.”
“So, what happened to your brother?” Nnamdi asked, still appearing stunned by her revelation.
“My father forced him to marry the girl he got pregnant. The girl, who is now my sister-in-law, had to be baptised in the church before my father forgave my brother.”
Nnamdi continued holding her in silence, deep in thought. He sought her mouth and kissed her tenderly on her lips.
“Onome, I never knew about Nkem until her mother told me she existed. She was already four years old when I found out about her. I fell in love with her immediately. Most fathers have that kind of automatic love for their children.” He kissed her again. “I think it’s important that every child knows the love of their father if possible. It’s never too late. Never.”
Those words from Nnamdi were what convinced Onome to meet up with Efe. She needed to test how serious his intentions for Fejiro were before getting them reacquainted. She didn’t want him to show up only to disappear again. Onome texted Efe to meet her at a popular restaurant in Lekki on Friday. Because she didn’t want to tell Nnamdi about Efe yet, she drove to work in her own car, giving the excuse that she needed to catch up with a friend after work. He didn’t appear curious, and she was grateful for that.
Efe was already seated when she arrived at the restaurant. He rose as soon as he spotted her and pulled her in for a hug before she could stop him. Then he kissed her on her cheek. Onome pulled away from him quickly.
“We are here to talk about Fejiro, and make it snappy,” she said, before sitting opposite him.
“Thanks for meeting me, Onome,” he responded, appearing unfazed by her rudeness.
“So, what do you want to say?” Onome wasted no time with pleasantries. She needed this meeting to end as soon as possible.
“Onome, we were married for nine years, we can at least share a meal together.”
“I am here to talk about Fejiro.”
“I know that, but we can eat and talk, can’t we?”
Onome hesitated, glancing around. “Okay, but you are paying!”
Efe laughed. Onome’s chest constricted. There was a time during the last few years of their marriage when she desperately wanted to hear him laugh like that. There was a time she prayed, that he would laugh with her like that, like they used to when they were in love. Before Fejiro was born.
“No worries, I’ll pay. I intend to pay for more than just lunch from now on.”
They ordered, fried rice and chicken. Efe ordered a cold bottle of beer while Onome ordered orange juice. Their meal arrived promptly.
“You look lovely, Onome,” he said as they dug in. Onome snickered.
“I know. I have always looked lovely. You simply stopped taking notice.”
A flicker of regret flashed across his face.
“I have my regrets. One of them is losing you. After I broke up with Voke—”
Onome paused, her fork of rice midway to her mouth. She dumped her fork back into her plate of rice.
“Voke?” Onome’s eyes widened.
Efe’s face fell, as if he had just realised his mistake.
“Voke Igho? My roommate, Voke Igho? So, your affair was with my best friend, Voke?”
“Onome, I’m sorry—”
“How? I thought she was living in the UK?”
Efe sighed. He dragged his palm over his face.
“She came back a few years ago—”
“No wonder she stopped accepting my calls! Oh, my God, how long…” Onome’s voice trailed off, her face flushed with fury. She took a deep calming breath and pointed her finger at Efe.
“Please tell me you never slept with her in Uni.”
“No, I never, I swear.”
“And I’m supposed to believe you—a cheater!”
“Yes, Onome, I only started seeing her three years ago, we met up after she moved back from London following her divorce. She was there for me… I’m sorry, but I was so unhappy. Fejiro was always sick, your attention was on her, and I lost you… I was immature, I couldn’t handle it.”
“Fejiro is your daughter. We made her together. I had to care for her when she was sick, someone had to.”
“I’m sorry, Onome.”
“Voke? It had to be my Voke.” Onome shook her head.
“From what I see, you are not blameless yourself. I know about you and your boss, Nnamdi Obi. I know you are living with him.” Onome glared at him.
“My relationship with him started after our divorce. There is a huge difference.”
“But living with him? When you are not married to him? And with my daughter?”
“She is my daughter!” Onome rose swiftly, preparing to storm out. Efe rose too, reached for her and grabbed her arm. He pulled her into his arms.
“I am sorry, Onome. I am so sorry. I just want to talk. I’m sorry.”
She pulled out of his arms and sat. “Let’s talk about Fejiro. What are your intentions about reconciling with your daughter? Our daughter?”
He sat back down. “I want to see her again. I want her in my life. I also want you to consider coming back to me.”
There was a time when that statement from Efe would have made Onome jump for joy. But now, she had no more feelings left for Efe. He was a handsome man. Sitting across from her dressed in a well-fitting black suit, his thick hair well-trimmed and his facial hair well-groomed, he looked dashing. He was a catch, and Onome could see in him some of what she fell for. However, there was no spark of the love she once had for him. She wasn’t even angry with him anymore. She simply felt nothing. Nothing.
For the first time since their marriage dissolved, she was grateful that Efe left her. If he hadn’t, she would have remained in a toxic relationship just for the sake of being married. “Sometimes a painful ending has to occur for something beautiful to begin.” That comment from Madam Bisi when she was down in the dumps after her divorce suddenly came back to her. Nnamdi was her beautiful beginning.
“I am sorry, I can’t ever consider going back to you. I am in love with my man.”
“A man who would rather shack up with you than marry you? I want to marry you again.”
“I’ll rather shack up with him for a hundred years than marry you again.” Onome took a sip of her drink. “Now, let’s talk about Fejiro, and Fejiro alone.”
Three days later, Onome met up with Efe at his office to discuss the final plans for his first reunion with Fejiro. It was a brief meeting with Efe and they had agreed for Onome to bring Fejiro to the park the following Saturday where he would be waiting. Onome was so worried that Efe would disappoint Fejiro that she kept that information to herself. She decided to only reveal it when she was sure that Efe would really show up. Maybe the day before, when she confirmed from him that he would. Nnamdi had been a wonderful male figure in Fejiro’s life, but Onome hoped that Fejiro could rekindle her relationship with Efe. She never wanted her daughter to have the fear of abandonment she had developed because of her own relationship with her own father.
It was Saturday Morning and Nnamdi had gone out bicycle riding with Fejiro and Nkem at a nearby park. Onome had woken up late and was too tired to join them so she stayed indoors to have an idle Saturday morning. Alone in the house, she wandered into the home gym. She smiled as she glanced around. Nnamdi was a health nut. He exercised vigorously every morning, insisted on drinking loads of water and took multivitamins every day. Onome sometimes joined him for his morning workouts, mostly because she enjoyed the view of his perfectly chiselled muscles as he lifted weights. He often teased her about her lack of concentration during exercise.
Continuing to smile, she settled on the exercise bike and began moving her hips and thighs. She was on the bike for less than ten minutes when she heard the doorbell ring. Who on earth could that be on a Saturday morning? she thought, rising from the bike. Nnamdi and the girls had left just a few minutes ago. She glanced at the alarm clock in the gym. It was only nine a.m.
Still wondering who it could be, Onome strolled to the door and opened it. Her eyes widened in surprise. It was Mr. Chuma Obi, Nnamdi’s twin brother, standing at the door with a deep scowl on his face. Onome had never spoken to him. She had seen him from afar a few times during the interdepartmental meetings she attended once a month. But Nnamdi had never introduced them and she had never pushed him to, because she too had not introduced Nnamdi to any members of her family.
“Err…Mr. Obi, hi,” Onome mumbled, feeling embarrassed of her casual attire of black tight leggings and a black tank top. “Nnamdi is not here,” she continued, suddenly feeling naked. She had no bra on, and now she was silently deriding herself for not putting on a dressing robe. It was just that she had not expected anyone this morning, let alone Nnamdi’s twin brother.
“I am not here to see Nnamdi,” he said, a look of disgust apparent on his face as he took in her appearance.
“Sorry?” Onome was confused, thinking she may not have heard him correctly.
“I said, I am not here to see Nnamdi, I am here to see you.” He placed himself at the centre of the front door as if he was prepared to step into the house even if she didn’t let him.
“Can I come in?” His tone didn’t sound as if he was asking for permission, rather it sounded as if he demanded that she let him in. Onome sighed and stepped out of the way. He strolled in like he owned the place.
“You came to see me? I am confused, I’m not sure—”
“I can see you have made yourself at home,” he remarked, turning towards her, a sardonic smile twisting his lips. He strutted into the corridor with an air of arrogance that irritated Onome.
“What do you want?” Onome asked, not bothering to disguise her irritation.
“What do I want?” He shook his head in derision. “What do I want? The real question is what do you want?”
“I don’t get your question—” Onome began.
“Yes, you do!” he interjected with a snarl. “What is your agenda here? Eh? To ruin my brother’s life? To sue the bank?”
“What?” Onome began to shake with fury. “How dare you come in here and…” she broke off, unable to complete her sentence due to the intensity of her anger.
He seized that opportunity to continue with his verbal attack.
“First you come into Zenith firm seeking employment, now you are living with my brother? Then trying to play him?” he gave her another disdainful perusal and shook his head. “You think you can just come into his life and deceive him, confuse him and destroy him.” His voice was low and lethal. “I won’t allow it. He is my brother and I will never let you destroy him.”
“What?” Onome was speechless; she couldn’t believe what she had just heard.
“How much?” He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a chequebook.
“I said, how much? How much will it take for you to remove your claws from my brother?” Onome was flabbergasted.
“Are you offering me money to break up with your brother?”
“Don’t act so surprised! How much? Snakes like you always have a price.”
“Snakes like me? Fuck you!”
“Perfect language for a snake like you.” Onome sucked in a deep breath.
“Get out!” she screamed.
“Let’s talk money first. One million Naira.”
“I said, get out!”
“Five million and nothing more.”
“You don’t have enough money to make me stop loving your brother!”
“Nonsense, you don’t love him, you want to destroy him.” Onome walked over to the door and opened it.
“If you don’t leave now, I will call the police.”
“Do so, and you might be the one who ends up in jail.” He moved towards the open door and paused right in front of her. “He is my twin brother and I would rather die than let you destroy him. When you come to your senses, you know where to find me to pick up your cheque.” He calmly strolled out with a deadly snare in his eyes. So furious, Onome slammed the door after him, her body shaking with rage.
She was still trembling by the time Nnamdi and the girls got home.
“Are you okay?” Nnamdi asked as soon as he saw her. Onome managed a shaky smile and nodded.
“You look as if you have just seen a demon,” he whispered, pulling her into his arms. Onome collapsed in his arms sobbing. If only he knew how close to the truth his statement was.
“Mummy, are you okay?” Fejiro came towards her. Onome moved out of Nnamdi’s embrace and pulled Fejiro into her arms.
“Yes, I am, my darling Fejiro, yes, I am,” she replied. Without another glance at Nnamdi or Nkem, who was regarding her with curiosity, she carried Fejiro in her arms and climbed up the stairs to Fejiro’s room. She needed to be alone with her daughter. She needed some space from Nnamdi, his life, and his family.
Nnamdi was fuming as he hurried up the stairs to Chuma’s office. He couldn’t believe what Onome had told him. He didn’t want to use the elevator because he was afraid people would see the rage boiling inside of him. Bursting into Chuma’s office without knocking, he lurched towards him, grabbed him by his shirt collar and slammed him against the nearest wall.
“Stay the fuck away from my woman!” Nnamdi growled.
The two female secretaries who were seated in the office scampered away, closing the door behind them.
“Stay away from her, you poisonous human being!” he barked, spanning his hands around his twin brother’s neck. “Stay away from her or I’ll fucking kill you!” His eyes were blazing; his breath coming in short spurts as he spoke. Chuma remained still, not moving, his gaze intense with what seemed to Nnamdi like pity.
“Nnamdi—” Chuma began
“Shut the hell up!” Nnamdi raged, tightening his grip on his brother’s neck. He held his hands there tightly for seconds more before he released him. Chuma coughed, took in deep breaths and straightened his collar. Nnamdi paced the room.
“How dare you? Come to my house, my home, and offer my woman money to break up with me?”
“Shut the fuck up, you bloody asshole!” Nnamdi stopped pacing. “You are evil. I don’t know how your wife puts up with you! How anyone puts up with you!”
“Onome almost left me yesterday. If she had left me…” Nnamdi interrupted Chuma. He began to pace again. “I love her, okay? She isn’t just… I love her.”
He stopped moving and noticed the pity in his brother’s eyes. Startled by the strange emotion he observed in his brother, Nnamdi became very still. He watched Chuma calmly walk towards his desk, open a drawer, pull out a file and dump it on the desk directly in front of him.
“I’m so sorry, bro, I’m just looking out for you.”
“Fuck you.” Nnamdi glanced at the folder in front of him.
“Why don’t you open it and take a look?” Chuma said calmly.
“No!” Nnamdi’s heart started pounding. Cold dread spread down his spine.
“Open the folder and look, bro. You are my brother and I’m trying to protect you.”
“Fuck you.” Nnamdi pulled out a seat and slumped into it, still not making any move to pick up the folder. He was afraid, afraid that there was something inside that folder that would ruin the weeks of happiness he had found with Onome.
“We are blood and I will do anything to protect my blood.”
“I love her,” Nnamdi muttered feeling defeated. He was now certain the contents of the folder would ruin his happiness. Rising to his feet, he snatched the folder off the desk and made a move to leave. Chuma pulled him into his arms and patted his back.
“Blood, my blood,” he said hoarsely. “I’m sorry.”
Nnamdi did not respond, he simply removed himself from Chuma’s arms slowly. Holding the white folder in his hand, he walked out of Chuma’s office with slouched shoulders.
Like Nnamdi suspected, the contents of the folder shattered his heart. Sitting alone in his office, he stared with disbelief at images of Onome and Efe, her ex-husband, in a restaurant, embracing, kissing, and laughing. There were also a few pictures of her leaving a Law firm office building with Efe, laughing. His fingers trembled as he looked from one picture to another. The way his heart fibrillated violently, Nnamdi feared he was about to have a coronary arrest. His brain spun in multiple circles until he felt dizzy. This was like a nightmare.
How could Onome do this to him? How could she lie to him? How could she go back to her good for nothing ex-husband after the way the idiot had treated her and Fejiro? His heart leapt when Fejiro’s image crossed his mind. She was now like a daughter to him. He couldn’t bear the thought of losing her. He couldn’t bear the thought of losing Onome.
Oh my God, what am I to do? Nnamdi thought, his stomach churning.
He didn’t want to lose Onome. She was still living with him, and that likely meant she preferred him to Efe. There was still hope. All he had to do was eliminate his competition. All he had to do was remove Efe from the picture. An idea formed in his head. Nnamdi put back the pictures in the folder, picked up his chequebook and stood up from his seat. He walked up to the large ceiling-to-floor window in his office that faced the busy Lagos streets. He peered at the traffic below. People moved through the dense traffic as normal. Business continued as usual. Nothing had changed. And nothing had to change. The fact that he had seen those pictures meant nothing. He was in love with Onome and wanted her in his life. Even if she was a two-timing cheat.
Feeling determined, Nnamdi buzzed Folusho and asked him to clear his schedule. He left the office hoping not to run into Onome on his way out, and rang the company driver to meet him at the front of the office building. He was certainly not in the mood to drive himself anywhere.
“Please take me to Adekunle, Oriafo and Odafe law firm in Victoria Island,” Nnamdi instructed as soon as he sat in the back seat. He had done his research about Efe. He knew where he worked.
“Yes, Nnamdi,” Nnamdi corrected. He always hated being called “sir”.
“Yes, Nnamdi,” the driver said.
The journey to Efe’s office seemed longer than it actually was. His mind was in turmoil. He hoped he got Efe to see sense and accept his offer. Nnamdi took in deep breaths before he approached the young female secretary sitting by her desk.
“I am here to see Mr. Odafe,” he announced in a voice he hoped carried none of his apprehension. The pretty secretary smiled at him. The wedge on her desk read, Amanda Chidebe.
“Do you have an appointment?” she asked.
“No, but I’m sure he would like to see me.”
“Okay, but please what’s your name so I can let him know you are here.”
“He doesn’t need my name. Tell him I am a potential client.” Nnamdi made a show of flashing his expensive watch before he placed his hands in his pocket. Amanda was a smart lady because she lifted the phone receiver and dialled her boss.
“Sir, there’s a potential client here for you,” she announced into the phone receiver. “Okay sir, I will send him in.”
She turned to Nnamdi. “You may go in, sir,” she said with a practiced smile plastered on her face.
Nnamdi opened the adjacent door and strolled in. Efe was behind his desk and his eyes widened in surprise as soon as he looked up.
“Nnamdi Obi,” he sputtered, rising clumsily from his seat and holding his hand out to Nnamdi.
“Efe Odafe,” Nnamdi replied, ignoring Efe’s outstretched hand. “May I sit?”
Efe nodded and Nnamdi took the seat opposite him.
“To what do I owe this visit?” Efe queried, resuming his seat.
“I want to make this brief.” Nnamdi reached into his pocket and brought out his chequebook. “I know your law firm is in a huge amount of debt. You need something I have. Money.” The diameter of Efe’s eyes doubled, but he remained silent and listened.
“I am prepared to write you a cheque for two million Naira today if you promise to stay away from Onome.”
“What?” Efe appeared dumbfounded. “You are crazy.”
“Not really, I am just not willing to share her with anyone.”
“Share her… are you mad?”
“Okay, three million…”
“You rich people think you can just throw your money about and get anything you—”
“Sorry, I can’t, I have a daughter with Onome—”
“Five million and that’s my last offer. You can see your daughter, but only when I am involved. No time alone with Onome. Just you and Fejiro.”
“I… I can’t believe this.”
Nnamdi rose abruptly. “That is my last offer.” He turned to leave.
“Wait!” He heard Efe’s desperate tone. An intense surge of relief flooded his senses. Nnamdi turned back to Efe.
“As long as you don’t cut me out of my daughter’s life, it’s a deal.”
“I will never cut you out of her life. Unlike you, I know the importance of a father-daughter relationship. Something you have denied her for over a year,” Nnamdi seethed. “Let me make this clear; if you violate any of the terms I set, if I find you trying to worm your way back into Onome’s life, I will sink you so fast you will not know what hit you.”
Efe snickered. “If you want her so much, you can have her. She is damaged goo—”
Before Efe could complete his statement, Nnamdi rushed to him. He dragged him from his seat and slammed him against a wall. “Finish that statement and I will end you here!” he roared.
Efe’s secretary burst into the office.
“Any problem, sir? Do I call the police?” she asked tentatively.
Efe and Nnamdi glared at each other for moments, and then Efe shook his head.
“No, Amanda, it’s just a simple misunderstanding.” Nnamdi released Efe, who cleared his throat and straightened his shirt and tie.
“You may leave now, Amanda.”
“Are you sure, sir?”
“Yes!” Efe snapped. Amanda scurried away. Silence ensued. Nnamdi sucked his teeth before he broke the silence with his next words.
“I will draw up the legal paperwork detailing our agreement and visitation with Fejiro, and send it to you,” Nnamdi said, now calmer. He scribbled in the chequebook, tore out a sheet from it, and handed it to Efe. “I’ll send it to you by the end of this week. Once you sign the legal document, you will be able to cash that cheque.”
“But… I have already arranged with Onome to meet up with Fejiro this Saturday.” Efe eyed the cheque, his eyes sparkling with greed.
“Cancel it,” Nnamdi spat out. “I need to be one hundred percent involved or nothing at all.”
With no more words necessary between them, Nnamdi left Efe’s office.
The next three days that followed were uneasy for Nnamdi. He avoided Onome as much as he could, afraid he would reveal his inner conflict if he didn’t. He was able to do that because instead of their previous routine of leaving for work together, he left for work much earlier after dropping Fejiro and Nkem off at school, forcing Onome to drive to work alone in her car. The only time she asked him why, he told her there was a new demanding project he was working on and she seemed to believe him. He tried not to let his emotions show when he was with her but sometimes he couldn’t help the disappointment he felt as he watched her. She carried on with her activities as normal. If the photographs sitting in his office drawer were not there as evidence, it would be impossible to believe any signs of deceit from her behaviour.
It was like déjà vu. The sense of helplessness he felt as he observed Onome each day. Like his mother had done, she showed no signs of her duplicity. His heart rate doubled when he heard the door open and watched Onome enter the room.
“Nnamdi, you have been very busy this week, I have hardly seen you,” she crooned, moving to stand behind him and stroking his shoulders. He was in the sitting room watching late night television long after the girls had gone to bed, another one of his ploys to avoid Onome. Nnamdi stiffened at the contact of her hands with his body.
“I have hardly seen you or touched you all week.” She moved her hand down his chest and kissed his neck. “I miss you.” Her voice was so husky, so sincere. Nnamdi’s groin hardened instantly, and he dragged her onto his lap.
With a harsh groan, he brought their lips together for a searing wet kiss. It was not a gentle kiss; he plundered her mouth with his tongue. She moaned, wrapping her arms around him.
“I need you, I love you,” she whimpered, kissing him back with ardour.
A guttural sound tore from his throat and he grabbed the top edge of her flimsy silk nightgown and ripped it, exposing her breasts.
“Oh, Nnamdi,” she gasped as his mouth descended on her breasts roughly.
“Ahhhh!” she cried out when he bit down on her left breast. He froze. His eyes quickly jumped to hers. There were tears in them. Nnamdi pulled away instantly.
“I’m sorry,” he breathed, his body shaking. Had he hurt her? God, that was the last thing he wanted to do. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” she whispered. “That was a little rough, but I’m fine… are you okay?” she searched his face anxiously.
Nnamdi placed his forehead on hers, dragging in ragged breaths. “I am sorry for hurting you, Onome. I love you. I love you so much. But I need to travel to Enugu urgently. I need to leave to think.”
“Are you okay? Nnamdi, what is going on?” Onome asked him, running her palm over his face, her eyes shadowed with concern. “You have been so withdrawn. Is it about what your brother did?” She paused, kissing his forehead. “I am not upset; I am not angry with him. I know he is like that—”
“It’s not that, Onome,” Nnamdi was on the verge of telling her he knew about her and Efe but stopped himself. If he told her now, they would have to discuss it. And she may want to leave him. He couldn’t live without her. He needed to take a few days off, time away from her. Time to clear his head.
“I am swamped with work, that’s all. I need time off.”
“Let me help—”
“No, there is nothing you can do about this. I will take Nkem to stay with my sister while I am in Enugu.”
“I can look after her while you are away.”
“No, I think… I prefer if she stays with my sister.” He noted the pained expression on her face and he softened the sting of his words with his tone.
“It will only be for a few days. One week at most, okay?”
“Okay.” She nodded. But there was still worry etched in her eyes.
Two days later, Nnamdi took the afternoon flight to Enugu after ensuring Nkem was settled with his sister. He regretted the sadness he noted in Fejiro’s eyes when Nkem was leaving. Although he felt like a heel for separating the girls, he needed to leave so he could salvage his relationship with Onome. He needed to talk to his father, and he needed a different environment. Onome was around him at work and at home, there was no space for him to clear his head away from her. Some days in Enugu would do the trick, he hoped.
He arrived in Enugu in forty-five minutes and was in the family home a few minutes after that. Following a quick shower, Nnamdi went to the balcony to relax with a cold drink. His father was out socialising and Nnamdi used the opportunity to think. The evening breeze provided by the tall trees planted in the spacious compound soothed his skin. Taking a sip of his glass of beer, he exhaled slowly. Enugu was a beautiful city at night. His family home was located in a hilly area in an independent layout, a quiet residential area. It was a large eight-bedroom home with two sitting rooms. His favourite area of the house was the balcony. From this balcony, he could see the landscape of the city. The streetlights were already on, casting a picturesque radiance to the scenery before him. The smell of impending rain that wafted into his nostrils and the noise of chit chatter of pedestrians in the streets had a combined calming effect on him.
Nnamdi was so used to the fast pace of Lagos that he could not see himself living anywhere else. However, there was something about Enugu that made him feel peaceful. It was probably because unlike Lagos, people hardly rushed in Enugu. People took their time to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. There was rarely hostility in Enugu. Whereas in Lagos, hostility jumped at you from all angles, even when you tried to avoid it. There was always someone being aggressive, either in traffic or at work. One just had to be sharp and street-smart in Lagos. That was the only way to survive there.
The sound of a car horn at the gate alerted Nnamdi. His father was back from his social activities. He watched the car drive into the compound from the balcony. The driver opened the back seat and out came Chief Obi, tall and domineering. He looked like the Nigerian actor, Pete Edochie, but perhaps a bit darker and taller.
Moments later, his father joined him on the balcony with a bottle of water.
“My son, your unexpected visit is a pleasant surprise, but also quite disturbing. Are you okay?” he asked, taking the other reclining chair beside Nnamdi.
“Welcome home, dad.” Nnamdi greeted. “I am fine, thanks.”
“And Nkem?” Chief Obi took a sip from his bottle after his question.
“She is fine, thanks. Staying with Adaora.”
There was a moment of silence. Chief Obi glanced sideways at Nnamdi.
“How is your live-in woman, Onome? And her daughter, Fejiro?” Nnamdi’s mouth flew open with shock. Chief Obi chuckled.
“Close your mouth, son,” he said. “I know everything about you. I know everything about all of my children.” A smile tilted the corner of Nnamdi’s lips. He took a gulp of his beer before he responded.
“They are fine.”
“But….” Chief Obi raised a thick eyebrow.
“Why must there be a but?”
“Because I know my children. You all rush to Enugu whenever you have relationship issues. As if Enugu is the cure for relationship discord.” He laughed at his own clever observation.
“Tell me about it, son,” Chief Obi said when his laughter died down. “Tell me. When do you plan on marrying that girl? When do you plan on settling down for that matter?”
Nnamdi did not respond immediately. He sipped from his glass and waited for several beats before he turned to his father.
“How do you do it? How did you love mum so completely and stay married to her? And now you want to marry Mama Uzo. How do you do it? When all women eventually cheat, and lie.”
“Not all women cheat and lie—”
“Yes, all women cheat and lie, and do it so cleverly.” Nnamdi cut in, unable to keep the vehemence from his tone.
“Your mother was a wonderful woman, she made my life easy—”
Nnamdi hissed loudly, interrupting his father.
“Mum was a liar and a cheat!” he blurted out. “She cheated on you with a man called Dozie, dad. You didn’t know it, but I did. She was a cheat and a liar! She deceived everyone because she pretended to be innocent but she was a cheat and a liar!”
Prolonged silence came after Nnamdi’s outburst. Concerned that he had crossed the line, he turned to his father ready to apologise. Chief Obi’s next remark stopped him.
“Your mother was right,” he said, placing both palms over his face. “Oh my God, she was right. You knew about it.”
“What?” Nnamdi was stunned. “So, you also knew about mum?”
“Oh, Nnamdi,” Chief Obi turned his seat so that he faced Nnamdi. “You have got this all mixed up. Your mother was a wonderful woman. She had just had enough.” He paused, took a deep breath in and out, before he continued.
“I met your mother when I was nothing, a nobody. She was the daughter of an esteemed professor. Yet she disregarded all the advice of her family and married me, a trader’s son. I had nothing to my name. Still she stayed with me, struggled with me until I gathered wealth. But how did I reward her?”
Nnamdi watched his father swallow hard, grab his bottle and take a huge gulp of water, as if that was what he needed to continue with his revelation. “How did I reward your wonderful mother? I cheated on her multiple times during our marriage. I was stupid; I was arrogant and allowed myself to believe the young girls only after me for my money. She confronted me so many times; I lied, so many times. Until I gave her chlamydia.”
His eyes clouded with regret. “I gave your wonderful mother an STD. I hurt her because I wasn’t mature enough to keep my trousers zipped.” Nnamdi sucked in air at that disclosure. “She confronted me, I finally admitted it. I begged for her forgiveness and she forgave me. For a few months after that, I tried to behave myself. Because I loved your mother, I tried. But before long, I was stupid enough to let another young woman, only after my money, seduce me. Your mother caught us going at it in the car.” Chief Obi shook his head with self-derision. “Imagine, I was so stupid enough to have sex out in the open with some random woman in a car like a dog. I saw the look in your mother’s eyes when she opened the car door. I knew that was the last straw. So, yes, she went to Dozie. She is only human. There is only so much you can push a woman before she cracks.”
The sound of thunder rumbled after that comment from his father. A strange sensation passed through Nnamdi. He felt as if he was watching a dramatic Nollywood movie. Like he was not present. His stomach somersaulted. Multiple questions skittered about in his brain but he remained mute, unable to utter a word.
Trickles of rain from the sky fell to the ground, filling the silence that stretched between father and son.
“Your mother couldn’t take the guilt. She told me about Dozie. I forgave her immediately of course. She was a beautiful woman. Her one-time fling with Dozie made me snap out of my foolishness. I began to see her for who she was. A remarkably good woman I could lose to someone like Dozie if I didn’t wake up. I was not prepared for that to happen.” Chief Obi’s voice resonated in the air.
“I forgave her, but she couldn’t forgive herself. She kept telling me she was sure that you knew about her and Dozie. And I kept reassuring her that it was impossible because I didn’t tell you.” A rugged breath erupted from chief Obi. “I wish I had listened to her before we lost her suddenly. Maybe if I had, we would have talked about it, and you wouldn’t have had to carry that burden on your own for so many years.”
Nnamdi felt tears sting his eyes as he listened. His mother had suffered from guilt when she was the one who had been wronged. His father spoke again, bringing his mind back to his surroundings. “Your mother endured a lot of heartbreak from me. And I regret everything I did to hurt her. I’m only thankful that we forgave each other before she passed. One piece of advice I can offer you from my experience with your mother is, if you love Onome, treat her right. Never let anything or anyone come between you two. Because if you do, you will end up with as much regret as I have.”
Nnamdi had to take another gulp of his drink. His chest burned with agony. For years, he had blamed his mother for his lack of trust in women. For many years, he had hated her. Yet she was the one who had suffered. She was the one who had covered up for her husband’s infidelity so that none of his children knew.
“Nnamdi, I will never forgive myself for what I put your mother through. After her death, I took to alcohol to drown away my guilt. I had a wonderful woman in my life and I hurt her multiple times because of my foolishness.”
Nnamdi mulled his father’s words quietly for moments. His throat choked with tears. “I’m so sorry.” He broke down in tears for his mother. Tears for the years he had hated her. Tears for never having a chance to comfort her, tell her he loved her before she died. And tears that his paranoia was driving him away from the woman he loved. Chief Obi reached for him and embraced him.
“I am sorry too, my son,” he murmured, patting him on the back. “I am sorry too.”
Nnamdi hopped out of the car. He took in his surroundings. This was his first visit to Benin City. He immediately loved the town. There was an abundance of red earth similar to Enugu. The activity in Benin City was midway between the boisterous din of Lagos, and the serene pace of Enugu.
He glanced at the family home Onome had grown up in. It was a large white house, likely five bedrooms judging by the size. The gate and the surrounding walls were very high. It was impossible to see anyone inside the compound. Like his family home, there were multiple trees planted in the compound. It was a beautiful home. And Onome had given all this up. She had given up the comfort and support of family for love. Unlike women he had dated in the past, she wasn’t materialistic. She was only about love.
“Nnamdi, do you want me to blow the horn?” Peter, his father’s driver, asked, crashing through his thoughts.
“No, thanks, Pete, they are not expecting us. I’ll go over there and ring the bell.”
Nnamdi made his way towards the large black gate. He pressed the bell on the wall beside the gate and waited. This was an impromptu visit he had decided to make yesterday after the long chat with his father. He also needed to have a chat with Onome’s father. It was a hot afternoon and Nnamdi felt trickles of perspiration down his back. After minutes of waiting, the small square partition at the centre of the gate opened, and a faced poked through.
“Who are you?” he asked Nnamdi.
“I am Nnamdi Obi.” Nnamdi replied with a smile.
“Who are you here to see?”
“I am here to see Chief Ododo.”
The man who was probably the gateman, hesitated.
“Is he expecting you?”
Nnamdi thought briefly about lying to increase his chances of being admitted into the compound but decided against it. This was his first meeting with Onome’s father. It had to go perfectly.
“No,” Nnamdi admitted.
“Wait, let me tell oga.” The man dragged the partition closed.
Nnamdi waited patiently, the scorching sun burning his skin. A few minutes later, the gate swung open.
“Come in, sir.”
Nnamdi smiled. His wealth and name always opened doors for him. All people had to do was Google his name and that was it. Whenever he used his name, people always bent over backwards trying to please him. For the first time in his life, he was humbled by it. Particularly because this visit was with Onome’s father and he considered this meeting to be a turning point in his life.
Nnamdi followed the thin dark-skinned gateman who introduced himself as Andy, into the house, and through a long hallway. He was led into a large sitting room where he saw Onome’s father, Chief Ododo, seated on a comfortable looking black leather couch. He was in white and gold flamboyant traditional attire, multiple red beaded chains hanging on his neck.
Chief Ododo stood when Nnamdi walked in. He was not a tall man. In fact, compared to Onome who was about five feet nine inches tall, he was a short man. Onome got her height from her mother, Nnamdi thought, casting a quick glance at the family picture above chief Ododo. He spotted from that photograph that Onome was a spitting image of her mother.
“Nnamdi Obi,” Chief Ododo said, holding out his hand towards Nnamdi.
“Chief Ododo,” Nnamdi greeted, shaking his hand firmly.
Still on his feet, Chief Ododo’s face scrunched with confusion. “How can I help you?” he asked.
“May I sit, sir?” Nnamdi asked, slightly nervous. His heart thudded heavily in his chest. He needed this meeting to go well.
Chief Ododo hesitated and then nodded. Nnamdi waited for the Chief to sit before taking the seat opposite him.
“How can I help you?” Chief Ododo asked again, crossing his legs at the ankle. His face still showed his confusion.
“I am here to ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage,” Nnamdi answered. He wanted to go straight to the point, address the matter head on. His declaration was met with silence. A transient strained expression filtered through Chief Ododo’s eyes before his facial expression turned rigid and nonchalant.
“I don’t have a daughter,” he said.
“Yes, you do.”
“Any girl who blatantly disregards her father’s wishes deserves to be banished from the family.”
“With all due respect, Chief, Onome is thirty-four years old. And she is no longer a girl.” Chief Ododo did not respond. He looked defeated. His face was round with a thick head of grey hair and a beard. Although he was slim, his belly protruded noticeably. He looked nothing like Onome, except that his eyes had the same delicate beady tilt of Onome’s that had captured Nnamdi’s heart. Where Onome’s eyes always glistened with kindness, Chief Ododo’s eyes were hard and shrewd, a clear evidence of his strict nature. To Nnamdi, the tension in Chief Ododo’s eyes now, undoubtedly showed that he also suffered from his own strict banishment of his daughter from his life.
“Onome is a brilliant woman. She is clever, funny, and beautiful. Plus, she is a fantastic mother. You have missed out on many years of your daughter and granddaughter’s life because you did not agree with her choice in the past?”
Nnamdi paused, wanting to say more but sensing he shouldn’t because it appeared Chief Ododo was full of regrets and it made no sense kicking him while he was down.
The room remained in silence for an uncomfortable five minutes or so, and then Nnamdi noticed chief Ododo swallow hard.
He turned to stare directly into Nnamdi’s eyes. “What religion do you practice?” Nnamdi hesitated. He was baptised into the Catholic Church as a baby, but had long stopped attending church services since he was a teenager.
“I am not sure,” he answered honestly. “I believe in God, but beyond that, I am not sure.”
A small smile twisted Chief Ododo’s lips.
“For me to consent to your marrying my daughter, you have to be baptised into Cherubim and Seraphim Church. Are you willing to do that?”
Nnamdi smiled back at Chief Ododo. He had expected this based on what Onome had told him about her father. “I will do anything to marry your daughter.” he replied simply.
Fulfilled after his visit with Onome’s dad, Nnamdi flew back to Lagos to begin a new journey with Onome and Fejiro. He resolved to let go of the past, talk with Onome about their future together and move on. He loved her. And as long as she loved him too, they would overcome anything the future threw at them. He had deliberately not spoken to her for the three days that he stayed in Enugu. He’d wanted to get his mind straightened out before he contacted her again. Three days without communicating with her had tormented him and he missed her like crazy. He couldn’t wait to get home to her. He couldn’t wait to clear the air and tell her how much he loved her.
After picking Nkem up from his sister’s house, Nnamdi rushed home in excitement. To his dismay, he opened the door to an empty house, and a handwritten note from Onome.
It’s a shame you don’t trust me. I have to leave. Kisses to Nkem.
PS: I hope we can stay friends for the sake of the girls.
Her eyes were glued to the television, but Onome could see nothing. Tears flowed freely from her eyes. She sat on the sofa in the sitting room of her two-bedroom flat that she had not seen for almost three months until the day before. How could this be happening? she thought, anguish tightening her chest. One minute she felt like the luckiest woman on earth to have found love a second time and the next minute, everything had crumbled before her eyes.
The worst part was having to explain to Fejiro that she had to end things with Nnamdi. Fejiro had been inconsolable throughout yesterday. She had also cried throughout today. Onome had finally put her to sleep after bribing her with her favourite meal, fried plantains. Breakups were really hard on children and Onome never wanted to put Fejiro through this again.
With Fejiro now asleep, it was Onome’s turn to let go and cry. And that she did, with no reservations. She picked up a tissue from beside the couch and blew her nose. Apart from ending things with Nnamdi, she also had to resign. She had left her resignation letter on Nnamdi’s desk. Onome couldn’t work with him when she felt this way about him. She would have liked to end things with him face-to-face but she had been so angry that the thought of seeing him again sent her into a blinding rage. So, she had left a simple breakup note in his home. Now, with no Nnamdi and no job, she was back to square one. How had this happened? How could he not trust her? How could he believe she was back with Efe? Why did he not ask her first before jumping to conclusions?
Fresh tears poured from Onome’s eyes as she recalled seeing the pictures of Efe and her in his office. She had only gone into his office to retrieve an important file that was urgently needed for a client. Because he had not responded to Folusho’s text asking him where the document was, she and Folusho had gone in to search for it. While Folusho had searched the table, she had opened the drawer. Never in her life had she acted so well at covering up the volcano of emotions that erupted within her when she opened the folder inside his drawer and saw multiple images of her and Efe. Folusho had no idea what she had seen. She had merely closed the drawer and continued her search until Folusho found the document they were looking for.
Her phone buzzed, splintering her thoughts. She looked at the screen. It was a text message from Nnamdi.
I am at your front door. Onome’s heart flipped. She expected him to come after her. But not tonight. She didn’t even know he was back from Enugu. He had not communicated with her for three days. Three whole days. Who does that? She wanted to ignore the text message. She really did. But she knew it wasn’t the mature thing to do. Sighing, she dried her tears and walked over to the front door. Inhaling deeply, she opened it.
He stood there, handsome, perfect, staring at her like she meant the world to him. Onome’s chest constricted.
“Onome,” he began.
“Fejiro is asleep, let’s go to my room,” she interjected. He followed her silently.
As soon as they entered her room and she shut the door, he pulled her into his arms.
“Let go of me!” Onome snapped. He did instantaneously.
“Onome, I am sorry,” he murmured, his voice hoarse. Onome moved away from him, needing the distance. God, she loved this man so much. How had things gotten to this point?
“Nnamdi, look, let’s cut our losses and move on. I still want us to be friends though. For the girls’ sake. They really like each other.”
“Listen, I can’t be with a man who doesn’t trust me.”
“Not only did you follow me around taking pictures of me, you had the audacity to pay off Efe to stay away from me.” Onome moved to the window, increasing the distance between them. “Is that what you Obi men do? Play chess with people’s lives? Because you have money?” Her tone was louder, her anger resurfacing. “First your brother arrogantly tries to buy me off. Then you arrogantly buy Efe off.”
“Onome, it’s not like—”
“Don’t try to deny it! I saw the pictures in your office and Efe confessed it himself.”
“So, that fool still went behind my back to talk to you? After I warned him not to?” Nnamdi snarled.
Onome shook her head, fresh rage building up inside her. “Yes, he did! Yes, he did! And what can you do about it?” Onome goaded. Nnamdi’s nostrils flared.
“You are mine!” he declared possessively, his eyes fierce with passion. “Efe can continue with his games but I want you to know this, you belong to me! No other man!”
Onome burst into a sardonic laugh that lasted a few seconds. When she stopped laughing, she strolled forward calmly and stood directly in front of Nnamdi, both hands on her hips.
“Nnamdi, I don’t belong to any man. I don’t belong to my father, to Efe, and I certainly don’t belong to you!” Her tone was surprisingly controlled, considering her intense anger. “If you must know, I can make my own decisions, you don’t need to pay anyone to stay away from me.” Dragging a hand from her hip, she flicked a finger towards her chest. “I decided to marry Efe, despite my father’s disapproval. I decided not to crawl back to Efe after our divorce despite the temptation to do so.” Onome continued to point to her chest as she spoke. “I decided to reject Efe when he asked me to marry him again.”
Nnamdi’s mouth popped open.
“Yes, if only you had asked me instead of stalking me and jumping to conclusions, you would have found out that the only reason why I met up with Efe was for Fejiro. Only for Fejiro.”
Onome lowered her voice when she made her last statement, still pointing to her chest. “And that is how I have decided to walk away from us, because if there is no trust between us, there is nothing. Absolutely nothing.”
“Onome, I am so sorry. My brain shut down when I saw those pictures of you with Efe. All I could think of was that he would take you away from me, that I would lose you. Although deep inside me, I know you would never hurt me that way, I couldn’t see past my jealousy.”
“That means you don’t trust me. How can you even believe I could ever go back to Efe? How? After what he put me through? After what you and I have shared together?” Onome shook her head. “I love you, but I can’t be with a man who doesn’t trust me. We have to end this now. We have to walk away before we hurt each other more.”
“No!” Nnamdi took her in his arms. He was trembling. “You can’t walk away from us, Onome. You can’t. We belong together.” Onome held onto Nnamdi, tears streaming down her face.
“We have to end this relationship, Nnamdi. We both have children who are our first priorities. We both have to be absolutely sure about us, because any decision we make affects them.”
“I am sure about you, Onome,” Nnamdi rasped, holding tightly onto her.
“You may be,” Onome whispered. “But I am not sure about you.”
The week went by slowly and Onome felt the weight of the world on her shoulders. She carried on with her daily job search, which she found daunting. So far, no one was hiring. She still had loads of money from her savings having worked in the firm for five months, so she was not desperate yet.
Apart from missing Nnamdi, the most painful aspect of her break-up with him was the disillusionment she noticed in Fejiro’s eyes. It was clear that Fejiro missed him and Nkem. Although Fejiro had seen her father twice this week, Onome could tell, she wasn’t happy.
Onome hoped that with time, the hurt she and Fejiro felt would heal and they could all move past this.
She missed Nnamdi so much. Many times, at night, when she was alone, she wanted to call him. Just to talk, because she always found him easy to talk to. He listened attentively and never imposed his opinions on her. And he had a fantastic sense of humour. He could always make her laugh.
“Mummy, a strange car is parked near our house,” Fejiro commented, bringing Onome out of her rumination. They had just returned from the park. It was a black jeep. Was that Nnamdi? Onome’s heart hammered into her ribcage, her stomach tightened. She so wanted it to be Nnamdi, but she knew that was neither his car nor his style. He usually called her first, or sent a text. He never showed up waiting in a car like a stalker. Although, now, she wasn’t so sure.
Holding Fejiro’s hand tightly as they got out of the car, Onome walked briskly towards the front door of their apartment determined to ignore the occupant of the jeep, even if it was Nnamdi. She missed him, but she felt it was too soon to see him again. She would only crumble in his arms and beg him to take her back. She couldn’t give in. If he didn’t trust her, their relationship was bound to fail. They were almost at the front door of her apartment when she heard her name.
“Onome!” She turned to see Nnamdi’s twin brother, Chuma, running towards her.
“What do you want?” Onome snapped, not bothering to hide her annoyance.
“Can I come in and talk?”
“No!” she said, turning her back to him and swiftly opening the door for Fejiro. Flashing a strained smile at Fejiro, Onome instructed her to go into the house. She didn’t want Fejiro to experience the verbal insult she was about to unleash on Chuma. “You are not welcome in my home,” Onome continued when Fejiro was safely inside.
“I need to talk to you about Nnamdi,” Chuma said, not deterred by Onome’s rude behaviour.
“Nnamdi? Is he okay?” Onome queried, her anger immediately replaced with concern.
Chuma’s lips twitched. “No, he isn’t,” he answered.
Onome’s gut twisted. “What’s wrong? Where is he?” She threw a glance at the jeep. “Is he here?”
“No, Onome. He is at home. He doesn’t even know I’m here…” He trailed off. “He is so unhappy. I can’t stand it.” Chuma hesitated, ran a palm across his face and sighed before he spoke again. “And I can see you really do care about him.”
“Well, thanks to you, we are not together anymore.” Onome moved towards the door. “You should be happy that your plan has worked.” She pointed a finger to herself. “Onome Odafe, the snake, no longer has her claws on your brother.”
As Onome opened the front door, Chuma grabbed her arm, forcing her to turn back to him.
“Get your hands off me, asshole!” she snarled. He dropped his hand and raised both hands in the air in mock surrender.
“I am an asshole, nothing new there. You are going to be a part of our family, so get used to it.”
“What are you talking about?” Onome shook her head in disbelief. “Me and Nnamdi are over. I have also quit my job. So, you have no hold over me.”
“No, you have not quit.”
“Yes, I have. I left the letter on Nnamdi’s desk.”
“My resignation letter.”
“No such letter exists. You see, when a letter is shredded, no evidence of it exists.”
Onome rolled her eyes. “I can always write a new one,” she snorted.
“And I can always shred the new one,” Chuma replied.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Onome was bewildered. How could twin brothers be so different? Chuma was extremely obnoxious and Nnamdi on the other hand, was so charming, at least when you got to know him.
“I love my brother, and he loves you. So, can you see what the hell is wrong with me? I can’t let you leave him.”
“You can’t let me?” Onome put a hand on her hip. “Watch me!” She turned to the front door again.
“Onome.” The urgent tone of Chuma’s voice stopped her. “You are unhappy, he is unhappy. I caused this by meddling in your lives. I’m sorry and I’m here to fix it.”
She turned back to face him. He looked sincere.
“Nnamdi wasn’t the one who followed you. I was the one who sent someone to follow you. I asked him to take the pictures, and I jumped to conclusions, not Nnamdi.”
Onome’s throat tensed, unshed tears stung her eyes as she stood listening to Chuma’s confession. “Yes, I thought I was protecting him from you but I guess he needs protecting from me.” Onome said nothing.
“What I’m saying is, please come back to my brother. He and Nkem miss you.”
“I miss him too, and Nkem,” Onome admitted, her posture slumping with regret. “But it’s more than just that, he doesn’t trust me—”
“He has trust issues and never trusted any woman. You are the only woman he has trusted enough to live with…” He broke off as if wanting that statement to sink in. “You should have seen how angry he was with me when he found out I tried to pay you off. He fought me, almost strangled me in my office.”
Onome smiled despite her internal conflict.
“You deserved it, asshole,” she snorted, her smile dampening the sting of her words.
“Yeah, I did, Onome, I most definitely did.” Chuma hesitated for seconds. His face suddenly turned serious. “Consider coming back to him. I have known my brother for years and he has never been like this after breaking up with any other woman. I have never seen him as happy as he was with you.”
Onome nodded. “I’ll think about it.”
“Good. And about your job—”
“I’m not sure I can work for Nnamdi any longer. Even if we get back together, it makes things too complicated.”
“Who says anything about working for him.” Chuma smiled. “You are a very talented banker. We can’t afford to lose you.” Onome’s face heated at his praise. “No, you will be working with another general manager, Mr. Lawson.” His lips twisted into a wry smile.
“What?” Onome gulped. She knew Mr. Lawson, he was in his mid-fifties and always very serious.
“Yes, Onome, a letter of promotion is waiting for you at your new office, as a manager in Zenith Mortgage bank.”
“I… I don’t know what to say.”
Chuma chuckled. “Say yes.”
Onome chewed her lower lip nervously and then sighed. “Yes,” she mumbled, relief washing over her. She needed a job, and working for Mr. Lawson was a far better alternative than having none. Although she would miss her old team.
“And one more thing, Onome,” Chuma said. “You are not a snake. I’m sorry for calling you one.”
He smiled. She liked his smile. Although rare, it looked genuine.
“Well, I know that,” she responded with a sassy roll of her neck and twist of her lips. “Snakes don’t have claws!” He burst into laughter.
“We may end up being very good friends, Onome,” he chortled as he walked away.
“Do you want us to postpone this meeting?” Folusho’s voice broke through Nnamdi’s thoughts. He blinked, and shook his head.
“No, Folu. But you are going to have to repeat what you said,” Nnamdi replied.
It was Friday morning and Folusho was seated across from him in his office. They were going through portfolio files of various candidates, attempting to fill in Onome’s post quickly. Nnamdi had been lost in thought and had not heard a word Folusho uttered.
“I was only telling you that Kenneth Agu seems like the best candidate from the bunch we have here. He worked for Mr. Shitu for ten years.” Mr. Shitu was a general manager in Zenith Mortgage bank before he retired last year.
Nnamdi nodded. Frankly, he didn’t care who was employed to take Onome’s place. In his opinion, she was irreplaceable.
“Okay, let’s hire him on a trial basis.”
“Great. I’ll let him know.”
Folusho stood up, hesitated, and sat back on his seat.
“Nnamdi, I know I shouldn’t get involved in your personal life but I can see you are not yourself. You have been…well…miserable.”
“I’m fine,” Nnamdi refuted.
“No, you are not. And I know it’s because of Onome.”
Nnamdi’s gut twisted. Anytime he heard her name, his heart rate accelerated. He missed her like crazy. A week without Onome was a week of torture. Nnamdi couldn’t bear it. He went through the motions of getting on with life like a zombie. All he could think about was Onome. How he had finally pushed her away because of his paranoia, his lack of trust. He had driven past her apartment many times that week intending to stop by unannounced and beg for her forgiveness, but he had talked himself out of it each time and driven back home. Onome was right. If she wasn’t sure about him, there was no point forcing himself on her. She had a daughter to think about. A yo-yo relationship was not healthy for Fejiro. Onome needed stability, and she needed to be sure about their relationship first. So, he was giving her space.
“I’m fine.” This time, his tone lacked conviction.
“I spoke to her on the phone four days ago.”
Nnamdi’s breath hitched. His chest burned with sadness. He missed her so much. Her husky voice, her dimpled smile, her sweet soft kisses.
“How is…” He cleared his throat. “How is she?”
“Not great…She has been searching for another job.”
He hated that because of their failed relationship, Onome had to look for another job. He couldn’t bear the thought of her struggling financially, so he had sent a huge amount of money to her account three days ago. She had returned it immediately with a simple text telling him she didn’t need his money. That had hurt. When he tried to ring her back, it went straight to voicemail.
“Do you know if she has found one?”
“No she hasn’t. Not yet.”
A moment of silence followed. Folusho heaved a sigh and said, “it’s obvious you care about her. Everyone in the department noticed it from the first day she walked into Zenith firm.”
Nnamdi remained silent.
“Your face lit up every time she stepped into the room. I must confess, we gossiped about you a little. And in a good way. Nobody had ever seen you so happy around a woman. We have seen you with a lot of women over the years. You always treated them with little respect. Hell, you made sure only men worked with you in this department. So, we were all shocked when you hired Onome.”
The corner of Nnamdi’s lips lifted into a half-smile at Folusho’s comment.
“You may not remember this, but during a meeting, you forgot where you were and slid your hand around Onome’s waist. I saw it, and so did Seyi. Of course, Onome quickly stepped away. She appeared embarrassed and she looked around to make sure no one else had seen. But we had,” Folusho went on in a matter-of-fact kind of tone. As if he was reporting the evening news. “For the first time, I saw real emotion in your eyes whenever she was around. I have worked with you for many years. You have always been cheerful and friendly, easy-going, but all superficial. No deep emotions…” He paused. “But with her, the real you came out. She has changed you for the better. So, why are you sitting here, looking miserable? When you should be out there trying to win her back?”
The phone in Folusho’s office began to ring. Folusho rose to his feet. “I’ve been married for over fifteen years. Nnamdi, when you find a woman like that, you hold on to her. You fight for her. You never give up,” he said to him before rushing out of his office to get the phone before it stopped ringing.
Alone in his office, Nnamdi thought about what Folusho had just told him. Onome meant the world to him. So did Fejiro. He had already given Onome enough space. He needed to fight to get them back. He could no longer wait.
“Daddy, these are more beautiful.” Nkem pointed to the stunning bouquet in front of them. He inspected the flowers on the shelf.
“Yes, it is quite a stunning arrangement. Do you think she will like it?”
“I am sure Aunty Onome will love it.” Nnamdi studied the floral arrangement again.
“Okay, let’s get it.”
“Perfect, daddy,” Nkem squealed.
Smiling, Nnamdi motioned his choice to the florist who packaged the bouquet of lilies in a delicate purple wrap and tied a pink bow around it. Nnamdi paid for the flowers and left the floral shop with Nkem skipping happily beside him. He placed the bouquet neatly on the front seat, settled Nkem in the backseat and resumed his position in the driver’s seat. He was high on determination. He would surround Onome with flowers until she came back to him. If lilies didn’t work, he would try roses, and then zinnias, orchids. Buy the whole damn shop if needed. If that didn’t work, he would resort to pleading, blackmail. He wasn’t above using her father at this point.
Nnamdi couldn’t help the smile that spread across his lips at the thought of Onome’s father. He and Chief Ododo now talked on the phone often since his impromptu visit. On one occasion, Nnamdi had asked him why he didn’t just ring up Onome to reconcile with her. Chief Ododo had informed him that he preferred to see Onome face to face and not have that conversation over the phone. He had then admitted to Nnamdi that he was planning to come to Lagos with the entire family to make amends. Nnamdi knew it would make Onome ecstatic and he only hoped he was there to witness that reunion.
“So, when are we going to get Aunty Onome and Fejiro back?” Nkem asked Nnamdi. They were on their way back home from the floral shop. He had picked Nkem up from after-school taekwondo lessons, and driven straight to the floral shop.
Nnamdi glanced at her through the rear-view mirror.
“I am planning to go tomorrow morning after I drop you off with Aunty Adaora.”
“But daddy, I want to come too. I want to see Fejiro. I miss her. She is my big sis. I miss Aunty Onome too.” Nkem hesitated. “When mummy died, I thought I would never be happy… but Aunty Onome makes me happy…she is my new mummy.” Her voice cracked at the last sentence. Nnamdi’s throat choked with intense emotion. He had to swallow before he could speak again.
“Okay, angel. Okay, my angel,” he said huskily. “We’ll go together to get them back.”
“Yay!” she burst out, clapping. Nnamdi laughed. He needed to bring his family back together. Onome and Fejiro were his family. It was as simple as that.
“We’ll go to her apartment tomorrow morning looking our best, so that she realises how much we miss her.”
“Yes, daddy. I will wear my pink princess dress.”
“Yes, darling, and your lovely pink hair bow.”
“You should wear your Bob Marley T-shirt. Every time you wear it, Aunty Onome keeps staring at you.”
“What?” Nnamdi erupted into loud laughter.
“It’s true. Fejiro and I laugh about it all the time.”
“Oh, my goodness. I most definitely will wear it then.” Nnamdi was still laughing at Nkem’s observation. He needed Onome back. She needed to come back to her family. That was what they were now: family.
They got home within thirty minutes. After parking the car in the garage, Nnamdi got down. He had just snapped Nkem’s seatbelt off, when he spotted Ifeoma, Chuma’s wife, out of the corner of his eye.
“Ify, what a pleasant surprise,” he said.
“Aunty Ify!” Nkem exclaimed, jumping down from the car and leaping into her arms. They embraced heartily.
“Nkem, my darling!” Ifeoma crooned, holding tightly to her. She lowered her to the ground gently, and they all walked into the house together.
“Can I talk to your dad alone?” Ifeoma asked Nkem as soon as they entered the sitting room. Nkem nodded and ran out of the room.
“Nnamdi, your twin brother is so sorry,” Ifeoma said softly.
Nnamdi shook his head. “He crossed the line this time.”
“I know what he did was awful and he knows that too. That’s all he talks about. In his own way, he was only trying to protect you.”
“Well, I never asked him to,” he retorted. “And now, being the clever jackass he is, he has sent you to me, knowing you are the only one with any chance of convincing me to forgive him.”
“Am I doing a good job of it?” Her question made him smile.
“How about dinner at my place tonight, you and Nkem? Adaora and Ikenna will be there…I’ll cook whatever you want to eat.”
Nnamdi considered her statement and his smile widened. “Whatever I want to eat? Hmmm.”
She laughed. “Whatever.” she declared.
“Pounded yam and onugbu soup?”
Nnamdi’s lips turned upward into a half-smile. “Okay. But tell my brother if he ever meddles in my life again, I’ll finish him.” Ifeoma laughed again.
“I think he has learnt his lesson this time. He has really missed you.” Nnamdi chortled. Although he was still angry with his brother, he missed him too.
Hours later, Nnamdi and Nkem stood by the front door of Chuma’s home. He pressed the bell and within seconds, Ifeoma opened the door. After a quick greeting, they walked together to the large dining room.
“Bro!” Chuma exclaimed, jumping from his chair and pulling Nnamdi into a bear hug. Nnamdi hugged him back, chuckling.
“Asshole!” he muttered under his breath, jovially patting his brother on the back. “I can’t believe how much I have missed this fool.” They laughed, the tension between them immediately forgotten. Nnamdi greeted Adaora, Ikenna, his nephews and niece. Within minutes, they settled down around the large mahogany table covered with various tantalizing smelling dishes arranged on it.
“Before we delve into this wonderful meal prepared by my wonderful wife,” Chuma began, his gaze skimming around the table. “We have to be complete. Some people are still missing.”
Nnamdi stared at his brother, puzzled. He watched as Chuma got up from his chair at the end of the table, and strolled towards the dining room door. “Where are they?”
With a huge grin on his face, Chuma opened the door. And to Nnamdi’s surprise, in strolled Onome and Fejiro. His heart stopped. His body became temporarily immobilised by shock.
“Oh my God! Onome!” he bellowed, quickly regaining his composure and springing up from his seat.
“Nnamdi!” she cried, running into his arms. He immediately caught her and wrapped his arms around her.
“Oh, Onome,” he kissed her on her mouth, her cheeks, and then withdrew to look into her eyes. “I love you. I missed you.”
“I love you, Nnamdi. Oh, I am so sorry. I should have told you as soon as Efe contacted me.”
“Onome, I should have trusted you.”
“I didn’t make it easy for you to trust me by withholding that from you.”
“Let’s never keep anything from each other,” he murmured, pressing his lips to her forehead.
“Yes, let’s never.”
“Oh, Onome, I never want to lose you again. Please never leave me…” he kissed her again. Then as if suddenly realising his surroundings, he glanced around, “Where is Fejiro?” They sprang apart and turned to find Fejiro and Nkem embraced in their own dramatic reunion.
Fejiro broke away from Nkem and rushed to Nnamdi. “Uncle Nnamdi!” she screeched as she jumped into his arms. Laughing and holding her tight, he murmured, “I missed you, Fejiro, I missed you.”
Onome dashed towards Nkem,
“Nkem, I missed you. I am sorry for leaving,” Onome cried, pulling her into her arms.
“I missed you too, Aunty Onome. Daddy and I were going to bring you back tomorrow. I promise.” Nkem chuckled, clinging to Onome. “We even bought flowers.” Onome cast her eyes on Nnamdi and then back to Nkem.
“I would have come back anyway. I missed you and I promise never to leave you.” Her gaze connected with Nnamdi’s above Nkem’s head. Their eyes held. “You are my family.”
Staring deep into the eyes of the woman he loved as she smiled at him showcasing her gorgeous dimples, Nnamdi felt his mother’s presence. For the first time in years, there was no negativity associated with that feeling. His heart was bursting with his love for his new family.
“Okay, let’s eat. I’m starving,” Chuma announced in a loud voice. “This mushy moment has made me very hungry.” The room rippled with laughter at his remark.
“You look stunning, darling,” Nnamdi murmured from where he sat behind Onome watching her apply makeup. Onome giggled as she coated her full lips with a dark red hue lipstick. She smacked her lips afterwards and linked her eyes with Nnamdi’s through the mirror.
“Thank you, love. You look dashing and handsome yourself,” she replied, smoothing her hand over her velvet gown. Nnamdi’s eyes followed her movement and he felt a tightening in his groin. The gown clung to her curves emphasizing her hourglass figure. Although it wasn’t a tight dress, Onome’s curvy figure made anything she wore scream “sex appeal” without even trying. He rose from the bed and moved to stand behind her. Spanning his hands around her narrow waist, he stared at their reflection in the mirror.
“We make a stunning couple, don’t we?” he said, kissing her neck.
“Yes, we do. Yes, we do,” Onome giggled also admiring Nnamdi’s gold and purple Kaftan through the mirror. With his neatly cropped short curls and clean-shaven face, he looked sexy and smelled good. Onome inhaled deeply.
Nnamdi groaned at the plain desire he noticed in her eyes. He turned her around abruptly and crushed her lips with his.
“Oh, Nnamdi,” Onome moaned, throwing her arms around his neck and kissing him back fervently. He dragged his hands down her back, cupped and squeezed her round bottom through her dress. He could never get enough of them, of her. She was engraved into his brain, into his heart.
“God, Onome, I want to rip this dress off you, bend you over and…” Nnamdi rasped, pulling her even closer, so she felt exactly what she did to him.
“Oh, Nnamdi, we don’t have time… and my lipstick. I have to redo it,” she protested laughingly, pulling away from his arms. She wiped the lipstick stain off his mouth with her fingers.
“Mummy, are you guys not ready yet?” Fejiro asked, bursting into the room with Nkem.
Nnamdi swiftly moved away from Onome, turning his back to them because there was an obvious bulge in his pants. Shit! I need to remember to lock the door next time, he thought. His lips twisted with amusement at his predicament.
“Erm… We are almost ready, Fejiro… uncle Nnamdi was helping with my… hair.” Onome replied, stifling a giggle.
“It is perfect,” Nkem said. Her eyes sparkled with admiration for Onome’s braids packed in an elegant updo style.
Onome smiled. “Thanks, and you both look flawless.”
“Thank you!” they said in unison. Nkem twirled around, flaunting her bright yellow flower girl dress. Fejiro, who wore the same style, struck a pose.
“I’ll leave you ladies to finish up.” Nnamdi turned towards them, his body now under control. “I’ll be waiting in the car.”
Over an hour later, the four of them were settled in the church watching Chief Obi say his vows.
“I can’t believe my father is getting married,” Nnamdi whispered in Onome’s ear.
“I am so happy for him,” Onome whispered back. “From what your sister told me, he has been trying to convince Mama Uzo to marry him for ages.”
Nnamdi smiled. “She is a beautiful bride,” he said in hushed tones as Mama Uzo repeated her own vows. Onome glanced at the church altar where Mama Uzo and Chief Obi stood facing each other. The overweight priest officiating the ceremony hovered in front of them reading out words from the book he held in his hands for Mama Uzo to repeat.
Onome had to agree. Mama Uzo was indeed a beautiful bride. She was a petite woman compared to Chief Obi who was tall and broad. Her chestnut brown skin contrasted beautifully with the bright purple wedding gown she wore. It was a plain ankle length gown with none of the frills and excesses typically associated with wedding gowns. Her hair was braided and twisted to the top. Although she had put on light makeup and her only jewellery was a simple gold chain on her neck, the sheer joy on her face was what made her look stunning to Onome.
“Yes, she is,” Onome agreed.
Relaxing in the mid row pew reserved for the groom’s family, Onome’s eyes scanned the hall. The church was full. Packed with Chief Obi’s family and friends who had travelled from all over the country to witness this great union in Enugu. Onome spotted Adaora, Nnamdi’s sister, seated beside her husband, Ikenna. When she met Ikenna for the first time, Onome had gushed with excitement, over the moon to be in close proximity with Aristar, the popular highlife musician. He had been very nice that day, and Onome immediately liked him. Behind them sat Chuma and his lovely wife, Ifeoma. Onome could now see why they made a perfect match. Ifeoma had a calming effect on Chuma, although Onome secretly believed she was too good for him.
She smiled as her eyes caught Fejiro and Nkem standing beside Anuli, Adaora’s daughter, near the altar. The three girls dressed in bright yellow dresses stood silently at the front of the church, enjoying their roles as flower girls. Chuma’s twin sons and Tobenna, Adaora’s son, were also smartly dressed as pageboys. Somehow, she had fit easily into Nnamdi’s family despite the rough patch with Chuma. She was glad to be a part of Nnamdi’s life and now his loving family. Although, sometimes, she regretted her own family not being part of her joy.
Lately she’d been thinking about doing something about it. She was still building up the courage, working on swallowing her fear of rejection. She planned to go back to Benin City and face her father, to plead with him and apologise. Whatever it took to mend fences. She hoped to do it soon.
“You may kiss the bride,” the priest who was sweating profusely, announced, crashing through Onome’s thoughts.
Loud oohs and aahs rang in the hall as Chief Obi and Mama Uzo kissed softly on the lips. Applause followed.
Standing with the rest of the guests in attendance, Onome wrapped her arms around Nnamdi as she watched Chief Obi and Mama Uzo leave the church hand-in-hand, a jolly recessional hymn playing in the background.
After the church ceremony, Onome rode along with Nnamdi and the girls to the wedding reception venue. It was a large hall thirty minutes away from St. Augustine’s Church. As soon as they stepped into the reception hall, Onome held her breath.
“Wow, this is lovely,” gushed Onome, her eyes widening at the stunning décor.
The colours of the day were purple, yellow and gold, and these colours bustled everywhere creating a gorgeous picture, like a picture from a magazine. The lovely tables and chairs were arranged in a practical semi-circle fashion so they faced the main chair table reserved for the bride and groom. Colourful table clothes draped the tables, and the seats were also draped with similar stunning material. Onome’s throat choked at the beauty of her surroundings.
“Yes, it’s lovely.” Nnamdi pulled Onome closer and kissed her neck. “As lovely as my woman.”
Onome smiled and kissed his cheek. “I love you,” she murmured. She held his hand and walked beside him to the table reserved for them.
The ceremony began in full swing shortly after.
“Opening speech by the dashing groom,” the MC announced, handing the microphone to Chief Obi. He rose from the large seat in the front where he sat beside Mama Uzo. He was dressed in a white and gold boubou with elaborate embroidery at the collar. It was an unusual attire for a groom but Onome supposed at his age, Chief Obi played by nobody’s rules.
“Dashing groom? At seventy-five years old? Okay, that is one for the Guinness book of records.” Everyone laughed. “Seriously, I am a lucky man to be marrying a woman I love so dearly.” He turned to mama Uzo who blushed furiously. “Though she made me jump through hoops before she said yes, I’m glad she finally did.” Loud cheers followed his statement. Chief Obi waited for the clapping and cheering to settle. “I am also surrounded by my family and friends. You all mean so much to me.” He paused and thunderous applause filled that void.
He cleared his throat before he continued. “I am proud of my children. My sons, Chuma and Nnamdi, and my daughter, Adaora. They are here with their families. They have been my rock. I have a lovely family. And now with you, Chichi, I have gained a wider family.” He paused and swallowed hard. “Thank you for saying yes to me, and expanding my family.” Chief Obi wiped his face with a handkerchief before turning back to his guests. “Welcome everybody to this wonderful celebration of love. Eat, drink, merry, dance and enjoy!” A standing ovation ensued and music began.
“I am so happy,” Onome whispered, clinging to Nnamdi as they danced slowly to the live band music playing. There were other couples dancing on the floor but all she could see was Nnamdi.
“I am so happy too,” he murmured. “You make me so happy. I can’t see my life without you and Fejiro being a part of it forever.” Onome giggled and rested her head against his chest, oblivious to her surroundings.
Suddenly, Nnamdi broke away from her, startling her. He clapped his hands loudly twice. The music stopped abruptly, and the room was thrown into perfect silence. Onome froze, her heart drumming rapidly. Nnamdi turned towards the entrance of the reception hall, brought out a whistle from his pocket and blew twice. Onome followed his eyes to the door and to her uttermost shock she saw her father walk into the reception hall carrying a huge board with the letter W boldly written on it. After him, her mother strolled in with a similarly shaped board with the letter I, on it.
Heart pounding within her chest and her eyes wide as saucers, Onome watched as one by one, her four brothers stepped into the room also carrying boards and arranging themselves side by side. Seconds later, Madam Bisi, Chief Obi, Mama Uzo, Chuma, Ifeoma, Adaora, Ikenna, Fejiro and Nkem joined them, standing end to end and holding up their boards with letters that read boldly: WILL YOU MARRY ME?
Onome’s eyes darted to Nnamdi, her mouth wide open. He had already dropped on one knee and was holding out a small open box towards her.
“Oh my God!” she squealed, casting her eyes back to the brilliant display before her and then back to Nnamdi. “When did you do this? My father? Mummy? Tobore, Tega, Ese, Ono? When did you?” Excitement shone in her eyes. Onome couldn’t believe her family came down from Benin City to Enugu. She couldn’t believe they were here. It was like a dream.
“Onome, love of my life, will you marry me?” Nnamdi said with a hoarse voice.
“Oh, my God, yes!” she cried, embracing him with total abandon, tears in her eyes.
Her family rushed towards them. Onome looked at her father. Her throat was tight with emotion. She couldn’t stop the flood of joy that overwhelmed her at seeing her father.
“Miguo, daddy,” she cried, tears falling from her eyes. There was no need for apologies; there was no need for words. She hugged him tightly. “Miguo, daddy.” Her father started crying. He held her tightly. “Vren do, my daughter, Vren do,” was all he could say.
Onome embraced her mother and her brothers. They surrounded her, reacquainting with each other, asking and answering questions about their lives apart. There was so much to say and so little time.
“My fiancé is yet to wear my ring o,” Nnamdi lamented playfully, interrupting their family reunion. Onome laughed and turned back to him.
“Sorry, I got carried away,” Onome giggled.
Still feeling elated, she hit him on his shoulder. “How did you manage to keep this from me? How?” Without waiting for a response, she flung her arms around his broad shoulders again.
Nnamdi laughed and pulled away from her.
“Wear my ring, woman,” Nnamdi chortled, lifting her left hand and placing the ring on her finger. “It cost a fortune, darling. I need you to flaunt it.”
Onome threw her head back and laughed. She would definitely flaunt it, not only because it was beautiful, but because she also loved the man who gave her this ring with all her heart.
“I love you! I love you for doing this.” Nnamdi knew what she was talking about. He had brought her back to her family. Instinctively, he knew that was the best gift she had ever received, and he was glad he had given it to her.
That night, Onome lay sprawled against Nnamdi admiring her engagement ring. It was a six-carat single stone diamond ring. She loved it.
“If I knew this was how you would reward me, I would have proposed to you sooner,” Nnamdi teased, squeezing her bare bottom.
“Hahaha, very funny,” she replied, sticking out her tongue at him jovially.
“Seriously, you pounced on me as soon as the bedroom door closed, and all I can say is, you made me a very happy man… twice.”
Onome grinned. “You have made me a very happy woman too.”
Companionable silence stretched between them for moments. Onome turned to face Nnamdi.
“I can’t believe you allowed my father to baptise you into Cherubim and Seraphim Church for me,” she whispered, breaking the silence.
A small smile curved Nnamdi’s lips.
“Well, he said that was the only condition I had to fulfil in order to marry you.”
“Still, I am stunned…”
“Don’t be, darling. It is only water. I’ll do anything for you. And besides, as the late Fela’s song goes, water no get enemy.”
“Oh, Nnamdi, I love you.”
“And I love you.”
Special thanks to my husband and daughters. I can never stop thanking the three of you for putting up with the constant typing on my computer.
Thanks to my siblings and Parents. You always have my back no matter what. I love you all.
Many thanks to my Beta readers, Jane, Nwando, Alyssa and Shoba. Your honesty was helpful. To my editors from the Braille agency, once again, we have brought another love story from West Africa to life. Thank you.
Finally, to all those living with sickle cell disease all over the world, we hold hands together in hope. One day, hopefully soon, there will be a cure.
Amaka Azie was born and raised in Nigeria, West Africa. She developed a passion for reading at the age of twelve. Her interest in writing began in secondary school when she joined the press club and her active imagination has captured the interests of many. With multiple stories in her head, she has finally decided to publish. Amaka currently resides on the Wirral peninsula in North West England with her husband and two daughters, where she also works part time as a family doctor. Apart from reading and writing, she enjoys watching crime TV shows, painting and travelling.
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