by Amatesiro Dore
‘Now’ was un-Nigerian. Salaries were paid on time, expenses were reimbursed, editorial meetings were liberal and democratic, brown envelopes were made unnecessary to practise journalism…
Rosaline received an email from [email protected]:
Fred came late
Rose got caned
And my girl came
Nine months later
Frederick received the same e-mail from Michael—their mutual enemy and childhood friend.
Rosaline and Frederick met on Facebook. She was checking friend-requests while an Apex Bank customer nagged about the ATM that swallowed cards. A man was seeking her friendship but his name was unfamiliar and his profile picture was the masthead of Today Newspapers. Only jobless men send friend requests on Monday morning, she thought.
Frederick was at the scene of an old story: the dying ward of a government hospital abandoned by striking doctors without salaries for many months. He was toasting babes online while waiting to interview the Chief Medical Director. His pick of the day attracted double digit comments on every post, her albums—from childhood to sexy ass woman—were filled with holiday pictures at Disneyland, Dubai and other clichéd destinations. The only tourist attraction he had ever visited was Olumo Rock in Abeokuta during a secondary school excursion with Michael.
Michael shared the same kindergarten table with Frederick and they lost their innocence to the same university babe. He attended the same church with Rosaline where M&R sang duos and performed Papa & Mama Nothing Spoil on stage. But he kept his best friends at opposite poles until Facebook brought them together.
Hey Fred really excited 2 finally meet u. I didn’t know it was you until I read your profile and saw pictures with Mike. He talks about u a lot, way 2much. I also read ur articles, a bit 2 serious but very illuminating. I prefer gossip. You n Mike should kiss n make up. A girl shouldn’t end your lifelong affair. LWKMD!
P.S: do u still live at that Green House on Ago Palace Way? I totally luv Ago, best memories ever!!!J xoxo
But Frederick couldn’t remember “Rosaline”. The girls of Michael shared common names: Bitch, Pussy and Straff. He had exiled Michael for seducing his last girlfriend and refused to recall him just to remember an online beauty suggested to him by Facebook. He was home and in bed when memories of “Rose” were restored by Michael’s last post on her wall:
To my Rose of Sharon
My first girlfriend and
Only friend with boobs
Happy Buy-day boo
Frederick copied Michael’s style and messaged Rosaline:
Rose from Ago & now of Ikoyi’s Parkview
Mike never speaks of unseen bras
You’re special to have escaped his jazz
Hope he told you I’m a very bad guy
And I’m hunkier than my FB photos
I want to hear your voice, call me
P.S: I now live in Parkview, Ago
As a very big boy but searchingly single
Rosaline: This is my number…Mike said u r a virgin, me 2
Frederick: I’m not a virgin. I can prove it. Can you prove your virginity? Let’s test
Rosaline: My fingers are saving this ass for marriage
Frederick: You’re a very bad girl. I’ll cane you
Rosaline: What can you do? Tell me sexy *winks*
And with texts and emoticons they had Facebook sex.
Rosaline invited him for breakfast on Saturday morning. Frederick had never been to Parkview Estate in Ikoyi and a colleague said it was near Banana Island—the most expensive suburb in sub-Saharan Africa. So he called the only person that he knew on the Island.
“Abeg, I need your help.”
“As usual,” Michael said.
“I’m interviewing someone at Parkview Estate. How do I get there?”
“If you’re going to see Rose, go to Cele or enter CMS bus at Century. At CMS enter Keke to Obalende. At Obalende you’ll find Kabu-Kabu to Parkview.”
“I’ll text you.”
But Michael never sent the text. He cajoled Frederick into borrowing one of his cars and driver. And he swayed Frederick’s wardrobe choices.
“I’m not saying they’re not cool,” Michael said. “But I’ve seen them on Facebook and she liked them.”
“I’ve only worn them once!”
“It appears as though they’re your only clothes.”
“They’re the nicest stuff I own! Where can I shop before seven a.m.?”
“My wardrobe! Come to my place in the morning. I’ve got loads of stuff I’ve never worn.”
“At what cost?”
“You’ll buy us drinks and nkwobi at Papa Goose. And answer all my questions about Rose.”
“Just free this babe for me, I use God take beg you!”
“My babe is getting jealous, let’s talk later.”
“What’s her name?”
They were watching from her bedroom balcony when one of Michael’s cars arrived.
“What’s Mike doing here?” Her brother said.
“That’s Fred, Mike’s boyfriend.”
Frederick heard them laugh and saw two heads duck before he could catch their faces. It was pardonable that she lived in Parkview but he hadn’t budgeted for the most magnificent house on the street. The ownership of the varsity jacket, chinos, sneakers, Swiss wristwatch and even the brand-new designer briefs—he was wearing—dampened his morale. He looked edible but felt like a toilet seat.
A well-dressed man led him through three sitting rooms of splendour, passed a royal staircase and into a dining hall for the gods. And there she was, a diminutive rose, dressed in a floral gown and smiling like breakfast just arrived.
“Are you shy?” She said. “Or you only have mouth on Facebook?”
“Why shall I shy?”
Rosaline ran as he opened his arms and growled. He chased her around the table under the chandeliers. She let him catch and rock her in his arms but didn’t let him ruin her makeup with kisses.
“Let’s eat and get out of here before my folks come downstairs.”
“Men, you have a restaurant in your house,” Frederick said at the sight of the breakfast buffet.
“You know my mum owns Foodie Republic and you never know who might show up for breakfast.”
Frederick’s mum had two showrooms—on Ago Palace Way and Allen Avenue—and a home-based workshop of four embroidery men, a dozen tailors and a host of apprentices. Foodie Republic had multiple outlets in Abuja and every major city in southern Nigeria. He didn’t know her mum “owned” Foodie Republic and that her dad had private jets.
Frederick began with a bowl of custard with milk and honey. Then bread with butter, corned beef omelette, bacon, two sausages and a cup of chocolate, and finished with a bowl of fruit salad. Rosaline had cereals and a glass of juice.
“My brother eats like a dog,” she said. “But you eat like a man, a gentleman.”
“I fuck like a beast,” Frederick said and she looked away.
“So you made up with your boyfriend,” Rosaline said.
“He bribed me with his car and driver.”
“And I gave him your wristwatch for his birthday.”
“How is it that a hot guy like you doesn’t have a girlfriend?”
“Who said I’m hot? My girls have either been leftovers or waiting for Mike.”
“Bullshit, just say the truth!”
“Ok, I just wanna fuck and clean mouth.”
“So this is just a hook up, right?”
“No! I wanna fuck you for life.”
They strolled along the aisle of novels at the Bookstore in Silverbird Galleria while waiting for the screening of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The last time Rosaline witnessed such excitement was when she watched her father and brother in front of the trophy cabinets at Old Trafford.
The average price of a novel was the cost of three movie tickets but Frederick didn’t check the price tags. He bought novels at Ojuelegba-under-bridge and Cele Bus Stop for one hundred naira per pick. That was how he found The Good Scent from a Strange Mountain on a boring Saturday morning, a fairly read One Hundred Years of Solitude beneath a pile of Mills & Boon, and a battered Norwegian Wood on a cold Friday evening. He was ecstatic that the Bookstore stocked over ten years of Ojuelegba and Cele pickings. So he selected eight titles for her.
“What?” Frederick said and the cashier repeated twenty-five percent of his Today salary.
He released his ATM card and hoped the POS machine would reject it. The most expensive books he bought were worth every inflated naira but he wasn’t sure if the recipient would appreciate some of the greatest works of love ever written.
“Gabriel Garcia Marquez is the greatest export from Columbia! His prose is addictive like cocaine and lovelier than Shakira. Love in the Time of Cholera is unputdownable.”
“Nice,” Rosaline said.
“Kazuo Ishiguro is British-Japanese so he understands loss. Never Let Me Go will help you get over Michael.”
“The Great Gatsby will help you understand why Michael will stalk your life forever. F. Scott Fitzgerald also wrote The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”
“Their Eyes Were Watching God will make you love like a liberated woman. Read this book and you won’t take trash from any man. Women should worship Zora Neale Hurston.”
“Norwegian Wood is by Haruki Murakami. He’s the Achebe of Japan. The title of this book was derived from a Beatles’ song. You’ll love him.”
“Naguib Mahfouz is Egyptian and the prophet of Arabic literature. This English translation of Palace Walk was edited by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, you can trust her taste.”
“Disgrace is a not a traditional love story. J.M Coetzee is a White South African and some think Disgrace is racist. But I love this book.”
Frederick focused on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button as though he went alone to the cinema. He frowned and muttered “that’s not in the book” as often as necessary. He asked if she’d seen Forrest Grump and frowned because she could only remember “Run Forrest, run!” He was incensed at the cost of the books but blamed his anger on the “self-plagiarism” of the scriptwriter of both movies.
Rosaline took Frederick for a treat at City Mall. They had pizza outside and drank shots at Swe Bar. She remembered how her brother went on dates at the cinema in City Mall to create the illusion of paying for the entire hall. She bought the tickets and the hall was empty as expected. At the extreme row she bowed her head, unzipped his bulge and gave him a treat while he watched the entrance.
It was magnificent like the Burj Al Arab but her tongue made him babble like the folks at Babel and brought it down like the Wall of Jericho. He didn’t believe it was her first time but she didn’t need his endorsement. She was proud of her mouth.
It was over a month since their first date and their Facebook conversations had dwindled into monosyllables, acronyms and single letter responses:
Rosaline’s bedside drawer hosted the books of life from Silverbird Bookstore. She purchased the e-book versions and read them on Kindle. After reading the last one she bought the other titles he’d caressed at the bookstore. She read Madame Bovary and wished for a “blissful fuck”. She read One Hundred Years of Solitude and accepted Marquez as the greatest writer she ever read. She fell in love with his favourite short story collection: A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler. But it was Waiting—the novel by Ha Jin—that made her visit him.
Frederick had blamed a “stressful week” for rejecting another date with her. He wrote: Spent the night at my folks. I’m chilling with my sisters today. Then some happy hours at Papa Goose before returning to my crib. And she replied: K. He was working out when Rosaline arrived in a chauffeured German machine. He observed how the car made everywhere look dull and impoverished. The two storey home of his parents had seven bedrooms, a library of global literature and two living rooms. His dad owned the neighbouring properties on their left and right—twin three storey apartment buildings. But her black luxury ride could purchase his parents’ brand-new Japanese SUVs and buy a small Korean car for him.
He completed his push-ups and sit-ups, brushed his teeth and showered, and smelled nice in a wife-beater and tennis shorts. He entered the children’s parlour and saw Rosaline sitting between the legs of his youngest sister; her hair braids were being loosed. He sent his sister to Globus Supermarket and asked Rosaline to sit between his legs. He removed her hair extensions as he answered questions about his siblings. Both were at the University of Lagos, the youngest worshipped Genevieve Nnaji and the other hacked systems for fun. Neither knew how to cook.
Rosaline’s omelette and chips attracted the hacker to the kitchen. She went shopping with the sisters to buy ingredients for lunch at Ago market. She played football on PlayStation with the siblings and got thrashed by everyone. Her afternoon vegetable soup and eba received rave reviews. By nightfall she couldn’t leave the man that loosed braids and plaited cornrows. She discharged her car and chauffeur, lied to her parents, and accompanied Frederick to Papa Goose—the oldest bar on Dr Fasheun Avenue and where her folks hung out when things had been normal and their lives weren’t a potential headline on Linda Ikeji.
Frederick thought he could see with her eyes: illiterate Okada riders at the gate of Dr Fasheun Avenue, Century Hotel looking like Poverty Motel and nothing beautiful in sight. Even Papa Goose no longer appeared cosy but cramped and ordinary. The beauty and understatement of her appearance made others look depressing.
“Did you know Zack Orji lives down the street?” Frederick said.
“Yeah I know. I used to live here, remember?”
“Saint Obi, Hilda Dokubo, Joe Dudun, Zeb Ejiro, Andy Amaechi—”
“Yeah I know the founders of Nollywood lived in Ago. What’s your point?”
“Exactly, if Nigeria was a proper country Ago will be our Hollywood—big studios, cinemas, record labels, you name it!”
“I get your point.”
“Did you know about Tee Mac and KWAM 1?”
“And I know Anita Oyakhilome once lived here! So please stop this nonsense!”
The conversation died and Frederick concentrated on his phone as they drank.
“What are you doing?”
“I just created the #Ago-Okota hash tag and my tweets are been retweeted.”
“What’s the big deal?”
“Did you know where Omotola Jalade met her husband?”
“Those are the kind of ridiculous things I’m tweeting.”
“Did you know where Genevieve Nnaji conceived her daughter?” Rosaline said.
“Ago!” Frederick laughed and the duel began.
“Did you know where Tuface Idibia’s next baby mama lives?”
“Did you know where Agbani Darego lost weight?”
“Did you know where Nigeria won the FIFA World Cup?”
“Ago,” the whole of Papa Goose screamed and everyone mocked the Super Eagles.
#Ago-Okota was trending on Twitter when they finished their last bottle. They left Papa Goose at ten. They flagged Keke Marwa at Century and rode the tricycle to Last Bus Stop. They shared an Okada to the entrance of Ago Parkview and trekked to Frederick’s. The road into Frederick’s bungalow was flooded. He carried her and walked on water. His sprawling compound was shaded by ebelebo trees with almond fruits and he lived alone.
“This is beautiful! How did you find this place?”
“My dad’s the landlord. I’m just the guard.”
“I love it!”
“It’s too isolated and the road floods whenever it rains.”
She was mesmerised that he lived in a library with the amenities of a home. The walls of his living room, bedroom and spare were covered with shelves of books.
“Have you read all these?” Rosaline said.
“Yes! Almost everyone worth reading lives on these shelves: Andersen, Boccaccio, Gogol, Lu Xun, Joao Rosa, Valmiki, Yourcenar, including Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton.”
She was lodged in his guestroom. But she couldn’t sleep alone in a room filled with strange sounding authors like Shikibu Murasaki and Tayeb Salih. She went to his room but he didn’t answer her call. She sat on his bed and inhaled the musk of masculinity, observed his mass of fine skinned muscles, the gentle heaves of his chest and the promise between his legs. She waited for him to acknowledge her heat but he didn’t. She coughed and flipped through his books, yet he remained unmoved. She lay beside him and hugged a pillow. After an hour of apathy from the man that could stir a nation with his tweets, she felt his legs on hers, his rock between her heat, his fingers on her nipples and his tongue on her ears.
“Ehen,” Rosaline said and there was no sleeping that night.
So this was how Madame Bovary felt, Rosaline thought, what David Lurie destroyed his career to get! It became a Saturday ritual at Ago. She learnt how to climb and ride. But she didn’t take the pill and count the days. She was six weeks gone before she knew the repercussions of bliss.
The parents got involved. Frederick’s dad owned two transatlantic vessels, didn’t own a boat on the McGregor Creek and his choice properties were concentrated in mainland Lagos. Google said Rosaline’s dad was a former Nigeria Airways captain and “Chairman of Airtight Aviation”. His clients were African governments, corporations and churches. He had two jets in his private fleet and his yacht—The Rosaline—paraded the McGregor Creek.
Before career and distance evaporated their acquaintance, the fathers had signed the petition which led to the road construction of Ago Palace Way. Those were the days when Ago was called Mosquito Village because of sand flies. The last time the fathers met, it was at a memorial service for the Caucasian wife of an Ago landlord. She was Michael’s mother.
Frederick’s dad laughed when he heard of Rosaline and her pregnancy. He rummaged through abandoned drawers and found old albums with pictures of her parents at Frederick’s naming ceremony—Rosaline was protruding from her mother’s womb. There were pictures of them at his first birthday party with their baby daughter. But Frederick’s mum didn’t forget how Rosaline’s mum later shunned their friendship.
“Let it go,” her husband said but she didn’t.
The fathers reminisced on the phone and fixed a meeting to drink and discuss the future. But Frederick was undecided. He called Michael to complain.
“Mike, this marriage is too early! We’re barely twenty-four!”
“You didn’t know your age when you were fucking her?”
“That’s not it. I’m a writer, I need to marry right like a pastor or live like a catholic priest. I don’t need Paris Hilton or Chelsea Clinton, I need Vera Nabokov. Not Countess Tolstoy!”
“Idiot, you’re only published on Twitter and Facebook and you compare yourself to Tolstoy? At best you’re that writer in Hunger by Knut Hamsun.”
“You’re a bastard.”
“Sorry, scratch that. You’re Kafka but I’m gonna burn your manuscripts if you ask me.”
“Who will you be if you can choose?”
“I’ll be Gabo and am gonna bang your wife!”
“Dream on…so you think that’s why Llosa punched him?”
“What else will make men keep malice and inspire Love in the Time of Cholera?”
“That’s a secret for the grave,” Frederick said and continued to worry about the consequence of marriage until Rosaline’s dad motivated him to propose.
“When I met my wife, I was a graduate with five shirts and two trousers. She had a restaurant in Ago and she sponsored us until I got my licence to fly. It was after I joined Nigeria Airways that we could afford to have kids. Now, everything you see in this house was bought with my own money but it all came from her initial sweat and sacrifice. And I remain grateful.”
While they ate at her dining table, in the presence of both families, Fredrick sent Rosaline a Facebook message:
Baby I don’t have o! I really don’t know how to make money. Maybe if I’d met you earlier I wouldn’t have chosen a career based on passion but on the possibility of providing wealth. I no longer believe in fairy tales but I’m making a wish: will you be my happy ending?
Rosaline’s Facebook update:
He asked and my answer is YES! But I want more than a happy ending. I want to be the story of his life. #WeddingBells
Frederick tweeted: she said yes and made me a man. #TillDeathDoUsDoPart
The fathers settled the native law and custom while the mothers arranged the white wedding.
“It takes nine months to order a good cake and I have ninety days to plan my daughter’s wedding,” the Bride’s mum exclaimed at the negotiation table.
“Is the baker giving birth to the cake?” the Groom’s mum said.
“Don’t bother. It’s only twelve thousand naira per slice. I can take care of it.”
“We agreed to split the cost of this wedding and we’re ready to fulfil our obligations. But my son needs a cake to cut not a plot to build a house!”
“My daughter’s cake must be perfecto! And this is going to be her only wedding by the grace of God.”
“And my son is going to have a say in this wedding!”
“Don’t make me fight you over cake o! Food wen sweet na better money kill am!”
“There are excellent bakers in Lagos!”
“He’s a cake designer with a show on the BBC. I insist on the best!”
“Fine, I’ll order a Nigerian cake and let the couple decide!”
“I decide for my daughter! You can feed your cake to your people!”
Na so fight start. The couple suggested a wedding planner but the mothers hired two different event planners. The churches of the parents wouldn’t wed a pregnant bride in white so the parents agreed to wed in the air. They selected a fifty-fifty guest list on a chartered plane but insisted on separate boats anchored behind The Civic Centre—a ship shaped edifice along the McGregor Creek—where they rented two separate halls for the wedding reception. They argued over the cost of the wedding gown and settled for two—the Bride’s family gown for the airborne solemnisation and the Groom’s family gown for the aqua-themed reception. Two invitation cards, two cakes, two caterers and the event was organised like Noah’s ark.
“Is your son not going to give my daughter an engagement ring? Or is it only mouth and Facebook they use nowadays?”
“Don’t worry. The ring my son bought is better than the one your husband gave you at your Mosquito Village wedding!”
The mothers cancelled the wedding but the fathers intervened and insisted it was the right of the groom to pick the ring and honeymoon destination.
“Na wedding dey scatter marriage o,” the Bride’s dad cautioned the groom.
“Tolerate them. She’s living her dreams through her daughter’s wedding. One day you’ll have a daughter and run mad for her,” the Groom’s dad told his son.
They said “I do” inside the Rose & Fred chartered jet hovering Lagos. They sliced cakes and fed each other in the presence of segregated aso-ebi wearing guests in two different halls at The Civic Centre. They danced with the Bride’s special guests at The Rosaline and with the Groom’s in a hired Prest Cruise ship on the McGregor Creek. Pictures appeared on Bella Naija, Linda Ikeji and Ovation International.
The wedding was perfecto but the couple were barely on speaking terms.
“How’s your Honeymoon going?” Michael wrote via Blackberry Messenger.
“Like an Ayn Rand dialogue—she speaks for three pages and her replies are five pages long.” Frederick replied.
“Is it that bad?”
“If this marriage drags on like Atlas Shrugged, I’ll kill myself with The Fountainhead.”
“LAUGH WAN KILL ME DIE…How’s the sex?”
“Things Fall Apart meets Heart of Darkness.”
“Jeez! But she’s your wife na!”
“I’ve never slept with a married woman talk less of a pregnant cow.”
“Don’t say that…How’s Obudu?”
“Lovely, Obudu is heaven! I’m in a cable car on top of the world. I can cast all my worries overboard.”
“Beside me, wish I could throw her overboard.”
“Mike I need money. I can’t ask my dad not after what he spent on this wedding. I’d rather die than accept that creativity sucking job her father arranged for me at Hell Petroleum. Please arrange something for me!”
“What will I do without you?”
The horror-moon was over but the annus horribilis of marriage continued. Frederick applied for the “Online Editor” vacancy at Now Newspapers. The publisher was a friend of Michael’s dad, the Editor-in-Chief was a prizewinning journalist and the remuneration corresponded with his needs. He got the job and became responsible for online content—web, mobile and social media.
Now was un-Nigerian. Salaries were paid on time, expenses were reimbursed, editorial meetings were liberal and democratic, brown envelopes were made unnecessary to practise journalism—allowances covered transportation, housing and healthcare. Frederick enjoyed heaven at work and endured hell at home.
His Lekki home was a house for Mr Biswas. After five years of abandonment, it was completed—in 100 days—between the proposal and wedding reception. They received the semi-detached house as a wedding gift from his parents. Her parents presented two brand-new German SUVs to the couple. The Groom’s parents used the rent of the adjoining five bedroom apartment to furnish the house—while the newlyweds were quarrelling at Obudu Cattle Ranch—before the bride’s parents could “diminish” their gift with imported furniture and appliances.
However the house was completed and furnished like a Nigerian government contract. Everything was made in China but wouldn’t pass the Chinese regulatory inspections. The living room essentials, bedroom comforts, kitchen appliances, bathroom necessities, electrical and plumbing works were Chinese rejects imported by Nigerian businessmen. The leather furniture was the cheapest money could buy, the curtains were designed by poverty, the carpentry was done by a seamstress and the carpets were ugly. The roof of their bedroom was leaking, the guest toilet didn’t flush and the borehole supplied dirt and colour. The house was located in a flooded and dirt-brown street in Lekki Phase One. Frederick was too ashamed to complain, Rosaline was too exhausted to nag.
It was Catch 22. Fixing the house by himself would drown him in debts but asking Rosaline for help would shrink his balls. He borrowed from Michael and planned to pay back when his tenant paid the next rent. But his parents had collected rent for the next two years. He didn’t know. He treated the borehole, fixed the electrical and plumbing works, repainted the house, bought a diesel powered generator and a two million naira loan was exhausted before he ticked a tenth of his To-Do List.
Whenever he travelled out of town on assignment or spent weekends writing at his Ago Parkview library, his wife fixed their home. She replaced the faulty water heaters in the bathrooms, the air conditioners that weren’t chilling, the terrazzo on the kitchen floor gave way to marble, the ceiling acquired a fashionable POP casting, the gatehouse and generator shed were remodelled and a grey Alsatian—less than a month old—became a member of his family. He didn’t like dogs but she needed someone to hear her frustrations. So they slept in separate rooms and only spoke when they argued.
The honeymoon at Now was over. It ended when the first issue of Now newspapers hit the newsstand but it took half a year for Nigeria to set in. The first issue published government records of treasury embezzlements by a former Governor. A Now editorial said the former Governor financed the presidential election of the Commander-in-Chief. Now newspapers also published stories about a Leader of the Opposition who was convicted of dealing drugs in the United States. Both former Governors released statements refuting the reports but neither sued for defamation. Nothing happened and life continued for the editorial team. But big businesses and advertisers stayed away, early morning deliveries disappeared at airports and bus terminals, distributors rejected the anti-corruption pages and the bank pressurised the board. After six months of losses, salaries were halved, then delayed and finally stopped coming. Now suspended publications and Frederick was too expensive to retain.
Before the mass retrenchment he supplemented his salary with income from freelance editing of literary books for independent publishers in Lagos and Ibadan, writing reviews for fashion and music magazines, membership of minor literary award committees, honorarium for speeches at “youth empowerment” conferences, and social media campaigns for fledgling musicians. But it cost three thousand naira to power his diesel generator for eight hours every night, PHCN sent a millionaire’s bill for candlelight power, the German SUVs required Lebanese expertise and hundreds of thousands for maintenance, the smelling soak-away pit wasn’t fixed for free, Rosaline delivered an expensive baby at a five star hospital on the Island, his son continued to create spending opportunities, and the Lagos State government was constructing a toll gate on the Lekki Expressway.
Out of stress and joblessness he befriended Tracy the Alsatian and joined the Lekki Residents’ Homeowners Association. He was encouraged to form a cluster of residents at his abandoned street. His cluster erected a security post and employed a firm to safeguard the street. He initiated a petition for the road and drainage reconstruction of his street. His street neighbours included a former Governor of a southwest state, a police commissioner, bank executives, Idumota merchants and a popular musician. But they sent their security men or houseboys to cluster meetings. They refused to append their signatures to a polite petition to the Lagos State Government and the New Town Development Authority “to do the right thing”. Frederick and Tracy canvassed the street for signatures but his neighbours didn’t want “government wahala”, wouldn’t contribute a kobo to the security purse and weren’t interested in paving the road with their sweat.
“How can we pay hundreds of billions in taxes and yet be denied free access to our homes?” Frederick roused the Lekki Residents’ Homeowners Association. “We must protest, we must sue this government and refuse to pay taxes until our case is resolved.”
But he was shouted down and branded a trouble maker. He wrote op-eds against the toll gates in Lekki but few were interested in his rich man problems.
On their wedding anniversary and after a year of refrigeration, the Bride’s family cake remained sumptuous while the Groom’s cake tasted like frozen bread and sugar. Frederick was lost at home, had lost the support of his community and Now was shut down forever.
Once upon a time Rosaline loved Frederick and he said he loved her too. Like Miss Noi in Fairy Tale she thought she would be “a housewife with a toaster machine and a vacuum cleaner”. But her husband wouldn’t respond to good morning because of thinking, didn’t return at night because of work and spent weekends at his Ago Parkview library to write. Was it because the pregnancy had turned her rose bud figure into a bouquet of fat? She read Robert Olen Butler’s Fairy Tale again but found no answer to her nightmare. So she asked her best friend.
“You’re the most beautiful rose that ever liveth.” Michael said. “I don’t think Fred is capable of loving anyone. His longest affair was with Marcel Proust and In Search of Lost Time.”
His words oiled her soul but Rosaline understood Michael’s love. His hobby was to collect and dump hearts. She sensed how he felt entitled to universal love because of his pretty face and his mother’s death. And though she had loved him, she learnt to reject him. Yet she couldn’t trust another friend with her troubles.
When her water broke Frederick was unreachable but Michael was there. He drove her to the hospital, was the first man to hold her baby, the friend who found the father in a library and brought him to the hospital. When she was shopping for what to do with her postnatal time after quitting her job for Baby Mike, her husband said she should open a bookshop in front of the house. But she was sick of books and everything that robbed her of his love. She visited Michael at his penthouse suite by the McGregor Creek and he told her what she wanted to hear.
“Your folks didn’t imprison you in a Christian university so you would end up selling books in a six by four store!” her confidant and son of an oil billionaire said.
“I don’t know what to do!”
“You must discover what you want. You must follow your heart or you’ll end up living his fantasy,” the seducer and breaker of relationships continued.
“I love to shop and I like selling stuff. But I want to make money, lots of cash.”
“Then start a store, an online shopping mall,” the venture capitalist to the rich kids of Lagos advised.
He lived at the Lagos Oriental Hotel and flexed for a living. He utilised his brain by scribbling soft poetry and intimidating the professionals at his father’s billion naira investments. He justified his art degrees by financing musicians and Nollywood movies. He was famous for lending at liberal terms and wouldn’t refuse the flirtatious spouse of friends and family.
“Compulsive shopping for lingerie and perfumes doesn’t qualify me to start an internet company.” Rosaline said.
“That’s because you only think of sex since you stopped fucking,” Michael winked.
“During my pregnancy I was craving cock like mad,” Rosaline laughed at the emerging bulge in her first love’s trousers.
She found him sexually repulsive. She couldn’t forgive him for sleeping with his father’s wife and bragging about it. He was sixteen at the time and it crushed her heart.
“What about my online mall?” she said.
“It’s under your nose. Your parents can fund your dreams, your sister-in-law is a brilliant software engineer, you have managed customer relations and have spent millions shopping on the internet, your husband is the best online strategist in Lagos, and you’re fucking with me.”
I’m never gonna fuck you again, Rosaline thought.
Rosaline raised Tracy like a child. But it was impossible to remember the times they had spent together after the arrival of her fragile and beautiful son of consolation. And Tracy was no longer a harmless puppy but a dangerous Alsatian bitch at the gatehouse.
Her husband feared the open mouth and wagging tail running towards him whenever he arrived. But Rosaline said it was a sign of Tracy’s affection. So he forsook his childhood indoctrination: beware of dogs. He graduated from not running away to saying hello. Then he started asking how are you doing? Have you eaten today? Did you miss me? One day he touched her fur. Then he stopped cringing whenever she tried to lick his legs. He was telling her about his day when his hands started rubbing her head. He took her for walks. He read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and fell in love with Tracy.
“I’ve lost my husband to the bitch I brought into my marriage,” Rosaline said.
“You mean Frederick is having an affair with Tracy?” Michael laughed.
“The other day he said Tracy was in heat and needs to mate.” Rosaline said.
“So says the man that wouldn’t fuck his wife,” Michael said.
“He treats her like a babe. Buys fancy dog food for her. Takes her everywhere and wouldn’t even carry my baby for a minute.”
“The boy cries a lot, drains my pocket and she smothers him with attention.” Frederick explained. “Tracy is the only one that has my time in that house and we’re happy with each other.”
Her husband didn’t want Tracy to be alone. He felt she deserved to have a family of her own. At the Lekki Dog Centre a suitable dog was found to mate with Tracy. Rosaline watched as the arranged penis came out. She thought Tracy would receive cunnilingus but the dog was just sniffing her. She saw how Tracy snapped and refused to let the dog mount her body. She felt Tracy didn’t want to mate. Not at that moment, not with that dog, not against her will.
“This is rape,” Rosaline cringed.
“What do you mean? She wants a dick!” Frederick said.
“But not that dick!” Rosaline said.
“What choice does she have?”
She watched as Tracy was strapped, held to the ground and mated against her will. And Rosaline pledged to fuck by choice, without obligation and guilt.
“Marriage will not tie me down,” she muttered.
After the rape Rosaline’s disregard for Tracy turned into hate. She hated the way her husband pampered the bitch like a second wife. The bitch refused leftovers, acquired a taste for Shoprite bread and her husband queued with “houseboys and drivers” to buy the freshly baked delight.
Tracy whelped before her due date. Rosaline found a wet sac of slimy puppy in front of her kitchen door, the mother nowhere in sight. She found Tracy munching the afterbirth at the gatehouse. She called the doctor.
“I’ll be there in the evening,” he said as though whelping was normal.
She called Frederick and he drove from his Ago Parkview library within twenty minutes.
“Fool, you killed it!” Frederick cursed and released the pup from the sac.
“Stupid dog,” Rosaline said.
The pup had been wriggling when she found it. She watched her husband clean it dry and dangle it upside down for mucus to drain from the rat like creature. But the pup never cried.
“You killed it,” Frederick glared at Rosaline.
“Am I the mother?”
“She’s a first time mother! Scared and traumatised by pain!”
“She’s a spoilt and privileged bitch!”
“At least she gave birth like the Hebrew women!”
“It’s my body and I didn’t force you to pay for my caesarean.”
Tracy whelped for three hours and her husband midwifed two girls and two boys. The doctor taught her husband to strap Tracy’s mouth and forced her down to breastfed her blind puppies. It took an hour, three times a day, for her husband and Tracy to feed the puppies.
Her husband travelled out of town and she agreed to drop “Tracy and the children” at the Lekki Dog Centre. But she locked Tracy with her puppies in the gatehouse and supplied them with water and leftovers. Tracy ate bones and drank but ignored her puppies and the rest.
Her husband returned after a month to an abused Tracy, an emaciated puppy with dead siblings, and a working class wife with a multimillion naira business. He threw their marriage certificate into the gatehouse and Tracy tore it to pieces. She visited her best friend and slept with him.
“At last,” Michael said. “I’ll never sleep with another woman.”
The sun was dying, a speedboat was crossing the McGregor from Lekki to Ikoyi with a gang of passengers, refuse rippled on the banks, hyacinths walked on water, a poor man’s canoe and net waylaid the fishes of the creek, Onikan Abayomi was former Queens Drive across the shore, the homes and few boats of the rich and powerful littered the horizon. The view from his suite was the same but the love of his life was naked on the bed.
He fell asleep watching her sleep but woke up on a lonely bed. His heart chimed the chords of Asa’s Baby Gone. He called her phone but she didn’t pick. After two days and countless missed calls she called to ask for a suitable warehouse for her online shopping mall. Then he negotiated the lease for her office space, recommended where to buy motorcycles for her dispatch riders, reviewed the contract with the Idumota Market Men and Women Association, suggested and attracted an experienced COO to her team, introduced her to the Silicon Valley executive on her board, watched Baby Mike and the babysitter while she made presentations to manufacturers, craftsmen, importers, publishers, designers, banks and potential clients of Naija Online Shopping Mall. Then she became too busy to pick his calls and he had to book an appointment to see her face.
It was because of him Frederick founded Parkview Digital Agency. He contracted Frederick to manage the social media profile of a federal government ministry for one hundred thousand naira per month. It was a lot of money for a jobless man to set up Facebook, YouTube and Twitter accounts, engage and encourage followership, create awareness about the agency and manage the online image of the Minister. He covered Frederick’s one month expenses during the bidding process in Abuja. He kept the ten million naira mobilisation fee for himself and half of the two hundred thousand naira service charge went to his account every month.
Then Frederick refused to pay back the two million naira loan and threatened to quit if he didn’t get the full service charge. For the sake of their friendship, he forgave the debt but Frederick went ahead to sign a new agreement with the Ministry, stopped taking his calls and was never available for a meeting.
He visited their home but Tracy barked and threatened to make mincemeat out of him. They were inside but no one came to the gate. He met them at Lagos conferences and parties but they shunned his greetings and avoided his presence. He read about them on the list of Top Twenty Celebrity Couples of the Year published by Today Newspapers. Forbes Africa said Rosaline was someone to watch and Frederick was interviewed on African Voices. He stalked their social media accounts and they added a new baby and six puppies before his eyes.
When they posted birthday pictures of their two year old daughter he recognised his face on the child. He called their home and offices but they didn’t answer. He blackmailed their emails but they ignored him. He couldn’t share his dilemma with family or friends. What would he say: I slept with my best friend’s wife and fathered his daughter? He wasn’t interested in their daughter. He just wanted their friendship and details of how they’d survived without him, despite him and because of him.
It was The Kreutzer Sonata, the novella by Leo Tolstoy that kept Rosaline and Frederick together. At least that was what made Frederick stay. Rosaline would say he loved the ones he could save: forgotten authors, abandoned dog, a heartbreaking friend and fallen wife.
The paper where their marriage had existed was destroyed so Frederick, Tracy and her surviving puppy relocated to Ago Parkview while Rosaline and Baby Mike remained at Lekki to build her business. They maintained the status quo until Rosaline was diagnosed with morning sickness.
“Did you say Michael’s sickness?” Frederick said and her eyes betrayed the correctness of his mistaken ears.
“It wasn’t his fault. I made the first move.”
Frederick was mad but he couldn’t stop laughing. He was surprised at the deadness of his heart, how she meant nothing to him. He assumed a wife was replaceable and a brother was forever.
“He robbed me and slept with my wife!” Frederick laughed with tears in his eyes.
And he remembered the words of Kainene in Half of a Yellow Sun: “there are some things that are so unforgivable that they make other things easily forgivable”.
“He disvirgined my sisters and called me brother!” Frederick laughed.
Rosaline watched her husband pace around his Ago Parkview home and imagined the headline on Linda Ikeji’s Blog: Billionaire Daughter Impregnated by Husband’s Best Man; Husband Runs Mad! She would choose death over a scandal on Linda Ikeji.
Her husband dashed out of the sitting room of books and she heard him rummaging in his bedroom. No one would hear her scream on a cool Saturday afternoon in a self contained compound that was isolated from neighbours. Her body would fertilise the garden and Tracy would pee on her grave. At least the comments would be sympathetic to her if the headline was Scandal: Husband Kills Billionaire’s Daughter.
“See who I found tearing my books,” her husband returned with Baby Mike. “Guess what he was sitting on?”
Rosaline had read The Kreutzer Sonata after finishing Anna Karenina but she didn’t believe Frederick’s coincidental discovery of the adulterous novella under Baby Mike.
“Every man experiences what you call love for every pretty woman and least of all for his wife. That is what the proverb says, and it is a true one. Another’s wife is a swan, but one’s own is a bitter wormwood.” Her husband read from the novella.
And Rosaline remembered why she loved him—he was everything she’d loved about Michael, he was the man that could cover her mistakes, he wasn’t Polikushka.
“How did we get here?” Rosaline said.
“I don’t know but one day I’ll write about this place,” Frederick said.
They managed a smile and he didn’t kill her.