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SWITCHING SIDES

SWITCHING SIDES

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SWITCHING

SIDES
A novel by JINGII

(Emmanuella Nkwukajingi Nduonofit)

It was just a lake of its own, round like the sun, elliptical like the moon, surrounded by long, spicy grass, its uniqueness quite sinister. A couple made their tentative approach towards it, the woman carrying a white spotless female hen with her, the man with a calabash of dog milk and coconut water. ³You shouldn¶t have brought that hen,´ he whispered. ³This was what I could afford,´ she whispered back. She stepped forwar
SWITCHING

SIDES
A novel by JINGII

(Emmanuella Nkwukajingi Nduonofit)

It was just a lake of its own, round like the sun, elliptical like the moon, surrounded by long, spicy grass, its uniqueness quite sinister. A couple made their tentative approach towards it, the woman carrying a white spotless female hen with her, the man with a calabash of dog milk and coconut water. ³You shouldn¶t have brought that hen,´ he whispered. ³This was what I could afford,´ she whispered back. She stepped forwar

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Published by: Emmanuella Nduonofit on Apr 11, 2010
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12/17/2010

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SWITCHING

SIDES
A novel by JINGII

(Emmanuella Nkwukajingi Nduonofit)

It was just a lake of its own, round like the sun, elliptical like the moon, surrounded by long, spicy grass, its uniqueness quite sinister. A couple made their tentative approach towards it, the woman carrying a white spotless female hen with her, the man with a calabash of dog milk and coconut water. ³You shouldn¶t have brought that hen,´ he whispered. ³This was what I could afford,´ she whispered back. She stepped forward and got to the edge of the lake. She lowered her countenance and sobbed, ³O river lord, my husband and I ask for the fruit of the womb. I give this to you as a gift.´ She tossed the hen unto the lake. ³Take, and grant my request, O river lord.´ She came back to her husband. After a moment, he came to the edge of the lake as well and went down on his knees. He placed the calabash in front of him and said, after another moment, ³River lord, I am your servant. I have come to make this plea to you. Bless my woman. Uproot her barrenness. I ask this of you, almighty river lord, I your humble servant. Place your divine hands on us. Give us a share of your prosperity and reign. Continue to bless us always and we shall grant unto you our undying services.´ He discovered a broken glass and gorged out his left eye with it. His wife couldn¶t stop him. The dresses the couple wore depicted penury, utter beggary. He dropped the gorged eye into the calabash and gently placed the calabash on the lake. He kissed the ground and got up. He licked the blood surrounding his lips and confronted his wife. For a whole minute, they stared at each other. She watched the martyrdom in her husband¶s face. He saw her forlornness but said, ³It is not heard of that impotency is in the Ojo family. I will do anything to get us a bundle of joy.´ Impulsively, she wrapped her arms around him and wetted his rags with tears. The couple left the lake and headed towards a herbalist healing home along a bushy footpath.

1

ONE

He opened his eyes. It was a gradual process. Then, he heard some woman say, ³He¶s coming round, doctor.´ He tried to focus, his eyes

obstinately blurred. His head hurt like the bell in a grandfather clock. All around him was fuzzy white. He had immense difficulty in focusing. Giving up, he slept off again. He found himself clinging unto a mountain rope. He grabbed it

frantically and wiped off his sleep from his eyes. He looked around. Mountains bigger than Everest surrounded him. He gripped the rope tight and climbed. Gradually, he was reaching the top. Then, in the brightest day time, thunder struck at its heaviest and shook his bones. He stopped momentarily to take a breather, and then continued. The rope began dangling. He was sw inging detrimentally from side to side, and thunder struck again, its sound increased. Sweat came out of him as pores. The minute his left hand touched the summit, a brown mountain boot appeared and stepped on it. He screamed and let go, the rope no longer in his grasp. He was falling down, screaming. ± His eyes flashed open and he leapt up. He noticed three doctors on him and one of them touched his arm. Two males and a female. A male one did the touching and gently called his name. ³Mr. Nicholias Ojo, you just had a terrible nightmare,´ he said. The female doctor approached him and said, ³You have just a few harmlessly cracked ribs, but the other things happening to you might be diabolical, perhaps spiritual.´ The other male doctor added, ³The c racked ribs did not cause any other illness. They couldn¶t have.´ Nicholias slowly covered his face and sighed numbly. His headache mysteriously vanished. The female doctor took out a filled-up syringe. ³What¶s going to happen to me?´ Nicholias mumbled as he returned back to bed. ³Nothing at all,´ said the first male doctor that touched him. ³We want to make sure that you get a good rest before anything.´

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³Before what thing?´ Nicholias probed further as he was injected. The second male doctor said, ³Don¶t worry, Mr. Ojo. Just rest and sleep, okay?´ Nicholias reclined as the doctors departed from the room. He sighed heavily and looked up the ceiling. Moments after, he tensed up a bit as his injured ribs ached a little. Then, he closed his eyes. Another gradual process. He lost control of his mind as it went backwards into past events of his life, both exciting and gruesome. It was not easy for Nicholias to throw away yesterdays. They came back to him like haunts. The memories almost maimed him .
TWO

There it was, Edo ± where the heart of the nation was ticking. Three children ran on Ishan soil along a thin footpath whose mud had dried up. A girl and two boys raced with adolescent speed to the main road. At the end, they approached a completed but abandoned designer house. Only one boy was not properly dressed like the rest of his friends. He stepped forward and glanced proudly at the house from its base to its summit. ³Some day,´ he said. ³I am going to have a house like this one.´ His friends laughed at him. His male friend jeered, ³You, Nickkison, wants to own a house. Ha! Ha! What a joke!´ His female friend said, ³I never hear say poor man pikin wan own house, O! Come see me see, O!´ He stood his ground and said, ³Stop it, Chidi. Do you know what will happen tomorrow?´ ³I know what will happen tomorrow,´ his male friend spoke up. ³You will go to the farm with your papa. Then after that, you will go to church. Then after that«´ Hilarious laughter hindered him from continuing. Nickkison

rebuked him, ³Stop it, IK, too,´ he sobbed and lowered his countenance. Moments later, a boy like them ran in. ³Nick! Nick!´ the small boy spoke rapidly.

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³What is it?´ Nickkison asked, worried. ³Your papa seriously wants you,´ the boy reported. Nick flinched. He dreaded his father to a fault. His father was like Jekyll and Hyde but more of Hyde than Jekyll. He will be angry with me now, Nick thought. He dreaded his father¶s piping temper and most times, it was inevitable. After a moment, he grudgingly followed the small reporter to his home with heavy feet. They passed through a small Sahara desert footpath. From a distance, he could see an old man with his left eye patched, loitering furiously. Almost all his hair was grey. Nick flinched again. He was like a bomb about to explode. He was fuming about in front of a thatched home prepared from collapse. This old man stopped his loitering when Nick arrived, and to Nick¶s utter surprise, he sat on a legless bench supported by two big rocks on each end, which was also situated in front of the home. ³Where have you been?´ he barked at him. ³Do you know that you left the house open? Come on, will you go inside and make some food for me!!´ As Nick obeyed, he sighed and muttered, ³Idiot´ afte r him. He thanked the small boy that called Nick and the small boy left. Nick¶s father now sighed heavily and reached down and opened an elliptical calabash and got out a dirty white bag of cowries. He smiled, displaying tartaric teeth, and murmured, ³Yes! The gods have blessed me with these cowries I discovered in the farm.´ Then, he bellowed out Nick¶s name. He was watching the boiling brown beans on top of a furious firewood when he heard his name. He answered automatically and mechanically. When he got outside, his father said proudly, ³Nicholias, we are going to enjoy tonight.´ Nick bashfully lowered his countenance and mumbled, ³Papa, I cannot see well. My teacher recommends glasses for me.´ ³Glasses?´ Nick¶s father thundered and looked at him squarely. Nick backed off a bit. ³I don¶t have money to get glasses for you. Even I cannot see well, but yet I can still go to the farm to bring farm produce so that that stupid
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mouth of yours will eat. And besides, since when did your so-called teacher become a glass recommender?´ ³She told me that I have bad eye sight. I always put my face on my book and«´ ³Will you shut that your mouth!!!!!´ Nick¶s father thundered again. ³Are you blind? Can¶t you see our condition? We are ridiculed by the child ren of rich people because of it and you are telling me to but glasses for you.´ He got up. ³If worst comes to worst, I will take you away from that school. You are of no use there.´ Clutching the bag of cowries, he stormed away. For a whole minute, Nick stood rooted to the spot. Then, he sat on the bench, clutching his rat -eaten raiment, tears brimming on his eyes. To worsen the whole thing, IK and Chidi came, hitting tins with sticks and singing, ³Nickkison the poor man, the poor man, the poor man. Nickkison the poor man, who wants to own a house. Nickkison the blind man, the blind man, the blind man. Nickkison the blind man, who puts his face on book.´ ³Stop it!!!!´ Nick bellowed, his tears finally falling down. Chidi

confronted him, pecked him on the cheek and they went away, laughing. After a while, Nick got up and sorrowfully went inside to check the beans on the fire. Evening approached. Nick ate his portion of the watery beans he

prepared and waited for his father. He was sleepily nodding his head in wait when his father staggered in drunkenly with a bottle of white fermented liquid. At the entrance, he belched aloud and said, ³It¶s good to enjoy yourself when the time is right.´ He yawned and entered. Nick quickly got up and said, ³Papa, I made beans for you.´ His father ignored him and drank half of that bottle. After a moment, Nick said timidly, ³Papa, what about the glasses?´, hoping that he would comply. His father gave him the bag of cowries. Nick felt it. Very few remained. He looked surprised at his father, wondering how much palm wine he took in. ³Keep that somewhere safe,´ he murmured as if
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Nick hadn¶t spoken, and yawned again.

After easing himself outside, he

dropped on a torn mat and snored off. Nick solemnly watched h im, with mounting sorrow. Nick and his father lived in a single -room thatched house with a backyard which was turned into a kitchen. He curled himself up near a wall opposite his father and slept off.
THREE

The next day, Nick went to the stream to bathe. schoolmates.

He met most of his He was too

They all came with soaps while he had none.

ashamed to borrow from his friend, so he decided to swim a little. IK was there as well but Nick tried to make sure he didn¶t see him. But it was impossible. The minute Nick dived into the water, IK announced, ³Hey! The blind man is here!!´ Most of them laughed at this jeer. Nick was even ashamed to go shallow. IK himself swam to him. ³Nickkison, come out,´ he said. ³This is no swimming pool.´ Nick brought out his face and said, ³But you swam to me.´ ³Why you dive for water like dat? You wan make people notice you?´ IK said. ³Hurry up baf before your papa scream your name. I no wan hear noise.´ ³Stop it!!!´ Nick thundered, and pushed him. ³Abi you wan fight me?´ IK threatened, coming menacingly towards him. Nick lowered his countenance and stepped out of the water. His schoolmates were seriously laughing at him as he wore his raiment. He left the stream, ashamed. Nick was now with his father, harvesting the yams he planted for half a year ago. The yam heads that were planted were stolen by Nick. They were the heads neglected and thrown into dustbins. Nick watched his father secretly. He could not believe that this was the man who got drunk silly last ni ght and wasted a substantial amount of essential cowries.
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Nick now wondered about that patch covering his left eye. What ever happened to it? he thought. He should be grateful that it rained during those six months. They

harvested good yams out of that soil. Father and son were about to depart when they heard the village crier and his instrument. ³The Oba of this village is in deep search of his missing coin, a special coin, quite extraordinary. If you find it and return it, you will be rewarded handsomely and beautifully,´ said the village crier and hit his musical instrument thrice. He left and made that same announcement elsewhere. When Nick and his father got home, the latter commented, ³If I see that coin, I will spend it.´ Nick was silent for a moment before saying, ³But it is not right, papa.´ ³How old are you?´ Nick¶s father suddenly said. ³Twelve,´ was the timid reply. ³Then why are you behaving like someone half his age? I vowed to myself that you must be a properly grown before you leave my house. Look at the way you think and behave!!!! Every human being must have money in order to survive in this life. Can¶t you see at all?´ Nick flinched. He could see everything else but his books. He wanted to se his books. His father gave him a tuber of yam and told him to roast it while he left the house in search of palm oil. By the time he came back with a calabash of it, Nick had obeyed his father. ³It is good business to beg these days,´ his father mused when he got home. So, father and son sat on a torn mat to a meal of roasted yam with palm oil. Nick¶s father laughed during his meal and narrated, ³Nicholias, your

mother was a beautiful Ishan girl of the Ivue tribe. It is the Eror tribe that holds Uromi very much and I am a typical Eror man . Eror men are known to be very virile and I, as a very virile man, beheld your mother. She was just a trader

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when I met her.

She was untouched and she responded positively to my

passions.´ He laughed. Nick giggled and bashfully lowered his countenanc e. His father beat his chest proudly and said, ³I was even supposed to be the Oba of this village because of my parentage. But, of course, evil -doing has never stopped in this world. The king makers did me great injustice and chose the person they liked, without the villagers¶ consent.´ He sighed sardonically and got up. ³You see why I have no honour? You see why I live here instead of there?´ Nick was afraid to look at his father. He was angry at this moment and he knew that. But he was eager to get what he wanted. ³Papa, what about my glasses?´ he asked timidly. That obviously incited him. ³What glasses?´ his father thundered and looked down at him, baffled. After a whole minute, he ordered, ³As from tomorrow, you will not go to that school agai n. You hear? If I see you there or hear that you went there, you will see what I will do to you.´ He stormed out and left Nick with huge chunks of roasted yams. miserably continued the meal alone.
FOUR

Nick

The next day, Nick was busy demeloning some e gusi seeds he idly picked from the ground when IK and Chidi came dressed for school. ³You no go go school, blind man?´ Chidi asked. Quickly, Nick lowered his countenance. ³I am not blind,´ he rebuked. ³Listen, poor man, if you don¶t go to school, you won¶t be able to buy that house,´ said IK. Nick scowled at him. They both left him, laughing. Nick was utterly sad. Things did not go well for him. Gradually, the yams finished within a week. So did the beans Nick cooked. In less than two weeks, the food supply in the house was finished. Even begging was a useless effort. One day, Nick sat on the bench, tired, when Chidi and IK came. ³We are doing inter -house sports,´ Chidi told him.

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Nick brightened up. He loved sports very much, especially table t ennis and basketball. IK took out an exercise book from his schoolbag and gave it to him. ³But first, read this,´ IK sniggered. Nick loured at him and got up. ³You can¶t even beat me in any inter house game, IK,´ he sneered at him. ³You are a born los er.´ ³Na so?´ IK sneered back and returned his exercise book. Nick came closer to him and said, ³Na so. Challenge me in any game and I swear that I¶ll beat you.´ IK laughed and backed off. As he and Chidi were leaving him, he shouted, ³You see? You are a coward. You cannot afford to lose. You know that you will lose. You have the mouth to make fun of me, but you can never ever beat me. You born loser!!!´ Quickly, IK and Chidi ran away. Nick threw his head back and laughed heartily. He suddenly fe lt better. His mind went to that designer house devoid of windows and doors. By the time he made up his mind to go there, his father came back. ³Did you get anything?´ he asked. ³No, papa,´ was the bashfully frightful reply. His father sighed sardonically and said, ³You are a foolish idiot.´ By the entrance to the thatched house, he said carelessly, ³It is you that I am pitying.´ He then entered. Nick shrank on the bench. For several weeks, Nick was at home doing nothing. He had no power to beg. There was no more yam heads to steal. His father always came back home drunk and the cowries were spent. One day, when his father was absent, Nick got up and left the house in annoyance. He was angry with his sorrow. He went to the designer house and looked at it with rapt attention. As he made a slow, shy approach towards it, he caught sight of a faint glint of a golden coin. When he got there, he picked it up and looked at it. He had never seen a coin before. ³This must be the coin the Oba was looking f or,´

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he mused. He kissed the house and ran away to the palace which was also a thatched house, but the biggest. The guard there stopped him from entering. But when Nick told him that he had the Oba¶s golden coin, he was allowed in. The Oba was a big, grey-haired man and he sat on his throne in his splendour with his two wives, one on each side and his four daughters, two on each side. His daughters were Nick¶s age mates. Nick winced and drew back a bit. Yes! The Oba was living in splendour while he was living in squalor. One of the Oba¶s wives sitting on his right side said kindly, ³Come, boy. Tell us what you have come here for.´ The other wife eyed him viciously and sighed sardonically. ³He will stain the throne,´ she murmured aloud. Nick took a bashful step forward and genuflected. After that, he got up and said, ³O-Oba, I salute. I have found your missing coin.´ One of his daughters on the Oba¶s right side collected the coin from him and gave it to her father. To Nick¶s utter surprise, the Oba still focused his attention on him. ³What is it that you want, my son?´ the Oba asked him. Nick was baffled and lowered his countenance. He called me his son, he thought. Impulsively, he said, ³I want to see my books.´ The wife on the Oba¶s left sighed again and said, ³You peasant!! Is that how to ask for something?´ ³You mean you want glasses?´ the Oba asked as if she hadn¶t spoken. ³Yes, please,´ Nick said and genuflected again. The Oba laughed and brought out his right arm. He said, ³Come and relax in my home, boy. What is your name?´ ³N-N-Nicholias O-Ojo,´ he answered and took another tentative step forward. ³How can you see?´ the Oba asked as he slowly dropped his arm. Nick lowered his face and mumbled aloud, ³I cannot see the blackboard i n my school. I have stopped going to school because of it.´ The wife on the Oba¶s right slowly and pitifully shook her head. The Oba sternly called one of his
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servants. When he came, the Oba ordered, ³Go to the eye doctor in this village and get a pair of glasses that cures short sight.´ The servant obeyed. After a moment, the Oba said, ³What else do you want?´ Nick looked up and brightened gradually. The Oba¶s wife on his right side said, ³Oh! What a sweet boy!´ Then, Nick said, ³I want to go back to school. I want food. There is no food at home.´ ³What about your parents?´ the Oba asked. Nick lowered his

countenance once again. ³My father went out,´ he mumbled. The Oba called another servant and told him, ³Get me both cooked and raw food that will last for two months or more.´ The servant obeyed. Several minutes later, the first servant returned with the glasses. Nick was overjoyed! ³Little boy,´ the Oba spoke up. ³I thank you greatly for finding my long lost coin. You are welcome into my household anytime. You can have anything and everything you want, my son.´ Nick eagerly took the pair of glasses the servant gave him and wore them. The other things he asked for came to him and the Oba personally got up and gave him a small white bag and a covered calabash, both filled with cowries. ³Spend them well,´ said the Oba. ³These are for other needs.´ He hugged Nick. The Oba¶s wife on his left rebuked, ³You are spoiling this child with too many gifts!´ ³You are like the son I never had,´ he whispered to Nick, ignoring her. Nick was about to genuflect in total gratitude, but the Oba stopped him. ³You can now go to school, Nicholias,´ he whispered. ³Go home now.´ Nick bowed as the Oba returned to his throne. Nick thanked him and left the palace with two servants who were following him to his house with his gifts. Nick was carrying the two containers of traditional money and proudly displaying his glasses. When he got home, his father was still absent. Nick became

apprehensive. After they dropped his gifts, he thanked them and they left.
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Nick took the calabash of cowries, went to the backyard and buried it in a small nearby bush. He went back inside and arranged the gifts the Oba gave him. He warmed the cooked food, which was vegetable soup with akpu, on the firewood and waited for his father. Black curtains came up in the skies when Nick¶s father staggered in with a bottle of palm wine. Nick flinched when he saw him. ³I found the coin of the Oba,´ Nick announced. ³And he gave me this. ´ He handed the white bag of cowries to his father, who snatched it from him greedily. He belched and said, ³Super enjoyment!!! Good, Nicholias, good!!!!! Good job!!!´ ³He also gave us food,´ continued Nick. His father was pleased. ³What a generous man!´ he exclaimed and patted Nick on the shoulder. ³Keep this up, Nicholias. I told you how good it is to beg. May God bless that man that gave you these cowries!!!´ ³But I did not beg, papa,´ Nick said. ³It was the Oba of this village that gave me the cowries and food.´ His father was surprised. ³The Oba?? How come?´ he asked. Nick bit his upper lip and said, ³Well, I found his coin and gave it to him.´ ³His coin?´ his father exclaimed, then shrugged his shoulders carelessly. Nick coughed and mumbled, ³He also said that I can go to school.´ ³To school????´ he exclaimed aloud. ³My friend, you are not going anywhere, you hear me?´ He then peered closely at him and touched his glasses. ³What are these?´ he asked. ³The Oba gave me glasses,´ Nick

mumbled finally. After a moment, his father barked, ³You are a stupid boy!!!´ Then, he smiled as he shook the bag of cowries. ³I wish I was a tapster,´ he mused drunkenly. Then, he drank up the whole bottle of palm wine with him,

collapsed on the mat and s tarted snoring.

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Nick, after an infuriated look at his sleeping father, proceeded to eat the cooked food. After eating and clearing away the dishes, Nick went to his chewed-up schoolbag and took out an exercise book. He went to the moonlight to read.
FIVE

Nick gradually grew up into a young, handsome adult. His father, with tremendous begging, got him a job at Nova Motel as a plumber and kitchen boy. He was earning coins as his salary. Nick could not go to school any longer. He instead indulged himself in self-education with only his primary school notebooks. And he still had on his Movado specs, his glasses. He had them tied to his head during work. Now that he started working, he would come home in the early evenings and leave for work in the early mornings. Work was not easy for Nick as well. Some fellow workers jeered at him after a week on the job, because he was naïve and quiet. But some liked him because of his devotion to his work. He even made some friends and few were nice enough to give him some clothes. One day, Nick dug out the calabash of cowries and bought for himself five different low-class wrappers with their shirts. This happened on the

weekend, Saturday, during his father¶s absence of course. Nick was happy that he had got dresses for work. As he kept on working, he had a particular friend called Lyda. She was an albino. Nick and Lyda worked together in the kitchen. She was a waitress. At break times, Nick sometimes visited her house to eat lunch with her parents, who gradually grew fond of him. Nick and Lyda even grew fond of each other. Nick helped Lyda in the kitchen most of the time. Some of the cooks noticed this. The female cook got jealous of Lyda and they gossiped badly about her at times.

13

Nick could only take Lyda to his home twice, when he was sure his father was absent. One day, Lyda asked him about this. ³Why won¶t you let me see your parents?´ she asked. ³My father has a temper before him,´ Nick replied truthfully. ³But some day, I¶ll try and show him to you.´ Saturday came. Nick and Lyda were inside the abandoned designer

house, sitting on the floor side by side and holding hands. ³Lyda,´ he said. ³Some day, I would like to own this kind of a house.´ Lyda smiled and said, ³I know you will get it, if you work hard enough.´ Nick¶s face brightened. None of his friends told him this, not even Chidi. ³Thank you,´ breathed Nick. After a moment, when he looked into her dancing eyes, he wondered what it felt like to kiss her. He heard about it but never really knew what it meant. He only knew that kissing was two lips touching each other, and also that a boy has to kiss a girl. And Lyda was a girl. Nick brought himself closer to her and gently kissed her, kissed her naturally beautifully pink lips. It was a good feeling. ³Will you go to church with me tomorrow?´ Lyda eagerly asked after that naïve kiss. Nick removed his hand away from hers and murmured, ³My father will not allow me.´ ³I understand,´ Lyda said dully. He re-held her hand and said, ³I can¶t promise but I¶ll try. If you don¶t see me at your place, then«´ His voice intentionally trailed off. Lyda nodded in understanding. Then, they were silent. To him, it was wonderful kissing her. But he then wondered how she felt about it. To his surprise, she kissed him. ³I like it, Nicholas,´ she whispered. The next day, Nick¶s father slept deeply due to heavy drinking. The cowries Nick gave him were spent finally last night on several bottles of palm wine. Nick¶s father was getting leaner and leaner. Nick used this opportunity to go to church with Lyda and her parents.

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On his way coming home from church, he found his father loitering furiously in front of their home. Nick gulped noisily and continued. When he got home, his father first slapped him, which brought stars round his head. ³Where have you been?´ his father then thundered. ³I went to church, papa,´ he answered shyly. ³To church? Who permitted you to go?´ Nick shook his head. His father slapped him again. ³Do you want to starve in this house?´ he barked. ³You lazy boy!!! So I must wait for you till you finish churching, eh? You are a very very silly, stupid person. You left without my permission. You want me to start worrying about you when there is no food in the house, eh?´ ³I¶m sorry, papa,´ Nick sobbed and bowed. ³Better go and look for food for us!!!´ he ordered. ³And don¶t waste my time!!!´ He stormed into the house. Nick watched him. He sighed deeply. Then, he made a tired, timid walk to the palace. There was no guard there this time, which was quite surprising. Fear covered Nick as he entered. Behold! He met the Oba in a serious elders¶ meeting. He quickly genuflected, apologised and turned to go. The Oba called his name. After several seconds, he answered his name . ³Yes! He is perfect! He is the only serious-minded person I¶ve met. He retrieved my missing coin as well. Nicholias Ojo,´ said the Oba. The six elders turned and scrutinised him. The eldest elder said, ³Aren¶t you the son of that Eror outcast?´ Ni ck lowered his countenance. ³You used to school at Arue primary school, don¶t you?´ asked another. Nick nodded. ³It has to be him,´ urged the Oba. outstretched arm. Nick shyly obeyed. The Oba said, ³I want to send you out of this village. I want you to become industrious and make a living. I have no sons, that¶s why.´ Nick was
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³Come, Nicholias,´ he invited with an

overwhelmed! The Oba turned to the elders. ³Is he good enough?´ he asked. A third elder got up and said, ³He is the son of an outcast! He is not

qualified!!´ Some of the elders agreed with him but only two opposed him. ³He retrieved the missing coin,´ said one of the two. ³He must be special,´ said the other. A fourth elder rebuked sternly, ³Have you lost your sense of

reasoning? How can a snake deliver babies for the woodpecker? One bad egg will spoil the bunch.´ The opposing elder spoke up. ³Don¶t you want development in this village? A change for the better should start from the roots. The person you regard as an outcast might turn out to be a profitable business person tomorrow.´ Nick knelt down and pleaded, ³I am not worthy for this, your Highness. Choose somebody else.´ The Oba got up and made a final, thunderous

terminus. ³I have made up my mind. Nicholias Ojo shall be my son. My daughter, Uju, shall marry him. He shall make this village proud. He shall develop the village. He shall be industrious.´ The four elders were shocked. One swore, one spat out, one snapped his fingers and the other stood up. The latter sa id, ³Oba, do you know what you are doing? No sane person can dip his palm into the home of the termites. It is unheard of!!!´ The one that spat out said, ³How can emotion overshadow your sense of judgement, Oba? How can you allow a treacherous offspring of another to be your eye?´ The one that snapped his fingers finalised, ³I shall not be a party to something you will regret later.´ The four elders left the palace. Nick watched them with puzzlement. Moments after their departure, the Oba turned to hi m. ³What do you want, my son?´ Nick hesitated before answering. ³My father wants food,´ he said. ³It shall be provided,´ said the Oba. ³After, come as early as possible tomorrow.´ Nick nodded.
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SIX

It was Monday. Nick was in the designed house, holdi ng hands with Lyda. ³I heard about your departure and your intended marriage to the Oba¶s daughter,´ she said. Nick was mute, looking at nothing. ³I was just sent to Lagos to make a living there and bring back good fruits,´ he said bleakly. ³Well ± will you marry her?´ Lyda probed quietly and gently. ³I don¶t know her,´ he replied timidly, his mind blank. Then, he looked at her. ³I know you.´ He picked up his bag of clothes. ³My father has given me his blessings,´ he murmured. ³He mustn¶t see me here ± with you.´ Lyda came nearer to him and placed her head on his sturdy, broad chest. He caressed her long, silky light amber hair. ³I know only you,´ he whispered. Then, their lips shyly met in a kiss. Nick picked up a brand new travelling bag the O ba gave him and walked away. Lyda watched him enter a luxurious bus that came a few minutes ago. ³Goodbye, my love,´ Lyda whispered with tears covering her eyes as the bus continued its land flight.
SEVEN

Nick¶s bag was a schoolbag made for primary school kids. The cowries he saved bought only a few dresses for him. He slept throughout his journey and only woke up when the bus reached its destination. The minute the bus stopped, Nick¶s mind went back to Lyda¶s gently probing question: Will you marry her? The Oba sent him out so that he will come back to become a son -in-law to him. Pity that he had no sons, he thought, smiling. He was one of the last persons to dismount the bus. He looked around. Yes!!! There was hustling and bustling just to make µt he centre excellent¶. Even Nick was almost whisked away into the busyness.

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From there, his meandering days began. From Isolo to Yaba to Mushin to Maryland to Festac to Satellite Town to the Mainland Bridge to Victoria Island to Ikoyi. He went to all these places on foot. There were four attempts made at purloining his baggage, but in vain. rummaging took him one whole week. Then, a Sunday approached. He entered a particular supermarket in Ikeja to sight-see. He bought a can of Heineken there and walked over to the He was very lucky! His

magazine section. He picked up a model magazine and was about to sip beer for the very first time when the feminine picture on the cover page arrested him. It was the countenance of a young lady with curly permed hai r, a set of beautiful smiling teeth and exact chocolate brown skin. And then, her light brown velvety pair of eyes. Those satanically sexy eyes pulled Nick like a magnet. He did not even know when he tasted the green-and-white beer can, did not know when he finished his Heineken. A comment a passer-by made snapped him out of the spell. ³Men, if I have this babe in bed with me, it¶s like I have a million dollars. If she smiles up to me, then I¶ve done a good job.´ Nick turned to see who spoke. It was a young man like himself. The passer -by left him as fast as he came to him. Nick sighed heavily and returned the magazine without looking. He wondered where and when he will find a place to stay. His roaming continued for another safe week, with the ligh t brown velvety bedroom eyes on his mind. Then all that went to the back of his mind one moonless night. He wondered what was inside the travelling bag that the Oba gave him. He was back at Festac that night. He was three trees away from Mr. Biggs snack restaurant. He sat under this tree, about to open the travelling bag when a woman corporately dressed ran past him on the main road in distress. Before Nick could wonder who it was, two men also sped past him. It was obvious. The men were after the woman. The men caught her before she
18

could reach Mr. Biggs.

Nick heard the slap, punch and kick this woman

received from these men. He left his baggage to rescue this woman. On his way, one of the men stabbed her. Nick screamed bloody murder, picked up a stone and stoned them. Before they could steal the woman¶s wallet, they heard the scream and ran away. The stone didn¶t even meet them. When he got to the woman, she was bleeding from her right waist. The knife was not in sight. He carried her to his baggage, which mysteriously disappeared. He was shocked for a moment, then he looked around. Not a soul was in sight. Nick knew nowhere. But he headed towards the express on foot. The very few pedestrians, motorists and car owners that night didn¶t even look at him. All he had on him was his wallet. He entered a commercial van. The few passengers there panicked at the sight of the bleeding woman. ³She has to be rushed to the hospital,´ one said with concern. The woman rolled her eyes involuntarily and began panting. With the kind, Good Samaritan help of the shabbily dressed driver, he directed Nick to the nearest hospital in Alakija. Nick got there in no time. The nurse at the reception first ordered him to pay up the hospital. Nick begged, ³Pleas e, lady. This woman will soon die if nothing is done to her. I beg you.´ After some moments of thought and a brief, admirable scrutiny of Nick, the nurse complied and called two male nurse wardens on phone. After a moment, they came with a stretcher. They carried her into a room with double doors named EMERGENCY. The minute the bleeding woman entered the room, Nick stormed out of the hospital. ³Sir! Sir!!´ echoed the nurse¶s voice at the reception, calling him. A dark Buick was crawling a few feet behind the marching Nick. He was oblivious of this, and also of the fact that the person on the front passenger seat of the car took a picture of him.

19

EIGHT

Nick went back to the spot where he last saw his properties. It was morning. He crouched and covered his face with his wide, calloused hands, amazed at the cryptic disappearance of his baggage. After several hours on the spot, he got up and left. Nick continued his meandering for another weak week, with wallet only, which was gradually thinning away due to food and transport. One day, he was strolling down a bridge entering Apapa. The same dark Buick was coming down as well but when the driver saw him, he slowed down. Nick was quite aware of being followed and he quickened his steps. ³That¶s him,´ whispered the male driver to another male sitting on the front passenger seat. They were the only inhabitants in that car. ³Phew!!´ said the male. ³Thank God! The search is over!! Let¶s get him!!!´ The car screeched and went at top speed after him. H e broke into a run, but it was useless. By the time Nick was at the apex of Apapa crossing a small roundabout, the car caught up with him and cornered him. He bumped into it and the door of the front passenger seat pushed him to the ground. The guy that came out bundled him to the back seat, entered and the car sped off again. Nick could not see his abductor because everywhere was dark. But he knew he was in the car that he tried to eschew from. He couldn¶t even see the driver. He felt quite dizzy from his fall. And poor Nick did not know the destination of this car. He was quite shaken up! Slowly, his abductor pointed a gun to his temple. ³Don¶t breathe, or bye bye,´ he uttered crudely. Nick did not know how functionless the law was. Anything coul d be done on the streets. No safety. ³Where are you taking me?´ Nick mumbled, getting uncomfortable. ³Shut up!!´ was the sharp order from his abductor. He obeyed that order for several uneasy moments. The Buick left Apapa and it did not take some time for it to get to Ikeja. The car, after passing several
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small main roads, cruised into a mansion, with a semi -circular garden facing it. There was a statue of a woman without arms ± Venus ± right at the centre of the garden. Lights illuminated the mansio n like Christmas. The Buick parked between the mansion and the garden and Nick was bundled out by the same abductor. Nick discovered the abductor was hefty and this made him realise where the power to bundle him about came from. The inhabitants in that car got into the mansion. They passed an

abandoned reception and entered an elevator which took them to the third floor. There were five floors in this mighty mansion. When it got there, Nick was introduced to an exquisite, modern Elizabethan parlour with a unique, Victorian banister adjacent to it. There were chandeliers on the ceiling. Nick¶s jaw dropped open! It was breathtaking!! His abductor pushed him to the parlour and he sat on the colossal, colourful, circular sofa. There was a big movie scree n as TV and plenty of gate-leg tables. Nick shook with awe at the more-than-beautiful setting of the third floor of the mansion. He even wondered how the other floors looked like. Nick felt he was not worthy to see this, not to talk of being there. ³Please let me go home,´ he begged the driver of the Buick. ³Shut up!!!´ his abductor ordered a second time. Nick had no choice but to obey. Even the driver was hefty. Several hours of silence passed. The hefty men stood while Nick sat. ³Why am I here?´ h e asked when he became a bit uneasy with the silence. ³Shut up!!!´ the same man barked a third time. Nick was about to stand up and protest when the elevator doors automatically opened and out came another hefty man rolling in a stretcher with a woman lying on it. Also, a fourth hefty man came out of the elevator as well, rolling in an aquarium. The two hefty men rolling in things entered the parlour from two opposite directions. The aquarium was placed in front of Nick. Inside were the heads of two men. Nick¶s eyes widened with recognition, and he flinched visibly. They
21

were the faces of the men who attacked the woman at Festac and that woman was the one lying on the stretcher!!! ³Were these the men you saw that night?´ Nick¶s abductor asked. ³I ± I ± I ± I d ± d ± don¶t know anything,´ Nick stuttered. He got up but was pushed down. ³It would be wise for you to answer the question, sir,´ the same man spoke up. ³Leave me alone and take me home, okay?´ Nick insisted after a very quick glance at the sleeping woman on the stretcher. ³Leave us,´ the woman spoke. All the hefty men obeyed her and entered the elevator. Nick gulped silently. Where am I? he thought. The woman got out of the stretcher and sat next to him. She was of late middle age with an Anita

Bakerish hair and navy brown eyes. She was an attractive old woman. Nick couldn¶t quite believe she was the woman he Good Samaritanised. ³What¶s your name?´ she asked with interest. She spoke clear, Queen¶s English. She must have travelled places, he thought, looking around the whole parlour once more. He shook his head and kept mute. She laughed a throaty laugh. ³I¶m sorry my children brought you in like that. Actually, they are not my children but anymore working for me is like a child to me. If any child misbehaves, he gets spanked.´ She laughed again. ³Anyway, you saved me from those men and you just had to be rewarded. That¶s why I looked for you.´ ³I do not want anything,´ Nick muttered grimly. ³My deep condolences, but that¶s my policy,´ the woman said firmly. After a moment, she clapped her hands and another hefty man came from under the banister carrying Nick¶s baggage. When he saw them, he was visibly alarmed. ³These are yours, I presume?´ the woman asked. ³How come they are here?´ he asked. ³Someone was watching you, or some people to be precise,´ the woman replied. Nick remembered the two men in the Buick and clenched his teeth. The woman smiled and dismissed the hefty man, who dropped the baggage and left. ³This tells me that you are looking for a home to stay,´ spoke
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the woman. ³I told you I don¶t want anything,´ Nick insisted grimly. The woman extended her hand to him. ³I am Mrs. Tamar Dapo. All my children call me Lady Tamar,´ she introduced. ³Have you finished with me?´ Nick said, ignoring her hand. She laughed. ³Practically, you are the only man that has refused something from me. No man has ever done that.´ She paused, then became serious. ³You saved my life, young man. I owe you everything, practically.´ She shifted

nearer to him and allowed her fingertips travel along the back of his neck. ³I am offering you a home.´ ³I do not want to have anything to do with you ± eh, Mrs. Dapo,´ Nick insisted, shifting away from her. ³What is your name?´ Lady Tamar a sked suddenly. He reluctantly told her. ³I am giving you a chance of a lifetime,´ she said. ³And you don¶t want it?´ Angrily, Nick got up and collected his baggage. ³It was a great pleasure meeting with you, Mrs. Dapo,´ he said sarcastically and headed towards the elevator. After a few minutes of waiting, he got in and left. ³He¶s scared to death,´ Lady Tamar muttered, then shook her head. ³Poor boy!!´ She picked up the phone. ³Follow him. Make sure he doesn¶t see you. He is sure to roam around t he big city.´ She then hung up, and slowly smiled.
NINE

Nick¶s meandering still continued. No house accepted him. He had sleepless nights because of his luggage. This continued for another week. Nick became restless, homeless, luckless. But one day, he was walking aimlessly on a dangerously isolated road. Then, suddenly, two dark cars came from two opposite directions and swerved, thereby blocking him. Four guys came out of each car and approached Nick. From the look on the men¶s faces, it seemed tha t Nick had just interrupted a head-on collision.

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³Hey, what are you doing here?´ said a first. ³O boy, fly out of here, O!!´ said a second. ³Do you know where you are?´ said a third. ³Comot for here before we woze you now!´ said a fourth. These four me n came from the car facing Nick, and poor Nick had no room to speak. But the four men behind Nick had other ideas. ³Men, dis bobo go dey loaded, O!!´ said a first. ³See wetin im carry,´ said a second. ³O boy, come here wit dat load,´ said a third. ³Wet in you get for there?´ said a fourth. Nick was glued to the spot like a statue. One of the men opposite him bellowed, ³Hey!!!! Una don forget our own little business? Me, I no come here to waste time, O!!!´ One of the men behind Nick bellowed equally, ³ Abi you no understand? Dis bobo na Godsent! Na im go solve all of our problems today today!´ Then, he noisily flexed his knuckles. The four men opposite Nick seemed to agree with this. They began their menacing walk toward the defenceless Nick. There were streetlights. Nick could see all their faces, which were

unkempt. The pair of four men now became eight. Their gentle walk towards Nick was greatly menacing. The minute one of them poked Nick, mysterious miracles began to happen. First, the streetlights started fluctuating. Then, they flicked off for a few minutes and came back on again. Thirdly, eight other men in black were in their midst. And then, a fight ensued. Nick used this opportunity to escape from it. Once Nick left, the fight turned i nto a massacre. Each man in black sliced off his opponent¶s throat. Then, one of them came out and fished out a walkie-talkie from his black trench coat. ³Calling Lady Tamar! Calling Lady Tamar!!´ he spoke on the instrument. He got an answer a few mom ents later. ³What is it, my child?´

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³Eight men almost caught him but we caught them.´ ³Good. Be nice enough to give these men a befitting burial each. Bury them well and bury them deep. If another person dares to touch Mr. Nicholias Ojo again, crucify him.´ ³Yes, Lady Tamar. Over and out.´ One day, Nick sat in front of a shop and saw the irrelevance of aimless walking, nomading. His baggage was becoming a burden to him. He hadn¶t taken a bath for several days and he was getting hungry. He dropped his belongings and went to ease himself. While that was happening, his mind drifted back to the countenance of a young lady with curly permed hair, a set of beautiful smiling teeth, chocolate brown skin and a pair of light brown velvety eyes. Yes! The arresting face of the sumptuously, satanically, sexy-eyed

female on the cover page of a magazine!! Nick momentarily held his breath as he depleted his cyst. Nick was sure he would faint if he saw her live, flesh and blood. Why he thought those bedroom eyes were satanic, he did not know. But he knew he lost his breath when he looked at them. He pulled himself together and shoved the image away from his mind. When he came back to his luggage, they were cryptically gone again. Not too far away, he saw a jeans-clad motorist in possession of them. Nick reclined to a rock, dejected. Suddenly, two motorists in black shot past him and went after the pilferer. One grabbed him by the neck and the other grabbed Nick¶s belongings. The pilferer¶s motorbike went flying. The latter motorist returned the baggage and whispered, ³Thanks to Lady Tamar.´ With that, he rode off thereby disappearing. The scene attracted a large crowd and this embarrassed Nick. He quietly got up and left, all eyes on him.

25

Nick realised Lady Tamar was following him. His mind went to the replica of Anita Baker and he frowned. How dare she!! Why can¶t she leave me alone? he wondered. After several minutes of deep thought, he spent the last money he had to transport himself back to Ikeja, back to that mansion just to find out why.
TEN

Hours after, Nick stood at a distance from the magnificent Lady Tamar. ³What do you want from me?´ Nick demanded and dropped his bags. She was dressed in a silky ivory house robe but underneath was a black net l ingerie. Nick stood a few metres away from the elevator but did not enter the parlour. Lady Tamar rose from the sofa and said, ³Why not come in and find out? You won¶t get it if you¶re miles away, you know.´ With great reluctance, Nick did so. ³You haven¶t found a home, have you?´ she asked. ³What do you want, Mrs. Dapo?´ he repeated grimly. She went to the stereo set situated next to the TV and within minutes, Anita Baker¶s Body And Soul flowed out from the CD. ³It¶s my favourite,´ she said when she returned. Nick watched the attractive, beautiful old woman intently and ignored her comment. She crossed her legs as she sat down on the sofa. ³Would you like a drink?´ she offered. ³No!´ was the stony reply. She laughed and called a waiter, who gave her two glasses of Gabaret Pink Perry, chilled. She sipped her glass and said, ³Hmm! This wine sure tastes good. You¶re sure you won¶t drink, Mr. Ojo?´ ³What do you want from me, Mrs. Dapo?´ he demanded a third time, regretting why he spent his last kob o. ³Please, Nicholias Ojo! Sit down and relax in my home. I¶m sure you will soon find out,´ crooned Lady Tamar. Nick grudgingly obeyed. She almost melted as she sat face-to-face with her saviour, who obviously did not like her.

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I must make him like me , she thought. She deliberately loosened her robe. Nick saw what was underneath but threw away his face. ³Have a drink. I think you need it after days of roaming about,´ she urged, and moved, thereby widening the house robe. Nick scratched his meagre hair uncomfortably, removed his glasses and cleaned his eyes. He then looked askance at her. She gazed at his Adonis countenance. He is almost the carbon copy of the Roman god Cupid, she thought. He wore back his glasses and demanded for the fourth time , ³What is it that you want?´ She said, ³My husband is an extremely wealthy person. He built up and founded Suther Empire, which I now own and run. I have now been a widow for five years concisely.´ She paused. ³He named the empire after his slave master back in the olden America. The only job this empire does is to tear down companies that are in financial difficulty, and sell them off piece by piece to wealthier companies.´ She paused again. ³This is a very tough and delicate job, Mr. Nicholias Ojo.´ ³So, what am I doing here?´ Nick asked. Lady Tamar got up and went to sit next to him. She gently touched the back of his neck and said, ³I want to help you with anything. I want you to run Suther Empire. You will have a lawyer to clear up some of the affairs you will leave behind. And he will teach you the ropes. He was once my husband¶s lawyer. Now, he will become yours. As for your education, you¶ll be schooling abroad.´ She shifted closer to him and whispered into his ear, her touch becoming gentler and gentler, ³I want you to take care of me.´ Nick listened with rapt attention. He was not moved by her touch. This was what he was looking for!!! He slowly got up and said, ³I am most honestly grateful for your offer.´ ³You will even be provided with a house and the condiments that make a house a home,´ she added. ³I will do that by myself, Mrs. Dapo,´ he refused. ³But I will accept your offer. It is quite rare to find these days. But I don¶t
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think I will go to school again.´ She got up a s well and said, ³So, your nomadic days are over?´ ³Yes,´ he replied with a grin and extended his hand to her. Instead, she brought herself closer to him and kissed his cheek. ³Welcome home, darling,´ she whispered.
ELEVEN

And so, Nick lived with Lady Tamar meanwhile. Suther Empire was as gigantic as the world. This was Nick¶s first corporate business suit on his first day at work. The empire looked like a massive industry and wow! was it breathtaking!!! He was lectured for two days by a man called Mr. Mkomzy, a heavily bearded and totally bald man from Ngozi in Burundi. Nick and Mr. Mkomzy quickly got acquainted with each other. Lady Tamar was true to her words. It was a tough and delicate job. Nick had a thousand and one papers to sign in order to get full control of Suther Empire. Even his abductor became his chauffeur. It was after the two days¶ lecture that the signing of papers came. One day, he came back home, tired and dejected. Food was brought to him instantly. Lady Tamar came while he was eating. She removed his blazer, untied his tie and unbuttoned the collar of his shirt for him. ³How was your day, dear?´ she crooned and sat opposite him. ³Why didn¶t you tell me it was going to be this hectic?´ he complained and sighed heavily. Sh e took a spoonful of his

delicious, mountainous rice and beans. ³I have yet another set of papers to sign tomorrow. It¶s like I¶m signing away my soul to the devil himself!!!´ She laughed and said, ³My late husband went through the same hectic procedure .´ She caressed his fist on the table, her nails gently nibbling. ³So please, take heart and take things as they come.´

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Nick sighed and looked at her. How could he tell her that a pair of magnetic eyes kept flicking on his mind? How could he tell her a bout Lyda and Uju? He shrugged his shoulders and continued eating. Perhaps he might never will. She watched over him when he retired to bed. Then, she went downstairs and listened to the songs of Patti LaBelle on CD before retiring to bed as well. The next day, Nick woke up quite early and had a light breakfast. Lady Tamar came in her usual house robe. ³Good morning, darling,´ she said

huskily. Nick was dressed in another office suit. ³Good morning, Mrs. Dapo,´ he said formally and quickly looked at his wristwatch. ³Mr. Mkomzy¶ll kill me if I am a second late.´ She laughed and said, ³Don¶t worry, dear. You¶ll be alright.´ She paused. ³I have a surprise for you if you come back from work.´ Nick got up, squeezed her arm warmly, looked at his wrist watch again and left. He didn¶t even finish his light breakfast. But Lady Tamar did that for him. Finally, the signing of papers was over for Nick. He collapsed on his leather recliner while Mr. Mkomzy sat on his desk. ³It is all over, thank God,´ Nick sighed. His lawyer laughed and said, ³You could imagine how many papers I signed just to become a lawyer alone and nothing else.´ Nick laughed himself and mumbled, ³Oh, that figures.´ ³Ojo, you will meet dignitaries: the Alhajis, the Obis, the Obas, th e men above the society, the people you have never imagined to see before. And also on the women line: the important, old females with the same class as Lady Tamar, the queens, the princesses, the duchesses, the Alhajas, wives of important men, the whole shebang. And of course, they are above the society, too,´ Mr. Mkomzy lectured Nick. ³You have just handled the delicate part of the job. Now, here comes the tough part. You must try to bury contracts that these near-bankrupt companies are trying to make to the National Committee. If the contracts get to it, this is a financial headway for them. You understand?´ Nick nodded. ³And also you will be invited to all sorts of gatherings and
29

parties.

So, you will need a wardrobe.´

He extended his hand to him.

³Welcome to the real world, Ojo.´ Nick shook his hand warmly. Then, he sighed heavily. ³Please, back to business, Mr. Mkomzy.´ Mr. Mkomzy sat in front of him and said, ³There is this big catering company that loses tons of money annually. They se nt contracts to the

committee but I, with my little expertise, buried some of them.´ ³Thank you greatly, Mr. Mkomzy. I wonder why they lose so much money. Maybe due to lack of cooking utensils,´ Nick laughed. Mr. Mkomzy called in the board of directors a nd they all discussed this issue. Nick glanced through the file of what the catering company has to offer. One of the directors said that this was a trivial problem. Within two weeks, Nick dissolved the remaining contracts with the permission of the National Committee. He celebrated his first success by taking Lady Tamar out to an amusement park at her insistence.
TWELVE

In six months, Nick destroyed two bankrupt companies, and this brought great profit to Suther. What he was doing was perfectly legal a ccording to the law. In actual sense, it was like stealing cars and selling away the parts. But it was lawful. At Christmas, he was in his office with his lawyer signing documents to close up the final deal. After that, he said, ³Let¶s go celebrate!´ T hey left the office and went to a gigantic beer parlour situated at the basement of Suther Empire. There, Nick drank to his satisfaction. Some of the board of directors were there as well and the rest went home for the day. It was Christmas evening. Down at that basement, Rebel MC¶s music was being played. Silently, the image of the lady in that magazine crept into Nick¶s brain, and this made

30

him drink more than usual. Mr. Mkomzy also drank, but moderately. He watched Nick¶s gradual consumption of alcohol and shook his head. Such a young, smart boy, he thought, but what could be on his mind? Suddenly, his cellular phone rang and he answered it. ³Hello?´« ³Ah, Lady Tamar! Merry Christmas!´« ³Oh, he¶s here with me at the basement, celebrating´« ³I¶m af raid he is, madam´« ³Why do you say perfect?´« ³Okay, madam. Goodnight.´ He hung up, and continued his watch. Nick drank five tumblers above his normal. As he tried to get up, he staggered. He ordered the disc jockey to increase the volume of the music while he staggered to the dance floor and danced away. He dances beautifully, observed Mr. Mkomzy, like a villager. Nick

beckoned on two ladies to dance with him, the lady on the magazine still in his head. They obliged. He turned from one to the other in eye-catching dance moves and steps. He was applauded by the directors there and Mr. Mkomzy himself. Even the bartender was fully entertained. Obviously, Nick was too drunk to know what he was doing. That lady¶s image had somehow drugged him of his sense. There was something about that lady that robbed him of speech. What was it? Nick wondered as he danced. Gradually, the music ended. Nick spun around and stopped. He hugged his dancing partners warmly and they returned to the bar. As Nick staggered to the bar as well, his chauffeur appeared. Mr.

Mkomzy signalled to him and he came and took Nick and his briefcase away to the Buick. Nick¶s eyes were too blurred to see anything. But Mr. Mkomzy and the chauffeur took him there. Nick closed his eyes as he was driven home. He staggered out of the car when he got home, clutched his briefcase and staggered. He almost pressed the fourth button in the elevator. When he was a little bit in his senses, he pressed the correct one.
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He met Lady Tamar sitting on the sofa with a glass of brandy on her hand. ³Oh, welcome home, darling. I was so worried about you,´ she said and got up as he staggered out of the elevator. He went to the parlour and collapsed on the sofa, so washed out. He dropped his briefcase on a glass table opposite him. Lady Tamar went to the bar behind the banister and poured two small bottles of Yukon Jack into an empty glass. She returned to the parlour and gave him the glass. He downed the liquid content in one gulp and coughed h oarsely. ³Gosh, it¶s hot!!!´ he said huskily. ³It¶s whisky. From Ottawa. Fresh from the breweries,´ she murmured and came closer to him. He dropped the empty glass and covered his face. Lady Tamar then sat next to him, close to him. When Nick uncovered his face and looked at her, he didn¶t see her. He saw the lady on that magazine. With that image in his mind, he lost his head and went completely out of his senses. He caressed Lady Tamar¶s face and brought it close to his. She shifted nearer to him and he gently kissed her. ³Oh God, I waited five years for this,´ she groaned huskily. Nick belched a little and she began to remove his blazer, and then his tie, and then his shirt. ³Oh honey!´ she whispered. His hand went to the back of her neck as his tongue demanded its entrance. And when she allowed it, he devoured her lips with relish. She moaned and went straight for his trousers. Nick scented her potent perfume and that strengthened him. She touched the biggest arousal she had ever known. Gosh, he is so strong, she thought. Eagerly, she unbuttoned his trousers. Then, Nick got up and carried her and left the parlour and walked up the banister. ³Oh, I have been waiting, darling,´ she whispered into his ear as he senselessly took her to her bedroom. The door got locked behind him.

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Lady Tamar slowly opened her eyes and stretched her voluptuously senile naked body. It was morning and the sun was about to rise. She then turned her head and looked at her sleeping partner. Although Nick¶s muscles were not visible, he was extremely Herculean. Hairless chest, hairless pubic region. Impeccable. He is better than my

husband, she thought, though a timid lover. Must have been a virgin. She smiled with remembrance at the way Nick drunkenly touched her body all over. She shuddered a little when she remembered her gasps of

ecstasy. It was Boxing Day. What a blissful way to end the Christmas! she thought happily. She feasted her eyes upon him, drinking in the power, the beauty, the excitement of him, her senses intoxicated by what she saw. She caressed his face, her eyes filled with love. Yes, she loved Nicholias Ojo, and she was totally oblivious of that warning voice that told her that she was insane to be swayed by such emotion. While she was busy basking in her love for Nick, the phone rang. She picked it up. ³Hello?´« ³Aurenny darling!! What a lovely surprise!! Ha! Merry Christmas, dear! How are you?´« ³You¶re coming over? Finally? On

February first?´« ³I have no objections, dear. But what about your modelling job?´« ³Aw, that¶s wonderful, darling. Well, I¶ll see you soon´« ³You can leave that to me. You should know your good old mother by now. I love you, sweetheart. Bye.´ She hung up. Double happiness! Happy about the arrival of her one and only daughter and happy about her newly found love. She covered her lover, her saviour and slept off. Nick woke up some hours after she slept. By then, the sun shone

brilliantly through the closed curtains. Where the hell was he? he wondere d.

33

He tried to focus, his eyes obstinately blurred. His head ached him severely. He had no choice but to sleep off again. ± He heard the cry of a bird and woke up sharply. He was dressed in a

woolly house robe only. He found himself on an empty footba ll field, barefoot. He was by the goal post. Hours passed. He stood there, wondering what he was doing there. Then, suddenly, a hundred footballers came out of the

dressing room with a ball each. Nick watched their beautiful handlings of their balls and he admired them each. Then, suddenly, the players stopped

altogether. He stood there perplexed, wondering why. They then advanced towards him with their balls. And, then, silence! Several moments passed before he heard a mysterious referee¶s whistle from nowhere. Realisation

struck him. The players turned him into a goalkeeper. Most of their balls entered the net. He caught very few and some dangerously injured him. The final ball knocked him out. ± Nick woke up sharply and his headache crypti cally left him. He was panting and sweating profusely, and he obviously woke Lady Tamar up. ³What is the matter, darling?´ she coaxed, petting him gently. ³Where am I?´ he asked. ³In my bedroom,´ she answered sheepishly. ³In your bedroom?´ he asked astonished, and then he retched audibly. Quickly, he ran to the toilet. He was sweating as he threw up. He paused for a minute, and then flushed down his vomit. Lady Tamar got out of bed by the time Nick returned to the bedroom. She confronted him and em braced him. ³Oh, my love,´ she said huskily. ³What¶s wrong?´ ³I don¶t know,´ he replied bleakly. He then held his head and wailed, ³I will never drink again!!´ He grabbed a nearby folded wrapper. Lady Tamar watched the man she loved cover his manhood and depart from the room with his clothes.

34

Nick collapsed on his bed when he got to his room. Realisation struck him. He was so extremely drunk last night, that he was out of his senses. He lost his virginity to Lady Tamar while he had the image of that goddess on that magazine in his mind. Damn!! He felt like breaking his head on the wall. What a fool he was! Why the hell was she there in the first place? he thought. He rubbed his abdomen as if rubbing off a painful stain on him. Then, he sat on his bed and held his head a second time. ³I will never ever drink again,´ he swore a second time. He then got up and entered his bathroom, nude.
THIRTEEN

He went to work without anything in his tummy. Mr. Mkomzy was there chewing tobacco. He greeted Nick with a slightly bloated grin as he entered. ³Hi,´ he mumbled. ³Happy New Year in advance and a good Boxing Day. I wonder why we still have to work on a holiday.´ Nick shrank to his red leather recliner and turned to face the window, dead mute. ³O-Oh!´ Mr. Mkomzy murmured moments after spitting out his smokeless tobacco. ³What¶s the matter?´ ³I will never drink again, Mr. Mkomzy,´ Nick said for the third time. ³I have learnt my lesson.´ ³What happened?´ Mr. Mkomzy asked and sat on the desk. Nick re turned and said, ³You¶re married, aren¶t you?´ ³Yes, a widower,´ was the reply. ³With a pair of female fraternal twins your age, who are married as well. Widows.´ After a moment¶s silence, Nick began, ³M -Mr. Mkomzy, Lady Tamar and I «´ He looked confused and shook his head. ³Did it,´ Mr. Mkomzy finished for him. ³I expected that.´ Nick looked surprised at him. ³How come?´ he asked. ³Look, I was very much interested in Lady Tamar myself. But her

husband was alive by then. My interest gradually died. I now only liked her on

35

business matters.´ He lowered his voice. ³You see those hefty men patrolling the house? Her husband had them all castrated.´ Nick¶s jaw dropped in stupefaction. ³It¶s not so easy to believe that, Mr. Mkomzy,´ he whispered. ³I don¶t blame her,´ Mr. Mkomzy mumbled. ³You saved her life. That¶s why.´ Nick sat properly on his seat. ³Well, knock off the drink that I might probably have on my hand next time, please.´ Then, he tactfully changed the subject. ³Any more companies to tear apart?´ ³Quite a long shot though,´ Mr. Mkomzy said and opened his briefcase and fished out a file and gave it to him. ³Byleez International Constructions, Inc. have asked us to help them ± financially, of course. They have this little scandal with one of their board directors which cost them billions and billions of money. They want to borrow money from us and at the same time issue out contracts to build ten destroyers. Samson Byleez runs the company for his grandfather, Mr. Raymond Byleez. Lady Tamar will be travelling out to pay Raymond a visit and I spoke with Samson over the phone and he told me this.´ He paused to catch his breath. Then he shook his head. ³I wonder how Byleez will pay for the phone bills.´ Nick laughed and said, ³There¶s always a way out of trouble, Mr. Mkomzy. Where is Byleez International Constructions, Inc. situated?´ ³Iceland,´ replied Mr. Mkomzy, then he pretended to shiver. ³Gosh! I could feel all those ice on my bones!!!´ Nick laughed again, momentarily forgettin g about last night. ³With such a heavy name, it is going to be a real tough job.´ ³I told you it was quite a long shot,´ murmured Mr. Mkomzy. ³When will Lady Tamar travel there?´ Nick asked. ³I don¶t know yet,´ was the reply. ³You sound relieved at thi s, Ojo.´ ³Why wouldn¶t I be, after last night?´ he murmured. ³She is like a mother to me, the wind beneath my wings.´
36

Mr. Mkomzy laughed and said, ³She will make you fly alright, but at a price. Don¶t you know that you have taken over her husband¶s posit ion?´ Nick shrugged his shoulders, sighed heavily and turned to face the window. ³Let the board of directors know about this,´ he ordered. Mr.

Mkomzy picked up the Binatone telephone and dialled a number. After obeying Nick¶s order, he hung up. ³They¶re on their way in five minutes,´ he said. The board of directors were in the meeting room even before five minutes elapsed. Nick was on his feet, explaining the situation. Then finally, Mr. Mkomzy illustrated with protractor pictures. The company was be autifully immense. Nick caught his breath momentarily. Even the board of directors whispered among themselves with awe. When the presentations were finished, they were all dismissed. ³What do you think?´ Mr. Mkomzy asked Nick after the last man left. Nick shrugged his shoulders and replied, ³A long shot, Mr. Mkomzy. Quite a tough job, as I said before. When do we begin?´ ³As soon as Lady Tamar travels,´ was the reply. ³But we know of Iceland¶s currency,´ Nick mentioned. Mr. Mkomzy nodded and said, ³ Yes, but the idea began here in Nigeria. They were not well recognised and the only country they saw land for development was Iceland.´ Nick now understood and thanked him. Just then, his secretary came in. ³Alhaji Mustapha invites you to his son¶s tennis tournament in Ikoyi, Mr. Ojo,´ she said. ³Thank you, Nneka,´ he said. ³When?´ She looked at her watch. ³In thirty minutes¶ time,´ she said and left. Nick adjusted his tie and said, ³Well, that is one say to keep off the house.´ He got up. When Nick was by the door, Mr. Mkomzy said, ³You are right, Ojo. Unwind yourself.´ Nick laughed and said, ³You should be running Suther Empire, Mr. Mkomzy, not me.´ Mr. Mkomzy raised his hand in refusal and said, ³Not at all. Once a lawyer, always a lawyer.´ Nick laughed again and left his office.
37

Nick felt much better when he went home from the tennis tournament. He avoided Lady Tamar as much as he could. He even sat opposite her during dinner. ³I¶ll be travelling to Iceland in the middle of January,´ she announced. ³I¶ll be back on February first with my daughter.´ ³Your daughter?´ Nick said, astonished. daughter, Mrs. Dapo.´ ³The little girl I and my husband were able to conceive,´ she said as she finished her food. ³She¶s a model in France.´ ³I would like to see her,´ he said, quite interested. ³I just hope I won¶t be too busy, though. But if I am, then maybe later on. Is she going back?´ ³No,´ she replied and rose from her seat. Her eyes sparkled. ³I¶ll be arranging a welcoming-home party for her. Your secretary, Nneka, has ³I never knew you had a

volunteered to prepare it, along with Mr. Mkomzy. But I have doubts about him. He might be busy with you, you know, with the Byleez thing. I¶ll phone him and tell him when I¶m travelling.´ She paus ed and looked at him at length. Nick finished his food and wiped clean his lips, quite uncomfortable. Lady Tamar watched this movement with a twang of excitement. ³Nick,´ she mentioned for the very first time, which baffled him. She cleared her throat and said, ³What¶s happening to us?´ Utterly baffled, Nick also rose from his seat and looked confused at her. He began stuttering, ³M-M-Mrs. Dapo, last night was a mistake and « ´ ³I love you,´ she interrupted, left the dining room and went upstairs. He watched her hopelessly, and shook his head. After several moments, he went up to his room, counting his steps.
FOURTEEN

Nick used one half of the month of January to buy a big bungalow in Ikoyi, in spite of Lady Tamar¶s protests. The bungalow was situated behind

38

long, terraced buildings.

It had constant light and water and it was safe,

surrounded by nature. It was a beautiful house. Nick escorted Lady Tamar to the airport. The minute he spotted the departure of her plane, he left the airport and went straight to Suther Empire. When Mr. Mkomzy saw him, he announced, ³Let¶s begin to work!!!!!!´ Nick used the other half of the month to purchase and install the necessary things for his bungalow. He first packed his belongings to his home, and then began the domestic purchasing. So, Nick was extremely busy during that part of January, renovating his home and going to work. Within a week, he settled down. Suther Empire was in the heart of Lagos. It was not hard for him to get to work. His chauffeur was ever punctual. His briefcase was stuffed with files. He was relieved to leave Lady Tamar¶s home. It gave him a lot of room and air to handle work carefully. This time, Nick came home in the early evenings. When February the first came, he and Mr. Mkomzy were busy speaking with Samson Byleez on the phone in the early hours of the evening after work. Nick was not there to welcome Lady Tamar and her daughter from the airport. Lady Tamar¶s chauffeur picked them up and took them home. When they got there, Lady Tamar took her daughter to the room Nick once occupied. She wasn¶t surprised at his departure, only slightly shocked. Before she left the room, she whispered into her daughter¶s ear, ³Dress up quickly. The party¶s on the upper floor.´ ³Yes, Mum,´ she whispered back. Mother left daughter and went to her room. After bathing, she came out dressed in a long, flowing mauve gown that left shoulders bare and hid half of her cleavage. Her makeup was light but exquisite. She wore a pair of darker purple sh oes to match, no dinner gloves, no necklace, no handbag.

39

When her daughter came out of her room, mother and daughter entered the elevator together and went to the fourth floor. The party was already in full swing and Nick¶s secretary welcomed them. Then, Lady Tamar and her daughter walked up to the platform and Lady Tamar called for silence. All eyes were on her. Then, she announced, ³Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you my daughter, Miss Aurenia Dapo!!´ Now, all eyes were on the débutante. There was a strong ovation. There had to be. The lady Lady Tamar presented was clothed in a sparkling silver sleeveless gown which illuminated her mermaidish physique very, very well. And of course, she wore a pair of dinner gloves and a pair of stilettos alon g with a small handbag to match with the colour of the gown. Her long curly permed hair was tied to a ponytail. She had exact

chocolate brown skin, an elliptical countenance and a pair of light brown velvety eyes. She smiled, displaying a beautiful set o f teeth and she wore light makeup liker her mother. Almost every man and woman at the party was awed by her, impressed by her beauty. ³She was once a model in France,´ continued her mother. ³But now, she has come home to stay and will continue with her m odelling job here.´ A stronger ovation ensued. Nick and Mr. Mkomzy were in the Buick after a long telephone conversation with Samson Byleez. ³You were right all along, Mr. Mkomzy,´ Nick said. ³This is a tough job.´ ³They want to come here and discuss further with you, Ojo,´ Mr. Mkomzy mentioned. ³I¶ll make dinner reservations at Sheraton¶s. Of course, they¶ll have to connect with the Hague before coming down to Lagos. And of course, they¶ll have to stay at Sheraton¶s.´

40

³Good,´ Nick said and yawned. ³We will welcome Samson Byleez and his grandfather in a big way. Book the suite for them, o.k.?´ He paused. ³Why don¶t you go talk with them?´ ³I ain¶t the one running Suther Empire, Ojo,´ Mr. Mkomzy said. ³You are. And besides, you need a date for that dinner arrangement.´ He paused. ³The delegates of Byleez will come as well. Four of them, I was told.´ ³Then, book two more rooms near the suite,´ Nick said. ³One on the right side and one on the left side.´ He yawned. ³As for now, I am going home.´ ³Won¶t you come for the homecoming party Lady Tamar arranged for her daughter?´ Mr. Mkomzy asked him. He shook his head. ³I can¶t, Mr. Mkomzy,´ he said. ³I am bushed out due to too much talking. I want to sleep like a log this night. My chauffeur¶ll take you there. I¶ll come there personally to send my apologies tomorrow morning.´ His chauffeur dropped him at his place and left with Mr. Mkomzy. Nick went straight to his bedroom, undressed, collapsed on his bed and slept off immediately. Mr. Mkomzy arrived and Lady Tamar welcomed him. Together, they went to the balcony situated there. ³What about Nick? Where is he?´ she asked. ³I¶m sorry, Lady Tamar,´ Mr. Mkomzy replied. ³He worked late and had to go home. But he¶ll be by tomorrow.´ He looked behind him. ³I had better see your daughter. See you soon.´ With that, he left her. Lady Tamar was at the balcony throughout the party after Mr. Mkomzy¶s arrival, pondering over Nick.
FIFTEEN

Nick¶s eyes gradually opened. His head ached tremendously, h is eyes blurred. He had to sleep again.

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-

He found himself tied to a long, heavy, big stick, wrists and ankles. His

left eye was gorged out and his right eye was plucked out. The stick was lifted up and Nick screamed from the painful removal of his eyes. He was bleeding profusely from them. The stick stood horizontally and it took Nick to a big fire. He screamed louder as the fire touched him. Mercilessly, he was slowly

lowered to the fire and his scream increased its tempo. ± Quickly, Nick woke up. Another nightmare, he thought and got out of bed. His headache vanished. He wondered why these nightmares kept coming to him. February the second was a Saturday. After having a thorough bath under the shower, he was in the kitchen baking a lemon cake and listening to a famous Mozart piano requiem from his CD. Mr. Mkomzy came in and met him. Nick greeted him warmly and he smiled at that. ³Don¶t you ever smile at me again, Mr. Mkomzy,´ he replied jokingly. ³I can¶t stand bad dentition.´ The men laughed it off. ³What is this you¶re making?´ Mr. Mkomzy asked. ³It¶s a lemons-world-pound-cake,´ Nick replied. commented Mr. Mkomzy. ³You want some?´ Nick asked. Mr. Mkomzy refused by saying, ³No way! I had a great breakfast. I made it myself.´ ³What was it?´ Nick asked. ³Peanut butter sandwich,´ was the reply. Nick slowly nodded his head, succeeding in suppressing his laughter. ³Perhaps we could exchange recipes sometime,´ he said and gave him a wide, comical smile. As he placed the cake into the oven, Mr. Mkomzy said, ³There is nothing to it. All you need is a jar of peanut butter, two pieces of bread and a knife.´ Nick coughed and cleaned his hands on his kitchen napkin. ³I wish I had time to write that down,´ he said with another wide, comical smile. Mr. Mkomzy shrugged his shoulders and helped Nick to clear the dishes by rinsing for him. After that, they sat in the parlour, it being the first hugest room, his bedroom being the second hugest room, the kitchen being t he third
42

³Lemon?

Sounds delicious,´

hugest room and his bathroom being the fourth hugest room situated inside his bedroom. They concentrated on the requiem, Nick being the most attentive. Mr. Mkomzy nudged at him and whispered, ³What are you going to accompany this cake with?´ ³Milo milkshake,´ he replied and turned to look at him. ³Are you sure you don¶t want some?´ Mr. Mkomzy shook his head and said, ³Not at all! I just told you of my great breakfast.´ Nick nodded again and continued to listen to his requiem. After several minutes, Mr. Mkomzy nudged at Nick again and whispered, ³Hope the cake won¶t burn?´ ³No,´ was the curt reply. Some minutes passed by. The long requiem soon finished. Mr. Mkomzy nudged at him a third time and whispered, ³It is smelling. I advise that you should go and check it out.´ Together, they went back to the kitchen. Nick checked, as told. The cake was just about to bake. Nick closed the oven and said, ³Mr. Mkomzy, why worry yourself over the cake?´ ³Are you so sure you can finish that cake alone?´ he asked, rubbing his stomach and licking his lips. Nick saw the two gestures and laughed. ³But I thought you did not want,´ he said. ³It is not a sin for me to just taste, Ojo,´ Mr. Mkomzy mumbled sheepishly. ³Is it?´ Nick laughed, ³Nobody tastes in my house.´ During the delicious breakfast, Mr. Mkomzy said, ³When will you go and see Lady Tamar?´ ³After this meal,´ was the reply. Then, there was brief silence. ³You should see her daughter,´ Mr. Mkomzy breathed. ³She is a knockout. She will rob you of speech, Ojo. She is a mermaid.´ Nick laughed and said, ³I don¶t believe you. It is true that she is a model, as Lady Tamar once told me. But she¶s not that beautiful.´ Mr. Mkomzy laughed, ³Just wait until you see her!! Then, you¶ll realize that what I¶ve just said is true. She was besieged by quite a fleet of men on her homecoming party.´
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Nick laughed heartily and they

finished their meal together, washed the dishes and Mr. Mkomzy left Nick¶s home. When Nick got to the mansion, the male rece ptionist there, another hefty man, told him where Lady Tamar was. ³Lady Tamar is at the roof,´ he said. ³Just press the button T on the elevator.´ Nick thanked him and left. There was a big rectangular swimming pool and open shower at the roof, which w as obviously open. When he got there, Aurenia had just dived into the pool, dressed in a very skimpy, red bikini. Nick obviously did not see her. Lady Tamar was basking beside the pool clothed in a snow white swimsuit and mirror sunglasses. Quite attrac tive, Nick thought as he approached her. She lifted her head a little and smiled as he arrived and crouched beside her. ³My dear Nick,´ she greeted and blew him a kiss. ³How do I look?´ Nick laughed. ³Tantalising,´ he answered formally. She frowned. ³You don¶t mean that, Nick. I know it,´ she said. Nick laughed again. Just then, Aurenia swam to meet her mother and got out of the pool. She was the young lady on the cover page of that magazine Nick saw. If he was utterly shocked at this discovery, he did a very good job at concealing it. His eyes lingered briefly on Aurenia¶s lissom figure, then went back to Lady Tamar. ³I am so sorry I was not present at your daughter¶s homecoming party,´ he said. ³I worked late last night.´ ³So Mr. Mkomzy told me,´ she said curtly. Nick got up. ³Won¶t you take us to the part?´ Lady Tamar asked, her glasses now removed. He took another brief glance at Aurenia and said, ³I am sorry once again, Mrs. Dapo. I am expecting a phone call from the delegates of Byleez .´ He looked at his wristwatch and adjusted his glasses. ³Goodbye,´ he said and left. ³You didn¶t introduce him to me, nor me to him,´ Aurenia complained as she dried herself with a small towel that had the same colour with her bikini.

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³He¶s just one of the workers,´ Lady Tamar said carelessly, re-wore her sunglasses and continued her basking. Aurenia shrugged her shoulders and lay beside her mother. Nicholias was more than relieved when he left the mansion and got home after uttering that little fib. He had his own personal car, a baby green Volvo, when he bought his home. That little fib saved him from being lost and insane at the sight of Lady Tamar¶s daughter. Gosh! She was feminine to the marrow! I wonder what her name is, he thought as he sat i n the parlour. Mr. Mkomzy was right. Nick phoned him and told him of the fib. Mr. Mkomzy laughed and said, ³I told you, didn¶t I? By the way, speaking of Byleez, they will come to Nigeria on February ninth, a week from today. Their plane will arrive at 1845 hours approximately.´ Nick thanked him immensely for the information and hung up. He was alone. Then, his thoughts centred on Aurenia. He even observed his siesta on the sofa with her image in his mind.
SIXTEEN

Sunday arrived.

Nick¶s chauffeur took Aurenia to church and Lady

Tamar was all alone in the mansion. She was in the parlour listening to Patti LaBelle¶s All This Love. Minutes later, the phone rang. She answered it. For several minutes, she was speaking with her female childhood friend in England on the phone. Afterwards, she hung up. ³My God!´ Lady Tamar mused. ³Shola¶s suffering from bunion. I have to go and see her.´ Her mind then strayed to Nick. She caught her breath. She was afraid of losing him. He was behaving less affectionate than before. But she still loved him despite his adult youth hood. He had made her come alive again.

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The phone rang again. It was Mr. Mkomzy. He did not waste time on the phone. He told her about the arrival of the Byleez delegates, and politely hung up. Lady Tamar returned to the parlour and hugged herself on the sofa with her eyes closed, her ears on the finishing music. Nick returned home from church. When he got there, he found Aurenia sitting on his small settee, cross-legged, grinning at him. He stormed into the parlour towards her. But before he could get to her, she mysteriously

disappeared. Nick stopped in his tracks, utterly perplexed. A hallucination, he thought. Slightly annoyed, he went to his bedroom and changed from his light grey suit to normal T-shirt and trousers. He busied himself with the TV but his mind was on the cryptically illusioned disappearance of Lady Tamar¶s daughter. In came Monday. Mr. Mkomzy was chewing his usual smokeless ³Goo d morning,´ he greeted him and Mr.

tobacco when Nick came in.

Mkomzy smiled bloatedly at the greeting. ³I told you not to smile at me,´ Nick warned jokingly. ³Did you see her?´ Mr. Mkomzy asked eagerly. Nick slowly sat on his recliner and stretched his body. ³Yes, Mr. Mkomzy,´ he mumbled. ³And you were right.´ ³You see? I¶m always right,´ Mr. Mkomzy said proudly. ³I have one problem,´ Nick said. ³Lady Tamar loves me.´ Mr. Mkomzy almost swallowed his tobacco. ³What!´ he exclaimed after he got rid of it. Nick adjusted his attractive yellow tie and gently removed his glasses. ³She told me so,´ he said. ³The time she announced her travelling to Iceland.´ Mr. Mkomzy shrugged his shoulders and said, ³Don¶t you think it¶s rather rash?´ Nick shrugged his shoulders as well and said , ³She didn¶t give me a chance.´ Mr. Mkomzy laughed and said, ³Women! By the way, she called before you came. Said that you should come to the mansion after work.´

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Nick cursed inaudibly. But he obeyed. He left some unfinished file work with Mr. Mkomzy and went to the mansion. When he got there, he met mother and daughter in the parlour. He greeted them formally and sat at arm¶s length away from them. Lady Tamar sat upright and announced, ³Nick, I¶ll be

travelling to London tomorrow to visit a very dear childhood friend of mine. Mr. Mkomzy told me about Byleez. I have decided that my daughter shall be your date at the meeting with Samson and his grandfather.´ She smiled. ³Be careful. Raymond¶s in a wheelchair.´ Nick did a very good job at concea ling his surprise. ³Nick?´ Aurenia uttered. ³Hmm! It¶s a nice name. Hi, I¶m Aurenia.´ She extended her hand to him and he shook it. Her hand was quite slender and soft compared to his calloused, slightly unkempt one. ³It was nice to meet you, Miss Dapo,´ he said curtly and pulled his hand away. Aurenia got up and said, ³Mum, I have a few phone calls to make.´ She left after a quick glance at Nick. He resisted the urge to stare after her. ³I¶d like to visit you in your home some day,´ Lady Tamar sai d in a low voice. ³You are most welcome, Mrs. Dapo,´ he said formally and rose from his seat. ³I have to be going. Goodbye.´ She watched him enter the elevator. After several minutes, Aurenia returned to the parlour. ³Mum, Nick¶s too formal for my liking. Why does he have to be my date?´ she complained. Lady Tamar turned to her daughter and said, ³It¶s just a harmless business arrangement, sweetheart, and he is going to be alone. Just accompany him, that¶s all.´ Aurenia shrugged her shoulders and walked up the banister. Nick collapsed on his sofa, removed his glasses and undid his tie. He grabbed the phone and called Mr. Mkomzy. When he was through to him, he said, ³Mr. Mkomzy, you wouldn¶t believe this!!!´ He paused to dab sweat away from his eyes with a handkerchief. ³Lady Tamar¶s daughter will be my date.´

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³What!!´ Mr. Mkomzy exclaimed. Nick nodded and said, ³Yes! That mermaid, that knockout will be dating me at Sheraton¶s.´ He paused. ³Please give Samson a call and give him directions to the hotel.´ ³I will,´ Mr. Mkomzy said, his voice still filled with shock. ³Lady Tamar ordered this?´ Nick nodded again and said, ³You are right again, Mr.

Mkomzy.´ He looked at his wristwatch. ³Goodbye, Mr. Mkomzy. See you proper at work tomorrow.´ After Mr. Mkomzy said his goodbye, Nick hung up. He raised the hand he used to shake Aurenia¶s own to his face. ³Aurenia,´ he called slowly, and suddenly laughed. ³Aurenia,´ he called again. It was a lovely name, fit for a lovely girl. And she was lovely. He wondered what it felt like to have her body close to his, her skin against his« Quickly, he checked himself. He was dreaming. Don¶t do that! a voice inside him rebuked. He sighed heavily and went to his bedroom. As he undressed, Aurenia¶s image haunted him. ³Stop it!´ he bellowed. But the image obstinately stayed. He bathed and went to bed. It was surprising that he had a dreamless sleep.
SEVENTEEN

Lady Tamar travelled the next day.

She was escorted by Nick and

Aurenia and Nick¶s chauffeur took them all. Nick and Aurenia stood side by side and watched as her plane went into the skies. Nick was aware of the perfume Aurenia wore. He swallowed inaudibly, turned and went to the Buick. Aurenia followed him. Once inside the car, Nick automatical ly faced the window nearest to him. ³So you¶re one of the workers, eh?´ Aurenia said. He nodded without looking at her. ³Take me to Suther Empire,´ she told the chauffeur. Nick turned his head sharply. ³Don¶t you want to go home, Miss Dapo?´ he asked, surprised. She shook her head. ³I hate being cooped up at home,´ she said. Nick

nictitated in disbelief. He looks like a confused little boy, Aurenia thought, and laughed.

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Good Lord! She is going to distract me, Nick thought. ³Is anything wrong, Nick?´ she asked. confidently. Mr. Mkomzy welcomed her heartily and gave her a cordial peck on her cheek. Nick went straight to his desk. ³Why are you here, Aurenia?´ Mr. Mkomzy asked her. ³I was just bored at home,´ she answered. He nodded understandingly and turned to Nick. ³The board of directors will be here in five minutes,´ he told him. ³Good, good,´ Nick said, got up and adjusted his suit. Together, he and Mr. Mkomzy went to the meeting room, an adjoining room widening Nick¶s office. Aurenia sat on the settee in Nick¶s office with her legs crossed and watched them. She was slightly overwhelmed by the manner in which Nick spoke with Mr. Mkomzy. She was slightly overwhelmed by Nick¶s suavity. I¶m even slightly overwhelmed by Nick himself, she thought. Just as Nick thought, Aurenia did distract him, just by her presence. But, as usual, he did a good job hiding it. Before the fifth minute elapsed, the board of directors came trooping in. As they all wer e ³greeting´ Aurenia, Nick ³No. Nothing at all, Miss Dapo,´ he said

murmured, ³I did not know how to put her off, Mr. Mkomzy.´ Mr. Mkomzy laughed, ³If she¶s here, then she¶s here, Ojo. You¶ll have to deal with that, and so will I. It looks as if she has an eye for you.´ ³Don¶t be ridiculous,´ he said and poked him jokingly as the board of directors came to the meeting room. One of the board of directors stood up when everyone had seated and announced, ³Byleez has assigned a 40% contract for at least five destroyers.´ ³How much exactly?´ Mr. Mkomzy asked. ³A hundred billion naira,´ was the reply. Angrily, Mr. Mkomzy got up. ³Jesus Christ!!´ he exclaimed. ³I thought you told me that they hadn¶t even started.´ The director shook his head and said, ³That was what I thought as well.´ He went over to Nick. ³It¶s a good thing we got this information now, before it¶s too late.´
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³Does the National Committee know about this?´ Nick asked. ³Yes, and they have already given their approval,´ was the reply. ³I think it¶s best that we walk out.´ Mr. Mkomzy bellowed, ³Look, we¶ve stepped our foot into this thing! Nobody is walking out!!´ ³Mr. Mkomzy, relax,´ coaxed Nick. ³We¶ll have to make sure that

money is not spent, at all. If possible, we¶ll have to steal it,´ he joked. The board of directors laughed at this. Aurenia smiled involuntarily. Nick

confronted Mr. Mkomzy and said, ³Please, try as much as you can. Do my worrying for me, ok? Give me feedback over the phone any time.´ Mr. Mkomzy nodded. The minute Nick stepped out of his office, Aurenia said, ³Won¶t you give me a ride home?´ Slowly, all activities in the office stopped. Nick glanced at the people looking at him, and then at Aurenia. ³I thought you said you were bored at home, Miss Dapo,´ he said. ³That was what I thought as well,´ she said and smiled. Everyone laughed except Nick. ³Well, I am going to my home now,´ he said emphatically. ³You¶ll have to wait, Miss Dapo. When the chauffeur has taken me to my home, he¶ll come and take you to your home.´ With that, he left. ³What kind of a person is Nick anyway?´ she asked annoyed, some hours after the board of directors had left. ³He is a human being, that¶s what,´ Mr. Mkomzy answered her and continued his file work. Aurenia scowled. Mr. Mkomzy noticed this and laughed secretly .
EIGHTEEN

Nick neither came to the mansion nor saw Aurenia for the remaining days to February ninth. When the day came, he was dressed in a glittering jet-black tuxedo and bow-tie. Mr. Mkomzy called him before he left. ³The waiter assigned will tell you where they¶re seated. Good luck.´ He hung up. Nick went to pick Aurenia

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up in his Volvo. She slowly cat walked down the steps, exquisitely clothed in a black cocktail dress with pink satin to match, pink cap, pink armless handbag and pink flat-heeled shoes. Nick was obviously fascinated by the sight of her and did his best to hide it. She smiled when she saw him. ³You look nice, Nick,´ she complimented. Nick extended his hand to her. ³Shall we go, Miss Dapo?´ he said. She took his hand and squeez ed it. He felt the squeeze and resisted the urge to lift her up and take her to the sofa and ± Stop it, rebuked that voice inside him. He was dreaming again! Within minutes, they were on their way to Sheraton Hotel in the Volvo. Mr. Mkomzy was true to his word. There was a waiter that directed him to their table. They met an old man on a mechanical wheelchair and a young man like Nick. The young man was the youthful miniature of the old man and both men had the skin colour of Red Indians. The young m an got up and extended his hand to him. ³Good evening. I am Samson Byleez and this is my grandfather, Raymond Byleez,´ he introduced in a deep baritone. Samson

Byleez was drop dead handsome. Some of the ladies in the restaurant couldn¶t resist giving him glances. Nick introduced himself and his date. ³Good evening yourself. I am Nicholias Ojo and this is the daughter of Mrs. Tamar Dapo, Miss Aurenia Dapo.´ Aurenia nodded curtly and said, ³It is nice to meet you.´ As they seated down, Samson gave Aurenia a secret wink. She noticed this and lowered her oval countenance. The waiter brought their menus. Nick ordered for fruit cake as appetizer, fried rice as the main meal and pepper soup as dessert. Samson and Raymond ordered the same thing and Aurenia had to, as well. After the waiter collected their menus, Samson turned to Aurenia. ³I have seen your face on a particular model magazine,´ he said. Her grin gradually came out beautifully. swallowed noiselessly and adjusted his bow-tie. Nick

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The gentlemen went straight into business the minute the appetizer was served. Aurenia listened with rapt attention. They spoke on the origin of Byleez International Constructions Inc. Raymond contributed little to the speech. When the appetizer was finished, Raymond commented, ³You chose a very good appetizer, Mr. Ojo. Now, I really do feel like eating fried rice.´ Nick smiled and Samson laughed. During the main meal, Raymond turned to Aurenia and gave his condolences to the dea th of her father. Samson made his apology as well. Then, the men went back to business talk. After the meal, Aurenia got up. Samson and Nick got up as well. Nick listened as Samson spoke.

³Where are you going?´ Nick whispered. ³To the ladies room,´ she whispered back. As she was leaving, Nick said, ³Should your dessert still be brought?´ ³Yes, please, thank you,´ she replied and left the restaurant. Nick

watched great feminine features depart and his mouth went dry. After some moments, Nick and Samson sat down in unison. ³She¶s quite a woman,

Aurenia,´ Samson commented. ³She could make a very good granddaughter in-law,´ Raymond joked and winked at his grandson. Nick laughed without mirth. Aurenia returned when the dessert was served. Further business was discussed. Nick discussed how useful Byleez International Constructions Inc. would be to Suther Empire. ³And besides, Suther Empire is the richest in the nation,´ he said. Surprised, Raymond said, ³But you know very well how the economy of this country is.´ Nick nodded and said, ³Yes, I know. But Suther Empire does not depend on the economy. We haven¶t even seen the president.´ Samson laughed and said, ³Well, that is something! Are you sure this won¶t breed any scandal?´

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³Gentlemen, you asked for this meeting. What can I do for you?´ Nick said. ³Leave my company alone,´ Raymond said. ³I cannot do that,´ Nick said. ³Suther Empire has made thorough surveillance of Byleez. It¶s in a poor state.´ ³We can issue out contracts to build ten destroyers,´ Samson mentioned. ³And besides, a 40% contract for at least five destroyers has been assigned with strong approval of the National Committee.´ ³There will be no contracts,´ Nick finalised. ³The contracts are buried. As for that 40% contract, we will make sure that the money involved will not be spent.´ Samson was utterly baffled at this. ³How can you pull something like that off? You¶ve got dirty politicians in your pocket now?´ ³Relax, Samson,´ coaxed his grandfather. ³Mr. Ojo plays hard ball.´ Nick agreed to Raymond¶s statement. Samson cleaned his lips and

dropped his napkin. ³I¶ve had enough of this,´ he announced. ³Aurenia, it was a great pleasure to meet you. Excuse me, grandfather, I¶ve got to get some air.´ He got up and left. After some moments, Raymond announced, ³I had better join my grandson. I hope you had a delicious dinner.´ At the touch of a button, his wheelchair turned away from the table. Nick got up. ³Watch out, Ojo,´ Raymond warned. ³I¶m gonna tear you apart.´ Nick solemnly watched his rival leave the restaurant. Then, he sat down and finished his dessert in silence. After that, he took Aurenia by the hand and together, they left the hotel. Aurenia must admit that she admired Nick¶s business-like aplomb, as she stole glances at him a couple of times in the car. His eyes were zeroed on the road, his palms relaxed on the steering. When they got to the mansion, Aurenia removed her shoes and climbed up the stairs. Nick couldn¶t resist watching her, evidently mesmerized by her narrow waist and well-shaped legs, and by her firm hips which she swung elegantly from side to side as she walked up the banister.

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Nick removed his blazer and threw it on the sofa. He went to a big, white piano metres opposite the banister and began to play. He was playin g the Mozart requiem on the piano. Some minutes later, Aurenia was by the banister, watching him. Even though Nick was not as handsome as Samson, there was something very special about him. Aurenia wondered what it was. Nick stopped playing altogether and looked at the piano, deep in thought. She walked up to him. ³I didn¶t know you could play,´ she said. ³Neither did I,´ he mumbled sincerely. She covered the piano and sat on it. ³Let me get this straight,´ she said. ³You want his company. He doesn ¶t want to let it go.´ He now looked up at her. ³That¶s right,´ he murmured. ³You know what I think?´ she said. ³I think you like Mr. Raymond Byleez.´ Nick heaved a sigh and said, ³What I do is purely business, Miss Dapo. Your mother told me to run Suther Empire. I just do what I am told.´ Nick got up and went to where he kept his blazer. She followed him. He struggled to undo his bow-tie. ³Let me do that for you,´ she offered. Before he could refuse, her hands went to the collar of his dinner shirt. She noticed his elegantly protruding Adam¶s apple move nervously as she gently undid his bow-tie and even his collar button, and she smiled. She noticed that Nick had a very proud and elegant neck. ³It¶s going to be tough on you,´ she said afterward s. ³What are you going to do?´ He wore his blazer and said, ³I do not get emotional in my business affairs.´ He removed his glasses, cleaned his eyes with a handkerchief and wore them back on. ³Thank you for your kind gesture. Goodnight, Miss Dapo.´ She watched him enter the open elevator.
NINETEEN

The next day went by uneventfully. Nick was in his home, pondering over Aurenia. She was in the mansion, doing the same thing.

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Monday came and Nick went to work as usual. Mr. Mkomzy greeted him. ³How did it go that night?´ he asked. ³Tough!!!´ was the reply. ³By the way, your rivals are inviting us to a golf tournament tomorrow morning. Samson¶s an ardent golf player. He made a couple of friends very fast.´ Nick laughed and said, ³That¶s him alright. ´ He paused. ³Any feedback on Byleez?´ ³Yes. Our men in Iceland are making a good headway in deliquidizing that money. And of course, the Byleez delegates were powerless. We¶re gonna get ¶em!!´ Nick laughed again and glanced through the Byleez file. ³I can¶t believe that a little scandal could destroy a big, profitable, reliable Byleez,´ he mused. ³It beats me, too, you know,´ Mr. Mkomzy uttered and sighed heavily. After a moment, he said, ³Ojo, Lady Tamar called. She has opened a fat Swiss bank account for you.´ Nick laughed at this. ³That was awfully kind of her,´ he said. ³I was thinking of developing my village in Uromi. Eror

village.´ Mr. Mkomzy gave him a piece of paper. ³That¶s the phone number to the Swiss bank manager,´ he said. ³I to ld her about the golf invitation. She said that you should take Aurenia out again.´ Nick swore under his breath and slammed the file on the desk. ³I don¶t think I can weather this,´ he murmured. Mr. Mkomzy laughed and said, ³Learn to, Ojo. I even intend to take my two daughters along with me. Perhaps, this will keep your mind off Aurenia for a while.´ ³I wish you didn¶t tell Lady Tamar anything,´ he pretended to wail. ³Thank you anyhow.´ After that, work continued. Nick left the office late in the afternoon. When he got home, the phone started ringing. He picked it up. ³Hello?´ « ³Oh, Mrs. Dapo!!! What a surprise! Good afternoon. How did you get this number?´ « ³Oh, he did?´ « ³Yes, that was what you said.´ « ³The meeting went on fine.´ « ³Yes, I got your message. But Mrs. Dapo ±´ « ³Yes, I understand. But Mrs. Dapo ± ´ « ³But Mrs. Dapo ± ´
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Sadly, Nick hung up. She didn¶t even give me a chance to speak, he thought. Reluctantly, he picked up the phone again and called the mansion. « ³I would like to speak to Miss Aurenia Dapo, please. Nicholias Ojo.´ He waited for a while. « ³Yes, it¶s nice to hear you, too. Listen! There¶s a golf tournament I¶ll have to attend. I was told to take you out with me again.´ « ³Tomorrow morning. I¶ll come and pick you up.´ « ³Bye.´ He hung up as fast as possible. Her voice was so mellifluous. Why does she have to be so damn perfect? Nick thought. He undid his tie and went to his bedroom. He was only in his trousers when the phone rang again. When he picked it up, it was his lawyer. ³I forgot to tell you the venue,´ came Mr. Mkomzy. ³It is in Victoria Island. Your chauffeur¶ll take you there.´ ³I¶ll go there by myself,´ said Nick. ³Lady Tamar phoned me. You gave her my phone number, right?´ ³I had no choice in this matter,´ said Mr. Mkomzy. penalty?´ Nick laughed. ³Nothing. I understand,´ he said. ³Alhaji Mustapha is calling you again to thank you personally for attending his son¶s tennis tournament. wedding being held in Abuja. You are invited to a razzamatazz ³What is my

And Engineer Mogaji is inviting you to a

luncheon on Sunday,´ reported his lawyer. ³Gosh! They all wanna tear you apart!!!´ Nick laughed heartily. ³Remember that, Mr. Mkomzy.´ ³What should I tell all these people?´ his lawyer asked. ³My absence won¶t hurt them, would it?´ Nick replied. ³I¶m leaving you to do the excuses for me. And thank you once again, Mr. Mkomzy.´ ³Well, bye bye, Ojo. See you at the golf tournament tomorrow,´ Mr. Mkomzy said. Nick hung up and returned to the bedroom.
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³Business first, before pleasure,´ he said.

The next day came. Aurenia was dressed in a white flowing gown with a wide hat and flat-heeled shoes to match and Nick was dressed in a navy green suit. The sun shone in all its glory on the wide, golf course. Already, people were there when Nick and Aurenia arrived. This golf course was owned by a particular club. Nick inhaled a lungful of air as he stepped out of the car. Aurenia squeezed his hand as he took her out of the car. ³Lovely morning, Nick. Isn¶t it?´ she said. Nick kept mute as he took her by the hand and led her to the club building. Several men turned and looked their way as they made their entrance. Mr. Mkomzy came and hugged Nick. He was accompanied by two pretty, petite ladies. ³It¶s so good to see you,´ he said and pecked Aurenia on the cheek. ³I¶m happy you could make it. You¶re right on time. It¶s just two or three minutes before the tournament begins.´ ³Where¶s my rival?´ Nick whispered to his lawyer. ³Out in the fiel d speaking with his grandson,´ his lawyer whispered back. introduced the ladies that accompanied him. ³This is Mebe and this is Rita,´ said Mr. Mkomzy. Nick shook the hands extended to him. ³My father has told us so much about you,´ said Me be. ³Oh, has he?´ Nick said with a brief glance at Mr. Mkomzy, who smiled at him. Nick pointed at him and said, ³I told you not to smile at me again.´ Mr. Mkomzy laughed. ³We¶ve told him not be chewing that tobacco of his,´ said Rita. ³It¶s destroying his teeth.´ Nick said, ³That is why he should never smile at all.´ Everyone laughed at this. Then, the beginning of the golf tournament was announced. The golf players were there by the time the spectators came out into the carpet -level grass field. Everyone was silent as the three golf players, Samson and two of his friends, played their game. At the end, Samson emerged the winner and won a trophy. He removed his white golf cap and gloves and bowed to the applause of Mr. Mkomzy

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the crowd. He even earned a cheq ue of fifty thousand naira. ³He will need it,´ Nick whispered to Mr. Mkomzy, who laughed secretly. Then, refreshments were served in form of a buffet. During this buffet, there was also entertainment with disco and Mebe took Nick to the dance floor. Aurenia admired the comical but remarkable way Nick danced with his partner. Samson came and stood beside her with a tumbler filled with Trophy beer while she was busy watching Nick. Since Mebe and Nick opened the dance floor, other couples came to dance as well. ³Your date¶s a very good dancer,´

Samson whispered to Aurenia. Startled, she turned. ³Ah! Good morning, Mr. Byleez! It was a nice tournament you won,´ she said. Samson laughed and said, ³Please call me Samson.´ He held her by the arm and took her to a tree metres away from the dance floor. ³Nick might be wondering where I am,´ she said. ³Forget him,´ Samson said offhandedly. Aurenia looked at him, surprised. Meanwhile, Nick finished dancing with Mebe. ³Wow! You dance better than my boyfriend,´ she complimented. ³You¶re not bad yourself,´ he

complimented back. Mr. Mkomzy confronted him. ³Samson stole Aurenia,´ he murmured quietly. Instantly, Nick panicked and looked round. His eyes found them under a tree. He charged for them but Mr. Mkomzy restrained him on time. ³You¶re not relieved to hear this?´ he asked, surprised. Nick gradually cooled down. ³More than that,´ he replied. He went to speak with Alhaji Mustapha. Aurenia watched him. ³You know I never thought you were real,´

Samson said. ³I thought you were just an image or a mannequin.´ She laughed and turned to him. He slowly brought out one of his sexiest grins. Aurenia was struck by his beauty. In a few gulps, he finished his glass of beer. Aurenia¶s attention went back to Nick. Samson swept his eyes over her and said, ³A good friend of mine is having a party in two days¶ time, the day after tomorrow, in Maryland. I would very much like it if you¶ll come.´
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³I¶d love to come,´ she said, her eyes never leaving Nick. ³Sams on?´ ³Yes?´ he asked and shifted nearer to her. ³Transacting business is tough, isn¶t it?´ Samson nodded and sighed. ³That¶s right, Aurenia. It¶s not an easy job, I tell you.´ ³Whatever happened that Saturday night, I bet you Nick didn¶t mean it. He was just doing his job.´ Samson laughed and said, ³You don¶t know what¶s going on, Aurenia. You won¶t understand. By the way, why are you so concerned about him?´ Aurenia turned to him. ³What made you say that?´ she asked. ³You¶ve been looking at him ever since we¶ve been together,´ he replied. ³I look at whoever I please,´ she said with aplomb. ³The person I speak to looks at me,´ he said with hubris. Aurenia laughed and said, ³Sorry! You just got disappointed. It was nice speaking with you, Samson. See you at the party. When is it?´ ³At nine in the night,´ was the dry reply. ³Bye,´ she said and left him staring after her, grimacing. Aurenia went to meet Mebe and Rita talking. ³What was Mr. Handsome trying to do to you, my dear?´ Rita asked her. Aure nia laughed and said, ³You are so sure he is so handsome.´ Mebe formed an ³O´ with her mouth and exclaimed, ³Every female is dying for him!´ ³Almost every female,´ Aurenia corrected. ³I don¶t blame you,´ Rita murmured. ³You¶re too beautiful for any man not to look at you. But you and Samson do fit though.´ ³The handsomest and the beautifullest,´ Mebe said. Aurenia laughed again and said, ³Have you seen Nick?´ ³Why going to look for Nick when you¶ve got Samson?´ Rita said and they laughed together. ³Go sh! You twins are something else,´ Aurenia

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commented. ³Look here, Samson is sulking over you. Perhaps almost every female is dying for him but he has his eyes over you,´ Mebe said. Aurenia just seemed to be laughing in their company. ³Gals,´ she said. ³I¶ve gotta go.´ And she left their company. She was even relieved to leave. She was getting a bit uncomfortable. Rita shrugged her shoulders and said, ³At least, we¶ve tried our best to keep her away from Nick, as Dad told us to.´ ³Let¶s leave it,´ her sister said. ³It was an effort.´ Meanwhile, Nick and Mr. Mkomzy walked to the buffet. Nick took a glass of Schweppes while Mr. Mkomzy took a glass of Bacchus Tonic Wine. ³Perhaps this will clean off the tobacco round my teeth,´ Mr. Mkomzy said and took a sip of his drink. Nick laughed and caught sight of Aurenia with some old women as he was about to sip his own drink. His smile suddenly vanished. ³She seems to haunt me everywhere I go,´ he mused. ³Why don¶t you like her?´ asked Mr. Mkomzy. Nick ge ntly dropped his untouched drink on the buffet table and said, ³I have seen her face before, on the cover page of a magazine.´ He sighed deeply. ³Gosh, she was on my mind when Lady Tamar and I «´ His voice deliberately trailed off and he lowered his countenance. Mr. Mkomzy patted him on the shoulder and said, ³You were attracted to her. I could understand. She is a goddess. Any man would do the same.´ Nick slowly looked up to him. ³You¶re in love with her, aren¶t you?´ Mr. Mkomzy proclaimed. Nick flinched and denied instantly. ³No way!´ he exclaimed. ³I see that look in your eyes whenever her name is mentioned,´ Mr. Mkomzy confirmed. ³You were even ready to kill Samson for taking her away from you for even a moment.´ Nick nervously adjusted the tie of his suit and said, ³She causes a lot of havoc in my brain. It is a burden taking her out.´

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Mr. Mkomzy again patted him on the shoulder and said, ³You allow yourself to think of her. You want to think of her.´ Nick denied again. ³That¶s not true, Mr. Mkomzy,´ he said emphatically. Mr. Mkomzy was silent for a while. ³If you deny it again, the cock shall crow,´ he joked. He patted Nick on the shoulder a third time. ³Anyway, forget I said anything.´ Mr. Mkomzy finished his drink in a few gulps and they left the buffet table together. Aurenia watched secretly as Rita took Nick to be her dance partner to a slow waltz. Then, she left the old women¶s company and was with Mebe again. ³Samson¶s a great guy, isn¶t he?´ Mebe said. ³He won this tourname nt. That was fantastic of him.´ ³I never knew Nick could dance so well,´ Aurenia mused aloud, obviously oblivious of what Mebe had just said. Mebe coughed uncomfortably. ³Y-Y-Yes, I could say he¶s good,´ she stuttered. With her eyes zeroed on the only dancing pair on the dance floor, Aurenia wondered what it felt like to dance with him herself. Quickly realizing what she just wondered about, she blushed and lowered her eyes a little. Slow down, warned a voice inside her. Just then, Mr. Mkomzy confronted her. ³How are you enjoying the party?´ he asked her. ³I am having a great time,´ she said, snapping out of her little reverie. Mebe quickly excused herself and went to speak to an old man. Mr. Mkomzy smiled to what Aurenia had just said. ³I thought Nick told you never to smile,´ she joked and laughed. Mr. Mkomzy laughed with her. After a quick glance at Nick, he said, ³You¶re very popular around here. With that cover page of that mag, you could make millions.´ Aurenia laughed and said, ³It just happened for a day, that¶s all. During that time, I was the best girl for the cover, then. I don¶t know about now, now that I am away. Perhaps, someone more beautiful has taken my place.´ Mr. Mkomzy shook his head and said, ³I very much doubt that someo ne else can take your place, Aurenia.´ She smiled slowly. ³Don¶t flatter me, Mr. Mkomzy,´ she said. He now turned and looked at Nick. The dance was over.
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Nick and Rita left the dance floor with entwined arms to the buffet table. Mr. Mkomzy coughed. ³You have this power to arrest any man, some men

especially,´ he mused aloud. Before she could say anything, he left her. Finally, the golf tournament was over. It ended late in the afternoon. Nick was at his home after dropping Aurenia off at the mansi on. As he was idly watching TV, his mind went to what Mr. Mkomzy last said to him. Then, the time to go to bed arrived. He did nothing in his home, just normal chores. On his bed, in his white sleeping knickers, he could not hide from the truth. He realised that he was attracted, irresistibly, to the daughter of Mrs. Lady Tamar Dapo. But I am also indebted to Lady Tamar herself, he thought sorrowfully. Mr. Mkomzy made him realise this. He heaved a deep sigh. What am I going to do about it? he wondered.
TWENTY

The next day walked up uneventfully. Nick went to work as normal and had no disturbances from the mansion. That day, the Suther Empire men in Iceland were successful in the bid to make sure one hundred billion naira issued to Byleez was not spent. Mr. Mkomzy was eager to celebrate this but Nick politely refrained from doing so. So, the following day came. Aurenia was by the pool in her usual red bikini, basking. Her long permed hair was wet and glittering. Her mind went to the nine o¶clock party. She wondered how it would be like. The phone was by her. Slowly, she closed her eyes and slept off. After five minutes, the phone rang. She picked it up fast. ³Aurenia Dapo here´ « ³Oh, mother!! How¶s London?´ « ³Oh, you¶re in Switzerland?´ « ³Oh. Well, how is your friend in London?´ « ³No, not since two days after one golf tournament like that in Victoria Island that he took me to.´ « ³I¶m quite fine, mother. Just a bit bored being cooped up in the house.´ « ³Don¶t worry. Samson Byleez has invited me again to one party at
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Maryland. It starts at 9. You know I couldn¶t refuse.´ « ³You, too, mother. See you soon. Bye Bye.´ She hung up and sighed. After a brief thought of the caller, she slept off again. Evening showed up. By eight-thirty, Aurenia was exquisitely dressed in another white gleaming cocktail dress that left her knees free. She tied her hair to a ponytail with a white bow and she wore a pair of white heelless shoes to match. She checked herself on a mirror somewhere in the p arlour. She wore light makeup. She stopped in mid-air as she was about to put her wallet into a white glittering armless handbag. She later on did, after a brief thought, and dropped it on the sofa. She picked up the phone and requested for Nick¶s chauf feur. In five minutes, he arrived and bowed in greeting. She grinned to that. ³Please take me to Nick¶s residence,´ she said. Meanwhile, Nick was on the floor in front of the telly eating homemade popcorn and dressed in light grey slacks and a white unb uttoned shirt. He was laughing at a particular comedy shown on TV. His popcorn was much though. The comedy was long and the popcorn almost finished when the doorbell rang. Thinking that it was one of his male neighbours, he care freely went to answer it. He froze to the spot when he saw Aurenia. She was utterly exquisite tonight. But where was she going to? he

wondered. Her eyes involuntarily danced when they sighted his hairless bare chest. After a whole minute, she spoke first. ³Em, Samson invited me to a party. Eh, would you be my date?´ Nick looked down at himself after a moment. ³I¶m not really prepared,´ he said. He then looked up at her. ³Why?´ ³It¶s only fair, isn¶t it,´ was her reply. ³You took me out. I wanna take you out.´ Nick lau ghed and allowed her in. She entered and looked round the bungalow. Nick noticed a sapphire
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Maltese cross worn round her neck, which glittered in all its glory. With a dry mouth, Nick looked at it and squeezed his right fist. ³You did not tell me about this party, Miss Dapo,´ he said, snapping out of his reverie and buttoning up his shirt. She fidgeted a little in her looking survey. ³I apologise,´ she said without looking at him. ³I ± I ± didn¶t think of it until now.´ She paused. ³You have a very nice home.´ Nick nodded and looked around himself. ³Yes, a home for me, myself and I,´ he said. She looked at him with a twinkle in her eyes. ³You¶re going to stay here alone, all by himself?´ she whispered. ³Sounds pretty lonely, don¶t you think?´ For a minute, they looked at each other after that was said. ³The party starts at nine, Nick,´ she said, breaking the silence. ³In Maryland.´ Nick wanted to say no but he found himself saying, ³Let me put something on, Miss Dapo. By the way, who showed you this place?´ ³Your chauffeur,´ was the reply. ³I sent him back to the mansion the minute he dropped me here.´ Slowly, Nick nodded, entered his room and came out with a deep grey blazer on top of his casual trousers and shirt. He scratched his head and said, ³I was not prepared for this, Miss Dapo. My dressing is rags compared to yours.´ Aurenia confronted him and locked her arm with his. ³I know it¶s my fault,´ she said. ³But I insist. You look great, Nick.´ He went to turn off the TV. Then, he locked up his house, entered his Volvo with Aurenia and was on his way to Maryland. When they got to Maryland, Nick asked her where exactly the place was. Sheepishly, with lowered countenance, she admitted that she did not know. Angrily, Nick parked in front of a casino house and turned to her. ³What do you mean you don¶t know the place?´ he asked. ³That¶s what I mean, Nick,´ she replied foolishly. Nick slowly shook his head and rebuked, ³You should¶ve asked Samson for directions, Miss Dapo, not for us to go into this wild goose chase.´ For a minute, there was silence between them. ³I am sorry, Nick,´ she
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mumbled. He sighed deeply. ³It¶s alright,´ he said. He started the car and was about to make a U-turn when a lady dressed in a black cocktail dress approached the car. ³Hey, you guys!!´ It was Mebe. ³You¶re going for the party, too?´ Aurenia sighed with relief and said, ³Yes. Can you tell me where it is?´ ³It¶s opposite this casino house,´ was the reply. Opposite the casino house was a little club house with well-dressed couples trooping in. ³Samson invited me,´ Mebe said and winked at Aurenia. Gently, Nick removed the key from the ignition. ³Thanks, Mebe,´ he said. ³How¶s your sister and father?´ ³Oh, they¶re at home doing fine,´ was the reply. Nick got out of the car and went round to open the front door for Aurenia. The two ladies crossed the road while Nick stayed to lock up his car. ³Samson¶s crazy about you,´ Mebe whispered to Aurenia. ³If he sees Nick with you, he¶ll kill him!!´ Aurenia just laughed shortly and said nothing. There was a small music band when they entered. Refreshments were arranged like a buffet. Aurenia went straight to the band. ³Please play

something slow and sexy for me and my partner,´ she requested. In unison, they nodded agreement. The minute Nick entered, she went up to him, took his hand and led him to the dance floor. Lazily, she wrapped her arms round him as her request was being granted. Nick¶s perplexity was very short -lived. He followed suit and wrapped his arms round her. Their bodies now swayed to the music. He closed his eyes and his mind left him and went to sensual paradise. The music drugged him of his senses and his hands had a life of their own. Aurenia writhed at the gentle caresse s of Nick¶s hands. She also had her eyes closed as the live sentimental music covered her brain. Then, she almost stopped breathing when his hands covered her bosoms and brought her lower region nearer to his. She melted and her legs went jelly at the v ery acute awareness of his enormous arousal. And oh, when his hips moved to the long music, she did not want this dangerous but sweet moment to end.
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She felt so right in his arms. Her fingers fiddled with the tiny strands of hair at the back of his neck. He was very aware of her every touch, which ignited his being and very soul. Slowly, sentimentally, the music drew to its end. The couple stopped dancing according to that gradual flow and they locked arms together and headed towards the long refreshme nt table. They repelled the minute they got there but stood at arm¶s length, very much aware of each other. After a minute¶s silence of staring at each other, Nick said, ³I did not know you could dance so well, Miss Dapo.´ She shrugged. ³You and me both, Nick,´ she said. He took a glass of Schweppes and lazily sauntered away from her. Gradually, she released her breath. She had just felt the powerful

masculinity of Nick and it was so overwhelming. Slowly, realisation came to her like a revelation, like a prophecy come true. She was attracted to him. It was a powerful attraction, one she never in her wildest dreams anticipated. She had just recovered from a heart -shattering relationship back in Marseilles before she picked up the phone and called he r mother two months later. That was her very first time of ever knowing a man, of ever being with a man. A black Frenchman from Libreville who just blossomed tremendously in his door making business in France and made a firm decision to grow his roots th ere. Aurenia took her glass of Vitamalt and sipped it twice. She went to sit on an empty settee provided. Her former Frenchman lover came into her life when she was at the peak of her modelling career. He announced his betrothal to another woman richer than himself after a year of their relationship. It was very heart-shattering for Aurenia. She mourned for weeks but later overcame it and continued with her life. She bluntly refused any other advances. She sighed, remembering this. She was almost through with her malt drink when a

gentleman in a complete white suit and tie with a pair of shoes to match and smoking a big cigar confronted her.

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³Good evening, my mannequin,´ drawled Samson¶s voice. ³I saw you dancing with the big boss man. That dance w as rather too slow, don¶t you think?´ He sat beside her. At the corner of her eye, she caught Nick speaking with Mebe. Was she dreaming or was he stealing glances at her as well? That, she did not know. She finished her drink and said, ignoring Samson ¶s

statement, ³Hello, Mr. Byleez. Nice party.´ Samson looked around and said, ³Yeah, you could say so.´ ³I almost lost my way,´ she said coolly and looked at him. Samson formed an µO¶ with his mouth. ³I forgot to give you directions. My deep condolences,´ he apologised. She slowly nodded. ³Thanks to Mebe,´ she chipped in stonily. ³I guess I got carried away by your beauty, my mannequin,´ he drawled. She looked away from him. He touched her chin and whispered, his voice becoming bartitonic, ³I have a lot to offer. A whole lot. You can even see that for yourself.´ She removed his finger from her chin and, without looking at him, bit out, ³Are you this icily cocky in Iceland?´ She got up and left without waiting for a reply. Nick was alone idly fingering his glass of drink. Aurenia confronted him and whispered, ³Please, let¶s dance.´ Then, Marvin Gay¶s Sexual Healing was on and she lured him once again to the dance floor. She instantly felt his arousal as soon as they entwined once again. She be came breathless and could not help herself. She brought herself closer to him and her tongue nibbled and encircled his right ear. He tightened his embrace and a moan escaped his lips. She heard it and slowly smiled, her eyes closed. It was her turn to move her hips to the music. Nick had her warm, inviting body imprisoned in his arms. ³Let¶s get out of here,´ he whispered, his breath ragged with emotion. ³Why?´ she asked in the same vein, obviously knowing the answer. Simultaneously, they stopped dancing while the music was still on. His arousal was threatening to tear his trousers apart. ³B-Because«´ he tried to answer her question but

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vivid images of her exquisite nudity robbed him of speech. He took her hand and left the small club with her. Aurenia never thought she could make him lose control of himself. What she did was purely experimental but now, she wanted him more than he wanted her. He did not give her enough chance to say her goodbyes. They entered his baby Volvo and left. He was going to take the little devil back to her home. He wished to God that she didn¶t come to his home in the first place. He was having such a good time in his loneliness. To his surprise, she reached out and started unzipping his trousers. ³Please, Miss Dapo!´ he implored silently. ³I¶m driving!´ ³So? Let¶s see how much control you have,´ she whispered as her hand rested there. Nick looked heavenwards briefly and swore under his breath. He left the road leading to the mansion and entered the road that l ed to his place. Aurenia drove him totally bonkers. He even increased his driving speed a little. They got to his residence. Once they were inside, Aurenia yawned, stretched and peeled off her dress right there in the sitting room. Nick was unable to stop her, unable to resist her. She confronted him in her skimpy unders, took off his blazer and unbuttoned his shirt. Then, she took a step back. ³This was how I met you when I first came here,´ she murmured. ³I guess I¶ll always remember this.´ Nick swept his eyes over her and kept mute. ³What are you waiting for, Nick?´ she asked sheepishly. ³This is wrong, Miss Dapo,´ he muttered. ³All formalities should end today and now, Nick,´ she implored gently and confronted him. She wrapped her arms round him and gave him a wet, sloppy kiss. He groaned in response and entrapped her in his arms. She felt his arm muscles tense up. The scent of him drugged her senses. She wanted Nick to lose control and she wanted to be the reason behind it. Lady Tamar totally vanished out of Nick¶s mind as one of Aurenia¶s legs deliberately rubbed one of his own. He carried her to his bedroom. This time, Aurenia¶s body drugged him, not alcohol. They got rid of all clothing and
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sought each other frantically like lovers just discovering themselves for the first time. She guided him to her. She gasped at his massive entrance. Then, they performed different coition, which were so exhilarating and oh so sweet! Aurenia felt newly created. Her ex -boyfriend never made her feel this way before. Nick nibbled, fiddled, touched, caressed and sucked. He freaked her to the extremes. Each thrust, each surge heightened her want for him. Their moans and groans intermingled. Nick¶s osculation deepened each time he

kissed her. There was a time when she thought she could not take it anymore. ³God, this feels so good!´ she exclaimed aloud. But Nick had not finished with her. He timidly touched one of her taut nipples with the tip of his tongue, thereby igniting her once more. Nick wanted to devour this woman that so plagued his thinking for so long, this woman whose image constantly interfered with anything he did. She even reached the climax before he did. He was on top of her, pounding away at her when that happened. ³I love you,´ they exclaimed together. Afterwards, they relaxed satiated. Aurenia slept blissfully in his arms with sweet thoughts of him and he did likewise.
TWENTY-ONE

He slowly opened his eyes and tried to focus. His eyes were blurred. His head ached terribly and he had to sleep off again, which he did. His eyes flashed open. Everywhere was pitch dark. He scrambled to his

feet. He did not even see where he was standing. Everywhere was black. He looked around. He saw nothing but dark. Then, after se veral moments, a shooting star passed him, nearly touching his countenance. Then, he stood face-to-face with his image, his replica. There was no mistake. This person looked exactly like him. The only difference was that there was a brutal, rough snarl on his face and he was pointing a weapon, a pistol, at him. Then, he

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spoke. ³Return!!!!!! Turn back!!!!!!!´ His voice came out like one in an empty, gigantic water tank. Then, he shot Nick. Nick fell and screamed. Nick even screamed as he woke up , thereby waking Aurenia. She mellowed him down by sitting on top of him and kissing him tenderly. ³I¶m sorry,´ he gasped softly. ³I know. You had a horrible nightmare,´ she

whispered. He sought refuge in embracing her naked, lissom body. ³I¶m so sorry,´ he repeated, softer this time. ³I know,´ she whispered in the same tone. He lazily ran his fingers along her back and she moaned out his name. ³Nick,´ she whispered. ³Let¶s do it again. You¶re hard -on.´ ³I have to go to work today,´ he protested sweetly as he turned her over. ³Take the day off,´ she murmured softly and obstinately. They had another round of love-making just as the moon was gradually disappearing and the day was breaking. Her moans were softer and Nick muffled some of them with his kisses. Hours later, they were under the shower. ³I forgot to tell you that I still have nappy rash,´ she joked. He shrugged. ³It¶s not bad getting it as well, if it is transmittable,´ he said. She washed his face and asked, ³Are you

circumcised?´ He poked her playfully on the ribs and said, ³Why you dey ask dat kind question? Abi you dey craze? Mind yourself, O! Take your time, O!!´ They laughed and fought playfully under the shower. Then, they were at the dining table eating a breakfast of Ke llogg¶s cornflakes and boiled eggs only in house robes. Aurenia carried a sad

countenance. ³What seems to be the problem now?´ Nick asked her. ³I just remembered a very dear close friend of mine, my only best friend. We shared everything together, almost everything. Then, she took her very first trip out of France in a ship. She was born in Paris and grew up in Marseilles, with me.

That was the first time she was leaving me, but she promised to come back. Heavy, detrimental hailstorms were reported and that terrible, inclement weather wrecked the ship.´ She paused to shake her head forlornly. ³It was
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also reported that all the occupants in that ship were nowhere to be found,´ she sobbed. ³Leave that in the past, Aurenia,´ Nick coaxed, uttering he r name for the very first time. He then poured two glasses of milk and gave one to her. ³I think I¶ve got the remedy to make you feel better. Now, take your milk and repeat after me.´ He closed his eyes and held his own glass of milk. ³Sadness, depart. Leave gladness in my heart. Say that.´ She did as he instructed. ³Now, drink your milk but drink it from this side of the glass.´ He pointed to the side nearest to him. ³Never drink it from this side of the glass.´ He pointed to the side opposite it. ³Why?´ she asked innocuously. ³Because if you do so«´ He did so and made the milk spill all over him. Aurenia had no choice but to laugh. It was utterly hilarious. ³You clown!´ she laughed and spilled her milk on him. ³Now you have to take another shower.´ ³In the bath-tub,´ he said and licked the milk round his lips. She got up, sat on his laps and kissed him. ³Idiot,´ she said playfully. ³Promise me that you¶ll take the day off,´ she said plaintively. ³Yes Ma,´ he said sternly. Back at Suther Empire, Mr. Mkomzy was standing by Nick¶s desk going through his files. Nick¶s secretary came in with more files. ³Here are the files you wanted.´ She gave them to him. ³And Mr. Ojo called.´ Mr. Mkomzy looked at her. ³What did he say?´ he asked. ³ He said he is taking the day off,´ was the reply. Mr. Mkomzy was utterly astonished. ³The day off?´ he

mumbled. ³That¶s what he said,´ the secretary said, shrugged and left the office. Mr. Mkomzy dropped the files the secretary gave him on the desk, qu ite baffled at this. Then, he picked up the phone and called him. He got no reply. ³Where could he be?´ he asked himself. Nicholias and Aurenia thoroughly enjoyed themselves. They went

shopping together for lunch but cooked it late due to their lovemak ing in the kitchen with their clothes on. They went to Lekki Beach in the early hours of
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the evening and left there before it was ten. The departure was due to Nick¶s insistence. And in the night, they made love hungrily, over and over again. And surprisingly, Nick had no nightmares but the last one kept ringing in his head like a bell. The next day, Nick dressed for work and took two cups of tea for breakfast while Aurenia ate rice and stew. The teas and the food were made by her. She dressed up after bathing and wrapped her arms round him. ³What are you going to do about Byleez?´ she asked. He shrugged. ³I don¶t know,´ he replied honestly. ³I have been thinking about it. But primarily, I should not be sentimental about this. What I do is purely business, as I said before.´ She shrugged and snuggled closer to him. ³Je t¶aime, Nicholas,´ she whispered softly. ³Je t¶aime très, très bien.´ He smiled and whispered back, ³Moi aussi, Aurenia. Moi aussi.´ They shared a brief but lingering kiss. A fter that, he said, ³I have to take you back home, Aurenia.´ She scowled visibly and they

disentangled from each other. ³Boredom, here I come!´ she uttered. The couple entered Nick¶s vehicle and left his premises. They got to the mansion. But Aurenia was obstinate in departing from Nick. ³I hate making promises, Aurenia. I can easily break them. But I¶ll try and come back to take you out tonight.´ ³Promise?´ she asked. He made a face at her, entered his car and left. He met his lawyer chewing his tobacco in the office. He greeted him and Mr. Mkomzy turned sharply at him. ³What was the day off for?´ he asked minutes after he spat out the tobacco. ³Personal, Mr. Mkomzy,´ was the curt reply. Nick sat on his desk and went straight to business. ³I ha ve been thinking about Byleez. You know, I could handle them in a different way.´ Mr.

Mkomzy grunted and said, ³We will profit greatly at their destruction.´ In a thoughtful mood, Nick said, ³I¶m not so sure about that. Is it a good idea?´ Mr. Mkomzy coughed and said, ³Listen, Ojo. We make money. We can¶t let that money go away.´ Nick slowly nodded and said, ³I guess you¶re right.´ His
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lawyer got up, took some files from his desk and said, ³Our men are due to arrive home next week. Let me look through these in my office. If you need me, call me.´ With that, he left. After several minutes, Nick picked up the phone and called the mansion. ³Miss Dapo, please. Nick Ojo.´ After a short pause, ³I¶ll pretend you didn¶t say that, Miss Dapo.´ « ³But that was at my house. For now, I am over the phone.´ « ³I could imagine. Has your mother called?´ « ³Business reasons.´ « ³Thanks for the compliment, Au ± Miss Dapo.´ « ³Well, em, if your mother calls, call me at my home at this number: 4441923.´ « ³This i s not an avenue for you to pile up my phone bills.´ « ³I told you I don¶t keep promises.´ « ³Okay, then. I¶ll see you soon. Goodbye, Miss Dapo.´ He hung up with a smile on his face. He remembered her pout as she scowled. He recalled the responses his lissom nymphet made at his every touch. Then, the image of his albino girlfriend came into his mind like an interference. He sighed and shook his head vehemently, in a big fix.
TWENTY-TWO

The day passed uneventfully.

He took his lover out to the finest

restaurant he knew. And that night, they made love as usual. The next day, he got dressed for work but refused to take his usual cups of tea. He stood by a window in the parlour, deep in a brown study. Aurenia watched the man she loved. He thought of his village, of Uju and of Lyda, especially Lyda. After that, he went to the door. She confronted him. ³What¶s wrong?´ she asked. He brought out a smile. ³No mind me, Aurenia,´ he said. ³Na like dat I dey behave.´ ³Are you sure?´ she asked sceptically. ³Yep,´ he assured her and gave her a quick kiss. Just then, the phone rang. He answered it. ³Ojo here.´ « ³What¶s up, Mr. Mkomzy?´ « ³Don¶t do anything. If they¶re giving up, I

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wanna be there. Have you called in the board of directors?´ « ³Really? Thank you. I¶ll be there as soon as I can.´ He hung up. He walked up to her. ³Is something wrong?´ she asked. ³Your mother will return in two days¶ time,´ he announced. And my head¶ll be in the sack if she finds out about my affair with her daughter, he thought. Aurenia formed an ³O´ with her mouth and wrapped her arms round him. ³I¶ll wait here for you, mon cher,´ she whispered. ³I¶ll warm up the food and wait for you. Don¶t be long.´ Nick smiled and said, ³I¶ll always remember that, Aurenia.´ He stepped out of her embrace. ³I have to be at work. It¶s really important for me. I have decisions to make.´ She nodded and folded her arms. ³I know.´ She caressed his tie. ³I understand.´ He nodded his head to her and left. When he got to Suther Empire, the board of directors, Mr. Mkomzy, Samson and Raymond Byleez were already in his office, the meeting room. Nick dropped his briefcase on the settee, entered the meeting room and uttered his formal greetings and apology for his slight late-coming. Samson glared at him. Nick noticed this but completely ignored it. ³So, what do you have to tell us, Mr. Byleez?´ Mr. Mkomzy asked his grandfather. Nick loitered a bit in thought. The old man cleared his throat and answered, ³I got report on how successful you were in Iceland in suppressing a hundred billion naira. I cannot recollect the equivalent of that money in Iceland¶s currency. reconsidered your decision about your acquisition offer.´ I have now

He paused and

dabbed the sweat off his wrinkled countenance with a kerchief given him by his grandson. ³Samson and I bitterly argued, or discussed rather, on this. I¶m not really concerned about me or him. It is the people who work for me.´ ³Don¶t worry, Mr. Byleez,´ Mr. Mkomzy said. ³It will all be taken care of.´ He brought out fresh files for signing. He was about to hand them over to Samson when Nick refrained him from doing so. ³Gentlemen, I would like to speak to Mr. Raymond Byleez alone, please ± with the exception of my
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lawyer.´ The request was granted. Samson was quite obstinately reluctant at first but he gave in anyway. Samson was the last person to leave the meeting room, the office. Nick took a glass of Schweppes from the fridge and said, ³Mr. Byleez, my interest in your company has changed.´ He had another glass of Schweppes and made black, plain coffee. ³What is it that you¶re after now, Mr. Ojo?´ Raymond asked. Nick gave him the coffee while he gave his lawyer a glass of Schweppes and had one for himself. ³I no longer want to take your company and tear it apart. And I¶ll make sure nobody else does that, too.´ He paused and took a small gulp out of his drink. ³So I find myself unfamiliar territories. I want to help you.´ Utterly baffled, Mr. Mkomzy said, ³But we never discussed this, Ojo.´ Nick nodded, took another gulp and said, ³Yes. I¶m very much aware of that. Let¶s drink to that, Mr. Mkomzy.´ The old man sipped his coffee and said, ³Why did you change your mind all of a sudden?´ Nick took a third gulp and replied , ³I can help to remove the scandal that has killed your company and I believe this nation and the world at large need such companies as yours. Even Suther¶s can profit a lot from your company, that is, if we collaborate.´ Mr. Mkomzy blinked disbelieving ly and said, ³Do you know how much money you are losing with this decision you¶ve just made?´ Nick finished his drink. ³I, or in short, Suther Empire will gain much more money than we bargained for if we help companies rather than destroy them, Mr. Mkomzy,´ he said. ³I thought you as my lawyer would tell me this.´ There was a moment¶s silence. Then, the old man smiled and shook his head. He said, ³I do not mean to say this without sounding condescending, but I am proud of you.´ Mr. Mkomzy coughed and said, ³I am also proud of you myself, Ojo. It was rather a bolt from the blue.´ Nick nodded and said, ³I would like your men to come to my village in Uromi and repair it, if you may.´ Raymond smiled and said, ³That is settled then.´

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³Mr. Mkomzy, it¶s all yours now. Finish it up. I have a date,´ said Nick. ³With who?´ his lawyer asked. ³You don¶t wanna know,´ was the reply and he left the office with his briefcase. When he got home, the dining table was set with food and Aurenia was there in her panties wearing his favourite tie. ³How was your day, dear?´ she purred. He shook his head and involuntarily smiled. The image of Lady Tamar tried to block this delectable sight of her daughter. He entered the dining room and said, ³What are you doing with my tie?´ ³I like it, too,´ she purred and got up. Nick held his breath as she approached him. They were in the bathroom in the foamy, soapy, sweet -smelling bath-tub. ³I want to go back to my village,´ Nick announced. ³I have an obligation to fulfil there. So, I have to go home alone.´ Aurenia washed his face and said, ³I understand, honey. But what am I going to do then?´ Nick swallowed

noiselessly and thought of Lady Tamar. ³Your mother¶ll keep you company,´ he said. Aurenia shook her head and poked him on his shoulder. ³That is not what I mean, and you know it,´ she said. ³And you also know that I¶ll have to tell her about us.´ Nick shook his head. How am I going to tell her the truth? he thought. ³It¶s better I¶ll let you know when you do that, Aurenia,´ he said quickly. ³You know there is time for everything.´ Aurenia nodded and came closer to him. ³That¶s right,´ she said. ³There is time to lambada. There is time to go to bed and there is time to«´ Nick hindered her speech with a slop py, lingering kiss. What happened next can best be imagined. The couple finished their glorious bath. Aurenia was dressed in a black, curvaceous skirt that highlighted her hips and long, lean legs, and one of Nick¶s white shirts. Nick was dressed in a light pink shirt and black slacks. They were eating opposite each other. Nick both deliberately and accidentally stole

glances at his lover, wondering how he was going to tell her the truth about her mother and himself. It is best she did not know, for now, he thought. Perhaps
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when I return from Eror village. Then, a thought came to him. There was a question he never had the guts to ask his father ever since he was born and grew up. Where was his mother? His father never bothered to even tell him abo ut her. It irked and piqued him a great deal. Nick now resolved to find out about her from him when he gets home. I know what I am going to do, he thought, eating slowly now. I am going to live in Lyda¶s home throughout my stay in Eror village while the repair is going on. That drunk of a father must tell me about my mother. He finished his food and volunteered to clear the dishes, much to Aurenia¶s surprise. She has never met a man like Nick before. ³Nick, you¶re moody,´ she proclaimed when he finished with the kitchen. ³What¶s wrong?´ Nick sighed and said, ³This time, I promise to tell you when the time is right,´ Nick said. ³Be patient with me, Aurenia.´ She smiled, laughed and pecked him. ³Let¶s lambada,´ she whispered and he obliged.
TWENTY-THREE

Two days passed. Lady Tamar returned to Nigeria. Her daughter and her lover faithfully waited upon her. Nick¶s heart tore at the sight of Aurenia¶s mother. She was prettier than before. It must be the weather, he thought. Aurenia nudged at him but he took two sideways steps away from her. When they saw her mother approach them at a distance, mother and daughter hugged and kissed each other. Nick, not wanting to witness this, quickly took Lady Tamar¶s luggage and went to the long, brown limousi ne driven by Lady Tamar¶s chauffeur, an average, old -looking man, who opened the booth and kept her luggage inside. Nick quickly sat on the front passenger seat and loosened his tie a bit. It was hell to see the two women in his life come together unknowi ngly. He knew he could not sit with them at the back seat. The women entered the limousine after some moments of an intimate talk and it drove off.

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When the car reached its destination, Nick was the first to get off from the car. He removed the luggage from the booth and entered the mansion. Aurenia watched him with a twinkle in her eye. ³Why won¶t he allow the chauffeur to do that?´ she mused. That was left unanswered. Mother and daughter got to the third floor, where their lover was waiting for them. Nick fidgeted a little when he saw them with their arms linked. ³How far with Byleez?´ Lady Tamar asked him. ³My lawyer shall give you full details,´ he replied formally. She turned to her daughter. ³Could you excuse us, sweetheart? Mr. Ojo and I have some business to discuss.´ Aurenia gave Nick a secret wink as she passed him and went upstairs. Nick briefly watched the body he knew so well walk up the banister. She wore a mini-skirt deliberately to entice him. She told him so on the way to the airport and he quietly smooched her in response. He shook with remembrance. Lady Tamar came and wrapped her arms round him. ³Oh, how I missed you, my beautiful man!´ she gushed out silently. ³I have to go home to fulfil an obligation, Mrs. Dapo,´ he said to her. She took a step back in slight shock. ³When?´ she asked. ³As soon as the Byleez men are ready,´ he replied.

³Byleez?´ She was baffled. ³Nick, what is going on?´ ³I told you. Mr. Mkomzy will tell you everything, I promise,´ he said. ³Is there no time for us?´ she whispered. ³Mrs. Dapo«´ he began. ³Stop being formal with me, Nick,´ she interrupted obstinately. ³We slept together, remember?´ Nick heaved a sigh and turned away from her. ³It¶s not subject for proclamation,´ he said stiffly. There was a moment¶s silence. ³I thought you were to get Byleez. What are you doing with him?´ Nick swallowed. ³Things took turns for the better,´ he said lamely. ³What things?´ she demanded. ³You wouldn¶t understand, Mrs. Dapo,´ he replied. know.´ ³Remember, I once ran this business, too.´ She was all serious and business-like. ³I have that right to know what¶s happening, Nick. Tell me.´
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³It¶s a business thing, you

Just then, he spotted Aurenia at the top of the stairs. ³You just came back fro m the white land,´ Nick said. ³I suggest you have your rest.´ Lady Tamar coughed curtly. ³Suggestion refused,´ she said stonily. After clearing his throat properly, Nick narrated to her how he handled Byleez. Lady Tamar stared at him, stupefied. ³I will not be prepared to let Suther Empire go down the drain in finance, Mr. Nicholias Ojo!´ she thundered. ³Where has all that hard work gone to?´ With his hands in his pockets, Nick replied coolly, ³Great profit after long endurance and suffering. That¶ s hard work. Great collaboration and

perhaps alliance. Another hard work. And also«´ ³Shut up, Nick,´ Lady Tamar cut in rudely. ³Where was Mr. Mkomzy when all this was happening?´ ³With me,´ was the proud answer followed with a brilliant smile. ³He¶s my lawyer, isn¶t he?´ ³Your appointed lawyer,´ Lady Tamar corrected. ³Suther Empire is

more of a hard work than you¶ve mentioned. You better get Byleez back.´ ³I doubt I can,´ Nick said unperturbed. ³You see, Byleez will start their rehabilitation from my village.´ Lady Tamar shook her head with disbelief. ³I can¶t believe this,´ she mused aloud. ³It is like a dream.´ She saw great distaste in attacking the man she loved. ³Why did you do it, Nick?´ she asked in a phlegmatic voice. ³We can gain from maintaining, keeping, building rather than destroying,´ was the diplomatic answer. ³It is for the good of man.´ ³Are you sure about this?´ she asked with unhidden misgivings. ³Trust me, Mrs. Dapo,´ he assured. Oh how much she wanted to!! Nick turned t o go. ³When will you come back, Nick?´ echoed Aurenia¶s voice. Nick slowly turned his head back. ³I don¶t know,´ he replied. ³I¶ll be preparing for my upcoming trip, I suppose.´ That brought a grin to Aurenia¶s face but she noticed his change of tone. He left the mansion.

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He collapsed on his sofa when he got home. He removed his tie and kicked off his shoes. ³Mother and daughter are back, and my head¶ll be in the sack,´ he recited numbly off his head. There was no way he could avoid them now. Lady Tamar was attractive but Aurenia was beautiful. He was involved with two of the most glamorous women he has ever seen. He buried his head in his hands. Why did I allow for such complications? he thought. The phone rang. When he answered it, it was Mr . Mkomzy. ³Mr. Mkomzy, I am in trouble,´ he blurted before his lawyer could say anything. ³What is it?´ he asked with worry. ³I ± I m-m-made love to Aurenia, a-as well,´ he stuttered. ³Oh no, Ojo!´ he said sadly. ³It was Lady Tamar¶s fault,´ Nick defen ded. ³µTake her out. Take her out.¶ What does she expect me to do? Why do you see me curse and swear whenever she gives me that assignment?´ ³Don¶t you have what is called self -control?´ Mr. Mkomzy asked. ³What? Self-control? With her?´ Nick shook his head. ³Impossible! You should be as young as I am to know what I mean.´ ³Still,´ Mr. Mkomzy insisted. ³There is self-control, no matter how drop dead beautiful a woman might happen to be.´ ³Is,´ Nick corrected. ³Mr. Mkomzy, if you were young, you won¶t be talking like this, I bet. Aurenia was the date I was talking about.´ ³Really?´ Mr. Mkomzy asked, surprised. ³What am I going to do?´ Nick asked. ³You told her about Byleez?´ his lawyer asked. ³Yes,´ was the thin reply. ³She blew her top after hea ring me. But she¶ll get over it once finances come flooding in.´ He paused and then repeated his question, with much emphasis this time. ³Run to your village as quickly as possible. It is not proper to mingle emotional complications with an empire like Suther. Byleez will come to you in a week¶s time. By then, concentrate on rehabilitating Byleez and repairing Eror.´
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Nick heaved a sigh of relief. ³Thank you very much, Mr. Mkomzy, for taking my mind off Lady Tamar and Aurenia. unannounced.´ ³Take care of yourself, Ojo. Just phoned to tell you that Raymond and Samson are prepared for Geysir quite soon.´ His lawyer hung up. After getting himself together with food, Nick packed some of his clothes in the travelling bag the Oba gave him.
TWENTY-FOUR

I¶m leaving tomorrow

Nick left for Eror, true to his word. His car voyage was quite rough, quite smooth. And finally, he got his baby Volvo into Uromi. ³Home sweet home,´ he muttered as he cruised into the village e knew in the palm of his hand. As he parked in front of Lyda¶s house, people came out to see who the visitor with a car was. When Nick came out, the first set of grown -ups he encountered was IK and Chidi carrying textbooks and walking towards his direction and talking in earnest. IK was the first to see him. His jaw dropped. ³Is that not Nickkison?´ he announced. Chidi ran to Nick and hugged him. ³Oh my goodness!´ she enthused, all smiles. Nick was not smiling. Surprised, Chidi said, ³It has been years since you last saw your childhood friends, and now you frown at them.´ Nick heaved a sigh, his expression solemn and cold. ³I suffered and got what I wanted. You two mocked me.´

IK coughed and said, ³Em, you don¶t seem to understand, Nicky. You see, eh, you know, em, «´ He was at a loss for words. Nick locked up his car. ³You¶ve got a fine car, O,´ Chidi complimented. ³I do not need your

compliments,´ Nick said coldly and coolly. ³And I do not keep friends that mock me.´ As he left them staring after him, he finally smiled. He looked around the village, which could not change on its own. It was still the same as he left it. First, he entered Lyda¶s house. Her mother was ironing while her father was reading a newspaper. She herself was absent. Her

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mother almost got a dress burnt at the sight of the august visitor. ³Nicholias!!!´ she exclaimed with surprise. Her father dropped the newspaper, got up and hugged him. ³Oh my son!!!´ her father exclaimed. Nick greeted Lyda¶s

parents politely. He sat Nick down. ³My son, what would you like to eat?´ he asked. He declined the offer politely. ³I¶ve eaten before I came from Lagos,´ he said. ³Is it the centre of excellence?´ Lyda¶s father said proudly. ³My daughter went there.´ Slowly, Lyda¶s mother stopped ironing and turned and gave him a warning look. looked at Nick. ³Lyda is in Lagos as well?´ he asked with great interest. ³Em, let me fix you something, Nick,´ Lyda¶s mother quickly said, and headed towards the kitchen. ³He does not want any food, Mama Lyda,´ Lyda¶s father¶s voice echoed, stopping her in her tracks. ³You are not his mouthpiece, Papa Lyda,´ her own voice equally echoed. Nick felt the tension in the thatched house. What was going on? he wondered. Papa Lyda sat in front of him and took his hand in his wrinkled one. ³It took Lyda a complete month to teach me how to read,´ he laughed. Mama Lyda was by the entrance door watching him. Nick loosened the tie in his suit a bit and said, ³I wonder what took her to Lagos.´ Papa Lyda slowly lowered his face and murmured, ³She had you in her mind, my son. I can¶t believe what love can make you do.´ ³Papa Lyda, you mean she went to Lagos because of me?´ Nick asked, utterly astonished. ³My son,´ Mama Lyda spoke up. ³Anythin g she thought of and did was for you. You are very special to her.´ She resumed her ironing. Nick scratched his head in slight chaos. He was involved with two women, was assigned to marry a third one he barely knew and his first love was perhaps keeping herself for him as well. Nick did not know what to do. He cleared his throat and said, ³Papa Lyda, I want to be your guest till I leave Eror back to Lagos. I¶m sure Lyda will
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Lyda¶s father¶s smile vanished, and he quickly

come back.´ Papa Lyda¶s eyes danced fervently with joy and the smile he produced almost tore his face. ³You are ever welcome, my son,´ he breathed out with happiness. ³Welcome home, son,´ Mama Lyda announced. Two days after settling down, Nick then visited the Oba¶s palace. With the hefy guards asked him who he was, he said, ³I was sent by my future fatherin-law to bring good tidings to this village from the centre of excellence.´ This was reported and in a few minutes, he was allowed entrance. He met the presence of three men of title with the Oba. The Oba did not allow Nick to bow. Instead, he got down from his throne and embraced him. ³My sons do not bow to me,´ he said proudly. He called a servant and ordered him to call Nick¶s bride-to-be. In half an hour¶s time, Uju appeared. She was a pretty African beauty, elegantly dressed. But she was not Lady Tamar. She was not Aurenia, and she was certainly not Lyda. Nick watched her come, nodding in admiration. He should be shaking his head in pity. Lady Tamar was a mistake. Aurenia was an attraction. Uju was an assignment. But Lyda? She was the one, the only one. Nick wished to God Lyda was present. Proudly, the Oba said, ³Get familiar with your bride, Nicholias. I have to resolve this meeting.´ He returned to his throne. Uju stepped forward and took Nick¶s hand. ³My father has told me so much about you,´ she said in a small voice. Nick held her hand and bowed to the Oba. ³May you live long,´ he saluted and together, they left the palace. Nick took Uju to the completed, abandoned designer house. But they did not enter. It was there that Nick received his very first kiss. He did not want to defile it. He took Uju¶s hands and examined them closely. But his mind was not there. Even Lady Tamar and Aurenia were just common artefacts. He was utterly worried about Lyda. He wanted to know where in Lagos she could be.

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Poor Nick! He lived a life with no plan. When he decided to return to the present, Uju asked him, ³Am I not all you dreamt I would be?´ Nick sighed slightly and said, ³You¶re a fine girl.´ That was not what he was supposed to say but that was the utmost dinkum oil. ³And I want to get familiar with you, just as your father said.´ ³What do you say?´ Uju asked further. ³I am a man with a few words,´ he said, evading the essence of that question. ³W ill you be with me while our village gets repaired?´ ³That¶s a step to familiarity,´ she said, smiling. Nick was pleased at her level of literacy. After staying there for some time, he took her home. At the front of the palace, he gave her a light peck on the cheek and departed. She watched him go. A week later, true to Mr. Mkomzy¶s word, Byleez made its awesome arrival into Eror. Every villager, adult and child, except the Oba, was out to see them. Even Nick was well prepared for them. He took them to a vast land near a neighbouring village which he bought from the Oba of that village. This land was used to build their workshop and it was a stone¶s throw away from Eror. In another week, the workshop of Byleez was built on that land. The leader of the builders confronted Nick and asked him where the renovation of Eror should start. ³From my father¶s house,´ was the reply, and this was the first time he went to see his father since his arrival. When he met him, the mat was torn the more. He was wrinkled from head to toe. The bench was still the same. The thatched house was also the same. Nick¶s father was sitting on the bench with half a bottle of palm wine and the mat was outside. When Nick saw him, he shook his head and exclaimed, ³Papa, you can never leave palm wine alone.´ The old man shrugged his shoulders and

murmured, ³It keeps the heart ticking.´ Then, he strained his ears. ³Is that Nicholias?´ Nick laughed. ³Papa, abi you don¶t know me again? You don¶t

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know your only son and child?´ His father stretched out his arms. ³Come here. Let me touch you.´ Nick went and embraced him instead. reaching old age and you still drink.´ ³Who are you to tell me what to do? My son?´ ³And you are still stubborn. When will it stop?´ ³At my choice. What have you come to see me for?´ ³A son has no right to see his father?´ Nick stepped out of the embrace. ³I have come to make our home stronger.´ ³The thing you would have done was to send me money for that, Nicholias. I know how to make my house stronger.´ Nick shook his head. ³Palm wine would¶ve eaten that money up, father.´ His father frowned. ³Are you still the little boy I use to know? You haven¶t changed?´ Nick dodged the questions. ³Father, I have brought the person that will lead the rebuilding of the house and the whole village of Eror.´ His father slowly nodded and said, ³Tell that person not to touch my house.´ Nick turned to the person. ³You will find a baby Volvo parked in front of a thatched house. rebuilding finish?´ ³In about six months from my observation,´ was the reply and he left. Nick re-turned to his father. ³You haven¶t changed.´ ³Are you accusing me?´ his father thundered. Nick lowered his countenance and kept mute, anger fast escalating. ³Is this how you repay me for my hard work, by kicking me out of my own house?´ ³Father!!!´ Nick bellowed, his anger at the peak. ³Where is my mother?´ Begin from there.´ He paused. ³How long will this ³You see, father? You are

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For several moments, his father was still, struck by the entrance of that question. Then, he threw the half bottle of palm wine on the ground, which went to smithereens, got up and spat. ³Abomination!!´ he exclaimed. Nick suddenly seized him. ³You better tell me or I will make you to! Where is she? Who is she? How is she? I came into existence because of her. You know that. I know you do. Tell me!! Tell me!!´ Nick made him sit down again. His father sighed heavily and said, ³You have no fear of your father. What have I not done for you?´ Laughter involuntarily left Nick¶s lips. ³I have been afraid of you ever since I turned twelve ± and onwards. Tell me what I want to know.´ His father looked at him with utter disbelief. ³So you have grown up to become like this. What do you want to know?´ ³My mother,´ was the stern reply. ³Which mother?´ Nick was struck by that question. He looked at his father and kept mute. His father roared with laughter. When he finished, he said, ³After all I have done for you, after I have slaved for you, you come back to ask me stupid, rubbish, nonsensical questions. Go back to where you came from, since you are not prepared to come back to your father.´ Undauntedly, Nick seized his father once again. ³I will make you talk if I have to!´ he bellowed. ³Tell me the tru th.´ ³Which truth? What do you know about truth?´ ³Tell me about my mother!! Ever since I lived with you, you have never bothered to tell me about her.´ ³And you have never bothered to ask me.´ ³I am asking you now, father.´

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His father kept silent. Nick grabbed him and lifted him. ³I do not mind killing you to get the answer out of you!!!´ ³What?????´ his father yelped and spat. ³Is this how my son has turned out to be? A murderer?´ He shook his head sadly. Nick shook him. ³Father, please!! Tell me ! Tell me where my mother is.´ He was now pleading with his father, almost weeping. ³I have to know! I have to know!´ ³Shut up!´ his father bellowed. ³Which mother? Which mother do you think you have? Does it make any difference?´ Nick sighed heavily and placed him back on his seat. His father touched the patch on his left eye. He closed his other eye and wept. ³My eye was gone because of you,´ he said. ³I told her. I told her that she shouldn¶t have brought that hen. She said that was what she could afford.´ He wept some more. Nick watched him wit utter puzzlement. ³I have done so much. Why should I merit this? I pleaded. I pleaded with them to bless my woman. I served him undyingly. But why? Why this?´ He then cried. Tears came from his right eye but none from his left. ³What happened to your left eye, father?´ His father shook his head adamantly. ³You mustn¶t know or else you won¶t forgive yourself. As for me, only God knows.´ ³Tell me something that makes sense, father!´ Nick implored. ³I can¶t. I just can¶t. I can¶t imagine what will happen next if I do,´ said his father. For the first time, Nick sat beside his father. ³Did this thing happen before I was born?´ he asked in a surprisingly phlegmatic voice. His father flinched. ³What was it?´ Nick asked. His father was shaking from head to toe as if he was prepared to erupt any minute. Nick tried to calm him down, but to no avail. ³Nicholias,´ he was stuttering. ³I took out my eye for you. She brought a white spotless female hen for you. The ± The river lord took her life after you
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came out.´ He paused, shaking the more. He was now gasping. ³And now, he wants to take mine. The lake. Go to the lake. He is calling you. He has been calling you since.´ He slowly got up, shaking uncontrollably. Nick held him tight and screamed his name. He yelped and slumped. Nick shook him

constantly. No way. His eye was open and a white foamy substance came out of his mouth. Nick dropped him on the ground, unable to speak. Then, something gripped him tight. He marched away from his father¶s corpse, away from the house, away from Eror village. He marched towards the entrance boundary of Uromi, but entered a footpath on his left. He knew not what he was doing. The footpath was very long. It led him to an empty, sinister lake. When he got there, the thing that gripped him left him. Nick stared at the smoky lake. On top of it was a calabash of dog milk and coconut water with a human eye inside. Also on this lake were the raw skeletons of a hen. ³That¶s my father¶s eye,´ he mused. When realisation struck him, when he remembered the last words of his father, he covered his ears and gave out a piercing scream. ³Oh my God!´ he shouted. ³My

nightmares were true! They were all true!!! O God!!! O God!!! O God!!!´ He then felt a cut on his chest. He touched it. The chest part of his shirt was covered with blood. He screamed again and ran away from the lake. He entered Eror, entered his car and left Eror, left Uromi, on his wa y to Lagos with Lyda in his mind. He was like a mad man. He saw pandemonium around him and screamed Lyda¶s name. He was so obsessed with Lyda that he took no notice of an oncoming lorry packed with bags of cement. He did not hear that blaring horn. He d id not see the lorry. He only felt the impact of the crash ± and its consequences.

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TWENTY-FIVE

Nick heaved a sigh longer than a sigh. Yes! Those memories maimed him in fact. The injection slowly had effect on him. He slowly fluttered his eyes and sleep carried him. His head was cleared when he woke up. A nurse came in and greeted him with flowers. Nick smiled and said, ³Who sent them to me?´ The nurse replied, ³Well, Mr. Ojo, there is one girl outside insisting on seeing you. She is not a relative, though. I am not allowed to let anyone in except your relatives or parents.´ He flinched when he heard ³parents´. ³But I don¶t know about this one.´ ³Send her in,´ he answered. ³I am not to send her in. It was the instruction. But she waited so patiently. It was as if seeing you were important.´ She went and drew the curtains. It was daybreak. Nick squeezed his eyes at the sight of the waking skies. ³How does she look like?´ he asked. ³An albino with dancing eyes,´ was the reply. ³The doctors have not come yet. Or else she would have been sent out.´ ³Don¶t send her out. Send her in,´ Nick said in earnest. He had no doubt in his mind that it was Lyda. The nurse obeyed and in came Lyda. After her entrance, the nurse said, ³You better hurry up. You have a few minutes till the doctors arrive.´ She departed. Lyda first hugged Nick desperately before he said anything. Tears left her eyes freely. ³Oh my love! My sweet love!´ she breathed. Nick could not stop his own tears from falling, too. ³Lyda,´ he called quietly, with emotion. ³Where were you?´ ³I looked for you. Everywhere. Anywhere. Nowhere.´ Nick quickly sought for her lips and found them. ³I love you,´ he

mumbled to her for the very first time, and it was as if his life depende d on it. He himself was shocked at the amount of love he had for Lyda.
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³I went to see my parents,´ she said. ³They told me you came ± and left. I looked for you. Then I heard about the accident over the radio.´ ³Accident? I had an accident?´ he asked, puzzled. He searched his memory well and remembered his head -on collision with a lorry. He lost consciousness after that. ³I miss you terribly,´ Nick said, still holding her. The lengthy kiss was over. ³Life wasn¶t easy for me.´ Lyda caressed him and said, ³I know, my love. Things were never easy at the centre of excellence.´ ³I¶ve made so many mistakes,´ Nick uttered, remembering Lady Tamar and Aurenia. ³Don¶t worry, Nick. You will soon get well and come back to me. That¶s a promise,´ she said, her eyes dancing. Their lips met again in a more passionate kiss. Just then, the nurse entered. She slightly withdrew at the sight of them, then coughed politely and said, ³The first doctor has arrived. You better go.´ Lyda thanked the nurse immensely a nd quietly departed from Nick. He watched her go with tears still on his cheeks. ³Clean off those tears. Or aren¶t you a man?´ the nurse teased. Nick laughed and cleaned them off. Nick was observing a peaceful siesta when another nurse came and woke him up. ³I¶m sorry, Mr. Ojo,´ she said. ³A lady insists on seeing you even though I told her that you were observing your siesta.´ ³Who is she?´ he said sleepily, stretching his body. ³She said her name is Miss Aurenia Dapo.´ That cancelled the sleep tha t was coming to him. ³She is welcome,´ he said dully. The nurse brought her in and left. He was instantly aroused by the sight of her and the smell of her perfume. She stood by the door, watching him. ³Nick, you¶re hard -on,´ came her mellifluous voice . He tried in vain to cover up his erection. Then, she laughed and came up to him. ³O my darling!´ she exclaimed. ³Your accident is the latest in town now.´ She

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caressed his chin and jaw. ³How are you, mon chèri?´ Suddenly, he grabbed her bodily to his bed and pressed himself against her and started caressing her. ³What do you think you¶re doing?´ she complained. ³I¶m telling you how I am, baby,´ he crooned, his caresses deepening. Aurenia let out an

involuntary moan. ³You left without saying good bye,´ she complained further and let out another moan. His lips went to her neck. ³Keep quiet, woman,´ he whispered. ³And allow me.´ His touches and caresses started intoxicating her. ³Yes! Go deeper!!´ she pleaded softly and he did. He placed himse lf in between her legs. She writhed with delight as he surged in, without removing her panties. ³Wonderful!´ she exclaimed. Then, she mumbled, ³But you¶re injured, darling.´ ³A few cracked ribs won¶t harm me,´ he murmured. She adjusted her mini and got out of bed. Nick sat on his bed. ³I missed you, darling,´ she said. ³When you left, Samson plagued me night and day on the phone before he returned to Iceland.´ Nick shrugged his shoulders and said nothing. She poked him. ³You mean you don¶t care?´ she said, surprised. ³Of course I care,´ he lied. ³He¶s gone, isn¶t he? It¶s only you and me, sweetheart. When I¶m out of here, I¶ll soon be at home back to you.´ She poked him again. ³You know you almost caused me a miscarriage.´ For a minute, Nick did not speak. He stared at her with disbelief. ³You mean you¶re «?´ He couldn¶t finish the sentence. He was too stunned. ³Yes, darling!!!´ she exclaimed and hugged him. ³Our baby is coming. I almost told Mum but I just had to tell you first.´ Nick did a very good job at concealing his shock and rejoiced with her in pretence. ³I¶ll come out of this hospital and we¶ll celebrate,´ he said in earnest. ³You won¶t be alone. But I¶ll let you know when your mother should know about this, ok?´ ³Mum¶s coming this evening,´ she said. ³You can tell her yourself.´ Nick slowly nodded. Gosh, he was in trouble, big trouble!!! Just then, the nurse came in, with his drugs. She told Aurenia to leave. Before she did that,
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she pecked Nick and promised to pay hi m another visit. After she left, he took his drugs. He was lying on his bed, thinking of Aurenia¶s pregnancy before the drugs took effect. Nick had just woken up from his afternoon drugs. A third nurse entered. It was early evening. ³You have a visito r, Mr. Ojo,´ she announced. ³A woman. She told me you once lived in her house.´ Before he could tell her anything, the nurse brought his visitor in. ³My daughter told me you were okay this afternoon,´ said his visitor. ³G-Good evening, Mrs. Dapo,´ he greeted as she sat beside him. ³How are you?´ ³Lonely, without you,´ was her impulsive answer. ³I¶m now managing the new Suther Empire in your absence.´ Nick slowly nodded. There was a brief silence. He took this time to look at her. She was getting prettier and prettier. She wore a black dinner dress that left the shoulders and back bare. He ogled at her and said, ³You going somewhere?´ Lady Tamar shook her head no and lowered her countenance. Another brief silence. Then, she raised her head and said, in a low voice, ³I think I have to tell you this. I went to a particular clinic in London because I was feeling a bit dizzy. This dizziness occurred almost everyday. The doctor there did a test on me and it came out positive.´ She stopped. ³What came out positive?´ Nick asked, concerned. It was quite a while before she answered him. ³Nick,´ she said slowly. ³I¶m pregnant for you.´ Bombshell!!! Nick¶s jaw dropped in stupefaction. ³Th-Th-That¶s w-wonderful news, Mrs. Dapo,´ he stuttered. ³Will your daughter be pleased to hear of a sibling coming?´ She shrugged. This was worse than his nightmares!! ³You have to think of your daughter¶s feelings,´ Nick said. ³I cannot remove this baby,´ she said. ³You are the only man I¶ve slept with after my husband.´ It was a mistake! he almost screamed at her. Get rid of the baby! It was a mistake! But he did not say that. He started coughing. The impact these

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discoveries had on him was too much to bear. ³Help me call the nurse,´ he gasped. Lady Tamar quickly did that and the nurse came. Then, she quickly announced her departure. ³I have to meet with the board of directors before I go home,´ she said. ³I¶ll come and see you tomorrow.´ She left. The nurse gave him a glass of chilled water and that calmed him down. ³Do you need anything else?´ she asked. He said no and thanked her. After her departure, Nicholias Ojo laid down on his bed and wept bitterly, his tears cascading down his two cheeks and soaking his pillow.

END

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