She was reading Salman Rushdie’s Satanic verses when the call came. She had dropped the book face-down on the bed and walked to the window. His voice was cold and she could sense he was disquieted by something, she couldn’t decipher what it was. Then he told her and she let out a scream that echoed through the building before losing itself in the garden at the back of her flat. She had walked to the garden with a tray of plantain chips and fed her parrots with her fingers shaking as she brought each chip close to the becks of the birds.
That was a week ago, now she sat on a chair in a dimly lit office, trying her best to speak politely to the devil himself. Her name was Miriam and the man pouring Eva into two champagne flutes was Foster her boss.
Foster brought the filled flutes and set them on the table. Miriam eyed them with disgust.
Her phone beeped and she reached for it. She typed her password carefully, while she was doing this she cast glances at her boss who was taking too long to fill two flutes! The bluebird app had a red dot on it and she checked what the message was. It was a direct message from lfeanyi her suitor. He had sent the message to Inform her of he was on his way to the firm for a visit. She typed: ‘okay, but I’m having a meeting with foster’ and dropped the phone.
Foster sat on his chair and smiled.
” So can we just do it that way?” he said softly.
” I can’t do that, I have a relationship. I told you that already” she said and stood.
She had endured the Insult too long. What had happened weeks ago brought her to him. She had never pictured herself discussing something so filthy as sex for favour or put in proper term decorated prostitution with the Imp.
” You are only trying to make this difficult, people do it and they keep silent over it. Trust me no one will know” Foster said and took another sip of his wine.
Miriam sneered. ??????? She wondered if Cynthia the Secretary who was seen by the gateman leave the firm’s premises with Foster hours after work with her blouse rumpled and her makeup smeared with beads of sweat dripping from her forehead was among this ” people ” or Sade who was rumoured to have a baby for him. In her mind, she saw her body curled around him and immediately shook her head as if by doing so the ugly scene floating in her head would leave.
” I can’t believe you are saying this “, She said and turned to leave.
Foster dropped the flute on the edge of the table hastily and the flute fell from it and chattered on the floor. The wine sprayed the file cabinet and blinds on the window close to it. He blocked her and held her shoulders with both hands. Miriam tried to shake his hands off but she couldn’t.
” Listen, Miriam,” he said and stared into her eyes. Miriam’s heart was beating faster with her mind blank now.
” I love you and I don’t know what got into me when I made that offer,” He said and the fingers of his right hand crawled to her chest then to her…
She sent her right palm straight at him and he could only see her hand descend in its own arc before it landed on his cheek.
A fiendish fury erupted in him and with the flash of lightning he grabbed Miriam, then he…
* * *
Ifeanyi got to the firm few minutes after he sent the message to Miriam. He walked into the first floor and made straight for the receptionist’s counter where his sister chinoye had a wan smile across her face.
” Brother!” she said and dropped the file she was holding.
” kedu “, Ifeanyi said, leaning on the counter. ” You are beautiful in this your butterfly blouse o”
” Thank you brother, but this is mum’s own o, she said it is too small for her”
The dress was picked for her mother’s birthday when she turned fifty, Chinoye had told her mother that the dress was the ugliest birthday pick she had seen in her life and had worn a blue sleeveless dress to the party instead of it. Ifeanyi wondered what genie made her fall in love with it.
” Brother you came to see your hmm because I’m very sure you didn’t drive all the way from odigbo because of me,” she said in mock anger.
” haha, Chinoye, I came to see you and her, and by the way who is hmm ehen?”
” She is having a meeting with Oga Foster, you can wait at her office,” Chinoye said and picked up the file she had dropped earlier.
” Okay, do you have bottled water, my throat is dry”, Ifeanyi said and began to loosing his brown tie. He pulled out his handkerchief while he waited for chinoye to fetch the bottled water from the fridge.
She brought the bottle to the counter and cleared her throat. ” ehen, brother have you paid the money you burrowed?”
Ifeanyi stared at her quizzically.
” So mama didn’t tell you that I was scammed? the shipment didn’t arrive as planned since last week, I have been trying to reach Jude since then” Ifeanyi said with a wan of sadness across his face.
He picked the bottle and carefully removed the cap.
” Jesus! Brother! all that money? Why didn’t mama call me, no wonder she cancelled her visit. “
” Maybe she thought Jude will call and saw no need to call you,” he said and drank from the bottle”
Chinoye hissed and scratched a pimple on her face.
” Let me check her, l have to go back to Uncle Obinna’s place he said he has someone who can help track, Jude. I believe I will be out of this soon” Ifeanyi said and walked to the stairs his sole making ” ko-ko-ko” sounds as he made for the studio of the firm where he thought his wife would be sketching away as usual.
But he was wrong.
* * *
… When Ifeanyi got into the studio, he was surprised to see her laptop on but couldn’t see her. He was about to leave when he heard a faint sound come from the direction of the studio’s door he left ajar.
Then he could pick the words: ” Stop”, ” Stop Frank!”
He ran out of the studio into the alley. He approached the door with the word ” Manager” inscribed on it and kicked it open. His heart lurched.
There on the table was his lover struggling with a man who pinned her to the table, his left palm cupped over her mouth and his right pulling at her singlet.
” Miriam? How could you”, Ifeanyi said and sprung on Foster who now stared at him with his eyes wild with fear like the feral eyes of a mouse caught in a trap.
The first roundhouse punch sent Foster flying towards the cabinet. He landed face-first on the broken champagne flute on the floor. Ifeanyi pulled him up by his collar and sent another blow with his left palm clenched into a fist. When Ifeanyi fist hit his solar plexus, let out a scream and fell to the ground. Ifeanyi was about to send a kick in the groin when a voice shouted from his back.
” Stop it, Brother! What happened”, chinoye shouted.
Ifeanyi turned and saw his sister and other members of the staff who had left their offices downstairs to watch this stranger beat their boss. Cynthia was taking a video and all Sade could do was stare.
Ifeanyi brushed a piece of glass from his jacket, he shot a glance at Miriam who was crying quietly now. He shook his head and left.
Cynthia ran to Foster and pulled him up.
When Ifeanyi got to his car, pulled off his jacket and opened the back seat where he tossed it angrily on the back seat and slammed the door. He opened the door of the driver’s side of the car and entered. He inserted his key, he heard his sister call him and he started at the rear mirror and turned on the ignition, when Chinoye got to the park what was left was a ball of smoke.
He drove at high speed from the firm’s street into the dirt road that connected with the main road. His head was filled with questions and his face sullen. He drove into the asphalt road. The truck at his front was too slow, so he spun the wheel to the left, accelerated, and was about to spin back to the front of the car when the bus came straight at his car.
It was too late.
The bus crashed into his car and then he fell into a dark abyss.
Miriam was giving the head investigator details of what happened when Chinoye returned. Two policemen lead Foster handcuffed out of the room with Sade crying: ” Honey what happened ” after them.
After the investigator had her story down on his tape, she left with Chinoye. Chinoye drove her car and was silent till they got to her house. She went straight to the bathroom when she got inside and washed the slimy sweat from her skin. She wore a black blouse and jean trousers before joining Chinoye in the parlour.
” What really happened, cause l don’t just understand. A minute Brother was chatting with me downstairs, the next minute we gathered to watch him best Foster up. Aunty Miriam, what really happened?”
She told her the story slowly, trying to suppress the urge to cry.
” Ewo o!” Chinoye said and held her head. ” I knew from the start, l knew it. When you told me Foster offered you the money for Chief Bolawan’ a house project I knew he was after something. Foster is not that generous, he did the same thing to Sade and Cyntia. We know him na, no bi today. Did you tell my brother?”
Miriam shook her head slowly.
” Ha Aunty, I’m very sorry, let me…”
Then her phone’s ringing started to play. She reached for it and entered her password. The call was from her mum.
” They have succeeded oooooooh!”
Chinoye flinched and gripped her phone firmly. ” They?”
” They have succeeded!”
” Mama what happened?”
” Ehen! Brother? Brother!”, Chinoye screamed and dropped the phone. Startled by the call Miriam ran to Chinoye and held her.
” What happened?”
” Brother just had an accident o o”
Miriam pulled her closer.
” What did you say?”
” Brother just had an accident!”
Miriam released her grip and made for the door.
When they arrived at the hospital they were directed to the room where he was admitted. His mother sat on a chair fidgeting with beads of sweat drilling from her forehead. They rushed into the room and Miriam dropped to her knees close to the bed.
Chinoye suppressed a scream, she was surprised that her brother who left the firm about thirty minutes ago was lying in this state now. Miriam grasped his left palm carefully not to tamper with the syringe that went straight into his vein. A large machine that had a chart with green zigzag lines playing around on the screen was reading and making sounds like a time bomb about to explode. She cried silently and started at his face that was covered with stitches that were caked with blood.
” My daughter help me to thank God. Help me to thank God o they said the other man did not survive it. They want to take my only son.” She said and started to sob again. Chinoye walked to her mum and nestled her head on her shoulder.
A week later…
Miriam was reading her diary while she sat on her bed in the room. She had quit the firm and decided to get another job, probably as a photographer for a model firm and she was already considering Lagos as a destination when the haze clears. She knew it was over between her and Frank and she was sad and broken that it came quickly. She had done what she did for him, for them but fate had another future created.
When she visited him at the hospital, a day after Ifeanyi became conscious again she had met her worse. His mother’s face was just like Dante’s death, all counters, and wrinkles. She had twisted her lip to a funny angle and hissed.
” So it was you. I said it! from the moment you brought this Ofe manu to my house l knew something would go wrong. Here she is Ashawo!” she said.
” Haha Mama, shebi I have told you what happened!”
Miriam stared at the bed, at Ifeanyi who was swollen with hate, and his mother who folded her hands across her breast.
” Hold your tongue there! Chinoye” she said and turned to face her ” What proof do you have, who knows? Maybe you made the story up to help your friend. We will her and her beau their money ooo stay away from my son!” She shouted. A nurse walked in and asked what the matter was. Miriam left embarrassed and she could hear Ifeanyi’s mother start the story over again with the nurse.
Miriam picked her diary. She opened the first page and started at the words:
” The moon also swims in the river”
She laughed. The phrase had story attached to it. A long time ago while she was young in the riverine village of her’s. She had come out to ease herself with her sister when she saw the moon in the Horizon over the rive with half of it dipped into it. She had tapped her sister and said with excitement:
” The moon swims in the river, ” Miriam said.
” No, the horizon made it look like that”
” Can’t you see?”
That year’s ago when she was five or six. Now the phrase meant a lot to her. Though she knew better now, the phrase itself shined new light into her story.
The world saw her differently but the situation only appeared to be bad it would be different if they looked closely to see the truth. She wished Ifeanyi would believe her and see her situation how it was.
Then her doorbell rang and she walked over to check who it was. There on the doormat was her, sitting in a wheelchair with a bouquet of roses on his lap and Chinoye providing support.
She wanted to speak but only air escaped her lung.
“I’m so sorry Miriam for everything, Miriam showed me the videos. I don’t know what got into me. Aft…After all, we went through together. I am sure…”
She didn’t let him finish the sentence bent and hugged him and planted a kiss on her lips”
” Happy Valentine lover birds,” Chinoye said.
” Oh I forgot”
She turned to open the door and when she faced them she was stunned. Right on a small display box that opened was a diamond ring. The ring glistened in the sun.
She suppressed a scream.
” Miriam, will you marry me?”
” Yes,” she said quietly.
About the writer
Oladejo Victor Olayemi is a budding artist and a secondary school graduate. He lives in Ore, Odigbo, Ondo state and wrote in via email@example.com